Interview with Judith Yaphe | Washington D.C. August 8, 2014
I did a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History, Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Illinois and I thought I would teach my whole life. By the time I had finished there were no jobs. I taught a little bit but then I was recruited by the CIA to work as an analyst, political analyst on the Middle East and rather than have no job at all, it didn’t seem like a bad idea and I started there in 1975 and I was there for more than 20 years.
I always worked on the Gulf area. I am an Iraq specialist. I did my Ph.D. thesis on the Great Arab Revolt in Iraq; it’s now called the Great Iraqi Revolt but that’s what a revolution does to history. And, I did focus on Iraq, Iran. Any time there was a war everybody worked on that, and the Gulf area, which at that time was very, very quiet. And I did three years in counterterrorism when the Center was first started up by Bill Casey in the 1980s, and I did it for, I think, a special reason.
My boss, when I was in the Middle East, Office of Near Eastern South Asia analyst, analysis was Bob Ames, Robert Ames. There has just been a biography published of him. He was one of the stars of Middle Eastern politics and history and in government, especially in intelligence services. And I had done some work for him and he was off on his way to Beirut on a mission for Secretary of State Shultz at the time, having to do with the PLO and peace prospects, so very early stages, and he was killed in the Beirut bombing in April of 1983.
And I think I was one of several people I knew who were so effected by that event that we found ourselves, a year or two later, in the Counterterrorism Center, which was just getting started, and I think it was the beginning of – well, what became, obviously, a full-blown industry, although not really until 9/11.
But that was the beginning and the decision had been made at the time not to sit back and wait for things to happen, but to try to be more proactive. But I was an analyst on my area of specialization and at a time when Iran was a high focus. This is the early to mid-1980s, the Iran-Iraq War is on, of course, but Iran is also involved in a number of bad activities, lots of terrorism going on, and by terrorism, international acts of terror against civilians. There was a pretty good definition at the time, it was not about military operations but it had a _________ they were especially targeting westerners, the United States for different reasons. These were supporters, if not surrogates, of Iran.
And it was a high-agenda item for the U.S. government. When the hostages were taken in Lebanon, that was an extremely high visibility issue, maybe visibility isn’t the right word ’cause nobody knew who – you know, we were not known as to who was working on this. But the point I wanted to make is it had the attention of the president, President Reagan, and nobody, I think, really understood how deeply he was affected by that.