SpyCast 5.7.24
Ep 632 | 5.7.24

“James Foley: Journalist, ISIS Hostage, Son” – with His Mother Diane Foley


Erin Dietrich: Welcome to "SpyCast," the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. My name is Erin Dietrich and your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. Each week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage. If you enjoy this week's episode, please consider leaving us a five star review. And if you want to dig even deeper into the content of this episode you can find links to further resources, suggested readings, and full transcripts online. Coming up next on "Spycast."

Diane Foley: So Jim vanished. We did not know if Jim was alive for nine months. We really didn't. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrich: This week Andrew was joined in the studio by Diane Foley, coauthor of the new book "American Mother." Diane's eldest son James, a freelance journalist, was covering the Syrian civil war when he was kidnapped and held hostage for almost two years. This year marks 10 years since James was murdered by his ISIS captors in 2014. Diane remembers her son as a curious, thoughtful, and empathetic soul who yearned to protect and share the humanity of people around the world. Today "Spycast" is humbled and proud to be a small part of helping to share Jim's story. In this week's episode you'll learn about the enduring legacy of James' death and the James W Foley legacy foundation, James' time in captivity in Libya, a mother's experience communicating with her son's captors, and how hostage recovery efforts have evolved since 2014. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "Spycast." Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for joining me, Diane. It's a real pleasure to speak to you.

Diane Foley: It's an honor to be here, Andrew. Thank you.

Andrew Hammond: Thank you. So I just wondered if we could start off. Could you tell us a little bit more about the book that you've written, "American Mother." I know that's a big question so let me break it down. How did you come up with the title? I think that's quite interesting, you know. All of the American things like American spy. There's a book. American beauty. American gangster. American X. I know it's self explanatory. You're American and you're a mother.

Diane Foley: Yes, but that's a good question. No. It was Colum McCann. My -- the brilliant Irish author who really did the heavy lift in terms of storytelling. It was Colum. And I think but it -- I liked it right away because I'm very proud and feel blessed that I was a mother of five beautiful children. And proud to be an American. And but not happy with how our country treated our family and abandoned Jim when he really needed our country's help. So when Colum suggested I -- that title I thought, "Yes. That's what I am. I'm an American mother." You know, so.

Andrew Hammond: You mentioned Jim there. Could you tell our listeners -- because we have lots of listeners from overseas and so forth so just tell a little bit more about your son.

Diane Foley: Sure. Jim was the oldest of our five children. He was an ordinary young man who loved reading, was very curious about the world and other cultures, history. And as he grew older he first he was a teacher and then he did creative writing, but eventually found journalism. And he was very passionate about it. He felt that he really felt that journalists were really critical to our democracy and very committed to it. And at that time three of his younger siblings were all serving in the military and so Jim was kind of curious about war in the sense that why do people go to war and what happens to civilians amid war. And that's partly what drew him initially to embed with the army and Afghanistan and Iraq. But eventually to become a freelance conflict journalist in Syria and Libya.

Andrew Hammond: And we'll go on to discuss Syria and Libya. One thing that I think would be quite interesting was could you just tell us a little bit more about Jim's siblings?

Diane Foley: Sure.

Andrew Hammond: I feel like they're an important part of the story that's not often discussed.

Diane Foley: They are. Jim was the big older brother. 15 years older than our little girl. So but he was the one who was always away. He went away to school in the Midwest, Chicago at Marquette University, then later at Northwestern. And but always came home at the holidays, always called birthdays and important days. So he was always the big brother. He would come home and want to interview everyone else. Was particularly close to Michael who's just two years younger. Business professional. Very different from Jim. Jim was more -- was definitely more creative and liberal and a pacifist. Very different sort of fellow than our more conservative organized Michael. But then John and Mark and Katie [assumed spelling] his three youngest siblings were in the air force, army, and navy in those few years when Jim was in serving as a conflict journalist. So they shared some of that. And I think that was one of the reasons he went to Afghanistan and Iraq, because he wanted to touch base with them, see how they were, and cover what they were doing. You know.

Andrew Hammond: So a couple of years ago me and my wife had a daughter. So now I have the experience of being a parent. That must be a lot of worry. Your kids serving and overseas and one that's an adventure. That must be something that's always at the back of your mind. I used to think, oh, I just want my daughter to do everything that she wants to do. I want her to soar and fly. Now I'm like, "Don't leave your daddy. Stay in the same state."

Diane Foley: No. I can relate to that. I think one of the hardest things parents can do is give their children wings. Is really allow them to be independent, learn from their mistakes and grow, but also challenge them to be good people in the world. I was very proud of Jim and his deep commitment to journalism. But I was worried. And particularly when he was kidnapped for six weeks in Libya, briefly detained compared to Syria. It was really hard as a parent to see him go back. But he said he had promises to keep. He had been in and out of Syria for the entire year very successfully and felt very confident about going in and coming home for Christmas. Those were his words. So as a parent those are top though.

Andrew Hammond: And one of the things that I was thinking when I was reading the book was did Jim always have this passion for investigating, sharing knowledge, those sensibilities that we associate with journalists? Was that always there?

Diane Foley: Yes. And I don't think I ever noticed it or realized it, but Jim was an incredibly good listener. It was kind of odd in reflection that when he came home instead of talking about himself he would interview us. He would take his mother out for coffee or lunch to find out, "Well, mom, what have you been up to?" You know, he wanted to actually know. And he did the same with his siblings, take them out to play basketball or whatever just to hang out. So he really worked at entering another person's space. What have you been up to? And he was like that with his friends. So therefore and as a teacher so he had a lot of people over the years whom he mentored and got to know as a journalist primarily because he was such a good listener. And now I've come to realize that as a journalist what a great skill that was. You know, to really want to hear someone else's story. You know? So I think that helped him to really write some beautiful stories and share incredible insights into conflict zones because of that gift.

Andrew Hammond: And one of the reasons I'm so pleased to do this interview is that after the podcast gets published then it lives on forever. So I just wanted to ask as you look back on your son when he was growing up and so forth, what's the essence of Jim? Like how would you describe him to someone else? I would just let your memory of him to --

Diane Foley: Well, Jim was curious, but really just inquisitive. Interested in the world and people. He would eat it up. He was just so -- he truly wanted to hear. He would have wanted to meet you and you and talk to you, hang out, and see what are you about. What's going on? And that's the way he approached life, you know. He was truly interested in the world and other people. And particularly interested in other cultures or you know other countries because he really when he became a journalist -- because he wanted to bring some of that back home so that we might come to understand our world better. And understand people that navigate different worlds even within our own country. Because -- and I think that's why he was attracted to the underdog too. Like he after his undergraduate degree he went to work for Teach for America, volunteered for that. And ended up in the inner city of Phoenix. And ended up mentoring those kids the rest of his life. He really became very attached to a lot of those young people and later when he went to graduate school he worked with young felons in Chicago and unwed mothers in Holyoke. I mean it was kind of Jim was interested, you know. And felt those people need to have their stories told too. You know.

Andrew Hammond: That's interesting. So inquisitive, but also empathetic and yeah.

Diane Foley: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

Andrew Hammond: And just to give our listeners a little bit more of an understanding of how Jim grew up, so where was he born? Where was he raised? Give them a pen portrait.

Diane Foley: Sure. My husband was in the army medical corp. So he was born in Evanston, Illinois, but we're New Englanders. Our home is New Hampshire. And so when he was about six years old we returned to New Hampshire. Yeah. Six. He was first grade. And so he grew up in rural New Hampshire near a beautiful lake, tiny little town, very yeah. Conservative kind of. Idyllic, in many ways, though very beautiful part of the country. But it wasn't exciting or interesting enough for Jim. Jim really wanted to go to the city. He wanted to see other places and people. And I think that's partly why he went all the way back out to the Midwest to Marquette University for his undergraduate.

Andrew Hammond: That's Milwaukee?

Diane Foley: Milwaukee. Yes. And then he worked in Chicago for years when he went to Northwestern. So Jim enjoyed exploring different parts of the country and the world.

Andrew Hammond: So you told us that he got into journalism. He was interested in adventure. He was interested in creative writing and journalism really brought both of them together. Could you give us a sense of his evolution as a journalist like where he -- the places where he worked, the agencies he worked for, those types of things.

Diane Foley: Sure. Jim started out he came to Washington D.C for a semester at Medill Northwestern to learn more. He -- Jim was quite interested in politics and how Washington worked and all of that. So he spent a semester here in Washington and after that when he graduated he embedded with the -- initially with the Indiana National Guard and then the army airborne and went to Iraq and Afghanistan for years and honed his skills as a conflict journalist. But in a more protective way as embed if you will. But when the Arab Spring started in 2011 he there was an exodus of staff journalists from that part of the world because of increased danger. And but Jim felt those stories were essential. So that's when he went to Libya and northern Libya and was reporting then in 2011 then. And that's when he was first wrongfully detained in Libya. He was arrested by some of Gaddafi's people. And it really took a stranger, a very good man, David Bradley from Atlantic Media here in Washington, D.C to work with Teach for America friends to figure out how to get into Gaddafi's son to get him out. It was really quite miraculous how they managed that.

Andrew Hammond: So it's almost a Teach for American alumni network of trying to look out for each other.

Diane Foley: Exactly.

Andrew Hammond: Wow.

Diane Foley: Exactly. And they organized and worked with David Bradley just all out of the goodness of their heart.

Andrew Hammond: Wow.

Diane Foley: Yeah. Amazing really.

Andrew Hammond: Tell us a little bit more about that, about his time in Libya. How is he wrongfully detained? Give our listeners a little bit more understanding.

Diane Foley: Well, Jim was a freelance conflict journalist which I didn't realize as a mother how dangerous that truly is because that means they have no security backup. They live on a shoestring. They only get paid when they deliver a story or a photo or something along that line. So they often stay in the cheapest places and have to find translators who are not the -- not vetted as much as a staff journalist. So it's more dangerous. But they tend to work in groups to help one another and that sort of thing. So Jim actually the day he was kidnapped was going to the front line with another American journalist, Clare Gillis, who was working for the "Atlantic" and "USA Today" as a freelancer, but also was South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl and Manu Brabo from Spain. So but that was the kind of thing that would happen that often they -- you know, freelancers would join together and share a cab and they headed out to the front line to see what was going on. And they -- as they got nearer the front line, they were warned to turn around and so they got out of the cab and which was the wrong thing to do. Anton Hammerl was killed. And the three others were arrested, wrongfully detained by the Libyan troops, Gaddafi's sons. But that was witnessed by a "New York Times" reporter. She we knew at least who had him and had an idea of where he had gone. But still our government really couldn't help us. At that time in 2011/2012 there was no U.S hostage enterprise. No one who consistently was responsible for bringing Americans who were kidnapped or wrongfully detained home.

Andrew Hammond: Okay. I'm sure some of our listeners will find that surprising. You know they might think Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, operation eagle claw, a failed attempt to rescue them then a subsequent release. Surely some kind of infrastructure or system must have been set up to deal with this type of thing. But tell us what you encountered. What was it like?

Diane Foley: Well, what I found out, that a lot of those were it was up to the president if they took it on or not. And how they assessed the situation. And President Obama when it came to him he went along with the slogan that had gone on for several administrations that we will not even talk to terrorists who take our people because that might incentivize more terrorists to take our people when the research really showed that if you don't engage with those captors those who are kidnapped are going to be killed because they're not worth anything to the captors. So but that was sure in good faith that he felt that was the right thing to do. So he would not allow our FBI or government to help us when Jim was detained either time really. State department would call me, but the people who really managed to figure out how to get him out was Jim's friends and David Bradley, his colleagues. So it was that. And however Syria was a whole different situation. Different, but similar in that our government couldn't help, but Jim disappeared. No one witnessed except the driver witnessed, but had no idea who had taken Jim. So it was very different.

Andrew Hammond: And you mentioned the research. Could you just tell our listeners a little bit more about that? You said the research says that if you're not speaking to them then, you know, some outcomes are more likely than others. Tell us like what was the research on this?

Diane Foley: Well, it kind of made sense that if you engage with people like a kidnapper or something and pay a ransom or something like that that maybe that will incentivize more kidnapping, but what actually a lot of the research, most of the research, has shown is that if you don't shrewdly engage with the captor in some way the one who is kidnapped will be killed or die. And as a matter of fact the FBI has used that domestically to decrease kidnapping because they use ransom for lure so that when there's a domestic kidnapping they'll often lure them with a ransom and then arrest the person, the captor. So but there's been a lot of controversy about that, and I understand that, but I feel that when Americans, U.S nationals, are taken hostage or wrongfully arrested, we need to use all tools we have to make it hurt for the captor, but also try to bring the innocent person home. The Foley Foundation works does research on -- with hostage families to help inform our foreign policy so that our country can both protect the backs of innocent Americans who are doing work in the world, but also deter the horror of international kidnapping.

Andrew Hammond: And I want to go on to discuss the Foley Foundation later because I'd like to -- I'd like to dig into that. I'm just wondering when you say that, you know, there's this line that we don't talk to terrorists, we don't negotiate with them, sometimes you find out historically that at the senior level like the president, the cabinet, maybe even another fear runs down. There's no direct contact, but then there's some low level diplomat or maybe it's using an ally. Well, we're not talking to them, but through the Brits we're communicating with them or something. So I'm just trying to get a sense of does that mean that there's like absolutely no communication with the people that take hostages whatsoever or is it just that it takes place in the shadows?

Diane Foley: I'm talking about historically. Like I'm talking about 2011/2012. At that time we had no U.S hostage enterprise or structure to help a U.S national who was kidnapped or wrongfully detained abroad. That has changed and that's part of Jim's legacy and the legacy of the other Americans who were killed because not just James, our son, was killed. Not only Jim, but also journalist Steven Sotloff, aid worker Kayla Mueller, Peter Kassig, businessman Warren Weinstein, journalist Luke Summers were all killed within those six months of 2014/2015. And that's what partially pushed the Obama administration to say, "Whoa. We better look at this. What are we doing about this?" And so they did a very comprehensive review of government in government, but also outside government. They actually interviewed families like us who would experience the horror of having a loved one taken and our government not helping us. And it was thanks to President Obama's administration that the current U.S hostage enterprise was set up. And that's the current enterprise that has brought back people like Brittney Griner, Trevor Reed from Russia. It's the same enterprise that's working hard to bring Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich and others home from Russia. We have people all over the world. So now we actually have experts at the state department, FBI, and the White House whose job it is to shrewdly figure out how to reach in. Like right now we have a lot of people working through Qater and other people in the Middle East trying somehow to get those hostages out of Gaza, for example. And that is what we must do as western nations. We must work together to be creative and find humanitarian channels to get our people out and then deter the practice. You know, so I'm very proud of the way our government is working so hard. But, as you could see, the horror persists. There's still unfortunately many still taken hostage and held today. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrich: In this episode you'll hear Diane and Andrew refer to the Iranian hostage crisis. To help you better digest this episode, here's a couple of minutes on this international crisis. In 1979 the Iranian revolution was coming to a head. On January 16, the widely unpopular shah and his family fled the country for vacation. The government that he left behind was quickly toppled, replaced by the theocratic government regime the Islamic Republic. In October the exiled shah dying of cancer was admitted into the United States for treatment to save his life. This ignited an immediate outcry in Iran with many revolutionaries calling for the return of the shah for trial and presumably his execution. On November 4 a group of around 3,000 students stormed the United States embassy in Tehran and took dozens of the embassy staff hostage. President Jimmy Carter's attempts to bring the hostages home were unsuccessful. He would not agree to the Iranian millitants' demand for the return of the shah in exchange for the hostages, and the doomed exfiltration mission, operation eagle claw, ended with the deaths of eight American servicemen. 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. They were released just hours after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president in January of 1981 in adherence with the Algiers Accords. In the next interlude we'll talk about one of the most successful spy missions that occurred during the Iranian hostage crisis, the Canadian caper, which also became one of the most successful spy movies of the 21st century. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: And back then when Jim was wrongfully detained in Libya who were the people in the government that you spoke to or who you were directed towards or I'm just trying to get a sense of like, you know, okay my son's been wrongfully detained. Who reaches out to you? Who do you try to reach out to? What's the -- you know there's no system at the time.

Diane Foley: There was an -- that's an excellent question. The only system at the time was our U.S consular affairs which is a great group of people who keep track of whenever an American is arrested or taken hostage abroad. So they let us know that that's the case. But they can't help get the person out. And some of those arrests are valid. Sometimes Americans don't know how to behave in other countries or commit a crime or something like that. But consular affairs' job is to keep track of those people and hopefully make sure they have humane detention, if you will. But they do not have the mission to help bring them home or in that -- at that time to even identify who was wrongfully arrested. But thanks to the hostage fusion cell and the work of the Robert Levinson family, we had Levinson hostage taking on accountability act that was passed in 2020. That act codified this hostage enterprise. So it became more than a presidential directive that could have been dismissed. Now it's a law of the land. And so now consular has to sift through these arrests and figure out which ones are in fact arrested simply because they have a blue passport or because they're a U.S citizen or legal prominent precedent. They didn't commit any crime, but it's just because of that. And that's not easy to do, but this is what they do. And then once that person has been designated as wrongfully detained then they have the help of the special envoy for hostage affairs at the state department. Currently ambassador Roger Carstens who's done a brilliant job -- you know actually Andrew your listeners would like to know that more than 100 U.S nationals have come home since 2014. That's how much this enterprise has made a difference in terms of bringing people home. So they're doing brilliant work, but it's hard work because the captors target Americans because they want something. They want to hold our country hostage or the families hostage in some way.

Andrew Hammond: And were you personally or the Foley Foundation, were you involved in that legislation that got passed, the [inaudible 00:29:17], where you interviewed that people reach out to you? How did you inform it?

Diane Foley: Absolutely. It was thanks to Sarah Levinson, one of Robert Levinson's children, and several children, Doug Levinson and David were involved, in getting that legislation through, but the Foley Foundation also worked very hard to find champions on the hill on both sides of the aisle. We consider this a very non partisan issue. We're talking about American lives, people who are serving around the world as businessmen, journalists, aid workers, whatever brings them internationally. But we really needed together to find champions on both sides of the aisle to allow this Levinson act to pass. So it was a big deal when it passed in 2020. And has really allowed our government to have the structure and the law behind our government officials to really vouch for Americans who are innocent, but are still being held abroad. But it's still tough. There's so many families in that gray zone because a lot of times captors will embellish allegations that they did something wrong when in fact they did not. So it is not an easy process for the government or for families awaiting that designation. It's tough.

Andrew Hammond: And what does the structure look like now, Diane? So say this happens to someone. What's the set up?

Diane Foley: The current set up is a three prong approach. It's inter-agency fusion cell that's based at the FBI primarily to get intelligence when people are taken by criminals, terrorists, or pirates. So more of a criminal activity which is the FBI's forte, if you will. But there are representatives from the military, state department, intelligence, in that fusion cell. Then at the state department we have a special envoy for hostage affairs. So his mandate is more to work with nation states who target and wrongfully arrest Americans. So they primarily deal with countries like Russia, Syria, Libya, China, Venezuela. You know, countries that target people, our citizens, for something they want. Sometimes some African nations. You know, it's -- but it's difficult work. It requires shrewd diplomacy. The government cannot always do everything. So the Foley Foundation often will reach out to third party experts, pro bono attorneys who help us, or security companies to give us -- help families, give them pro bono advice because it's not simple to get people out of these situations. The other very important third part is the hostage recovery group that is at the White House and National Security Council. So that's where the strategies from the special envoy and the fusion cell come for decision making because ultimately it's really the president and his advisors who decide which of those strategies seems like the best one to help get the American home. And then sometimes the captor will reject it. So it's a back and forth negotiation.

Andrew Hammond: So the hostage recovery group, the hostage fusion cell, and the special envoy for hostage affairs, they feed into the -- they feed into that. And this is something that our current executive director Chris Costa was involved in.

Diane Foley: Well, Chris is -- Chris is one of our very important members of the James Foley Legacy Foundation board because part of what we need on our board to be able to advise families is experts like Chris Costa who's done a lot of behind the scenes work in terrorism and hostage taking. He has worked with Ali Soufan who was former FBI and now has his Soufan group that does a lot of international security work. So they're two of our very important advisors who help us to help families figure out options, particularly when our government has not yet designated them as wrongfully detained. They're in this gray zone. And there's a lot of families like that. So we rely on experts like Chris Costa to help us figure out how to help these families.

Andrew Hammond: So you're not just involved in advocacy and so forth. You're involved in help families that are actually experiencing this. There's multiple parts to the Foley Foundation. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about and around?

Diane Foley: Sure. We -- we meet with families. We're one of several NGOs, but our role is more in terms of hearing where they are and what their obstacles are to bringing their loved one home and then trying to recommend and connect them to people in the government and outside of the government. Sometimes they need media to raise the profile. Sometimes they don't want the media to know about their loved ones. They want to do it more under cover. But it really depends on who the captor is and who the loved one is. And how much the government's able to help or whether it needs to be someone outside of the government who uses their expertise to help the family. So we do definitely work -- we've met with many of the Israeli families. Some families have more help than others. Thank goodness the Israeli families have had the help of the American Jewish Council and other advocacy groups. Evan Gershkovich has had the help of the "Wall Street Journal." We tend to work the most with families who don't have as much support because it's a lonely journey and it's hard to know what to do when you don't know government or politics. You know? So we try our best to guide these families and help them to find other pro bono experts to help them.

Andrew Hammond: And so James is wrongfully detained in Libya. How long is he detained for and how does he get out of that situation?

Diane Foley: He was detained in Libya for six weeks and he really got out with the help of David Bradley and his colleagues from Teach for America. And he had several friends from college who set up a website, social media, tried to raise awareness about his plight. So it was totally an out of government miraculous feat that helped him get out. David Bradley and his team at Atlantic Media were they were all about research. They knew how to set up a team and map out well who might know whom in the Gaddafi government. And there was -- they knew the family, the Gaddafi family, was critical to the key team. So they engaged interested alumni from Teach for America and some of Jim's college friends who wanted to do anything to help investigate and find out a road into the Gaddafi government. So it was through that research that they identified a young woman from Vermont of all places who had worked with one of Gaddafi's sons. And she traveled to Libya to talk to this Gaddafi and persuade him that they didn't want to hold Americans, that this was not good for them to do. So she persuaded them to release Jim, Clare, and the others. And it was odd because at first Jim was not released. Some -- Clare and some of the others, another person, was released. And Clare says, "That's not Jim. It's -- " They had to go back to the prison and find Jim. It was kind of bizarre. But it was all thanks to these good people who bothered to follow trails and try to discern who might have an influence on the Gaddafi government who were holding him. And then we worked with an ambassador who helped retrieve them and get them out of the country. So it was quite an elaborate effort on their part.

Andrew Hammond: What was your reaction when he got -- when he was captured? Like where were you when you found out in terms of Libya? And what was your reaction when he got released? I mean it may seem like an obvious question, but most people will have never been in that position.

Diane Foley: We were totally shocked, Andrew. I was -- I had taken my elderly mother out to lunch and someone from human rights watch found my name through Facebook and called me. Called my husband. Called me. Said, "Jim's been kidnapped." I mean that's the way we found out. It was -- it was shocking. I mean I think sometimes we Americans can be -- I was very naive. I just I was shocked that this happened. And him getting out was really a miracle. It was miraculous. And it was just thanks to all these good people who bothered to make that happen. Yeah. It was truly extraordinary. And really took us to our knees. All I did was pray. Literally. And pray that somehow we might find a way. And it was through all these good people that he was brought home.

Andrew Hammond: And what was Jim's reaction like? Was he, you know, "It's okay. It won't happen again." Or let our listeners know a little bit about how he reacted to that.

Diane Foley: He was so grateful. Obviously so grateful. And actually his brother, his second oldest brother Michael, flew to Libya to help welcome him and bring him home and Michael had worked very hard with David Bradley and others trying to figure out a way to get Jim out. And after he came home Jim went on a gratitude tour literally. He went to all his alma maters and lectured and thanked people for their goodness. And it was interesting, though. When he was at Marquette University that's when he first talked about how he had a physical courage, but now he had come to realize how important moral courage was. And particularly as a journalist he felt that journalists had to have the moral courage to tell the facts, tell this story, in a non biased way. So even if it meant they might lose the job, be ridiculed, or whatever, he felt that it was incredibly important for our freedom and democracy that journalists have the courage to tell the truth, speak truth to power. And that has challenged me because Jim has challenged me to have the courage to try to do my part. So but the other part when Jim came home is he was I noticed he was very restless and I think the kidnapping had been very traumatic. I think he had trouble resting. He was very restless. He had seen a lot of sadness and people suffering in Libya. And just wanted to get back to work. And he tried working a civilian job as an editor, went back with human rights watch to Libya, but by the next year, the new year 2012, was anxious to get back in the field. He just really felt he owed it to the people who cherish the freedom we have. We're yearning for it. That he felt he had to get back there and tell their stories. So he was back in the field by 2012.

Andrew Hammond: So he was back in the field. Where does he go? So he goes to Libya naturally, but then where does he go after that?

Diane Foley: He went to northern Syria. And so he went into right through Turkey. That's how they entered the country. So for 2012 most of the year he went in and out of the country. He would do a reporting trip trying to stay under the radar and then find security and safety across the boarder in Turkey. But it was dangerous and it was getting more and more dangerous because there were more and more rebel fighters and jihadists coming into the void in Syria. It was becoming more and more dangerous. And he knew it. But he felt quite confident that he could continue to work there. So he went back.

Andrew Hammond: He's still a freelancer at this time now.

Diane Foley: He was. And I -- we all tried to dissuade him. I mean he had two master's degrees. I mean he could have been teaching or doing so many things. Writing. But he just felt those stories were essential, Andrew. And it really made me realize and recognize the courage of our current journalists going into Ukraine or Gaza. We wouldn't have any idea what's happening in that part of the world without those folks who dare to be there and dare to find ways to tell that story and bring it back to us. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrich: In the last interlude I gave a brief primer on the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. I noted that dozens of American diplomats were taken hostage in the U.S embassy on November 4. But what I didn't mention was the six Americans who managed to escape hiding in the homes of Canadian embassy officers. Founding board member of the International Spy Museum and CIA officer Tony Mendez concocted a brilliant plan to sneak these six Americans out of Iran and land them safely back home on U.S soil. The plan was to pass the six off as a Canadian film crew that had been in Iran scouting filming locations for their new Middle Eastern inspired sci movie "Argo." Tony worked with Hollywood makeup artist and CIA contractor John Chambers to build a fake movie production company complete with fake offices, fake script readings, and fake business cards. The company was so convincing that even Steven Spielberg himself reached out to pitch film proposals. The Canadian government provided the mission with false passports and forged travel documentation shipped directly to the Canadian embassy in Tehran. On January 28, 2980, armed with their meticulously studied personas, fake film scripts, and artwork, and false Canadian documents, the film crew team passed through airport customs and boarded their 7:30 AM Swiss Air flight with ease. The CIA's involvement in bringing these Americans home led by Tony Mendez' brilliant plan was not declassified until 1997. 15 years later in 2012 the real Hollywood movie "Argo" based off the story of the exfiltration mission was released and later won the Academy Award for best picture. [ Music ]

Andrew Hammond: Silly question, but is there anywhere online where Jim's journalism is compiled or where our listeners can maybe go and read some of his stories or --

Diane Foley: That's interesting. Yes. As a matter of fact, it's kind of beautiful. When he was in captivity we had to take everything down from his blog and his website and everything because we didn't know who had him. We didn't know if it was Assad regime or it was a jihadist group. And we just didn't want anything to offend anybody so we took everything down. But his undergraduate alma mater, Marquette University, is doing an archive of Jim's work. So they are compiling all of Jim's work and it's received funding to do that. So they're in the process of compiling all of his work so it will make it available to the public and journalism students for, you know, a long time. So I'm very grateful for them.

Andrew Hammond: I've been to that archive at Marquette University.

Diane Foley: You have?

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. I've done research there.

Diane Foley: You have? Well, there's an amazing team working on this archive there, and they've just been wonderful. So soon I really think in May of this year -- some of that is already available, but it will -- even more will be online and available to the public.

Andrew Hammond: And tell us the experience of Jim being, you know -- being captured in Syria. Like when did that happen? Give us a timeline.

Diane Foley: Sure. That was very different, Andrew, because I spoke to him in November. He visited in October of 2012. I spoke to him in November because my elderly aunt had died and he called to express his condolences. But he was taken on our Thanksgiving day of 2012. And it was kind of ominous because we didn't hear from him and he always called on the holidays. And that concerned me. And sure enough the next morning two of his colleagues called to say that Jim had been kidnapped. And that kidnapping was witnessed by his driver, but the driver couldn't figure out who had kidnapped him. It was such a confusing time in northern Syria and they had masks on and guns and he had no idea who they were. So Jim vanished. We did not know if Jim was alive for nine months. We really didn't. FBI didn't know. We had no idea. And the FBI told us that in that situation because it was a true kidnapping and we had no idea who was the captor FBI was involved. But they didn't really know how to help and they told us to be quiet however and not tell anybody. So we went through Christmas not telling anybody except family that Jim was kidnapped again. But I couldn't stand it by the new year. I wanted the help of journalists because he had vanished and I was frantic to see -- to know if he was alive and safe. So we did go public in that new year of 2013 and one of his outlets, "Global Post of Boston," helped us with media. Agence France-Presse, the AFP, was also another outlet. They helped us also to try to get some information. But we really didn't know where he was until September of 2013 when a Belgian father contacted us because he had retrieved his own son who had thought he wanted to be a jihadist and had gone into Syria. And his frantic father had been able to get him out. And his son had seen Jim in prison. And he was very hopeful, said, "Don't worry. We know where Jim is." And such. And the FBI sent someone to interview him and so I thought our government was trying to help get Jim out. But all the European hostages started to be negotiated out in early 2014 and by that spring we started to realize that our government was not negotiating. That the European governments were, but the British and Americans had decided not to. And that's when we were kind of frantically trying to raise pledges for ransom. We didn't know what to do because the FBI, our government, was not allowed to help us. It was awful. It was an awful time.

Andrew Hammond: Yeah. I can't even imagine. So nothing whatsoever for nine months. Wow.

Diane Foley: Well, for nine months they couldn't -- we didn't even know he was alive. But after beginning in September of 2013 we knew he was alive, but we started to realize our government was not trying to get him out. That's what was so difficult when we finally realized that.

Andrew Hammond: And help me understand. Within journalism is there a kind of camaraderie of the sort that you mentioned with Teach for America? So, for example, when you wanted to go public and you wanted the media, you mentioned you know some of the outlets that helped, but is there a sort of unwritten code where journalists are like, "Well, this is a fellow journalist. Yeah. I'm going to help you." Did that help that he was a journalist or not really?

Diane Foley: Not as much as I'd hoped. In other countries like France, particularly France, France loves their journalists. They -- those journalists were having demonstrations and big banners pushing their government to bring their four journalists who were kidnapped by ISIS home. Spain was too. Italy was engaging also. Even Denmark allowed at least the Danish family to help ransom their citizen out. But our government was -- our country was different. That day when we went public we had some interest, but when we didn't know where Jim was the interest waned. But I'm happy to report that these days the media's much more engaged and that's been part of the work of the Foley Foundation and the work of a lot of great journalists who realized how that needs to happen, that we need the help of media to let the public realize that innocent Americans are being held hostage and need public support to help support our president in difficult decisions because it isn't always appreciated that we have to trade some of our prisoners if you will for an innocent American. Some of these deals are not what we like to do, but we have to have the moral courage to find ways to bring Americans home while at the same time holding those captors accountable. But it's very difficult. So we've needed the media to give us some public support for prioritizing the return of our people.

Andrew Hammond: And so he goes to northern Syria. He's -- he's taken hostage. Then nothing for nine months. September 2013 you find out through this father of the Belgian wannabe jihadist that he's still alive. Can you walk the story forward from there please?

Diane Foley: Sure. And then Kayla Mueller, one of her colleagues, also saw Jim in person and so we heard that. And shortly after that in November of 2013 one full year later finally the jihadists got in touch with us. And offered us to send them proof of life questions so they could prove they had Jim which we did. Our son Michael gave three cryptic questions only Jim could have answered, and sure enough they came back positive. So we knew the jihadists had Jim by Christmas of 2013. But then they cut off communication. They did not connect with us again. And it was the following year starting the end of January, early February, when the European hostages started to come home. But by June of 2014 the last European came home and nothing. We heard nothing. Finally in mid July, end of July actually, I received a message. We received an email from the jihadists threatening to kill Jim. And I thought, "Oh. Well, we can offer them the ransom." They weren't interested in any ransom at that point. They wanted to use our citizens as propaganda. So that's two weeks later they killed Jim.

Andrew Hammond: And how did -- how did they get in contact with you initially? Was that an email or --

Diane Foley: It was an email and it was very shrewd. It was an encrypted email. So our FBI couldn't even figure out where it was from.

Andrew Hammond: Wow.

Diane Foley: It was awful. I mean these people were not stupid. They were shrewd. Very smart. They knew how to reach us and but not -- we couldn't trace them. Couldn't find them, you know.

Andrew Hammond: I think it would be interesting to maybe fast forward to your experience in 2021. Could you just tell our listeners a little bit about that? It's the way that the book opens very, very beautifully. And this whole story is of course told in greater depth in the book, but I think hearing it from you know your words is quite powerful.

Diane Foley: Thank you, Andrew. Yes. In 2018 two of the jihadists who had kidnapped Jim and the other Americans and tortured them were arrested in northern Syria. And taken to Iraq. And it took several years for the British government and American government to eventually extradite them to the U.S, but they did in 2022. And it was Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh. And both of them had been British citizens who decided to join ISIS. And one of them wanted a full trial. He wanted nothing to do with anything, but -- any victims. But Alexanda Kotey was different. He pleaded guilty to all eight counts. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping, torture, accessory to murder, all of it. And he offered to speak with victims. So I thought, "Oh." You know? And I just had a feeling that Jim would have wanted to talk to him. And would have wanted Alexanda to have a chance to tell his story. And as a mom I wanted to tell Alexanda who Jim was. So I had in a similar time frame met the author Colum McCann who very generously offered to come with me. He was kind of curious himself. And so he accompanied me to speak with Alexanda Kotey in Alexandria, Virginia. And we met with him for three days, two days in '21 and one day in '22. And I'm really glad I did because he expressed a lot of remorse for what we had endured. And understandably tried to justify his role that he was in war following orders, that kind of thing. But my biggest take away was it was also sad and it just shows me when we hate one another this is what happens. He has lost his freedom. He's a young man, mid thirties. For the rest of his life he'll never see his four daughters or wife again. He'll never probably get to his homeland again. And we lost our beloved Jim, a talented journalist, and thousands of innocent Syrian people were killed. So I was glad that we could at least talk to each other and try to listen to one another because that's what Jim would have done. Jim had worked with a lot of disenfranchised youth like him in Teach for America and at the Cook County jail. So I really felt a lot of sadness for Alexanda. And the whole thing was very sad. But it was a beautiful moment in the sense that at least we could hear one another.

Andrew Hammond: I think one of the things just to close out the final question, what came across to me reading the book was just tremendous generosity of spirit that you have. Humility. You know, a lot of things that other people would maybe struggle to get over. But I don't know. Does that come from your faith or --

Diane Foley: Well, it comes definitely from my faith in a loving and merciful god. Definitely. But also from my son who has challenged me to do the right thing, to put away bitterness, to try to find a channel of forgiveness, and to try to find some good in the horror of it all. Jim would have. And that's been a challenge for me. So it hasn't been easy, but with the grace of my faith in God I've had that super power to help me. And, like I say, Jim has challenged me to try to help others who find themselves in this awful situation. But I hope our little book is a book of hope because I think it shows that a very ordinary person like myself can make a difference as can your listeners just by trying to do the right thing every day. Make a difference for good. I would invite any of you good listeners who are interested in my story, "American Mother," to go to jamesfoleyfoundation.org. For a small donation we would be so grateful to send you a personalized copy of "American Mother." And your support will make a difference for other fellow Americans. So I thank you so much for listening.

Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for coming to speak to me. I really appreciate your time.

Diane Foley: It's an honor. Thank you so much, Andrew. [ Music ]

Erin Dietrich: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of "Spycast." Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at spycast@spymuseum.org or on Twitter at intlspycast. Coming up in next week's show. >> You're looking to ensure that your own communication security is tight and that your ability to eavesdrop is better than your adversary or your target's ability to protect themselves. If you go to our page, thecyberwire.com/ podcasts/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm Erin Eietrich and your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn the Third, Emily Coletta, Emily Rens, Afua Anokwa, Ariel Samuel, Elliott Peltzman, Tre Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. [ Music ]