U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration provided insider access to Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s parents by setting up a series of secure conference calls so State Department officials and senior commanders could keep them updated on the government's efforts to rescue their son, the Washington Times reported Sunday.
Robert and Jani Bergdahl participated in more than 20 conference calls in a year and the Bergdahls were also allowed to take these calls from the Idaho National Guard’s headquarters in Boise, shortly after Bowe was kidnapped by the Taliban in June 2009. Along with including them on regular calls, the Obama administration also facilitated the Bergdahls' trips to the National Guard headquarters from their hometown of Hailey, according to the report.
"Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl were regularly informed about what was happening throughout the duration using video teleconferencing [with] various military and other government agencies," Air Force Col. Anthony Marsano said, according to the Washington Times, adding: "There was a great effort to keep Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl updated on developments."
The administration's move to include the soldier's parents on such calls, where matters of national security were presumably discussed, has been criticized given the sensitive nature of information usually exchanged on such calls.
"The Bergdahls shouldn’t have been part of that for no other reason than on the off chance they may inadvertently divulge some tactic. I mean, it’s one thing for government officials to interview the family, get insights from the family about what’s going on,” Larry Johnson, a former State Department employee, who dealt with the issue of American hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s, told the Times, adding: “But to put them in the middle of what is essentially a classified secure video conference is ridiculous.”
Marsano, who has acted as the Bergdahls' spokesperson, denied that the family gave away sensitive information.
“It was very clear to me that the agencies involved, to include the Department of Defense, had a strong interest in ensuring this family had up-to-date information and did not leave them in the dark,” Marsano said, according to the Times.
The Obama administration's decision to free five high-ranking al-Qaida members in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom has been criticized by some of the soldier's former army colleagues who have accused him of deserting his post and putting lives of troops in danger by his actions, while senior political leaders in Washington and Afghanistan worry that the freed al-Qaida members could once again join the Islamist insurgency.