As Robin Raphel worked for the State Department in Pakistan, her brand of traditional diplomacy ran into the new realities of covert surveillance. The collision turned her life upside down
Just before 8 on the morning of Oct. 21, 2014, Robin Raphel climbed into her Ford Focus, put her purple briefcase on the passenger’s seat and began the 20-minute drive from her house in Washington to her office at the State Department.
It was a routine Tuesday. The main event on her schedule was a staff meeting.
Raphel swiped her badge at the revolving security door and headed to her office where she placed her briefcase on the floor and sat down to check her email. Later, as she joined her colleagues in a conference room to discuss office schedules, her mobile phone, which she had left at her desk, began to ring. It was Slomin’s Home Security.
When she didn’t pick up, the operator called her daughter Alexandra, who raced to the house to check the doors and windows. When Raphel returned to her desk, the phone rang again. It was Alexandra, in a panic.
Burglars hadn’t set off the alarm. It was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Raphel grabbed her purse and ran out. She left behind her purple briefcase—one she had bought at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad—with a bag of carrots and a Rubbermaid container full of celery sticks inside.
As she pulled up to her yellow-brick house, Raphel saw agents going in and out the front door, walking across the oriental rugs she had trundled back from tours in South Asia. They boxed up her two computers, Alexandra’s iPad and everything else electronic. In the basement, they opened the drawers of a mahogany file cabinet she had picked up during a posting in London. They pulled out a stack of files.
The agents, without saying a word, carried the boxes out to a white van.
Raphel, unsure of what was happening, paced in circles on her front porch.
Two FBI agents approached her, their faces stony. “Do you know any foreigners?” they asked.
Raphel’s jaw dropped. She had served as a diplomat in six capitals on four continents. She had been an ambassador, and the State Department’s assistant secretary for South Asian affairs. Knowing foreigners had been her job.
“Of course,” she responded, “Tons…Hundreds.”