It's been a long two weeks for fans of the Serial podcast: After moving to a new biweekly schedule, episode five is finally available for streaming. After spending the first four episodes looking at the Bowe Bergdahl case from Bergdahl's perspective in captivity, episode five finally brings listeners stateside. "Meanwhile, in Tampa" tells the story of what went on between the Department of Defense, CIA, FBI, and other agencies and individuals in the months following Bergdahl's capture. Specifically, listeners got to meet Kim Harrison, one of Bergdahl's closest friends. So, who is Kim Harrison? For starters, she could have provided a very different outcome to Bergdahl's rescue if her initial efforts to involve Interpol had been utilized by U.S. agencies.
As Serial host Sarah Koenig reveals, Harrison was listed on Bergdahl's Army paperwork as the person to notify in the event something happened to him. When Army officials showed up at Harrison's home to tell her that Bergdahl had been captured, Harrison contacted a friend of hers who happened to work for Interpol. Harrison hoped they could issue a Yellow Notice — an international missing persons report — for Bergdahl. Unfortunately for Harrison, and, ultimately Bergdahl, the DOD refused to sign off on it.
Bergdahl's Friend & Godmother
On Jun. 30, 2009, Kim Harrison was visited by U.S. Army officials to notify her that Bergdahl was missing, as she was listed on Bergdahl's Army paperwork as the person to contact in the event something happened to him. Harrison is the mother of Shane and Kayla Harrison, both of whom were friends of Bergdahl growing up in Idaho, according to the episode. Bergdahl was home-schooled, and spent much of his time in his teenage years with the Harrison family. In an unusual circumstance, Bergdahl listed Harrison on his Army paperwork as both his godmother and the person to receive his remains and effects, should he be killed: What makes this unusual is that Harrison is not his blood relative, so it silently speaks volumes about the relationship Bergdahl had with his parents.
Bergdahl's Personal Journal
Just days before Bergdahl disappeared from his post in June 2009, he sent Harrison a box of personal effects, including his personal journal. In June 2014, just two weeks after Bergdahl's release, Harrison sent the journal to The Washington Post, who published exclusive excerpts of it. While a controversial decision, Harrison explained to the Post and other outlets that "she felt it would be the best way to capture what she considered to be Bergdahl’s complexity and character." She continued in a statement to the press:
I hope with my whole being that what I have decided to do will have the intended effect. Love and compassion. Understanding that you cannot throw a tender artist’s soul into war, and then hold them accountable to the expectations of a media machine. Unfit for combat does not mean unfit for an inspirational and exceptional life. He is worth protecting. He is courageous and noble. He is loved.
Anything To Bring Bergdahl Home
As listeners learned on Thursday's episode of Serial, Harrison went to great lengths to do whatever she could to help bring Bergdahl home. When her efforts to involve Interpol were stymied by the DOD, Harrison contacted both her Congressman and Senator, but to no avail. With these avenues exhausted, she took to more unconventional methods, even considering at one point finding a way to get herself on the ground in Afghanistan.
Harrison even revealed on Serial that she managed to get a name and phone number of someone connected to the Taliban. It was through this connection that she gave the FBI and CIA one of the most solid leads they had on Bergdahl's capture at the time, but, due to the complexity of the lead's request (transporting him and eight family members out of Pakistan to the United States), it never went anywhere. Harrison even consented to a two-year agreement with the NSA to monitor her every move and conversation to help further that lead, but when those two years were up, it seemed as though all the efforts she had made "fizzled" and went nowhere with official agencies.
As this week's episode of Serial reveals, Harrison's efforts felt just as frustratingly futile as some of those made by the official agencies involved with Bergdahl's rescue. What sets Harrison apart is a clearly devoted level of compassion she has for Bergdahl, as if he is one of her own children — compassion that, according to this week's episode, was hard to come by through any official rescue channels.