Death of an Ambassador

adolph_spike_dubsNo, we’re not writing about Benghazi, but the last time a US Ambassador was murdered in the line of duty: Adolph “Spike” Dubs, Ambassador to Afghanistan, shot and killed on 14 February 1979. As is often the case with ambassadors in hardship posts, Dubs was not a political appointee, but a career diplomat.

Dubs had served as a Naval officer in World War II, and is interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Then-President Jimmy Carter attended the interment.

Yesterday, Wikileaks dumped a large tranche of State Department cables from 1979. These cables are marked as declassified on the site. One of these cables provides previously unknown information about the death of Dubs.

We have made the following edits:

  1. Imposed paragraph breaks
  2. Corrected some obvious typos
  3. Deleted declassification markings and page headers/footers.

We did preserve the overall headers of the two sections of the document.

Bruce Amstutz, who signed the cable, was the Deputy Chief of Mission (and became Chargé d’Affaires on Dubs’s death).

The deleted declassification header/footer was on every page, and reads:

Sheryl P. Walter Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 20 Mar 2014

There are many conspiracy theories about the death of Dubs, most of which ascribe his murder to the Soviets. This cable recounting ground truth as observed by an American officer on the scene, suggests that Dubs was killed either by friendly fire or by the Afghans holding him hostage during a haphazard rescue attempt by Soviet-controlled or -advised Afghan police.


CONFIDENTIAL
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KABUL 01470 01 OF 02 260751Z
ACTION SY-05
INFO OCT-01 ISO-00 SYE-00 /006 W ------------------041674 260752Z /34 O 260602Z FEB 79
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2460
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 1 OF 2 KABUL 1470
SY CHANNEL
FOR: DASS, CC/TAGS AND SAS
E.O. 12065: RDS 3 AND 4 2/25/85 (GOLACINSKI, ALAN B.) OR-A
TAGS: ASEC SUBJECT: KIDNAPPING AND KILLING OF AMBASSADOR DUBS: STATMENT OF HAROLD D. WANKEL, DEA OFFICER

1. (U) THE FOLLOWING IS A STATMENT OF EVENTS WITNESSED AND PARTICIPATED IN BY HAROLD D. WANKEL, REGARDING THE KIDNAPPING AND KILLING OF US AMBASSADOR ADOLPH DUBS IN KABUL, AFGHANISTAN ON FEBRUARY 14, 1979. MR. WANKEL WAS APPOINTED A SPECIAL AGENT WITH THE BNDD ON SEPTEMBER 20, 1970 AT KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI. HE SERVED THERE UNTIL JANUARY 1971 AT WHICH TIME HE WAS ASSIGNED AS A SPECIAL AGENT TO THE DETROIT OFFICE AND REMINED THERE UNTIL JANUARY 1978. IN JANUARY 1978 MR. WANKEL WAS APPOINTED THE DEA ASSISTANT COUNTRY ATTACHE TO AFGHANISTAN. ON NOVEMBER 20, 1978 MR. WANKEL WAS DESIGNATED AS THE DEA COUNTRY ATTACHE TO AFGHANISTAN, A POSITION WHICH HE CURRENTLY OCCUPIES.

2. (C) ON FEBRUARY 14, 1979, AT APPROXIMATELY 9:10 A.M. I OVERHEARD A CONVERSATION AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY CONCERNING AMBASSADOR DUBS. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE CONVERSATION WAS THAT AMBASSADOR DUBS HAD JUST BEEN ARRESTED BY KABUL POLICE OFFICERS NEAR THE USICA OFFICES IN KABUL. IT WAS STATED THAT THE AMBASSADOR HAD BEEN STOPPED AND DETAINED BY POLICE' WHILE HE WAS BEING DRIVEN TO WORK BY HIS CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 KABUL 01470 01 OF 02 260751Z AFGHAN CHAUFFEUR.

3. (C) SOMETIME LATER IN THE MORNING IT WAS STATED AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY THAT THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT WAS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABDUCTION OF AMBASSADOR DUBS. AT THE SAME TIME I HEARD THE RUMOR THAT TERRORISTS HAD ABDUCTEDAMBASSADOR AND TAKEN HIM TO THE KABUL HOTEL.

4. (C) AT APPROXIMATELY 11:45 A.M., WARREN MARIK, AMERICAN EMBASSY OFFICER, AND MYSELF DROVE IN MY VEHICLE TO THE AREA OF THE KABUL HOTEL. I PARKED THE CAR A BLOCK AWAY FROM THE HOTEL WHICH WAS NECISSITATED BECAUSE KABUL POLICE HAD THE KABUL HOTEL AND BORDERING STREETS CORDONED OFF. WE WALKED TO THE HOTEL WHERE WE WERE STOPPED BY POLIC AND DETAINED FOR A FEW MINUTES UNTIL OUR IDENTITIES WERE ESTABLISHED AND OUR PRESENCE IN THE HOTEL APPROVED BY OTHER AMERICAN EMBASSY OFFICERS AT THE HOTEL. OUTSIDE THE HOTEL WERE NUMEROUS POLICE OFFICERS ALONG THE SIDEWALK. I SAW THREE OFFICERS WITH AUTOMATIC RIFLES DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET ON THE BALCONY OF A BANK. THIS BALCONY WAS APPROXIMATELY THE LEVEL OF THE SECOND FLOOR OF THE HOTEL.

4. (C) WARREN MARIK AND I ENTERED THE HOTEL LOBBY AT APPROXIMATELY 12:04 P.M. A FEW MINUTES LATER MR. MARIK, MYSELF, MICHAEL MALINOWSKI AND DR. ROTZ CARRIED A MEDICAL STRETCHER UPSTAIRS (ONE FLOOR) TO A FOYER AREA LOCATED APPROIXIMATELY 75 FEET FROM ROOM 117 WHERE I WAS TOLD THE AMBASSADOR WAS BEING HELD BY TWO AFGHAN TERRORISTS BELIEVED TO BE ARMED.

5. (C) IN THE FOYER AREA WERE RSO CHARLES BOLES AND EMBASSY OFFICER BRUCE FLATIN, AS WELL AS FOUR INDIVIDUALS IDENTIFIED TO ME BY WARREN MARIK AND OTHERS, AS SOVIET ADVISORS. ONE SOVIET ADVISOR WAS TALL, APPROXIMATELY 6'2", BALDING AND WAS WEARING A BLACK TRENCH COAT. ONE OTHER ADVISOR WAS SHORT, 5'8"-5'9" AND WAS WEARING A HAT AND TRENCH COAT. OF THE OTHER TWO ADVISORS, ONE HAD SALT AND PEPPER HAIR AND THE OTHER WAS BLOND. PRESENT, IN ADDITION TO THE AMERICANS AND SOVIETS, WERE NUMBEROUS AFGHAN POLICE OFFICERS, SOME OF WHICH I KNOW PERSONALLY. AMONG THEM WERE: EXECUTIVE SECRETARY TO POLICE COMMANDANT TAROON (I DON'T KNOW HIS NAME), TAROON'S PERSONAL ENGLISH-LANGUAGE INTERPRETER (I DON'T KNOW HIS NAME. YOSUF SAHAR, CHIEF OF THE ANTI-SMUGGLING UNIT, AND GUL MOHAMMED ANDAR, CHIEF, CID, I WOULD ESTIMATE AT LEAST 20 AFGHAN OFFICIALS IN VARIOUS LOCATIONS ON THE SECOND FLOOR. THESE LOCATIONS WERE THE FOYER AREA WHERE THE AMERICANS AND ONE OR MORE SOVIETS WERE PRESENT, THE STAIRWAY LEADING TO THE LOBBY, AND THE AREA IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO ROOM 117.

6. (C) SOME OF THE SOVIETS, AND IN PARTICULAR THE TALL BALDING INDIVIDUAL, SPENT MUCH OF THEIR TIME WALKING FROM ONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED AREAS TO ANOTHER TO CONVERSE WITH AFGHAN POLICE ABOUT THE SITUATION. TWO OF THE SOVIETS, ONE OF WHICH WAS THE TALL BALDING ONE, WENT TO THE HOTEL FOYER WINDOW AND SURVEYED THE BANK BALCONY ACROSS THE STREET WHERE I HAD PREVIOUSLY NOTICED POLICE WITH AUTOMATIC RIFLES.

7. (C) AT SOME POINT IN TIME, I BELIEVE AROUND 12:25 P.M., I HEARD RSO BOLES TRANSMIT OVER HIS RADIO THAT THE AFGHAN POLICE HAD DECIDED TO RUSH THE ROOM IN 8-10 MINUTES. OVERHEARD ON THE RADIO AT THAT TIME WERE COMMENTS FROM THE AMERICAN EMBASSY SAYING TO THE EFFECT THAT WASHINGTON URGED NO SUCH ACTION BE TAKEN. BOLES TRANSMITTED TO THE EFFECT THAT THE AFGHANS HAD BEEN TOLD THAT BUT WERE UNDER DIFFERENT ORDERS. AT THIS TIME I NOTICED COMMANDOES IN FLACK JACKETS WITH WHAT I BELIEVE TO HAVE BEEN AK-47 RIFLES MOVE INTO POSITION NEAR THE DOOR OF 117. A PICTURE OF AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS PASSED AROUND THE SECOND FLOOR FOYER AREA AND WAS BEING STUDIED BY AFGHAN POLICE. CONFIDENTIAL

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8. (C) NEAR THIS JUNCTURE IN TIME A SMALL SLENDER INDIVIDUAL IN CUSTODY WAS SEMI-DRAGGED/MARCHED TO THE FOYER AREA. THIS PERSON HAD A BLANKET OVER HIS HEAD AND WAS BEING INTERROGATED BY SOME OF THE AFGHAN POLICE. THE CAPTIVE WAS BEING ROUGHED UP AND MAN-HANDLED BY HIS INTERROGATORS. I WAS TOLD BY AN AFGHAN THAT THIS PERSON WAS ONE OF THE TERRORISTS THAT HAD BEEN CAPTURED IN THE HOTEL. FROM BITS AND PIECES OF CONVERSATION I OVERHEARD, I WAS GIVEN TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE TERRORISTS IN ROOM 117 WANTED THE RETURN OF THEIR CAPTIVE COMRADE WITH HIS WEAPON. IT WAS FURTHER MY UNDERTANDING THAT THE AFGHAN POLICE AND SOVIET ADVISORS WERE CONTEMPLATING THE RETURN OF THE CAPTIVE TO ROOM 117 AS A RUSE TO GAIN ENTRY TO THE ROOM.

9. AT THIS TIME I OBSERVED TWO SOVIET ADVISORS WITH AN AUTOMATIC PISTOL WALK PAST THE FOYER AREA WHERE I WAS STANDING TO APOINT APPROXIMATELY 20 FEET DOWN THE HALLWAY TOWARD THE STAIRWAY. THERE I OBSERVED THEM HURRIEDLY INSPECT THE PISTOL AND WORK ON IT, EITHER TO ALTER IT SO IT WOULD NOT FUNCTION OR TO REPAIR IT SO IT WOULD FUNCTION. AFTER A FEW MINUTES THEY GAVE IT TO AN AFGHAN POLICE OFFICER WHO HURRIED BACK TO THE AREA OF ROM 117 ALONG WITH THE CAPTIVE. FOR A REASON UNKNOWN TO ME, THE CAPTIVE WAS NOT RETURNED TO ROOM 117 BUT KEPT IN THE HALLWAY.

10. AT APPROXIMATELY 12:45 P.M. A SOVIET ADVISOR WENT TO THE WINDOW OF THE SECOND FLOOR HOTEL FOYER AND REPEATEDLY HELD UP ONE HAND WIDESPREAD WHICH I TOOK TO MEAN THAT IN FIVE MINUTES THE POLICE ON THE BALCONY ACROE STREET WERE TO FIRE AT OR NEAR THE WINDOW OF ROOM 117 TO DRAW THE ATTENTION OF THE TERRORISTS WITHIN ROOM 117. AT THIS TIME SEVERAL AFGHAN POLICE ARMED AND WEARING SOME PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WERE STATIONED OUTSIDE ROOM 117.

11. (C) DUE TO THE IMMINENT ACTIONS OF THE AFGHAN POLICE, WARREN MARIK, MICHAEL MALINOWSKI AND MYSELF WERE GIVEN LAST MINUTE INSTRUCTIONS BY DR. ROTZ AS TO THE HANDLING OF AMBASSADOR DUBS AND STRETCHER IN THE LIKELY EVEN HE WAS WOUNDED IN THE UPCOMING AFGHAN POLICE RUSH OF THE ROOM.

12. (C) AT APPROXIMATELY 12:50 P.M. I SIMULTANEOUSLY HEARD WHAT I BELIEVED TO BE THE FORCED ENTRY OF ROOM 117, SHOOTING FROM THE BANK BALCONY AND FIRING FROM INSIDE THE HOTEL ROOM AREA OF AUTOMATIC RIFLES OR MACHINE GUNS. THERE WAS ONE VERY LONG BURST OF FIRE AND TWO OR THREE SHORT INTERMITTENT BURSTS. THE LAST SHORT BURST CAME FROM WITHIN THE ROOM AND APPROXIMATELY 10 SECONDS AFTER THE PRECEEDING BURST. BEFORE THE FIRING WAS OVER A SOVIET ADVISOR REAPPEARED AT THE FOYER WINDOW FACING THE BANK AND WAVED HIS ARMS IN A SIGNAL TO STOP FIRING. THE SHOOTING WAS QUITE LONG. I WOULD ESTIMATE IT LASTED 40-50 SECONDS.

13. APPROXIMATELY 30 SECONDS AFTER THE FINAL BURST OF SHOOTING, DR. ROTZ, MYSELF, WARREN MARIK AND MICHAEL MALINOWSKI RAN TO AND ENTERED ROOM 117 WITH THE STRETCHER. I OBSERVED IN THE RIGHT HAND CORNER OF THE ROOM THE AMBASSADOR SLUMPED OVER IN A CHAIR, ONE TERRORIST LAYING TO HIS RIGHT AND ONE TERRORIST LAYING ACROSS THE ROOM NEAR THE WINDOW. ALL THREE APPEARED TO BE DEAD. AMBASSADOR DUBS HAD WHAT APPEARED TO BE WOUNDS TO THE HEAD AND BODY. DR. ROTZ AND I HURRIEDLY PLACED HIM ON THE STRETCHER AND MICHAEL MALINOWSKI, WARREN MARIK AND MYSELF HURRIEDLY RAN FROM THE ROOM CARRYING THE STRETCHER WITH AMBASSADOR DUBS. WE RAN ALL THE WAY DOWNSTAIRS AND PLACED THE AMBASSADOR AND STRETCHER IN THE AMBULANCE WHICH SPAY TOWARDS THE AMERICAN DISPENSARY, DRIVEN BY RSO BOLES. DR. ROTZ AND NURSE MARJORIE YAMAMOTO ATTENDED TO THE AMBASSADOR IN THE REAR OF THE AMBULANCE.

14. (C) AT THIS TIME AFGHAN POLICE UNCEREMONIOUSLY CARRIED/ DRAGGED THE BODIES OF THE TWO TERRORISTS THAT HAD BEEN SHOT IN ROOM 117 DOWN THE STAIRS THROUGH THE HOTEL FIRST FLOOR LOBBY. ONE APPEARED TO BE MOST PROBABLY DEAD. THE CAPTURED TERRORIST WAS ALSO BROUGHT DOWNSTAIRS BY THE POLICE. THIS TERRORIST WAS KICKING AND STRUGGLING IN THE WAKE OF CASCADING BLOWS FROM THE NUMBEROUS AFGHAN POLICE OFFICERS. HE DID NOT APPEAR TO BE SERIOUSLY HURT. AT NO TIME DID I SEE A FOURTH TERRORIST EITHER ALIVE OR DEAD.

15. (C) MYSELF, WARREN MARIK AND JAY FRERES THEN WENT BACK TO THE SCENE OF THE SHOOTING. ONE AFGHAN POLICE OFFICER DRESSED IN NATIVE AFGHAN GARB APPEARED TO BE GIVING ROOM 117 A CURSORY EXAMINATION. I WENT INTO ROOM 117 WHICH WAS BY THIS TIME COVERED WITH AN INCH OF WATER FROM A RADIATOR HEATER THAT HAD BEEN RUPTURED DURING THE GUNFIRE. THERE WERE NO GUNS OR ANYTHING ELSE LAYING AROUND THAT WAS OF OBVIOUS EVIDENTIARY NATURE. I NOTICED THAT THE TOP HALF OF THE INNER DOOR, WHICH WAS GLASS, WAS APPARENTLY SHOT AND THE GLASS FRAGMENTS FOR THE MOST PART WERE IN ROOM 117 AS OPPOSED TO THE INNER HALLWAY. I ALSO NOTICED THAT IN THE CEILING AND UPPER WALL AREA WHERE AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS FOUND WERE SEVEN TO NINE BULLET PENETRATIONS. THE ANGLE THAT THESE BULLETS HAD STRUCK GAVE ME REASON TO BELIEVE THEY HAD BEEN FIRED FROM THE BANK BALCONY ACROSS THE STREET BECAUSE OF THE LOCATION OF THE BALCONY VIS-A-VIS ROOM 117.

16. (C) THE ONLY ASSUMPTIVE STATEMENT I WOULD MAKE REGARDING THE SHOOTING IS THAT I BELIEVE AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS SHOT AT THE OUTSET OF THE SHOOTING. I STATE THIS BASED THE FACT THAT AMBASSADOR DUBS WAS FOUND SEATED ON A CHAIR LOCATED AGAINST THE WALL WITHOUT ANY SIGNSTRUGGLE OR ATTEMPTS TO TAKE COVER WHICH I FEEL WOULD HAVE BEEN A NATURAL REACTION IF HE HAD NOT BEEN SHOT IMMEDIATELY WHEN THE SHOOTING BEGAN. (END OF STATEMENT)

17. (C) EMBASSY COMMENT: WE DO NOT BELIEVE IT ADVISABLE TO RELEASE THE NAMES OF AMERICAN WITNESSES AT THE KABUL HOTEL OUTSIDE OF THE DEPARTMENT. AMSTUTZ CONFIDENTIAL NNNN

 

That concludes the document. For a different American witness interview, which contradicts this one in a few places, see this interview with former Political Counselor Bruce Flatin in a foreign service officers’ informational website. (Flatin is mentioned in the above cable). The points of contradiction are minor, and probably result from the normal divergence we see between eyewitnesses, plus the fact that DEA officer Wankel’s statement was given within days of the events, and Flatin’s interview took place in 1993.

Another previously unreleased Amstutz cable describes what a Belgian bank official saw from across from the hotel and reported to the Embassy.

Particularly interesting in Flatin’s report is the mechanism of Spike Dubs’s death: “about four” .22 slugs in the brain. The Soviets and Afghans fanned the conspiracy talk by murdering the captive hostage takers, and failing to disclose evidence, including the weapons retrieved from the room where Dubs was held captive and killed.

15 thoughts on “Death of an Ambassador

  1. John M.

    Interesting stuff, Hognose. What a goat rodeo. It sucks to be a hostage, and if there’s anybody I don’t want “rescuing” me, it’s a pack of Afghans and their Soviet “advisors.”

    The Saur Revolution happened two months after this incident, installing a native Afghan Communist government. The Soviet invasion began in earnest just after (Western) Christmas that same year. Afghanistan picked a lousy century to have a feckless king.

    -John M.

    1. Hognose Post author

      The Saur revolution was one set of commies overthrowing another. The King was overthrown in 1973 by his cousin Daud, and after that “Afghan politics” was the two commie factions (Khalq and Parcham, “Masses” and “Red Banner”) throwing down with each other… until the local, very conservative mullahs got the ass with both of them.

      By ’79 the mullahs were going to win (with no assistance from the US, by the way), and so the Soviets moved to overthrow one commie and replace him with the other (Amin out, Karmal in IIRC).

  2. Hayabusa

    I escorted Ambassador Robert Finn to the Kabul Hotel sometime in early 2002. When entering the hotel, he mentioned in passing that this was the first time a U.S. ambassador had visited the Kabul Hotel since the last ambassador was killed there. Sort of sobering.

  3. LCPL Martinez USMC

    “11. (C) DUE TO THE IMMINENT ACTIONS OF THE AFGHAN POLICE, WARREN MARIK, MICHAEL MALINOWSKI AND MYSELF WERE GIVEN LAST MINUTE INSTRUCTIONS”

    I’m assuming that (C) means it’s alphabetical, LOL!!!

    Good article, Hognose—- very informative.

  4. T. O'Reilly

    “ONE SOVIET ADVISOR WAS TALL … AND WAS WEARING A BLACK TRENCH COAT. ONE OTHER ADVISOR WAS SHORT… AND WAS WEARING A HAT AND TRENCH COAT.”

    I didn’t realize Rocky and Bullwinkle was a documentary.

  5. Alan Ward

    Just like the U.S. Govt. it appears the soviet states let the James Bond wannabes from the political section run the show instead of the special forces who are trained for it. Spetsnaz wouldn’t have let the Afgans rip away full auto I’m sure.

    1. Kirk

      Alan, may you never be the subject of a hostage rescue conducted by any of the Russian security services. Most especially the Spetsnatz types, who are not known for their restraint or discretionary fire control.

      I think there’s a small section of hostage rescue types run by the Interior Ministry that may not be prone to burning down the village to get at the terrorists, but they’re small and only used for cases where the hostages are VIPs in Russia. Everyone else is considered collateral damage already, and if you’re in the way when they come in after the terrorists, you can kiss your ass goodbye.

      Russians don’t have a really great track record with these things, and they have a preference for solving their problems through firepower applied very generously.

      I’m not surprised our ambassador got killed; I’m surprised that the hotel was still standing after the rescue was completed.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Actually, it’s a well established rule of HR that your mission is to kill all the hostage takers and rescue as many hostages as possible. All safe is a preferred outcome but not if any of the hostage takers live (their associates will just take more hostages to try to spring them).

        At least this was a CT TTP in the 1980s (unwritten, for obvious reasons).

        1. bloke_from_ohio

          I assume that is why the training one gets for being the subject of a rescue is so focused on being small and out of the way. Get down, stay down, shut up, and don’t move until they tell you to. The dudes with guns may be your rescuers, but they are not your friends while you are still on the objective. Oh yeah, and stay the hell away from the doors and windows.

  6. raven

    I am not a soldier but isn’t 50-60 seconds of shooting an awful long time to take out two people in a room?
    And why that burst 30 seconds later?
    And finally, I wonder what caliber was that pistol the Soviets were monkeying with? .22 by any chance?

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