A Person of Integrity Passes from the Scene
by Dr. William P. Kiehl, Contributing Editor
A recent obituary of the late William B. “Bill” Bader revealed to many a little known fact about this extraordinary man.
In the Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/william-b-bader-official-who-helped-uncover-cia-defense-abuses-dies-at-84/2016/03/19/a864edb6-ede2-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html), the public learned, many for the first time, that it was a young Bill Bader on the staff of Senator Fulbright who discovered in 1967 and brought to Congressional attention, the fraud that was the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” perpetrated by Secretary McNamara in the lead up to the Vietnam War.
This act of courage and integrity by Dr. Bader was only de-classified in 2005-2006 and attracted little attention at the time. But the action of the young staffer told a great deal about his integrity and sense of what is right throughout his long and remarkable career in government.
I was reminded of another incident, which confirmed a much older William Bader’s sense of integrity and doing what is right whatever the cost.
In 1999, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) was being folded into the State Department as part of a tragically flawed decision to appease Senator Jesse Helms and free up money to pay off the huge United States arrears in its United Nations payments.
Despite its flaws, the deal was set and on October 1, 1999, the USIA was to be absorbed into the State Department. Despite the protestations to the contrary, public diplomacy would never recover and even today is a crippled tool of American statecraft. But it could have been even worse if not for an intervention by Dr. William Bader.
The original consolidation plan was to combine the International Information Programs bureau of USIA and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs into a single office within the State Department. This would have linked for the first time “propaganda” and “mutual understanding” not only organizationally but symbolically in the minds of the world’s publics.
Mixing the two would have weakened the former and all but destroyed the latter as an effective form of statecraft. It certainly would have been a posthumous slap in the face to Senator Fulbright who fought to keep the Fulbright Academic Program above the level of political propaganda and the exigencies of day-to-day foreign policy.
Only Bill Bader, as a former Fulbrighter himself, truly understood the damage this marriage of convenience would do to the Fulbright idea. Frustrated by the “deal-makers” at State, he used a back channel to reach out to President Clinton, a Fulbright protégé, to appeal and reverse this decision. In the end, the Fulbright Program’s integrity and academic independence was preserved but Assistant Secretary Bader was all but considered a “dead man walking” on the 7th floor of the State Department for opposing even this one element of Secretary Albright’s deal with Jesse Helms.
Dr. Bader survived the next two years of the Clinton administration as a pariah of sorts in the top echelons of the State Department but somehow I doubt that this bothered Bill Bader at all, especially when measured against his confidence that he had, again, done the right thing. It was my privilege to have known him and to have been a witness to his courage.