Last month, the Liberian Embassy in Washington was accused of spying on Liberians in the United States in a hunt for those believed to be against the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The allegations infuriated many Liberians in the United States who called on President Sirleaf to look into the matter. The government sent a high-power delegation to the United States led by national security advisor H. Boima Fahnbulleh to set the record straight.
Both the government delegation and Liberians in the United States met at a town hall meeting Sunday to exchange views on the spy allegation.
The allegation was prompted by revelations of an email purportedly written by the first secretary for political affairs at the embassy, Christopher Nippy, to the Sirleaf government in which he allegedly identifies some Liberians, including former presidential candidate Winston Tubman of plotting to overthrow the government. Nippy and the Embassy communication counselor Samuel Abu have both since been recalled to Liberia.
In opening remarks, Emmanuel Wettee, president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), said the community has had a good working relationship with the embassy. But he said the embassy spy allegation has caused discomfort among Liberians in the United States, reminding them of past dictatorial governments.
“ULAA as an institution is very troubled because this issue has the potential to allow undemocratic tendency of the past to repeat itself. We want to state for a fact that any attempt to those evils and events in the past that led our country to destruction will be met with the strongest forces or resistance in the entire history of ULAA,” he said.
Wettee warned that the Liberian government’s failure to satisfactorily address the issue would affect the community’s future interaction with the embassy and the Sirtleaf government.
The head of the Liberian government delegation, national security advisor, H. Boima Fahnbulleh said President Sirleaf sent him because she is concerned about the spy allegations. He says Liberia under the leadership of President Sirleaf is tolerant to all views.
“In terms of the new dispensation, we allow people to speak their minds. You only have to come home and listen to the radio talk shows. People express themselves, they dialogue with government; they make charges and accusations. We accept all these things because we ourselves have been victims of these misrepresentations. It is nothing strange. But to say that government has an institutionalized policy to victimize Liberians in the United States and that we spy on people, I want to assure as national security advisor that this is not true,” Fahnbulleh said.
The Liberian Ambassador to the United Sates, Charles Minor, says he did not send any spy email to the national security agency. He however defended what he called the daily practices of all diplomats.
“President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made it abundantly clear that she intensely dislikes the idea of Liberians, whether they are in government or outside reporting other Liberians without evidence of any crime committed. The president herself has been a victim of such false reporting in the past. At the same time let me point out that embassies and ambassadors have the duty and have the responsibility to report as regularly as possible on all issues of importance to the national interests of the country they represent. I therefore make no apology for carrying out all the functions we at the embassy have been charged to carry out,” he said.
Ambassador Minor says he has commissioned an investigation to look into the spy allegation. But some Liberians have called for his recall because they say public diplomacy under Ambassador Minor’s tenure has failed and that he has been selective in his dealings with Liberians in the United States.