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Sendero File: 1993

In early 1992, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and its president, Jeremy Stone, took an interest in what was happening in Peru, in part because Stone saw parallels with what happened in Cambodia under the Khymer Rouge. Since Stone understood little about Peru, its political dilemma and history, he hired me as a kind of tutor-writer. I took Stone for a tour of Peru and conversations with my political contacts in June. He went back to Washington fired up. We brought out Sendero File as a means of educating Washington decision makers as well as a instrument for launching trial balloons on policy.

The policy dilemma at the time was that while Sendero loomed as a threat, throwing support behind the government of strongman Alberto Fujimori was not something attractive in Washington. He had just closed down the Peruvian legislature, manhandled the courts and thumbs his nose at the international community. Meanwhile, the Peruvian military were committing human right abuses indiscriminately. Which was the worst option: letting a fanatical guerrilla group kill peasant leaders and town mayors -- and eventually take power -- or supporting an authoritarian regime that saw democracy as an encumbrance and had hit squads to eliminate suspected Sendero sympathizers. Of course, Stone saw the worst option as Washington's kneejerk response to most non-Cold War crises -- ignoring the plight of a Third World country that did not directly influence U.S. national interests or domestic politics. He foresaw Sendero's growing upheavals spilling over the border into Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The Sendero File was seen by Stone as a means of educating Washington legislators, powerbrokers and government officials about the threat. It had a simple format and was photocopied on legal size paper because Stone thought that the usual size would let it get lost in a stack of papers. It was mailed out to about 500 VIPs. I also distributed the file electronically on several special interest distribution lists via bulletin boards. This was before the Internet and the Web had changed online publishing. Stone gave me almost complete editorial freedom.

I know that Stone and the FAS initiative did raise a lot of eyebrows among human rights advocates and anti-War on Drug activists because it looked as if we were giving the Bush I Administration additional justification for meddling in Peru. Stone was very much a loose cannon. Although he had good progressive credentials, he was reaching conclusions about handle the Fujimori administration that were the opposite of the progressive consensus in Washington. That's what made him dangerous.

In Stone's book, Every Man Should Try: Adventures of a Public Interest Activist (1999), Stone tells about the behind-the-scene story of his private diplomacy efforts. He was lobbying Bernie Aronson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, to sound the alarm within the Bush administration about the threat posed by Sendero. He was also encouraging the U.S. intelligence community to throw its weight into hunting down Abimael Guzmán. He published an op-ed page commentary, "Save Peru from Sendero" on July 28, which drew a lot of attention. He even contacted the then U.N. Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar.

Guzmán was captured on September 10. Reporting by the Washington Post, later revealed that the CIA did start working on the Guzmán hunt and contributed substantially to his capture.

With Guzmán's capture, the gas went out of the FAS Peru initiative and no funding could be obtained from private donor and research foundations. I left the organization in January 1993. Stone told me that he had never worked with an initiative that had gotten off the ground so quickly and had an impact on Washington decision makers. I think that was one of the reasons that he was listen to me when I came back to him in 1999, asking to contribute to the FAS's web acitvities.