Some 2,700 Iranian exiles are searching for a home, and Jane Holl Lute is determined to help them find one.
“It’s an untenable situation,” said Lute of Camp Hurriya, northeast of Baghdad International Airport, which houses former members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran. “They’re not welcome in Iraq.”
In a rare interview, Lute spoke of the plight of Camp Hurriya residents, who came to Iraq in the late 1980s at the invitation of Saddam Hussein to fight against the Iranian government. Before coming to Camp Hurriya, the residents were housed at Camp Ashraf, about 25 miles north of Baghdad. During the Iraq War, the one-time militants reached an agreement with the U.S. government under which they would surrender their weapons.
Since taking over in January as a special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for the relocation of Camp Hurriya residents outside of Iraq, Lute has shuttled between her home in Northern Virginia and the beleaguered encampment. She has also met with officials from the European Union and beseeched representatives of foreign governments to take in camp residents.
A few hundred exiles have been relocated, but most remain under siege at Camp Hurriya, a decommissioned U.S. military base. In December, a number of rockets were fired at the camp, killing three and wounding scores of others. At the time, the State Department condemned the rocket attack and reiterated the need for “a permanent and safe location outside of Iraq” for camp residents.
When not imploring countries in Europe and elsewhere to join in the relocation effort, Lute ponders Internet security as president and CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based Council on CyberSecurity, which was established last year. The council is perhaps best known as the developer of the “Top 20 Critical Security Controls,” which it describes as “a recommended set of actions for cyberdefense that provide specific and actionable ways to thwart the most pervasive attacks.” Lute, who focused on cybersecurity while serving as a senior official in the Homeland Security Department, likens this suite of controls to “basic cyberhygiene.”
“When you’re driving your car, you protect your passengers with seat belts, safety glass, and antilock brakes,” she said. “In cyberspace, the equivalent is these security controls. By taking four or five steps — like putting in place a system that allows you to detect vulnerabilities and patch them within 48 hours — you can eliminate 80 to 90 percent of known cyberattacks.”
Lute, 57, has twice before served with the U.N.: as assistant secretary general for peace-building support and assistant secretary general for mission support in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Before joining the Council on CyberSecurity, she was deputy Homeland Security secretary. Lute has also served as executive vice president and COO of the United Nations Foundation and on the National Security Council under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Lute holds a law degree from Georgetown University and a doctorate in political science from Stanford University. She is married to Douglas E. Lute, the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
As for Camp Hurriya, Lute is resolutely optimistic.
“The United Nations thinks that there is an opportunity with the creation of this office, the establishment of a trust fund, and an emerging consensus for an accelerated resolution to this issue,” she said. “We’re going to lend our best efforts to see if we can do just that.
“Everyone is aware that the security situation in Iraq is a precarious one. The residents who are in this camp need to get on with their lives.”
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