Andre Surena’s 30-year career as an international lawyer for the State Department reads like a best-selling novel: chief negotiator in high-stakes Cold War spy swaps; lead lawyer for Middle East peace-keepers and architect of U.S. strategy for extraditing and prosecuting international drug traffickers and terrorists; defender of refugees fleeing persecution; and promoter of human rights. Although many of his projects cannot be revealed, his achievements will leave a lasting impression here and abroad.
Surena was legal adviser to the U.S. Mission in Berlin before German unification, at a time, he said, “when every third or fourth person was involved in some sort of espionage.” Working in English, German and French with foreign counterparts, he managed numerous high-stakes crises coolly and astutely. For example, he personally negotiated the largest-ever spy trade between East and West at Berlin’s Glienecke Bridge in 1985—ensuring the safe return of 28 U.S. agents. He not only negotiated the trade with the East Germans, but he also wrote the script for the exchange—indicating the location, the time and the streets to close. The site chosen was Glienecke Bridge; the middle of the bridge represented a demarcation line between East and West.
At the State Department’s request, Surena later served as General Counsel to the Multinational Force and Observers, the peace-keeping organization for the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Operating from headquarters in Rome and the Sinai, he defused conflicts and helped bring long-time adversaries together within this cornerstone of U.S. peacemaking efforts.
While in Washington, Surena has been one of the State Department’s most trusted and effective legal advisers. He developed the department’s modern extradition treaties and asset forfeiture agreements, and negotiated a mutual legal assistance treaty that provided access to records of Cayman Island bank accounts once believed to be beyond scrutiny. Using his unparalleled understanding of the interplay between law enforcement and human rights, he has led U.S. negotiations on treaties against child soldiers and pornography, and to prevent cyber-crime without infringing free speech. In all these endeavors, Surena has been in the forefront of bringing the international law of human rights and law enforcement into the modern age.
Cold War spy swaps, helping to preserve peace in the Middle East, fighting cyber-crime—Andre Surena has done it all, and more. The thrilling novel that is his career could be made into a movie, but it’s doubtful that the big screen could fully convey his remarkable achievements as a public servant.