NOTE: The narrative bio below is painfully too long for reposting. Instead, if you need a bio for Frank, we would suggest using only the first paragraph below in blue text. Or using either this concise biography for Frank, or this slightly, longer bio posted by the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A version of Frank’s bio in Spanish is available here: Versión en Español. Of course, we will also craft an appropriate bio upon request. Thank you, FS!
Frank Smyth is an independent, award-winning investigative journalist specializing in armed conflicts, organized crime and human rights overseas, and on the gun movement and its influence at home. He is a former arms trafficking investigator for Human Rights Watch breaking the role of France in arming Rwanda before its genocide. Smyth is a global authority on journalist security and press freedom testifying to Congress and member states of several multilateral organizations. Frank is founder and CEO of the leading U.S.-based hostile environments training firm.
He began his career in 1984 on Wall Street in the World Trade Center at Telerate, the first real-time electronic stock and bond trading system. His first major story, “Duarte’s Secret Friends,” in 1987 in The Nation broke “SECRET” U.S. State Department cables revealing the Reagan administration was, in its own words, trying “one by one” to “destroy” the opposition labor movement in El Salvador.
Smyth was based in San Salvador from 1988 through 1990, reporting for CBS News Radio and others. He criticized abusive tactics by the guerrillas including the planting of car bombs in populated areas and assassinations of locally elected majors. In 1989 in The Village Voice, he wrote “Waiting for Tet” while embedded with El Salvador’s leftist guerrillas on the slopes of the volcano overlooking the capital, eight months before the rebels launched the largest insurgent offensive of the war.
In 1990 in The Village Voice, Frank implicated the-then Salvadoran army chief in ordering the recent Jesuit murders –three years before the commander was so accused by a United Nations Truth Commission. Smyth co-wrote with Riordan Roett, Dialogue and Armed Conflict: Negotiating the Civil War in El Salvador, and with Tom Gibb, El Salvador: Is Peace Possible?. The latter made the case to cut military aid by 50 percent as leverage to facilitate negotiations, a step implemented six months later by Congress.
Smyth covered the 1991 Gulf War from Amman Jordan. Afterward, he covered an Iraqi opposition conference in Beirut, Lebanon before crossing into northern Iraq to embed with Kurdish guerrillas, reporting for CBS News, The Economist and The Village Voice. The Voice nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for his coverage of the post-Gulf War anti-Saddam uprisings. Smyth along with two photojournalists including Alain Buu went missing for 18 days after being captured by Iraqi forces. By then, Iraqi soldiers had already captured and executed Smyth’s colleague, photojournalist Gad Gross, along with an armed Kurdish guerrilla, Bakhtiar Abdel-al-Rahman. Smyth later wrote about the experience in “The Chance to Cry.”
Frank was based in Guatemala from late 1991 through 1992, reporting for The Christian Science Monitor and others. Later, in The Wall Street Journal, Frank documented the Clinton administration’s cover up surrounding the murder of the Guatemala’s chief justice to stop the extradition of an Army officer wanted over DEA-brought charges.
In 1994, on the eve of the Rwandan genocide, Smyth broke the role of France in providing arms and military advisors to Rwanda’s already abusive ruling clique, as author of the Human Rights Watch report Arming Rwanda. Days into the carnage, he wrote “French Guns, Rwandan Blood” in The New York Times. Frank and co-author Stephen D. Goose received a Project Censored award for “Arming Genocide in Rwanda” in Foreign Affairs.
Earlier the same year Frank wrote “Box of Pain” in The New Republic about Grateful Dead fans given long sentences for LSD sales. Smyth managed to gain access to a 1994 National Rifle Association board meeting, revealing in The Village Voice the start of a long internecine war that helped shape the organization. After the Oklahoma City bombing, Smyth exposed neo-Nazis of the National Alliance, whose leader had influenced the bomber, quietly recruiting on the NRA convention floor. His Washington Post piece on NRA firebrand and conspiracy theorist Neal Knox, “Gunning for His Enemies,” was later cited in a New York Times lead editorial.
In the mid-1990s Smyth worked in Colombia and obtained U.S. Defense Department and Colombian documents to show the diversion of U.S. drug war aid to military intelligence-run death squads, breaking them in collaboration with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. One U.S. military document that Smyth provided to Amnesty International showing U.S. training and arms to abusive Colombian military units was later cited in Congress to help pass the Leahy Law.
Frank’s work on Rwanda and Colombia, respectively, was referenced or cited in two more New York Times lead editorials. He has twice been interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program, talking about Iraq and Rwanda.
In 1998, during the U.N. weapons inspection crisis over Iraq, Smyth wrote “Playing the Iran Card” in The Village Voice. In 1998, after the East Africa U.S. embassy bombings, he teamed up with terrorism expert Peter Bergen. Their story in The New Republic–based on separate reporting in Sudan and Afghanistan–was among the first to suggest that Osama bin Laden was behind the simultaneous U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Smyth and another colleague, Jason Vest, wrote a Voice piece about the al-Qaeda leader later heralded as “Bin Laden three years before 9/11.”
Another co-author, Dan Connell, and Frank documented the origins of Africa’s “New Leaders” in 1998 in Foreign Affairs. (They were wrong, however, in predicting they would remain allied instead of warring with each other.) Frank in The New Republic established the incident–a border-area clash killing Eritrean soldiers and officers–that sparked the Horn War between Eritrea and Ethiopia. He later wrote a first-person piece dubbed “The Bicycle Story” about once promising Eritrea’s turn to a totalitarian state.
Automobile sent Smyth in 1998 to cover “Heroes of the Revolution” or the Cuban mechanics who keep classic American cars running without spare parts. In Salon.com he later wrote a Letter from Havana about the Communist regime’s new tolerance of emerging gay culture, and spreading corruption throughout the island.
Frank’s 1999 piece in IntellectualCapital.com, “The Genocide Doctrine” over Kosovo was later republished in the book William J. Clinton. Smyth contributed two chapters involving human rights abuses in Iraq during the Gulf War to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know.
In 2000 Smyth became Washington Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the same time, he worked in Colombia for the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. In 2001 Smyth wrote CPJ’s investigative report on Colombian paramilitary attacks against journalists, “Bad Press.” He later wrote in Newsday about the Bush administration’s attempts to censor the homemade video implicating bin Laden in 9/11 attacks. In 2002 in The American Prospect, Smyth wrote ““Saddam’s Real Opponents” later republished in The Iraq War Reader.
On behalf of CPJ, Smyth testified before a joint House/Senate committee hearing about press freedom in Central Asia, a Senate committee terrorism hearing where Smyth spoke against the CIA posing as press (a case he previously made as a freelance journalist in a New York Times op-ed), and the Helsinki Commission on press freedom abuses in Tunisia and Morocco.
Smyth wrote “Iraq’s Forgotten Majority” in The New York Times in October 2002, or less than six months before U.S.-led invasion, becoming among the first observers to point out that most Iraqis are Shia Muslims who are also likely to aspire to power in any post-Saddam Iraq. One month later, in Newsday, he challenged the Bush administration’s notion that Saddam and bin Ladin were allies, reporting Bin Laden has long derided Saddam as a false Muslim. On the eve of the invasion, Frank wrote “Iraq’s Eclipsed Red Star” about the longstanding enmity between Saddam’s Ba’athist regime and the Iraqi Communist Party.
After the U.S.-led invasion, Smyth wrote in The International Herald Tribune about the search for the remains of people including Gad Gross still missing in Iraq in the wake of the 1991 uprisings. Later, in the Los Angeles Times, Smyth compared his witnessing of torture by Saddam’s guards with U.S. military interrogation and torture practices.
By 2003, Smyth also became CPJ’s Journalist Security Coordinator, writing a dangerous assignment guidebook later translated into Spanish and Arabic. In 2004, he wrote in The Texas Observer about a nonprofit “law enforcement” front group created by the NRA and others to influence elections. The following year in The Texas Observer Smyth quoted DEA officials acknowledging Guatemala’s late chief justice 12 years after his covered-up murder.
Smyth wrote “The Congressman and the Dictator’s Daughter” about Illinois Rep. Jerry Weller’s conflict of interest as a member of a subcommittee for Latin America who was married to a powerful Guatemalan congresswoman in 2006 in the Chicago Reader. Smyth documented Congressman Weller’s undisclosed beachfront properties in Nicaragua in another Chicago Reader story, which, after also being pursued by the Chicago Tribune, led Weller to leave Congress.
In Newsday Smyth wrote “A war ‘shock and awe’ didn’t win” about Iraq, and another piece about the fallout for Israel. In 2007 for CPJ Smyth wrote about the California Bay-area murder of “Local Newsman” Chauncey Bailey. Smyth blogged in TheHill.com about Tunisia Caucus’ apologies for the nation’s despot. Smyth wrote “El Salvador’s Cold War Martyrs” in 2009, pegged to the 20th anniversaries of the both the nation’s Jesuit murders and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
He testified on impunity for crimes against the press in Latin America in 2009 before member states of the Organization of American States. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010 published Smyth’s study, “Painting the Maya Red: Military Doctrine and Speech in Guatemala’s Genocidal Acts.” Harvard International Review published Frank’s piece about unsolved murders of journalists worldwide, “Murdering with Impunity.”
In 2011 Smyth left most of his duties at the Committee to Protect Journalists to become CPJ’s part-time Senior Advisor for Journalist Security. He blogged for CPJ about a court subpoena for raw footage taken for the environmental documentary Crude, whether news blackouts help or hurt hostages including journalists, and the first draft of an Obama administration Pentagon Law of War manual that treated journalists as spies. Frank blogged for outlets including NiemanWatchdog.
He moderated panels at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn including on Threats to Environmental Reporters, and Advocacy vs. Objectivity covering Human Rights. Smyth is the main author of CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide released in 2012, and since published in 11 languages including Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, Somali and Chinese.
By 2012 Smyth founded Global Journalist Security, training journalists and humanitarians operating in hostile environments around the world and within the United States. GJS is now among the most respected hostile environments training and consulting firms worldwide. Clients include major news organizations as well as leading health, development and relief groups. GJS helps freelance journalists, humanitarians and activists obtain affordable training in collaboration with nonprofit groups.
Frank continues to report and break news. In January 2013, after the heartbreaking Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Mother Jones ran his story, “EXCLUSIVE: Unmasking the NRA’s Inner Circle,” showing a longtime NRA director and chairman of the NRA’s Nominating Committee for board elections was living in Newtown just a few miles from the school. One committee member serving under her was the CEO of the firearms consortium that made the AR-15 rifle used to kill children and educators inside the school. The “Lean Forward” MSNBC television network soon made Frank both an online and on-air contributor. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded him a Delta Sigma Chi award for National Magazine Investigative Reporting.
Today Smyth is GJS CEO. He serves as President of the Advisory Group for CPJ’s Emergencies Response Team, and on the Global Advisory Network for World Pulse, using media platforms to unite and empower women. Continuing to be a voice for journalists, Smyth, in Geneva in 2014, addressed U.N. Member States at the U.N. Human Rights Council on a journalist safety panel with top U.N. human rights and free expression officials. In 2015 in Vienna, he moderated a panel on Safety of Journalists before member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In 2016 in Nairobi, Frank participated in a conference on kidnapping-for-ransom hosted by the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Center. Later that year, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Smyth addressed security for environmental activists at the WaterKeepers Alliance after the murder of Honduran advocate Berta Cáceres. He spoke at a Virginia Commonwealth University conference on Countering Violent Extremism about groups from Mexican drug traffickers to ISIS using violence as a tactic to communicate strength.
Frank addressed then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s incitement against journalists during a profile of GJS training by The Daily Show. In 2017, during President Trump’s first year in office, Smyth spoke out on CNN against Trump’s remarks potentially endangering CNN and other journalists.
In 2017, Smyth spoke on an American Bar Association panel on international law and attacks against the press. He spoke at the U.N. headquarters in New York at the Media for Social Impact Summit on the potential for virtual reality to enhance training.
Smyth continues to report and write on matters including human rights and press freedom matters worldwide, and on matters including the gun movement and the National Rifle Association in the United States.
Frank has taught journalism, global media, news history and political history at American University and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. He is an alumnus of Boston College and the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.