Exclusive: Serial Podcast Eyes Bowe Bergdahl for Upcoming Season

Soldiers who served with the ex-POW in Afghanistan tell Maxim they have been interviewed by Serial host Sarah Koenig.
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Soldiers who served with the ex-POW in Afghanistan tell Maxim they have been interviewed by Serial host Sarah Koenig.
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Serialfans, you heard it here first: according to several anonymous sources, one of the two upcoming seasons of the wildly popular podcast will focus on the infamous case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who disappeared from his post in eastern Afghanistan under mysterious circumstances back in 2009.

Bergdahl was held prisoner by the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied guerilla insurgent group, until he was released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees in May 2014. Bergdahl claims that he was abducted by the insurgents after intentionally walking off his outpost. His goal, he says, was to cause a scene that would ultimately draw attention to conditions in his unit that he found troubling, as the late Michael Hastings and I first reported in 2012.

However, this story contradicts accounts from multiple soldiers who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan. They are convinced his reasons for leaving the outpost were far less honorable. Bergdahl was eventually charged with both desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.

All of this is ripe material for Serial host Sarah Koenig's Rashomon approach to investigative journalism, which she deftly applied to the case of Adnan Syed, a man currently serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

Koenig went to great lengths to examine the case from every possible angle—interviewing witnesses whose testimonies were never heard in court, and pursuing other leads abandoned during the investigation that led to Syed's conviction.

The podcast ignited a campaign to reopen the case, and three weeks after the show concluded, Syed was granted an appeal. If Bergdahl is indeed the subject an upcoming season (the second premieres this fall; the third, in spring 2016) we can expect plenty of the courtroom drama that made the first so great. 

Last week, a preliminary hearing for Bergdahl's case was held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, to determine if the former POW will be tried in a court-martial. According to someone present at the hearing, Serial host Sarah Koenig and at least one of the show's producers were in spotted in the courtroom.

Also present was screenwriter Mark Boal, who wrote Zero Dark Thirty. Boal's company, Page 1 Productions, has apparently been working on bringing Bergdahl's story to the big screen ever since his release, and several anonymous sources familiar with the production tell Maxim that Boal has provided the Serial team with research material, including taped interviews with Bergdahl.

Maxim also spoke with two former members of Bergdahl's unit in Afghanistan who say they have been interviewed by Serial producers. Both seemed to doubt Koenig's ability to cover this extremely controversial tale without bias. 

"Anyone who tries to benefit from Bowe's situation has little interest in the truth," one said, asking to be quoted anonymously. "What happened in 2009 is both troubling and politically incorrect...my concern is that the truth is being diluted by those looking to gain from Bowe's story."

The other, who also requested anonymity, was more blunt: “I get it that Boal wants to make a movie and Serial is trying to make a nifty diorama for hipsters to marvel at, but I think it's the height of crassness for them to do this when it could potentially affect the legal proceedings... I assume it will be a great way to paint us as kooks and sore losers."

When reached for comment, Emily Condon, a production manager for Serial and its sister program, This American Life, emailed the following response:

"We'd very much appreciate if fellow journalists would give us some room and not feel the need to attempt to dig into and try to figure out what you think we might be doing, especially since we're actively reporting stories, and having a bunch of wild speculation out there makes our job reporting harder. Doesn't feel very menschy. In any case, here's what I can tell you: The Serial staff is currently working on several things simultaneously: Season 2, Season 3, and some other podcast projects. For now we're not talking publicly about anything that we're working on."

Whatever the Serial team uncovers, we don't doubt it will make for a compelling podcast. And while the show's fans are waiting, here's a clip of the soundtrack to tide them over.



Writer Matthew Farwell is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter @mattbfarwell

Update, 9/23:  Other media outlets have confirmedMaxim's reporting.