Roger Carstens was at his desk at the Center for a New American Security about a year ago when a friend called with a proposal: Would he like to be in a new TV show?
“The Wanted” was being put together for NBC News to showcase the efforts of journalists and intelligence experts to research and find accused terrorists and war criminals.
Absolutely not, said Carstens, a 1982 graduate of University High School in Spokane Valley, who had served as an Army Ranger and a Green Beret and had taken a job at the Washington, D.C., think tank after a career in counterintelligence.
“In special operations, it’s in your nature to be in the shadows,” Carstens said in an interview Friday.
But Carstens changed his mind – he’ll appear on the show beginning Monday – after his friend explained one of show’s first projects would be tracking down people connected with genocide in Rwanda.
He couldn’t pass up the opportunity, Carstens said, because he’d been on the brink of going to Rwanda in 1994 when the terror started; his Green Beret unit in Germany scrapped its mission to seize the airport in Kigali and protect Americans. By the time he got home, CNN was showing footage of bodies floating in a river.
“I broke down and cried,” he said. “I thought, ‘We should have gone there. I should be in Kigali trying to stop the madness.’ ”
He signed on to the TV show after being assured the team would do its own research, talk to victims and only act if the evidence was compelling.
Carstens did eventually go to Rwanda for a show. But the series’ first episode deals with Mullah Krekar, the leader of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization accused of killing Americans and other Westerners.
“The Wanted” has been controversial since it was announced earlier this year. Some critics have called it an international version of the “Dateline NBC” feature “To Catch a Predator,” where would-be pedophiles expecting to meet girls for sex instead find television cameras and police officers waiting for them.
Carstens, who grew up in Spokane and Spokane Valley before accepting an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., calls the show “investigative journalism in high definition.” The team also includes Scott Tyler, a former Navy SEAL; David Crane, a former intelligence official and chief prosecutor of a war crimes trial; and Adam Ciralsky, an investigative journalist and former “Dateline” producer who once served as an attorney for the CIA.
“This show is about justice. It’s not about jingoism or testosterone-filled Americans going around the world,” Carstens said. “This is not about vigilantism.”
“The Wanted” has at least six episodes. If it’s popular with viewers, it might get picked up for more.
That would be fine, Carstens said, but for now he has returned to a job as national security consultant, with assignments coming up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.