Secrets of Scandal: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

By Jess Brownell, Researcher | Feb 15th, 2013
Fitzgerald GrantAfter some very intense and sexy swimming, this week’s episode opens with Cyrus interrupting a “private moment” between Fitz and Mellie to tell the President that four Americans have been kidnapped abroad in a country called Kashfar (but don’t try to find Kashfar on a map, because it only exists in the Scandal universe). A Kashfari terror group affiliated with al Qaeda has taken the hostages and is demanding to exchange them for the release of a Kashfari leader who is being held in Guantanamo Bay detention camp. On top of all this, the four “Red Cross workers” who are being held hostage are actually the U.S.’s main spies in the region. So there goes any hope of gathering intelligence on the ground.

To craft this storyline, the writers and I looked at a number of hostage crises past and present. Perhaps one of the more famous scenarios in recent decades was the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. On November 4 of that year, Islamist students and militants sympathetic with the Iranian Revolution stormed the embassy and held 52 Americans hostage. While the motives behind the takeover were complex and evolved over the 444 days the hostages were held, one initial demand was for the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to be returned to Iran for trial and execution. (The Shah was receiving medical treatment in the US at the time.)

A similar demand for an exchange played a role in the recent takeover of the In Amenas natural gas facility in Algeria. On January 16, militants loyal to Jihadist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar stormed the facility, taking over 800 people hostage. While the initial demand was for an end to French military intervention in neighboring Mali, the militants at one point offered to exchange two American hostages for two terror figures being held in U.S. prisons. When the takeover came to an end several days later, a total of 39 foreign hostages were dead, 3 of them Americans.

The Kashfari terrorists similarly demanding to exchange hostages for their detained leader is one example of how the writers look to real-life situations to influence their storylines. We also took cues from real life as we wrote this episode’s Navy SEAL team raid of what was thought to be the Kashfari’s hostage holding place (but which turned out to be empty). SEALs and other branches of the U.S. military often use what is called the NATO phonetic alphabet, which consists of a series of words corresponding with each letter of the alphabet to allow for clearer communication over radio and telephone. The name of our episode is one example of this phonetic alphabet. The words Whiskey Tango Foxtrot correspond to the letters WTF…and I’ll let you use your imagination as to what that might stand for!

In other parts of the Scandal world, David awakens this episode to find a dead woman in his bed and for once must rely on the Associates to help get him out of trouble. Stay tuned to see what real-world influences might shape David’s fate…