California native Lee Coldren was educated at Berkeley and at Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He returned to Berkeley in the late sixties to work toward a doctorate but abandoned academia and joined the Foreign Service in 1970.
In retrospect, Coldren appears to have specialized in mountainous, drug-producing ancient countries prone to instability and terrorism. Following two years in Peru, he worked at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 1974–77. After covering Sri Lanka at the Department of State and spending two years in India, he returned to Afghanistan in 1980 to run the embassy and cover the Russo-Afghan War. During that time Coldren wrote several articles for Asian Survey. Escaping South Asia in 1982, Coldren was deputy director of Korean Affairs prior to a three-year assignment to Indonesia. As consul general in Surabaya, Coldren focused on the politics of traditional and radical Islamic movements in eastern Indonesia. He then spent three years as deputy chief of mission in Dhaka, Bangladesh before returning to Washington in 1993.
During his last stint in Washington, Coldren was director of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh Affairs and traveled often to that region--especially Afghanistan--to meet with factions and warlords. Opposing the conventional wisdom of the intelligence community, he predicted the rise of the Taliban and the fall of Kabul. After years trying to get the administration to pay positive attention to Afghanistan and formulate a rational South Asian policy, Coldren retired to California in 1997.
He has remained involved in Afghan affairs since retirement. In 2000 and 2001 he participated in three UN-sponsored “Afghan brainstorming meetings” involving former officials of the U.S., USSR, Iran and Pakistan. Since 9/11, Coldren has appeared on local radio and television stations and spent weeks on the phone responding to journalists.