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U.S. Ambassador to Iceland asked to carry gun because he’s ‘paranoid’ about security in Reykjavik

The US Ambassador to Iceland reportedly asked for permission to carry a gun due to ‘irrational’ fears for his safety in the country that’s known to be one of the safest in the world.  

Jeffrey Ross Gunter became ‘paranoid’ about his security after he took the ambassador post in Reykjavik in May 2019, according to CBS News, which spoke to a dozen diplomats, current and former government officials and other individual familiar with the situation.  

Gunter allegedly asked the US State Department to obtain special permission from the Icelandic government for him to carry a firearm, and to give him door-to-door armored car service and a ‘stab-proof’ vest. 

US government officials said that Gunter – a California dermatologist and prolific GOP donor who had no foreign policy experience when he took the post – has been informed multiple times that he is at no extraordinary risk.

But the unnamed officials said they believe changes are being made to the ambassador’s security to pacify his ‘irrational’ concerns – pointing to the fact that the embassy in Reykjavik recently put out an ad for full-time ‘bodyguards’ in Icelandic newspapers. 

The State Department did not immediately return’s request for comment but declined to say whether there was any credible threat to Gunter’s safety when approached by CBS News.  

‘Protection programs for our leadership are standard features at most US facilities around the world,’ a State Department official told the outlet when asked about the ‘bodyguard’ job listing.  

‘While the US government does not comment on specific security measures, our goal around the world has always been to be proactive with security measures.’ 

The State Department also did not directly address the claim that Gunter wanted to arm himself.  

Personal handgun ownership is very rare in Iceland – which is ranked the most peaceful country in the world by the Global Peace Index. 

Icelandic law is very strict on gun control, requiring a physical and mental assessment, a gun safety course, a written assessment and other provisions before a person can get a firearm license. 

The Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs would not confirm whether the US officially requested permission for Gunter to carry a gun, saying that they ‘generally do not comment on the security details of diplomatic missions’. 

Three diplomatic sources told CBS News that Gunter was ‘talked out of’ getting a gun before any request could be made because self-armament would be viewed as an insult to Iceland.   

Insiders say the controversy over Gunter’s requests for unnecessary security came on the backdrop of persistent tensions within the embassy he leads. 

Current and former diplomats said Gunter has created an increasingly ‘untenable’ working environment at the embassy since he took ambassador post last year, going through seven Deputy Chiefs of Mission in the past 14 months.

The first DCM tapped to serve as Gunter’s second-in-command reportedly prepared for the post for more than a year and even learned Icelandic before the ambassador blocked his appointment because he ‘didn’t like the look of him’, a State Department official told CBS News. 

The second DCM held the post for just six months, after which Gunter reportedly tried to convince the European Bureau that he didn’t need anyone in that role because he could handle it on his own.  

The bureau pushed back on Gunter’s suggestion and ultimately set up a rotation system until the DCM position could be filled permanently.  

Over the first six months of 2020 the State Department deployed four experienced foreign service officers to serve short term assignments as Acting DCM ‘to ensure continuity of support for Embassy Reykjavik while Ambassador Gunter selected a new, permanent DCM’, a department spokesperson said when asked by CBS News about the high turnover.

‘These temporary duty assignments were of short duration by design,’ the spokesperson added.  

However, three people familiar with the situation said Gunter clashed with the acting deputies on many occasions – including one when the ambassador allegedly ‘flew into a rage’ because a DCM left snow boots under their desk. 

The sources said he accused other DCMs of ‘various, unsubstantiated infractions, including trying to undermine him to Washington and being complicit with the “deep state”‘.

Current and former State Department officials said the agency is aware of unrest within Gunter’s embassy but has been reluctant to take action because of the ambassador’s close ties with the White House. 

The situation escalated earlier this year when Gunter refused to return to Iceland and took a personal leave of absence following a conference in the US in February – just as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the world. 

Gunter reportedly asked to conduct his work remotely from his home in California and left a temporary in charge on the ground in Iceland for months in the middle of the health crisis. 

A State Department spokesman said Gunter’s personal leave was scheduled, and that his return to Iceland ‘was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic’.  

But accounts from sources in Washington and Reykjavik painted a much more contentious picture of the ordeal – saying that Gunter indicated he would not return to Iceland unless Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly ordered him to do so. 

The sources said that after increasingly high-ranking officials failed to force Gunter to return, Pompeo had to contact him directly.  

Gunter eventually flew back to Iceland in May, and his new DCM, Michelle Yerkin, joined the embassy this month. 

The ambassador sparked renewed controversy within the host nation last week when he referred to COVID-19 as ‘the Invisible China virus!’ on Twitter – a phrase that was perceived as offensive by many Icelanders. 

Asked by CBS News if Pompeo still has confidence in Gunter, the State Department did nor respond. has reached out to the State Department and Gunter for comment about the concerns raised in the outlet’s report.  

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