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Frederick C. Cuny (born November 14, 1944 in New Haven, Connecticut) was an American disaster relief specialist who was active in many humanitarian projects around the world from 1969 until his forced disappearance in Chechnya in 1995.

Life and careerEdit

In 1952 Cuny moved with his family to Texas. He had a passion for flying and hoped to become a fighter pilot. He studied engineering at Texas A&M University, specializing in problems in developing countries, and urban planning at the University of Houston. Unable to pass his language requirements, Cuny could not go on to Officers' Candidate School, thus ending his dream of life as an officer in the military. However, he became increasingly involved in causes such as the problems of local Mexican migrant workers.

Cuny became an accomplished civil engineer, working on large construction projects such as a radar installation at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. At some point he became dissatisfied and decided to become a disaster relief specialist who used his training in engineering to do humanitarian work. Cuny was hired by organizations such as the United Nations and private foundations to design and carry out relief plans. Cuny was able to maintain the autonomy to devise solutions his way and became increasingly active as a policy adviser. Cuny's overriding goal was to institute a radical restructuring of the way the disaster relief system operated throughout the world.

Humanitarian workEdit

In 1971 he founded the non-profit Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corp. of Dallas, Texas, a relief mission technical assistance and training company. His company became the major disaster relief agency, Interworks. Cuny also founded the Center for the Study of Societies in Crisis which became known as the Cuny Center after his death. He worked in countries such as Biafra, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, and Bosnia. At the end of his life he was working closely with George Soros' Open Society Institute, and was instrumental in the early stages of founding the International Crisis Group, which seeks to institutionalize the knowledge base of relief experts. Cuny was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1995, but disappeared before he could officially receive his award.


In April 1995, Cuny and his team of two Russian Red Cross doctors and an interpreter disappeared in Chechnya while seeking to negotiate a ceasefire. Cuny's family believes that although they were in contact with the Chechen forces under Dzhokhar Dudayev who were meant to pass them on for safe keeping, they were arrested and executed under the orders of Rizvan Elbiev (Elbiyev), a local Chechen rebel counterintelligence commander.[1] It is suspected that the Russians, antagonised by Cuny's published criticism of the war, disseminated propaganda that Cuny and his team were Russian spies.[2][3] Their remains were never found.


  • Famine, Conflict and Response: A Basic Guide Frederick C. Cuny, Richard B. Hill, ISBN 1-56549-090-8
  • Disasters and Development Fredrick C. Cuny, ISBN 0-19-503293-4

Media depictionsEdit

  • The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Dangerous Life & Mysterious Disappearance of Fred Cuny, Scott Anderson, ISBN 0-385-48666-9
  • In 2002 Harrison Ford was working on turning The Man Who Tried to Save the World into a movie.
  • In 1997 the PBS program Frontline profiled Fred Cuny in a one-hour show entitled "The Lost American".

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Who killed Fred Cuny", Frontline, Sherry Jones
  2. ^ "Russian Role Seen in Aid Worker's Death", The New York Times, ALESSANDRA STANLEY, August 18, 1995
  3. ^ "Spy or Savior?", The Nation, George Kenney, July 8, 1999

External linksEdit