Greg Mortenson of ‘Three Cups of Tea’ returns to explain his actions

Greg Mortenson in 2005 at the Lalander village school in Afghanistan.
Greg Mortenson in 2005 at the Lalander village school in Afghanistan.
(Wakil Karimi / Associated Press)

Bestselling author Greg Mortenson agreed in 2012 to return $1 million to the charity he founded as part of a settlement over misuse of funds. The charity, the Central Asia Institute, was designed to build schools in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as described in Mortenson’s books “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools.” On Tuesday Jan. 21, Mortenson will return to explain his actions on the “Today” show.

In a preview provided by the show, Mortenson explains his actions:

Tom Brokaw: “It still just has puzzled me and why there wasn’t, at some point, in your mind, an alarm that went off and said, ‘This just isn’t right in some way.’”

Greg Mortenson: “There were alarms, Tom. I didn’t listen to them. I was willing to basically kill myself to raise money and help the projects.”

An investigation by the Montana attorney general’s office found that the charity spent $4.9 million advertising Mortenson’s two books, $4 million buying copies of them to give away to schools and libraries, paid inappropriate speaking fees to Mortenson and had paid for charter flights for family vacations, clothing and Internet downloads.


In a settlement stemming from that investigation, Mortenson agreed to pay $1 million back to the Central Asia Institute, to leave its board and to step down as its executive director. However, he was allowed to remain an employee of the organization.

The investigation was sparked by a 2011 story by Jon Krakauer, author of “Into Thin Air,” who in addition to charging Mortenson with financial improprieties alleged that parts of Mortenson’s stories of his experiences in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan were not truthful. Mortenson’s climbing partner countered those charges.

In the only portion of the interview previewed by the “Today” show, Brokaw suggests that America is ready to give Mortenson another chance.

Brokaw: “I think I speak for a lot of people when I say America is a country of second chances, if people learn from the first experience.”

Mortenson: “I’ve been given the privilege to come back again and be committed to this and do it in a more humble and -- understanding way. I’m gonna try as hard as I can never to make the same mistakes again.”

In November, 2012, Mortenson’s coauthor on “Three Cups of Tea,” David Oliver Relin, committed suicide.


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