Monthly Archives: March 2012

True History – An Imperial Farce Part 8

Chuck rolled over with a groan, his head throbbing and his mouth thick with the taste of stale vomit. My god, he thought, I was right – we did pass out. Squinting through tentative, pained eyelids he strained to look at his watch, but found his wrist was bare. My god, he thought, I was right again – he did rob us blind.
The full enormity of that conclusion suddenly hit him, and he jerked upright in a panic – immediately regretting the sudden move. Stealing himself to the simultaneous challenges posed by loose bowels, a churning stomach and a dried out brain rattling around his skull case, Chuck lurched to his feet and began to catalogue the situation. Money – gone; weapons – gone; duffle bag – gone. Nothing remained but the empty two-liter Pepsi bottle lying in the dust and a few empty crisps packets. Chuck’s frantic scrambling soon woke Quigley, who went through a similarly agonized inventory.
“They took my fucking sword, man!” Like a crazed bear, Quigley spun back and forth in rage and frustration, his clotted beard and pony tail swinging.
While Quigley dropped to his knees and pounded the dirt with impotent fists, Chuck began to follow a trail of debris leading back down the ravine. A broken headlamp. A little further, a half eaten Nugalicious Snicker’s bar. Their interloper had apparently conducted a walking review of his haul, discarding what he didn’t need or want. Quigley’s Lonely Planet guide. And there, a flash of color in the washed out stream bed. The pink plastic folder, still securely fastened.
“I found it!” Chuck almost shrieked with delight. “He threw it away!”
“They took my fucking sword!” Quigley continued to wail.
Chuck waved dismissively, clutching the folder to his chest and laughing with relief. “I’ll buy you a new sword, dude. We’ve still got the one thing that matters. We still have a chance.”
“Not without my sword, we don’t.”
“Will you shut up about the goddamn sword? Seriously, we’re in the middle of the fucking Khyber Pass. I swear, we’ll find you a new one. But we have to hurry. Sun is coming up and I want to get into the customs yard before the guards show up for the morning.”
“Also, I think I pissed myself.”
“Well, you can’t smell any worse than you already did, and it’ll dry. Come on!”
Rosy fingered dawn was painting the valley a deceptively gentle hue of golden pink, as the two men darted across the macadam and into the shadow of a white washed guard hut. Sandled feet poked out from a floor littered with used hypodermic needles, and the slightest plume of marijuana haze was leaking from a window half-curtained with a dingy towel. Carefully picking their way, they edged past and into the HESCO walled customs yard. Row after row of jingle trucks were stacked almost atop one another, followed by fuel tankers, and last of all un-freighted shipping containers. Red, blue, bondo gray, and some so rusted they could have been left by the British on their flight from Kabul in 1842. Chuck stopped at one of the latter and spun through a combination lock of more recent vintage. With a clatter and groan the chain fell away and the first door opened. Inside was a slightly smaller, more modern container with an electronic pass-code key pad. Past this barrier was the final matroshka doll, sealed with a retinal scanner.
At last inside, Chuck closed the door and pulled the chain on a single utility maintenance light strung from the ceiling, the bulb bright behind metal mesh, and the orange rubber extension cord spooled below onto the floor. The room was clean and strangely cool, though the closed space quickly reminded both men how badly they needed a wash. At one end stood a metal desk and a single chair on rollers, with a vaguely 1950’s utilitarian air. A lone iMac occupied the surface, paired with a single scanner/printer. The room was otherwise empty.
“Um, color me unimpressed?” Quigley observed. “This is it?”
“It’s what you can’t see that’s impressive. That’s partly the point.”
“Why do I get the feeling we’re on a wild goose chase?”
“We’re not on a goose chase. That’s Fowler’s job.”
“Never mind. Let me show you.” Chuck walked over to the table and switched on the computer.

The machine purred and the screen came to light. Against a purple backdrop and a scrolling screensaver with the words Umbratile Ouroboros, Chuck typed in a username and password. He then clicked on an e-mail icon, when suddenly his screen was locked by a flashing yellow warning prompter.
“Oh my fucking god!” Chuck cursed, stabbing at the keys. “Not now…no, no, no!”
“What’s the matter? Is it broken?” Quigley asked. “Is there a virus? And what’s an Umbrella Orangutan?”
“It’s Umbratile Ouroboros,” Chuck answered. “That’s who I work for. Kinda, sorta, sometime, though I probably shouldn’t have told you that. And it’s not broken or a virus.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
With a resigned sigh, Chuck sagged into the chair. “Well, all our UO systems run on independent servers and networks. But for some functions, like the one I need to do now, we tunnel in through U.S. Government systems. To do that, we have proxy government accounts.”
“So, a proxy government account works just like any real government account in whatever Department we’re spoofing. It’s also subject to the constraints of those real accounts.”
“Like what?”
“Like…” Chuck squinted at the list of programs stacking up in his queue. “I can’t access my e-mail till I’ve completed by periodic mandatory training modules. I haven’t used this for a while, so that means I have to complete Anti-Terrorism Awareness, and Information Assurance. Oh fuck, that’s the one that runs a customized program that keeps locking up, and it’s interactive, so you can’t just click through the slides.”

Is that it?”

Oh no, of course not. There’s also Equal Opportunity, Sexual Harassment, Cultural
Sensitivity, Understanding Islam, and…oh goody, this is new…Repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. You know, for a job that nominally involves killing people, there’s an awful lot of mandatory training about who we can’t hate and why. I wish there was mandatory training about who we should hate. I suppose there is, though in an indirect way, because I very definitely hate the fuckers who impose mandatory training. Anyway, you might want to take a walk or a nap, because this is going to take a while.”
Hours later, Chuck nudged the snoring Quigley with his boot.
“Huh? What?” Quigley sat up, wiping crusted drool from his cheek. “Do we have any water?”
“No, but get up. It’s time.”
“But I’m thirsty.”
“I’ll buy you a Pepsi later.”
“I don’t want a Pepsi, I want Coke.”
“No Coke, Pepsi. Anyway, shut up and get that paper we’ve been carrying around. Just feed it into the scanner.”
“What are you doing?”
“It’s not what I’m doing. It’s what we’re doing. Listen, there’s not a lot of time for storytelling, but I know you’ve been hunting the Jabberwocky Plan for a while now. So have I. So have a lot of people, actually.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Admiral’s orders. Said I was to keep tabs on you but not to interfere, something about post-modern geography and chaos theory. Then he started getting philosophical and I stopped paying attention.”
“So you’re planning to steal my work? So help me god, if I had my sword…. But bare hands will do, if need be.”
“Calm down, big fella. I’m not stealing from you, I’m helping you. This plan is too big and too complicated for any one person to track down alone, so we’ve got multiple teams going after it. And so do our enemies.”
“Our enemies?”
“Well, technically my enemies, I mean UO’s enemies. But these bastards are the bane of of good men everywhere, so I’m including you in the first person plural.”
“The bane of good men? Who talks like that?”
“Shut up, I’m almost done,” Chuck tapped out several key strokes, and a “compiling” tab began to scroll on the screen.
“Done with what?”
“Well, we don’t have the whole plan yet, but others have been picking up pieces. The scheme is to enter our respective elements into the database, so then everyone can see what the others have. It’s like putting together a jigsaw without the cover image as a guide. We just have to see what fits where, while slowly but surely the picture starts to emerge. And, dude, this is one evil picture. Some very bad men somewhere are planning something special. We simply have to find out exactly who they are and exactly what it is to have any hope of stopping them. Read it and weep.”
Chucked pushed the chair back, and Quigley bent over the computer screen.
E.O.S. 71629
E.O.S. 71629
E.O.S. 71629
“Am I dead yet?” Chandler groaned from the backseat of the hired Tata. “Is this Hell?”
“You’re in Uttar Pradesh, India, and it’s summer,” Fowler replied from the passenger seat. “You tell me, is there a difference?”
Chandler turned a despairing eye to look out the window at the sun bleached landscape rolling by. Plains so vast and bleak, they felt like a khaki terrestrial version of the Montana sky. Small villages would pop up from time to time, isolated outposts in the wilderness, whitewashed walls covered with hand-painted murals advertising Coca-Cola and Kit Kat bars. More rarely, vast slabs of rock would erupt from the earth, breaching leviathans with tiny remote temples balanced on their snouts like a Sea World trick.
“I think Hell wouldn’t have so many Kit Kat bars,” Chandler concluded.
“Possibly,” Fowler said. “But Hindus don’t believe in Hell. They just keep getting reincarnated over and over. Coming back to this forever. That might be worse.”
The Tata slowed, swerving to avoid an emaciated, walking bovine cadaver in the middle of the road as it approached another village.
“What’s that?” Chandler asked. “Some kind of checkpoint?”
“Just villagers,” Fowler shook his head. “They put down rows of stones as speed bumps, so we’ll slow down when we drive over their grain.”
“They want us to drive over their food?”
“It’s easier than grinding by hand,” Fowler replied. “For all its faults, that’s why I have high hopes for India. They always find a way.”
“Too bad they haven’t figured out the principles of leverage,” Chandler pointed at one of the women bent double by the side of the road, sweeping away the grains with a bundle of brush in her hand, rather than tied to a broom handle.
“But they do have nuclear weapons. And, I might add, they’ve won four of the last five Miss World beauty pageants.”
“Oh, well then, forget I said anything.”
“I already have. Anyway, we’re coming into Cawnpore…I mean Kanpur. Bloody Indian publishers must make a mint, republishing atlases every six months when someone wants to cast-off imperial London’s yoke by changing the name to something that at least sounds more Indian. Then the local council decides to cast off Delhi’s yoke by picking something more provincial. Makes for interesting affective cartography, though.”
Fowler rolled the window down a crack, allowing precious bursts of air conditioning to escape while he smoked a cigarette. Chandler sat back and tried to down a Kit Kat bar with swigs of warm Coke, more hoping than expecting that his stomach wouldn’t rebel. Around them, wilderness gave way to industrial bustle and the maddening crush of cars and jingle trucks, rickshaws and people – more oppressive even than the baking, swampy heat. And the noise. Chandler could literally feel his temples beginning to cave in, and started talking again just to distract himself.
“So where, exactly, are we going, anyway?”
“A place that isn’t. Or at least a place that was, and is something else now.”
“Why do you always have to talk like that?”
“Why do you always have to complain? At least you don’t have to carry the goose anymore.”
“Fine. Thanks for that, I guess. But seriously, what kind of people do you actually work for? Who pays for this sort of thing?”
“Listen, are you a Star Wars fan?”
“Well, when I was a kid, I suppose, in the normal sort of way.”
“Did you ever see, or ever hear of, the Star Wars Christmas Special?”
“Bea Arthur in the Cantina singing a musical number? Grandpa Chewbacca and his virtual reality porn machine? Guest appearance by Jefferson Starship?”
“Dude, you rarely make sense, but still.”
“Trust me, it happened. On national TV, just after the first movie came out when they were milking every last dime of commercialization. Back when every kid had an X-wing sleeping bag and a Darth Vader Pez dispenser. But it was so awful, so excruciatingly embarrassing that George Lucas later decided it needed to go away. And it did. Not just go away, but never actually happened. I work for the sort of people who did that.”
“OK, I’m now definitely malarial, and this is a fever dream.”
“You know, I have a theory,” Fowler offered.
“Oh god, no.”
“You’ll like this. It’s about the Taliban and Star Wars.”
“Of course, it is.”
“You see, I think the Taliban have watched Star Wars too often, especially Episodes Four and Six.”
“You mean Episodes One and Three. The prequels don’t count.”
“You’re the one who started talking about Star Wars.”
“Anyway, they’ve been convinced that a bunch of teenagers and teddy bears can take down an empire, because the hulking technological behemoth always has a single flaw that will destroy the whole system.”
“I always like the Empire Strikes Back best.”
“Of course, you do. You’re American. Naturally, the Americans have their own Star Wars induced strategic blind spot. Take the entire theory behind Effects Based Operations, Network Mapping and Center of Gravity Analysis. Behind this whole strategic architecture is an almost theological belief that there’s one nodal point, and if we can just hit it – we win. All American strategic thinking is fundamentally framed by the theory behind the Death Star trench run.”
“That settles it, I’m definitely in Hell. Please make it stop.”
“Oh, quit your bitching, we’re just getting started” Fowler smiled brightly. “Because we’re here.”
“Here where?” Chandler struggled upright as Fowler jumped out and opened the rear door.
“Welcome to Nana Rao Park, the place where two hundred British women and children were butchered and stuffed in a well, to be followed by countless Indians when the British troops returned to take revenge. Also popular with fitness groups for jogging, yoga and healthy morning walks.”
His shirt already sweat soaked and clinging to his flesh, Chandler staggered after Fowler as they grabbed their bags from the Tata’s trunk and passed through wrought iron gates into the park. The concrete path led past a children’s playground and through a tunnel of slender trees, which provided at least token merciful shade. As the hum of traffic disappeared into the leaves, they emerged into a round courtyard. A circle of bricks framed a span of shuffle-board smooth stone; and in a concentric circle further out, the entire space was ringed by pedestals topped with busts.
“There,” Fowler pointed at the ring of bricks.
“There, what?” Chandler asked.
“Don’t you see it?”
“See what?”
“More brutality and blood per square inch than the Somme.” Fowler began to strap on his network of wires and sensors and GPS as he spoke. “ I mean, they didn’t just kill people here. They butchered women and children who had surrendered, and stuffed them in a hole. And when the Brits came back, they made Indian prisoners lick the blood of those earlier victims from where it had soaked through old carpets, before blowing them from the mouths of cannons. And now you can play handball or do Kundalini meditation or whatever.
“For years after 1857, the Brits had this amazingly awful giant white marble memorial to the victims of the Indian Mutiny; but after 1947 it was torn down and replaced by these busts on the pedestals to commemorate the heroes of the First War of Indian Independence. The affect here is sedimentary layers deep, and we need to measure it. That’s why I brought you along.”
“Wait, what? What do you need me for?”
“Well, I’m not necessarily sure I need you, per se.” Fowler began walking around the circuit of bricks which marked the mouth of the now filled and covered well. “Look, affect mapping has a temporal aspect as well, which requires different tools. So what I do need is that watch you’re carrying, but which for reasons I don’t fully understand, I’m told belongs to you. At least for the moment.”
“You knew about the watch all along.”
“Of course, I did. You told me about it. Did you think I was stupid?”
“No, but I do think you’re mad as a hatter.”
“That’s just an affectation.”
“Anyway. But I mean, you really knew. You know what it’s for. You know how it works.”
“Yup. Can I see it now?”
“So, um, what is it for?” Chandler pulled the box from his backpack. “How does it work?”
Fowler opened the case and began to unloose the mechanism inside. “You know the old cliché about how we haven’t been fighting a war in Afghanistan for five or ten years? How we’ve really just been fighting different one year wars in succession, because of our deployment policies?”
“Yeah, so?”
“Well, that may be true for us. But the Afghans have indeed been fighting us for a decade – and depending on how you want to look at it, they’ve been fighting the same war for decades or even centuries, in the same places. Places that are now knee deep in affective layers. Places kind of like this one, and what happened then matters to what happens now. Do you know how quantum entanglement works?”
“That’s too bad, because neither do I really. I mean nobody really knows how it works, but still. Anyway, the theory is that at some quantum level, particles can become entangled. So that when one undergoes some kind of change, its entangled partner undergoes the same change, no matter how far the two are separated in space or time. Maybe what happened in Afghanistan in 1842 and 1989 looks so similar not because history repeats itself, but because the same events were occurring simultaneously in entangled space. If so, it’s desperately important that we understand before it happens again – or I mean, a third event in the same time.”
“Um, just granting that this is all crazy talk, and probably just a figment of my feverish imagination. But if that is what you’re interested in, why are we in the middle of India?”
“Imperial power, overstretched and far from home? A thin veneer of proselytizing Christian occupiers training and leading their native Muslim, or Hindu, troops? Troops finally get tired of the charade, and rise up to butcher the occupiers? Sound potentially familiar? Anyway, some of our initial measurements suggested there might be connections, and that’s why I’ve been working an affective map of 1857. I also had a colleague in Lucknow I was supposed to link up with, but he ran into some trouble and had to bail. Apparently, others have had the same idea, or suspect what we might be up to and want to stop us. It’s lucky I found you first, or you might never have left Kathmandu alive. They want the watch as bad as we do.”
“Another technological solution? How does this fit into your Star Wars model?”
“It’s not really technological. That watch is actually very ancient, or at least modeled on the ancient Antikythera device. Everyone thought that was really for astronomical measurement, but once we cracked the operational codes hidden in the Voynich Manuscript, we realized it was something far more sophisticated and profound.”
“Are these even actual words anymore? Or are you just making this all up?”
“We’ve got some crack chrono-technicians with spare time who watch a lot of the History Channel.”
“Hmmm. I prefer Fashion TV – you know, for the South Asian version of soft porn.”
“Yeah, well, when I’m not working, I like ‘When Aliens Attack’ on NatGeo – you know, for science.” Fowler scowled at the device, making minute adjustments and jotting short numerical measurements in a pocket notebook. Then looked up and handed it back to Chandler. “I think you better hold on to this for now.”
“Why me?”
“Because Quigley gave it to you, not to me.”
“You know about Quigley, too?”
“We’ve been tracking you since the two of you met in Peshawar. I told you, I’m not stupid.”
“Come to think of it, there is a measure of batshit insane resemblance. Does Quigley work for your people too? The Center of Extraordinariness, or whatever?”
“I’m actually just a temp contract for the COE. My actual bosses are the Star Wars Special Disappearing People. Call them SWSDP, for short.”
“Uh-huh. Anyways, so does Quigley work for the SWSDP as well?”
“No, he’s more of a freelancer, but we like to keep track of him. He injects a useful amount of chaos into the system. And do you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”
“I find it deeply disturbing that you choose to quote the Joker, rather than Batman.”
“You should be disturbed. Come on, let’s go. This place gives me the creeps.”
An undisclosed location
“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” The disembodied voice came from the pitch black darkness beyond the bright point of the spot light which filled Lover’s vision.
He squinted painfully into the light, almost missing the blacked out goggles he’d been wearing for what seemed like days. The straps which bound him to the wooden chair were beginning to chafe, and his rendition Snuggee was too hot. “Is this some kind of joke?” He laughed, bitterly.
“Most assuredly, it is not,” the voice replied. “Though, it’s not really a serious question. Just a warm up, really, to get an audio baseline for your stress levels.”
“Well, I can save you the trouble, jack. My stress levels are pretty damn high! Now, what the hell is going on here?”
“Hell, indeed. Or something worse than Hell. This is the place that you disappear.”
“This is the place that I….? Now come on. If you were Al Qaida or something, I’d be in an orange jumpsuit right now getting my head sawed off with a butcher knife. The accent and the Snuggee prove you’re Western, of one flavor or another, so there’s clearly been some kind of mix up.”
“Are you now, or have you ever been a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir?”
“Have you ever donated funds to, or facilitated donations to, Jamaat-ud-Dawa?”
“Are you now, or have you ever been, associated with a member of the American Environmental Jihadi Movement?”
“Is that even a real thing?”
“No, actually. That was just another baseline measurement.”
“Look, this is silly. Why on earth would you think I’m some kind of jihadi terrorist? I mean, look at me.” Lover instinctively tried to throw up his hands, but just wriggled uselessly at his restraints.
“We are looking at you. Looking very closely indeed. Over the years, we have become alerted to the growing threat of domestic converts. Sinister agents who could pass undetected before our very eyes. As could have you, until you made one very fundamental mistake.”
Lover sighed. “To be honest, of late, my life has been one pretty consistent string of mistakes. To which one, in particular, are you referring?”
A hulking shadow passed briefly in front of the spot light, pausing to place an object on the table next to the base of the lamp. The shadow then moved back into invisible darkness. Lover squinted at the object, then tried in vain to crane his neck and peer beyond the pool of light.
“So, um, yeah? What?” Lover asked.
“What do you see on the table?”
“A watch, a digital watch. Is this a timed question or something?”
“Your digital watch.”
“Yeah, it’s my digital watch. Not my good one, since that got stolen. But, so?”
“A terrorist digital watch.”
Lover sighed in exasperation. “How can a digital watch be a terrorist?”
“The digital watch isn’t a terrorist, it is the watch of a terrorist. I meant terrorist in a possessive adjective way, not a noun way.”
“If I’m being interrogated for grammar usage, this is going to end badly for all of us.”
“Listen,” the disembodied voice grew more agitated, “Mockery does not help your case. You were apprehended wearing a Casio F-91W digital watch. And everyone knows that terrorists wear Casio F-91W digital watches.”
“Everyone knows this?”
“Like everyone knows that all spies wear Rolex Submariners?”
“Actually, I thought all spies now wore Omega Seamasters. Or is it the Omega Planet Ocean? Wait, stop trying to change the subject, and answer the question.”
“You didn’t ask me a question. You made a statement. Perhaps you’re the one with grammar problems.”
“Enough of this. Tell us who you are before we have to start playing the heavy metal music.”
“I’m Major Christian Lover, United States Army. I think I told you this before you stuffed me in a sack.”
“Yes, you did, and we’ve run checks in all relevant databases. There is no record of a Major Lover in the United States Army. And what kind of name is ‘Major Christian Lover,’ anyway? Are you a major lover generally, or just a major lover of Christians, as opposed to Jews or Buddhists? Frankly, I think this is some kind of joke name, like Centurion Biggus Dickus.”
Lover had to choke back an unexpected laugh, which came out as something of a snort. Composing himself, he tried again. “Listen, just call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and ask for my supervisor. He can sort all this out.”
“And who is this alleged supervisor?”
Lover paused, grimacing before he said it. “Umm, Captain Jim Admiral.”
“So, Major Lover, you want us to call your supervisor, Captain Admiral, to sort all this out? Now, you’re just fucking with us. We’re done here.”
And the light went out.


Kvick Tänkare

Photographer Jon Tonks has a project in which he travels to the few remaining British overseas territories and (as you’ve probably guessed) takes pictures.

A history of body snatchers.

For nearly a week in early December, black smoke billowed from the French Embassy in Iran. Years of diplomatic archives were being burned in the swimming pool of the embassy, initiated by French officials. The measure was intended as preventive, two days after the raiding of British diplomatic sites in Tehran.

I’ve always thought that my experience in the military (particularly the early years when I just got out of high school) were invaluable in making me a mature, responsible adult (*ahem*. eds). Some researchers wanted to see what, if any, effect military service has on young men and maturity and so compared German conscripts and those who didn’t serve.  Their findings are a bit disappointing.

The groups differed in one way only: the effect of increasing agreeableness was one third larger for the civilian than the military group.* This suggests that military training attenuates the upward trajectory of agreeableness seen in early adulthood.

Now, I’m not sure how applicable this study is across the board.  Conscripts are different from an all volunteer force.  Different armies treat their soldiers differently both in terms of care but also in terms of responsibility and development.  I still think my military service did more to make me a well rounded individual than if I only went to university.

The definition of a bad day.  A dinosaur catches a fish and then a fish catches the dinosaur.  The latter fish chokes on the dinosaur and everyone dies.  It’s like a Jurassic Shakespearean tragedy.

For Mrs. TwShiloh:


On whom should intelligence training focus

I’m taking part in a pilot training program for intelligence analysts and while listening to the instructors discuss the context and origins of the course I was struck by what may be a flaw in how the federal government understands intelligence work occurring at the state and local level.

This particular training was informed by the experience of intelligence within the federal intelligence community.  As a result, it’s central premise was (explicitly stated) ‘teach people to be better analysts and you’ll get better outputs’.  I certainly think that’s true up to a point but have come to believe that the true source of drag within state and local intelligence is among the managers and customers on intelligence.  Overwhelmingly (based on my personal observations and talking with analysts all over the country) those two groups are what impede the rigor, quality, relevance, and timeliness of intelligence products the most.

There are several reasons for this that all act to reinforce each other.  Customers tend not to have much exposure or orientation to the value of intelligence and how to use it.  Managers, likewise, have minimal experience in the intelligence field and so tend to treat their analysts like data entry clerks to produce fancy police reports.

On a broader scale, intelligence shops tend to be in agencies that don’t have a mature intelligence culture combined with high levels of aversion to change and risk taking.  Think how leaders in the Soviet military were terrified of taking initiative lest they risk their careers (or a one way ticket to Siberia) and you’ll get a good feeling for how these shops are run.

And so there’s only so much bang you’ll get from your buck by training analysts in more and more structured methodologies.  So, discussions about ‘would this work for you’ are great but not super relevant if there’s no chance the shop the analyst is working in would entertain using that technique.

So, recently I was talking to one of these managers and we were discussing his/her desire for a ‘daily product’ to go out to the center’s customers.  I thought it was interesting that rather than a discussion about intelligence priorities and gaps, threats, or other value to customers, the only purpose of this product was to (and this is an approximate quote) ‘let our customers know that we’re out there filtering information for them every day.’

Two things hit me upon hearing that.  First, the center isn’t ‘filtering’ information for their customers.  Most law enforcement agencies have multiple streams of information and what this center (again, common with most such centers) does is just repackage and forward the same information that agencies are already getting, sometimes from two, three, four or even more sources already.

The second is that this particular manager (and quite probably others as well) essentially see the issue in terms of marketing.  They’ll be successful if the can get in enough email inboxes frequently enough that people will know they exist.  Really?  More than a decade since 9/11 and the enlargement of domestic intelligence and success is getting name recognition based upon the number of times you get get into their inbox?  Why not just start selling Viagra and be done with it?

What needs to happen (yet probably won’t because it’s too sensitive a subject) is for DHS (no one else will do it) to demand intelligence centers adhere to tough standards of production and be staffed with qualified managers and staff.  That means real, effective evaluations (which, I’ve been told, are currently more along the lines of a handshake and the old honor system).  The way they do that is to wield the checkbook.  You want to run your shop as a cut rate CNN whose most commonly used tools are ‘cut’ and ‘paste’?  No problem.  Get all your funding internally and knock yourself out.

I won’t hold my breath, however.

The Grenadiers

As I’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, this year I retired from the military to ‘persue other projects and spend more time with my family’ (I’ve always wanted to say that). One of the projects I’ve decided to persue in military reenactment. More specifically, as a grenadier in the Revoltionary War era 35th Regiment of Foot. (So you can do to the British Army what you did to the American one for all those years? Didn’t they lose enough battles? eds.)

I thought I’d write about interesting bits of what I learn about the 18th century British military and, where I can, compare and contrast that with late 20th century/early 21st century American military practice.

First, let’s begin by talking about the fundimental unit in the British Army of the time, the regiment. For those of you who are familiar with military graphics, it looks like this:

Looks pretty straightforward since you don’t have a lot of additional specialized units like you have today (with organic engineers, artillery, armor, scouts, etc). What you did see is for grenadier and light companies to get stripped from individual regiments and then reformed into new units of only this type of unit. The question therefore is, why would you do that? What’s so different about those troops that makes consolidating them look good?

Well, according to Osprey Publishing’s ‘British Redcoat 1740-1993, the grenadiers were “stedier and more mature men – those who could be depended upon in a crisis…” In this description it sounds like they were similar to the triarii of the old Roman manipular system as described by Plutarch.

The light companies were…eh, who cares about them? We’re here to talk about grenadiers.

Training of new recruits could occur in several ways but some things were striking and at odds with my preconceived notions of how trained the professional British army was. During peacetime, British soldiers were allocated enough gunpowder to fire approximately 60-120 rounds per man. They were only given enough lead shot to fire two to four rounds per year!

Assuming they used all their alloted powder it sounds like they spent the vast majority of their time firing ’empty’ or just going through the manual of arms to load and fire the weapon without any real effort to practice marksmanship.

By way of comparison, the average peacetime soldier today fires about 60 rounds of ammunition per year (18 rounds to ‘zero’ her weapons and another 40 rounds to ‘qualify’ on the marksmanship range to hit targets from 50 to 300 meters). Additionally, they may get opportunities to fire on practice systems (like the E.S.T. or ‘Engagement Systems Trainer’) which would see to accomplish the same thing as firing your musket with powder only. You can get the mechanics of firing down without any real guarantee you’ll hit anything when you’re firing real bullets. Infantry soldiers can expect to practise and fire much more.

This does seem shockingly low amounts of ammunition to spend on training your infantry forces. From that I’m making two guesses about firearms in the 18th century.

  1. Lead shot was (comparitively) expensive
  2. Learning to be an adequate shot with a musket is an easily acquired skill

I base #2 on a later passage which states:

In the summer of 1757 the 15th Foot were reported to be out three days a week firing seven rounds of ball per man: “Every man has fired about 84 rounds, and now load and fire Ball with as much coolness and alacrity in all the different fireings as ever you saw them fire blank power, hitherto without the smallest accident.”

Seven rounds a day doesn’t sound like a lot to me, even with a weapon that could only fire a couple of rounds a minute. But I suppose you could dry fire and use powder only to work on issue of speed and then focus the few rounds of shot you’ve got to practice accuracy. I do wonder just how long it took to fire those seven rounds per man. Did they fire in volleys or did soldiers fire individually to test accuracy? Or was there some combination?

Then there was the bayonet which was a big deal for the British who were renowned for their charges during the Revolution. Earlier in the century, the musket with bayonet was esentially seen as a pike and therefore that’s how people thought it should be handled. Check this out:

This guy looks like a doofus, right? I mean, how the hell does he control the pointy end of that thing? Well, he doesn’t. You’d do this in a big formation and everyone would be given the command ‘push!’ at one time. That’s it. That’s about all you can do holding that thing like that.

Fortunately, bayonet drill had recently undergone some dramatic changes. Beginning around 1760, somebody realized this way of using a bayonet wasn’t going to do much and introduced the bayonet stance that’s pretty recognizable to this day.

When I went through basic training (way back in the mid-80s) we had very minimal bayonet training. Maybe four…no more than eight hours that really boiled down to ‘stick the pointy end into the enemy’. It sounds like my 18th century counterpart was similar, much to my surprise. One thing I remember about bayonet training was the importance of having your ‘war face’ on and being able to yell menacingly. Compare with these instructions:

The soldier is, particularly, to be taught to keep his head well up, and erect: it is graceful, on all occasions, but absolutley necessary if an enemy dare stand the charge; when the British soldier, who fixes with his eye the attention of his opponent, and, at the same instant, pushes with his bayonet without looking down on its point, is certain of conquest.

Seem to be trying to achieve the same effect in just a different way. I suspect the power of an 18th century charge by the British was seeing this impersonal wall of red rolling towards you. Perhaps this is the same effect you get when you have armor charging infantry. You want your enemy to be reminded that he’s an individual man while you are an unstoppable, unfeeling machine. It’s not clear from this brief description if it was thought to be more impressive if the charge was conducted silently or with a battle cry.

Fear to the left of me…fear to the right…

Two items have generated attention in the public domain that I find concerning in that they seem to revolve around stoking up unsubstantiated fears among both the public and policy makers. Before I go into them I guess I should say up front that I don’t think there’s any secret agenda behind this. No Big Brother enacting a secret plan to keep the proles in line and docile. Rather, (and perhaps more sinister in its own way) it’s just in everyone’s best interest to have it be this way. Any alternative would raise too many questions, upset too many boats, make too many people uncomfortable. So, here we are.

First, is the reaction to the shooting in France. Things are still early and as time goes by we’ll (hopefully) learn more about the shooters motivations, connections and background. But from the open source reporting I’ve seen here’s how I saw (and see) what happened. The shooter was a textbook ‘lone wolf’. Regardless of whether he spent time in Afghanistan or Pakistan his agenda was a variation of an ideology viewed through his own perspective mixed with bits and bobs of personal animosities. His target, therefore, was local and familiar. This is why you have lone offenders rail against things like one world government or global Zionism and then shoot up the village council meeting where they live.

In other words, nothing really to see here. The killings were certainly tragic and to be mourned but from a terrorism perspective I honestly can’t (from what we’ve heard thus far) see any reason why this attack would merit much attention. There’s nothing new here…move along.

And yet, that hasn’t been the reaction. CNN (and others) have implied this attack may ‘represent the next stage of terrorism in Europe…This has sent out the message that followers of al Qaeda can carry out successful attacks, can participate terror, on their own.’

Really? This attack did that? No one else has acted independently over the past ten years in Europe? Violent Jihadists couldn’t figure out that the Norway attack might be a model for them? They needed a Muslim dude to do it?

Worse, if you look at the reaction in the US, you’ll see some reasons to be concerned about counter terrorism policy. While the DHS and police departments in New York, Washington DC and San Francisco all report no evidence of a threat to their Jewish communities, they have allocated additional patrols and resources to areas ‘where Jews congregate’. Likewise, Jews in some communities are being warned against gathering outside synagogues or Jewish schools.

I don’t like this for a lot of reasons.

  • This reaction smacks more of political motivation than anything else. If there is no evidence of a threat, what’s with the dedication of resources? I have no evidence aliens are going to attack so does that mean we should activate MiB?
  • There are times, however, where you want to dedicate some resources just to give people a sense of security. Sometimes people are scared and it feels good to know there’s a police presence around. I dig. If that’s the case here, I don’t think that message is being delivered well at all. Part of this is because of the way the homeland security community is structured. Any one community can be serviced by a myriad of agencies with a homeland security mission (local, state, federal, law enforcement, homeland security, community, government, etc). ALL of those agencies are very concerned about their funding and visibility. They ALL want to be considered the ‘go to’ people on issues like this. That means they ALL have to comment on events like this. And they ALL need to do so in a format that will get their agency’s name/logo in front of the customer. That, in turn, means that in situations like this you can expect to see multiple alerts, all of which say exactly the same thing, being sent out. So, let’s say you’re a Jewish community organization in a mythical town. You might get alerts about the French shooting from your town, the state, the Feds (DHS…maybe FBI…maybe others is you’re on the right mailing lists), maybe your county, various NGOs, etc., etc., etc.

Now, even if all those say ‘We have no evidence of a credible threat…’ what do you think the cumulative effect will be on people who aren’t used to hearing about terrorism issues? If your credit card company called you ten times in a day and said “Look, we just want you to know there’s NO EVIDENCE there’s anything wrong with your credit card. Still, we’re going to have a bunch of people watch it. You know…just in case.” And then your local police department called you and said the same thing.  And the IRS called an said the same thing.  Wouldn’t you get a little hinky about using your credit card? After all, if there’s no problem with it, why are you bombarding me with ‘Don’t panic! Dear god, DON’T PANIC!’ messages?

  • And while I find the ‘that damned media’ meme tiresome, allow me to beat up on them. Certainly, they need to attract viewers and you don’t do that by saying there’s no particular story but over the past week I’ve been disappointed at how often stories seem to confuse the words ‘could’ with ‘will’. Over and over I’ve heard ‘Al-Qaida could coordinate attacks across the country’, ‘this could spark off copy cat attacks anywhere’, ‘there could be sleeper cells hiding across the country’, blah, blah, blah. Those stories are presented (at least to me) in ways that minimize the ‘could’ and are done in a way to imply the ‘will’. After all, if I could quit my job and spend my days trying to raise unicorns…but the likelihood of that is pretty small.

The question that comes to mind as I think about this is what (if any) role is intelligence playing in these decisions?  Is there any discussion about the distinctions between what’s going on in France and the U.S. in terms of the extremist environment?

I think this is a pet peeve of mine since I can remember seeing (and still see) people advising caution or predicting domestic terrorist trends based on completely unrelated events half a world away.  A dramatic attack happens in Iraq, Afghanistan or Dagistan and some agents, analysts and/or agencies (often quite a few of them) will want to hit the panic button using the ‘If it happens somewhere then it must happen here.’

Ever since 2005 people have been telling me that a wave of suicide bombings will strike the U.S. within six months…or a year a most.  As those years tick by the excuses get lamer and lamer but still don’t think I’ve heard anyone say they were wrong.  Better to just let this memory fade without comment and latch onto the next doomsday scenario.

And all of that leads me to the second issue.  Over the weekend I heard te headline that Hezbollah might (ahem) have hundreds…maybe THOUSANDS!…of operatives in the U.S. ready to spring into attack mode in the event of an attack on Iran. That line is courtesy of Peter King who has demonstrated a stupendous lack up understanding on subjects surrounding terrorism.

Now, I have absolutely NO doubt that Hezbollah has people actively working for it in the U.S.  Fundraising?  Yep.  Information gathering? I’m sure.  To argue, however, that “t really is the ‘A’ team of international terrorism — far more sophisticated than Al Qaeda,” and imply that these people are a highly trained and coordinated killing machine is a bit of a stretch.  And in this regard, it sounds like a force very much like the IRA was during its heyday.

But let’s consider the fact that Hezbollah, even if they had the capabilities and intent to launch attacks in the U.S. to retaliate for some military strike would very likely be slitting their own throats in the process.  That funding and sympathizer base would quickly dry up under pressure.  And where would that leave the organization? Probably not where it wants to be.

And if Hezbollah is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran?  A tool which the mullahs have no compunction about using? Well, if any military strike against Iran was limited in scope (to stop the development of nuclear weapons, for example) before any such Hezbollah retaliation campaign it certainly wouldn’t be afterwards.  And does Hezbollah want to risk their position in Lebanon by poking America with a stick?

Check out this article in VICE where a couple of guys (including Abu Muqawama) play some Hezbollah guys in paintball.  One quote that’s relevant here:

As we continue our tour of the border, he tells me how to properly execute an ambush (stay hidden and let five chances to attack pass before you take action) and about Hezbollah’s first rule for its fighters: “We’re taught not to get killed,” he says. “They teach us our lives and training are too valuable to waste.”

If that’s the attitude of Hezbollah to their soldiers in Lebanon, how much more likely is that going to be for their information and financial network in the US. I’m just not sure they’re going to piss that away.

A few months ago I remarked at how we seemed to be in a relatively ‘slow’ period when it comes to terrorism.  I’m just not sure the homeland security community has figured out how to handle that yet.  You’ve got all these agencies…all these people…all that money devoted to stopping terrorists.  What happens when there just aren’t that many terrorists around?  Or they aren’t interested in you?

I don’t know but maybe you start spending all your time talking about what could happen rather than what’s likely to happen and hope no one notices the difference…

True History – An Imperial Farce Part 7

Biratnagar, Nepal
Chandler lay back in the rickshaw, gasping as he melted into the green plastic cushion. He had run through a half-dozen exotic intestinal parasites in the past week, and every time the bike-drawn cart jolted over yet another pot hole or crack in the pavement, he was pretty sure his insides were going to empty onto his outsides in a wet and pungent flood. All around him, squat concrete block buildings, palm fronds and lurid Kit Kat billboards shimmered in the pre-monsoon heat haze, and every breath felt like inhaling a glass of hot water. It was like India, but more so. Only much, much quieter; and while the streets were full of animals, bicycles and pedestrians, the only cars to be seen were parked in a long rows along the shoulder.
“Tell me again, why can’t we get a cab?” Chandler moaned plaintively. “Something with air conditioning, preferably, or at least something which moves at more than three miles an hour.”
Fowler lit a cigarette, his eyes squinting in the blazing sun as he looked backwards and forwards, scrutinizing the shop fronts. “No petrol,” he said in a clipped voice, clearly distracted by looking for whatever he was looking for.
“What do you mean, no petrol? We rode down here in a bus.”
“That was probably the last of it. There was about three days supply on hand when the strike hit on Thursday. When that happens, they just use it up until it’s all gone, and then…well…here we are.”
“So there’s no petrol anywhere?”
“Not anywhere in Nepal there’s not.”
“The Indians stopped shipping it.”
“Because the Nepalis didn’t pay for it.”
“Because the government is broke. Well, partly because of that. The government’s always broke, actually, but the fuel usually comes anyway.”
“So why did it stop now?”
“The Maoist Interior Minister directed the police to move all the border posts exactly two meters south. Not sure why precisely. Probably just to make a point, so the Indians are making a point right back.”
“Jesus, dude!” Fowler shouted in exasperation. “You’re worse than my seven year old nephew. I don’t know why. Check that weird watch of yours. Why does India set their standard time zone 30 minutes off the global standard increment, just to be different? Why does Nepal set their time 15 minutes off of Indian time, just to be different? It’s just what they fucking do, all right?”
Fowler suddenly sat up straight in his seat, casting aside his cigarette and almost pointing like a bird dog catching the scent of prey. A really remarkably, indescribably awful scent. Like a sewer and a slaughterhouse combined, but worse. “Mut bal…nai kare…fuck, I can’t remember, just stop!”
Fowler grabbed the driver by the shoulder and jumped down, dashing into a shadow enshrouded shop from which emerged the horrible smell and an irregular cacophony of shrieks. Chandler just lay there, eyes closed and wondered whether it would be better to try and find a latrine somewhere, squat in an alley, or just soil himself and die now. Before he could decide, Fowler reappeared, carrying a sack of shrieking cacophony with him.

What the hell is that?” Chandler asked, the noise already launching a piercing headache on type of everything else. Oh good, he thought.

It’s a goose,” Fowler answered.

One hesitates to be overly curious, but why did you get a goose?”


OK, you know I think we might be starting to fall into a pattern here. Maybe we could avoid that if you would explain before I have to…”

Ask why I have a goose for snakes? It’s because snakes fucking fear geese like the wrath of god. You know that Riki Tiki Tavi shit? Well, a mongoose has nothing on an actual goose when it comes to kicking cobra ass. Even better, geese rarely have to actually do any cobra ass kicking because they have superior psyop. One honking goose, and every snake within ear shot will be slithering away as fast as their scaly bellies will take them. I wouldn’t take one step into the jungle without a goose.”

Fair enough, but why would we want to take one step into the jungle in the first place? I mean, this road is pretty crappy, but it is a road. And you can see the border from here, it’s less than half a mile away.”

Well, we have to get out of Nepal sharpish, but we can’t go through the border crossing, so we’ll have to trek around through the jungle. The police will certainly be on the lookout for me; and unless we’re very lucky, someone else might already be on the lookout for you as well. Frankly, they’re the ones that worry me, even more so than snakes.”

Why would anyone be looking for me?”

Have you read that paper you picked up in Kathmandu? The one you almost got rolled for?”

Yeah, but it reads like nonsense to me. I almost threw it away.”
Fowler sat up straight, his voice almost panicked, “Oh god, please tell me you’re fucking with me. Where is it?”
Chandler pulled it from his satchel, the paper wet and soggy with sweat. “Alright all ready. Calm down. Hear it is, if you’re so worried.”
E.O.S. 71629
“See,” Chandler said. “It’s gibberish.”
“It’s all about context, brother,” Fowler folded the paper and tucked it into his pocket. “With the right context, that piece of paper is more valuable than you and the price of all your organs on the open market. Here, you carry the goose.”
“Why do I have to carry the goose?”
“Because you’re the side-kick. Remember? That’s what side-kicks do, they carry the geese.”
Khyber Pass, Afghanistan
“Jesus Christ, DQ,” Chuck complained. “Did something die inside you?”
“Don’t look at me, brother. A fox smells his own hole.”
“Seriously, that is some rancid shit. I can’t believe I can smell anything at all over your ass stink and the B.O.”
Neither man had washed in over a week, and crowded into the back of a white Toyota Corolla – the preferred vehicle of suicide bombers throughout South Asia – they had begun to drown in their mutual miasma. Opening the windows wasn’t much of an option either, since it just flooded the cab with choking Nangarhar dust.
“Why don’t we just get out?” Quigley asked. “We’ve been sitting here for more than two hours, and we’re probably not getting through today anyway. We could just walk.”
Chuck cast a despairing eye out over the motionless, endless stream of white Toyota Corollas – a veritable fleet of potential suicide bombers – punctuated by the teetering towers of gaudily painted jingle trucks. Quigley was right, they would never reach the Torkham Gate by nightfall. Besides, it would probably be easier to disappear into the teeming crowd back here among the scrap shops and sweet stalls.
“All right,” Chuck sighed. “Let’s go. Driver, chakosh!
They didn’t really need to tell the driver to stop, since the car wasn’t moving anyway, but Chuck and Quigley piled out the back door and popped the trunk. They dragged their duffle bags out, dropping them in the dust as Quigley arranged his sword in the sling across his back, and the folding crossbow in the holster at his hip. It felt good to be out in the freedom of the Frontier. He had to be more discreet back in Kandahar and Kabul – in the U.S. embassy, you couldn’t even carry a regulation side-arm, and U.S. officers had to conceal their 9mm Berettas by shoving them in a bellows pocket to avoid offending the more delicate sensibilities of their State Department brethren, who were apparently uncomfortable with the fact that they were, in fact, in the middle of a war. But out here, you could pretty much do what you wanted, and Quigley’s sword was as likely to elicit approving nods as it was to provoke stares or action from the never-present authorities.

Here you go,” Chuck tossed a thick wad of grimy notes onto the passenger seat.

No!” The driver picked them up and threw them back. “No Afghanis! Dollars!”

No dollars, only Afghanis!” Chuck shouted back. The exchange went on like this for several rounds, till Quigley noticed they were starting to attract attention from the scores of other drivers lounging about, idle and ready to generate a scene – to pass the time, if nothing else.
Rabble, rabble, rabble.

Hey, man,” Quigley suggested quietly. “Maybe not the best time for us to draw a crowd.”
Chuck cast a quick glance around, then turned back to the driver. “No dollars, no Afghanis. Pakistani rupees ok?”
The driver paused, considering and then shrugged his shoulders.

Give me five minutes,” Chuck told Quigley, before darting off into the line of petty merchants that thronged the shoulders of the border road. He was back in ten, shaking his head. “Motherfuckers, no one will take Afghanis for Rupees – only dollars.”
Reaching deeper into a pocket hidden inside his shirt, Chuck pulled out a sheaf of green notes, tossing them through the window and turning away in defeat.

Come on,” Chuck said, leading them out of the traffic and behind a corrugated tin shed, stuffed with tires and inner tubes and smelling of glue. “Let’s get changed back here.”
Out of sight of too many prying eyes, Chuck opened one of the duffles and pulled out a bundle of cloth. He was already wearing a Miskatonic U. athletic department T-shirt, along with plastic flip-flops, and billowy Pathan trousers. He now slipped on a long, dirty salwar top, a wool pakhol hat and a camouflage cotton photographer’s vest.

Wallah! Call me ‘Chuck of Pashtunistan,’” he said, pleased with the effect, then handed another bottle-blue bundle to Quigley. “Here, this one’s for you.”
Quigley shook open the bundle and scowled. “A burqa?”

It’s an enormously effective disguise. Do you know how many times Osama Bin Laden has slipped out of a safe house wearing a burqa, just before we or the Paks could close in on him? Five. And I can swear to that, ‘cause I was there for three of them. If it’s good enough for the most wanted man in the world, it’s good enough for you.”

But why do I have to be the woman?”

Because you’re the most recognizable. You know, they had your picture all over the Frontier Post after that incident in Chitral last year. And you’re the one carrying all the shiny weapons. The locals might not care, but those will likely get a bit of attention from the border police, especially if any of the American advisors are hanging around.”

But I’m more than two feet taller than you. It’ll look ridiculous.”

It worked for Boris and Natasha.”

I feel like Rocky the Flying Squirrel.”

Did you know that monkeys are terrified by flying squirrels? Some monkey annoyance experts did a study on it.”


Oh, never mind, just something a friend of mine told me once. Though I always wondered, where does that come up? Is there some ecosystem where monkeys and flying squirrels regularly interact?”

Dude, either the sun is getting to you, or you’ve been breathing your own farts for too long.”

Laugh it up, fuzzball. But wait till you crack the first one inside your lady bag – Karma’s a bitch. Now come on, let’s get going.”
Resigned to ignominy, Quigley pulled the blue shroud over his head, and Chuck manfully resisted the urge to fall to the ground laughing at the spectacle presented when the hem barely reached to DQ’s blue jean knees. Returning to the roadside, they rejoined the eastbound stream of pedestrians, shuffling slowly along until they approached the first crossing point which marked the “end” of Afghanistan. The line of cars remained completely stalled, but alongside that, another line of foot traffic moved haltingly forward to the guard shack where documents were checked. And alongside that, another line moved even more quickly toward the point where cash – rather than documents – changed hands. Chuck and Quigley joined this third line, and soon found themselves in the middle of “nowhere,” just as the crossing closed for the evening. “Out” of Afghanistan, but not quite “in” Pakistan, which was still a bit further on. Taking advantage of the confusion, Chuck pulled his blue ghost aside and down into a narrow, rock strewn wadi.

Ow! Fuck! Crap!” Quigley shouted as he tripped and stumbled amongst the rocks, virtually blind behind his blue mesh screen. “I can’t see!”

Shut up, and follow me. We just need to get over this ledge where we can’t be seen.” Chuck jumped down into a shallow depression, pulling Quigley with him in a smelly crash of torn fabric and twisted limbs. “There, you can relax and take off your hoodie.”
Quigley tore off the burqa with a snarl and began to massage a twisted ankle. “Thanks a lot, asshole. Now what?”

Now we wait.”

Wait for what.”

Till the moon comes up and the guards get distracted.”

What’s the distraction?”

They’re Afghan guards, dude. Hash and little boys.”

Oh. Okay. And then?”

See that brick wall, the one with all the trucks behind it?”


Ok, see that clump of small trees on the ridge? Follow that down the spur until you see the white house. Right below that.”

Ok. Got it. So then, we’re going to steal one of those trucks?”

No, but one of them has the answer you’re looking for.”

How do you know?”

Because it’s Tuesday.”

And that tells us what?”

On Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, our commo installation is in the Afghan customs impound yard.”

And on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday?”

Then it’s in the Pakistan customs impound yard, of course.”

Of course. You know, I may be off my meds, but I’m not actually crazy.”

Yes, you are. But that’s why I love you. See, the problem with really sensitive intelligence and communications gear is that you always have to put it ‘someplace.’ And unless ‘someplace’ is an American Embassy, or the belly of an aircraft flying around – both of which can be pretty constraining – ‘someplace’ is almost always going to be on someone else’s sovereign territory, subject to their physical interdiction and a variety of legal caveats. Right?”

Fair enough. So?”

Sooo…the trick is to find a “no place” to put stuff like that.”

But this is someplace.”

No, it’s not. Right now, we’re not in Pakistan, and we’re not in Afghanistan. We’re ‘no place,’ and so is our commo van.”

How is that parking lot ‘no place?’”
Chuck smiled, “That’s the real genius of our plan. We actually used the fucked up bureaucracy here to our advantage. You see, that truck – which was originally hauling outbound ISAF equipment – was driving from Pakistan into Afghanistan. It had cleared the border late in the afternoon, so they put it in the Customs Holding lot – ‘no place.’ The next day, when it tried to cross into Pakistan, the Paks decided to screw with it because they were mad at the Americans for something. I don’t know if it was some yokel burning a Koran or South Park putting Mohammed in a bear suit. Whatever. Anyway, the Paks denied entry because they said the forms had changed overnight, and the driver didn’t have the new ones. They imposed a fine, which the driver couldn’t pay, and sent him back to Afghanistan. But now, rather than an export license, which was required when he left Afghanistan, he was supposed to have an import license to come back in. So the Afghans imposed a fine, and sent him back.

It went on like that for weeks, back and forth without the right documents and racking up fees that would never be paid. One of our guys happened to overhear the truck owner complaining – in vain, I’ll note – at the Ministry of Borders and Customs, and he offered to buy the truck outright, on the spot, in cash. Over time, we replaced the tents and cots and whatnot with elements of our technical infrastructure. Now we have an extraordinarily sophisticated communications and intelligence system aside a vital strategic chokepoint, but not under any legal jurisdiction as it goes back and forth between the two Customs Holding Yards. We’ve kept this up for over three months now, and the fines are probably astronomical. But who cares, since we never plan to pay them?”

Now that’s the kind of lunacy I can sign up for. So we just wait till no one’s paying attention, then just slip in and turn on the lights?”

That’s the plan.”

Both men startled at this new voice, scrambling to bring weapons to bear as they turned around.

Who’s there?” Chuck hissed. Quigley brandished his sword.

Nain, nain,” answered a figure emerging from the shadows, grizzled in dirty salwar kameez and ratty turban. “You soldier?” He asked, glancing at their weapons.

No, we’re tourists,” Chuck answered.

Do we kill him?” Quigley whispered out of the side of his mouth.

Not yet, he looks pretty harmless,” Chuck whispered, then turned back to their visitor. “What do you want?”

I want…” the man began, coming closer. Suddenly, his eyes opened wide as the moonlight washed across Quigley’s face, and gnarled hands clapped in recognition and delight. “Don! Bahadur!

You know me?” Quigley asked.

I told you, brother,” Chuck said. “Fucking everybody knows the great Don. You can’t be a six foot five white guy running around the Frontier with a sword and not get something of a rep.”

Come, come, bharra Sahaab,” the man gestured with a “follow me” wave.
Chuck and Quigley shrugged at one another, then began to follow the bent figure deeper into the wadi until they came across a small, smoldering brush fire tucked into a cleft in the rock. The man crouched down, poking at the brush with a stick till bright, new flames sprang up, and he gestured for them to take a seat beside the fire. Then he pulled from another cleft a large canvas sack, and held it opened towards them.

Bharra Sahaab want smoke?” he asked.
Chuck whispered, “He probably means hash. I would pass.”

No, thank you,” Quigley answered.

Want statue? Very old, much money.”

No thanks.”

Want girl?”

You’ve got a girl in there?” Quigley asked, suddenly interested.

DQ….” Chuck warned.

OK,” DQ acknowledged. “No, no girl, thanks.”

Want boy?”

Hell no!”

Want drink?”
Quigley was about to answer, when Chuck interrupted. “He’s trying to be hospitable. You might offend him if you don’t take something.”

Sure,” Quigley finally said. “Drink OK, thank you.”
Grinning, the old man reached into the bag and pulled out an old plastic Pepsi liter bottle, the label worn and faded, and filled with clear liquid.
Forcing a smile, Quigley took the bottle and unscrewed the cap.

Holy, motherfucking….” The rest of the expletive was lost in a fit of coughing. “I think it’s poison,” Quigley finally wheezed.

Well, I guess we have two options,” Chuck said. “Either we hope you’re new admirer is a friend, and take our chances with this little Tea Party in the Hindu Kush. Or we have to take care of him before we’re discovered.”
Quigley stared at the little old man for a long moment, gripping the pommel of his sword as he looked into smiling, wizened features, eyes bright with delight. Then he relaxed and took a deep draw from the bottle. Another bout of coughing ensued as he handed it to Chuck.

It is poison,” DQ gasped.
Chuck shrugged as he raised the bottle to his lips and tried not to breathe in. “You realize, we’ll probably pass out and then he’ll rob us blind. Or kill us and rob us blind.”
Quigley wiped away the tears now flooding from his stinging eyes. “Probably. At least I won’t have to smell your farts anymore.”

Another swallow of this, and I won’t smell anything ever again, anyway.”
Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Brrnnnnt. Brrnnnnt.
Lover moaned and buried his face in the pillow. The case was threadbare and smelled of bleach, and the cushion felt like it had been stuffed with socks. But it had been a long time since he had slept in a real bed with a real pillow, and he was reluctant to leave it.
Brrnnnnt. Brrnnnnt.
Still refusing to open his eyes, he rolled over, reaching blindly to find the phone. Fumbling, he managed to get the handset to his ear.
“Hello?” His voice was thick and cracked with the aftertaste of too many cigarettes.
Wah, wah, wah, wah. The broken English made almost no sense, grinding painfully at the edges of an emerging headache.
“Yes, this is Chris Lover, room 312. What do you want?”
Wah, wah, wah, wah. Still gibberish, though the voice was beginning to recall to him events of the night before. Well, the night before, and this morning. He had stumbled in around five, just as dawn was breaking.
“No. No, wait, just tell them to go home.” He paused, squinting back against the pain throbbing in his temples as he listened to the voice that had begun to shriek at him from the other end of the line. “Fine, fine, OK. You don’t need to call the police. Just tell them to come up to my room and I’ll talk to them.”
The handset clattered back into its cradle, and Lover pulled the pillow over his head. Maybe if he hid under the blankets, the whole world would just go away.
“Who’s coming up?”
The voice made Lover start, rolling over till he fell out of the bed, tangled in sheets damp with drunk sweat. “What are you doing here?”
GT was sitting on the window bench, gazing out over the blank horizon, legs folded in the lotus position, her spine extraordinarily straight. Her hair was pulled up in a pony-tail, revealing a graceful neck that just cried out for a kiss. Too bad she was just so weird, Lover thought.
“I was meditating,” GT said.
“I can see that. But why are you meditating in my room? You’ve got your own.”
“I thought if you came back drunk, you might reconsider my proposition, but you just passed out.”
“We already had this discussion.”

I know, I know. Actually, I came over because you have a better view, and my window just looks down into an alley behind the nightclub. It’s hard to sleep when the whole night is nothing but thumping bass music and the sound of drunk men beating their girlfriends. Plus, given our situation, I figured it was best if we stick together as much as possible.”

What is our situation?”

The usual. Serious trouble. So you should probably get dressed.”
Cursing, Lover quickly brushed his teeth – careful not to drink the tap water – and pulled on his clothes. “What time is it, anyway?”


Christ. Maybe I was better off not knowing. Which isn’t hard, seeing as I don’t have a watch anymore. That is to say, seeing as you lost mine.”

You know, when someone rescues you from torture and certain death, gratitude is the usual response. And when that person rescues you while you’re naked, and still manages to grab some of your clothes on the way out, gratitude might even expand to astonishment. Bitching because they missed your digital watch in all the excitement really just isn’t done.”

But it wasn’t just any digital watch.”

What was so special about it?”

It was the early model Casio Illuminator Tom Cruise wore in the original Mission Impossible.

Spare me,” GT unfolded herself from the window bench, bare feet padding across the carpet to the dresser. She opened her bag and dumped a small cube of plastic onto the counter. “Besides, while you were out drunk and whoring, I picked you up another watch at the shop, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to you whine.”

I wasn’t drunk and…..”
His protest was interrupted by a thumping on the hotel room door and the sounds of giggling in the hallway. GT arched an eyebrow at him, “You were saying?”
Lover just growled and then walked to the door, opening it barely a crack. “Hi, Olga. Hi, Svetlana,” GT could hear him speaking. The broken fragments of Russian response were lost amid the sustained giggles. “Listen, I thought you girls went home after you dropped me off. You see, I need to…no…wait…ok fine.”
Lover fell back before an irresistible tide of cheekbones and cleavage and miniskirts, and a tangible cloud of vodka fumes. Trying to sound as if he had taken some control of the situation, Lover turned to follow them into the room. “So, great, awesome! This is so cool that you still want to hang out. Listen, I need to run a few errands this morning, but why don’t you just chill here. Watch some TV, enjoy the mini-bar, whatever.”

Chris,” GT began, “I don’t think this is such a good…”

Hey,” Lover cut her off. “This is my room, and I can invite whoever I want. And I’ll point out that I didn’t actually invite you, so you’re not in much of a position to protest.” He then stepped closer and dropped his voice, “You’re right, this is a bad idea. But leaving two drunk strippers in the lobby of our hotel, yelling at the receptionist that they want see me until she calls the police is a really, really bad idea. If we’re lucky, they’ll pass out sooner or later.”
GT scrunched her flawless forehead and pursed her perfect lips for a moment, pondering, then nodded her head. “OK, lesser of two evils it is then. Well actually, it’s the lesser two evils of three. Anyway, I’ll see you downstairs in 10, and we’ll head out.”
A cool breeze was blowing in off the steppe, fluttering the ends of deep blue scarves tied everywhere to fence posts and lamp poles, and sending prayers to the sky gods who still roamed the land of Genghis Khan. Lover shivered, pulled his windbreaker tight, and lit a cigarette before he could inadvertently breathe too much fresh air.

I feel like shit,” he said.

You look like shit,” GT replied.

At least I know what time it is.”

You’re welcome.”

I didn’t say thank you. This thing is so small, it looks like it belongs on the wrist of a 13 year old math nerd.”

Fuck you.”

I already said, I’m not interested. Listen, my hangover is killing me. Is there somewhere I could get a bit of the hair-of-the-dog before the mystery, and the running, and the silliness? Like that Genghis Khan Irish Pub you mentioned.”

You mean before our rendezvous?”



No what?”

No, we can’t go to the Genghis Khan Irish pub. What time is it, now that you have a watch?”

Eight o’clock.”

OK, even in Mongolia, the bar is not open at eight AM. We could probably stop and get you one of those pudding cups of vodka, if you’re desperate.”

Don’t I look desperate?”
It didn’t take long to find the shop. Within one block they passed two karaoke bars, three pubs, a pool hall, a dance bar (the one with the giant statue of Stalin lit by lasers), and two convenience shops which sold vodka cups. Maybe the bars weren’t open yet, but in Ulan Bator, you could always get a drink. Fortified by a 90 proof sharpener and another cigarette, they continued on past the brutal facades of Soviet era civic architecture until they approached a green hedge, running around a square patch of lawn. Rising from within the square, appearing to float atop the bushes, stood a statue of Lenin. Like the blue scarves scattered across the city, a lonely totem blown by history and carrying prayers to the lost gods of Communism. Though I guess Communists were atheists, so that doesn’t really work.
Lover shivered in the wind. “Why did we have to come so early in the morning?”

Because later in the day, the Lenin statue is the place where all the whores hang out. Of course, you’d probably like that; but for our purposes we need a little more privacy.”

And what are our purposes?”

Come on, I’ll show you.”
They stepped through a gap in the bushes, behind the hedge and into the shadow of Lenin.
Lover didn’t even see the taser, before he found himself twitching on the lawn. Not again, was the last thing he thought.
* * * * INTERLUDE * * * *
We will now divert from our story again, for six months this time, to pay attention to a story different from and unrelated to this one of a war that isn’t. During this interval, I would suggest lighter alternative fare, like Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series of zombie graphic novels. I swear to god, sooner or later we’re going to pay attention to this war – I mean story – long enough to finish it. Squirrel!
* * * * INTERLUDE * * * *
Kabul,Harzon Qimat (present day)
Admiral pulled his Toyota Hilux into the graveled drive, which led past a row of new poplar trees up to a vast multi-layered confection of a mansion, equal parts luxurious, imposing and unspeakably tacky. He idled at the striped wooden barrier for a full ten minutes until a platoon of flashily uniformed men came tumbling out of the guardhouse, followed by a cowed and limping teenage boy. Surrounding the vehicle, they did perfunctory mirror checks below the wheel wells, while one man gestured for the smoked window to come down.
“Captain Jim Admiral.”
“You captain? Fuck you. Boss won’t see captain.”
Navy captain – like colonel.”
“Ok, so, no problem.”
Apparently, this clarification sufficed and Admiral was waved through without being required to show any identification. His arrival had been spotted from the house, and by the time he pulled up to the portico entry way, Mink was slouching down the marble steps to greet him. Maybe a little heavier than when they had first met years ago in Bagram, but unquestionably more resplendent in silk pajamas and dressing gown, a walking personification of decadence with martini glass and cigarette holder in hand.
“Mark, fabulous to see you again,” Mink said. “Martini?”
“It’s ten in the morning, Mink.”
“Oh, right. Gin and tonic then? Or maybe just beer?”
“I didn’t come all the way out here for a debauch.”
“Oh dear,” Mink’s expression was crestfallen. “I guess it’s going to be one of those meetings. Well, we should probably go inside. The security crew are reasonably good shots, but I wouldn’t bet much on their discretion.”
“New, aren’t they?” Admiral asked as they climbed the steps and passed into a dazzling entry hall, three stories high and glittering with chandeliers. “I know you’re one for glamour, but even for you – those ostrich feather turbans are a bit much.”
“Quite, but they’re a gift from Fahim, so I can’t send them away. While ISAF heads for the exits, everyone and their brother is putting together their own militias again and it’s getting expensive, so I couldn’t really say no to free manpower.”
“Hmmm. Fahim’s famous for many things, but generosity isn’t one of them. You’re sure they’re not here to keep watch on you, rather than watch out for you?”
“Probably a little of both. But it’s gratitude more than generosity. His nephew was getting married in Mazar, and I diverted a bunch of ISAF refrigerator trucks full of ice cream and cake to cater the event. Made the spooks think AQ did it.”
“Funny you should mention that. I actually had someone looking into that, but I had to divert them. That’s why I came to see you.”
“Don’t blame me if you’re foolish enough to chase after one of my red herrings. You’re supposed to be smarter than that.”
“That’s not what I meant, and I am smarter than that. No, it’s the reason for the diversion. One of Salutations Templeton’s assholes kidnapped and tortured one of my guys. Probably would have killed him, too, if my diverted agent hadn’t arrived just in time.”
“Tut, tut. It’s a rough business you’re in. But again, I don’t see how this is my problem.”
“I know you still do business with them. I need you to tell them to back off, or at least give me some insight into what they’re up to. What I’m working shouldn’t concern them.”
“They’re your archenemies, Jim. Anything you’re working concerns them. That’s what archenemies do. As for me, while I’m not your enemy, I don’t know that I’m necessarily your friend. I mean that, of course, in a completely business-like way as someone who would provide you services for free, as opposed to being a personal friend, who would give you booze and girls for free, which I most certainly am. Hmmm. I think I may be getting a little convoluted, or perhaps it’s the martinis. Too much gin before lunch is always problematic.”
“You’re losing it, you know. You’ll be a complete basket case before this war is over.”
“I certainly intend to be, but that’s why I’m working so hard at it. I’m afraid we’re going to quit before I can get to full on Milo Minderbender/COL Kurtz level. Anyway, what we were talking about?”
“About how you’re going to help me.”
“I’m not that drunk. I think we were actually talking about how I’m probably not going to help you, unless you have some astonishing line of reasoning which has not occurred to my gin soaked – but still very self-interested – mind.”
“Do you know what happens next week on the first of July?”
“Um. It’s my birthday? It’s also Eric Cartman and Indiana Jones’ birthday, as well; but I don’t see how any of that is relevant.”
“It’s not. What is relevant is that the first of July is Jack Dieppe’s Detainee Review Board. I’ve kept him boxed up tight for you for three years, but there’s a full court press to get the facility population down, and I’m disinclined to waste much political capital on your behalf. Besides, Pi is starting to exert some serious pressure with their K-Street gang.”
“They’re not called ‘Pi’ anymore, you know. They had to change the name for PR and legal reasons after that unfortunate incident in Cairo. I think they’re called ‘Cake’ now.”
“The ‘Cake’ is a lie. But I’m telling you gospel truth, Mink. If you don’t pitch in on this one, Dieppe walks next week. By all accounts he’s an unhappy guy, and since your new guard force seems primarily interested in raping teenage boys, I wouldn’t count much on them for defense.”
“Well, you do have a point about the raping,” Mink downed the last of his drink in a single swallow. “Give me three days, and I’ll see what I can do.”

The 25th Boozaliers

Rare, Legion Of Frontiersmen Street Recruiting...

I’m reading Edward Paice’s World War I:  The African Front.  This aspect of the conflict is so different from what comes to mind when thinking of that conflict.  Things were much more losey-gosey there with commanders able to exercise their own judgement to a much greater extent than on the Western Front.  Of course, they had a tiny fraction of the troops at their disposal and huge amounts of territory to cover as well.

So, things weren’t always ‘by the book’.

Case in point were the ‘Legion of Frontiersmen’ otherwise known as the 25th Battalion of Royal Fusieliers. You just don’t get units like this anymore in modern armies:

The General Council included Sir John French, Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle…members were drawn from all walks of life, from aristocrats to trappers…

Youngsters who in peacetime were Post Office clerks in Bolton and book-keepers from Sheffield joined the music hall comedians, border gunman, university professors, Moroccan bandits, ex-MPs, cowboys, prize fighters, and acrobats…”

How is there not a TV series about these guys?

Impressed by modern military recruiting campaigns?  ‘Army strong’, ‘Aim high!’, ‘The few, the proud’.  Yeah, that stuff is amateur hour.  The 25th called for:

‘…any young and fit men who would like to participate in what undoubtedly will be a great trip, chock full of glorious incident and adventure…

One wonders what sort of crew such an appeal would attract today.

In any case, the hype surrounding this crew was so great that no one thought that actual military training was necessary before sending these guys off to war.  As a result ‘almost half its number had never fired a rifle’.

It was a rough, rowdy crew that picked up a reputation for looting and acquired the nickname that is the title of this post.