Ask Mr. Tradecraft – 5

Dear Mr. Tradecraft, Ken mentioned you’ve done “wet work.” Can you share any details? – Mediocre Operator Learning Everyday

MrTradecraft

Dear MOLE.

Am chuffed to bits – been waiting for this question for a while!

For the record, MOLE, I’ve never done any “wet work.”

There‘s a big difference between taking the taking of  human life inside of a Red Zone and outside of one.  Outside of a Red Zone (and here I mean yours naturally, your’s, not your target‘s), wet work refers either assassination (for sending a messing) or disappearance (when no one else should know). Within a Red Zone, the term wet work does not apply; it‘s self-defence. Sadly, I‘ve had to defend myself several times. Gladly, in my 37+ year career, the number‘s been fewer than the fingers on one hand.


Note from Ken: I’ve known him for years, but I never know when I’ll hear from him. Gladly, he’s back, not sure for how long, and I hope he has time to start emptying his mailbox.

After many decades, Mr. Tradecraft remains a much-sought-after operator for the most demanding contracts with governments, corporations, and private parties alike. He has over 30 years of international field experience that span the whole spectrum of clandestine services, from cut-outs, snatch-and-grabs, bag jobs, surveillance, to wet work — much of it spent in red zones. His retirement increasingly near, Ask Mr. Tradecraft is the pro bono way he gives back to the community. If you’d like to ask him a question, please submit it to Ken – but due to obvious reasons there may be a wait of many months before he can respond to your question.

 

“The Breisach Encounter”

Continuing the series . . .

One of my hobbies is exploring the Jewish past of Switzerland, as I’ve shown here and here. This is very interesting to me because, as part Gypsy myself, I find it interesting how itinerant people have been treated in medieval times.

Another of my hobbies is exploring the small villages along the Rhein. I find this interesting because historically the Rhein River had a tremendous meander which was removed via canals in modern times. This means there are medieval river villages and river relics that are now located far from the river.

Recently I was in one of these, Breisach in Germany, where I stopped to drink a coffee and smoke a cigar and reflect on my encounter with the Head of the Mossad, Gabriel Allon, at the old Synagogengasse in Zürich. Here my father tells the background story.


“Gabriel”, said a frustrated Mikhail,   “just what in the hell are we doing in Breisach?  There have to be a thousand better places in Germany for a safe house for our meeting.”

“Perhaps”, said Gabriel, “but not this close to the French border.  You never know when you need to cross over.  We’re still not very high on the German popularity list, and . . . .  Oh NO!  It’s him again!  NO!”

Mikhail jumped at Gabriel’s words.

Gabriel whispered hoarsely:  “Across the square, about 50 meters away, at your 11 o’clock.  The tall guy, baseball cap, sitting at the café with the espresso and cigar – and taking pictures.  Turn around – quick.  I have no desire to be photographed.  Very casually let’s walk south a bit.”

“Who is this guy?  Should I worry?” said Mikhail.

“Remember that I told you about him a couple of months back.  I had that meeting at the Synagogengasse in Zurich.  He’s the guy who’s a friend of you-know-who”, Gabriel responded.

“Tradecraft?”

“Exactly.  Old Mr. T”.

Mikhail’s brow furrowed: “You think someone has hired the T-Man to check us out?”

“Unlikely.  He never works for that side.  Mr. T has his scruples.  It’s just that the guy saw me then and I don’t want him to see me again”, said Gabriel.

Mikhail frowned. “Perhaps I should take him out.”

“No – you idiot.  Look —  this guy runs a blog.  At odd intervals, Tradecraft runs a column there answering questions, so the blog invites people to send in questions and he’ll eventually answer them.”

“So that means Mr. T uses that blog column as his mail-drop?”

“Possibly — Probably — Most likely — For Certain.  But the point is, it means that the guy over there – he calls himself Ken – is close enough to Tradecraft to carry on a dialogue – and feel secure.  He’s Mr. T’s pal.  In Zurich I had a Beretta in his ribs and he just pushed it away and called me a jackass.  Do you know of anyone else who Mr. T trusts like that?  The T-Man doesn’t have many friends.  Once he trusts a guy, bonds with him, nobody had better mess with that guy.  That’s Mr. T’s way.”

“I agree,“ said Mikhail, “that the T-man trusts hardly anyone.”

“So think about it, Mikhail.  If you  threaten this guy, or take him out, guess who will come after you?  I know you took out Tariq and Ivan, but Mr. T plays in a higher league. There’s no place you could run to.  Mr. T would declare war on The Office and I don’t need that – nor do I need this Ken taking our picture.

We don’t want to be an item in his blog.  Let’s just go get some lunch and let the blog guy take his pictures and move on.”

Training with the U.S. Special Forces

At least, I think they were U.S. Special Forces. In 1998 I was working at the Max-Planck-Institute, a huge scientific complex which sits alone in a huge woods in southern Germany.

Well, almost alone: right next to it sits Patch Barracks, the Headquarters for the U.S. military in Europe, and also the location of a troop of Special Forces soldiers (one of whom is even today a very good friend of mine).


Each day at lunchtime I’d go running in the woods, usually about 4 miles, but I almost never saw any soldiers. I guess soldiers don’t like running in the woods.

Anyway, one day I was finishing up my run with a sprint, when suddenly, out of nowhere, came a huge group of 10 soldiers wearing camouflaged clothes, backpacks, and boots. They were running in boots! But these crazy guys were not just running in boots, they were doing at least a 5-6 minute mile – with backpacks and in boots! This is not them, but this is what it looked like:

The strange thing about it was we literally ran into each other, and I suddenly found myself running along side them, mixed into their group. One by one they realized I was there, and they started snickering and smiling to each other. I wanted to stop – I badly wanted to stop. I had already done 4 miles and a sprint – I reached my limit and I could not run anymore.

Now, I am a wimp – but I am still a man. And there is no fucking way in hell I was going to give up in front of these guys and have these guys keep running! So as much as I wanted to stop I kept running. And soon I started praying that they would stop, because my energy was long gone and I could not run anymore and there was no fucking way I was going to stop.

Fortunately after about a mile the path forked, and when the soldiers veered left, I veered right – and kept right on running until they were out of sight. I collapsed to my knees, and for 5 minutes I lay on the ground and fought the urge to vomit. I had no idea why I wanted to vomit, but I later found out . . . vomiting is not a good thing.

Still, I was pretty proud! I did not stop in front of them!

Ask. Mr. Tradecraft – A word about my friend

Yes, he really exists. And it’s important because a few posts coming up touch on very sensitive topics (such as wet work). I’ve promised him not to edit any of his contributions, although naturally that last one (4) was a tad embarrassing for me – he’s requested that I print my recollection of events and I eventually will.


Note from Ken: I’ve known him for years, but I never know when I’ll hear from him. Gladly, he’s back, not sure for how long, and I hope he has time to start emptying his mailbox.

After many decades, Mr. Tradecraft remains a much-sought-after operator for the most demanding contracts with governments, corporations, and private parties alike. He has over 30 years of international field experience that span the whole spectrum of clandestine services, from cut-outs, snatch-and-grabs, bag jobs, surveillance, to wet work — much of it spent in red zones. His retirement increasingly near, Ask Mr. Tradecraft is the pro bono way he gives back to the community. If you’d like to ask him a question, please submit it to Ken – but due to obvious reasons there may be a wait of many months before he can respond to your question.

 

9? How can she possibly have 9?

I recently posted a blog about the Indian goddess Durga (one of the must-know Hindu gods for anyone planning a trip to India) and this the photo I showed:

I didn’t think anything of it. But my father flipped out!  Just after seeing it he broke out in a cold sweat – he could not sleep, he could not eat.

For you see, my father is walking weapon, a deadly combination of IT professor and retired Marine Corps “master sniper” who keeps his ultra-long-distance sniping skills very much current indeed. (Aside: he would take me as a small 9-year-old boy to the shooting range, where trained me to hit ping-pong balls and glass marbles at 1’500 meters using a Winchester M1 Garand antique Sniper rifle using metal sights.  At 10 years old he helped me make my first Ghillie suit.) It’s those awesome sniper eyes that caused him to flip out.

“She has NINE arms!” he exploded to me on the phone, “NINE of them! That’s can’t be!  Eight, ok.  Ten – maybe – twelve, if she was a very, very powerful goddess. But the Durga you showed has NINE!”

“Relax, Pops” – actually I never call him pops, but I thought it was a good time to start, “I will look into it and get back to you.

So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I surfed and I Googled and I Binged and I “Wolfram Alpha’d” – no references to nine-arm Gods. So I reached out to my network: I have a large network of very devout Hindu scholars as friends. One of my best friends and religious scholar in general, Jim (his real name is Prabir) answered me in Facebook: I think the number of hands have metaphorical purpose. Indicative of some Divine person who has all the skills as denoted by hands. It also symbolizes the effort it takes to destroy evil in this world even temporarily. My response: go stuff a sock in it (or something to that effect), you don’t have a clue! He agreed – he didn’t know.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Durga can appear in any one of nine different forms (Skondamata, Kusumanda, Shailaputri, Kaalratri, Brahmacharini, Maha Gauri, Katyayani, Chandraghanta, and Siddhidatri), and she can have between 8 and 18 arms. But . . . no 9 arm avatar of Durga is known.

According to my friend Jim: Most likely just an artist’s goof.

 

 

 

TOP SECRET – Full Disclosure!

I am not a spy, secret agent, terrorist, or anything like that. And I am not a paramilitary operator or mercenary, although people often think that when they see my enormous physical strength and lightning quick reflexes.

However, I have had – through no fault or desire of my own – more than my fair share of encounters with people who live in this secret underworld.

The other parts of my homepage and blog have been written for fun. But the stories I am now disclosing here are all true, and I am disclosing them for one purpose only: to save my life. Only by FULL DISCLOSURE can you be sure — after seeing what I have seen and learning what I have learned — that you will not one day simply disappear.

You’ve already read several blogs from my clandestine friend (Mr. Tradecraft) – now please stay tuned to read about my adventures.

 

A Texas Safari

A guest blog, by Charles Ritley

South Texas, East of San Antonio, is a giant cattle ranch: grassland chock full of quail and deer—and those who hunt them. While Californians discuss ways to save endangered species, Texans swap recipes for cooking them.

But hunting, like golf, is a socio-drinking experience. Guys form clubs that sub-lease tracts on the large ranches—-and build fancy clubhouses, with overnight accommodations, air conditioning, and satellite dishes. They co-exist well with the cattle, it’s extra income for the rancher, and the basic ground rules are: OK to shoot quail, OK to shoot deer, not OK to shoot cow. (But after you pay the rancher, you may keep the cow.)

Now, I don’t hunt. I did hunt when I was a kid, because everyone did. I was a trap shooter for many years and president of a trap club —- but in my later years I chose not to kill things.

But I had a client who wanted to go hunting. I knew a local business who had part of a game lease, and asked them to help. They set up a quail hunt on a big ranch, and I went along as my client’s bodyguard.

QuailThis hunt was a circus. They had a large 4-wheel drive truck with two chairs bolted to the front, where hunters sat, and two bolted to the sides. In the bed of the truck: extra passengers, the dogs, and their handler. Plus, it held 4 people in the cab. Periodically, when they passed a likely spot, the truck stopped, everyone dismounted, and the dogs were set loose to sniff out and flush quail.

(Now this whole thing made no sense to me. I grew up hunting birds. They have a very sharp sense of hearing. A quail can hear a truck this size when it’s two miles away. But, I withheld my advice. I was just another outsider.)

Eventually, the dogs would flush something, birds would scatter through the sky in all directions, and everyone would start blasting away. (Like London in 1940, but without the sirens and searchlights.)

GinThen everyone would pile back into the truck, where they had: 2 liters of gin, a large bag of limes, and a couple of jugs of tonic water, and proceed to make a round of Gin and Tonics. (One part gin, two parts tonic, one slice of lime.)

After several stops, about a hundred rounds were fired, no birds were harmed, and everyone had consumed at least one G-and-T per stop. At this point, my client—-a nice guy and a close friend—-said he wanted to come because he once sold shotguns but had never been hunting. But now he had enough. In fact, he was scared – really scared. So, I had a conversation with our hosts, but their engines were running, and they weren’t about to stop. So, the client and I just stayed close to the truck and out of what we believed to be the line of fire.

But then another problem arose: when the guys climbed back into the truck, some were full of gin and didn’t bother unloading their shotguns. Now, trust me, you do not want to be bouncing along a pot-holed trail in a 4-wheel drive truck in compound low, crammed into a cab with 4 guys full of gin and 4 loaded shotguns. You really, really, really don’t. So the client and I—-claiming we wanted a better view, jumped up into the bed of the truck with the dogs. The dogs, at least, were stone sober. And unarmed.

Shells

They got a few quail that day, and as I recall they were thrown away. Quail are good to eat, if you pick out the shot, and no one would do that. Eventually, the gin ran out and we headed home. The client and I fired a few rounds into the air, just to act like good ole boys, but I managed to do no harm to anything or anyone. The client, however, did manage to hit–quite by accident–some kind of little wild canary. It kind of exploded in this yellow poof. He felt rather bad about it.

 


 

This guest blog was submitted by Charles Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.

 

Hilton Head

HH1

Hilton Head Island – the “low country” home of the famous movie stars, vacation retreat of U.S. Presidents – but I shall always remember it as the place where the police tried to arrest me for driving a Honda in a neighborhood where there are only supposed to be Mercedes.

This has happened to me now twice: in HH, and in the Hamptons on Long Island – an occupational hazard of having friends who number among the mega-wealthy!

Indian Tales 1: Shopping in Dehli with an Auto Wallah

AutoDriver

During my first trip to Dehli, in the middle of the hot summer, an auto rickshaw driver was surprisingly honest with me: he asked if he could drive me to a store for tourists, because he would receive a 100 Rs “commission” from the owners for each tourist he delivered there. It was the “off season,” he said, and he needed the extra money for his family.

I have NEVER seen such honesty and openness from an auto wallah before!

So I made a deal with him: he would drive me to as many of these tourists stores as he could: I’d shop for a few minutes then buy nothing and leave, he’d collect 100 Rs from each store we visited — and at the end of the day, we would split the proceeds 50%/50%.

After a few hours we hit nearly 15 different stores, my voice was hoarse from 15 repetitions of the question “Do you have any little paper maché elephants made in Kashmir?” and his pockets were full of money!  Because I didn’t need the money but wanted the fun, I then told him he could keep it all, because he was so honest and open.

He was really happy with this, and we spent another 2 hours in which he took me on the best auto tour of Dehli anyone is ever likely to get, even stopping to drink tea with his other auto wallah friends near this great big stone arch-thing.

Motto: The people who want to take advantage of you can often turn out to be very nice people – and sometimes you can have a lot of fun by turning the tables and taking advantage of the system itself!

Amazing coincidence!

Scientists will tell you there is nothing special about coincidences. As we live our lives we experience a continuous stream of sensory inputs – so it’s only natural and expected that from time to time that our internal pattern recognition systems will alert us that some random event triggers a meaningful response.

But still and all . . . I find the following story almost too incredible to be true.

Hiranandani

Just a few weeks ago I was was in Mumbai. With well over 15 million inhabitants it’s slated to become the world’s largest mega-city by the year 2020.  And on one evening I was enjoying the warm weather, walking down a street in the posh district of Hiranandani, when I accidentally ran into a friend and previous colleague of mine, Sandhya!  The last time we had seen each other was in 2007 – when she and I were both in Bangalore, a city some 500 km to the south of Mumbai.  I had no idea she moved to Mumbai, and she had no idea I was there on business.

Is this an amazing coincidence?!

We agreed to meet a few days later for coffee. At the time, back in the day, she was the best software engineer I knew. (At a very young age she absolutely mastered a very complex document management system, Documentum.) And I was both impressed and thrilled that she continued in her career, now a senior project manager leading huge international projects with dozens of people for the Indian company Cognizant!  Way to go, Sandhya!