HEAR NO EVIL
Living Under Cover
The Prince and I began the New Year on schedule. He told me to plan on another round of living ‘incognito.’ At least, now I understood the meaning of living ‘incognito.’
The government was still sorting out its paperwork. Once again, I was not holding my breath.
HH and I continued to follow Abu Sayyaf, despite our ‘dismantlement’ having been repeatedly rejected. We were dismayed to learn that the ASG had assassinated a local radio host in Zamboanga. It was not improving either their cause of the cause of Moro sovereignty.
In late July, the Prince and I spoke together. His calming effect on the Abu Sayyaf seemed to be holding. Apparently he had registered his major displeasure with the earlier assassination.
Accordingly, we spent most of our time figuring out how to finance the shipping line. The government had finally confessed that they had already spent the allocated funds.
The Prince had uncovered another potential avenue for financing.
A local municipality had been issued a Sight Draft by an American Trust for US$250MM. HH had been given authorization to negociate the settlement for the Sight Draft. In return, the municipality would make sufficient funds availably to the Prince to launch his fleet.
Since I was an America, currently residing in the States, he sent me the documents to handle. It was déjà vu.
Five months previously, the same American Trust had surfaced in Ecuador. I didn’t like the smell of it and told HH accordingly. It was now my job to investigate.
I had methodically conducted my due diligence, first with the FBI and then with the Secret Service. The Prince was not going to like my answer. The magical US$250MM Sight Draft was as mythical as the “Argonaut.” The whole thing was a “Golden Fleece” job.
The Secret Service already had a file open on the issuer on the Sight Draft. Accordingly, the FBI duly handed me off to the USSS.
I was amazed. They were efficient, timely and came WITHOUT a mountain of manuals. They were even allowed to do things on their own initiative without first seeking Papal blessings.
Since the Secret Service cannot take time to get permission, in advance, for taking a bullet for the ‘Prez,’ I suppose that they had developed a different mind set. Whatever the reason, it was damned refreshing.
The USSS asked me to play along with this fellow. They wanted help in getting the ‘goods’ on this guy. Apparently, he had been success in slipping through their grasp on previous occasions.
I was already tired of bumping into this yo-yo. If I didn’t help the Secret Service now, there was no telling where this dude would pop up next. Besides, I did not cotton to the idea of his attempt to take the Prince and the municipality to the cleaners with fraudulent paper.
Anyway, I finally dropped the bomb on HH. He wasn’t too happy. He did understand that there would be no ‘birthin of boats’ out of this bogus bundle of paperwork.
In a couple of days, he was back to normal and off on a new voyage for funding. One way or another, he was going to get a nautical deck under his feet. His family had been sailing for centuries. Smuggling and piracy had always been familial occupations.
I progressed with the Secret Service while the Prince proceeded with alternate financing. We bade each other our ritual New Year’s greetings and signed off for the remainder.
The part hats and New Year’s paraphernalia had barely been put away before the Secret Service rang through. They were onto this guy like ‘white on rice.’ Apparently they had been after him for a while, but had never been able to nail him ‘with the goods.’
They asked me if I would be willing to go undercover and expose him. I believe that the technical term for the job description was “bait.”
I agreed. I also wanted this guy off the streets. How bad could it be after living ‘incognito?’ Besides, I had my black-and-white beaded necklace. I wasn’t going to be killed by accident.
The Secret Service proceeded with their plans and I returned to reality.
As I began making preparations for my undercover excursion and dialoging daily with the mark,’ I wondered how the predator would feel about becoming the prey. It would be interesting.
D-Day arrived and I headed off to meet up with the Secret Service and play my part. I was glad that this was a financial scam. Perpetrators of this ilk did not tend to ‘pack heat.’ Terrorists were a different matter.
I arrived at my destination and met my Secret Service contact. He was just as good in person as he had been on the phone. He was competent, thorough and bright. It was a bit hectic but everything had been arranged.
We made our appointed rounds, visiting the District Attorney, the bank and the Secret Service digs before we headed to the hotel. We were good to go.
My ‘mark’ had billed himself as the Financial Wizard of the World. There was no modesty hanging off this guy. He knew it all and was there to prove it.
The ‘mark’ sent his minions to meet me. He probably wanted to get the lay of the land before he made his grand entrance. I was suitably star-struck and stupid and passed the initial cut. I was to await the call from the wonderful Wizard.
I signed off with the Secret Service and retired for the evening. I was mildly wired while I waited for the other shoe to fall.
It fell at 1:00AM. I was summoned to me with the Wizard. Since the USSS was incommunicado until morning, I headed off to the ‘mark’s’ room. He was also staying in the same hotel, even though he lived in town.
The Wizard grilled me about Southeast Asia and the Prince. I passed muster. I knew Asia a whole lot better than he did. After all, I had had 25 years to get to know the turf.
The grilling ended and his pronouncements began. The balance of the several hour horror was consumed with his pontifications on the international financial situation and the imminent overthrow of the world banking system by the downtrodden masses of the planet, lead by the one and only Mr. Wizard.
My eyes glazed over as I fought to stay awake. This guy was going to do me out of US$50,000? Not with that line, he wasn’t. Why would I want to invest US$50,000 with some loony in a banking system which was on its way out?
I couldn’t take much more. I brought him back down to reality, noting the lateness of the hour and the need for my rest if we were going to meet in morning. He got the point: if we didn’t meet, he didn’t get his US$50,000. Beating a hasty retreat, I hit the sack for some much needed sleep.
The Secret Service and I had a very early morning. We had to wire my room, move furniture and place the camera before my guests arrived. We went over all the last minute details before they departed. I was on my own and it was Showtime.
My guests arrived on time. The presented their new batch of bogus documentations and we began negociations. Halfway through the meeting, we hit a snag. The Wizard was not totally daft after all. He did not want to put in writing which the District Attorney needed in writing if they were going to go for indictment. We had a Mexican standoff.
I pulled out the US$50,000 check, waved it in the air and innocently asked:
“Then, you don’t want this?”
Greed set in - big time. We agreed to break while the Wizard ran home and rewrote his Sight Draft.
While the Wizard was busy printing up his new papers, the Secret Service met me at out appointed place and we headed off to lunch. They were very surprized that I had been able to keep him on the hook, having figured that I had lost him at least a couple of times. They also indicated that they didn’t know what I was talking about half the time. International biz was different from the domestic stuff.
I barely remembered lunch. The adrenalin was flowing fulltime.
We returned in time to assume our positions and awaited the Wizard’s call. He rang through and I returned to the lobby to meet him and his entourage. Apparently he never traveled alone. No big deal - neither did the Prince.
He presented his newest version. Having previously explained that I would have the fax this copy to my mythical principals in the Middle East, I took the pile of papers over to the nice lady at the registration desk. Actually, she ran the Secret Service in the neighborhood. She graciously accepted the fax and immediately sent it to the District Attorney for review.
I retired to my room to await the call from my ‘principals.’ It came. The copy was close but no cigar. I dutifully noted the necessary changes and rejoined Mr. Wizard and his boys in the lobby.
My ‘mark’ was not happy with the proposed changes. We dickered for a while. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders and said:
“These are the terms of my Principals.”
“I can’t change them.”
“Do we have a deal or not?”
If we going to have a deal, Mr. Wizard was going to have to cruise across town, rewrite the garbage and return. It was already mid-afternoon. I was leaving town that evening.
To my total amazement, my ‘mark’ reached into his briefcase and pulled out another set of papers which he proceeded to hand to me. I briefly scanned them, looking over the problem areas. Everything seems in order.
I found my attentive fax lady and we repeated the process. Once again, I retired to my room to await the verdict. It was a green light. The D.A. was happy.
Returning to my guests in the lobby, I informed them that this version had met with my Principal’s approval. Noting that we did not really wish to conclude our private business in a public lobby, I recommended that we retire to my room. The Secret Service wanted the physical handoff of the check on tape.
Mr. Wizard and his minions immediately consented. At that point in time they would have cheerfully agreed to go to Timbuktu. They were getting bucks.
Back in my room we were in the final process of signing all the bogus papers when the telephone rang. I had a frantic Secret Service on the other end. The batteries in their US$25,000, especially flown-in-from-D.C. hidden camera had died. There would be no more video. I would have to call them immediately after I handed over the check.
It had been an interesting phone call. Mr. Wizard, being an abnormally nosy cuss, had insisted on standing within a few feet of me while I talked with the Feds. I babbled on about Finnish banking procedures to cover their conversation.
The exchange of the signed contracted for the check was made without a celluloid witness. Out of sheer orneriness, I kept the Wizard and his boys from leaving by babbling banalities. After all, he had kept me up most of the night.
They had to be moderately polite. I had just given them a US$50,000 check. They forcibly reminded me of little boys in desperate need of the facilities.
I finally let them go. They flew out of the room while I flew to the phone to let the Secret Service know that the exchange had been made.
I was told to say in my room and someone would come for me. The Secret Service headed out, en masse, to play cops and robbers with the Wizard and his gang. It was going to be a photo finish as to who got to the bank first. My money was on the Feds.
Someone else did come and collect the equipment. I was again told to stay put and wait for their return. After a couple of hours, I began to feel like the bride, left at the altar. I checked out, hit the bricks and went home.
Later on, my main man at the Secret Service rang through. We wrapped up the final details while he updated me on the latest events. We were to remain in touch. It was expected that I would have to testify in court.
Word of my first undercover operation and its success traveled back to the Bureau. The Secret Service had been very fulsome in their compliments. My stock was rising everywhere. The USSS was pleased with their outcome, the FBI was pleased with their recommendation and I was pleased to have nailed the guy. Undercover wasn’t so awfully different from ‘incognito.’
My undercover excursion with the Secret Service had been timely. Soon after my return to reality, a Turkish associate sent me a batch of American financial paper. I was surprized, these documents actually looked genuine. Once gain, I performed my due diligence. Once again the alarm bells went off.
At one time, the certificates had been real. They had been properly redeemed and sent out to the recycler. The recycler had decided to ‘recycle’ them in Europe rather than clutter up his furnace.
Since I had just done the Secret Service a favour, I figured that they could do me one. I contacted my main guy and sent off the documents. True to form, they were back to me within hours. Definitely not the FBI School of Management.
I was told to send the documents to the Secret Service Liaison to INTERPOL. I did just that.
Their Liaison and I spoke. He was super also. He immediately notified the appropriate overseas authorities. The certificates were seized from three different banks and 14 people were arrested. The whole deal only took a few days.
I was on a White Collar Crime spree.
News of my latest triumph also found its way back to the Boys at the Bureau. They were almost impressed. They actually began sending me stuff to check out.
The FBI NEVER shared information. They only gathered. For them, information was a one-way street.
During all of this, the Prince and I plodded forward on the shipping line. We also kept tabs on the ASG. The Abu Sayyaf was doing what they did and Uncle wasn’t doing what he didn’t. Situation normal.
Later on, the Boys at the Bureau came up with a plan for me. During one of my travails, I had been introduced to a fellow whom they defined as a ‘person of interest.’ They were VERY interested in this fellow and wanted me to look into it. Since I had been successful in my Secret Service gig, they figured that I could do similarly for them. I told them that I would think about it.
It finally came to fish or cut bait. The FBI wanted an answer. Would I or wouldn’t I go undercover. I agreed.
After all the ‘T’s had been crossed and the ‘I’s had been dotted, I went off. It was an interesting assignment in our nation’s capital.
I was actually beginning to get pretty good at this spy stuff. However, there was never any doubt that I did not want to do this for my ‘day job’ I was not so constructed. My nerves weren’t built for it.
While undercover, I reported in daily with my ‘Suits’ on site. We had found a ‘safe’ restaurant where we could meet for lunch. It was vastly amusing to watch them approach for the first meeting.
They were not difficult to pick out. She was hobbling and her partner was on crutches. They resembled two escapees from the geriatric ward, both victims of sporting accidents. I was damn glad that I was no longer that young.
We found an outside table and settled in. After we had chitchatted for a while, the lady Agent reached down, unbuckled her ankle holster and parked her 38 on the table. Her holster had been strapped to her bad ankle and it was beginning to bother her.
After that, we got the best service in town. Like most of the FBI on-the-street Agents I had run across, these two were good eggs and good to work with.
Our college kid waiter had noticed the additional hardware on the table. He became enamoured of the lady “suit.” After they had departed he asked me what she did for a living. I told him. He wasn’t in the least bit fazed. It turned out that his Dad was with the CIA. Only in DC. I wondered how a cross Agency relationship would be viewed – perhaps an updated version of Romeo and Juliet.
Still chortling about love within the Beltway, I thought about what I was going to do with my down time before the next rendezvous. I decided to head off to the Vietnam Wall.
It was a lovely day, not too hot, not too cold, sunny with a vibrant blue sky. A perfect opportunity to walk.
As the blocks sped by, my thoughts returned to Nam. I thought about the friends I had made, the friends that I had lost and the stupid war which had claimed four years of my life.
I was a bit scared and uncertain how I would react. There were some memories which I was not eager to relive. I had seen the ‘moving’ wall but never the real thing.
By hit-and-miss and a lot of helpful passerbys, I finally made it. At first it looked like a recreational park, miles of lawn and fully leafed trees with the appropriate facilities discretely interspersed along the way. While still not knowing exactly where I was in relationship to the Wall, I just let myself flow by instinct and arrived at the left side of the Memorial.
As I glided down the gentle slope, my thoughts settled into my Wartime mode of over a quarter of a century earlier. By the time I reached the bottom, I almost achieved Zen. My mind and senses strained to feel and experiences.
The polished marble wall on my left seemed to go on as far as the eye could see. Slab after slab of names and dates continued to unfold. Small clusters of people, mostly foreign which I found odd, spoke in hushed reverent tones to their children, trying to explain a war which never should have happened.
Names began to appear in my brain. The names of the suicide victims which I had so dutifully and devastatingly processed. Fortunately, very few were accompanied with images.
I began to look for those names. I was stunned at how many of them came back into my brain. It had been decades since I had thought about them. I found the first of them on the Wall, the name carved in stone forever and ever.
My heart was racing and my mind reeling. In quick time I found several others. Each name sunken in stone, a simple name and date, a reminder that they had died for their country.
My mind exploded. “They had died for the country.” They had been casualties of the War. If they had been officially listed as suicides, they would not have been listed as casualties. They would not have been listed on the Wall.
I broke down and started bawling. I HAD done the right thing in writing those letters so long ago. I had always wondered if I had done the right thing or been played by the military. If these kids hadn’t been casualties or victims of the War, I don’t know who was.
Through my tears, I caught glimpses of parents protectively grabbing their small children and heading for the hills. “Another Vietnam Vet goes wacko.” I couldn’t blame them; I was not a comforting sight.
I found all but one of my fellows. I said goodbye to each of them, finally knowing for certain that they were where they belonged, on a Wall of Honour with their comrades-in-arms.
I sniffled most of the way back to the hotel and my next rendezvous. It had been painful but incredibly healing.
A couple of days later, my handicapped Feds showed up with one of their super analysts. She parked her gun was on the table and while her smitten waiter hovered in close attendance.
As close as I could tell the terrorist analyst had been no where and done nothing. Apparently, I highly offended him, since I had been there and done that. He was remarkably rude. For a change, I was remarkably polite.
By the salad course, my gun-totting gal had had enough. She got ticked and tore into to him. My entrée turned out to be delicious. The analyst didn’t seem to have much of an appetite for his. Crow is seldom well received.
I was constantly learning that the Bureau Boys-on-the-Beat were a pretty good group of people. It was definitely a ‘management’ issue for me. I had never suffered fools well. It probably showed.
I finished my job, returned home and submitted my report. As close as I could tell the FBI was not dissatisfied with my work. Time would tell.
The last couple of years with the Bureau had been good, uncommonly good. The days of the letter campaign were long gone. My undercover episodes with the Secret Service and the FBI had gone off without a hitch. I was still alive and no one important had detected my activities. My main FBI guy and I had just passed our 10th year anniversary together. Over the years, we had developed a mutual trust and a communications system which worked.
I gather my data, compiled my reports and faxed them off. It didn’t matter when I was. I only needed a phone line and my trusty fax machine.
My Bureau buddy would receive the information, and then call me and we would discuss it. The he would do with the report whatever he had to do with it. I didn’t ask and he didn’t volunteer.
My FBI undercover episode and subsequent reports had brought several things to light which somehow threatened some of the spineless middle managers at the Bureau and their precious pension plans. The fellow they had me follow was rather high profile. The bungling bureaucrats suddenly developed an overwhelming fear that the fellow would find out and bust them. That they had known all about the man prior to my assignment and departure was of no consequence. Better late than never.
These mid-level lemmings had developed an increasing desire to distance themselves and their future promotions from me and my activities; the same activities which they had previously authorized and blessed.
Under the guise that my information had suddenly become more ‘sensitive,’ a new system had to be instituted. It was a gem of gutless stupidity. Jurisdiction of my activities would henceforth be governed by my zipcode.
At that time I was roughly 500 miles from my main guy in the Bureau. I had been over 200 miles distant for the last six years. At my current locale, I was over 4o miles from the nearest FBI office.
My Bureau buddy flew down to introduce me to the local guy, my newly designated contact. He was extremely nice but had not the foggiest idea what I was talking about. As I understood it, he had never dealt in either Counterintelligence or Counterterrorism. He dealt with domestic stuff.
Since my reports had become ‘sensitized’ the new fellow would have to drive 40 miles to my house. The he would pick up the report while we discussed the data. His office had neither an ‘encrypted’ fax machine or by secret decoder ring. Therefore, he would then drive the report 40+ additional miles to the main office and send out the report by magic machine. After that, he got back in the car and drove back to his office another 40+ miles away. The logic of the whole thing failed me.
This guy lived in a flak jacket. He had hordes of bank robbers, bomb makers, meth labs and other assorted villains on his beat. The trunk of his car held more weapons and combat paraphernalia than the State armory. From a two-man office, this guy had more than enough on his plate. The last thing he needed was to play courier and fax attendant for a fellow who didn’t even live in the same county.
Nonetheless, the new system was implemented. Depending on his schedule, it now took several days to achieve the same thing which had once taken only several minutes. Sometimes, my reports were time-sensitive. In that case, my local guy would have to rearrange his whole day. I got to the point where I felt guilty calling him.
It was only a matter of time until I got him at a really inconvenient moment. I rang through. He was slow in answering but finally said “hello.” I started to speak. Since we had just met the previous day, he had no problem recognizing my voice. He asked me if I could call back later. He was in the middle of a bank robbery. What was I going to say: “no?”
We did talk later. The robber had stuffed his ill-gotten gains in his pants. Unfortunately for him, the money had been booby-trapped. His pants exploded, coating his lower body in red dye. It must have smarted something fierce.
You had to give this guy credit. He had still managed to elude the authorities and make a clean get away. Maybe it’s just me, but I would have thought that some guy gingerly waddling down the street covered in red dye, would have caught somebody’s attention. Apparently not.
Anyway, a perfectly good ten-year old system was flushed because some manual-ly fixated mid-management moron did not want to be put in a position where he might have to make a decision and then be held accountable. Was it any wonder that 9/11 occurred?