Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rendition 6


II
The First Epistle of John


1
درد دې څڅېږي له نظره وارخطا دې کړمه
په خوله دې ونه کړه خبره وارخطا دې کړمه
The Picture” Rahmat Shah Sayel

The room was fetid hot, with a small ceramic heater providing the fetid, and the bodies, military, contractor, and civilian providing a boost that curdled the air into a swamp like concoction. There was the rank smell of bandages that needed to be change layered on top of a melange of sweat. Acrid, musk, fox-like, all competed. Most of the bodies were men, but a few were women, two from the local Air Force base, who had crowded near the front.

“So, how exactly did you get out? The fire fight was 150 clicks up-range, into the mountains and across scrub wood. With a limp and a lung shot?”

“The lung wound was very fresh. And the leg wound only a few hours older. We weren't combatants in the fire fight.”

“We?”

“Yes, the other officer was still with me at that time.”

“But he's not now?”

OK they haven't gotten anything from state yet.

“No.”

“So why don't you go back out to the fire fight, and tell me exactly how you got back 230 kilometers on the ground, a 6 hour drive on the roads, on foot, in a day.”

“It wasn't on foot.”

“How did it happen?”

He stopped and tried to game out the situation. He could dead end things here, and then hope that either Director Hampshire, or even the White House through Boo would know what was good for them, avow him, and cart him away. He'd be burned as a field agent, and would be back to Dilbertia, but State, or someone, would have the product, and could roll up Jack before turning the corner to the real Patron of the operation, however far that would go. Cooperation, small wins. However he, personally, would be better denying the Director, coming up with his own cover, and then go illegal, without official cover. Then if State, or the Executive disavowed him, it would be better. But if they said he was one of theirs, total blow up. On the other hand, if he kept quiet, and they disavowed him, then he'd be roughed up here by the local security officer – just to prove he was off the reservation – and then Hampshire could have him carted back, and have a great deal more leverage to make sure that he would be completely forthcoming.

Or to put it another way, if both sides in this little game jumped the same way, it was the best case scenario, but if one side played it straight, then, well. No good deed goes unpunished.

He sat, pretending to shake back and forth slowly, as if his injuries were bad. He let his eyes droop.

“Some one get him some water.”

He waited for the water, drank it in small gulps, and then started. What would Hampshire do? She'd betray, of course.

“I was flown back.”

“How? Did a plane just fall out of the sky?”

“No, it was the ultra-light that my target had flow in on.”

“And he just happened to have one.”

“He was an officer who had gone rogue. He was here to sell out.”

“Did he?”

“Yes.”

“So why are you telling me this.”

“I'm not here on Company business. I came because I knew that whatever score there was to be made was on the table.”

“So you were here to gray mail him for a slice of the action?”

“Essentially.”

“Where the proof?”

“I can give you the GPS of the cave where his body is.”

“Did you splash him?”

“I was doing him a favor, the Talib had already amputated his hand and his foot.”

“You sure he wasn't captured?”

“He was compromised.”

“When? How did you know?”

“A long time ago. I knew then, I think.”


“So you knew him?”

“After a manner of speaking. In any event, why don't you get me a GPS to upload to, and you can check the proof.”

“What I don't understand is why an officer would just come out and decide that having his limbs hacked off and living as a double amputee in Kandahar was his best career move.”

“They had leverage.”

“Ah.”

“Go check the proof. I can wait, I have nothing to do but heal.”

“You think you are going to get away with murder?”

“It wasn't murder, I was doing him, and you, a favor. He almost certainly had more to say.”

The tent was cleared, and he let himself be shuffled to the brig. They weren't going to do any high impact dental work until they knew where things were. He was also waiting for the diplo attache to arrive and tell them he was off the reservation.

But when they got the body, he'd be walking out, without problems. Because like any good spook, he'd blown the dead man, and told enough of the truth.

John the Baptist, had confessed. Sadly, he was not sure exactly to what, or to whom. But it was inevitable, before he even was John the Baptist, he had been made, compromised, and left on the shelf until needed.

It was 1987, they both had been very fresh faced an young. Neither even out of college. The place was Kabul, and he had been sent to do the simple task of getting an agent of an Afghan prison. Why him? Why then? He had excellent Russian, and could cram passable Pashto in time. He was totally expendable. John, even then, was not.


Egyptian board on books for young people

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rendition 5

5
هېر کړه اشنا دا تېر عمرونه هېر کړه
باده درنیسه تېر غمونه هېر کړه

To a Friend” Solyman Laeq

“Hello Dig.”

“I did not expect to ever hear you again.”

“Can't keep a hood man down.”

“This is not a social call.”

“Well, it is, no one knows the social workings of the village the way you do.”

He could imagine the flutter of her eyelids, taking, but not placing any weight in, the compliment.

“And how can I help my friends over at State.”

“I'm investigating,” he paused and began to spin out the story he had organized for the occasion, “a possible breach, or misuse of, INR facilities associated with a routine rendition.”

“Do you have the case number?”

“Yes, but I need to read it to you, the facilities here are archaic, and don't have a secure digital line.”

“Your up.”

Her computer must be fast. She's at Langley now.

He read the identifying information.

“I have it up.”

“I need what you can give my on the originating cases.”

“Most of it is not for your ears.”

“I am going to find out about most of it. Tell me what you can so that I am not pounding sand.”

He knew that Dig would be able to give him everything that was available, and in such a way as to point to what was not. Dig was the best intelligence writer that Langley had. Perhaps ever.

“DIA originating case, Company resources involved. Rendition of Subjects. One Iraqi national, one Afghanistan national, one dual citizen United States-Pakistani national.”

“Three?”

“Three. Two were subject to enhanced interrogation, one being held without questioning.”

“Disposal?”

“Two are subject to indefinite detention. The third is not need to know.”

“Any background you can give me?”

“I can route background by diplomatic drop to your next authorized location.”

“Please do so.”

“Scheduled arrival is 24 hours.”

“Alright, knowing what you know, because I am sure you see more than I do.”

And probably have absorbed half of it just scanning the files.

“I can't confirm that, Avery.”

“No. But I am proceeding on that assumption. Assuming the information you have at your disposal, if I were investigating breach of INR facility Damascus, what should I be asking about.”

There was a long hang, but not awkward. He could hear Dig's mind sort through what was available to him, looking for a key word that he had access to.

“As a friend, I would say, you would want to talk about Rafah.”

“Thank you Dig. What else would you advise me to ask about, as a friend?”

“Spring. I would talk about Spring.”

“Spring in Rafah?”

“No, I don't think that Rafah is a spring, but it might be a source. Or a destination.”

“Thank you, Dig. And what do I need to know about executive involvement.”

“Oh, they are very involved.”

“Process or outcome?”

“You know that One is always interested in the process.” There was a slight emphasis on the “w” sound of one, that indicated that she meant the President.

He could visualize her round face, and shock of white hair, the way it would be animated as her eyes played over the screen and she worked to pry loose secrets for him.

“Is Boo interested in the process?”

“Yes, Boo is one of the people interested in the process.”

“One of the people?”

“Yes. One of the people.” Meaning that he was reporting directly to the President, through the National Security Advisor.

“Is he interested in the product?”

“No, he's not interested in the product.”

A sound like an old style cash went off in his head. He was being sent out, as some kind of cover up.

“Is the Company interested in the product?”

“The Company is interested in the product.”

Probably burying the product.

“And is DIA interested in the product?”

“DIA has a full dance card.”

Meaning they wanted Jack.

“Is there any involvement from other interested parties?”

“None in the community, and none in the family. No other friendly consumers.”

Meaning no US or NATO intelligence.

“Other potential parties?”

“Green door on that one.”

“How green?”

“Flying colors.”

Islamic nations, while also saying she wasn't supposed to say that. A green door is information that has been restricted. But the flag is definitely a reference to the green flags.

“Other than myself, is there anyone throwaway that I should know about.”

“That's your ears only.”

“Send by diplomatic drop.”

He looked over at the case officer. She didn't flinch, which meant her blood was ice cold, or she didn't get the reference: specifically, that she was considered an expendable asset on this assignment.

“Anything else that would be helpful, Dig?”

“Ask your case about Leon Panetta's plaque.”

He shook his head.

“You are too swift for me.”

“You need to take some time off. I remember you liked to vacation near Santa Cruz and especially Monterey.”

“Yes, thank you Dig. I'm sure I could use some refreshment.”

“I have to go now. Tatatilnexttime.”

“TTNT Dig.”

He hung up the phone.

“You should expect travel orders.”

She shook her head and looked at him blankly.

“You attended the Defense Language Institute.”

“Yes.”

“Which languages do you have?”

“Pashto, Dari, Farsi. I did the Indo-Iranian track. What is this with Panetta, he is going to be SecDef?”

“He's also DLI Hall of Fame.”

“She told you to ask me.”

“Because you are going to be much closer to the heat than you expected.”

She looked at him, and then her Blackberry buzzed. She checked it, and began scrolling through menus and information.

“You are right. They are routing me to Damascus to keep close eye on the case.”

He nodded.

“I am sure we are on separate planes. We will have to catch up in Damascus.”

She swallowed.

“I'm not supposed to be in the field.”

“Nor under it, I hope.”

She swallowed.

“I'm scared.”

“You should be. This is Charlie Foxtrot.”

“CF”

“I really hope that hasn't fallen out of currency.”

She looked at him.

He mouthed “Cluster Fuck.”

She looked at him.

He stared back and without a trace of pity intoned:

“It is time to put childish things away.”


Monday, October 27, 2014

Rendition 4

4
انجام
زه په هر نن کې د پرون د مرګي نخښه وینم ما ته خبرې د سبا او سباوون مه کوه زه له ازادو الوتلو بې نصیبه شولم

The End” Abdolbari Jahani

The lounge was aging, and even years of scrubbing could not eradicate all the archeology of occupation that hung in the air. It was shabby, the seats were cloth rather than leather, and the bar was under-stocked. No one would join it with their own money, which is precisely the way its actual managers wanted it. He checked in a the enamel front desk, staffed by aging, rounded women poured into something that resembled the short airline flight attendant uniforms of days much gone by, pretended to glance up at the flight information, and then checked in under the name provided for this particular leg of the journey. The neat screens of arrivals and departures only served to remind him that the rest of the world ran on cool LCD screens, or hot plasma, not on the aged CRTs that once occupied the worshipful attention of every four year old during Bugs Bunny re-runs.
He was escorted to the very tiny private meeting room, and sat down to wait. He reflected on the trickle down: from grand suite, to cramped table, to two chairs with a single small square between them, that had coffee holders.

“Coffee?”

“Coke, no ice. Thank you.”

“Is Pepsi ok?”

He sighed. “Mountain Dew then.”

“Just a minute.”

Morning may become Elecktra, bit it starts out sluggish.

He flipped through the cover documents in the file, giving him a cover, and just enough backstory to fend off a customs agent on a busy day. However, the rapidly splashed together nature of it made it clear that either he was simply roadkill, or they were desperate. It did not have the unravelling loose ends that mere incompetence produced. The names were good, not too outstanding, but not too on the beaten path. This was a touch that always came from the better handlers.

There was a knock on the door. It was the attendant bringing in the drink, which she left on the holder and then walked out, her ample behind being the last he saw of her.

He closed the folder, and stared at the off white wall, minutes passed, and there was another knock, this was not an attendant, but it was a woman. He mentally measured her against the impressions on the chair, and the arrangement of items. She was the right size and height.

If the world of intelligence were like the movies, the person entering would have been younger, insanely attractive, and blonde. She wasn't any of these things, but then, real people will settle for a great deal less than hollywood, or even bollywood, standards of beauty. The other reality is that if life were like the movies, there would have been an instant zipless fuck attraction between them that would crackle, implying that, some how, she would allow her feelings for him to interfere with her professional judgment. Instead, there was no fluttering of her brown eyes, not quivering of her creamy skin, no perking of her breasts, no waving of her dull hazel hair, no straining of her body inside her very conservatively tailored skirt suit. In short, she was a model of nonchalant professionalism, and it was clear she had been selected for the cool detachment that she brought to the table.

This suited Apostle fine. He'd had one really tangled affair on the job, with a corn goddess swedish style knock out, an expert in telephony that he was closely sweating with, and it had ended badly when her aggressively unpleasant boyfriend became an issue.

“Good morning. You are my case officer?”

“Well co-case. Boo is going to be the officer of record.”

“But I'm taking my bind instructions from you.”

“It's complicated.”

“Sounds like a facebook page, not an operation.”

“This is clean up on another case. We are hoping that it does not become a formal operation.”

“Your cat, your bag. But I would suggest you file for a formal operation, that they've appointed not one, but two case officers says that this is already wide ranging. And donut money for a month Boo was the handler for the previous case.”

“Can we get the forms done first? For this case I am your case officer for State, and the report that goes to Foggy Bottom will come from me.” She made a deliberate gestures that dropped a smile pile of paper in front of him. “These are the acknowledgment forms.”

He began, with some exasperation, to sign for the third time that day. This indicated to him that there were trying to construct several plausible stories through this case, to cover several eventualities. One, or more, of these meetings would never have happened, and only the one convenient would be remembered. The rest, after Orwell, would be “down the memory hole.”

He stopped, and then peered up at her severe features, her slightly bent nose, her entirely hollow cheeks, her elongated face wrapped by elongated ears. He decided the best option was to simply wait until she began talking. Almost everyone would eventually.

“So, I would like to begin your briefing.”

“You have my undivided attention. I never use it.”

She giggled a bit, and then bit her lip slightly. Her manner became serious all at once.

“I don't know what you've been told.”

“Everything but the truth. And far less than I need to go on. I was hoping you would be able to speak with some candor about the situation.”

“I can't provide you with much in the way of details.”

“This isn't going to end well if no one can give me enough guidance to avoid embarrassing incidents. I can tell that the Company is involved with this, and so is some sort of military black operation. State has inserted itself, perhaps as acting as an honest broker, which is where you and I come in. However, so far I have two conflicting agendas. I need to know what the purpose this case serves.”

She took a deep breath, obviously understanding that he had guessed far more than she had been instructed to tell them.

“How do you know that.”

“Play the players. John the Baptist was Company, Jack is a contractor who works primarily with the Pentagon. That they were on something together indicates that the Company was involved with a black operation. Jalal was a DoD asset, and the center in Damascus, is run out of State. So we were brought in as a way of bringing focus on the two subjects. Boo is Company, and is a channel to the White House, which means that it has some visibility upwards.” Apostle had a somewhat bored look on his face, as if he was reading this off a card. “There are strong implications that this operation involves Afghanistan, where, of course, the relationship between Company and Defense operations makes the word incest a rather feeble understatement.”

She took several deep breaths, obviously trying to find the sheer nerve to do what she was told to do, and just deny it all.

“Here is what I can give you.” She dropped a small USB drive on the table.

“I was under the impression that these had been forbidden.”

“Well yes, and no.”

“What is it?”

“I can't say.”

“Are you aware of the contents?”

“Yes.”

“Have you viewed the contents?”

“Yes.”

“So you are on he access list for material that the Company is not supposed to know we have.”

“Well, sort of.”

“I'm going to need more cooperation on this, or it will blow up. One agent is missing, presumed dead. One is missing, presumed AWOL. As are the contents of several accounts. We have dangling ends, no one has told me who the counter-parties are, and what details of the operation are. I can't simply fly to Damascus, ask random questions of the subjects, and then come back and deliver a report exonerating everyone. I could, but it would be a humiliation if this were to break loose again. I have a feeling that the Executive Office does not want that to happen again.”

“Yes the White House has made it clear that they are watching this very closely.”

“So it is in your own best interest to give me more background.”

She took another deep breath.

“I can confirm your speculation that there are four players: Company, DIA, State, and the White House.”

“I need you to fill in the cards. Company supplies John the Baptist, DIA brings on Jack of Spades. They have two subjects for enhanced interogation. What is the subject?”

“A DIA-CIA project called Air Genghis.”

“Can you reveal details of this operation?”

“I don't have them.”

“So state provided a residence for the explicit debriefing of two subjects related to this Operation.”

“I can confirm that, because you are to go there and continue questioning the subjects.”

“About what? An operation that I don't know anything about?”

“No, about the disappearance of the Baptist and Jack.”

“Why did they leave Damascus. Was this authorized.”

She hesitated.

“Look, I need to know if they were off the reservation.”

“Miles off.”

“Air Genghis has a Kandahar locale.”

“Yes.”

“So did one or both go to Kandahar under authorization.”

“State received travel vouchers for both of the to Kandahar from DIA.”

“So that, at least, was authorized.”

“Perhaps, we think so.”

“Who is we?”

“The Intelligence Working Group at State.”


“That's Hampshire's group.”

“Yes.”

“So I'm working for Hampshire.”

“You are working for SecState, ultimately. As always.”

“Through Hampshire.”

“Yes.”

“So we are the producers?”

“Yes.”

“Do we have an asset on the ground investigating the Kandahar locale, before the trail grows cold?”

“Coal was supposed to leave this morning.”

“But did not.”

“No.”

“And my orders are to Cairo and then Damascus.”

“Yes.”

“I need time to talk to Dig, originally I wanted a day, but it is clear that we need to act with more alacrity.”

“I am not sure I can get you any time at all. You are supposed to leave in...”

“2 hours and 27 minutes.”

“That's not enough time to drive to her location, and back, with any reasonable time in between.”

“Get Dig here.”

“That would be...”

“Do you want this to work or not? Right now State is on the line for allowing an operation to blow up, and it will be pinned on State.”

“I can't get Dig for you.”

“Do we have a secure line?”

“What do you mean?”

“This is a government front facility, we must have the ability to get a secure line to this room, or to some other secure room here.”

“I don't know.”

He reached back and picked up what looked like an old ivory courtesy phone handle, of the bulk that was simply never seen any more. He offered it to her.

“Ask.”

“I'm not familiar with this facility.”

“Call, and ask for the manager. Then ask for this line to be put through to the secure switchboard which will get us to Dig.”

“It's that simple?”

“No, but you don't have to worry about the details, it's done magically behind the scenes.”

“This is going to be an expense?”

“Are you a case officer or a bean counter from GAO?”

“We are trying to keep this expense within the black bag fund.”

“We aren't going to save money by having me run around in circles. Or having to send another officer to bury me. And we can charge Bolling for it anyway. The maintain the switchboard and set the requirements.”

“But they will back charge it.”

“Which will go on the general budget, and not be assigned to any given project. It's just normal inter-department bookkeeping.”

“Oh, that sanitizes the charge you are saying.”

“Yes.”

What do they teach people these days?

She took the handle and worked through the request.

She waited on the phone as it was honored. She then began talking through the manager.

She covered the phone and stared across at him. Clearly looking for guidance.

“Should I call to clear this?”

“Do you have signature authority? Dig will handle the accesses to here from her side, it will show up on her board.”

“I have signature.”

“Then don't annoy people by asking for clearance, unless they told you to.”

He examined her face carefully, and judged that she had to be less than 30. Very young. Another sign that State was simply not taking this seriously, or didn't want him to come back. Boo was a world class pain, but he not only sold the company line, he bought it, bathed in it, and used it as aftershave. He wouldn't give up anything, and was a genuine sign that the White House wanted one of their people with a line on everything that happened. The Executive Office was taking things seriously, even as Foggy Bottom was not. It was not like Hampshire not to be on top of things. Which meant this decision was being left to Michael, and Michael was where he was precisely because he was sufficiently laid back to not challenge his boss on any detail.

And he picked this girl for reasons that were remaining obscure. Was Wheel out? Admittedly Wheel's time was better spent on analysis, but Wheel would not let details slip through and could work the system. There were other people he could name.
He sighed.

“Are you alright?” She held her hand over the phone.

“I'm fine, it is just that it is clear this was not well thought through.”

“There wasn't supposed to be a failure. It was a routine rendition.”

He stopped and pondered that. Routine rendition.

If only the world ran the way intelligence procedurals did, with crisp displays, files delivered almost automatically, clean activity, in a buzzing efficient hive. Of course much of the intelligence community did work that way, the part that scoured through vast amounts of data for bits of revelation. The less you do, the easier it is to do it. The big operations, such as the hunting of a major target had massive resources, the big operations laid siege to their objective. The ordinary was familiar, filed down, and so every bit had an in and an out. However, the borders between the ordinary and extraordinary created frision. The military thrived on initiative, the CIA lusted for improvisation.

State is stasis, and it showed.

“Good news! We've gotten through.”

How to handle the semi-competent, give them a task.

“Excellent, is Dig on the other end of the line?”

“Yes. She is.”

Good, finally someone who will help me make sense of this.