Archive | December, 2012

Iraq Between the American ‘Shock and Awe” Assault and Capture of Baghdad

28 Dec

City of War and Grief

By Nate Thayer

Reporting on the ambiance  after the launch of the “Shock and Awe’ air campaign and the declaration of war by the U.S. on Iraq and before their capture of Baghdad


March 24, 2003

The following article by an American journalist still in  Baghdad
gives a bit different take on things than the TV coverage.  He
reports a great deal of anger against the Americans, rather than
people jumping up and down looking for liberation.

His account may well be biased — we have no way of knowing.
But here’s a what if.  What if when the Coalition finishes off the
regime they are stuck with a nation of angry and highly resentful
people?  What then?

City of Grief and Rage
By Nate Thayer, SLATE.COM

March 24, 2003

Today, for the first time, the bombs fell and the missiles struck in
daylight. The assault lasted all day. And it came not only from
long-range missiles but from coalition planes that are flying over our
heads and dropping their payloads in the neighborhood of the Palestine
Hotel, where most of the foreign journalists remaining in Baghdad are

TODAY IS ALSO the first time that I am truly frightened. It is not the
American bombs I am primarily afraid of. What frightens me and Mary –
the name I’ll give a photographer with whom I’ve become inseparable –
is the mood of the people. The city is thick with anger and defiance,
and we are Americans.

Every day since Mary and I arrived by road from Jordan, we have been
threatened with expulsion. This morning, once again, we were ordered
out. “You have two choices-you can be a human shield or you can leave
the country,” said my government minder. He offered this without his
usual smarmy smile.

“But what about my visa?” I asked.

“Your visa is now to heaven,” he said, forcing a laugh.

I talked my way out of it once again. My minder said we could obtain
visa “extensions” provided we take HIV tests. I brought my own
syringes, and I swabbed Mary’s arm and extracted a vial of blood in my
room. She did the same for me. We then went to the so-called HIV
center together, with bombs dropping around us, to submit our blood to
the Iraqi government. Of course, they insisted on taking their own
samples. Cruise missiles launched 900 miles away exploded around us,
incinerating government buildings as we partook in this ridiculous

This absurdity over, we returned to the Palestine, where we are as
prepared as we can be for whatever may come next. We have 300 bottles
of the water and have filled the bathtubs in each of several rooms for
reserve. We’ve stockpiled enough food for weeks. Should the power
fail, we have a generator and jerry cans filled with petrol purchased
on the black market. If a bomb blows out our window, the duct tape
we’ve covered it with should protect us from flying glass. All of our
electronics-computers, cameras, communications devices-are wrapped in
aluminum foil against so-called e-bombs that will destroy all the data
of electronic devices.

At 4 p.m. Baghdad time, an American fighter jet dropped its payload so
close that the concussion sucked the air out of our lungs. Mary and I
got in our car and drove toward the site of the explosion.

As we crossed one of the four Tigris bridges, there was an enormous
traffic jam. Hundreds of armed men and civilians were looking down to
the river below. Scores of cars had stopped in the middle of the
bridge. We grabbed our gear and got out.

The rumor was that an allied plane had been shot down. Word spread
through the crowd that two pilots had parachuted from the downed plane
and were floating down the river. One had supposedly already been
captured. Whether there were any pilots in the river, I don’t know.

Small boats with heavily armed soldiers searched among the reeds. From
the banks, people took pot shots at objects in the river. Under the
impression that the airman had been captured, thousands of cheering
Iraqis chanted and clapped, shooting AK-47s in the air for joy. People
in both uniform and civilian clothes eyed us with hostility during
this celebration.

“Where are you from?” demanded an armed Iraqi, looking at me.

“Germany,” interjected my government guide, abruptly grabbing me by
the arm and yanking me away.

“Do not tell them you are American,” he whispered as he rushed me to
the car. “We must leave. It is very dangerous here.”

Then we were on the western side of the Tigris, where the coalition
bombardment has struck hardest. The sounds of imams on speakers
reverberated through the streets-calls for the people to kill all the
Americans. We raced through Baghdad’s most dangerous area, passing
Saddam’s palaces, now piles of burnt rubble.

The Foreign Ministry was  a concrete shell with no windows and only sullen soldiers at the
entrance. Apartment buildings recently filled with civilians were
charred, burnt, collapsed, and empty. Hundreds of apartments and no
people-where did they all go? Western medical sources have reported
some 300 civilian injuries in Baghdad but very few killed.

The Iraqi military had now closed all the Tigris River bridges. Mary
and I were stuck. We had to drive north for an hour as bombs continued
dropping around us. “This is the road to Babylon,” said our government
minder. It felt like Babylon. We then took another road-the road to
Kuwait, our guide said. We had to drive north of the city, then west,
and then south to enter Baghdad on the east bank of the Tigris and
return to our hotel.

Explosions are rocking my computer as I write. For the first time,
small-arms fire can be heard throughout the city. Anti-aircraft
emplacements are set up around the perimeter of our hotel. It’s not a
good sign. Yesterday those 500 meters from us were destroyed,
completely destroyed, by American missiles.

Nate Thayer is covering the war for Slate.

Spies and Journalists: Excerpts From Sympathy for the Devil by Nate Thayer

26 Dec

Spies and Journalists: Excerpts From Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalist’s Memoir From Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia

By Nate Thayer

(c) Nate Thayer. Copyright strictly held by Nate Thayer. No republication or transmission in whole or in part under any circumstances without the express written permission of the author. Excerpts from the unpublished manuscript of Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalists Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia

Singaporean military intelligence Colonel Eng and I were very close personal friends for many years. I would socialize with him often. I am quite sure we never once spoke of what he did exactly or who, precisely, he worked for. It was always very compartmentalized to the issue at hand, and after a couple years it was obvious and certain we both knew exactly who he worked for, what his job was, and  that it wasn’t what it was purported to be–but that was still all left unsaid and really not necessary.

Colonel Eng’s colleagues were, shall we say, rather frustrated with him. He was very good and the Thais and Cambodian guerrillas loved him. He spoke perfect Thai and the Thais gave him an honorary military rank as General courtesy of the Lopburi  Royal Thai Army Special Forces command headquarters.

It was an official rank, so Colonel Eng had reason to think he was somewhat immune. But Eng was not a desk officer sort of fellow, and he was, to be charitable, very fond of drinking and had caused many near public incidents.  A combination of Colonel Eng’s personality, job description and conduct made his colleagues, superiors, and foreign intelligence counterparts very, very nervous.

Colonel Eng was in charge of being the actual covert liaison between the Singapore government and the Cambodian non-communist guerrilla groups which Singapore directly armed, albeit very covertly, to this day having never acknowledged their significant role.

While an undercover operative, the good Colonel was also the only person in Thailand who drove a blue Volvo station wagon with Singaporean diplomatic license plates routinely up and down the remote roads and dirt byways that snaked into Cambodia from the Thai border. And he certainly was the only one with a Volvo station wagon that never was without a case of Johnny Walker Whiskey in the back. Eng was generous with sharing gifts and insisted the recipients use them, regardless of what hour of the morning it was.

When the Paris Peace Agreements was signed in 1991, Eng was so close personally to virtually the entire military and civilian leadership of the Cambodian non communist resistance groups, the Thai government, and a potpourri of foreign intelligence agencies, that the Singaporean government rightly put him in charge of the portfolio of gathering intelligence on Cambodian military and political developments from Phnom Penh where the former enemy armed factions all moved and set up shop in a very uneasy alliance preparing for UN conducted elections.

But Eng was still formally attached to the Bangkok embassy and was forced to commute every few weeks to gather information for his regular intelligence updates.

The Cambodians use of him had peaked by then, since they weren’t relying on his weapons deliveries any longer, and, the truth is, in Cambodia a foreigner can only aspire to be a temporary tactical ally never other than to be discarded as a strategic enemy when the time arrives.

Plus Eng didn’t like the leg work of all the new faces and complicated politics of Phnom Penh. He was a field guy and didn’t do well with supervision or rules.

He use to come over to my office/house each time he landed in Phnom Penh and basically ask me for all the details—a sitrep of the political, military, and spookery shenanigans of the various players and factions, and then write it up for his report which he delivered back to his bosses. He was by that time drinking very, very much. I had no issue of course with sharing information with him, because the Singaporeans are very good–like the French or Germans–with sharing information in return, unlike very much the Americans, who think they can just get and not give.

He use to come straight over to my office/house each time he landed in Phnom Penh and basically ask me for all the details to fill his obligatory scheduled intelligence report. Colonel Eng would always arrive at my place with a half empty large bottle of Johnny Walker Black (never Red) and it was always still morning. Most days we would finish it together  well before dusk, both taking notes from each other. He was by that time drinking increasingly heavily, which did not go unnoticed.

As an example of the consternation Eng created amongst his own team, one day he arrived in Phnom Penh, quite tired and emotional as the Brits say, and proposed to me in quite extensive and dramatic detail that he “had talked to the Ambassador and it is all approved. We want to hire you to write the report.” He offered a specific quite generous dollar figure for my troubles. Eng just didn’t want to bothered with the pesky commute from Bangkok to Cambodia, and I didn’t blame him.

”I am tired of this bullshit,” he said in his lilting Singaporean accent, gesturing animatedly, chain smoking.. “I am thinking of retiring.”  Eng’s offer was serious and he was persistent. I declined then and more than once afterwards. Eng’s response was invariably a confused “Lah! What is wrong with you, my friend?! It is easy money! You already are doing it. Just write it up for our style! It is much more efficient for both of us!”

Colonel Eng was a genuine character.

In the months prior, on several of the good Colonel’s visits to my home, the topic was dominated by some cockamamie get rich retirement scheme Eng had concocted where he claimed to be privy to some magic Chinese ointment about to dominate the world market that one spread over ones bald head and it “cured” baldness.

He wanted me to be the photo model and photograph me for before and after shots for his planned global get rich quick marketing scheme. He would, he assured me, cut me a generous percentage of the inevitable millions waiting to be made. It was the brainchild of some “very good friend I have in Hong Kong.”  Colonel Eng, again, was dead serious.

But it was his plan to pay me to do his work to gather and write intelligence reports by recruiting me, an American citizen and journalist, as a paid agent of the Singapore SID which was not received kindly by Washington or his Singaporean  superiors. The SID and Washington are very close allies. Their relationship of sharing intelligence is of the top rank. I was told by an un-amused representative of my government and his equally unimpressed Singaporean bosses, that it was strictly against the rules to hire one another’s citizens as covert operatives behind the back of the other. So that is the sort of consternation Colonel Eng evoked from his peers.

I had no issue of course, except for the cash part, because the Singaporeans are very good–like the French or Germans–with sharing information unlike, very much, the Americans who think they can just get one to hand over sought after information in a one way monologue and offer no information or cooperation in exchange.

However, my job is not to provide intelligence information I have gathered to governments. My job is to provide information of interest to my readers. While the job descriptions of journalists and spooks are similar, our audiences and bosses are very, very different. Plus, they have much better toys and a considerably larger budget.

My deal was always that if I acquired or was given the information with the understanding and agreement it could be published, it was my choice who to share it with, even if it never saw print.

Any sources or methods or information given or acquired  in various categories of confidence I strictly applied rules uncompromisingly protecting the agreement, and have never been accused, I am rather proud to say, of violating an agreement. I can say until this day I have never burned a source, and this reputation proved to be a foundation of access to many people with many different jobs from many countries over the years.

An experience with Singaporean Colonel Eng a few years later serves as an example. I was doing a story that I had worked on for a couple years on Cambodia’s richest businessman who was the biggest source of corrupt payoffs and funds for the Cambodian government and its leaders.

He was also a major heroin trafficker and very bad man, in general. And was worth several billion dollars. I knew that he would sue me and my magazine, and do whatever he could to protect his reputation and hopefully destroy me and mine to boot.

I managed to get copies of his 3 Cambodian passports’ (one diplomatic as ‘economic advisor’ to the Cambodian head of state) and two others under different names. I also had copies of his Thai passport under a third name and his Hong Kong ID card, all with different birthdays etc. I needed as much documentation on this guy as I could to deter and discourage his appetite for revenge.

Towards the end of my several years of research and nearing publication, I called Colonel Eng in Bangkok from the offices of the Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong. I had been summoned there by my bosses who wanted to be sure every i was dotted and t crossed, as they knew they would be sued in court once the story was published.

I told my good friend the Colonel that “I needed a background check and as much documentation of any illegal or suspicious activities” this man had engaged in, was associated with or was connected to. That this was a special case and I needed a favour. I gave Colonel Eng stellar personal data—passports, birth certificates, addresses, company names etc.

Eng was happy to help, but in his inimitable way. “Oh, lah! I hope you have changed and are being a good boy. You know you cause many people many headaches,” he admonished in a friendly, co-conspiritorial tone. “But you are my friend and so I am forced to help you,” he sighed. Eng tended to side on the dramatic.

Soon after, he calls me from Bangkok in Hong Kong, where I was working with our editors and lawyers for the cover story. “Oh, my friend, please never do that to me again!” he feigned being upset in a low, hushed voice. I waited for the second act. “My good friend, this man will kill you. You must not write anything. Please warn me the next time when you want to know about someone like this!  My computers and departments almost short circuited wanting to know who wanted to know and for what reason about this man! He is very powerful! You will go too far this time. You are my friend. I am suggesting to you it is a very bad idea to talk about this man. He will kill you.” I could almost see the Colonel grinning on the other end of the phone as he provided me a treasure trove of court admissible documents proving beyond a scintilla of doubt this man’s multi-billion dollar international criminal enterprise and his payoffs to the Cambodian government, including the serving prime Ministers of Cambodia.

And, despite Eng’s acrobatics, Eng provided a boxful of documents from files the Singaporeans had on his trans-Asian narcotics and criminal syndicates and his largesse to major political figures in several countries. I am guessing Eng actually liked the idea we were writing about him. He was a very good judge of character, a quite important trait for both spies and journalists.

My deal was always that if I was given the information with the understanding of publishing, it was my choice with whom to share it, whether it merited getting into print or not.

Any sources or methods or information I was given in various categories of confidence I applied the equally non negotiable strict rules on, and most of the good stuff never saw print or was ever mentioned to anyone for any reason..

And being a journalist obviously I don’t have the same layered complexities as their job. So, really depending on whether I trusted that person, I had good relationships with professional intelligence officers from many countries. Some I had none.

With the U.S., it depended strictly on the person. One station chief in Cambodia was amongst my closest friends. We would hang out together most every day, see each other at the gym most every day, and visit at my house and me at his house. There were several others there from what I call “the dark side” that were very, very good at their jobs.

When my friend left Cambodia, I asked him what he thought of his replacement, and he said: “I wouldn’t trust him.” And he was right. I met him once, where he waxed drunkenly on how all he needed was one company of U.S. marines and he could take out the entire Khmer Rouge phenomena once and for all. We did not become close friends.

Another one of the excellent U.S. guys was very, very much still not declared and operating under the radar, and the fact is one can only keep that status going for so long and then something will happen, and the other team will catch wind of the nature of their employers and their career trajectory will take a sharp turn differently. I was close to him too. When he left, he told me “I am going to be out of touch for a couple years” and he was. He and some of his people would periodically get in touch with me just to pass on  a message of sayings hi but it was clear that he off somewhere, doing something, that couldn’t simply be known. There were others.

There is one guy who was in country who spoke 32 languages, was a citizen of another country, and held a very good professional cover who simply did not trust journalists under any circumstances. I hung out with him a number of times but he had a lifetime in various places and he wasn’t going to jeopardize that. One journo in a medium sized paper had made reference to him not even by name, 15 years before, which really pissed him off, and he remained spooked, as it were, ever since.

Anyways, there was a very sophisticated dance in a good relationship between a journalist and a spy.

You both knew the rules of your own organization and both respected those of the other. There are ways to ask for information and give it and still protect your rules, ethics, and responsibilities, and most importantly the confidentiality of the people who are your sources.

When Cambodian deputy Prime Minister and son the King, Prince Chakrapong, tried his 1994 coup, I was with him in the hotel. It is a long and dramatic story, much of which never saw print, and a lot of which never will.

The night before the coup, I had heard rumors that a coup was going to happen. In fact several Funcinpec Party people in government had called me out of personal concern and said “don’t go out tonight, it is not safe.” And I checked and found that all of them had ordered their own kids to stay home. It was a Saturday night. But that was all I had. I took my motorcycle on a tour of the usual places and it seemed relatively quiet, though a few military reinforcements were at key senior official’s residences, and new checkpoints were indeed erected, as well as an armored personnel carrier placed in front of Prime Minister Ranariddh’s home and the street in front of Hun Sen’s home blocked off and reinforcements of heavily armed troops were in place there, too.

I sought out the American CIA station chief, who I found having dinner with his wife and kids at a Phnom Penh hotel, and asked him (his wife was there and used to this) if he had heard anything unusual was up, outlining intriguing rumors of an impending coup. He said no,  he was unaware of any chatter or more, after I told him what I had heard. But he thanked me and said “I will check it out and get back to you.”

He called a while later and said “You are on to something. Don’t relax or think you are chasing a bad rumor. Be careful. And thanks for the tip.”

So, this is a perfect example of how each of us could still say precisely enough to keep the rules and integrity of the home team, and keep a conversation going, exchanging information useful to each other.

As it happened, these guys from the American dark side really hated their Ambassador, Charles Twining. And they didn’t tell him anything they weren’t required to, as they had a separate communication channel to Washington which did not require passing through the State Department or the ambassador. And they had heard nothing concrete but clearly something was big on for that night.

At 0600 Sunday morning, asleep for a very few hours naked in my bed on the roof of the Phnom Penh Post with my girlfriend, my mobile phone rang.

The call was from Beijing. And it was the Queen. And she said in totality: “Call this number” and read the digits. And hung up.

I recognized immediately the phone number as belonging to Prince Chakrapong. I called him.

In fact, in the preceding hours Chakrapong had fled his home to a hotel with nothing, including his address book, but his 22 year old mistress. And he had called his mother, the Queen, for help, asking her to call me because he was surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed troops with instructions to capture and kill him after his attempted coup fizzled, and he was about to be executed.

He begged me to come right away. A very smart move. Because any government would have had all kinds of time consuming hoops to go through before they could dispatch anyone to the location of the impending confrontation—time not helpful to put something effective between him and the bullets of some people very angry at him.

A jittery voice answered after I dialed the mobile phone. “This is Prince Chakrapong. Please, please help me,” he said in a frightened broken whisper, “Come right away to the Regent hotel. They have surrounded me. They are trying to kill me.”

In the 20 minutes it took for me to arrive, the Prince called me seven times begging for me to come quickly. “I am alone. Please, before they kill me, come now. Call the American Embassy and tell them my life is in danger.”

I drove to his hotel thru the several hundred troops that had surrounded it and walked into the hotel. Chakrapong was hiding in the false paneled ceiling of his 2 star hotel room with his mistress, with no bodyguards and no guns. His choice of rooms, frankly, was quite ill thought out given his conduct over the previous few days . There were no windows and no view of the street. A very poor vantage point to keep tabs on the full resources of the military and secret police of the very pissed off Prime Minister of the government he just tried to topple.

Government troops and security forces armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, and carrying walkie talkies were positioned on the street corners and entrance ways around the hotel when I arrived on the otherwise quiet early Sunday morning. But no one tried to stop me, probably thinking I was a hotel guest.

Inside, hotel workers, white with fear, stared blankly in response to my inquiry of where the alleged coup leader was staying. The desk clerk sat frozen and silent with fear, staring at me as if I was insane.

I stayed on the phone with Chakrapong, who guided me to the fourth floor, refusing to mention his room number on the unsecure line. But maids were hovering in an upstairs hallway and they opened Room 401.

A disheveled, barefoot, and petrified son of King Sihanouk emerged in his underwear and a t-shirt from a crawl space above the ceiling of his hotel room, begging for help.

“Please, they are trying to arrest me. They will kill me. I am innocent. Please tell the American Ambassador to come right away. I need protection,” the wide-eyed Prince said, near tears, and jittery from lack of sleep. He was alone, except for his 22 year old mistress.

The bed was still made, and the curtains were drawn. A ceiling panel was removed revealing a small dark crawl space. A chair was under it to allow one to climb up. He said troops had been surrounding him since 3:00 am.

I was not incognizant of the fact that no press or diplomats were aware of the developments, and I was alone with a hunted, hated alleged coup plotter, and surrounded by troops clearly prepared to invade.

I told Chakrapong to hold tight for a minute. I went and surveyed the hallway for the best room that would have a view of the street and troops below, and went downstairs to the lobby and approached the desk clerk.

“I would like to rent room 406,” I said to the now near catatonic poor boy. I waved a wad of U.S dollars and had to insist on a registration form, which I filled in completely with my full name and contacts and employer, the Far Eastern Economic Review.  The desk clerk stared with a furrowed brow look of fear and alarm, said nothing, and handed me the key. He had no interest in the cash, a sure sign that something abnormal is underway in Cambodia , so I it left on the counter.

I thought that it might diminish the incentive of the troops outside to act precipitously if I was in a room rented under my own name, and buy time to interview the Prince.

Returning upstairs, the Prince thought it was a grand idea and, with his lovely young mistress, came over, as my guest, to my room, Regent Hotel room #406. I still have the room key.

I first called my American spook friend. I called three people. My friend, the American station chief and told him there was a coup underway and it would be great if he and some of his people could come down because I thought an American citizen’s life might be at risk—specifically mine.

I then called Prime Minister Ranarriddh’s top aides and told thim I was in the hotel room with his hated brother and please shoot carefully if or when attempting to enter.

And I called my editor in Hong Kong to tell him I thought I had a very good  story.

The US ambassador, Twining, wasn’t informed until the station chief and his colleague were on the street below. I waved, very happy to see a friendly face, who, not incidentally, was well trained in these matters and had access to lots of toys.

At this point the streets were empty save for the several hundred heavily armed troops and two very conspicuous white guys, who I was very happy to see as I peaked with Chakrapong through thee curtains to view the scene on the street.

No journalists. No embassies.

It was Sunday early morning and dead quiet. From there the stage was set.

The three mobile phones in my room rang constantly. More than 40 calls came in within the first two hours, as Chakrapong desperately tried to delay the troops from arresting him, and attempted to convince US Ambassador Charles Twining to give him political asylum.

The ambassador was very, very pissed off. As were the Prime Ministers. In contrast, I was tickled pink. This was  a great fucking story.

The Ambassador, the Prime Minister, and the Interior Minister all called me repeatedly and told me to leave. I said no “this is a great fucking story and you can arrest me but I am not leaving on my own accord. I rented and paid for this hotel room.” I said I wasn’t leaving on my own accord and this was my job, but it was their country  and they could, of course, arrest me.

The coup plotter Prince Chakrapong was sitting next to me on the couch of my hotel suite and was on the phone also with, among others, his parents, the King and Queen, in Beijing.

While the US ambassador and the Cambodian government called me and Chakrapong demanding I leave at once and that Chakrapong surrender, numerous other calls came and went.

I declined firmly and politely and repeatedly, and took notes of every word and described the ambience as it evolved.

Chakrapong refused to leave the hotel without me, with good  reason fearing he would taken and killed. He asked to speak with the U.S. Ambassador, who  by this point was down on the street below, his neck craning up staring at my hotel window, and asked for political asylum.

He just knew he would not have a good day if he was taken out alone, although his day by now was considerably better than hours before, when I had yet to arrive.

Fast forward to 4 hours later. The street was packed with journalists and embassy people and heavily armed troops, and, eventually, Chakrapong agreed that the interior minister You Hokry and the U.S. ambassador could come up to my room.

During this whole time I had my tape recorder on and notebook out and wrote  every word of Chakrapong’s, the conversations with the King, Queen, the negotiations at my sitting room table with a very, very angry You Hokry and U.S. Ambassador, and served them all soda when they arrived for the final negotiations of Chakrapong’s surrender.

Chakrapong repeatedly denied to me that he was involved in any coup attempt, cursed the leaders of the government, begged for my help and asked me not to leave him if the troops invaded.

He fielded phone calls constantly on his two phones, often listening silently and hanging up, speaking in English, French, and Khmer.

King Norodom Sihanouk rang from Beijing. “I am alright Papa, but the situation is bad. They have surrounded me,” he said at one point.

As more calls came in he broke down and again moist-eyed. He looked dejected as Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk kept him up to date from Beijing with the state of her negotiations with government leaders over allowing him exile.

“It is not the Queen, but as my parents. It is not politics, it is as a son,” he told me when asked whether King Sihanouk and Queen Monineath supported him.

For the first two hours, he was in fear of his life, convinced that if arrested he would be killed.

“If I am arrested, you must not leave me. I won’t go outside this room without you. They will kill me. Please don’t let them take me anywhere. Please don’t leave me alone,” he said to me.

The Prince asked me to contact the US Embassy to request political asylum. I rang US Ambassador Charles Twining, and said: “I have someone who wants to talk to you” and handed the phone to Chakrapong.

“I ask your protection, Your Excellency. It is a human right. If you don’t come to protect me I prefer not to go outside. I prefer to die here. I will stay here in the room. How can I trust them if they bring me somewhere?”, he says to Twining.

Prince Chakrapong’s face showed that the American Ambassadors response was not positive. One of my U.S. spook friends, who was down on the street staring up at my window called my phone: “Tell Chakrapong he is not a US citizen. As long as the government proceeds in a legal fashion regarding his human rights, there is nothing we can do to interfere in a sovereign government.”

At one point, crying young hotel maids burst into the room: “The soldiers are coming. They are inside now.”

A disheveled Prince – barefoot, shirt unbuttoned, sleepless, and dejected-began to put on his shoes. He handed me his wallet and mobile telephones and asked me to give them to his daughters. “Please make sure my daughters are alright. The soldiers invaded my house last night and they were there.”

But the soldiers didn’t come in and the phones continued to ring incessantly, sometimes three at the same time. At one point, Chakrapong had King Sihanouk on the line in one hand, and Twining on the other.

The military called from downstairs to say that the troops were coming to our room now and that the Prince would be allowed to leave the country.

He turned to me: “Please do not leave me. I will only leave if you go with me to the airport in the same car. They may not take me to the airport.”

There was a strong knock on the door and I went to open it. A score of heavily armed soldiers and security police waited in the hallway as U.S Ambassador Twining and Minister of Interior You Hockry entered alone. The four of us sat down.

Hockry asked me to leave. Prince Chakrapong asked that I stay. I said nothing, except I did offer them each a soda pop from the mini bar.

And I turned on the tape recorder which was I placed on the table in front of us as we all four sat down.

“We will promise your safety to the airport. I promise there will be no guns on the plane. The best thing for us it to bring you safely to the airport,” Hokry told the Prince.

A Malaysian Airlines plane was held on the tarmac as Chakrapong was assured that he would be allowed to safely leave the country.

Meanwhile my two spook friends downstairs from the CIA had an equal interest in doing their job, but were also considerately trying to help me do mine.

They went and retrieved Chakrapong’s passport and money out of hishome safe when negotiations to go to Malaysia looked good. Chakrapong’s daughter was on the street in tears and she took the agency guy home to get the money and documents. He had refused to accept political asylum in Thailand because his mistress didn’t have a visa and it would take too long to process that. When my friend and Chakrapong’s daughter got back on the street with the money and passports, they handed them in the open to some soldiers who then brought them upstairs to my room.

After negotiations were complete, a very bizarre scene emerged as several Ministry of Interior police entered the room crouched on their knees and hands clasped above their heads in deference to Royalty as they went about their business preparing to arrest the Prince and send him to exile.

At one point, while, we waited for the motorcade and luggage downstairs, Twining turned to Hockry, visibly alarmed.

“I just remembered, there will be a fireworks display this afternoon at the Fourth of July celebration,” he said, suddenly realizing that, as a jittery city emerged from an attempted coup, explosions in the city might not be timely.

“Do you have authorization?” the Minister shot back to the Ambassador, with an equally shaken look on his face.

When the mobile phone rang to say that the motorcade of troops was ready, we left the room to walk to the street. Hotel staff and soldiers clasped their hands and knelt in respect as Chakrapong was led by a bevy of sunglassed, automatic weapon-toting officials through a throng of cameras waiting on the street.

It all ended with us—Chakrapong, myself, a very upset and confused U.S. ambassador, and a very angry and scared Interior Minister You Hokry– all being whisked in a police convoy in the back of limousines to the airport where the Malaysian plane was delayed waiting for Chakrapong.  We were shoved into a sleek Toyota with black tinted windows, whisked to the airport in a convoy of a score of cars with sirens and lights blaring, streets were blocked off and hundreds of people lined them to watch the motorcade pass. The plane was waiting at the airport, full of curious passengers, as Chakrapong was whisked on board and the flight departed. He gave me a big hug and kissed me sincerely.

He called several hours later from Malaysia saying: ” I want to thank you sincerely for saving my life. They would have killed me if you had not come. I am innocent. I was not involved in anything. Tell them I am innocent.”

Meanwhile, my friend, the guy who retrieved the money and passports with the daughter of Chakrapong from his safe, was the one I mentioned earlier that  was still very much undeclared as a spook and his covert status very important to him.

And he had had his picture taken by journalists as he handed a wad of cash and documents over to the soldiers. But he was someone who never went out in public and so no one recognized him. This caused a decided quizzical reation and vague inquiries of: “Who the hell was that guy?”

I managed to get the pictures and negatives that included many very good, clear shots of him holding thousands of dollars, passports, and documents surrounded by soldiers and Chakrapong’s daughter. And I told the journalist that he had “very good pics and we (being the Far Eastern Economic Review) want to run them, but I need the negatives.”

Then I delivered those negatives and all the prints to my undercover friend, who was very, very grateful indeed.

So the moral of the story is, in life as well as journalism and spycraft, all good relationships are personal.

The CIA station was given big credit for being the first of any embassy or agency to report the coup to their home office. I got a great story. Chakrapong wasn’t dead. And, as a bonus, the agency people liked they had made the ambassador look bad, and I very much enjoyed giving a whole cast of people major angst. I just kind of like making all governments and people with guns look bad, frankly.

Chakrapong credits me to this day with saving his life. He is right, except he saved his own by smartly calling the only entity that could  bypass the bureaucracy and get foreigners between him and a bullet. And all ended well. I never once came even close to violating ethical lines. That was my job: Get to a story as close as I could witness it and report it.

Well, except my photographer friend from whom I stole his pictures. But I did pay him for it. And I wouldn’t let the agency do it, of which they offered. I explained it to my editor and he understood and paid. And I told the photographer the story later and he thought it was exactly the right thing to do.

And these are more reasons why journalism will always be better than a real job.

Travels With Vice President LBJ: “Son, if you do this again, I am going to poison your soup.”

25 Dec

Travels With Vice President LBJ: “Son, if you do this again, I am going to poison your soup.” Excerpts from Interviews with Former U.S. Diplomat Ambassador Harry E.T. Thayer by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project.

For Christmas, my father gave me a gift of a bound booklet he put together detailing some of his experiences as a diplomat, a foreign service officer for the U.S. state department, where he was a China specialist during a 30 year career from the 1950’s through the 1990’s that spanned many important periods and major changes in the U.S-China relationship.

Much of these memories are preserved as available public records at the Library of Congress where nearly 2000 diplomats have recorded detailed interviews of their roles in how the behind the scenes machine and ambiance and color and details of history is actually made. The archives are a collection of a treasure trove of riveting information, the work of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project.

I will post more excerpts which cover such important issues as the McCarthy era Red-baiting, intimidation and purges of U.S. government China specialists accused of being communist sympathizers for supporting engaging China through diplomacy, to China policy under Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter etc, and the behind the scenes activities of major movers and shakers from Henry Kissinger to Richard Holbrooke; the normalization of relations with Beijing; the shift to derecognize Taiwan; China becoming a recognized member of the United Nations; and numerous both small and momentous parts of history as it is played out in reality by those U.S. government grunts executing policy on a day to day basis.

The following is a humorous, if historically decidedly very minor, anecdote that provides a sense of the ambiance of the stories collected by the Oral History Project.

My father recounted the story during Christmas lunch, and this is the version from the transcript of the Oral History Project.

After, as a young Foreign Service Officer serving in his first overseas posting in Hong Kong as a consular officer at the U.S embassy in the late 1950’s, he was reluctantly called back to serve in an administrative job at the State Department East Asia Bureau in Washington, which he fought against as he, at the time, sought to begin intensive Chinese language study, but ultimately lost out and returned to Washington to start the unwanted assignment.

Q: How did that play out?

Harry Thayer: Well, it played out like so many things. I got interested in it, and I learned a lot about how the Foreign Service is run. They put me in the East Asia Bureau while Walter Robertson was still there, which gave me a kind of taste of things. And it was quite instructive. I learned a lot about the Foreign Service and working in the bureaucracy. And I learned a lot about management and these sorts of things, learned a lot about Congress, writing justifications for funds to the Hill. That was all quite instructive. I also met a lot of the personalities involved in China and Asia affairs. I, also, in May 1961, suddenly got yanked off to go on a trip as a coat-holder for LBJ (Lyndon Johnson) when he was vice president, went around the world as an aide to this LBJ first around the world trip

Q: This was a rather famous one, wasn’t it?

THAYER: The famous one, May of ’61. We went out to tell Diem in Vietnam that we would support him forever, but we went to Guam and Midway and manila and Taipei, Hong Kong, Saigon, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Athens, Wheelus Air Force base (Libya), Bermuda, and Washington. And it was the Goddamnedest trip I’ve ever made, learned a lot, and I was a physical wreck at the end of it. But it was an eye opener and a lot of fun.

Q: I realize that you were pretty far down the pecking line, but did you see anything of LBJ in action?

THAYER: I saw a good deal of LBJ in action. I was on his plane, in the first place. Even between Washington and Travis Air Force base I saw him in action. We put down at Travis.

Q: That’s in California

THAYER: Right. Travis Air base in California. We were on our way to Honolulu, the first substantive stop, where LBJ was to open the East-West center. And I don’t want to make this too long, but it is kind of illustrative. Bill Crocket, a senior State administrator, was on the trip. Bill Crocket was a guy in whom LBJ had confidence, so Crocket ended up travelling with Johnson wherever he went. And Crocket was my super boss in our group. Along on this trip on the substantive side was “China” Ed Martin, along with Dick Ericson, who was then a special assistant to the EA (East Asia) front office.

Anyhow, Crocket was my basic boss, and I was told on the airplane, as we began to fly across the United States with Crocket, that “You, Harry, have got to go up front (of the 707) and answer this message sent on the plane’s radio to Honolulu about the motorcade in Honolulu. There are a lot of problems with this motorcade, we want you to go up and send this message. I was just a messenger boy. In any event, with the message in hand, I had to walk up front. Incidentally, there were two 707’s on this trip. One was for the press and one was for the official group.

LBJ was spread across the center aisle (the only aisle) up in the front of the plane where there were tables in a VIP configuration. But his long legs were stretched across the aisle as he was talking to one of the young secretaries. I had to say “Excuse me, Mr. vice president” to get up to the communications place. So I went by and I said excuse me Mr. vice president. I went up and I sent the message or called the message to Honolulu about the Goddamn motorcade. Then I came back and said “Excuse me, Mr. vice president.” And he had to pull in his long legs and gave me a dirty look. About ten minutes later, Crocket said “Harry, I want you to go up there and send this other message.”

I said, “You know the Vice president is giving me some very dirty looks there.”

He said, “Send the message.”

So I walked up there, and I said, “Excuse me Mr. Vice President.” He had to pull his legs back in and stop the conversation with this young luscious that he was talking to and gave me a very dirty nasty look. And I went up there and sent the message and came back, and there were his legs spread out in front. To my horror, I had to say again, “Excuse me Mr. Vice President.”

And the Vice president looked me right in the eye. He said, “Son, if you do this once again, I am going to put poison in your soup.”

And as I remember, I said something like, “In that case, Mr. Vice president, I’ll have to get a taster.” I really remember I said it, but I am really not sure. Anyhow, that was my first exposure to LBJ.

I will say there are a lot of other tales I could tell about LBJ, but one thing on this trip, LBJ was really terribly hard to deal with. Everybody found him hard to deal with. Lady Bird was the balance. And she was often nudging the Vice President to be a little bit more polite, to take into account, to praise and so forth, the Foreign Service people that were with him.”

Full Resources of the U.S. Military Tracking Santa Claus: Nuclear and Missile Defence Systems Distracted

24 Dec

Full Resources of the U.S. Military Tracking Santa Claus: NORAD, the U.S. Air Defense responsible for Protecting Against Enemy Nuclear and Missile Attack Fully Focused on Tracking Santa

By Nate Thayer

I really hesitate to write the following as I know I will be subject to the wrath of many for being a curmudgeon spoiling the holiday cheer, but do we really need tax dollars funding the most sophisticated top secret U.S. military facility charged with detected incoming nuclear and ballistic missile attacks focused on tracking Santa Claus?

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command based out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, and whose motto is “Deter, Detect, and defend”, is currently putting the full resources of the United States military defense command into tracking Santa Claus, having established a “Santa Operations Center.”

One can follow Santa’s movements at

U.S. Military Hard at Work Providing Vital Data for World Youth

U.S. Military Hard at Work Providing Vital Data for World Youth

NORAD_Jet_Fighters_Santa_2008_W noradmap

Not to mention their distraction by prioritizing such targets might leave the bad guys a wide open window to take advantage and strike while we are not looking.

According to a NORAD press release from Peterson Air Force Base “North American Aerospace Defense Command is ready to track Santa, and media are invited to participate in a variety of ways, to include conducting live broadcast interviews with senior NORAD officers on Dec. 24” adding there are “many ways media can participate” including “NORAD will offer opportunities for live interviews from the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Dec. 24 in addition to audio, video, B-roll, and select historical “Santa cam” files.”

In addition “ Senior NORAD officers will include U.S. Army General Charles H. Jacoby Jr., NORAD Commander; Canadian Forces Lieutenant-General Alain Parent, NORAD Deputy Commander; and U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Dubie, Vice Commander, U.S. NORAD Element. The senior leaders will be actively tracking Santa and available for live satellite interviews from 6:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST. On-scene audio-visual specialists will help facilitate all interviews. Scheduling is necessary in order to accommodate all interested news organizations.”

The “NORAD Tracks Santa Media Operations Center” is available for “live updates on Santa’s whereabouts on Dec. 24” and interested parties “may call the NORAD Tracks Santa Media Center at (719) 556-1910 or (719) 556-5128. Be advised that phone lines may be extremely busy.”

The NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center (NTSOC) opened on December 24th at 5:00 a.m. EST (4:00a.m. CST, 3:00a.m. MST, and 2:00a.m. PST) and remains open until 5:00am EST (4:00a.m. CST, 3:00a.m. MST, and 2:00a.m. PST) on December 25th.

NORAD says Santa first visits such locations as Fuji, Kyoto,  and Yokohama in Japan, Seoul, Yakutsk, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Australia, Jakarta, Taiping, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Laos, Hanoi, Lhasa, Krasnoyarsk and Dudinka.

His stay in each home is limited to just three ten-thousandths of a second. The current population of the Earth is around 7 billion, so Santa has a busy few hours ahead of him.

Santa usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west. After he visits South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Asia, Africa and Western Europe, he’ll head to Canada, the United States, Mexico and Central and South America.

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is a United States and Canadian organization responsible for aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America, including the detection and warning of attack against North America by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles.

In case the bad guys are not aware, NORAD is currently preoccupied with tracking Santa Claus and the movement of his reindeer around the planet, and if anyone is interested in launching a nuclear or missile attack on the leader of the Free World, now might be the most opportune moment to catch us while our guard is down.

According to NORAD, its mission is to “in close collaboration with homeland defense, security, and law enforcement partners, prevent air attacks against North America, safeguard the sovereign airspaces of the United States and Canada by responding to unknown, unwanted, and unauthorized air activity approaching and operating within these airspaces, and provide aerospace and maritime warning for North America. To accomplish these critically important missions…The NORAD and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) Command Center serves as a central collection and coordination facility for a worldwide system of sensors designed to provide the commander and the leadership of Canada and the U.S. with an accurate picture of any aerospace or maritime threat.”

To that end, “NORAD uses a network of satellites, ground-based radar, airborne radar and fighters to detect, intercept and, if necessary, engage any air-breathing threat….”

At the moment NORAD is apparently focused on tracking the movements of Santa Claus.

However, I don’t want to disparage the importance of NORAD to the peace and security of the Free World. As they rightly point out, “The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated NORAD’s continued relevance to North American security. Today, NORAD provides civil authorities with a potent military response capability to counter domestic airspace threats should all other methods fail.

And for you anti U.S knee jerk zealots, NORAD’s mission isn’t entirely an American effort.

Canadian “CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft are on continuous alert to respond to any potential aerial threat to the safety of Canada and Canadians” and, headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, a Combined Air Operations Center “executes the NORAD air sovereignty mission for the continental United States..”

In addition the Combined Air Operations Center also “plans, conducts, controls, and coordinates all Air Force forces for the Commander of NORAD. The best of the US Air Force and Air National Guard fighter inventory, the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-22 Raptor, fly as CONR’s primary weapons systems” including for the “Washington DC area, which is protected by the NCR Integrated Air Defense System (NCR IADS) consisting of a system of radars, cameras, visual warning system, alert aircraft and Army air defense artillery assets.”

The only problem is I am alarmed to report that NORAD is currently entirely focused on tracking the global movements of Santa Claus, and I am feeling somewhat vulnerable by their distraction from maintaining the security of the airspace above my house from other than overweight do gooders bearing gifts over the next hours.

This vital mission was sparked in 1955, when, on Dec. 24, a call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs from a local girl who was following the directions in an advertisement printed in the local paper  and wanted to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus.

The ad said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.” The number was for the CONAD operations center. Duty officer Colonel Harry Shoup received numerous calls that night and rather than hanging up, he had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and reported it to every child who phoned in.

Thus began NORAD using the fruits of billions of dollars of my money to track, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world.

Every Christmas Eve, thousands of volunteers staff telephones and answer calls and e-mails from children around the world. Live updates are provided through the NORAD Tracks Santa Web site (in seven languages), over telephone lines, and by e-mail to keep the citizenry informed about Santa’s whereabouts.

The NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site receives nearly nine million visitors from more than 200 countries and territories around the world, 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 calls to the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline.

In 2012 we are able to track Santa through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and by typing in @noradsanta into a search engine.

So, while I am also concerned about falling off the fiscal cliff which, to avoid, requires budget cuts of federal expenditures, for the moment I am quite happy that the full military resources and force of the most powerful nation of earth is devoted to assisting youngsters in keeping a close eye on the movements of Santa Claus.

Come the new year, the NORAD Santa Tracking Center might deserve to be scrutinized as a legitimate target for those with the unfortunate mandate of attempting to keep the world economy from freefalling into a depression.

In the meantime, I think the devotion of the full military might of the United States on keeping the wide eyed youngsters abreast of the movements of Santa Claus as he approached their homes is a fine use of the nation’s resources.

Westboro Baptist Church Pickets Newton School Funerals: Say Kids Deserved to Die Because America Loves “Fags”

23 Dec

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Somalia Pirates Hijack North Korean Ship, Then Decide it Isn’t Worth it and Turn Themselves In

21 Dec

Somalia Pirates Hijack Norean Ship, Then Decide it Isn’t Worth it and Turn Themselves In

December 20, 2012

By Nate Thayer

Somalia pirates hijacked a North Korean ship on Tuesday only to have second thoughts after the hijackers decided it wasn’t worth the hassle or effort and have turned around and now headed back to a Somalia port to turn themselves in.

Sources told Reuters that security forces guarding the North Korean-flagged vessel were involved in the hijacking of the ship and its 33 crew on the vessel late Tuesday night.

According to local sources, 8 soldiers decided to hijack the ship and after traveling for several hours, the hijackers argued amongst themselves over their decision, some of the men regretted the hijacking. After heated debates, the rogue security forces decided to return the ship and contacted Puntland security officials of their decision.

The MV Daesan, a North Korean ship with a load of cement was seized by Somalia authorities in November after the cargo of cement was rejected by importers in Mogadishu who claimed that it was of inferior quality saying it was wet and unusable. The Somalia purchasers refused to pay or take possession of the order.

Somalia pirates decide hijacking a North Korean sip isn't worth the hassle

Somalia pirates decide hijacking a North Korean sip isn’t worth the hassle

The North Korean ship then allegedly dumped the rejected cement at sea.

The ship and its crew of 33 was seized, impounded, and fined last month by Puntland autonomous region authorities on Nov. 17. It has remained in custody and the fine unpaid.

Puntland security officials say two coast guard boats are chaperoning the MV Daesan back into Puntland waters where the case over the MV Daesan dumped 5,000 metric tons of cement 13 nautical miles east of Bossaso coast is still ongoing at the local court.

North Korea, one of the most isolated and poorest countries in the world having its goods rejected as inferior by another of the poorest most rogue nations, Somalia, and then having even its pirates decide that it was not worth the effort to hijack a North Korean ship, was not reported by official Pyongyang media.

The Gulf of Aden has been the focal point of sea piracy in recent years, forcing the ships to stop and pirates boarding, taking the crews hostage, tow the vessels into Somali ports and demand millions of dollars in ransom.

About 3.4 million barrels per day of oil flowed through the choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden off of Somalia last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

About 136 hostages taken in the Indian Ocean off Somalia are still being held captive, but the number of hijackings of ships has dropped to seven in the first 11 months of this year compared to 24 in the whole of 2011. NATO records show a fall in pirate activity with no ships hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia for the last six months. NATO is one of the international bodies providing international warships to provide security along the Somali coasts.

Attempted hijackings are also down, suggesting that pirates are concluding that the risk is not worth the effort. Unsuccessful attempts dropped to 36 this year, from 189 in 2010.

A spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau in London was quoted as saying that the ships pirates are able to hijack are often owned by companies that cannot afford to pay a ransom to free the crew.

“The business model is breaking,” Cyrus Mody said, but he noted that piracy seems to be rising on Africa’s West Coast.

The establishment of a new Somalia government, including the election of a parliament and a President, and the appointment of a Prime Minister and a cabinet, has played a major role in decreasing piracy activities. Somalia military forces have recaptured of a number of the ports along the Somali coast in recent months. Somalia’s Supreme Court is reported to have said that pirates seized by international security forces can now be tried inside the country.

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