“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” The operations officer was talking about ‘The Monk.’ The Monk never smelled right to some of the brass in oversight. It were as though this ‘asset’ were sometimes as invisible to the agency as he were invisible to the targets in operations he was assigned to. The Monk was never an officer of the CIA, he had refused from the beginning to make that commitment and only worked on a contract to contract basis. The Monk did not drink or use drugs. He never attended ‘company’ parties. If he had a girlfriend, the agency did not know, which was pretty incredible. Between jobs, the Monk simply vanished. There was no using leverage with the Monk, he worked on his own terms. This made the bureaucrats in oversight nervous.
This interesting individual had come to the agency’s attention via the ‘networking’ established through friendship, when veterans typically get in touch to say hello, plan a joint vacation with family or perhaps encounter an acquaintance when attending a conference.
In the Monk’s case, it had been his superior officer in the National Guard, a Green Berets captain who’d landed the Executive Officer (XO) assignment for a detachment of Special Forces at Kalispell, Montana, following his return from duties in South-East Asia.
‘Oliver’ was a ‘company’ man, he was in town to visit, the XO’s old friend from clandestine operations in Laos, ostensibly for a ski vacation at Big Mountain outside the resort town of Whitefish, Montana. This CIA officer had a special regard for his former Special Forces compatriot.
They were relaxed by the fireside at the resort condominium, cedar logs, mixed with birch, made the occasional loud ‘pop’ and sparks flew against the metal screen positioned against the masonry of the fireplace. Otherwise it was quiet, both men in a relaxed reflective state after a day of skiing, a state one only can know in the company of a friend who you’d handed responsibility for your life without reservation, back to back, in lethal environment. The fire caused shadows to dance on the wall in soft light.
Oliver spoke first: “Has it actually been six years since Lima Site 85? Are you over it?”
The XO shifted in his chair, it was not a comfortable thought. Lima Site 85 was an American defeat during the clandestine war in Laos. The relaxed ambience had vanished: “You know Oliver, that’s why I demobilized from active duty to the Guard. I like my life the way it is now .. and you know I swore I’d never work in covert-ops again. One criminal clown like Richard Secord can louse up a wet dream only worse. A lot of good men died on account of his negligence. My work with the agency is finished, and you know it. I’d resign my commission before I’d go back in support of CIA operations.”
Oliver was disappointed, but he had anticipated the answer. But still .. “Saigon will fall in a matter of months, if not weeks.. the entire theater is collapsing all the way to our area of operations in Laos, we need to bring out some people there is no way we can leave behind, people like Vang Pao and his lieutenants. We need your skills and we need them badly.”
The XO was not budged: “How many criminals will be the only ones to benefit? If Secord hadn’t been distracted with being up to his armpits in Vang Pao’s opium trafficking, likely there would have been a different outcome at Lima. And the child soldiers. It’s one thing going in blind, when you are new, but with experience .. where do these criminal bozos get their pass, how is it when criminals like Secord fail, they are protected, promoted and the law looks the other way? I want no part of it again, not now, not ever. How the CIA can protect and offer cover to its assets in the military, shielding men like Secord, whose priorities are personal enrichment first, the sometimes hare-brained CIA special ops, which can get good soldiers killed, second, and patriotism a distant third, is nothing short of incredible.”
Oliver tried once more: “Legacy. You are one of the best among the best. And there are good people involved, not everyone is compromised. I’d be remiss if I couldn’t bring you back for the ‘exit.’ We need your kind, with your experience, and there are not many in your class. The bonus money will be above anything you could imagine to now.”
The XO’s reply was not what Oliver had anticipated: “I used to think I was good, but there’s a 23 year old kid in our detachment who makes me sometimes think I’m amateur..”
Oliver leaned back in his chair and was silent for a few moments. The XO was not to be moved. Then he asked: “Tell me about this kid?”
The XO explained that one day a kid with shoulder-length hair walked in the door and stated he had active reserve duty obligation. He’d been assigned to a Army Reserve transportation company across town and wanted nothing to do with it. The Executive Officer asked some questions, and was intrigued. A basic sergeant, E-5, the kid had served with an elite light infantry brigade in Vietnam, and was a local product with extensive wilderness survival knowledge and experience in their training area. His comportment was impressive. After a little while asking questions, and impressed with the answers, the XO picked up the phone and placed a call to initiate a transfer for this young veteran, from the transportation company, to the Special Forces detachment. His plan was to qualify the kid for Special Forces with ‘on the job training.’
A student at the local community college carrying the minimal class work to qualify for his veteran’s education financial support, the kid would bring his assigned work to the Special Forces National Guard armory after class, finish the schoolwork in short order and then bury himself in studying the elite military field manuals, day in and day out. He excelled in operations and intelligence. It was not long before he was given the position of ‘Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge’ of that department, filling a Sergeant First Class position, two full ranks above his own, and freeing up a Sergeant First Class from having to fill two positions, Operations & Intelligence AND Assistant to the Executive Officer. On his first field training with the unit, a winter exercise, the kid showed exceptional skill. In -30 Celsius the kid made a fire in deep snow more quickly than their most experienced winter survivalists. He was the first to reach the geographic objective after two days of cross-county skiing and brought another soldier out of hypothermia. Subsequent training exercises demonstrated his stealth and ambush skills were world class. His scouting and land navigation, without on site referral to compass and map, were phenomenal. There was an ‘invisible’ air about him, you would not know he was in the same room with you except that he was expected to be there and you looked. He did not engage in any sort of self-aggrandizement, he knew his skills were good, many of them better actually, than his unit’s fully Special Forces qualified compatriots with years of experience, but he never bragged, teased or held himself above anybody with an attitude. His quiet professionalism was nearly eerie, he almost never talked except when necessary to address an objective, problem or especially an alternative method or approach that was mission related and his ideas and ability to act on them, were amazing. The kid’s post Vietnam reserve duty obligation would be finished towards the end of the year and he had stated he was not inclined to stay on.
Oliver asked: “About his ‘invisibility.’ Is he really that good?”
The XO: If he was standing next to you, you’d not realize it, until he tugged on your elbow.”
Oliver: “What else can you tell me? What about his hand to hand combat?”
The XO: “Something like a fusion of Goju-Ryu and Tai Kwan Do with elements of other arts. He has sometimes given our martial arts instructor fits with the unexpected. The instructor’s art is Judo but he is familiar with the others. He calls the kid a ‘mongrel master’, because he is really quite good but has no certifications in any of the forms he’s studied.”
Oliver: “His background?”
The XO: “Standard background check, turned up nothing, but we’re not the CIA, you’d have to run the agency’s enhanced check to find something, if anything is there. Other than that, he comes from ‘up the line’, which in local parlance means he grew up wild, in a mixed with Native Americans community. Those kids are by reputation outlaws, feared here in the valley. No local who knows where the kid is from, would ordinarily mess with him, even if they knew nothing else about him.”
Oliver: “I’d like a copy of his military 201 file sent to my office, you’ll do that much for me?”
The XO: “I’ll call it getting off cheap, as I’m turning down a recruiting visit from a senior chief of station for CIA.”
The truth written as fiction just doesn’t work for me. The way I see it, it’s either non-fiction, or fiction, and I prefer the former. For instance, I could reasonably, accurately, reconstruct the CIA’s Golden Triangle heroin operations with fiction, but the bare facts would be meta-data in the main, most the details invented. That’s not good enough.