WHO WILL STOP THE TANKS?
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
Days before the horrible shots rang out, thousands of Chinese who sought nothing more than freedom converged on Tiananmen Square in Beijing to demonstrate for, among other things, the freedom to speak. They knew what they risked that warm June in 1989; it wasn’t police who showed up to disperse the group, it was soldiers and tanks. But the demonstrators did not disperse. In the end, hundreds or even thousands of these brave souls were shot and machine-gunned into silence. One man, however, galvanized the world with his selfless resistance. He will forever be known as “The Tank Man.” The photo of this man standing in front of a line of tanks, stopping their advance on the Square, somehow made everyone in the world a little stronger and braver.
The bravest people in the world are rarely found in governments, in the courts or even on the legal bench. The people who reside in such places are often those who have become most adept at swinging deals, of “give and take” and of compromise. No, the bravest men and women are most often found in Gulags, North Korean labor camps, or Chinese reeducation “centers.” Or in front of firing squads—or tanks. These people are in those places not just because of what they said, but because they refused to ‘unsay’ it. Most could have capitulated and remained, if not free, at least safe.
Like millions of people throughout history who refused to betray their faith, their ideals or their countrymen, they knew that when you betray the truth, you betray not just yourself, but all those who share that truth and have fought for it shoulder to shoulder with you. They echo the truth spoken by Benjamin Franklin two hundred years ago;
“He who would trade liberty for some temporary security,
deserves neither liberty nor security.”
I would add:
“He who would trade anybody else’s liberty for some temporary
security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”
From newspapers, from op eds, from Italian victims and from international judicial review bodies we hear that there is tyranny today in Italy and it resides in the judicial system. This is the same system that recently sentenced six seismologists to prison for failing to predict an earthquake—a feat that science still regards as impossible.
This is the same judicial system that exonerated a man for the rape of an 18 year old girl because she was wearing tight jeans, which the court opined could not have been removed without the girl’s assistance. Therefore, the rape, I mean sex, had to be consensual. This was the decision of the Italian Supreme Court, not a college fraternity ethics committee. The decisions of the courts, the inconceivable reasoning, and the contorted logic validates the general perception that the Italian judicial system is largely an archaic, byzantine, misogynistic 'good-old-boy' network which depends on coercion, superstition and political deals to achieve their ends. Few people with knowledge of the Italian system (and who are not a part of it) would dispute that statement. There are, of course, notable exceptions and honorable judges, but as a rule, ‘Italian justice’ is a contradiction in terms. It remains that way because nobody has yet stood in front of the tanks.
It is not politically expedient for the Italian judicial system to endorse the truth of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito’s innocence, because it will expose police and judicial misconduct, perjury, and evidence tampering. It will, they believe, embarrass “the system,” and hurt national prestige. (Not realizing that their current strategy is devastating their global credibility.) While Knox remains safely (or so it is hoped) ensconced in a country where evidence and rule of law win out in the vast majority of cases, Sollecito remains under Italian control, awaiting his fate. And Sollecito is apparently the system's best hope of saving face.
Sollecito has, of course, steadfastly held to the truth that he and Amanda were together the night that burglar Rudy Guede slaughtered Meredith Kercher, stole her money, keys and phone, then danced and bought drinks with her money until 4:30 a.m. before fleeing to Germany—again using Meredith’s money. The Italians need Sollecito to say Amanda wasn’t with him the night of the murder; or have him at least allow the possibility she might not have been with him. Though he has steadfastly stated that she was with him, it seems like so little to ask. But it could steal twenty two years of an innocent woman’s life.
During four years in prison, Raffaele never wavered in his dedication to the truth and to his and Amanda’s innocence. This was bravery, this was honor. After his exoneration, Raffaele co-wrote a book entitled “Honor Bound,” in which he defined his unfailing defense of Amanda and the truth as “honor” in the face of extortionate pressure to change his story. The pressure came both from the Italian judicial system and his family to turn on Amanda and lie; destroying her “alibi” in return for his freedom. According to Raffaele's own book, since the first days of the horrible case, his family has chosen the easy way out--capitulate to the corrupt prosecution, perjure yourself and escape.He never did so. I have always admired him for that and always will.
While working on “Honor Bound,” Raffaele stayed in my home with my family and me for a short time. He is a delightful, gentle, intelligent young man and we enjoyed his visit, as well as visiting with his family. At that time, we thought the horrendous ordeal was over and that tyranny had been held at bay by truth, honor and bravery. But now the Sword of Damocles over Raffaele’s head has returned. In a stunning move, the Italian courts overturned the innocent verdicts of Sollecito and Knox (something legally impossible in most western or otherwise civilized nations), and are now -- according to well-placed sources--pressuring Raffaele to separate his defense from Amanda’s. The purpose is obvious; once separated, they can use Raffaele against Amanda. And this time, there are indications that Raffaele’s strength to resist may be waning. After all this time, why lose courage now? I might have an insight.
In 1996, I was diagnosed with cancer. I went through a year of particularly rigorous chemotherapy that was almost miraculously successful. In the years that followed, though, I had to face the threat of possible renewed chemotherapy, and not once did I believe I had the strength to go through it again. Returning to chemo is much more psychologically difficult than starting it the first time—because after the first time you know what you’re in for. I decided that the only reason I would endure chemotherapy again was for the benefit of my family. Returning to prison is likely the same. What was “doable” for Raffaele once, is likely inconceivable to him now.
Now, many in Raffaele’s family, two aunts and a sister in particular, have turned on Amanda (and her supporters) with inexplicable malice and ignoble vitriol, apparently in hopes of trading the freedom of their innocent loved one for the freedom of someone else’s innocent child. Raffaele remains largely silent in Amanda’s defense and the defense of his own supporters against the lies of his family, and one wonders whether he has the strength left to continue to fight the tyranny of the Italian judicial system or his family. Ironically, the women in Raffaele’s family seem to have taken control of him, while simultaneously complaining that he was easily manipulated by a woman.
Certainly, though my wife, my family and I have suffered dearly as a result of our defense of Amanda and Raffaele, I cannot claim to have as much at risk as he does. I am often asked what I would do if I was in his situation. I can tell you truthfully that I don’t know. But I can tell you equally truthfully that I know what “right” is, and what I hope I would do: Fight the tyranny, not just for himself, not just for Amanda, but for the hundreds and thousands who come after him. Raffaele was incarcerated partially because in the decades before his unjust persecution, others capitulated rather than risk the consequences of fighting the tyranny—and they bear partial responsibility for what happened to him. Absent adherence to what is right, the tyranny gains strength from the capitulation of others. It is a vampire which feeds on fear.
But really, the question of what I or anybody else would do in the same situation is a red herring. It’s a misdirection intended to change the subject from the topic of “what is right,” to “what is excusable.” The difference between the two is immense. Ultimately, one doesn’t have to be in someone’s shoes to know what is right or wrong. In fact, frequently, being a healthy distance away endows one with a clearer vision of right and wrong. When the Titanic was sinking, some men dressed as women to board life boats. At the time, some men were able to rationalize that atrocity. Whether or not others would have done the same thing has no bearing on whether the act was right or wrong.
We build monuments to those who stand up to tyranny and injustice. We do so not simply in admiration of their character but because they made the world better. These are people who went to jail—or died, because they refused to be complicit anymore in the tyranny and injustice under which they were forced to live. Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, are among that group. No monuments are raised to those who capitulate. Their memory lives on only as cautions against human failure.
Whether Italian judicial pressure and the threat of more than twenty years in prison ultimately causes an innocent man to implicate an innocent woman in a crime with which neither had anything to do, remains to be seen. But if it happens, it doesn’t change the truth, it simply weighs Italy’s justice system a little lower in the muck. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated because of his fight for freedom and equal rights for African Americans. The year he died, he summed up his decision not to accept injustice;
“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men
purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”
When a person capitulates to save themselves from incarceration, only half of that person remains free. That part of themselves that houses weakness and self-interest escapes prison and remains with them forever. Their courage and their ideals, however, hear the doors to the prison clang behind them, never to return. In nations where this is allowed to happen, the innocent fill the prisons, and the guilty roam the streets. Still, I do not believe Italy has any intention of imprisoning Sollecito for a crime most rational people understand was committed by Rudy Guede, alone.
I, at least five other retired FBI agents, many DNA scientists and dozens of other subject-matter experts have seen the evidence in the Kercher murder and know the truth. In reality, it's not a complicated case. Only the investigation was (unnecessarily) complicated. The evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Raffaele and Amanda are completely innocent and while I hurt for Raffaele, I will never, never turn on the truth. I will champion Raffaele and Amanda's innocence and oppose what I know to be lies, regardless of the reason(s) they are told or who tells them.
It was such wonderful times celebrating the “Not Guilty” verdicts with Raffaele, his family, and those who put their lives and livelihood on the line in Raffaele’s and Amanda’s defense. But, as Dr. King once again so perfectly summed-up,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.”
The Raffaele I know would never betray the truth. In his heart, in his soul, he is an honest man dedicated to what is right and what is true. The Raffaele I know would never cede control of his life and future to his family and his lawyer. But every man has his limits. It is his choice now to either to rise to the occasion and fight injustice, or cave to blackmail and become part of it. I remember going to dinner one night, just Raffaele and me, and he mused aloud, “Why do [the Italian courts] get away with things like this?” I responded then as I do now; “Because people allow them to. Because people give in to extortion.”
It is now, ultimately, that Raffaele faces his denouement. I maintain my confidence in his character. Regardless, the world will soon learn whether he still has the courage to step in front of the tanks, or whether he has become an obsequious extension of the four women in his life and his father. If the latter is true, the answer to how the Italian courts "get away" with injustice will be found in his own mirror, and we will all watch in horrified sadness as honor is bound.
THE BERGDAHL TRADE
Before I go into detail on my observations on the Bowe Bergdahl hostage situation, I think it prudent to first discuss in the abstract the concept in play, in order that emotion not cloud the ramifications of negotiating with hostage takers. "So how did that work out for you?"
There is a very simple, true, universal and essential principle of civilized society: When people give in to extortion, extortion increases. When people do not give in to extortion, the extortion stops. Few people would dispute this reality. There may be deep and painful costs to standing up against extortion, but ultimately, in the long run the extortion stops, or at least dwindles to near nothing. Enduring the momentary (albeit deep) pain ultimately saves lives. Failing to endure results in long-term calamity. This is a tenet of civilized society which is ingrained in our psyche.
When you give in to terrorists, you don’t just tolerate terrorism, you encourage it. Trading anything to a terrorist in return for a hostage is like fanning a fire. Trading five dangerous terrorists for a single hostage is like pouring gasoline on the fire.
There is a word for this type of negotiation and deal: “Appeasement.” Appeasement will forever be linked with one man, Neville Chamberlain, who went to Germany to try to pacify a dictator named Adolf Hitler. Hitler had engaged in saber-rattling and was threatening war if he was not given the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia. In essence, he was engaging in a diplomatic extortion.
British Prime Minister Chamberlain participated in a conference in Munich in which the European powers bravely ceded parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in exchange for his promise not to invade and cause a war. The Czechs were not invited to the conference, and to this day refer to it as “The Munich Betrayal.”
On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain returned to England, waving a copy of the signed capitulation to the extortion and famously exclaimed, “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time.”
Within one year, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and within the next six, over 60 million people—2.5% of the world’s population—had died as a result of that “peace.” Many believe that had the world stood up to Hitler at that point, WWII could have been averted.
At the time of Chamberlain’s return from Munich, future Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke presciently and eloquently in Parliament of Chamberlain's agreement:
“He was given the choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor and he will have war anyway.”
What the United States did last week was capitulate to a terrorist extortion. You can sugar-coat it with whatever words you like, but the truth remains the same. The Taliban will now be emboldened to take more hostages. And not just the Taliban. Every terrorist group in the world saw what happened. And every terrorist group now knows what they can get from this administration for a single American soldier, even of the lowest rank.
I do not say these things lightly. I have a dear cousin who has spent time in the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I myself have spent much time in Pakistan and Indonesia investigating al Qaeda. I understand the ramifications of what I am advocating.
Who then, are the most outspoken critics of this action? The men and women of our armed forces, and they are angry because the administration traded for one of their own! Incongruous? Hardly. Every soldier knows (or at least was told) that America will not negotiate with terrorists and that their repatriation after capture was not guaranteed. But they also understood that this policy reduced the possibility of them being used as hostages. These soldiers know that the decision taken by President Obama has put every overseas American soldier at higher risk. And they resent the release of terrorists that soldiers risked their lives to capture.
Every single American overseas fighting terrorism, every State department employee, every low level clerk at an Embassy is now at a significantly greater risk. I spent years in the FBI traveling overseas investigating terrorism in Indonesia, Pakistan and other garden spots. We knew—because we were told bluntly—that if we were captured by terrorists, no deal would be made to free us. That was okay with us, because we knew the potential hostage takers knew that, too.
Now, Americans going overseas have to deal with the fact that the terrorists know that they can trade an American--any American--for something valuable. And there are still 149 of their friends in Guantanamo Bay. Under the Obama equation, that’s just under 30 Americans.
To be fair, the administration is calling this a POW swap, which at the end of a conflict is certainly appropriate and right. But this wasn’t a POW swap. The group that held Bergdahl is a terrorist group. The prisoners at Guantanamo were not members of any organized army representing any specific nation, and have never been accepted as such. And POW’s are not held at threat of death if demands aren’t met. The administration itself has explained that Bergdahl’s life was in immediate danger. That mitigates against him being POW.
The administration is careful to refer to Bergdahl as a ‘prisoner,’ not a ‘hostage,’ much like they referred to the attacks at Benghazi as ‘demonstrations,’ and not ‘terrorism.’ The problem now is not simply with the administration’s foreign policy decisions, it’s the fact that Americans are having increasing trouble believing what they say about the decisions.
Call it what you want, but if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck.
Maybe the President was trying to fulfill a campaign promise and empty Gitmo. I get that. He was elected. He gets to do what he had promised to do. But please do it without it seeming like a prisoner swap. At least the terrorists you let back out won’t be as inclined to take hostages.
Most troubling to me, however, is the fact that the administration failed to comply with the law that requires the President to give congress 30 days advance notice before negotiating an exchange of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Not simply “within 30 days,” but specifically “30 days in advance.” I am deeply concerned because of the appearance that the administration might have intentionally ignored this law.
The administration says that they had to act quickly because Bergdahl's life was in danger. The point becomes then, how did you know his life was in danger unless you were already negotiating? That would indicate that they were negotiating prior to their reason for not notifying congress. If the peril to Bergdahl was found through other means, how was contact with the terrorists so immediately established?
Problematically, the administration can't get their story straight as to why they didn't advise congress as required by law. First, they said that they didn't have time because Bergdahl's life was in danger. Next, however, they claimed they just forgot.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told Senator Diane Feinstein that the failure to notify congress in advance “…was an oversight.” This, to say the least, stretches credibility. Even if it was true, it evinces a frightening level of incompetence and/or negligence. They forgot? It is difficult to believe that compliance with that particular law was “forgotten,” specifically because of the Obama administration's strong objection to the law when it was passed. At the time it was passed, they criticized the notification required by the law because, “It might tie the president’s hands in a prisoner exchange where time was of the essence.” Yes, it would. And that was the purpose of the law.
No administration can simply disregard laws they disagree with. Period.
THE HOSTAGE AND THE RANSOM
Many claim that Bergdahl is a deserter and some claim that he is a traitor. I do not have enough reliable information yet on which to base a decision. However, even with what has been reported, there is possible mitigation to his actions, even if he left the camp willingly.
Some people do not cope with battle well at all. Some collapse mentally. This is not unusual. It is possible that Bergdahl could not deal with war and his actions are a result of that. If that is true, then he is a casualty in a way. There is, however, not enough information available at this time to determine whether or not that is true.
It is also said that he is having trouble remembering English. I do not know if this is true, but if it is, I am puzzled. I know one American held in a foreign prison for four years, and while they occasionally forgot to speak English upon their release, their English had not degraded at all, though they were fluent in the language of their captor. Another person with whom I worked was an American imprisoned in Bolivia for two years. Not only was his English not impacted, he learned comparatively little Spanish. The fact that Bergdahl allegedly has forgotten English and speaks only Pashtu is troubling regardless of the reason.
According to USA Today, Bergdahl left a note behind when he left the camp saying that he wanted to “start over.” He left behind his rifle and body armor, but took a compass, knife, water, camera and a diary. He wasn’t going out looking for women or booze.
Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, search team leader the night of Bergdahl’s disappearance, told USA Today that the team intercepted radio and cellphone communications from a nearby village which described an American soldier who wanted to talk to the Taliban. Again, this will have to be investigated. Nothing is certain.
Significantly, soldiers from Bergdahl’s camp believed he was giving the Taliban information on military routes and times, because bombings and attacks on troops became more frequent and more accurate after his disappearance.
The Washington Post identified the terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay as:
“Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, 47. Once, the Taliban’s Interior minister, hard liner. Close ties to Osama bin Laden”
“Mullah Mohammad Fazl, 47. Senior commander Taliban Army, later Chief of Staff. Personally supervised the killing of thousands of Shiite Muslims near Kabul 1998-2001. Present at a 2001 prison riot which killed CIA operative Johnny Spann. His military file states, ‘If released, would rejoin and participate in hostilities’”
“Mullah Norullah Noori, 47. Also present during Spann’s death. May have been involved in Shiite massacre. Military file: ‘Continues to be a significant figure encouraging acts of aggression.’”
“Abdul Haq Wasiq, 43. Deputy Chief of Intelligence for the Taliban. Used his office to support al Qaeda. Central to the Taliban’s effort to form alliances with other Islamic Fundamentalist groups.”
“Mohammad Nabi Omari, 46. Member of joint al Qaeda Taliban cell in eastern Khost province. ‘One of the most significant Taliban leaders detained at Gitmo’”
Back to Winston Churchill;
"An appeaser is one who feeds the alligator, hoping it will eat him last."
America has fed the alligator, and he is still hungry.
In the western world, anonymity is rightly regarded with suspicion. Newspapers refuse to publish anonymous letters to the editor, and little explanation is needed to explain this policy. It’s also a common understanding that people in masks are generally trying to do something illicit and not get caught. The Ku Klux Klan didn't wear masks because they were feeding the homeless.
In every human being, there is a distrust of anonymity ingrained in our DNA. The U.S. Constitution as well as English Common Law looks very dimly on anonymous witnesses and anonymously provided evidence—and for good reason. Unless one is allowed to “confront the witness,” the person’s veracity, motives and integrity are a complete mystery. Anonymity is the tool of anarchy, totalitarianism and hatred.
The Internet, sadly, has revolutionized anonymity. From consequences-free porn (men no longer have to go to the back area of a video store hoping not to be seen by someone they know) to the Aryan Nations hate site "Stormfront," new and more disgusting uses have been found for anonymity, and the means to hide from responsibility have multiplied exponentially.
More and more, we are seeing large groups of anonymous people spewing hate, lies and misinformation on the Internet—baseless accusations which could take the lives of innocent people as surely as similar lies did in the Salem Witch Trials. In the Amanda Knox case, an American woman and an Italian man, both clearly innocent, are continually vilified, demonized and caricatured by individuals and/or groups too cowardly to use their own name(s) in defense of a victim they claim they would (otherwise) lay their lives down for.
Those with legitimate expertise, insight or knowledge on a case or issue would benefit from revealing their identity. Would President Bill Clinton comment on a government policy anonymously, when his very name and experience commands respect and ensures his opinions a hearing? Of course not.
The fact that a person or persons hide behind an avatar and a fanciful moniker is in and of itself evidence that they know that their real identity would compromise their credibility. In other words, if we knew who they were, we would immediately disregard anything they said. In the Knox case, it’s people like the obsessive poster “Harry Rag” who spends so much of his time spewing hate and lies at Amanda Knox and her supporters that one wonders how he(?) keeps a job, if indeed he’s one person and not a persona created by a firm hired by prosecution attorneys. The fact that “he” sent rank pornography to my wife simply because she disagreed with him leads me to believe he is more likely a sick male than a rational committee. I regularly get hate mail from these anonymous trolls on this very website. Not once has any of them discussed actual case facts. Instead, they comment on my physical appearance (a favorite of theirs) and call me the most vile names--anonymously. Which is why it doesn’t bother me.
But how do they get away with this? They get away with it only when we or anybody else give credence to a single word they utter, type or print. Regardless of their argument, their stated position or their claimed knowledge, the fact is that these entities could be anybody. They could be blogging from a half-way house for sex offenders, or from the recreation room at an inpatient mental facility. Or, they could be groups of people at a public relations firm hired by those with a financial interest in the outcome of a particular trial. Regardless of which it is, it’s time society ignored those who do not have the courage of conviction to even stamp their opinions with their own name.
The Disappearance of MH370
The Perils of Premature Conclusions
Crash investigations and criminal investigations have common enemies: The desire for a quick resolution, the fear by investigators of being perceived as ineffective or incompetent, and the resultant danger of premature conclusions. Beautiful downtown Leadville, Colorado.
I have been asked by CNN and friends to add my voice to the discussions of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). I feel well qualified to do so: I supervised Al Qaeda investigations for the Los Angeles FBI after 9/11, and these investigations obviously involved plots to down and/or hijack airliners. I have also been an active pilot (and for several years a professional pilot) since age 16. I have been involved in the investigation of two airline crashes suspected of being the result of terrorist acts (PSA 1771, December 1987) and TWA 800 (July, 1996). On FBI SWAT, I was extensively trained in retaking airliners from hijackers. Even growing up, I was steeped in airlines and airline security. My father (also a pilot and former FBI agent) was Manager of Security for United Airlines, authored two textbooks on aircraft and airline security, and sat on several FAA security committees.
One thing I have learned in the investigation of terrorism, violent crime and airplane crashes is that there is almost never a scenario which will answer all outstanding questions about a particular incident, nor will the correct scenario explain every circumstance you know to be true. There will always be mystery. That is why people still debate the Kennedy assassination, and why some still refuse to believe the obvious truth of the attacks against the U.S. on 9/11 by al Qaeda. Even if we had the flight recorder results in front of us, they would not answer all of our questions regarding MH370. This is because regardless of what happened on the ill-fated plane, people were afraid, people were confused, and people did not act logically at all times—and logical actions are the stuff on which we base all of our assumptions. So regardless of whether this was a hijacking, an airplane crash or anything in between, no scenario will explain every eventuality. But we are in no danger of running out of scenarios; some of them ludicrous.
One particularly silly assertion is that persons unknown flew the aircraft above its certified ceiling of 43,000 feet to the height of 45,000 feet in order to incapacitate the passengers due to lack of oxygen.
This shows a profound misunderstanding of modern aircraft. A Boeing 777’s cabin altitude at 43,000 is between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. Climbing to 45,000 (2,000 feet above its rated ceiling) would bring the cabin altitude no higher than 10,000 feet. For comparison, Leadville, Colorado is a town of 2,602 people situated at 10,152 feet above sea level. It is likely that the inhabitants do not consider themselves incapacitated. If one wanted to incapacitate passengers, they could simply depressurize the airplane at any altitude above, say, 25,000. No need to climb.
In all the speculation that I have heard on the fate of MH370, I have seen authorities in Malaysia making the same crucial investigative error over and over and over: They are making conclusory statements rather than observational statements. Here’s what I mean by that:
If I walk into a dark room in my house and the lights are off, there are dozens of different possibilities which would explain the lack of light from the bulb. These range from the light simply being switched off at the wall, to a bad bulb, to an overdue electric bill. All I can say with certainty (without further investigation) is that the bulb is not illuminated. If I flip the wall switch ‘on’ and the bulb doesn't go on, I have only eliminated one or two possibilities. If I state conclusively at that moment that the bulb is burned out, I am, in actuality, only guessing.
The Malaysian authorities are taking observations and making conclusory statements which are not supported by known fact. Instead of stating that “…at some point the transponder signal was no longer received by air traffic control,” they make the jump to say that “..one or the other of the pilots manually turned the transponder off,” and then provide no evidence to support that claim. There could be a dozen different reasons why the transponder signal was no longer received by air traffic control. Even if a transponder lost part of its function, such as altitude reporting, (something a pilot could switch off in the cockpit), it does not indicate that the pilot did so. Just because a pilot could do something does not mean he actually did. It could mean that the altitude-indicating functions of the transponder were interrupted—by electrical problems, for instance.
As an aside, I have spent many weeks in Indonesia and that part of Asia investigating terrorism and terrorist attacks. What I found was a reluctance on the part of host nations to cooperate fully in investigative tasks and a strong fear, bordering on paranoia about sharing investigative results. Our investigations were hampered, and the number of FBI agents allowed in-country to investigate attacks against Americans or American assets were greatly limited. This does not bode well for the investigation of MH370.
Another conclusory statement I have heard was that “..the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) has not been triggered.” This is not necessarily true. An ELT is like any other transmitter—including your cell phone—in that it relies on an antenna to broadcast a signal. If you disconnect any transmitter or receiver (such as your car radio) from its antenna, even though everything else might be completely functional, you would receive no stations. If the antenna of the ELT was disconnected for any reason, such as the aircraft coming apart, or an onboard fire, the device itself might transmit beautifully, but would have no antenna with which to broadcast more than a few feet from the aircraft. This type of scenario has occurred with enough regularity that the FAA is concerned about it. Most notably Sen. Ted Stevens’ plane crashed in 2010 killing everyone on board. No emergency locator transmitter signal was received. It was later determined that the emergency locator transmitter worked flawlessly, but during the crash, the antenna wire was severed. Certainly airliner antennas are more robust and better able to survive a crash, but they are not immune to fire or damage.
Fire inside airliners not as unusual as people would like to believe. In August, 1980, a Saudia Airline Lockheed 1011 suffered a cabin fire soon after takeoff, which many people still attribute to a passenger attempting to cook on an open fire; (not unheard of among religious pilgrims which made up the bulk of the flight’s passengers). When notified of the fire, the pilots donned their smoke masks and attempted to make it back to Riyadh Airport. They touched down safely and were even able to turn off the runway before being overcome by smoke. Tragically, and possibly because of the fire, they did not—or could not— depressurize the aircraft and firemen were not able to enter the aircraft. There were no survivors among the 287 passengers on board even though the aircraft landed safely.
In 1996, a ValuJet DC-9 experienced a fire which was caused by cargo in the forward hold near the nose of the aircraft. The pilot immediately turned back to the airport after takeoff, but the fire spread rapidly, progressively interrupting electrical power to the aircraft one system at a time, before it affected the pilot's ability to control the aircraft, likely burning through hydraulic lines and or cables. The DC-9 crashed without further radio communication and again there were no survivors. Both of these fires caused the death of everyone on board within minutes of the fire breaking out. Sometimes, the very first indication of an electrical problem is the inability to communicate outside of the aircraft. A less-stressful flying day
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
As a pilot, I have experienced an inflight fire in the cockpit. Ironically, this occurred 25 years ago this month, but the memories will never leave me. In March of 1989, I was the pilot of an FBI aircraft operating as “Ross 75,” in the process of a rendezvous with another FBI aircraft, “Ross 32” over the coast of Southern California. As I was communicating with Ross 32 and sliding into position well below him, a high-pitched, painfully-loud squeal erupted in my earphones and the earphones of my copilot. I instinctively looked at my gauges, and noticed that the electrical charge in the aircraft was pegged on the high side, well into the red zone. This was a very serious problem. It indicated that the alternator was putting out power wildly in excess of the aircraft’s needs, and I knew that the excess power would be routed directly into the battery, which would heat up, and had a high likelihood of exploding. I didn’t know how long I had to remedy the situation.
I keyed the microphone button and transmitted to the other aircraft, “Ross 32, ‘75’ is going to be off the air for just a second or two.”
No time for an explanation, no time for discussion, no time for anything other than the notification. Seconds after this transmission, a smoky fire erupted violently in my cockpit. I remember vividly the realization that I had only a few seconds to get the airplane safely on the ground—or into the ocean below me. The cockpit was filling rapidly with black smoke and I was having difficulty seeing out the windshield. A yellow glow under the instrument panel above my legs added urgency—this is an area shared by my legs and the fuel lines. The engine—ironically on the other side of the firewall—was running perfectly well.
I remember my first two steps—turn toward the nearest airport and lose altitude! Fires will burn into your fuel lines, into you, and sever control lines or cause major structural failure. We were fortunate. We were able to extinguish the fire by the time we reached 500 feet. But then, we had to deal with the fact that we had no electrical power, no communications, no transponder, flaps or landing gear, and were unable to even call for help. But we were fortunate. Had the battery exploded, no clue to our demise would have existed except my brief radio call “I’ll be off the air for a second.”
Recently, several friends (independently) forwarded to me the same article on the disappearance of MH370, written by a Canadian pilot by the name of Chris Goodfellow who had a startlingly simple and logical explanation to what might have happened aboard the ill-fated plane. Goodfellow’s article postulates that upon deviating from its intended course, MH370 did not turn to a random heading; it turned to a heading that, according to Mr. Goodfellow, led directly to the nearest runway large enough to accommodate a Boeing 777. If that is true, it speaks volumes to me. When I experienced my fire, I had one goal in life however short I felt that life might be: Get was my aircraft on the ground or in the water as soon as possible. I turned directly towards the nearest airport which would accommodate my aircraft.
The investigation of crimes and crashes share a truism: The most logical, simple scenario is usually the actual
scenario. The facts we have regarding MH370 are consistent with a cascading loss or deactivation of electrical and electronic componentry in the aircraft. That is generally not consistent with the takeover of an aircraft where the hijackers don't want to be seen by radar. If a hijacker has trained well enough to take over an aircraft and hijack it, he knows to turn off all the instruments all at once. He doesn’t have any reason to turn off one instrument right away, and then turn off another 15 minutes later. That makes no sense. However, a cascading failure of electronics is not only consistent with a fire or other malfunction in an aircraft, it is a leading indicator of that scenario.
I believe that it is entirely possible,
and consistent with the vast majority of known facts, that a fire of unknown origin aboard MH370 disabled its ability to communicate and eventually caused the incapacitation of the crew. The aircraft was likely “trimmed” for controlled flight, which would cause it to tend to remain in stable flight. If the crew and passengers were subsequently overcome by smoke, I believe all further flight occurred autonomously by the aircraft much as Payne Stewart's plane flew from Florida to South Dakota after its occupants were incapacitated. In that incident, the plane, destined for Dallas, flew north and continued for four hours before running out of fuel.
I believe that it is unlikely that we will ever find the crash site of MH370. But any search should likely begin at a location where the aircraft would have run out of fuel (considering the different fuel burns at the same power settings at lower altitudes.)
If the aircraft was below its cruising altitude, it would use an immensely higher amount of fuel per hour. HIJACKING?
There is abundant reasonable and mostly responsible speculation that the aircraft might be on the ground somewhere and that the passengers were kidnapped and may be alive. As a terrorism investigator, I do not find the logic of that scenario compelling. First, no ransom demand nor claim of responsibility has been made by anybody credible. Secondarily, the logistics required for such an undertaking are immense. The aircraft would have been on the ground now for well more than 10 days, and food and water for 239 passengers would be required (as well as dozens of guards to keep them in custody—remember, you have to have guards 24 hours a day, so assuming 8 hour shifts, triple the number of guards it would take to control the passengers at any given time.)
The other logical leap required is that nobody has noticed or reported a Boeing 777 in a place one has never been seen before.
Also, it takes at least five or six thugs to keep the passengers on an entire airliner passive in flight. And as the terrorists learned with United 93, sometimes even that isn’t enough. So they would likely need 10 or more thugs to control the passengers on a 777; and not one single individual meeting that definition has come to the surface.
Do I think that a hijacking scenario is impossible? No. Do I think it's likely? Not at all.
Also, “stealing” the aircraft to use as a weapon later
makes little sense. To use it, one would have to fill it up with jet fuel (approximately 45,000 gallons),
then, take off towards a target city thousands of miles and many hours of flight time away—all without a flight plan. It would be incredibly easy to identify, intercept and interdict an aircraft with a radar signature the size of the moon. As soon as it got within 1,000 miles of a major city, it would simply glow. As we saw with 9/11, the reason that terrorists must
use the aircraft immediately after acquisition is to take advantage of the temporary passivity of the passengers, the confusion of air traffic controllers, and the authorities’ reluctance to down an airliner full of innocent hostages. Once an airplane like MH370 is on the ground, there is no reason to believe that these hostages are onboard the aircraft anymore, so no reason to keep from shooting it down.
It is too early at this point to establish a proximate cause of the disappearance of MH370. But at this moment, I believe that Mr. Goodfellow’s scenario of a cabin fire (regardless of its source) is likeliest scenario. http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/
The criminal case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is, for all intents and purposes over.
The political circus is just beginning.
April 6, 2009, 3:32 a.m.: The quaint Italian town of L’Aquila, just 114 miles from Perugia, was struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. 297 people died.
October 22, 2012: In an event which sent shock waves around the world, the earth moved in Italy yet again when six Italian seismologists were arrested and charged with manslaughter for not predicting the L’Aquila earthquake. Incredulous experts from around the world testified that earthquakes are scientifically unpredictable at this point in the history of mankind—a fact disputed nowhere on earth, except one Italian courtroom. The scientists were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison—each. The main damage in this quake was to six innocent seismologists and the justice system of Italy.
The courts in L'aquila were devastated. In more ways than one.
Certainly, Italian ‘justice’ has a history of preying on its own good people. The Italian Inquisitions of the 1500’s and 1600’s are infamous for the persecution of people propounding scientific truth. The legendary scientist and astronomer Galileo, for example, fell afoul of the inquisition for espousing certain theories of Copernicus; in particular, the theory that the earth rotated around the sun—which it did and still does. A lot of people are unaware that Galileo died under house arrest in Italy. 1,250 other people are alleged to have been executed for similar “heresy” during this time. One would hope that nearly 600 years later, Italian justice would have improved. One would be wrong.
Tragically, on March 26, 2013, another feudal judicial decision was handed down when the Italian Court of Cassation, the Italian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to formally affirm the full appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, regardless of the fact that their innocence is almost as widely accepted and scientificlly proven as Copernicus’ theory.
Sadly, this is not an isolated anomaly. Italy is displaying with frightening regularity a type of vendetta-based ‘justice’ many are calling ‘medieval.’ In 1999, the very same Court of Cassation which failed to accept Knox and Sollecito’s proven innocence, ruled in a rape case that women wearing tight jeans cannot be raped. This was not the decision of a little back-water town judge remember, this was the Italian Supreme Court. The logic was based on the apparently inescapable conclusion that tight jeans could not be removed from a woman by an attacker. I suppose their conclusion is that man can predict earthquakes, but it is a physical impossibility for him to remove a woman’s jeans. The court ruled tight jeans could not be removed “…without the collaboration of the person wearing them.” I’m not making this up.
However, just this last summer, the Court of Cassation outdid themselves; they ruled that it is a crime to tell someone “You don’t have the balls.” Seriously. That this case even got to the supreme court in Italy is mind-boggling and indicative of the juvenile/macho mentality of most of the judiciary there. Their decision is incomprehensible. The court found that the phrase inherently implied “…a lack of determination, competence and consistency – virtues which, rightly or wrongly, continue to be regarded as suggestive of the male gender.” This raises a question I’m sure it would take a legal scholar and a Ouija board to answer: Would it be a crime to tell a woman “You don’t have the balls?” One could only assume it would depend on whether she was wearing tight jeans or not.
In the Knox/Sollecito case, a prosecutor (Giuliano Mignini) under indictment (ultimately convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison) created an incredibly complex, imagination-based case against two innocent kids in order to, according to many experts, shield himself from conviction or even further prosecution. During the Italian Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, the main charges besides heresy were sorcery, immorality and witchcraft. And Mignini’s allegations against Knox? She was a “strega” (witch) and she engaged in “satanic sex rituals.” Sounds vaguely familiar, no? Also familiar is the fact that no evidence existed to support the claims of either the inquisition or Mignini. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Mignini lied about evidence in public, violated any rule of evidence which did not support his case (in reality, nothing supported his case) and got a conviction he apparently hoped would raise no eyebrows. He was wrong.
When the case was appealed--almost automatic in Italy, where half of all cases are reversed on appeal--the first action of the appeals court was to order that Mignini’s “evidence” be reviewed by independent experts. Italy is not completely devoid of honorable justices; they are simply in the minority. The judge in this appeal had to be imported from northern Italy near Austria in the hopes that he would be free of bias. He was. He not only allowed modern science into the courtroom, he ordered it there.
DNA which prosecutor Mignini had claimed implicated Knox and Sollecito was found to have never existed, was intentionally or incompetently attributed, or so badly read that Mignini’s ‘experts’ couldn’t even tell gender by reading DNA. The police forensic investigation in this case made the Keystone Kops look like CSI New York. In a stinging rebuke, the appellate judge and jury not only exonerated Knox and Sollecito, but declared that the evidence didn’t simply fail to prove their guilt, but that it actually proved their innocence. The two kids were released after four years of unjust imprisonment. And that is where it should have ended.
But in Italy, as opposed to most democracies, a prosecutor can appeal even a “not guilty” verdict. In Italy, a prosecutor can keep re-trying a case until he gets a conviction. This ‘2 out of 3’ jurisprudence results in a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” legal system, where even evidence as solid as a rock can be rendered moot by a single sheet of paper. Mignini appealed the ‘innocente’ verdict, and the Court of Cassation rendered a verdict as stunning in its ignorance as the failure to predict the earthquake decision.
At this moment, news outlets are providing incomplete or inaccurate information on the case. To set the record straight, I would like to point out certain facts which are true at this moment:
Amanda and Raffaele’s exonerations have not been vacated. By Italian law, they are still adjudicated innocent persons.
No retrial has yet been ordered.
Not until the Court of Cassation releases their “Motivations” document in approximately 70 days or so will any decision have the affect of law. Retrial is a possibility, of course, but so is limited re-examination of certain pieces of evidence not already reviewed by the independent authority. There is no indication that the court has in any way challenged the validity of the independent authority’s review of the main pieces of discredited ‘evidence’ which led to the exoneration in the first place.
There is no indication that the court rejected any of the findings of the appellate court, their questions actually centering on why more of Mignini’s supposed “evidence” was not reviewed by independent sources. Still, the decision reminds me very much of the 1972 Olympic Basketball gold-medal game in which the Americans, leading the Russian team by 3 at the end of regulation, twice had the clock reset to 3 seconds by the Russian referees, until the Russians “won” on a miracle shot. 40 years later, nobody but the Russian team and referees believe that they won
The Americans celebrate after they had won the game the second time. (They lost after the third time Russian referees inexplicably put time back on the clock.)
Absent more interference, however, any retrial would still favor Knox and Sollecito because:
A retrial would be removed from the feudal, Mignini-controlled town of Perugia, and placed in Florence. Perugia has the judicial integrity of 1963 Selma, Alabama. Knox and Sollecito's exonerations on appeal were only possible because a judge and jury were brought in from out of town due to the bias of the locals.
The city of Florence knows Mignini. They are the city that indicted him and convicted him of malfeasance, sentencing him to 16 months in prison.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, however, not a soul seriously believes that Amanda Knox will ever spend another day in an Italian prison. Double jeopardy, corrupt prosecutors, absence of witnesses or credible evidence, perjury by the police, and the requirement that Giuliano Mignini present his case in an American federal court (which actually requires evidence, truth, and fairness) make the prospect of extradition at the request of a kangaroo court the stuff of Mignini’s dreams.
Pratillo Hellman, the judge in the Knox/Sollecito appeal stands by his and the jury's unanimous decision to exonerate Knox and Sollecito, saying that there was absolutely no evidence of the involvement of the two in the crime. He also stated that he expected that the court of cassation would overturn his verdict, due to its close ties with the prosecutor.
Ultimately, regardless of the results of this modern inquisition, Amanda will never serve another unfair day in an Italian prison. The case, therefore has significance only to certain people:
1. Prosecutor Mignini, still trying valiantly to clear his name of malfeasance and false prosecution charges while waiting on his retrial decision.
2. The sadly deceived family of the innocent victim who have put their faith in a crooked prosecutor and a carnivorous Italian lawyer desperate for a share of a settlement from the wealthy Sollecito family.
3. The sadly imbalanced, anonymous, basement-dwelling anti-Knox bloggers in Great Britain and America who have drunk the Kool-Aid of the prosecutor to the dregs and are focused more on hate than justice. This case will, for several more years give imagined purpose to their otherwise sad existence.
4. Raffaele Sollecito, who is at this writing still a citizen of Italy and vulnerable to the whims of a judiciary largely based on innuendo.
In case the reader perceives this article as an indictment of Italy or the Italian people, let me assure you that is not the case. Since the appalling ruling came down, I have received texts, phone calls, E-mails and social media communications from prominent, published Italian forensic scientists, professors, DNA specialists, criminal profilers and lawyers, decrying the decision and offering their pro-bono assistance to the Knox family. Indeed, after the exoneration of Knox in October, 2011, I spent two days with Amanda in Italy and witnessed an almost non-stop stream of Italian citizens apologizing (sometimes tearfully) for what happened to her. They hugged, they kissed and they smiled. They know what its like to live under that system. The Italian people deserve a better justice system. They deserve more Judge Hellmans.
While Amanda is in no real danger of ever being forced to submit to the corrupt Italian justice system again, (it’s a different story for Italian citizen Raffaele Sollecito), she can’t just do what the 1972 Olympic Men’s basketball team did and simply boycott a corrupt proceeding. They refused their silver medals and did not attend the medal ceremony.
Amanda can't do that. She has to spend money to defend her name. It’s just a shame that two innocent kids got robbed. Again. It took the Russian referees three tries to steal the honest victory from the Americans in Munich. It may take even longer for the Italians to steal Amanda and Raffaele’s “innocence.” That’s the sad part. Nobody but the Russians doubt that the Americans won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, and nobody but Italians, the ignorant and the malignant doubt that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.
Why then didn’t the Court of Cassation do the honorable and right thing and affirm the appellate decision? Why didn’t they act bravely and decisively? Why didn’t they exonerate two good kids in the face of overwhelming evidence of their innocence? Why didn’t they display the --in their own words--“determination, competence and consistency” which are suggestive of their own male gender?
Are they corrupt?
It seems to me that they just didn't have the balls.
Recently, the American public has been the eye-witness to a dark and horrible tragedy which sadly, can be attributed to little else but skin color. The Trayvon Martin case.
The formula is painfully obvious by now: Fear that a crime had been committed and the police were going to be of no help, combined with feeling of individual empowerment led to action before all the facts were known. I’m speaking, of course, of the rallies calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and conviction.
Zimmerman is likely guilty of manslaughter, if not murder. I am NOT arguing that he is innocent. Nor am I arguing that he is guilty. Zimmerman killed because he believed that he was right and didn’t need to wait for the authorities to do what was needed. This is a form of vigilantism. But many in the nationwide rallies are doing the same thing.
I am not surprised that there are people like George Zimmerman around. That’s not the issue in this case; the issue is the failure of a police department to act in a responsible manner, and the drumbeat for Zimmerman’s “arrest and conviction” at rallies around the United States. Calling for arrest, while premature, is understandable. Calling for a conviction is vigilantism. The facts are simply not known. As an FBI agent, even when I knew every fact there was to know; the court still decided whether the person was guilty; not me. This case has become tragically polarizing. It’s like the O.J. Simpson case, where evidence inexplicably appeared to break on lines of race. Both sides are suffering from extremism at their fringes. This case pushes all the standard liberal v. conservative buttons: Guns, race, the South, police, and prejudice. It's an absolute goldmine for people like Al Sharpton and Rush Limbaugh.
While it APPEARS to me that Zimmerman killed Trayvon without any real legal justification, I am troubled by the calls (from people like Al Sharpton) for Zimmerman's conviction and punishment. There is one incontrovertible, undeniable and obvious fact when any person calls for Zimmerman's "conviction": The person who uttered those words has prejudged the case. Prejudge is, of course, the root word for prejudice.
From a law enforcement point of view, it is hard to argue self-defense when Zimmerman appears to have chased down an unarmed man and confronted him in what appears from the phone tapes to be a very aggressive manner. Why he was allowed to possess a concealed weapon after an arrest for assaulting an officer, why he could carry a gun after domestic violence allegations is incomprehensible to me. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say he's guilty of at least manslaughter and possibly 2nd degree murder. But that's why we have courts and juries. All the facts are not in yet, it has not been before a judge or a jury (all of the things we fight and die for), and nothing is certain. O.J. Simpson was exonerated on much more substantial evidence of his guilt than exists for Zimmerman's guilt.
The point is this: WE JUST DON'T KNOW ALL THE FACTS YET! Even if we did, we're not the jury.
That said, it would be hard to mismanage a case worse than the Sanford Police Department has this one. A man was killed; and there is ample evidence that Zimmerman may have committed a crime, yet nothing was done--not even a cursory investigation, it appears. Even if the police had been pursuing an indictment or arrest, they told nobody. When a case begins to have a life of its own and the public has been given enough facts to feel resentment (justified or not), it is incumbent upon the authorities to completely inform the public on their actions and the reasons for their actions, if for no other reason than to prevent frustration, outrage and mass demonstrations.
However, with the exception of the shooting itself, there is nothing more troubling about this case than the demands from some immoderate people (e.g. Al Sharpton) for Zimmerman's "arrest" and "conviction." Not a thorough investigation; an "arrest and conviction." In the late 1800's and early 1900's, some white Americans in the south, with some regularity, decided that a certain person was guilty of a crime because of half-truths, rumor and skin color. If the police didn't do anything about it, they went out and lynched "the guilty party." These are some of the darkest and most repulsive acts in American history. And they all started with someone deciding on guilt before the courts had a chance to.
If you are right now searching for a label with which to brand me in order to marginalize the value of my words and are considering "racist," let me remind you that I spent nearly half my investigative career on civil rights and hate crimes squads. I was for several years the Los Angeles FBI coordinator for all white supremacist crimes. I was for many months the acting supervisor of all white supremacist investigations in Los Angeles. I lived among the Aryan Nations in Idaho and Washington in the mid-80's during a particularly violent period in their existence.
If you think my rhetoric hyperbolic; know that today, March 27, 2012, the New Black Panther Party has offered a $10,000 reward for the “capture and citizen’s arrest," of George Zimmerman, "dead or alive." Mikhail Muhammad, Southern Regional Director of the New Black Panther Party said today; “It’s time for us as black men to take justice in our own hands,” said the voice of moderation, “You kill mine god-damn it I got to kill yours.” Don't forget the rope, Muhammad.
The NBPP are sick, hateful people. But when people like Al Sharpton call for Zimmerman's conviction, he has in my humble opinion crossed a line into the very reasoning that was so prevalent in the south at the turn of the last century. The formula is the same: You have at least half the facts, a crime was committed wherein a person of your race is the victim and a person of another race is the perpetrator; therefore the alleged perpetrator is convicted in your mind. What else do you need? With few exceptions, the raising of a lynch mob certainly started with the phrase: "We all know he's guilty!" Al Sharpton says all he wants is "justice," which he defines as Zimmerman's conviction. This is frightening to me, but not surprising, as I have long been convinced that Sharpton a racist and an opportunist.
I do not think the rallies per se are problematic. When they simply demand a full and complete investigation they are in the greatest tradition of America. But there is a fine line between a 'rally' and a 'mob.' And it is this: When the rally demands an arrest, they presume to know all the facts. When they demand a conviction, they presume to be judge and jury. Sharpton has called the crime "murder," a legal term which presumes Zimmerman's guilt, and when asked to define what he means by "justice," he said that it included, "arrest," "a fair trial," "conviction," and "punishment" for Zimmerman. Calling for a "fair trial then sentencing" is a self-contradicting statement that originated in the days of the gulags.
In reality, Sharpton has shown himself to be a clone of Zimmerman. Zimmerman made assumptions based on race. Sharpton is making assumptions based on race. Zimmerman may have believed in his mind that he was doing what was best for society, that he was an avenging hero, and that he was ensuring justice. Sharpton seems to believe the same thing about himself. The allegations against Zimmerman are that he thought he knew all the facts he needed to make a life and death decision, that he was a person who had the delusional believe that he was the final arbiter of "justice," and because of that, acted before he really understood the truth.
Who does that sound like to you?
The Contract of Command
No man or woman ever knows how they will react when their life is in danger. I hope, and I’m sure we all hope we would react in a such a way as to earn self-respect, if not honor—but we just don’t know. However, a decision to accept a position as a ship captain, airline pilot, fireman, policeman, Coast Guardsman; any position where danger is possible and the job gives you responsibility for the lives of others, is in effect a contract. A contract in which the implicit agreement is that the lives of others come before your own. It is a guarantee that you will do as promised. You are, as the old saying goes, acknowledging that “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” So if it appears that anybody is being criticized in this piece for cowardice, it is not criticism of character or a human failing common to many, the criticism is aimed at a person who apparently defaulted on a contract; the contract of command.
A fence is never needed until something pushes against it. Similarly, courage can never be measured until fear is present. One can test a fence by simply pushing on it, but gauging a man’s courage is difficult absent imminent danger.
Fight or flight. At one time or another, nearly everyone wonders how they would react if their life was on the line and they had a choice of acting or running. Those who rise to the occasion are said to have “the right stuff.” There is no polite phrase for those who fail in those situations.
Captain “Sully” Sullenberger answered all his own questions on January 15, 2009. His decisiveness, skill, and calmness are now legend. Sully’s friends describe him as “shy and reticent,” but beneath that shyness lay the makings of a hero. Finding himself in an engineless, 75 ton flying fuel tank over Manhattan with the lives of 148 people on his shoulders, Sullenberger knew that he had just one or two chances in a thousand to survive. Over the shouting of the electronic voice of the plane, “pull up pull up pull up pull up…..” the questions from air traffic control, and the attempts to restart the engines, he thought quickly, decided on the only realistic option, and flawlessly ditched the airliner in the Hudson River next to Manhattan. Listening to his confident, decisive communications on the radio is nothing if not inspiring, if only for knowing what “the right stuff” sounds like.
Two days short of three years later, on January 13, 2012, Francesco Schettino, captain of the luxury Costa (Carnival subsidiary) Cruise liner “Costa Concordia” also answered his own questions and provided the world an example of what “the wrong stuff” sounds like, via his radio communications with the Livorno Port Authority.
Somehow, a cruise liner in good weather ran aground. It apparently did so during a “Salute” to the island of Giglio. A ship’s ‘salute’ is a close sail-by of land to generate excitement and is the nautical equivalent of the aviation “buzz-job,” itself one of the leading causes of fatal aircraft crashes. This ‘salute’ was allegedly intended to raise the visibility of the cruise line. It worked. Costa Cruise line rules allegedly prohibit the ship from coming within a half mile of land while underway. Schettino claimed to be no nearer to land than .29 miles. The charted rocks he hit, however, were 450 feet off shore. It is said that he might have been distracted by a beautiful 25 year old blonde who was somehow a guest on the bridge after witnesses say she and Captain Schettino split a carafe of wine. But the even more troubling issue than how it happened, is what occurred after the ship ran aground. The commander of the Livorno Port Authority is Gregorio De Falco, and De Falco had by Italian law, control of the scene. He contacted Schettino by radio after being told that the captain of the Costa Concordia had abandoned ship with passengers aboard.
Gregorio De Falco: "Hello. Hello."
Francesco Schettino: "Good evening, captain."
De Falco: "Hello, I'm de Falco, from Livorno. I am speaking with the commander?"
Schettino: "I'm Commander Schettino."
De Falco: "Listen Schettino, there are people trapped aboard, you go with your lifeboat under the prow of the ship on the port side and you go aboard the ship using the rope ladder. You go aboard and you tell me how many people there are. Is it clear? I'm recording this conversation, Commander Schettino."
“I’m recording this conversation, Commander Schettino.” De Falco knew the gravity of the situation and he knew what he was saying. He was obviously stunned that the captain of a foundering ship had fled, leaving his crew and passengers behind. I must admit that I too am stunned, as is the world, likely. De Falco felt that it was necessary to threaten the captain with exposure of his cowardice if he would not return to the ship.
One cannot help but compare this to Sullenberger’s demeanor as his plane plummeted at over 200 miles per hour toward downtown Manhattan. Sullenberger’s words in the cockpit and on the radio were strong, decisive and inspiring. In contrast, Captain Schettino was speaking with such diffidence that De Falco had difficulty understanding him.
Schettino: "So, I'll tell you something..."
De Falco: "Speak louder."
Schettino: "Now, I'm in front of..."
De Falco: "Commander, speak louder, take the microphone and speak loud. Is that clear?"
Schettino: "Commander, right now the ship is skewed. [listing to starboard]"
De Falco: "Understood. Listen,…….. you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for sure. Go aboard, (expletive)!"
But even then, Schettino argued that his presence was not needed aboard.
Schettino: "Commander, please?"
De Falco: "Please, now you go aboard!"
Schettino: "I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven't gone anywhere, I'm here."
De Falco: "What are you doing, commander?"
Schettino: "I'm here to coordinate rescues."
De Falco: "What are you coordinating there? Go on board and co-ordinate rescues from on board! Do you refuse?"
Schettino: "I'm not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there."
De Falco: "Go aboard: it's an order*. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?"
(* Once a captain has abandoned his ship, he no longer commands it, it is under the control of nautical search and rescue command.)
Schettino: "Commander I'm going aboard."
De Falco: "Call me from aboard, my rescuer is there at the prow of the ship. There are already dead bodies, Schettino."
Schettino: "How many dead bodies?"
De Falco: "I do not know. One for sure. You have to tell me how many!"
Schettino: "Do you realize that it's dark here and we can't see a thing?"
De Falco: "And what, do you want to go home, Schettino? It's dark, so you want to go home...? Go on the prow of the ship, using the rope ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what are their needs. Do it now."
Schettino: "Here there is also the vice commander. I'm together with him."
De Falco: "Then go aboard together. Together. What's his name?"
De Falco: "Dimitri what? You and your vice go aboard. Now, is it clear?"
Schettino: "Commander, I want to go aboard, but here there is the other lifeboat, there are other rescuers who stopped. Now I called other rescuers."
De Falco: "You've been telling me this for one hour. Go aboard. Go aboard. And you tell me right away how many people there are."
Schettino: "Ok commander."
Just because a man has the coordination and the skill to handle a ship doesn’t mean he has what it takes to be a captain, especially when lives are at stake. Skill at navigating a ship can no more guarantee suitability as a captain any more than the fact that a male can produce sperm guarantees that he would be an adequate father.
Not only did Schettino fail, but it appears that his flight led some of the crew to abandon the passengers with him. Undoubtedly, there were brave crew who stayed and may have even paid with their lives, but they did this in spite of their captain. But make no mistake, Schettino’s acts were not the first in the tragic string of events. Nor was hitting the rocks. It was that he had been given command in the first place.
In the cases I worked in the FBI, particularly those perpetrated by the most violent, evil men, there had been a trail of acts, behaviors and episodes where the person’s personality was tipped-off. And in each of the cases, innocent people lay dead because the responsible people had shirked their duties. Schettino was responsible for the safety of thousands of people. With apparent failure of courage this blatant, could it be possible that there were no indications of Schettino’s inability to handle fear prior to this crisis?
Carnival has a responsibility to determine the suitability of a man or woman to command. There is no excuse anymore in today’s world. There are ways to weed out those who cannot ‘cut it.’ Even more traditional methods could have determined his fitness for duty. Marine Boot Camp, as horrible and stressful as it has been described, is not that way as some kind of sick initiation, it is to weed out those who cannot function under extreme duress or fear. Drill Instructors and the fear they instill are two of the main reasons that cowardice under fire is not something that people think of when they hear the words “United States Marines.” In a perfect world, Schettino would not have been given command, and he would have been spared what must be the worst experience of his life. He is not evil, he was just incapable of what was asked of him. And somebody in authority likely knew that. They were simply betting on the odds that his courage would never have to be tested.
Fortunately, Costa Cruise lines has now realized the magnitude of the tragedy and has made quick, astute moves to prove to the passengers and the world that they understand the gravity of the situation: They have offered the surviving passengers (and I’m not making this up) a 30% discount on a future Costa cruise. If that doesn’t restore your faith, I don’t know what will.
De Falco’s soon to be famous statement to the fleeing captain; “Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for sure,” ended with the Italian phrase, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” “Go on board, ‘cazzo’!” Cazzo is Italian profane slang for male genitalia. De Falco had lost all respect for a Schettino and was goading him to “man up.” Interestingly, there are already T-shirts with the phrase, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” being made. Possibly it will enter the lexicon as a phrase intended to shame cowards into meeting their duties. Finally and pitifully, Schettino later explained his departure from the ship by saying that he had “tripped into a lifeboat,” a statement which only exposes the depth of his deficiency as a captain.
But to be fair, Sullenberger is not perfect either. After he skillfully ditched his A320 in the Hudson river, he deviated from the aircraft checklist and did not comply with what a captain should do. The checklist told him to don a life preserver, open the cockpit window and evacuate the aircraft.
Instead, Sullenberger left the cockpit but not the aircraft. He left the cockpit through the interior door, going into the sinking rear cabin of the plane to ensure that everyone was out. Twice. When the last crewmember besides the captain boarded a raft, the airplane was halfway under water. Sullenberger, however, had one more thing to do. He went forward one last time to retrieve the aircraft’s logbooks to aid in the investigation of the crash before he departed—the last to leave the ship. The right stuff.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed to ensure America’s freedom to travel. Instead, they have made air travel the most difficult means of mass transit in the United States, at the same time failing to make air travel any more secure.
TSA has never, (and I invite them to prove me wrong), foiled a terrorist plot or stopped an attack on an airliner. Ever. They crow about weapons found and insinuate that this means they stopped terrorism. They claim that they can’t comment due to “national security” implications. In fact, if they had foiled a plot, criminal charges would have to be filed. Ever hear of terrorism charges being filed because of something found during a TSA screening? No, because it’s never happened. Trust me, if TSA had ever foiled a terrorist plot, they would buy full-page ads in every newspaper in the United States to prove their importance and increase their budget.
I have a unique position from which to make these statements. For 25 years, as many of readers know, I was an FBI Special Agent, and for many of those years, I was a counter-terrorism specialist. I ran the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) Al Qaeda squad. I ran the JTTF’s Extra-territorial squad, which responded to terrorism against the United States or its interests throughout the world. I have investigated Al Qaeda cell operations in the United States, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, just to name a few. The FBI and the CIA provides the lion’s share of actionable intelligence on threats to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (the mother organization of TSA), so that they can tailor security screening to the actual threat.
I am, as I have said before, a political conservative, a law and order kind of guy and I get misty when the national anthem is played at a football game and jets fly over in salute. If anything, I am pre-disposed to support the United States government.
I have been a pilot for more than 35 years. In the early years of my career, I flew aircraft for the FBI and I amassed 6,500 hours of flight time. I worked my way through college with United Airlines and was cockpit qualified to move the airliners around the ramp, fuel them and service them. I know aircraft. My father, a former FBI Agent, worked for United from the time I was 12. We used our flight benefits to travel more than anybody I know, taking round-the-world vacations nearly every year and jumping airliners like hobos jump freight trains. During my FBI counter-terrorism years, I traveled 100,000 to 200,000 miles per year. I am intimately familiar with airline travel.
My father's position at United Airlines was Manager of Security. He had this job in the 70’s when airline security was in its infancy and he helped pioneered security procedures including the first magnetometers. He has written two textbooks on airport, aircraft, and airline security, and sat on FAA sponsored committees on airline security.
As a SWAT Agent, I was fully trained to interdict hijackings. I have trained countless hours on actual airliners, learned to shoot surgically inside the airliner “tube,” silently approach the aircraft and breach exterior doors quickly. I was also trained to shoot from airline seats in case I was aboard a hijacked flight, and for 25 years I traveled armed on airliners, meeting with Air Marshals prior to each flight.
I have dealt with TSA since its inception and FAA security prior to that. I have witnessed TSA operate since they became a separate organization in 2002 and seen their reaction to intelligence provided them. I have now watched them operate for a decade, and I have respect for their hard-working employees who are doing a thankless job. But I have come to the conclusion that TSA is one of the worst-run, ineffective and most unnecessarily intrusive agencies in the United States government.
TILTING AT WINDMILLS
The entire TSA paradigm is flawed. It requires an impossibility for it to succeed. For the TSA model to work, every single possible means of causing danger to an aircraft or its passengers must be eliminated. This is an impossibility. While passengers are being frisked and digitally strip-searched a few dozen yards away, cooks and dish washers at the local concourse “Chili’s” are using and cleaning butcher knives.
While bomb-sniffing dogs are run past luggage, the beach at the departure end of LAX is largely unpatrolled, and anybody with a shoulder launched missile (you know the ones they regularly shoot down U.S. helicopters with in Afghanistan) could take out any plane of their choice. I am reticent to discuss anything further that would give anybody ideas. However, these two have had wide dissemination in the media but are by NO means the biggest threats.
I sometimes ruminate while standing in line waiting to take off my shoes, remove my belt, laptop, iPad, etc., etc., about the improvised weapons I saw in prisons and how hard they were to find. It’s fascinating what weapons prisoners can make out of plastic forks, newspapers and toothbrushes. Ask any prison guard if an inmate can make a weapon out of an everyday item, and how long it would take them. Approximately 99% of what the average traveler carries on a plane would be considered contraband in a maximum security prison, due to the fact that it can easily be converted into a weapon. Toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks, pens, pencils, anything with wire (iPod headset), any metal object which can be sharpened, etc., etc. is a potential weapon. Carried to its logical end, TSA policy would have to require passengers to travel naked or handcuffed. (Handcuffing is the required procedure for U.S. Marshalls transporting prisoners in government aircraft.)
TSA’s de facto policy to this point has been to react to the latest thing tried by a terrorist, which is invariably something that Al Qaeda identified as a technique not addressed by current screening. While this narrows Al Qaeda’s options, their list of attack ideas remains long and they are imaginative. Therefore, if TSA continues to react to each and every new thing tried, three things are certain:
1. Nothing Al Qaeda tries will be caught the first time because it was designedaround gaps in TSA security.
2. It is impossible to eliminate all gaps in airline security.
3. Airline security screening based on eliminating every vulnerability will therefore fail because it is impossible. But it will by necessity become increasingly onerous and invasive on the travelers.
SCREENING IS STILL IMPORTANT—DONE RIGHT
TSA’s “major malfunction” as R. Lee Ermey would say, is that they do not understand the threat. At least their reactions to the threat indicates an extreme naiveté regarding terrorists, their tactics and their operational philosophies. One of the major reasons that Al Qaeda has not successfully mounted a major attack in the United States since 9/11 is that Al Qaeda is analogous to a political action committee (PAC) or a political candidate. They live off donations from “legitimate” radical Muslims throughout the world. These donations are crucial, and there are many causes which compete for them. In order to keep getting those donations, Al Qaeda can’t appear to be losing, weak or incapable of an attack. Therefore, they actually put themselves in a little bit of a bind after 9/11: Their success was so spectacular that it has become almost impossible to duplicate it, much less create an even more spectacular act. Any attack that seems smaller in scope than those already achieved would make it appear as though Al Qaeda was “slipping” and terrorism dollars might go elsewhere, say to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
Failure is not an option for Al Qaeda; they are as risk averse as the public relations department at Disneyland. Al Qaeda is a brand to protect, and failure is bad for the brand. If there is a one in ten chance that an attack will fail, the powers-that-be will not likely green-light it.
TSA screening, as it is now, is so predictable and known that Al Qaeda can know with absolute certainty what they can and cannot get through screening. That is valuable intelligence for them. In a word, TSA is predictable. This increases Al Qaeda’s chances of success. It reminds me of counter-espionage surveillances against our cold-war adversaries the Soviets. They were followed nearly all the time and they knew it. A good Soviet intelligence officer would identify the surveillance and the agents and vehicles involved in the surveillance. Then, he would be able to fulfill his “drops” and communications knowing where the surveillance was at any time. When you can see the surveillance, you know exactly what you can and cannot get away with. Only when they could not see the surveillance were they truly intimidated.
TSA would have significantly greater affect with a random-selection type of process. The benefits of random selection are: Approximately 80% fewer screeners needed, complete unpredictability of the likelihood of a search, and extremely effective searches of those, say 10%, selected. It would not reduce by 1% Al Qaeda’s belief that they could get through screening with a weapon. A 1-in-10 chance of a full search is too much of a risk for Al Qaeda. They do not plan their attacks on the “Well, it’s got a decent chance” method. They require a sure thing. Putting explosives in a shoe and depending on a 10% chance of failure are odds they will not accept. So rather than ineffective (yet incredibly intrusive) screening of 100% of the passengers, there should be highly effective screening of an unpredictable 10% with a reduced screening requirement for the other 90%, say a magnetometer and bag X-ray, allowing people to wear their shoes, belts and pacemakers through screening.
THE VIRTUAL STRIP SEARCH
Is this really okay with you?
These are images created by the TSA’s “Backscatter/Body Imaging X-Ray” scanner. The images are not, they say, detailed enough to cause anybody any embarrassment. Frankly, they are intimately detailed. I am stunned, quite frankly, that the same people who fought against the Patriot Act because it was invasive and violated privacy rights have not howled about this invasion of personal privacy rights.
I recently asked a TSA officer whether a man or a woman was conducting the screening at my “device.” I was told that it varied and they didn't know right at that moment. I declined being screened by the machine to see what the procedure was. I was then frisked—and told that by rule, I could be frisked only by a man. Good. I get that. But then, why aren't there male and female devices where like-sex screeners view the virtual strip searches. I have to be blunt here, I have a serious issue with any man I don’t know and who is not our doctor, seeing under my wife’s clothing. Maybe I’m old fashioned.
An immediate demand should be that these devices be operated with male/female devices with same-sex screeners. If that can’t be accomplished, then TSA needs to explain why. By the way, “money” will not be accepted as a justifiable reason. They’re spending enough to cover it on other things. Don’t take my word for it; listen to a report by congressional investigators released just two months ago: “Today, TSA's screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public.”
Translation? TSA doesn’t know what it’s doing, but is trying to put on a good show to keep the traveling public from catching on. The report, entitled, “"A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform"
sharply criticized the agency, accusing it of incompetent management. Former DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner dropped this bomb, “The ability of TSA screeners to stop prohibited items from being carried through the sterile areas of the airports fared no better than the performance of screeners prior to September 11, 2001.”
Frankly, the professional experience I have had with TSA has frightened me. Once, when approaching screening for a flight on official FBI business, I showed my badge as I had done for decades in order to bypass screening. (You can be envious, but remember, I was one less person in line.) I was asked for my form which showed that I was armed. I was unarmed on this flight because my ultimate destination was a foreign country. I was told, "Then you have to be screened." This logic startled me, so I asked, "If I tell you I have a high-powered weapon loaded with a dozen rounds of high-caliber ammunition, you will let me bypass screening, but if I tell you I'm unarmed
, then I have to be screened?" The answer? "Yes. Exactly." Another time, I was bypassing screening (again on official FBI business) with my .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and a TSA officer noticed the clip of my pocket knife. "You can't bring a knife on board," he said. I looked at him incredulously and asked, "The semi-automatic pistol is okay, but you don't trust me with a knife?" His response was equal parts predictable and frightening, "But knives are not allowed on the planes." OUT OF CONTROL
Civil libertarians on both sides of the aisle should be appalled at an unauthorized use to which TSA is putting their screening: Identifying petty criminals--using one search method to achieve a secret goal. This is strictly forbidden in other government branches. In the FBI, if I had a warrant to wiretap an individual on a terrorism matter and picked-up evidence of a non-terrorism-related crime, I could not, without FBI Headquarters and a judge’s approval, use that as evidence in a criminal case. But TSA is using its screening devices to carve out a niche business. According to congress, TSA began to seek out petty criminals without congressional approval. TSA have arrested more than 1,000 people on drug charges and other non-airline security-related offenses to date.
The report goes on to state that the virtual strip search screening machines are a failure in that they cannot detect the type of explosives used by the “underwear bomber” or even a pistol used as a TSA’s own real-world test of the machines. Yet TSA has spent approximately $60 billion since 2002 and now has over 65,000 employees, more than the Department of State, more than the Department of Energy, more than the Department of Labor, more than the Department of Education, more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development---combined.
TSA has become, according to the report, “an enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy more concerned with……consolidating power.”
Each time the TSA is publically called to account for their actions, they fight back with fear-based press releases which usually begin with “At a time like this….” Or “Al Qaeda is planning—at this moment …..” The tactic, of course, is to throw the spotlight off the fact that their policies are doing nothing to make America safer “at a time like this.” Sometimes doing the wrong thing is just as bad as doing nothing.
The TSA unions are now fighting against any reduction in staff, such as by implementation of more efficient protocols, hiring of contractors, or less draconian screening. It is simply not in their best interest for screening to get quicker or easier because that would require fewer screeners. The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica (R-FL) scolded; “It is time for TSA to refocus its mission based on risk and develop common sense security protocols.” THE QUEEN HAS NO CLOTHES
Just when I was getting to think that the backscatter x-ray images were humiliating, degrading or invasive, Susan Hallowell, Director of the TSA research lab eased my fear by consenting to have her backscatter image made public.
That’s Ms. Hallowell in the upper photo. And the two below--same day, same time. See? What’s invasive or embarrassing about those photos? Obviously, I’m overreacting. Several things about these photos struck me; first, I of course noticed that the backscatter x-ray has cleverly detected the gun on her hip (it’s the black object just above her thong in the far left picture). That the gun would have been found by magnetometers in service since the 1970’s is likely not something they would like us to dwell on. Secondarily, I am struck by the similarity of this demonstration to the fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In that tale, a king is swindled by tailors who create for him a suit of clothes that are invisible to incompetent people. Of course, nobody would admit that they didn’t see the clothes for fear of being branded unfit for their jobs, and certainly the king wasn’t going to say anything.
Looking at these photos, I wonder if something similar isn’t going on here. It is as if patriotic, loyal citizens who care about security and the United States of America and the lives of their fellow citizens will not see this as an abuse of power. Anybody who views these images as dehumanizing, humiliating, unnecessary or abusive are obviously not against terrorism and care little if airplanes filled with families fall to the ground. But in this situation, it is essential that we shout “the king (or in this case the queen) has no clothes!” Going along with the status quo is the exact opposite of protecting Americans, it is the opposite of saving lives, it is the opposite of preventing terrorism, and it is the opposite of freedom and personal rights.
With the congressional spotlight on the organization, TSA is finally feeling what it's like to be screened. It has walked through the detector of bureaucratic failure and the red light has gone off. It’s time that we ask congress to have TSA “step over to this area” for a more thorough search. For once, "TSA screening" will be productive. I predict that dangerous amounts of inefficiency, derivative thinking, and reactive policy will be located, if not in their shoes, in their DNA.
Since this article was published, I learned that a former FBI executive who I respect and admire had been named as the TSA chief for Los Angeles International Airport--LAX. This was heartening because I realized that this was one of the guys in the FBI who "got it." I was encouraged--until I realized that he was likely just there to enforce edicts from Washington, not change things from the ground up. My favorite quote from this once-boss was in regard to fighting battles with management and trying to change things; "Any time you feel like you want my job, take a canvas bag of broken glass, pour it all in your mouth and chew it well. Then you'll get an idea of what it's like."
Yes, I was initially heartened. Then, I saw a publicity photo of him standing in front of a backscatter X-ray machine.
Glenglassaugh (glen GLASS’ uch) is a single-malt Scotch that I suspect few if any of us have ever tasted. I say this not because I believe we are Philistines (I certainly don’t), but because Glenglassaugh is so expensive and rare. This fine Scotch comes from the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands where the barley and the water are so unique and superb that they are de rigueur for the finest Scotch distilleries.
For those less versed in Scotch, “single-malt” is the variation of Scotch that derives from a single aged oak barrel, rather than a mixture of the contents of several barrels, which is how other Scotches are blended. Blending multiple barrels is a technique used to bring up the overall quality of a year’s production by mixing good barrels with poorer barrels. Single-malt barrels, in contrast, are chosen specifically for their superior quality and are kept ‘virgin’ in order not to dilute their excellence. They are identified early in the aging process and regularly moved into different aging locations to change temperature and humidity to perfect the cask as the years go on. After a minimum of three years, the Scotch may legally be called Scotch (as long as it’s made in Scotland, of course) and it may be bottled. However, three years is hardly enough for single-malt. Many of Glenglassaugh’s single-malts are aged for decades and cost over $150 per bottle. You can even buy a full barrel (un-aged at purchase) for a mere $7,500 and within ten to twenty years, you’ll have a great cask of Glenglassaugh.
Oddly enough, I was musing over this recently as I was leaving my high school class reunion. This was the first time I had ever really gone to a full-fledged high school reunion. You see, I’m a pessimist. Not by nature, but by decision. I very much dislike disappointments and letdowns, yet I always seemed to be the guy who “believed” in long-shots and doomed-causes long after everyone else had seen the light. I was the kind of guy who strolled into a Chevrolet dealership in 1974 determined to buy a Vega because I was sure that the one I got wouldn't be a piece of crap. Years after Sony had given up on the Betamax, I still refused to convert to VHS, counting on a "Beta" comeback. Following my call for a recount the morning after Ronald Reagan beat my candidate Jimmy Carter, my family conducted an intervention (and an exorcism). I finally sought help. Under doctor’s orders I underwent radical therapy; I adopted the Chicago Cubs as my favorite baseball team and for the last 30 years have had every last bit of optimism ruthlessly beaten out of my soul, (and I'm now a Republican). It is because of my hard-won pessimism that I knew that I would never go to a high-school reunion.
I have heard every reunion horror story, and I knew what to expect. Poseurs, losers and braggers. And I knew that I would, inevitably, become one of the three before the night was over. It’s almost inescapable when at a reunion; the ego stakes are simply too high. Because in a way, the reunion is a report card on your life. No matter what you have accomplished in intangibles like raising good children, giving to charity, helping old ladies across the street, your entire life will be graded within five minutes by everyone you speak to. And even if nothing is said, you will see it in their eyes. I would, I was certain, be judged by my weight, hair (or lack of same), grace in aging, financial wellbeing and career. So I feared that I would be graded a loser or would try to be something I wasn’t. It’s a survival instinct.
Sadly, as my 35th high-school reunion neared, I fell off the wagon of pessimism and I had a severe relapse of optimism. This was caused by a series of freak events: My favorite football team, the San Francisco 49’ers went on an unexpected winning streak. Then, against all odds, I got a contract for my first book, and I suddenly realized that I had gone almost 20,000 miles in my Chrysler minivan without a transmission failure. Obviously, none of these things can be explained in purely human terms, so you can understand my confusion. In a fit of optimism about which I still feel shame, I caught a plane to Chicago for the reunion of the Buffalo Grove High School Class of 1976.
What I found at the reunion rocked me to my socks and set back my optimism aversion therapy probably for a lifetime. Inexplicably, it seemed, I had a fabulous time. I loved those people. In preparation for the event, I had memorized the “You can’t go home” adage (took me days), and had planned that each time I experienced an awkward silence because I had nothing in common with one of my old friends, I would simply repeat it silently to myself and the world would make sense. But as my old friends and I met up again after 35 years, something weird happened: We got along fabulously. There were no awkward silences. In fact, at times, I had the distinct feeling that we were continuing a conversation that got cut off last weekend, not in 1976.
Even people I barely knew in high school became new friends at the reunion. In 1976, Mary the winsome redhead and Cindy the cheerleader were both “out of my league” and I knew it. Now, Mary and her husband live on a spread in South Dakota big enough that people can hunt on it and she’s working on a book. Cindy manages a radio station and basks in the success of a son who recently passed the bar. Both were larger than life at the reunion and two of the highlights of my night. Friend after friend blew away my preconceived notions; Laura, Mark(s), Catherine(s) , Lance, Alysia, Tims(s), “Chaddy,” Steves(s), Anne, Nancy, Keith, Michelle, Tom……I was amazed at the quality of the people I had the privilege to go to high school with. I had no idea back then. Today, my old party-pals and fellow classroom clowns are musicians, cops, school teachers, stock brokers, authors, airline pilots, senate staffers, screenwriters, coaches, fire fighters, engineers, geologists, even a rabbi and a minister. It was quite a cast of characters. In more somber moments, we recounted the members of our class who would not be attending any more reunions because they had left us. By this reunion, the number that we knew of had reached double-digits, and it was a sobering and sad thought.
Rather than fizzle like some reunions, ours continued even after the banquet hall closed. Then after the bars closed. Then, after they threw about thirty of us out of the lobby of the hotel. And then it continued in the empty restaurant the hotel graciously opened for us. At 3:30 a.m., twenty or so were still sitting around a huge makeshift table as our classmate Tim strummed his guitar and alternately serenaded us and played songs from our years in high school so that we could all sing along. How did I never know he was that talented back in 1976? For just a moment, I felt like we had gone home. But for only a moment, and it seemed like nobody really wanted it to end.
But by 4:15, the realization was hitting most of us that we could only hold on to the moment so long, and like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, we had to grow up and get on with life. We reluctantly hugged, kissed, shook hands and promised to keep in touch and went off in different directions to our rooms. The next day, we continued in different directions at 500 miles per hour. I felt true sadness that the moment ended, not sadness at what time had done to all of us. Because frankly, time had been a friend. No, we hadn’t recaptured our youth, we hadn’t “gone home,” nor were we reliving our high school 'glory days.' Maybe we realized that we would never want to recapture our youth.
On the way back to my hotel, my thoughts went to the conversations we had traded that night and I realized that no one hid behind the mask of “the perfect life.” Everyone at one time or another spoke of hidden pain, hardships and loss. Not one person wallowed in them, but neither were they afraid to admit them, to share their challenges and the ways they got through them, not because they wanted sympathy, but so they could encourage others. It was if they instinctively knew that everybody our age had been through hell at least once, and if you were on top one moment, you might be in a valley the next. It wasn’t a major topic, but it was there, and it was refreshing, and it was encouraging to see how people had overcome.
IT'S THE FIRE THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
And as I drove, my mind went to Glenglassaugh. Not because I needed another drink. I was reminded of two little-known requirements for the making of fine Scotch. Fire and Bourbon. The best Scotch brands are aged in American Bourbon barrels that have had the interiors charred by firing. It is that charred barrel, steeped and aged in Bourbon that makes Scotch spectacular. When the Scotch alcohol first comes out of the pot still it is called, appropriately, “new spirit.” It is perfectly clear, colorless, and has a strong, undisciplined character much closer to “moonshine” than fine liquor. In high school, everyone at that reunion had been “new spirits." We had a sharp, in-your-face character, un-mellowed by any hard lessons or aging, because we hadn’t had any.
But if aging alone would have mellowed us, everyone would be fine with age. But we know that is not the case. And it is not the case with Scotch. If aging alone could do it, there would not be rules about the cask, and the way the liquor is aged. The finest liquor experiences the harshest aging. The hotter the summers and the colder the winters the better the liquor. Temperate conditions create tepid flavor. Stagnation will create a poor Scotch, also. Sitting without any kind of activity takes the character out of the barrel, so the barrel has to be rotated frequently. Sitting and stagnating also create poor human beings. Finally, in Scotch, approximately 10% of the barrel evaporates during aging, and this is known as “The Angel’s Share.” It’s a simple equation; you can’t get a truly exceptional Scotch without experiencing loss. Every single person at that reunion had experienced loss, some more recently than others; every single person had given up “The Angel’s Share” in their life. And it seemed that the ones who had experienced the most loss were themselves the most “refined.” But ultimately, it is fire that makes a tepid, store-brand Scotch into a work of art and makes the “new spirits” into amazing creations.
As the sun came up, it hit me that I had spent the evening with a group of single-malt friends. Not one of us had lived our lives without experiencing pain, loss or grief. Cancer, divorce, the death of friends and family, loss of jobs, financial ruin….nobody I spoke to had gotten through the last 35 years unscathed. We had all experienced the fire. And I realized that it was that fire; the pain, the loss and the recovery that had made these people extraordinary. It turned out that pain and what we learned from it might have been the common bond that we now had.
In June, 1976 in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, several hundred high school seniors graduated and moved out into the world with high hopes for the “good life” and few problems. That same month, in Speyside, Scotland, Glenglassaugh Distillery put up several barrels of “new spirit” into used, distressed, charred oak Bourbon barrels from Tennessee. This month, 35 years later, a remnant of that high school class met a few miles from the school which helped form them. They had experienced the fire of life, yes, but were stronger and better in most cases. They had mellowed, were more interesting, and their essential “bouquet” was more unique and pleasing than ever. Also this month, in the Scotland Highlands, the casks put up in 1976 were finally unsealed and poured into cut-crystal decanters, aged and distressed perfectly. The rare 35 year old Scotch went on the market for more than $500 per bottle. If these bottles are as mellow and full of character as the Buffalo Grove class of the same year, Glenglassaugh will be proud. In Scotland, as in Buffalo Grove, the exquisite result of aging and fire is recognized as having unusual value.
In the very near future, I plan to have a single shot of the finest single-malt Scotch my wallet will allow. And I will sip it straight, slowly enjoying its myriad of flavors, and contemplate the things that created those flavors. And I will think of my classmates who have aged so wonderfully, and contemplate the lives and the fires that created their wonderful character. Finally, I will drink to our classes’ ‘Angel’s Share;’ the ones we’ve lost in the process. With any luck, I will be remembering my classmates with that 1976 Glenglassaugh masterpiece, which they have appropriately named;
"The Chosen Few."
Amanda Knox; An Innocent Girl
Finally Goes Home
I met Amanda Knox for the first time a few days ago, following her release from an Italian prison after serving four years for a crime she did not commit. I am grateful that I had not met Amanda before I got involved in the case.
Not meeting Amanda prior to my involvement in the case probably saved me from prison time myself. Had I known her personally, I do not know if I could have waited for the agonizingly slow wheels of Italian justice to free her. Amanda, you see, turns out to be a truly spectacular person; even more intelligent than I had expected, even more empathetic than she had been described, and even more gentle than I had anticipated. More and more, the fact that she of all people was targeted by a malicious, psychologically-challenged rogue prosecutor raises the level of irony to almost absurd levels. So at a time when I should have been feeling only relief and gratitude, I had to fight a seething vicarious anger at four years taken from a good person. Amanda herself seems to bear no malice, and wonders only how anybody could believe she did what prosecutor Giuliano Mignini charged her with.
The events of the last week have washed over me like a tidal wave, and I have not caught up with the emotion, the reality or the impact of what took place. I do not feel that I am ready to write at length about the events in Perugia last week, but I wanted to communicate a few thoughts in the meantime.
The most beautiful part of the “Not Guilty” verdict for Amanda and Raffaele came in the way Italian law demands that a verdict be couched. In Italy, a person can be found not guilty for two reasons (and I paraphrase the language):
1. Not guilty due to insufficient evidence. (Not guilty)
2. Not guilty due to the fact that the person did not commit the crime. (Innocent)
The first option is a passive statement, but the second is a positive declaration ofinnocence, not simply lack of guilt. It says not that the prosecutors failed to meet their burden, but that the evidence proves that person charged did not commit the crime. It is not simply release, it is full exoneration. That is the verdict Amanda and Raffaele received: Not guilty because the evidence proved that they did not commit the crime.
In a piece in Wednesday’s International Herald Tribune, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Timothy Egan wrote, “There was no way, based on forensic evidence that was a joke by international standards and a nonexistent motive that played into medieval superstitions, to find Knox and Sollecito guilty….” The claim of the prosecutors that there was a trace of the victim’s DNA on the blade of a knife used by Amanda to cut bread was, “….nearly laughed out of court by an independent panel of [DNA] experts.” The independent experts did find something on the blade, though: Bread Starch. (Rye). Out of nowhere.
It must be pointed out that Amanda’s exoneration did not come from an American court. The U.S. State Department (God knows) didn’t do anything to help her. The U.S. government abandoned her in a despicable, cowardly way, frankly. No, the exoneration of Amanda and Raffaele occurred in an Italian court. A court in the same Italian city in which they were first convicted by a judge who, if he is not corrupt, has not even a basic understanding of evidence and the rule of law. The kids were exonerated in the same courtroom in which the first trial was held. By a jury of Italians, not Americans. Jurors who wore sashes in the colors of the Italian flag. They were once again prosecuted by the same prosecutor (who is still appealing his own prison sentence for corruption). Only the judge was different. And this judge demanded evidence. And this judge demanded justice. Judge Pratillo Hellmann made Italy justifiably proud. I have been in more Federal Courtrooms in the United States than I can count. The controlled, careful and fair manner in which Judge Hellmann conducted this trial was, if anything, superior to what I have come to expect even in a U.S. federal court.
In Italian law, after a not guilty verdict, a defendant already incarcerated in prison obtains their release several hours later at the prison. Only very rarely will a judge order that a defendant be “released immediately.” On those rare occasions that this occurs, according to Italian attorneys I spoke to, it is considered a ‘slap’ at the prosecutor(s). Judge Hellmann ordered that Amanda and Raffaele be “released immediately.” The immediate release was an obvious signal of the judge’s extreme dissatisfaction the prosecution.
Following the verdict, a crowd of over 1,000 Italians formed around the courthouse, and a cheer went up when Amanda’s sister Deanna spoke of her release. Many times in Perugia, I experienced an indication of the overwhelming Italian sentiment of Amanda’s innocence. Italians would learn that I was involved in the case, and I would find that my drinks had been paid for, unrequested desserts came to the table, and strangers came to encourage or to hug me. People who spoke no English would walk past and cross their fingers in the “good luck” sign, smiling. The Italian public had figured this one out.
At the end, the Italian (legitimate) press was vociferously in Amanda’s corner. Immediately following the verdict, I looked over at two of my newfound friends in the Italian television media, and tears were rolling down their smiling cheeks. The prosecutor Mignini tried to couch this trial as racism (the actual murderer was black), and then as nationalism (big, bad America trying to step on poor little Italy). But in doing so, he only managed to prove the truth of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s immortal 1775 quote: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Insightfully, the judge, the jury and the Italian public chose to disregard his attempts at jury nullification and decided this case on fact rather than jingoism and prejudice.
Sadly, the vindictiveness of a corrupt local system is not easily escaped. About half an hour after the initially popular verdict, a “spontaneous” anti-Knox demonstration began outside the court. In a striking bit of serendipity, the “spontaneous demonstrators” just happened to have megaphone with them that night, and all knew what they would chant. Though in jeans and polo shirts, the demonstrators (all men between their middle-20’s and late 40’s) bore startling, almost eerie individual resemblances to the dozens of policemen who had originally signed the warrants against Amanda and Raffaele, and who had been in court that night in a “show of solidarity.” Many of those officers are the same ones suing Amanda for claiming that she had been slapped in her interrogation. (The required tape of the interrogation of prisoners in Italy is inexplicably absent. Go figure.)
After the ‘impromptu’ demonstration, the men began individual fist-fights with Italian Amanda supporters, (I counted at least five such fights) and generally shamed the town of Perugia at a moment when the city deserved to be basking in the glory of the world spotlight. I want to point out here that the people of Perugia are good, honorable people, by and large. The Carabinieri (military) police in the town are honorable and professional. But the local police and the local prosecutor ruthlessly run the town. As an example, while we were in Perugia, five people were arrested---in the courtroom---by the local police. All for criticizing the prosecutor in some way or another. My wife was one of those arrested, and awaits a decision as to whether she will be charged with “contempt” which carries with it a possible three-year prison sentence.
The relief I feel at Amanda and Raffaele’s release is indescribable. I also feel additional relief that on-line Amanda-haters are by and large a thing of my past. We had dealt with them until now only to counter their hateful propaganda in front of an uninformed public. Now, it’s not even important to answer them because truly, nobody cares about what they say anymore.
They and others who refuse to accept this Italian court verdict (while arbitrarily accepting the first court’s verdict) are already receding into insignificance, and even the echoes of their hateful diatribes and death threats are fading into the ether. I do not think that they will ever be convinced of Amanda’s obvious innocence, nor do I think they are done spewing propaganda. Frustration produces anger, and like an infant who throws a tantrum when put down for a nap, I assume they will make a lot of indiscriminate noise that does nothing but irritate those around them. But they can now be grouped by society with those who claim to have been kidnapped by UFO’s, doubters in the moon landings and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. As one of my favorite philosophers, Stan Marsh of “South Park,”once said to Eric Cartman about such conspiracy mongers: “25% of society is crazy.” This is truth, and it is truth that the anti-Amanda crazies will continue to validate. But now they have been refuted by the same justice system they touted for years, and eventually, like the child put down for a nap, will become distracted and move on to other things. They will soon be looking for new things and people to hate. (Though those of them who crossed the lines of civil and criminal behavior will soon find that they have not been forgotten and that legal redress waited only for Amanda’s repatriation.)
What remains is to ensure that this does not happen again. As Egan said, “Perhaps the tide from Perugia will lift other boats.” For this to happen, though, pompous prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, forensic perjurer Patrizia Stefanoni, and mind-reading detective Edgardo Giobbi (and others), must be prosecuted for their corruption. The judge who rubber-stamped the lies in the first trial, Massei, must also be called to the bar of justice—or back to law school. That is what will occupy some of my time for the next few years, I’m sure. But for right now, I am in the mood to bathe in the warmth of the freedom of Amanda Knox. The sunshine of the justice she obtained should warm the entire world.
At this moment, I find that the word “elation” is woefully inadequate to describe my emotions. Euphoria might be a closer word, but euphoria eventually fades. As long as I live, I will remember that late night in the courtroom when two innocents were rescued from a cabal of evil men.