HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 4)

Welcome to part 4 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Damn, you also missed part 3? What’s up with that? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 4)

After Mummer Qaddafi died, it was time to name a new Longest Ruling Dictator.

Enter Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, who has not undertaken this burden lightly.

Obiang came to power in this tiny oil-rich nation in 1979 in a very original way: he ousted his uncle in a coup d’état. For some reason, six whole years passed before Obiang generously took full control of the national treasury in order to protect his civil servants from the terrible temptation of corruption.

Lucky for the people of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang and his family are immune from such temptation, likely because Obiang is in permanent contact with the Almighty, according to the very objective state-run radio station. That’s why everybody was totally cool with Obiang putting more than half a billion dollars of the country’s money into U.S. bank accounts controlled by him and his family.

You read that right: U.S. bank accounts. Not every dictator relies on numbered accounts in Switzerland. Indeed, Obiang’s son, also named Teodoro, adores the United States. He attended Pepperdine University and fell in love with Malibu, where he purchased a beachfront mansion so he would have a place to show off his Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a crystal-covered glove and crystal-covered socks, and to park his many Lamborghini after driving home from his private Gulfstream G-V jet.

Teodoro Obiang.png

Teodoro Obiang the Younger attempts an awkward moonwalk in his palace.

He also owned not one but two fifty-foot speedboats, each with a $2 million price tag, and one of which he had shipped to Hawaii for a vacation, where he promptly capsized it and had to pay $400,000 to salvage it. And just in case this evil-dictator’s-playboy-son-cliché wasn’t complete, Obiang Junior dated, of course, a Danish beauty queen.

(On a side note: that same beauty queen, Christina Mikkelsen, won the title Miss Denmark 2016 and will compete in the 2016 Miss Universe contest, which is supposed to be held in the Philippines, which has its own dictator angle in Rodrigo Duterte.)

According to a Department of Justice lawsuit, Obiang the Younger spent around $315 million on properties and luxury goods between 2004 and 2011. For some reason, the number crunchers at Justice couldn’t figure out how he had managed to do that when his official salary was only around $100,000 a year. But I say don’t castigate the guy. He should get kudos for working so hard, because it takes real effort to spend about $45 million a year on someone’s used socks.

Up next: How to go from Breadbasket to Hell in a Hand Basket.

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HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 3)

Welcome to part 3 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

You also missed part 2? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 3)

The Godfather of Africa’s dictators was easily Muammar Qaddafi, the yardstick by which everyone measured every other dictator. Other dictators became “the longest serving dictator after Qaddafi” because the guy ruled Libya for 42 years.

Much like U.S. politicians who like to remind voters they come from hard-working families with modest backgrounds and were raised castrating pigs, Qaddafi informed his people that his father was a Bedouin goat herder and thus he was a pull-yourself-up-by-the-goat-skin-boots kind of guy, a self-made autocrat who had successfully ousted a monarchy in a coup. After kicking out the king, he then insisted on being called King of Kings, which his people must have found hilariously ironic.

Like many sons of goat herders who become absolute rulers, Qaddafi was lavish. He started with crisp military uniforms laden down with more medals than Michael Phelps and later moved on to the colorful flowing robes of a Bedouin as he nurtured his pan-Africanist movement. He reinforced his Bedouin image by pitching a tent in capital cities across the globe during his international travel. He often parked a camel just outside for full desert effect. Never one to take his security lightly, the tent was bulletproof. The camel was not.

qaddafi-medals

Qaddafi had to earn his medals. Being King of Kings helped.

 

Also not bulletproof were the women in Qaddafi’s Amazonian Guard, badass female bodyguards in lipstick and heels who swore an oath of chastity and were officially known as the Revolutionary Nuns. He also had nurses, plenty of them and mostly from Ukraine, one of whom was described in a WikiLeaks cable as “a voluptuous blonde.”

But all the chaste love and Ukrainian caregiving couldn’t save Qaddafi, who also, unfortunately, was not bulletproof. He and his loyal companions discovered this in a drainpipe in Sirte, Libya, where rebels shot the King of Kings.

Fittingly, some reports state he died wearing a wig. While in retrospect it is easy to say that maybe he should have worried more about quashing a rebellion than taking time to place faux tresses on that big squishy head of his, cultivating an image of a spritely leader had always been part of his winning strategy (up to that point, at least).

Usually, he was very good about prioritizing his looks with other necessities. Once, in the middle of a procedure to pump his stomach fat into the wrinkles on his face, he got up to eat a hamburger, briefly setting aside his vanity to concentrate on his hunger.

qaddafi-hands-up

At the United Nations, Qaddafi makes an impassioned plea for hamburgers for everybody.

But on October 20, 2011, both he and his wig succumbed, finally giving someone else the chance to be Africa’s longest ruling dictator.

Next week: Africa’s Newest Longest Ruling Dictator

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Missed part 1? Read it here.

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 2)

As I mentioned last week, Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko never named himself President for Life, which worked out okay for him, because he died in exile.

In an embarrassing twist for Mobutu’s neighbor to the north, Central Africa Republic’s Jean-Bedel Bokassa did name himself President for Life but came nowhere close to fulfilling that promise. Bokassa took control of the country in a coup d’état in 1966, overthrowing President David Dacko (who also happened to be his cousin), and declared himself President for Life in 1972.

Four years later, Bokassa toyed with the idea of being a great Islamic leader, converting to Islam in the hope of securing foreign aid from Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi (more on him later). In another demonstration of his humility, he took the name Saleh Eddine Ahmed Bokassa, after basically one of the most revered Muslim warriors in history.

But a few months later, he saw the light, the “light” being the fact that Qaddafi was not going to come through with the cash. He converted back to Catholicism and, like so many failures before him, turned to his backup plan: Crowning himself emperor.

In a chintzy move, Emperor Bokassa I spent only about one-third of Central Africa’s annual budget on the ceremony to crown himself emperor, leaving the other two-thirds for his regular travel to Paris, because who the hell wants to spend any time in a country that’s completely crumbling? The $20 million party nearly bankrupted the country, excuse me, empire, but Bokassa received financial help from France, which needed the uranium that was so abundant in Bokassa’s new fiefdom.

The ceremony lasted two days, with troops in fancy dress uniforms and a mini-Bokassa, the new emperor’s four-year-old son (from his sixth out of, like, 19 wives; people eventually stopped counting) and heir apparent, in a tiny white military uniform with gold trimmings, riding in a horse-drawn carriage. You can see it on YouTube. It’s actually quite adorable, this toddler tyrant who can’t get into the carriage on his own and who yawns while attendants fawn over him. The future of the empire was in strong but tiny white-gloved hands.

Bokassa spent much of the ceremony sitting on a two-ton solid gold eagle-shaped throne, a symbol that he was full of solid gold shit. And he wore an ornate, diamond-encrusted crown, made in Paris, of course.

bokassa

Even this bird wanted to get away from Bokassa.

But as any college exchange student knows, French lovers can be so fickle. They inevitably go back to their wife, even if you are atomically well endowed. The French government backed deposed President Dacko in a coup to oust Bokassa in 1979. To prove there were no hard feelings, they eventually allowed Bokassa to live in a chateau outside Paris before he chose to return to his homeland in 1986. He served some prison time in Central Africa but was ultimately released and died at home in the capital, Bangui, in 1996.

Oh, and rumors that Bokassa was a cannibal were never proven. The fact that I even have to mention this should worry you.

Next week: The Godfather of African Dictators

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES (Part 1)

Welcome to my 7-part series on dictators, an irreverent guide to some of history’s worst people and part of my effort to bring geopolitics and history to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but are too lazy to read The Economist.

I’ll be releasing a new segment of this essay each week. If you’d like the entire essay now, please join my mailing list and I’ll send it to you. It’s that easy!

Want more laughs? Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of CIA and the War on Terror. One reader “thought it would be funnier,” but agreed it was “still a very enjoyable book.” I hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, enjoy learning about dictators!

HIGH HEELS, WIGS, AND FLAMBOYANT ROBES

OR

DICTATORS

(Part 1)

I love dictators.

Before you jump all over me and remind me in righteous tones about how horrible dictators are, I know: Dictators are just the worst. But I’ll remind you that, despite this, many of our freedom-loving governments have had no problem kissing up to dictators when it serves their national interest. I believe Henry Kissinger called that Realpolitik.

I will also point out that some countries thrived better under their dictators than they do now under all the freedom and democracy we have so generously spread. But I will leave that for the historians to debate and the politicians to distort. Because when it comes to dictators, I am a sucker for the cult of personality.

My favorite dictator, hands down, is Mobutu Sese Seko. For 32 years that went by like a blink for most of his adoring people, he ruled Congo, a country he renamed Zaire and that is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (side note: the word “Democratic” is often used rather loosely in naming countries; this is a good example).

A brief history of the Congo: At the end of the 19th century, Belgium’s King Leopold II was jealous that he didn’t have his own colony like his European neighbors, so he declared the Congo—which he had never actually seen in person and which he never did see in person (in fact, he never once went anywhere in Africa)—was his property. He then got all the other white people to agree to this arrangement.

He named it Congo Free State (again, “Free” was used rather loosely) and proceeded to use the country’s vast resources to stuff his own wallet while he did horrendous things to the Congolese people.

leopold-ii

Having beaten other European leaders in a beard-growing competition, Belgium’s King Leopold II won a colony in Africa.

Mobutu must have studied history, because after he took power in 1965 in a coup d’état, he pretty much did the same thing. Mobutu was extremely motivated to be the most solid personification of a kleptocracy ever. Using state funds, he built an elaborate Chinese pagoda in the most logical place imaginable: the middle of the African rainforest—an overgrown garden oasis in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, which must have really lowered construction costs. He then imported fish from China to fill the pond in the yard.

He also razed enough trees to be able to build an extra long runway to accommodate a Concorde, which he chartered from Air France and used for shopping trips to Paris, because really, how much time can one spend in one’s pagoda? It’s in the middle of an inhospitable rainforest, for fuck’s sake.

In case using state coffers as his own wasn’t enough to endear him to his people, Mobutu knew a strong name would certainly convince them to love him. So shortly after taking power, the former Josephe-Desire Mobutu changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko, which means, “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”

It’s a great name.

If you come across someone named Leopold, you’re probably in a sandbox and you want to throw mud at him. But the all-powerful warrior who leaves fire in his wake? I will follow this guy to hell and back. Which is kind of what Mobutu’s people did, except they made it to hell and the country pretty much stayed there for Mobutu’s entire rule.

In another wonderful parallel to Europeans who deeply understood their people’s needs, Mobutu’s first wife was named Marie Antoinette, making a fantastic companion for sipping pink Champagne in that jungle pagoda while asking her people why don’t they just eat if they’re so hungry?

After she died, Mobutu took his mistress as his second wife. That meant he needed a new mistress, and for that, he chose his new wife’s identical twin sister. That’s either really weird or incredibly genius. It’s kind of like wanting to spruce up your wardrobe but buying the same leopard-skin hat you already have so you never have to apologize to the first hat because you thought it was her all along.

One thing Mobutu didn’t manage to do, besides lift his country out of devastating poverty, was get himself named President for Life, which is too bad because he almost was. In May 1997, Laurent Kabila, with a little help from the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, overthrew Mobutu in a new coup. Mobutu fled the country and died later that year in exile in Morocco.

mobutu

Mobutu tries to figure out if the person he is looking at is his wife or his mistress.

Next week: Which chintzy dictator skimped on his coronation?

The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers (Part 6)

Welcome to the final essay of my 6-part series, The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers. Last week, we learned about the State Department being the responsible kids who clean up after CIA and NSA and how your drug experimentation in college is likely responsible for the rise of Boko Haram.

Thanks to everyone who has forwarded this series and supported the launch of my book, Victor in the Rubble, which will be available next week!

Remember, you can sign up for my mailing list to get snark delivered straight to your inbox and to get tons of emails about my upcoming book launch parties in Washington, DC, New York City, and Denver. Go sign up. You know want to.

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Missed Part 2? Read it here.

Missed Part 3? Read it here.

Missed Part 4? Read it here.

Missed Part 5? Read it here.

 

The Intelligence Community:

Smart People Looking at Computers

(Part 6)

 

Central Intelligence Agency

The CIA are the cool kids. Everyone wants to sit at their table, which means it’s really hard to find a spot to park yourself nearby, just like the parking lot at the Agency in real life. Most people don’t understand exactly what CIA does or how it does it. As a result, their perspective is shaped by popular culture, so people figure CIA guys do cool spy shit and must be getting laid all the time.

But once you do hang out with them, you realize they eat their lunch just like everyone else in the cafeteria. Some of them probably even brought lunch from home, a sad little sandwich in a plastic bag that got squished on the way to work. They will be so normal that you will be disappointed they didn’t arrive in a remote-controlled invisible car like James Bond or assassinate someone right in front of you like Jason Bourne. But that won’t stop you from announcing to everyone else you know that it was the coolest hang out ever.

This is the agency I know most about, because I was lucky enough to be a non-essential employee there for a few years.

CIA is made up of four Directorates. Scratch that. The Director just announced a reorganization of the place and the creation of a fifth Directorate, which sounds like a movie starring Tom Cruise: “In the battle between good and evil, the truth will be revealed when the chosen one has achieved control over five groups of sheeple intent on wreaking havoc across the universe. Tom Cruise is up for the fight of his life. He has entered…the Fifth Directorate.”

This reorganization is coming at a tough time: right when I am trying to write about the Agency. This chapter is accurate at the time of this writing, but by the time you read it, it might be OBE, as we say in the business: Overtaken By Events. That leaves you, Dear Reader, to take my fragmented information and draw your own best conclusions. Just like intelligence in the real world.

The Directorate of Support provides soothing words and a safe place to share your worries and self-critique. Sorry, that’s my support group. The Directorate of Support is the Agency’s administrative branch. It provides whatever support analysts and operators need to do their jobs. In theory.

In reality, support officers have 4,768 different forms that all ask the same questions in a different order. You must fill out at least six of these forms to do anything and you must get them signed by 37 different people, 13 of whom are on flex time today and at least two of whom are at an off-site but will be back next week, except for Tuesday, when they will be hosting a quilt competition down in the atrium in honor of Amish History Day.

Many support officers also let computers think for them. If the computer tells them something can’t be done, then it can’t be done, because no human being could possibly override this all powerful machine. You’d like to fly Delta instead of United? Sorry, the computer won’t allow it. I understand you’re telling me you have three children, but the computer says you only have one, so we’ll only pay to move one to your new location.

Good support officers are heaven sent. Bad support officers leave you crying into a beer glass that you had to borrow because your stuff never arrived because your support officer was completely serious when he said he wouldn’t ship it until you had worked out that one cent accounting discrepancy.

The Directorate of Science and Technology provides all the cool technology and gadgets CIA needs to collect information and run operations. They make disguises and prosthetics so Tom Cruise can pull his face off. They built the Insectothopter, a tiny UAV that looks like a dragonfly. The project was dropped because the mini-drone was susceptible to crosswinds and large amounts of lobbying by defense contractors who wanted to make big drones. One of S&T’s greatest inventions was the hot dog vending machine, several of which are scattered around Headquarters.

The Directorate of Digital Innovation was created while I was typing this sentence. As such, no one knows yet how it will work in real life. In theory, it will conduct cyber-espionage and keep any digital or cyber communications by agents and officers safe. And if it is at all like NSA, it is recording my every keystroke.

The Directorate of Intelligence was renamed the Directorate of Analysis while I was in the middle of writing this chapter. As its new name would suggest, they analyze things. They use any and all sources available to them to study the shit out of a topic and draw conclusions from contradictory and incomplete information for policy makers to use to make decisions that will decide if the country implodes or explodes or not. It’s a lot of pressure, which is why analysts often look harried as they walk through the corridors with their heads down.

The Directorate of Operations was changed to the National Clandestine Service in the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act and was changed back to the Directorate of Operations two paragraphs ago. That’s good news for folks who never bothered to change their coffee mug and have that old DO mug still sitting in some desk drawer somewhere. These are the operators, the people who go out and do what you think spying is. There are a number of different job functions, but the Core Collector—that is, the person who goes out and collects intelligence—is usually a case officer, sometimes called an operations officer, depending on what generation the officer is from and if they refused to ever call it NCS because it was the DO damn it and should stay that way and it’s about time the director realized that and changed it back!

In the end, the main function of CIA is to collect and analyze intelligence. This requires a lot of people in different roles, but at its core, it comes down to two people: the analyst and the case officer.

Case officers are the people in the field. Without these people collecting information, no one else in the chain has a job. As a result, everyone tends to hate them.

Analysts analyze the information. They use phrases like “paradigm shift” in everyday conversation and hedge every declaration they make: “Homeland is the best show on television, except for any other show that might come along or maybe already exists, and I say that with 64 percent confidence.” A common joke in Agency hallways goes like this: How do you tell if an analyst is an introvert or an extrovert? The introvert looks at his shoes. The extrovert looks at someone else’s shoes. Get it? Because apparently all analysts look at shoes.

Analysts find this joke very funny and occasionally even laugh at it. They are also some of the most intelligent people I have ever met, although paradoxically some of the least smart. I’d worry about offending them by saying that, but they are too busy looking at my shoes to read what I just wrote.

These people could tell you, off the top of their head and with great enthusiasm, the tensile strength of a single component of a plutonium bomb built in June 1949 at the Chelyabinsk-40 weapons plant in Russia (not to be confused with Chelyabinsk-70 plant, you moron), and that analyst will be bursting like a child in a candy store while recounting this information to you and offering to draw you a figure to help you understand. But put that same analyst in, oh, pick any foreign city, and they’ll say, “Hey, these shoes look different. That’s odd.” And then they’ll go back to their screens and books.

Case officers, on the other hand, have no patience for footnotes and full sentences and have probably already stopped reading this sentence. When they write, subject-verb correlation is optional. But a case officer can find a copy of Playboy’s November issue and a bottle of Johnnie Walker in the middle of a Middle Eastern country on a Friday.

The Agency, particularly the DO/NCS/DO, has a wonderful Headquarters-field dynamic that usually looks something like this: People at Headquarters have big titles and like to feel like they have control over operations because they manage the budgets and the lawyers. People in the field tend to dislike people at Headquarters for getting all up in their business when it’s the field officers who are out there with their balls hanging out and risk getting arrested or killed or having their source arrested or killed while you’re sitting in your cushy office drinking coffee from the Starbucks downstairs, or in someone else’s cushy office networking to get that hardship tour in Europe.

Here are a few interesting things about the Agency you might not know (although the Russians surely do) that give some insight into the culture of the place but hopefully won’t get me redacted by the censors:

The building is buzzing with motorized carts. It’s a big place and when you sit in a cubicle all day after a requisite stop at Starbucks, some people also become big and moving around becomes difficult. These carts sometimes come with cup holders for those people’s three-gallon-sized cup of Diet Coke.

Most of the cafeteria workers are Chinese. No one seems to see the irony of this.

If you’re undercover, you have to buy your food in cash. If you forget to bring cash, you will starve because no one at the Agency has any mercy, according to a Senate report. In reality, someone will be nice enough to lend you a few bucks because they know you are trustworthy and will pay them back.

The geese in the courtyard are Canadian, which is why there is always a sign posted in the corridor warning employees of “Foreign Visitors in the Area.”

Parking at the Agency is notoriously difficult. I once managed to find a close-in parking spot and felt triumphant all day. But at the end of the day, out of habit I walked way the hell out to the outer spaces where I usually parked, only to realize I had walked past my car about 20 minutes before. I also lost my car in the parking lot several times and once a friend had to drive me around to find it.

The place is remarkably shut off from the world. When I meet friends who still work there for evening drinks, they often ask, “So, what happened in the world today?” This would frighten me if it didn’t make me laugh so hard.

The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers (Part 5)

Welcome to Part 5 of my 6-part series, The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers. Last week, we learned who controls the satellites that are controlling our minds and who knows what we really think about our relatives’ significant others.

I’ll be releasing the final (and best!) section (on CIA!) next week. But if you’d like the full essay now, sign up for my mailing list and I’ll send you the whole thing, for free, with a personal thank you note! Your very own thank you note from a former spy! Written in invisible ink! Just kidding. You’ll be able to read it. But sign up! Now! Go!

And be sure to check my book pageVictor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the War on Terror, will be published April 15. We’ll be hosting all kinds of fun parties and events, including come-in-disguise parties in Washington, DC, NYC, and Denver. Sign up for updates! And check out my indiegogo page for more details.

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Missed Part 2? Read it here.

Missed Part 3? Read it here.

Missed Part 4? Read it here.

 

The Intelligence Community:

Smart People Looking at Computers

(Part 5)

 

Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research

State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research has the acronym INR, which makes you wonder if it’s actually the Bureau of Intelligence ‘n Research. According to its web site, it “harnesses intelligence.” I think that’s a fancy way of saying it analyzes intelligence, but I may be wrong and State’s intelligence is planning to climb a mountain.

INR produces intelligence reports to help diplomats be diplomatic. They provide evidence in a tactful way.

State Department officers are the responsible kids. Whenever NSA or CIA have a massive party and break everything, State cleans up the mess and calms down Mom and Dad when they threaten to throw the little jerks out. They also smooth things out with the neighbor whose house got lit on fire.

Army Intelligence, Navy Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, Marine Corps Intelligence, Coast Guard Intelligence

These agencies collect and analyze tactical and strategic military intelligence for their respective branches, and as intelligence agencies, they are all under command of the Pentagon, with one exception. The Coast Guard did something to piss off someone in high places because it got sent to live with the evil stepparent better known as DHS. I could dig into reams of amended federal code that explains why and how, but I won’t, because I know DNI has it under control. We are in good hands.

Drug Enforcement Administration

These are the buzz kill guys. They are the reason you are hooked on Oxycodone and not cocaine. You might be really pissed about that if you weren’t so legally high.

They will remind you that the Taliban grow and sell opium to fund their war against us, and that South American drug cartels fly their product to West Africa, where it moves north to Europe, but not before moving through al-Qaeda and Boko Haram territory and everyone deals their deals. As a result, if you do drugs, you are fueling arms shipments and crazy ass terrorists.

I’d be really worried about this if I weren’t taking Xanax.

Department of the Treasury

Do you remember that scene in All the President’s Men when Deep Throat tells Robert Redford to “Follow the money”? That was good advice, and the Department of the Treasury was paying attention. It turns out, if you want to covertly build a nuclear weapon or amass a load of illegal weapons to use in a terrorist attack, you need to buy things. Those nukes don’t just grow on trees. They require cash. They also require willing intermediaries, who sell secrets for cash. Basically, trafficking in any product is a cash industry, and Treasury watches the money and slaps sanctions on people breaking the rules.

Department of Energy

I always imagined the Department of Energy must be full of really energetic and bubbly people. Its Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence is entrusted with keeping safe the “brain trust” of DOE’s myriad plants and national laboratories, where, I imagine, lazy rats are just getting fat and happy off the system. DOE also ensures the security of our nation’s energy supply, to make sure our computers stay on and all these IC folks have something to look at.

Up Next: CIA

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The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers (Part 4)

Welcome to Part 4 of my 6-part series, The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers. Last week, we talked about the happy employees at the Department of Homeland Security and how they can’t wait to welcome you home by asking why the fuck you left the country in the first place.

I’ll be releasing a new section of this essay every week. But if you’d like the full essay now, sign up for my mailing list and I’ll send you the whole thing, for free, with a personal thank you note! Your very own thank you note from a former spy! Written in invisible ink! Just kidding. You’ll be able to read it. But sign up! Now! Go!

And be sure to check my book pageVictor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the War on Terror, will be published in April. We’ll be hosting all kinds of fun parties and events, including come-in-disguise parties in Washington, DC, NYC, and Denver. Sign up for updates! And check out my indiegogo page for more details.

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Missed Part 2? Read it here.

Missed Part 3? Read it here.

 

The Intelligence Community:

Smart People Looking at Computers

(Part 4)

Federal Bureau of Investigation

At an Intelligence Community (IC) meeting, the FBI representative is the one in the corner without a chair and who is happy just to be invited, not realizing he wasn’t invited but his boss caught wind of the meeting by chance at the last second and sent whoever wasn’t out getting coffee.

That’s because the FBI didn’t used to do intelligence. Up until the 2004 IC reorganization, the FBI was a law enforcement agency. In just a few years, it had to adjust from catching bad guys and building a case to put them in jail to watching bad guys just to see what they were up to. It’s a very hard habit to break.

One of the tools FBI put in place to help it gather intelligence is the Joint Terrorism Task Force, or JTTF. These centers bring together local, state, and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies so they can share information. If anyone can explain to me how these differ from Fusion Centers, I’m all ears. I’d ask the DNI but I don’t want to hear about those goddamn Imagineers again. Fuck you, Mickey Mouse.

Defense Intelligence Agency

DIA is the CIA for the military. It conducts operations to collect human intelligence related to combat, including the military intentions and capabilities of foreign governments and non-state actors, like Gerard Depardieu, who lost the support of his government years ago.

DIA’s Wikipedia page lists a bunch of people who spied on behalf of DIA but were then found out and executed. I’m not sure if DIA realizes it can go on Wikipedia and edit all that out. It might make it easier to recruit assets, because this is not a track record to instill confidence.

National Security Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and National Reconnaissance Office

NSA, NGA, and NRO are the geeks but we totally respect them because they can do some really cool shit.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, you already know what NSA does. And so does everyone else in the world, including all the targets we really need intelligence on. When Snowden revealed the NSA spies on people, everyone was shocked that a spy agency would spy on people. But wonders never cease.

Depending on your perspective, NSA either listens in on every phone call you make and reads every email you ever sent and knows what you really think about your sister’s new boyfriend, or it has legitimately built certain capabilities that allow it to access sensitive personal information only when deemed appropriate and after a rigorous legal scrub that is not prone to human error or abuse. My guess is the reality is somewhere in between, but that doesn’t spin well in the media, so let’s keep arguing about it. But can we at least agree that, objectively speaking and politics aside, Citizenfour was kind of boring?

NGA are the map and imagery people. They can tell you the make and measurements of an airplane you can’t spot in a photograph even after they point it out to you. The group has moved around on the IC organizational chart and changed names a few times, but NGA are the guys who spotted a nuclear missile in a Rorschach picture, giving us an idea about Soviet psychology and motivation in Cuba back in 1962.

NRO manages a complex system of satellites and overhead sensors that are constantly circling above us and may be shooting our brains with waves for all we know. We don’t mind about that so much, but if a satellite goes nutty and fucks up our cell phone reception, we completely lose it.

NRO was created in 1961, but it was super secret. Pissed off about the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. realized it should get its shit together in this space race or some Russian dude would write The Right Stuff and then what would happen to Ed Harris’s career? NRO’s web site helpfully informs us that, “The existence of the organization is no longer classified today.” Which I guess is the reason I can read about it on a public NGA web site.

Up Next: State’s INR, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard Intelligence, DEA, Treasury, and Energy

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