I have always said that within the Directorate of Operations (DO) there is a never-ending contest centered around war stories. War stories are those tales, almost legendary, that we tell as we sit by the fire or while having a drink at a bar or just reminiscing with friends. The one who dies with the most war stories wins. What they win is unknown, but they win. I think my friend John will win, no one has more or better stories than he does. In this unofficial competition, it is totally fine to steal stories from each other as long as you do not claim you were there. Lying is unacceptable. The stories tend to be on the humorous side. We in the DO normally do not like to tell sad or tragic stories. It is a hard enough job without dwelling on the tragedies. We prefer to lighten things up with laughter. So, in keeping with this and my series "Tales From the Shadows,” here goes another one.
I was fortunate that when I joined the agency there was still a cadre of officers who had served in Vietnam, some even in Korea. There were still people who worked for the CIA when it was first founded and its offices were in Quonset huts by the Mall in DC. I served with many of them and learned a lot. There is a tendency, at least in the CIA, that when you retire you cease to be useful, and somehow all your knowledge and experience is voided. That is foolish. The people I served with had so much experience and knowledge about the craft of espionage and one would be stupid not to pick their brains. If nothing else, they had already made the mistakes you were about to make and could help you avoid them.
There was this guy. As I noted in a previous story, most of our stories start with “there was this guy," since we tend to avoid revealing names. We will call him Jimmy. Jimmy was an explosives expert, having served in that role in the Vietnam War. He had blown up more shit than anyone I had ever met. He did it in Vietnam and the CIA gave him the opportunity to do it even more and bigger.
Jimmy was doing a stint at one of the CIA's training centers initiating agency officers into the secret world of explosives, both disarming them and setting them off. He taught foreign security services about explosives, he trained many of the insurgent groups the U.S. government was supporting at the time, and he trained U.S. special operations members. Why? The latter had many explosives experts, they were well trained and well equipped. Special Operations forces believed that more training was best and the more diverse training you can receive the better you would be, so here was Jimmy providing some training. These were pre-9/11 days.
The training course he was providing was two days' worth of dealing with booby traps. Jimmy had plenty of experience from his Vietnam days, having dealt with all kinds of booby traps laid out by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Jimmy's problem that day was how to get and keep the attention of a group of Navy SEALS. As members of an elite group, they believed they had seen everything, done everything and there wasn't much they could be taught. Jimmy realized he had a problem.
The SEALS sat on the ground in an open area of the training base, waiting for their instructor. All around them were booby traps set up by Jimmy as part of his demonstration. It was obvious they were getting a little restless. As they sat and faced forward, they heard a voice behind them say, "The key to booby traps is to detect them before they detect you. Anything can be used as a booby trap detector, especially your own body."
As they turned around to see who had spoken, they caught sight of Jimmy moving through the booby trap field totally naked. As he twisted and turned to dodge booby traps he explained to the SEALS that their body can be used to detect wires and tripping mechanisms better than any equipment known to man. The SEALS sat transfixed, eyes wide open, sweat starting to course down their faces. For the first time in their careers as SEALS, they knew fear. Jimmy moved like a panther, gracefully, purposefully, with his private parts, his dangly bits, well, dangling. He moved among the SEALS, still twisting and turning, a dangly bit striking a SEAL on the back of the head, a butt cheek smacking another one's face. The SEALS did not know what to do. They had been put in the hands of a mad man.
When Jimmy reached the end of the booby trap field, he got dressed and continued the lecture. He had the SEALS' attention for the remaining two days. It is amazing what a scrotal strike here and a butt bash there can do for classroom attention. Those involved were professionals. I do not recommend you do this at home or your workplace because jail time will surely follow.