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Soldiers and Spies

June 30, 2017

As there has been a lot of recent espionage news coverage, maybe it is time we had a discussion about the people involved in soldiering and spying. Each activity requires particular skill sets though there is a crossover at times. First, let's take soldiers. One of the greatest battlefield commanders in recent history is Lt. General Hal Moore who passed earlier this year just short of his 95th birthday. As the author had the privilege of spending some time with him, the account is a bit more than pure research.

Hal Moore became a legend to many who did not know him following the movie starring Mel Gibson and Madeleine Stowe entitled We Were Soldiers, which is as much a story about leadership as war. Not surprisingly, if you have also seen Mel Gibson portray William Wallace in Brave Heart, he plays leaders with tremendous skill.

However, Hal Moore was a great leader in the flesh risking his life to save his men and demonstrate leadership to his command. He commanded the 1st Air Cavalry which was the experimental use of rapid response troops by helicopters. The test case was in the Ia Drang Valley, a.k.a. Valley of Death, which was the first major engagement of American forces with those of North Vietnam in 1965. Moreover, it was one of the bloodiest battles in the entire war.

In preparing his troops to go to war, Hal Moore made two legendary commitments: "When we step on the battlefield, I will be the first boots on and the last boots off. I will leave no man behind and we will all come home together, dead or alive." It is the "dead or alive" bit that is the most significant distinction of soldiers versus spies. Leadership is another distinction as spies tend to be loners and not leaders. Bravery and courage are equal requirements.

As we have seen recently in the press, any slip-up such as indicating an item of intelligence can lead someone to identify the source and endanger the life of the source. So who are all of the spies and sources of intelligence? Obviously, the CIA is the international intelligence agency of the U.S. However, there is a large and floating cadre of other assets that are managed by CIA personnel. Each asset generally has one CIA handler though the assets are known in a broader sense to the agency and, in some cases to the FBI, as they were screened and properly scrubbed to see if their intelligence would be factual rather than planted.

So who are these "assets" or collaborators? They can be sought out by the CIA from previous experiences or referred by other knowledgeable sources. They could be business people, academics, or technical personnel that would have access to intelligence that would be useful background to the security of the U.S.

At the time of the collapse of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), there was a dearth of information on our foe. Therefore, as Americans began to flock to areas that had been closed cities or forbidden regions, there was a major effort to recruit collaborators with good covers to provide insight into what had otherwise been an unknown. Most were motivated by patriotism, excitement and intrigue. Moreover, there was little compensation other than non-classified information coming back to them and insights that could have been helpful in their own individual endeavors. Each collaborator had their own handler and was unaware of others doing the same thing. Therefore, it was a closed community and a one-way street with no linkage from one to another.

Everything went fine until one day in February 2001, the media announced that a fellow by the name of Robert Hanssen of the FBI had been arrested for espionage having provided the Russian SVR/FSB, successors to the KGB, the names of collaborators in Russian espionage. Hanssen has plenty of time to grieve for those he caused to die as he now spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in a Federal Prison for the remainder of his life.

The Russians who collaborated were summarily executed which came out in press accounts causing other collaborators to become aware of the security breach. However, it might surprise you there were no phone calls, faxes or "to whom it may concern" letters to the Americans who were in the same line of activity. Some were later comforted by Russian FSB folks who indicated that they were on the list but that was not a problem as relationships were improving. There may be a bit of black humor in the spy business as some CIA agents jokingly referred to the arrest of the Russian CIA mole, Aldrich Ames, in 1994 as creating promotional opportunities.

Another more recent incident is The New York Times article of May 20, 2017 entitled Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Crippled U.S. Spying Operations.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the CIA sources of Chinese information. It is unclear whether the identity of the assets arose from a hacking breach, such as that of the Office of Personnel Management records in 2015 -- another FBI employee who pleaded guilty to acting as a Chinese agent for years -- or a longtime State Department official who had been on the Chinese payroll. Unlike most collaborators, the moles in the FBI, the State Department and the CIA agent, Aldrich Ames, did it for money.

We can conclude that soldiering and spying are quite different though equally dangerous occupations or pastimes. One offers camaraderie while the other requires life to be lived in the shadows. However, when something goes wrong in a combat situation, there are usually comrades in arms to lend their support. On the other hand, spies are typically on their own in the cold. If something goes south, it is very difficult for them to be rescued without jeopardizing others in similar situations. Moreover, cyber security has taken the risk of conducting espionage in the field to an entirely new level.

When one goes to The Vietnam Memorial there are 58,135 names of U.S. military service personnel who were killed or MIA in Vietnam. In Arlington Cemetery there are some 400,000 graves with names. Included in Arlington Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which obviously has no names. However, when one enters the lobby of the CIA Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the most obvious feature is the Memorial Wall which honors CIA employees who died in the line of service.

br>There are some 125 stars carved in the wall -- a significant number of which are not identified in the "Book of Honor." Paramilitary officers of the CIA's Special Activities Division comprise the majority of those memorialized. Sadly, more than thirty Air America pilots and crew members who worked for the CIA during the Vietnam War are not included. The point is, whereas many CIA personnel are not named, those further away in the chain are "unknown" and not recognized as they were truly out in the cold.

Hill Tribe Key Chains
The Hmong hill tribes of Thailand and Vietnam weave their own fabrics for their clothing. The tribal women use their scraps to make these fun, tassel key chains to sell at market to earn money for their tribe.

But, be creative!  Use them as a key chain, hook them to your handbag, or even use them as a ceiling fan pull chain...

Each piece is unique. Therefore, we are not able to designate these items by style, so we will select one for you when you order online. Or, if you want a particular pattern or color, you can call the store and we'll be happy to hand select one for you.

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