Post Card From the Swamp #33


Well, I don’t know quite what to think. Cupid appears to be in the Witness Protection Program. I send these postcards on Wednesday, just as the mainstream Swampsters are getting their narratives straight for the week. There is that nasty business in the White House that has dragged the Chief of Staff into a conflict about the alleged (mis)conduct of a senior staffer- you know who. He is accused of spousal abuse.

Totally icky.

He says he didn’t do it, his wives claim he did. I am inclined to believe the ladies, though I do think the admonition that you may only need one marriage in a life is trenchant. But I am getting lost in the he-said, she-said and the apparent demise of due process.

Maybe it is just a case of turn-about is fair play. I don’t know. I certainly am glad I am pretty much retired and no longer have to fear the harridans of Human Resources showing up at my office to ask for my resignation or worse. Not that they ever did, I hasten to add.

This isn’t that hard. Don’t treat people badly and keep your hands to yourself unless you ask. Increasingly, though, I think people just won’t ask. On a Valentine’s Day like this one, that strikes me as a little sad.

I took the morning to watch the Intelligence Community seniors lay out the global threat environment yesterday morning. I actually know most of them, except the FBI guy, which is probably a good thing, given what is going on.

Anyway, here is the weekly postcard. It just keeps getting stranger, doesn’t it?


Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

The Ice Age

OK, OK. I am not going to beat the whole thing to death. It has been painful. Not to mention expensive.

Oh, there are at least two things going on. The knuckleheads downtown finally passed another Continuing Resolution about the same time my aging body decided to be awake, whether I liked it or not.

It took some digging after Leader Pelosi (D-CA) and iconic iconoclast Rand Paul (R-KY) finished their (revised and extended) remarks before their colleagues in the House and Senate, respectively. Not that there were many in the hours of darkness when the powers of whatever are exalted It was to no avail to me, from a practical matter, though total credit for virtue-signalling from them both and a pain in the butt for all the rest of us.

I think the Government of the United States of America was shut down for about an hour waiting for them to finish. A new record for virtue signaling, as far as I am aware.

It was great theater, though I was, like most of my fellow citizens, asleep. I rose cranky and not that curious. I have no microwave oven at the moment (nor sink) and it had to pass without the provision of nice buttered-and-sea-salted popcorn. Which would have engendered a requirement for access to ice and a solid adult beverage.

But as of this morning, I am pleased to report that the reports of global warming are greatly excessive. The time of the next Ice Age is here, and having not been able to cook for a week, I am a teensy bit anxious for the global cooling I think we can all get behind.




I understand I have to throw away the first batch of ice- goodness knows what the Chinese put in the hoses and we need to cycle it away- but I may just make an exception and make a drink and think about it.

New stove next? Hell, I think we are going to go with it. I do not intend to go through the next budget crisis without popcorn.

– Vic

Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

Post Card From the Swamp #32

It has been another one of those weeks- this dizzying pace of events sweeps all before it.

The House Intelligence Panel issued a memorandum claiming to line out exactly what was provided to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to justify a secret warrant to monitor the communications of Mr. Carter Page, who had left his position as an unpaid advisor to the Trump Campaign a month before the Court issued the order.

(Mr. Page).

It is all curious, since in surveilling Mr. Page, the DOJ and FBI were also collecting on everyone with whom Page was in contact- mostly US citizens active in political and business events who would be scooped up in “incidental” collection. Since there is no representation for the defense at the court, it is more than a little bit like the Star Chamber of old.

And the FBI Love Birds were front and center again as another 1,500 of their text messages were discovered. Most have still not been released, but one that got some breathless play this morning on the news shows indicated that “potus wants to know everything we are doing.” Presumably, that is a direct reference to President Obama.

(SpaceX Falcon Heavy Lift Vehicle. The boosters are intended to be recycled).

All this is almost drowning out the news of the third AMTRAK collision in as many months. A lot of transportation news this week- the United States is back in the heavy lift launch vehicle business again for the first time since the end of the Apollo Lunar program. At least colorful entrepreneur Elon Musk is. He got the Falcon rocket off the pad at Cape Canaveral as the Space Coast was abuzz with tourists. atop the stack was a payload consisting of one of Musk’s Tesla electric cars. Presumably without the heavy battery packs and with a dummy behind the wheel.

I won’t go any further down that road.

And we may be shutting down the government again in what now seems like an endless series high-wire budget crises. We seem to be taking this a lot more calmly than the last one- but this is no way to run a railroad. More on that and the immigration conundrum anon.

Without further ado, this week’s Swamp offering:


Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

Dreams and Demolition






Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

Post Card from the Swamp #31

Heck of a week

So, the guys who are going to rip out my 1964 vintage kitchen were here this morning and some of it is gone, leaving gaping scars on the wall-board.

Maybe it will be OK. I have been all over NOVA trying to figure out how this mass of stuff gets resolved- but I am confident that with the upgrade to the little condo, the path will become clear. With two days of off-site deliberations, I can see a road ahead. Not that it doesn’t have potholes…

Oh, yeah, here is the postcard from this week in the swamp…


Japan-gazer Update

Japan-gazer Update — January 26, 2018

平成30年1月26日 = (30th Year of HEISEI Era, 1st Month, 26th Day)

– – – – –

= This week’s poem:

Some Wisdom

If, for what you strive,
Is so distant and far,
Across a life’s desert,
Like an unreachable star,
Then don’t walk, take a car…

{ From my poetry blog: }

– – – – –
= 5 Things Going On Lately:

(1) The Japanese and French governments broadly agreed Friday (26 JAN) on a pact for mutual supplies of food, fuel and other goods by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and France’s military. The broad accord was reached at a meeting in Tokyo among Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, and their respective French counterparts, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly. The ministers also agreed to expand joint training by the Maritime SDF (JMSDF) and the French navy, and promote joint studies on defense equipment. The “two-plus-two” session was the fourth between Japan and France. The previous such meeting was held in January 2017. The Japan-France acquisition and cross-servicing agreement is expected to enhance interoperability between Japanese and French troops, and facilitate their cooperation, including in U.N. peacekeeping missions. (Jiji Press)

* COMMENT: Another chess move by Japan, with an eye on China…? France has three Pacific territories: New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis & Futuna — total population about 600,000. But, the islands also provide France with large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Of note, French naval ships, operating at-sea, can serve alcohol.
– – – – –
(2) The first F-35A stealth fighter jet for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force is set to be deployed to its Misawa base in Aomori Prefecture on Friday, Defense Ministry officials said Monday (22 JAN). The JASDF will procure a total of 42 F-35A aircraft, its next-generation mainstay fighter. It plans to form the first F-35A squadron by deploying nine more aircraft to the northeastern Japan base by the end of March next year. The F-35, which has advanced stealth capabilities, was developed in an international project led by the United States and Britain. The fighter to be deployed to the Misawa base soon was assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. group’s plant in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, and so will be 37 others. The remaining four aircraft will come from the United States. The ministry plans to mount Norwegian-made long-range cruise missiles on the F-35As, with the aim of using them for remote island defense and attacking enemy forces on the ground. (Jiji Press)

* COMMENT: OK, it’s finally “show-time” in Japan for the tactical aircraft everyone has been talking about. Raises the questions …. “Will Japan-U.S. quality be able to overcome Chinese quantity in the skies over the East China Sea?”
– – – – –
(3) The Japanese government on Thursday (25 JAN) launched a permanent exhibition space on the Senkaku Islands and the islets of Takeshima, its first facility exhibiting territory-related materials. An opening ceremony was held in the Municipal Research Building in Chiyoda Ward, central Tokyo, which houses the museum on territory and sovereignty. The admission-free museum displays public documents and photographs showing that the islands are integral parts of Japanese territory, according to government officials. “I hope it will develop as a base where people can deepen their understanding of Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands,” Tetsuma Esaki, minister in charge of territorial issues, said at the ceremony. The Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu. The islets of Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture, western Japan, are effectively controlled by South Korea, where they are known as Dokdo.

* COMMENT: Fair enough. A meaningful “strategic communications” move by Tokyo ….. in the face of similar & unending efforts by China and the Koreas…
– – – – –

(4) A Japanese patrol plane spotted a suspicious contact between tankers from North Korea and the Commonwealth of Dominica in the East China Sea, suspecting a possible transfer of goods in violation of U.N. sanctions on the North, government sources said Monday (22 JAN). The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C aircraft took photos of the scene it noticed near waters off Shanghai on Saturday, as it was engaging in patrol activities for illicit transfer of refined oil at sea by North Korea. The information was passed on to the U.S. government, Japan’s key ally that is leading global efforts to impose tough economic sanctions on North Korea, the sources said. The U.N. Security Council has imposed stepped-up sanctions against North Korea as it continues to test-fire missiles and carry out nuclear tests. Last September, a council resolution prohibited the ships of U.N. member states from engaging in the transfer of any goods or items to North Korean-flagged vessels at sea. At the request of the United States, JMSDF vessels and patrol aircraft have engaged in patrolling the high seas near Japan to look for possible cases of oil smuggling from late last year. (Mainichi Shimbun)

* COMMENT: “Gotcha!” Pretty much nothing can sail/operate in the waters around Japan without getting discovered by JMSDF’s world-class maritime patrol assets & systems. Also called ISR — Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance — in addition to information-gathering, ISR can show operational intent and ability, and has a deterrent effect… Remember, if you have been detected, that also means you have been targeted.
– – – – –

(5) The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, successfully launched on Thursday (18 JAN) its third Epsilon small rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite. The Epsilon-3 solid-fuel launch vehicle released the Asnaro-2 satellite into orbit about 52 minutes after the liftoff at the Uchinoura Space Center in Kimotsuki, Kagoshima Prefecure, at 6:06 a.m. (9:06 p.m. Wednesday GMT). Flight experiments for the Epsilon series, developed for low-cost satellite launches, ended with the third version, and full-fledged operation of the series will start with the Epsilon-4, JAXA said. Cost-cutting efforts for the Epsilon development included the use of a solid rocket booster for Japan’s mainstay H-2A large launch vehicle. Takayuki Imoto, head of the Epsilon project, told a news conference that his team was able to realize a rocket “gentle to a satellite” with reduced vibrations. (Jiji Press)

* COMMENT: Another step forward in the space race. Low-cost launch vehicles will be a must, in order for Japan to be competitive with others…
– – – – –
< << BONUS >>>

— The number of criminal offenses recognized by police in Japan in 2017 fell by 81,009, or 8.1 pct, from the preceding year to 915,111, hitting a postwar low for the third straight year, the National Police Agency said in a preliminary report Thursday (18 JAN). The annual tally fell for the 15th year in a row after peaking at some 2.85 million in 2002. The 2017 figure was down by more than two-thirds from the record-high level. An NPA official said that the decline is believed to have reflected crime prevention efforts both by the public and private sectors, improved security measures at homes and for vehicles, and increased installation of security cameras, including event data recorders. Last year, the number of criminal cases fell in all of the nation’s 47 prefectures, with Yamagata marking the sharpest drop of 18.8 pct, followed by Iwate, 18.7 pct, and Akita, 17.6 pct. Eleven prefectures, including the three in the Tohoku northeastern region, posted declines of more than 10 pct. By type, the number of thefts, accounting for over 70 pct of the total, fell by 67,607, or 9.3 pct, to 655,541, and that of robberies dropped by 480, or 20.6 pct, to 1,852. (Jiji Press)

* COMMENT: Impressive. Underscores why any crimes or incidents by U.S. Forces personnel will always “stick out” — almost a zero-defects atmosphere in perfectionist Japan.

Poems and Comment copyright 2018 Carl LaFong

TAPS: Rosie the Riveter

Editor’s Note: This is not an intelligence passing, but it is one that represents something extraordinary in American history. The pressures of the war demonstrated the ability of women to perform in many formerly all-male industries. Rosie and her sisters changed everything about how our society worked. It is worth some reflection on just how Rosie’s generation (and my own mother) changed things in this country. Naomi Fraley exemplified that. And, of course, she never got a penny for her transformation to icon. Credit to American Admiralty Books:

20 January 2018 Naomi Parker Fraley, AKA “Rosie the Riveter”



Naomi Parker Fraley who died Saturday at the age of 96 is widely accepted as the model for the famous WWII poster titled “WE CAN DO IT”. During WWII she was a 20 year old production line worker at the Alameda Naval Station, Alameda, California. She was just one of the millions of American women who provided much of the war materials production labor force; in that rare time of unity among the American people when we were united against a truly dreaded common enemy.

Kim Shepard


For many years Ms Fraley’s image was misidentified as that of another woman who bore a striking resemblance to her, Ms Geraldine Hoff Doyle a 17 year old worker in the same plant. MS Doyle died at age 86 in 2010 before learning of the misidentification, Historian James J. Kimble of Seton Hall University has stated that Doyle who resembles Fraley was first identified as the model for the poster based on her photo from the time and in subsequent historical narratives she was accepted as the model for “Rosie the Riveter” until 2015 when actual photos connected to the iconic poster’s production were uncovered clearly bearing the label of the woman now known as Naomi Parker Fraley. Both Doyle and Fraley were simply photographed at work, never paid as a model, or notified that their stylized image was being fashioned into a poster. Neither woman ever sought or received a dime in compensation and by all reports were simply happy to have contributed to the war effort.
Naomi Parker Fraley was photographed as she worked at the Alameda Naval Station.



and images @

hith inspiration rosie riveter dies

Geraldine Doyle : You can read more about Ms Doyle at

Nellie Bly

(Elizabeth Jane Cochran, from Pittsburgh).

Thursday is what passes for my biggest business day of the week, and to my mild surprise, I got through it again. Then I ran a couple errands that had been nagging since the weekend, and took myself off the clock sometime after three. I unloaded the groceries and bundled up the plastic bags and had the place looking squared-away again about halfway through Sheppard Smith’s news show on Fox. I am increasingly thinking he is a Democrat, not that there is anything wrong with it, but along the way, there was a brief mention of Nellie Bly’s trip around the world in 72 days.

As an autodidact (I think we all share that weakness) I am used to running across things I did not know but probably should have. Shep did the “On This Day” bit late in his show to commemorate the 1890s-era exploits of a mad woman who set out to beat the ’80 days’ that writer Jules Verne thought would be a breakneck pace of a trip around the world.

It caught me up short. Great Aunt Eleanor was from Martinsburg, West By God. She was always called “Bly” in the family. She was an imperious woman of immense age to me as a kid. I had no idea why they called her Bly until Shep blindsided me yesterday.

Growing up, I always thought is was weird to have an old lady whose nickname was derived from that of the Captain of HMS Bounty. But it was family stuff and why ask questions. She was a woman of her era. I did not want to be perceived as a potential mutineer.

Lord, I have some stories about her time and passing, and how I wound up with so much of her stuff in the barn at Refuge Farm. The silver and her husband the Doctor’s two hammerless .32 caliber Smith & Wesson pistols are only the tip of the familial iceberg. Apparently the Doctor’s office had been ripped off for the medication he stocked, and did not like it one bit and was prepared to shot the malefactor if he came back. The hammerless feature of the pistols means you can shoot through the fabric of your coat, should that be necessary, as I understand it.

But back to Shep: Eleanor. Nellie. Bly. It only hit me yesterday with a story about the round-the-world lady, Nellie Bly. Oh, shoot, that is what that was about. Great Aunt Eleanor had been a wild woman in her time, and not the frail old woman I knew as a kid.

I did the initial cursory research and was stunned by the real story, which was that of an amazing woman’s adventures In a suffragette-era world. She was, by turns, Reporter. Investigative Journalist. Adventurer. She once spent ten days in a nuthouse to expose the abuses perpetrated on the inmates; she spent six months in Mexico covering the border crisis, married well and converted her fame into comfort. Amelia Ehrhart was of the same cut- being ‘the first’ was a powerful thing. But it took guts and did not always work out well.

At birth, the real Nellie Bly was named Elizabeth Jane Cochran, from “Cochran’s Mills,” now part of the sprawl (limited by the terrain) of the greater Pittsburg area. But there was much more to her than just adventuring.

In my mom’s girlhood recollection, the only thing better than a trip to cosmopolitan Wheeling, WV, was an excursion to the Steel City. The girl who would become ‘Nellie Bly” was moved by her mom (and a large family, ten kids, a number so vast that we moderns can’t imagine it) into Pittsburgh proper. Years later, young Elizabeth read a Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper column entitled “What Girls Are Good For” that implied that girls were only good for birthing children and keeping house.

That pissed her off, and she wrote a response to the editor under the pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl,” arguing that the column was a crock. The Dispatch editor was impressed with her passion and offered her the opportunity to write a piece for the newspaper, again under the pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl”.

Her first article was titled “The Girl Puzzle,” and dealt with a too-familiar subject to her, which was the issue of how divorce affects women.

I have some experience with how it affects men these days, but the Patriarchy was in full flower in 1880 and modern legal sensibilities has not yet been installed. Nellie got a full-time job out of it. In those days, it was customary for female newspaper writers to use nom de plumes. I suppose it was for modesty concerns. The editor chose “Nellie Bly,” adopted from the character in the popular song by Stephen Foster. Elizabeth had intended that her pseudonym be “Nelly Bly”, but her editor wrote “Nellie” by mistake and the error stuck.
Not a great deal stuck with her after that. She focused her work in Pittsburgh on telling the tales of the lives of working women, which as you might imagine sort of sucked. The paper got a lot of flack from local industrial concerns, and she was relegated to covering fashion, society and gardening in what was then known as The Woman’s Section. It made her seethe, and she quit to try her luck as a foreign correspondent.

(Nellie Bly in Mexico.)

She spent nearly half a year reporting the lives and customs of the Mexican people, and her social justice dispatches later were published in the book “Six Months in Mexico.” I read that, and thought of the idealistic fervor of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain a couple decades later. Nellie Bly was something- but it was not until she had been back in New York that the opportunity presented itself to make her a star.

French master author Jules Verne had penned “Around the World in 80 days” (Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours) in 1873. The premise of the story was that English eccentric (do I repeat myself?) Phileas Fogg accepts a wager of $20,000 pounds to travel all the way around the world in that number of days, and much entertainment ensues.

The tale might be the best in Verne’s repertoire, but it was not for a couple decades that some public engagement officer cooked up the idea of a lady making her way all the way around on her own and beating the 80 days. Working for the New York World In 1888, Nellie had suggested to her editor that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn Verne’s fictional account into fact and actually beat it. The paper liked it but waffled. Finally a decision was made, and a year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days’ notice, Nellie boarded a steamer of the Hamburg American Line and set out for the east that would become west before she was done with it.
Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 12.07.44 PM.png

She took with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials.

I invite you to read the tale of that journey by steamer, railroad, rickshaw and elephant at the Smithsonian’s fine appreciation:

So, whether I like Sheppard Smith and his snarky attitude, I have to express some heartfelt thanks. He directed me to a story of an extraordinary woman. He also explained something about my family I had not known, and moreover about some of the crap in the barn at the farm. Wish I had known to ask, back when there was time.

Great Aunt Eleanor must have been hell on wheels if they called her Nellie Bly.

Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

Postcard from the Swamp #30

I had a case of the flu or something that came on hard just as we thought we had a deal on the Budget. As it turned out, there was some petulance expressed on both sides about promises made and ignored. There was bluster and a member of the President’s party on the floor of the Senate compared Mr. Trump to Joseph Stalin.

You know, this is all getting a bit much. When I worked on the Hill in the 105th Congress, there was a certain comity. The Democrats I worked for and with were not hysterical and were actually more fun to travel with than the GOP folks who seemed to wear the same expression Mitch McConnell seems to wear. I think the old word for it is “dyspeptic.”

Being pinned down by whatever the bug was, I sat through hours and hours of breathless commentary on the shut-down. It actually was kind of surreal, and the antics of our elected members quite entertaining. There is so much else going on- the new tariffs signed by Executive Order resonate with the vague memories of the Tariff Act that deepened the Great Depression.

To recap the bids on that folly, America was plunged into chaos by the Black Tuesday Stock Crash in October of 1929. President Hoover coordinated with Congress, and in 1930 signed the now-infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, which substantially raised U.S. tariffs on some 890 products. Other countries retaliated and world trade shrank enormously; by the end of 1934 world trade had plummeted some 66% from the 1929 level. Two friggin’ thirds of international trade!

So while I am generally in favor of rational protection for American goods and services, the laws of unintended consequences could turn this into a trade war that no one is going to like. They say history doesn’t repeat itself, though it does rhyme.

Enjoy the two-week break before the Big Crisis comes back. Maybe the FBI will find some of those missing texts to keep us entertained in the meantime…

– Vic


Copyright 2018 Vic Socotra

A Tale of Two Cities – Part Two

Here is the second part of the story about my experiences in dealing with the Russians, this time the return trip in 1995. In the true sense of contrasting the difference between two cities, Part One was more centered on Moscow; the highlights of Part Two center more on St. Petersburg. In that regard, allow me to quote Charles Dickens as he resonates remarkably with our present day situation of political gridlock in the imperial city:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities

Moonrise, St. Petersburg, Russia

In Part One, I recounted my Russian experience as a student at the Naval War College during the summer of 1994.

Following graduation in November of that year, I transitioned to the ONI Detachment with the War Gaming Department. From this organization, it was tradition to assign a mid-grade officer (Lieutenant Commander) to act as the Executive Assistant to the CNO’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG), sort of a mini-Capstone for a dozen senior Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Captains awaiting flag selection or not, as a facilitator of all things intel and also a step-n-fetch it for all sorts of adminsitrivia such as coordinating travel, finishing the SSG final report, etc.

We had pretty much an unlimited travel budget to carry out our mandated task for the CNO – this time it was to look at the future security environment in 2005 – ten years ahead. While this was a relatively easy lift, it didn’t stop the SSG Fellows from traveling far and wide. We had a new leader that transition year of 1995, ADM James “Boss” Hogg, whom I had met more than a decade earlier when he was then a three-star and COMSEVENTHFLT; he retired several years later as the four-star US MILREP to NATO in Brussels. He was an interesting study in executive leadership – he would not read e-mail nor take phone calls directly, almost a Luddite, claiming they were a distraction. Everything he did was hand-written, very old school. He had disdain for senior leaders who used cell phones and computers. He loved meetings and the longer, the better. He drove the more Type A SSG Fellows (i.e., the two Marine Colonels) crazy by presiding over never-ending debates. I managed to invent admin bullshit to get myself out of most of the extended sessions or when directed to go brew a fresh pot of coffee. God they grew to hate to hear that phrase.

Admiral James R. “Boss” Hogg (USN Ret.)

He acted like a total gentleman but I don’t think he liked me that much. I found him to be a bit snobby and condescending and I will leave it there. What are you supposed to do when you’re an 0-4 and your boss, albeit retired, still thinks, acts, and demands to be treated like he is still an active duty four-star with a direct reporting relationship to the CNO and you don’t?

Suck it up and put up with it, of course – you can always go out back and vomit later.

In order to accomplish our year-long task given to us by the CNO, Boss Hogg had a very ambitious travel schedule and was delighted to learn that I had been to Russia and knew the ground. I was directed to first plan a two-week European trip, with stops in Naples, London, Brussels, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. He also wanted to go to China. We were able to do both, and maybe the China trip will be the source of another Socotra. I dutifully bent to my tasks.

The first thing I did was call the Captain at the War College who had set up our 1994 trip to get his contact info, and in a mind-numbing month of paperwork and overseas calls, I scored both Nunn-Lugar funding for that portion of our trip, made the Russian connections, and the attendant diplomatic approvals, country clearances, etc., for the whole thing. We tried to price commercial airfare and the cost estimates were hideous, not to mention the connections, so the next trick was to secure air transportation, which we did via the SECNAV’s office. We were granted access to a 26-seat Gulfstream-4 (C-20) executive business jet for both of our overseas trips. For the European swing, VR-46 out of Honolulu-Hickam provided us with air services. Their Washington-Andrews VR-48 counterparts would return the favor for our trip to Asia. Their logic being that it would give both squadrons exposure to parts of the world that they would not normally fly.

I could identify with that.
USN C-20 Executive Transport Jet

At the appointed date and time, we mustered at Sims Hall on the Naval War College Campus, loaded our gear into a couple of vans, and drove to T.F. Green Airport just south of Providence, RI, where we met our crew, took pictures, and then departed mid-morning for a long flight to Naples, Italy. This flight was fairly uneventful, except for when we were about an hour out over the Atlantic when the flight crew made the following announcement:

“Look outside the windows and up to the East. We are at Flight Level 510 and the Concorde heading to New York is about to cross over us at Flight Level 720 at over Mach 2.” We crowded around the windows and watched as we got thumped by the iconic aircraft four miles above us trailing smoke, and absorbed the double shock wave from its sonic boom.

Concorde at Mach 2, FL720 over the Atlantic.

We arrived in Naples a little before sunset and were met by ADM Snuffy Smith’s COMNAVSOUTH NATO folks. There’s probably another Socotra yarn in this story that describes this part of our trip which will also have to wait for later. After a couple of days in Naples, we flew up to London for two days of meetings with MODUK and Ambassador Crowe at the US Embassy, among others, and then we flew back south to spend the weekend in Brussels, which was going to be pretty boring.

The rest of the SSG fellows and me would rather have stayed in London for that weekend; going to Brussels on Sunday afternoon. We were over-ridden on that decision by Boss Hogg, who wanted to go to Brussels so he could have his ass kissed by his old NATO buddies. We tried to drink our way around the Grand Plaza and gorged ourselves on moules and frittes, washed down by the wide varieties and flavors of Lambic. After a couple of days at NATO (which included a side trip to Waterloo and a chance meeting with Senator John Glenn (yes, I shook his hand)), we departed on a fine Fall morning with the leaves changing, headed for Moscow.

Our arrival and reception at Sheremetyevo Airport were much different from the year before – a breeze. Once again, we were ensconced in the Radisson Slavyanskaya, and the ambience with the Russian mafia, their unbelievably hot girlfriends, the armed bodyguards, and the atrium lobby bar were much the same.

It was what had happened outside this American oasis that was stunningly different, amazing. Gone were the homeless people in the park, gone was the trash, the roads were freshly paved, the cops were on duty, and there were no bands of marauding gypsy kids. I wondered where they had gone.

Yuri Lushkov had been elected as Moscow’s mayor the year before on a campaign that promised to clean up the city – and he did. There were construction cranes all over town, and the vibe and hype were on. During the day, we met with many of the same parts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Navy, and other bureaucracies that we had engaged the year before – but this time all of the presenters were PhDs, and they made a point of letting us know that their academic and intellectual achievements were much greater than ours collectively.

Our primary interlocutor was once again Igor Sutyagin, with Sergei Rogov making cameo appearances. Thus passed three days. Having no fear, I found myself out a couple of late nights in some of the trendier Moscow discos, as well as revisiting the great Georgian restaurant from the year before. I got to know the Moscow Metro pretty well, and the stations are as glitzy as advertised. The stations with major rail connections had trains going to places you couldn’t believe. It’s a huge country. As one War College professor who had been part of the START negotiations declared, Russia is “hypnotic.”

Igor Sutyagin as we knew him

Our time in Moscow passed without major incident, and we were driven back out to Sheremetyevo Airport for the relatively short flight to St. Petersburg. Once again, we were billeted in the Kempenski Hotel. This portion of the trip was intended to be strictly mil-to-mil, and our Russian Navy hosts hustled us to meetings at the Baltic Fleet HQ, a meeting with their deputy CNO onboard the Aurora, a jaunt out to Kronstadt for a ship visit and to see the sorry state of their Baltic Fleet rusting at anchor, and group sessions at their Naval War College.

There, I had my full frontal picture taken openly for the second time by Russian intelligence (the first being in Berlin in 1985 in the Pergamum Museum; they also got pictures of me walking down the Ku’damm with bottles of Stoli in each hand). It was clever how they got me – I was stepping off the bus so couldn’t do very much to duck and cover. They also didn’t take pictures of any of the rest of our crew, which was curious.

Our talks with the Russian Navy were very interesting. It was clear that they wanted to engage with us, and didn’t want to lose the special status they had attained during the Cold War. They objected to the idea of being treated as just another country in the EUCOM AOR. The hinted that they were delivering a message from their General Staff as well as their Navy that they wanted to have a close, friendly, even allied-type relationship with us, possibly even to join NATO, and were open to more high-level staff talks/visits on the basis of equality and mutual respect. For what it’s worth, we took that message back to the CNO and JCS staffs and it was roundly rejected.

The usual response was “Fuck them, we won the Cold War. No way are we doing that. They’re a Third World country, why would we want to treat them as equals? Hell, their nukes probably don’t work anymore.” I was dismayed by the great strategic thought and foresight displayed by our senior leaders. I thought their attitude was a mistake then – and just look where we are right now strategically vis-à-vis Russia – really? I think we fucked that up big time.

There was someone else who didn’t want to see us cozying up to the Russian Navy and military in general. That would have been Vladimir V. Putin, former FSB Chief in his hometown of St. Petersburg and at that time the Deputy Mayor and head for international relations, but still likely a wheel at the local FSB.

He decided to send us a message during our return from Kronstadt for a final meeting with the Russian Navy Deputy CNO. We had two medium-sized buses as our transportation. One was mostly for baggage for the 16 people in our travelling party (where I rode), and one for the SSG Fellows, the Admiral, etc. On that final afternoon, we were travelling through a residential neighborhood; I was sitting in the front bench seat of the lead van hauling the baggage, in the middle between the driver and one of the Marine colonels who was getting tired of the endless banter in the second bus. We weren’t wearing seatbelts because there weren’t any.

At this point, we had a bunch of bags filled with gedunk in addition to clothing. We were probably four blocks from the Russian Navy HQ when I heard a car engine burst to life on a side street off to the left, a high rev with tire squeal, and then out of the side street the lead bus got T-boned smack on the driver’s side door by a mid-sized car accelerating at full throttle, I’m guessing it was a Skoda. The impact was tremendous – it knocked the van sideways and the burly driver into my lap, his head just missing cracking me in the skull, and the Marine Colonel banged his head on the C-pillar. Both buses came to a halt, and even though a bit dazed, we got out and assessed the damage.

Podpolkovnik Vladimir V. Putin

The folks in the second bus witnessed the crash, and were pretty gobsmacked, and all trying to talk at once. We pulled the driver out of our bus, got him on the ground, and got someone to administer first aid. It took several minutes but finally the police arrived. There were some suspicious-looking guys loitering around, including the driver of the ramming vehicle (he at least had a seat belt) who seemed to be very fit and just fine. The first problem we had to solve was how to get to the final meeting. Sensing the relative collective paralysis, I took the initiative:

“Everyone’s all right, we have 20 minutes until the next meeting and only about a quarter mile walk to get there. I recommend we put all of the bags in the good bus and then we can walk to the HQ building for our meeting. Our sponsors can get us another bus before we have to go out to the airport.”
The Admiral at this point climbed out of his stupor and declared “That’s a great idea, let’s do it.”

We formed a bucket brigade and had the bags transferred to the good bus in no time. We then walked to the HQ and just made it on time for the meeting, which went well. Afterwards, we were transported back out to the St. Petersburg airport for our long trip home.

Looking back, it was obviously a hit job by the FSB, probably directed personally by our pal Vladimir Putin as the head of “international relations.” It was a naked attempt to harass, intimidate, maim, and possibly kill someone in our group and create an international incident. That we were able to overcome this final difficulty was probably not anticipated by the FSB, but their message was sent and understood. We took this home to Newport, and prepared for our trip to Asia – which I now will have to write about given the current state of our relations with China.

Naval War College, Newport, RI

The return trip was uneventful but due to headwinds, took twice as long. We stopped for gas in Ramstein, and spent the night in Lajes in the Azores, landing in a driving rain storm. Once the storm had cleared, I led a strike team out into to town for Portuguese food, and brought back a big ball of queijo d’lha, a cheese made in Madeira which my wife and I had come to covet when we were in Rota and visiting her home base in Cascais outside of Lisbon.

After almost two weeks away, we touched down at T. F. Green International Airport in Providence and after smuggling my cheese as well as all of our other accumulated swag through Customs; we met our return transit to Newport. MC.

Copyright 2018 Point Loma