Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Need to Call It 'Terrorism'

By Andrew C. McCarthy
October 22, 2014

Omar Abdel Rahman: "The Koran mentions the words “to strike terror,” therefore we don’t fear to be described with 'terrorism' "

Within three days there have been two jihadist attacks in Canada, carried out by Canadian citizens who recently converted to Islam. No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility, at least as yet. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed no reluctance in calling the terrorists … terrorists.
Whether the attackers were incited by the summons to jihad from groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, or were actual members of such groups, there should be no question that these were terrorist attacks. The Obama administration’s practice of denying that terrorist attacks are terrorist attacks has been profoundly foolish – and it was good to hear the president seem to inch away from it today.
The point of this cockamamie denial approach is part political correctness and part plain politics.
President Obama has repeatedly claimed to have “decimated” al Qaeda and put it “on the path to defeat.” Actually, the terror network is on the rise. Furthermore, it is now rivaled by ISIS, a jihadist organization that may be even stronger. Denying obvious instances of terrorism, such as the jihadist mass-murder at Fort Hood, is a transparent effort to conceal the obvious falsity of the president’s claims. If these attacks are not really terrorism, the reasoning goes, then there must be less terrorism; therefore, the pretense of defeating terror networks can be spun as validated. As I’ve said before, it is a way of miniaturizing the threat.
It is more than that, though. Terrorism is fueled by an ideology. It is rooted, quite literally, in Islamic scripture. To cite one of many examples, in the Koran’s sura 8:12, Allah instructs Muslims: “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.” Thus, Omar Abdel Rahman, the infamous “Blind Sheikh” I prosecuted for terrorism in the nineties, used to exhort followers:
Why do we fear the word “terrorist”? If the terrorist is the person who defends his right, so we are terrorists. . . . The Koran mentions the words “to strike terror,” therefore we don’t fear to be described with “terrorism.” . . . We are ordered to prepare whatever we can of power to terrorize the enemies of Islam.
The United States government tried to portray Abdel Rahman as deranged and representative of no mainstream current of Islamic thought. In point of fact, he was a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the seat of Sunni learning for over a millennium. His capacity to command terrorists, although he was physically incapable of committing terrorist acts, stemmed from his indisputable mastery of sharia and Islamic doctrine – subjects I daresay he knew a good deal more about than President Obama. He was spokesman for a well-known interpretation of Islam that, as the Iraqi Shiite cleric Ayad Jamal al-Din recently acknowledged, has existed for 1,400 years.
A Muslim who commits an atrocious act with the purpose of becoming Allah’s instrument for “instilling terror into the hearts of the unbelievers” has committed terrorism. A Muslim who employs violence with the intention of “intimidating or coercing a civilian population; influencing the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or affecting the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping,” to borrow from the federal statutory definition of international terrorism, has engaged in terrorism. He need neither be wearing an al Qaeda team jersey nor be formally sworn in as a member of ISIS for us to state this palpable fact with confidence.
Shouldn’t we be able to agree on at least that much?

Terror in Canada

Posted By Nichole Austin On October 23, 2014 @ 12:58 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 1 Comment

View image on Twitter
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

The nation of Canada is reeling today from a brutal terrorist attack in the capital city of Ottawa that claimed the life of Canadian reservist Nathan Cirillo. The attacker has been identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 23-year-old convert to Islam, who was killed by authorities as he opened fire inside the Canadian Parliament. The incident comes just two days after two Canadian soldiers were deliberately struck by a speeding vehicle driven by another Islamic convert, leaving one soldier dead. The twin attacks have demonstrated that even the unassuming nation of Canada is not immune to the threat of Islamic terrorism, which once again has been allowed to flourish under a lax regime of global leadership.

Shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, Zehaf-Bibeau, using a keffiyeh to cover his face and brandishing a long-barreled rifle, approached the Canadian National War Memorial, dedicated to the memory of Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives in defense of the country. Corporal Cirillo was standing watch at the Tomb of the Unknown solider when he was shot in the abdomen by Zehaf-Bibeau at point-blank range. Zehaf-Bibeau then ran to the Canadian Parliament, where he was killed following a shoot-out with authorities.

Cpl. Cirillo, a 24-year-old father, was rushed to the hospital, but tragically succumbed to his injuries. A parliamentary guard sustained a gunshot wound to the leg during the attack and is said to be recovering.

Warning signs for Canadians have abounded in recent weeks. In early October, reports broke that an ISIS-connected terrorist plot had been thwarted by authorities. Two separate intelligence agencies warned Canadian law-makers that the threat of Islamic radicalism inside the country was growing. However, officials ultimately downplayed the idea that an any attack was imminent. Nonetheless, less than a week ago the government quietly raised the domestic terrorism threat level to medium for the first time in four years.

“This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” a visibly shaken Prime Minster Stephen Harper said in a statement to the nation. Harper vowed that the attack would lead Canada to “strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts, and those of our national security agencies, to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home.”

Worried Canadians should not be heartened by Harper’s pronouncements given what we have learned about authorities’ dealing with Zehaf-Bibeau and other like-minded terrorists in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Zehaf-Bibeau, born Michael Joseph Hall, had a long criminal history of drug trafficking, credit-card forgery and robbery. Most disturbingly, however, Zehaf-Bibeau also had been known to Canadian authorities for his jihadist proclivities and potential for violence. He had recently been designated by the government as a “high-risk traveler” and had his passport seized out of fear that he was liable to commit acts of terrorism abroad.

These disconcerting facts surrounding Zehaf-Bibeau are eerily similar to those surrounding Martin Rouleau, a.k.a. “Ahmad LeConverti (Ahmad the Convert), a the Canadian Muslim convert who drove a car into two Canadian soldiers on Monday in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, claiming the life of one. Rouleau was arrested in July when he attempted to fly to Turkey. Rouleau’s passport had also been seized in an attempt to prevent him from traveling abroad and taking up arms with fellow Islamic terrorists.

Ninety other individuals like Zehaf-Bibeau and Rouleau are reportedly on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police watch list due to suspicion that they have or are planning to participate in militant activities abroad. At least 80 individuals present in the country are believed by Canadian intelligence to have gone overseas to participate in terrorist activities.

The same is true in many Western countries. Approximately 100 individuals from the U.S. are believed by the National Counterterrorism Center to have attempted to leave the country to fight alongside ISIS jihadists. The FBI estimates that a dozen Americans are believed to be currently fighting in Iraq and Syria, while Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) reports that he was informed that some 40 U.S. citizens have been allowed re-entry into the country. According to the Obama administration, this is their right.

“Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport is revoked, is entitled to come back,” FBI Director James Comey declared earlier this month. “So, someone who’s fought with ISIL, with American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully.”

The events in Canada of the last several days have cast doubt on the reliability of the “careful tracking” strategy.

“If you want to go to Syria and Iraq, please go, but never come back,” Geert Wilders tells FrontPage’s Jamie Glazov on this week’s episode of The Glazov Gang. In this prophetic warning against the policy currently in effect in many Western countries of keeping known ISIS jihadists in their midst, Wilders pinpointed why Canadian soldiers like Cpl. Cirillo have to needlessly, and tragically, lose their lives at the hand of Jihad. By refusing to allow highly “motivated” jihadists to leave, Western governments have made, in Wilders’ words, “our own streets, our own airports, our own train stations, our own malls, very dangerous places to be.”

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fury, review: 'astonishing'

At times, David Ayer's gripping tank drama brings us as close to an understanding of war as cinema can, says Robbie Collin

10 October 2014

A man on horseback emerges from a bank of blue-grey fog. The animal picks its way unhurriedly across the ground, which has been churned to muck by boots, tyres and bombs, while the man calmly surveys the scene.
It’s April 1945, in the heart of Nazi Germany, and only when the figure is almost upon us do we realise he’s wearing the stiff field tunic and peaked cap, emblazoned with an eagle badge, of a German SS officer. Then, suddenly, from behind the wreckage of a vehicle, something pounces – another man, quick and wiry, who knocks the officer from his mount, pins him to the ground, and sinks a knife into his eye socket. We see the attacker’s face. It’s Brad Pitt. This is our introduction to the good guy.
Fury is the new film from David Ayer, and the latest entry in the director’s ongoing study into the habits and habitats of the killer male. Previous instalments, such as End of Watch, Street Kings and Training Day (which he wrote for Antoine Fuqua), have mostly centred on the director’s birthplace of South Central Los Angeles, but even in the shift to Second World War-era Europe, Ayer’s theme – the scorched friendships that grow up around terror and death – remains the same.
Pitt plays Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, the commander of an M4 Sherman tank who, along with his four-man crew, is part of the final Allied push towards Berlin. The tank’s nickname, daubed in white along the barrel of its 76mm gun, is Fury, and the word hangs in the background of almost every scene like a never-changing stage direction.
As in Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron (1977) and Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), any Hollywood gloss has been scoured away: the plot is raw, episodic and wholly unsentimental; a gruelling onward rumble from one brush with death to the next.
“We don’t murder, we kill,” says Lee Marvin’s hard-bitten sergeant in Fuller’s film; and it’s a distinction Pitt’s character all but reiterates here.
“I started this war killing Germans in Africa, then I killed Germans in France, and now I’m killing Germans in Germany,” he tells Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), Fury’s driver and the team’s newest, youngest recruit. Ayer is interested in the way these men cope with killing, and plunges them into the kind of war that doesn’t get talked about during peacetime. There is no Private Ryan-like search-and-rescue mandate. It’s not clear that anyone here is worth saving.
Pitt’s performance has more in common with his stern, authoritarian father-figure in The Tree of Life than Inglourious Basterds’ gregarious Lt Aldo Raine: as well as Ellison, he has three more filthy mouthed young men (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal) to keep in line, and the group dynamic is more familial than friendlike.
After an astonishing set-piece battle, gripping in its sheer orderliness – three Shermans against Panzers and machine guns hunkered down in a thicket, with Pitt calmly barking orders into the radio – Wardaddy forces Ellison to shoot a captured SS officer in the back, pressing the pistol into his hands, wrenching the trigger back under his fingers, twisting his head so he sees the man’s body drop to the dirt.
“Do your job,” Wardaddy roars at him. And that’s how the men justify their actions to each other: “best job I ever had,” they tell each other, half-laughing, half-commiserating, after every skirmish and ambush.
In the down-time between battles, Ayer lets the quieter moments run. In an unbearably tense sequence, Wardaddy and Ellison break into a house in a bombed-out village after spotting a young woman at the window, and there is an unspoken understanding between the four that meat, drink and beds will be shared in the search for mutual comfort.
There’s no glory in this moment, but it feels strange enough to be truthful – another encounter those back home could never hope to understand. Ayer’s film, with its fearsome, steam-hammer power, brings us as close to that understanding as cinema can.
Fury is released on October 22 and closes the BFI London Film Festival on October 19. To watch our exclusive live coverage of the red carpet premiere, please click here

Fury: the real-life tank veteran

How close is the new film Fury to the true horror of warfare? Guy Walters asks a man who fought in a Sherman tank

22 October 2014

Ken Tout served as a gunner in a Sherman tank during the Second World War Photo: The Tank Museum

Many people are able to watch films set during the Second World War and eat their popcorn with ease. After seven decades, the war is now in that safe box marked “history”, its horrors no more immediate than those of the Battle of Waterloo.
This will be true for most who go to watch Fury, which stars Brad Pitt as the commander of a Sherman tank doing battle in Germany in April 1945. Set over just 24 hours, Fury is a film of many horrors, but they are horrors that happened a long time ago, and a long way away.
For a few, though, the film is an all-too-real reminder of a time they’d rather forget. These are the men who have faced the ultimate fear and unimaginable horror, and survived. Today, they live in ordinary homes in ordinary towns through Britain. One such town is Littlehampton in West Sussex, where, in a smart bungalow near to the sea, lives a sprightly 90-year-old called Ken Tout.
Seventy years ago, Ken was doing what Brad Pitt does on screen – fighting the Nazis from a Sherman tank. As part of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, Ken arrived in France seven days after D-Day in June 1944, and took part in some of the fiercest fighting in Normandy.
Although some veterans can be dismissive of the Hollywoodisation of the war, Ken broadly welcomes it.
“I’m certainly happy that it continues remembrance,” he says. “There’s so much happening in the world that unless someone like Brad Pitt comes up, people forget that this did happen, and that too many people didn’t come back.”
The fate of many members of the five-strong Sherman crews was to be incinerated in a tank that the Germans nicknamed the “Tommy-cooker”. “It probably earned that name the first time a German shot into the rear part of a Sherman and hit the 600 litres of high-octane fuel, which immediately flared up,” says Ken. “It was an immense flare. You could get a tower of flame and ammunition up to 30 feet coming out of the turret. If the Sherman was hit at a certain angle and with a certain deflection, the ammunition would ignite at the same time as the fuel. It was a cocktail of burning fury.”
Escape was all but impossible, especially for those such as Ken, who, as the gunners, were deep inside the tank. Unsurprisingly, the crews regarded the tanks with a mixture of what he calls “horror and glamour”.
“When you first saw a tank – this ugly, trundling, noisy monstrosity – you thought that somehow or other you’ve got to fold yourself up and get inside that,” he says. “And there was also the realisation that the role of the tank was to go out in front and be shot at.”
Being shot at was certainly not the life the young Ken Tout had had in mind. His parents were members of the Salvation Army in Hereford, and Ken had his name down for theological college when the war broke out. His first job was not as a soldier, but working as an administrator in the local VD clinic.
“It was very busy with RAF and soldiers from the many encampments around Hereford,” he recalls. “Civilians as well. VD was rife in the wartime. Even one of my crew members in Normandy contracted it twice in the course of the Normandy campaign. He was popping off to brothels.”
When he turned 18 in January 1942, Ken was conscripted into the Army. An aptitude test revealed a certain mechanical proficiency, and he was posted to the 1st Northants Yeomanry to serve in tanks.
It would not be until June 30 1944 that Lance Corporal Tout would fire his first shot. He remembers it clearly today.
“On the other side of this field, there was a small gate in a hedgerow,” he says. “The Germans were retreating across our front, diving across this gate. They were jumping over irregularly, and we were waiting for them to jump and then try and shoot through the gate with our machine gun. Then it occurred to us that the best way to do it was not to fire at the gate, but to put high explosive shells into the ditch on the other side of the hedge.”
And that’s precisely what Ken did. In the Hollywood version of such an encounter, one would expect to see the gory effect of such a shelling, but Ken claims that the reality was different.
“You don’t see human beings flung up in the air or anything of that sort,” he says. “It was a nice clean way of killing. You sit, you’ve got the buttons, and you know that somewhere the other guys are being shredded, but you have no impression of it. ”
Ken was no cold-hearted killer. As with so many members of the Sherman crews, he knew what the Germans were going through.
“Those guys sitting in that tank were like us, and when we hit them, [we knew] what would happen to them,” he says. “We had seen our tanks when they had been hit by German guns. It was a very mental explosion of horror – and sympathy, almost, for the enemy.”
One of the most powerful moments in Fury involves a young gunner (Logan Lerman) clearing the remains of his predecessor’s body from his seat in the tank. Tout once had to inspect the remnants of burnt-out tanks, and the images would sear into him.
“All that was left of the crew members was a black, waxy substance,” he says. “When you had to clean out a burnt-out tank, you did it with reverence because those had been your pals.”
After battling his way through Normandy, Ken’s war came to an abrupt end in October 1944 in a village in Holland, when his Sherman rolled over.
“The verge collapsed,” he recalls. “We toppled into the canal, which fortunately had very little water in it. Everything seemed all right, except my leg had got bashed up fairly badly. As far as I was concerned it was bruising.”
It wasn’t. As well as being fractured in several places, the medics also found that he had an existing problem with his left thigh bone, and he was “off games” for the rest of the war.
Today, his leg still sports an impressively long scar. Thankfully, however, he appears to have been spared any psychological scars, unlike some of his comrades, who had to sleep in separate beds from their wives because their nightmares caused them to lash out violently.
“One went to a psychiatrist 50 years after the war,” Ken says, “but the psychiatrist said that it was too late to do anything.”
After the war, Ken devoted his life to peace. He was ordained, and worked in Latin America on earthquake and flood relief. In South Africa, he was a member of the archbishop of Cape Town’s Committee on Racial Affairs. He was the press officer for Oxfam and Help the Aged, gained a PhD in gerontology, and was awarded an OBE for services to the elderly.
Ken has written 10 books, some of which are about his wartime experiences. His masterpiece, Tank!, unlike so many matter-of-fact military memoirs, successfully conveys the emotional trauma of being in combat.
“For this is the world’s end,” Ken writes about facing the enemy, “the final precipice of chance. Ahead, along the crest of the unseen hill, Death lies ready to leap on us, on the chosen ones among us. So each of us digs a little dug-out among the rubbish of our adolescent beliefs and ambitions. And burrows for comfort into the most secret places of the soul’s darkness to avoid the outer realities.”
Ken came back from the end the world, and has lived his life well. Today, his only regret is that the makers of Fury decided not to cast him in the film. “I think I’m more handsome than Brad Pitt,” he says.
Fury is on release now

Infected by Politics

The public-health profession is more committed to social justice than to sound science.

By Heather Mac Donald
October 21, 2014

CDC Director Tom Frieden announces that a patient in a Texas hospital has tested positive for Ebola, on Sept. 30, 2014. (CDC/YouTube)

The public-health establishment has unanimously opposed a travel and visa moratorium from Ebola-plagued West African countries to protect the U.S. population. To evaluate whether this opposition rests on purely scientific grounds, it helps to understand the political character of the public-health field. For the last several decades, the profession has been awash in social-justice ideology. Many of its members view racism, sexism, and economic inequality, rather than individual behavior, as the primary drivers of differential health outcomes in the U.S. 
According to mainstream public-health thinking, publicizing the behavioral choices behind bad health—promiscuous sex, drug use, overeating, or lack of exercise—blames the victim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Communities Program, for example, focuses on “unfair health differences closely linked with social, economic or environmental disadvantages that adversely affect groups of people.” CDC’s Healthy People 2020 project recognizes that “health inequities are tied to economics, exclusion, and discrimination that prevent groups from accessing resources to live healthy lives,” according to Harvard public-health professor Nancy Krieger. Krieger is herself a magnet for federal funding, which she uses to spread the message about America’s unjust treatment of women, minorities, and the poor. To study the genetic components of health is tantamount to “scientific racism,” in Krieger’s view, since doing so overlooks the “impact of discrimination” on health. And of course the idea of any genetic racial differences is anathema to Krieger and her left-wing colleagues.

Local public-health programs are just as committed to “social justice.” The National Association of County and City Health Officials promoted a seven-part PBS documentary, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick?, to trigger community dialogues about health equity. NACCHO’s Health Equity and Social Justice initiatives seek to “advance the capacity of local health departments to tackle the root causes of health inequities.”

During the height of the AIDS epidemic, the public-health profession abjured any focus on abstinence as a means of stopping the spread of the disease. This silence was contrary to decades of public-health response to venereal disease, which stressed individual responsibility, as well as contact tracing, to prevent further infections.

The American Journal of Public Health recently published a study coauthored by Columbia University professor and longtime police critic Jeffrey Fagan arguing that young black men who have been stopped and questioned by the New York Police Department suffer from stress and anxiety. The more times an individual gets stopped, Fagan claims, the more stress he may feel. The study did not consider whether individuals who have been stopped numerous times by the police may be anxious because they are gang members operating in a world where retaliatory shootings are common. Nor did it compare the stress of stop subjects with the stress once experienced by law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods before the NYPD brought violent crime down 80 percent.

The public-health profession has a clear political orientation, so it’s quite possible that its opposition to a visa and travel moratorium is influenced as much by belief in America’s responsibility for the postcolonial oppression of Africa, and suspicion of American border enforcement, as it is by a commitment to public-health principles of containment and control. (African countries, unburdened by any such racial guilt, have not hesitated to impose travel bans; Nigeria’s travel restrictions are now being credited for its escape from an Ebola incursion.) To be sure, the logistics of such a moratorium would be challenging, but no more challenging than retrofitting American hospitals for Ebola patients.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parents in ‘Purple Penguin’ School District Say Their Objections Are Getting Quashed

School is not listening to concerns about controversial transgender training, families of schoolchildren say. 

Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel addresses the media at an October 9, 2014 Press Conference regarding Gender Identity and Professional Development

Parents with kids at Lincoln, Neb., public schools say their concerns about the district’s controversial gender-identity training are being blatantly ignored by the district.

Approximately 40 people attended the school-board meeting last Tuesday to comment on the training, and about half of those 40 came to express their disapproval of the materials. But when the district published a release to inform the rest of the community about what had happened at the meeting, it included excerpts only from supportive speeches.

“The school board representatives are elected to represent the parents and community to the school’s administration . . . they’re not doing that,” Rachel Terry, who has three kids in the district’s schools, tells National Review Online.

The release also included a quote from Superintendent Steve Joel gushing about the amount of support for the initiative the district received at the meeting:

“It’s heartening to hear so many of our trusted, loyal LPS supporters . . . hopefully have an understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Joel said. “It’s always going to be about creating relationships with individual students . . . so that those students can be successful.”

Terry says this is especially misleading considering that only a couple of the supportive speakers actually had children at one of the district’s schools.

“The people who showed up to speak supporting the school district, they didn’t even talk about these training handouts or anything and they weren’t parents for the most part,” Terry says.

As reported by National Review Online earlier this month, a training document given to middle-school teachers at Lincoln Public Schools instructs teachers, “Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids’ attention.”

Of the speakers who identified themselves as parents of children currently attending the school, only two said they supported the initiative, according to a video recording of the meeting. Speakers on the supportive side included LGBT activists, a representative from Nebraska’s American Civil Liberties Union, teachers, and ministers.

Many parents who attended the meeting to express concerns about the program said it was an overreach.

“We need to focus on the academic goals and that is what our taxpayer money goes to,” parent Janna Harris said during the meeting, adding that the viewpoint presented in the materials “goes against the conservative majority in this city.”

Other parents said that statements later made by superintendent Joel stating that the items in the work training were just suggestions and not a mandate did not change how they felt about the issue. (As National Review Online’s original story made clear, the instructions appear in a training document and weren’t handed down in an edict, although this has gotten lost in the subsequent coverage.)

“This is good to hear, but is missing the point, which is that the district is actively condoning and supporting the redefinition of gender,” Rachel’s husband, Ben Terry, said during the meeting.
“Indeed, faculty now have 12 easy steps to guide them in this process of redefinition.”

Another parent, Jon Cosby, said this is just another example of the school locking parents out of the way it is educating their children, adding that his wife had to ask three times to be able to review a textbook before finally receiving it a month later. He also said that the school had to consult its legal counsel before allowing him to see the gender-identity training handouts — and that an administrator told him this was because the school’s lawyer was “really good at keeping us out of trouble.”

“What is LPS trying to hide?” he asked during the meeting.

Rachel Terry said that she and other parents with objections are going to continue to fight the issue.

“Parents are on the phone, we’re getting together and talking about what we are going to do and in that way I don’t think it has tampered things down the way that I’m sure they hoped for,” she says. “I think probably the contrary is happening.”

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Meet the spy who is harder than James Bond

Matthew Dunn, a former field officer with MI6, has lifted the lid on the Secret Intelligence Service to create a fictional spy.

By and Thomas Harding
18 October 2011

There is a scar on Matthew Dunn’s right hand, a deep gash running down the edge from the little finger, as if at some point he has had to defend himself from the strike of a blade. A memento, perhaps, of the clandestine operations during his career as a field officer at the sharp end of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Has he ever come close to losing his life in the service of Queen and country? His fingers drum the table.
“Can we pause there for a second?” Tap, tap, tap.
“The answer is, yes.” Tap, tap.
“Let me think how to answer that ----.” Pause.
“We’ll leave it as Yes.”
We are sitting in his new home in the south of England, hidden in autumnal woodland at the end of a long and winding drive. The house is virtually empty of furniture, the kind of place in which George Smiley might conduct one of his gently menacing interrogations. So, about that scar?
“It was earned during an operation that almost went wrong but didn’t.” A knife wound? “Well, it was sharper than a gun.” Not a DIY injury then? “I would have done a better job of stitching it up if it had been.”
Dunn is 42 and our newest spy writer. Like le Carré and Fleming before him he is the real thing, a former member of SIS turned fictional chronicler of the secret world. His, though, is a more muscular creation than Smiley, or even Bond. Meet Will Cochrane, a one-man weapon of mass destruction; 007 is a cocktail-sipping lush compared with Cochrane, a man who treats bullets in the stomach as others would an attack of dandruff.
“My experience does help enormously,” says Dunn of his new career. “Obviously, I know all the technicalities of espionage. I chose to write about a field operative because that was my speciality. As a field officer you are on your own, you make your own decisions. What is authentic in the book? Certain trade craft techniques, the isolation, the decision making. Of course, I have intensified it in the book.”
You can say that again. Dunn’s first book is called Spartan, Cochrane’s codename, and its opening pages are littered with the bodies of Iranian (and British) heavies gunned down during a spat in New York’s Central Park. Cochrane takes a few slugs but is soon up and about, on the tail of an Iranian master-spy bent on Armageddon.
Six feet four inches tall, Dunn was involved in some 70 clandestine operations, receiving a personal commendation from the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, for his role in one episode. “I was told a commendation is very rare,” he says. “It’s upstairs but you can’t see it because it has Top Secret written on the top of it.”
What can he say of the circumstances? “Very little, beyond that it was a major incident. It was outside British territory and resolved to the satisfaction of HMG.”
Dunn was born in London, the son of a merchant seaman turned photographer. Educated at a state school, he read politics and economics at the University of East Anglia before taking a PhD in international relations at Cambridge. It was there that a tutor raised the matter of his future.
“There was a discussion about doing something academic. Part of me was attracted to that but I also had fire in the belly. I mentioned the diplomatic service and at some point he said there was another aspect of the service that might be of interest, also involving travel and complex situations. We knew what we were talking about.”
Six months of selection followed, involving tests of mental agility, role playing, repeated interviews and intrusive vetting. Five of the dozen people on his course were women, the successful ones a cross-section of society.
“MI6 is not some elitist club. The officer has to able to interact with any kind of person. You can’t have people who have lived only in a gentlemen’s club environment. It’s not like joining the Household Cavalry.”
What bound the new recruits? “We all felt anything was possible. You don’t enter with the mindset that 'this is impossible’. You just have to think of a way to do it. One of the questions in interview was, 'Who do you look up to?’ My response was, 'Frankly, nobody’. A degree of self-confidence is required, but not arrogance.”
Part of the selection process was conducted at Fort Monckton, the MI6 training establishment near Portsmouth. Candidates were sent into the naval town to test their ability to extract information.
“They might ask you to come back with 10 passport numbers,” says Dunn. “I had to sit in the pub and ingratiate myself with a group of strangers, getting as many personal details as I could. I did OK – some did tarot card readings or magic tricks to get details.”
A black tie dinner at Monckton marked Dunn’s formal acceptance into SIS. It was 1995 and he was 27. He was to find himself at the sharp end of SIS operations. “The Directorate of Requirements and Production is the operational side of the service. Officers operating in particularly hazardous areas were those who had excelled in the paramilitary side of training. I worked with the Increment, the SAS unit attached to SIS.
They provided back-up for anything that might be extremely dangerous. I was trained in close quarter and unarmed combat. I was good at it, I enjoyed it. Yes, there is an element of James Bond. There were no watches that could burn holes through walls but you might have a letter with explosives in it that could blow off a door.”
Dunn’s first job was with a team targeting rogue states. Officers are eased into operations – non-lethal ones first – often shadowing experienced colleagues. Dunn became an agent runner, responsible for about 20 in all. Some of those he recruited would have been tortured and executed if exposed.
“As an intelligence officer, you are there to listen to an agent, to get them to reveal their secrets, and then quietly to leave a country and get back to London without all the guns and glory. A thing mostly ignored in popular fiction is the terribly close bond between an officer and his agents. I used to think of my agents as a family.”
Dunn travelled under 12 separate aliases at one time, usually alone, usually reliant on his own resources. “It’s best not to bluff being a different nationality. You can sustain an accent for just over an hour, but after four hours it goes. You get briefings from people who do for a living what you are pretending to be. You may decide that this person is a good role model, so you adopt that accent, that persona.
“The loneliness, the isolation, is the real thing. The moment you step on the plane you are on your own. You are dealing with complex individuals with their own agendas. You are constantly asking, 'Is this a set-up?”
As a thriller, Spartan has pace and style, if occasionally overburdened dialogue. Abu Dhabi is unlikely to be impressed by it. Lana, the romantic interest, describes to Cochrane how the emirate’s security people beat her before extracting her back teeth and toenails with pliers. Dunn says the war on terror has posed fresh ethical challenges for his former service.
“The issue of collaborating with people who may use torture has made the work of MI6 officers very difficult. The service maintains that torture largely doesn’t work because the person tells you what you want to hear.”
Have SIS officers found themselves in dark foreign places, within screaming distance of interrogations? “I cannot imagine that arising. If an officer was in that situation I would expect him to walk out and report it. We don’t use torture and we must maintain those morals overseas. Of course, it is very hard for the field officer. There are situations in which your morality is tested to the limit, yet you have to walk away with dignity.”
Dunn quit MI6 in 2001 to raise a family. He was tempted to return following 9/11 but needed to make money – his spy’s salary being £35,000, hardly a fortune in London. Life out of the shadows, working for a recruitment company in the City of London, was a shock.
“I had done things and seen things that few have done and seen, and met people you would never believe, but to the people in the City it was, 'That’s all fine but can you make money?’ It’s moving from the Rolls-Royce of British government to a barrow boy existence.”
He divorced three years ago and cares for two young children. He has no close friends. “It’s taken me about 10 years to adjust to leaving. It’s not like a soldier coming back from the front. SIS is still around you, but you are no longer in it. You go to a restaurant and there are certain habits: checking the entrances and exits, the table spacing. I still think that way, sometimes not through paranoia, just because you do. Then I find I don’t need to be like that.”
The novel is printed in America under the title ‘Spycatcher’ published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins.
'Spartan' by Matthew Dunn (Orion) is available from Telegraph Books for £11.99 plus £1.25 p&p, to order your copy call 0844 871 1515 or go to

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