Thursday, September 30, 2010
The column offered tips on how to deal with anthrax hoax and bomb threat letters.
You can read my column via the below link:
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The community library in Ketchum, Idaho and Boise State University will host the 6th annual celebration of Hemingway's literary heritage.
You can read the piece via the below link:
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Kill-Or-Capture: U.S. Intelligence Official Says Fanatical Islamic Cleric Involved in Numerous Terrorist Plots
The fanatical Islamic cleric is the subject of a debate over the Obama administration's "kill-or-capture" order on him, as he has dual American-Yemeni citizenship.
As Lott notes in National Review Online, gun sales began to rise after Obama won the presidential election in 2008. Lott states that at the same time gun sales were soaring, murder rates were dropping.
You can read Lott's piece via the below link:
The above American Rifleman photo is of a Smith & Weston .38, Model 10.
Monday, September 27, 2010
The book is called The Secret History of MI6 - 1909-1949.
You can watch the video via the below link:
Sunday, September 26, 2010
TIME's News Feed offers a piece on the new book about the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, called The Secret History of MI6, 1909-1949.
The piece notes that a British World War II intelligence officer, Wifred "Biffy" Dunderdale, a former boxer and friend of James Bond author Ian Fleming, was the model for the character of Bond.
Although Dunderdale, like two famous spies in history, Sidney Reilly and Richard Sorge, was a womanizer, drinker and lived through some dangerous times, I don't think Fleming based his character that closely on him.
Other than some of his early journalism, I've read nearly everything Fleming has written, as well as nearly everything written about him. I believe his fictional character was based on a good number of British military commandos and SIS secret agents Fleming met during World War II. Bond was also based in part on Fleming himself.
Fleming wrote that Bond was intended to be a "blunt instrument" used by the government to combat Her Majesty's enemies. Bond was also intended to be a blunt instrument that Fleming could use to carry along the action in his thrillers.
The man of action was based on the real commandos and secret agents, but Fleming said he also added his own personal "quirks and characteristics" to the character.
He gave Bond his likes and his dislikes and his personal style. Bond, like Fleming, wore a Rolex watch, Sea Island Cotton shirts and dark blue suits. Bond, like Fleming, liked scrambled eggs and Vodka Martinis. Bond, like Fleming, was a womanizer.
In The Secret History of MI6, an authorized history, author Keith Jeffery writes about the real men and women who served in SIS from the service's beginning in 1909 to the early post-war years. The book is a companion of sorts to The Defense of the Realm, an authorized history of the British Security Service, MI5.
As the British finally open up their secret files, one discovers that Fleming's Bond stories, generally thought to be outlandish (the films more so than the novels), were based on true events in the history of crime and espionage.
You can read the TIME piece via the below link:
You can also go to my earlier post and read a review of the book via the below link:
Friday, September 24, 2010
Below is a review of The Secret History of MI6 from the British newspaper The Telegraph:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2010 - U.S. Cyber Command stands ready to defend Defense Department networks, but laws and policies must be updated to protect the nation, the organization's commander said yesterday.
Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander (seen in the above official DoD photo) is the first commander of Cybercom, which stood up under U.S. Strategic Command in May, merging DOD's defensive and offensive cyber arms into one command.
The command operates in a new domain for the military – the man-made domain of cyberspace. The domain is just as important for military operations as land, sea, air and space, defense officials said. Cybercom directs military operations in cyberspace and is responsible for defense of crucial military networks.
The threat is real and continuing, Alexander said.
"The more you learn, the more you say we have to come together to protect this," the general said during a roundtable with reporters at the National Cryptologic Museum. Noting that Defense Department networks are scanned or probed 250,000 times an hour, Alexander said, "we have to do a better job defending it."
The networks are the lifeblood of commerce, power, finance and many other aspects of life today. There are 1.9 billion Internet users in the world today, Alexander said, and 4.6 billion cellular phone subscribers. The number of e-mails each day this year is around 247 billion, with 90 trillion e-mails sent in 2009. The Internet is a tremendous capability, Alexander said, but it also is an enormous vulnerability.
"Our intellectual property here is about $5 trillion," he said. "Of that, approximately $300 billion is stolen over the networks per year."
Cybercom's three main missions are to defend the defense information grid, launch the full spectrum of cyber operations on command, and to stand prepared to defend the nation's freedom of action in cyberspace, Alexander said.
The command has a budget of $120 million for this year and has about 1,000 military and civilian employees. Included in this is a 24/7 joint operations center that monitors the grid, detects attacks and neutralizes them. The command works with the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine Corps cyber commands to parcel out how to defend the networks and who has responsibility for the specific nets.
Assigning responsibility needs to happen throughout the government, the general said, noting that technology has outpaced policy and law. The government, he added, still is dealing with laws that came out when the nation relied on rotary phones.
"The laws we did 35, 40 years ago are what we have to update," he said.
Alexander put two issues on the table. "First, we can protect civil liberties and privacy and still do our mission," he said. "There can be mistakes, but we can protect the First Amendment."
The second issue, he said, is that Cyber Command is defending the DOD networks now, and as directed, can help the Homeland Security Department defend its networks.
There is confusion over who does what, the general acknowledged, so White House officials are leading an effort to sort through the needs of cybersecurity and update the policies and issues. "They are looking at the policies and authorities that need [re-]doing, and what's the right way to approach it," he said.
Once the review is finished, he explained, the president must determine how the federal government will be organized to handle this.
Congress is also looking at the problems. "From my perspective," Alexander said, "I would like to war-game it and hypothesize what could happen and ensure the policies, laws and authorities allow us to do what people expect us to do. I don't want to fail in meeting the expectations of the American people, the White House and Congress."
Changing the policy is complex, and will take time and several tries to do it right, Alexander said. The general said he envisions a team handling things in cyberspace. The DHS, the FBI, other government agencies and private stakeholders – along with Cybercom – all have a role, he said, and getting the disparate agencies and entities to work together will be a priority for cyber defense.
Some questions still need to be answered, and policy makers need to take them into consideration, Alexander said.
-- What constitutes a cyber attack?
-- How do the laws of war pertain to operations in cyberspace?
-- What does deterrence look like in the cyber world, where it can take months to determine attack perpetrators and the cyber defense group may have nothing to strike back at?
These questions are valid, the general emphasized. In 2007, Estonia was hit by a cyber attack that crippled that nation's grid for weeks, he said, and a foreign intelligence agency compromised a classified U.S. military system in 2008.
The attacks can be disruptive, like the Estonia attack, or destructive, with lives lost and equipment and networks destroyed, Alexander said.
"Those are the kind of rules that have to be weighed and discussed," he added. "It's good to have that debate, and from my perspective, it is important that it is clear who has the responsibility to defend in that kind of requirement."
You can read the two Counterterrorism magazine pieces I wrote on cyber security and cyber warfare via the below link:
Thursday, September 23, 2010
You can read the piece via the below link:
The above Joe Pesci photo is from GQ.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The British newspaper The Telegraph offered a top ten list of John Wayne's classic films.
This is a good list, but I would have replaced The Comancheros with Fort Apache.
I like The Comancheros, but Fort Apache is a brilliant John Ford film.
The Duke is great, of course, but so is Henry Fonda as the misguided and arrogant Colonel (based on George Custer). And Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen and Pedro Armendariz are wonderful as the three sergeants. This is one of the best films about the military in my view. I love this film.
I would have also replaced El Dorado (a remake of Rio Bravo) with The Cowboys. The Cowboys is a great film about youth and old age. The Duke's heroic fight to the death in the film with a much younger man is a classic.
You can read the newspaper piece via the below link:
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I read Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, John le Carre and many other spy thriller writers. I went to the movies and saw the Sean Connery-James Bond films and I watched Patrick McGoohan on TV in Secret Agent and The Prisoner. I also liked the early Mission Impossible TV show and I loved the TV spy satire Get Smart.
I went on to do security work as a young sailor in the U.S. Navy and later as a Defense Department civilian. Over the years I met, worked and trained with, and was briefed by the sort of people I had read about and watched on the small and large screen as a teenager.
As a writer I’ve also met and interviewed a good number of retired and active duty intelligence officers and special warfare operators. Some these men and women are as extraordinary and as interesting as their fictional counterparts.
I still like a good spy story, so I was pleased to read Agents of Treachery: Never Before Published Spy Fiction From Today's Most Exciting Writers (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard), edited by Otto Penzler.
Penzler, an author, editor and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop, one of the oldest, largest and finest specialty bookstores in the country, was able to enlist 14 good writers to donate an original spy story for the book.
“The international thriller is one of the most successful literary genres in the world, its primary practitioners becoming household names, insofar as any author’s level of fame can compete with an entertainer, sports figure, or world-class criminal,” Penzler wrote in his introduction to the book.
“Ian Fleming, John le Carre, Graham Greene, Lee Child, Nelson DeMille, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Ken Follet, and Eric Ambler, among many others, are familiar to readers around the world,” Penzler explained. “It will come as little surprise to learn that for many years, one of every four novels sold in the United States fell into the espionage or international adventure category.”
But, Penzler added, it may come as a surprise that there has never been, until now, a collection of original stories devoted to this highly respected and challenging genre.
As Penzler noted, there have been a modest number of collections of spy stories by individual authors, such as Ian Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only, but most are reprint collections or excerpts from novels.
In Agents of Treachery, Penzler offers original short stories from the top writers of spy novels.
“The assignment given to the contributors to this unique collection was deceptively straightforward and simple,” Penzler wrote. “Write an international espionage or thriller story and set it anyplace in the world you like, in any era. No subject was forbidden, no word length specified or hindered. The wide range of styles and focus contained herein will attest to the fact that the men and women who labored over these stories and produced such masterly tales accepted the invitation in the proper spirit.”
I especially liked Charles McCarry’s story, The End of the String. McCarry is perhaps America’s best spy novelist. His Tears of Autumn is one of the best spy thrillers I’ve read.
McCarry served in the U.S. Army as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes and later worked as a newspaper reporter and speechwriter in the Eisenhower administration.
McCarry also worked as a deep cover CIA officer from 1958 to 1967. He CIA work took him to Europe, Asia and Africa. McCarry later became an editor-at-large for National Geographic and he went on to write several outstanding novels, such as Christopher's Ghosts, The Better Angels and Shelly's Heart.
In The End of the String, McCarry offers a suspenseful and atmospheric tale of the birth of a coup in an African nation. McCarry’s narrator, a man called Brown, is an American operative who is approached by the head of the national police, a man Brown simply identifies as “Benjamin.” Benjamin is about to overthrow the county’s dictator and he wants Brown to observe the coup and then report the events back to the U.S.
I also enjoyed Andrew Klavan’s clever tale of a Soviet sleeper agent from the Cold War who finds himself activated in the war on terrorism, and I enjoyed Stephen Hunter’s World War II story of espionage and behind the lines combat.
John Weisman’s Father's Day is a suspenseful story set during the Iraq War and Stella Rimington, the former head of the British Security Service MI5, provides an interesting story about a British counterintelligence operation.
There are other fine stories in this collection as well.
So if you like a good spy story, I suggest you read Agents of Treachery.
Monday, September 20, 2010
The British Culture of Assassination in WWI: Communists Were Lured With the Promise of Sex, But Were Met By Assassins
A generation before Ian Fleming dreamed up his character James Bond's license to kill, the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, was involved in assassinations.
Gardham's source is a book called Six: A History of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, Part I, a new history of the intelligence service written by former military intelligence officer Michael Smith.
The book details how a Cossack Colonel, working as a British agent, lured several communists, including Soviet officials, to a lakeside villa with the promise of sex. The communists were then tortured and killed.
The book also covers Sidney Reilly, the British agent known as the "Ace of Spies," who planned to kill the entire Soviet leadership in 1918. Reilly (seen in the above Telegraph photo) was in turn murdered by the Soviets.
You can read the newspaper piece via the below link:
Friday, September 17, 2010
The Ferndale, Michigan police arrested a dumb criminal who committed armed robber in a Darth Vader mask, reported the police news website, www.officer.com.
You can learn more about this story via the below link:
Fleming On Film: Ian Fleming, the Creator of James Bond, To Be Featured On Screen in Several Upcoming Films
The website http://commanderbond.net/ reports that several upcoming films will feature thriller writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, as an onscreen character.
Two film bios of Ian Fleming are in the works and one film, Age of Heroes, will feature James D'Arcy (seen on the right in the above CommanderBond.net photo) as Ian Fleming.
Age of Heroes is about 30 Assault Unit, the intelligence gathering commando group conceived by Ian Fleming when he was a Royal Navy Commander serving in British naval intelligence in World War II. Fleming called the group his "Red Indians."
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The online small business magazine Businessknowhow.com published my On Crime & Security column today.
My column covers National Preparedness Month and I passed on some safety tips that small business owners, and all Americans, should adopt.
You can read my column via the below link:
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The online publication Deadline.com, along with many other Internet sites, reports that Joe Pesci and Al Pacino are signing on to the upcoming Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro film The Irishman.
The film is based on the life of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, a mob hit man who confessed to murdering union boss Jimmy Hoffa and many other people. His lawyer, Charles Brant, heard Sheeran's "confessions" and wrote I Heard You Paint Houses.
De Niro, who is half-Irish, is set to portray Sheeran, a Philadelphia native, and I'd like to see Pesci portray Jimmy Hoffa. Pacino could portray several mobsters from that era.
You can read the Deadline.com piece via the below link:
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
You can link to le Carre's interview via the below link:
In the British newspaper The Telegraph Guy Walters watched the interview and he disputes Le Carre's claim that his cover as an intelligence officer was blown by Philby. Walter also asks for evidence that members of the House of Lords were bribed.
You can read Walter's piece via the below link:
In the interview, which le Carre said is his last, the former British intelligence officer talks about his life and his new novel Our Kind of Traitor.
He also talks about his early life in the security services and how he was "blown" by the double agent and traitor Kim Philby.
Le Carre's latest thriller is about Russian organized crime, money laundering, politics and British spies.
You can read about the interview and view a video via the below link:
Photo of John le Carre and book cover by Viking.
Monday, September 13, 2010
The pieces are Hemingway's contributions to The Toronto Star when he was the newspaper's Paris correspondent in the 1920s.
"Aficionados will recognise the nascent pith and verve of his writing," Cullen wrote. "But these articles represent so much more than the baby steps of a future literary giant; they are the remnants of a lost generation of foreign reporting."
You can read the review via the below link:
Saturday, September 11, 2010
North, seen above in the Fox News photo, suggests we never forget.
You can read the column via the below link:
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Below is a U.S. Naval Forces Central Command news release:
MANAMA, Bahrain, Sept. 9, 2010 - A 24-member maritime raid force from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit today boarded and seized control of an Antigua-Barbuda-flagged, German–owned vessel from pirates who attacked and boarded it yesterday.
Helicopters from USS Dubuque provide aerial watch as Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's maritime raid force board and seize control of the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged, German-owned vessel M/V Magellan Star, left, Sept. 9, 2010, a day after pirates attacked and boarded the vessel. The Marines serve aboard USS Dubuque, operating under Combined Task Force 151.
The mission secured the safety of the M/V Magellan Star's crew and returned control of the ship to the civilian mariners.
Nine pirates are under the task force's control, pending further disposition, officials said, and the ship's crew has not reported any injuries or casualties. No injuries to the maritime raid force were reported.
The Combined Task Force 151 flagship, TCG Gökçeada, a Turkish frigate, was the first ship on scene, responding to a distress call early yesterday. Two additional warships assigned to the task force -- USS Dubuque and USS Princeton -- arrived in the vicinity to support Gökçeada.
"Units from the multinational maritime force, under Combined Task Force 151, are actively engaged in antipiracy operations," said Rear Adm. Sinan Ertugrul of the Turkish navy, task force commander. "This regional problem truly has global impact, and we are completely committed to bringing the disruptive acts of piracy to an end.
"We have full support of the international community," he continued, "and will continue to do everything possible to bring security to the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin."
Combined Task Force 151 is one of three task forces operated by the 25-nation Combined Maritime Forces. It was established in January 2009 to deter, disrupt and suppress piracy, protecting maritime vessels of all nations and securing international freedom of navigation.
The above U.S. Navy photo is by Petty Officer 2nd Class William Farmerie.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
My Crime Beat Column: Frederick Forsyth Offers a Fact-Based Story of An All-Out War On the Drug Lords In 'The Cobra'
I like that Forsyth uses his skills as a journalist to infuse his thrillers with true facts and details about crime, espionage, terrorism and war. Forsyth also offers a good, thrilling and suspenseful story.
His new thriller, The Cobra (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), continues in that fine tradition.
“There are two ways of doing this job, a news agency bureau chief told me once,” Forsyth wrote in a piece called Behind the Story: The Cobra. “You can not bother and get it wrong, or take the trouble and get it right. In my office, we get it right.”
Forsyth went on to write that the bureau chief was a good journalist who taught him a lot. And when Forsyth switched from being a foreign correspondent to novelist, the training stuck. Even though it is fiction, Forsyth says he tries to get even the smallest detail right.
“That includes the weird places to be visited,” Forsyth wrote in Behind the Story. “For The Cobra, a deep delve into the murky world of cocaine, smugglers, Coast Guards, cops and gangsters, there were “must go” targets. The HQ of the DEA in Washington, the back streets of Bogotá, the dockside dives of Cartagena. But the more I researched, the more I came across a recurring name: Guinea-Bissau.”
Forsyth called the African state a shattered, burned-out hellhole: the ultimate failed state. Of course, this hellhole is the perfect shipment point for cocaine going from South America to Europe.
It was while Forsyth was researching his novel there, posing as a bird watcher, that the country suffered yet another coup d’atat. Forsyth wrote that the airport and the borders were closed, so he was trapped inside and no one could get into the country.
“In the trade, it’s called an exclusive,” Forsyth explained. “So I borrowed my host’s mobile and filed a thousand-word summing-up to London’s Daily Express, for whom I do a weekly column.”
The intensive research paid off.
Forsyth’s new thriller begins with the American president determined to smash the illegal drug trade after coming into contact with the parent of a teenager who died from a drug overdose. The president decides to use a retired CIA officer known as “the Cobra.”
Paul Devereaux, 70, a CIA legend in the mold of real-life CIA legends James Jesus Angleton and Cofer Black, was sent into retirement because he was too ruthless for the CIA.
Devereaux skirts American law and gives himself more authority by declaring the drug smugglers to be terrorists. He is given carte blanche to take down a truly vicious and truly successful Colombian drug cartel known as the Hermandad — the Brotherhood.
The chief of the Brotherhood is Don Diego Estaban, an educated, cultured and aristocratic Colombian. By force of personality, Estaban was able to forge the other major cocaine warlords into a single and all-powerful syndicate.
To assist him in the battle with the Brotherhood Devereaux hires as his number two, Cal Dexter, a former Vietnam “tunnel rat” and bounty hunter known as the “Avenger.” Devereaux and Dexter both appeared in Forsyth’s previous novels The Afghan and The Avenger.
Devereaux and Dexter bring in Navy SEALs, the British Special Boat Service (SBS), and other specialized military units to stop the flow of the cocaine into Europe and the United States.
Dexter has the British and American naval special operations teams placed on converted merchant vessels that can track, isolate and sink the ships that are carrying smuggled cocaine. The teams place the crews and the cocaine cargoes in secret locations. Dexter also recruits a pilot who flies a British Blackburn Buccaneer and shoots down aircraft carrying drug shipments.
The Brotherhood are aware that their drug shipments are not reaching their destinations, but how, and who, are the questions the drug lords want answers to. Being violent and paranoid, they turn on each other.
”So if you’re interested, dear reader,” Forsyth wrote in Behind the Story. “It’s all in The Cobra. The dives of Cartagena, the U.S. Navy SEALs, their British equivalents, the SBS, the Global Predator UAVs, oh, and dear old Guinea-Bissau."
“And it’s all true. Well, okay, it’s not all true, it’s a novel,” Forsyth stated. “But it’s accurate.”
If you like fast-paced and fact-based thrillers, as I do, then I highly recommend Frederick Forsyth’s The Cobra.
Monday, September 6, 2010
On that memorable trip we went aboard the cruiser USS Olympia.
My father, a former Navy chief who served as a frogman in the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) in World War II, used this trip, along with later trips to the Philadelphia Navy Yard and other sites, to instill in me a life-long love of ships, the U.S. Navy, and America, the country these U.S. Navy ships protect and defend.
Now the cruiser USS Olympia is in danger of sinking, but the danger does not come from an enemy fleet. The danger is age - and a lack of money to properly maintain the ship.
The above photo shows the Olympia in fine shape (photo by the National Maritime Initiative), but today the old warship is in bad shape and need of repair, as the below Associated Press piece explains:
The below link offers details about the Olympia:
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.hnsa.org/ships/img/olympia2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.hnsa.org/ships/olympia.htm&h=378&w=580&sz=69&tbnid=rsx4VRDTm8hcgM:&tbnh=87&tbnw=134&prev=/images%3Fq%3DUSS%2BOlympia&zoom=1&q=USS+Olympia&hl=en&usg=__eN3A9BP05xHi1_Xya6yHinl9MYM=&sa=X&ei=w3uFTK_TOYT7lwecqPSiDw&ved=0CDcQ9QEwBAThe below link is to the Philly Seaport Museum, which oversees the Olympia:
I believe the ship is a national historic treasure. I hope the ship can be saved.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
John le Carre's Spook World
By Paul Davis
Last month I wrote a piece here about John le Carre’s disparaging remarks about Ian Fleming’s iconic character James Bond. The piece generated some interesting responses.
Although I attempted to offer a spirited defense of Ian Fleming and James Bond (the character from the novels, not the films), I did note that I also liked le Carre’s novels, especially Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
This is perhaps le Carre’s year as a film is being made of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the TV miniseries based on the novel was outstanding), and he has a new novel coming out called Our Kind of Traitor.
To promote his new book, the 79-year-old author gave an interesting interview to the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph.
In the interview, le Carre, a/k/a David Cornwell, spoke of how he struggled to demystify and de-romanticise the spook world in his thrillers. He also spoke of his time in the British Security Services and of his con-artist father.
He explained why he refused to meet the British traitor and spy Kim Philby when he was visiting Russia. I admire his stance.
Although le Carre’s spy novels are known for their moral ambiguity, le Carre spoke of the difference between the West’s intelligence officers and the Communists on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the Cold War.
“But there is a big difference in working for the West and working for a totalitarian state,” le Carre told the Telegraph. “I promise you that even when quite ruthless operations are being contemplated, the process of democratic consultation was still relatively intact and decent humanitarian instincts came into play.
“Totalitarian states killed with impunity and no one was held accountable. That didn’t happen in the West,” le Carre said.
Le Carre is right. According to The Black Book of Communism, the communists murdered more than 94 million people.
Although I disagree with le Carre’s politics and worldview, I look forward to seeing the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and I look forward to reading his new novel, Our Kind of Traitor.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Although the submariners called the rough-hewn tugboat crews "McHale's Navy" - which we took as a compliment - and we called them "bubble-heads" in return, we knew that serving on a submarine was a tough and difficult job.
We won the Cold War due in large part to submariners and their submarines. Today, the "Silent Service" continues to keep America secure and safe.
Below is an interesting piece on submarines from the American Forces Press Service. The above U.S. Navy photo is by Lt. Rebecca Rebarich.
Submariners Give rare Glimpse Into "Silent Service"
By Lisa Daniel American Forces Press Service
ABOARD THE USS RHODE ISLAND, Aug. 23, 2010 - On a recent sun-soaked morning hundreds of miles off Florida's Atlantic coast, this Trident ballistic missile submarine surfaced for an unusual operation.
Crew members of the Trident nuclear submarine USS Rhode Island stand on top of the vessel as it gets underway after delivering a group of journalists to a waiting support vessel. About a dozen journalists, many representing the military, watched from a contracted 250-foot support vessel as the sleek, black back of the submarine ascended above gentle waters in the open ocean and maneuvered alongside the boat. With just a few feet separating the two vessels and a Coast Guard cutter on watch, the support boat's crew extended a catwalk bridge from its deck over to the Rhode Island.
A pod of dolphins played in the wake below as the journalists hobbled quickly over to the submarine. "Keep moving! Keep moving!" a submariner shouted, as a slowdown easily could lead to a foot or leg getting caught and injured, or causing a "man overboard" situation.
After exchanging quick greetings with the attending crew, the journalists climbed in turn through the hatch and down the steep, narrow ladder into the belly of the sub.
The Aug. 16 media visit offered a rare glimpse into what is known as "the silent service," the community of Navy submariners who man and control the vessels that carry weapons under the sea. Journalists were invited to embed on the Trident after a military-commissioned survey showed that Americans know less about the Navy than the other services, and even less about submarines and those who serve on them, Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, public affairs officer for Submarine Group 10 at King's Bay Naval Base, Ga., said.
The visit also coincided with increasing media attention on the submarine community following two major changes in Navy policy earlier this year: lifting the ban on women serving on submarines, and ending smoking on subs. The Navy chose 21 women early this summer to begin the 15-month training to serve on subs beginning in the fall of 2011. The smoking ban takes effect Jan. 1.
The Nuclear Triad
The Rhode Island is an Ohio-class submarine, the largest model in the U.S. fleet. At about 560 feet long and 42 feet in diameter, Ohio-class submarines hold 24 Trident ballistic missile tubes and four torpedo tubes. The Navy's fleet of 14 SSBNs is based at King's Bay and at Bangor, Wash.
The Trident subs, known as "boomers," are powered by a single-shaft nuclear reactor. They can carry more than 16 tons, travel more than 20 knots -- more than 23 miles per hour -- and submerge more than 800 feet, according to Navy officials who keep their exact capabilities secret.
Part of the nuclear deterrent triad along with land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and Air Force bombers, the Tridents' sole mission is to deter a nuclear attack through its ultimate strike capabilities. A command from the president, passed through U.S. Strategic Command and ultimately to the ship's captain, allows the crew to fire a long-range ballistic missile in a matter of minutes.
The Trident is a three-stage missile powered by solid rocket motors. It's about 44 feet long and 7 feet in diameter, and weighs about 120,000 pounds, according to information provided by public affairs officials. Each has a range of more than 4,000 miles. Touring the Boomer
The boomer's design of massive missile tubes occupying the bulk of the midsection and extending vertically through four levels is the focal point of the vessel and a reminder of the singular mission of deterrence. The space between the tanks makes up the hallways. Small rooms, such as the nine-person enlisted berthing cabins -- three sets of bunks with three beds each -- and a couple of bathrooms, known as "heads," are tucked in between.
The galley and crew's mess are nearby on the same level and they present a nearly constant hub of activity. The Navy is known for providing good meals, and if the Rhode Island is an indication, submarines are among the best. The boat's head chef, Petty Officer 1st Class Daniell Pinero, a former chef for the secretary of defense, and his crew provide three hot meals each day as well as late-evening snacks.
Stocking the galley for a three-month tour is no small undertaking. A lengthy shopping list includes, for example, 530 pounds of coffee, 22,140 eggs, 800 pounds of butter, 504 bags of microwave popcorn and 21,000 biodegradable weights to sink trash in the ocean. Because all food must be purchased and stored before the start of the tours, fresh produce is a scarce commodity enjoyed in the early days of each patrol. Still, there are few complaints. Pizza, spaghetti, turkey and dressing, ham and sweet potatoes, rolls, cakes and pies -– all homemade -– were provided during the media visit.
"I gain 10 pounds every time we go out," Cmdr. Robert J. Clark, commanding officer and captain for one of the Rhode Island's two rotating crews, said.
Exercise equipment is placed sporadically around the ship – cardio machines and free weights – wherever there is a little spare room. But as Clark and others noted, any weight gained on board is lost during shore duty.
A Tight-knit Community
Clark is the commanding officer and captain of the Rhode Island's blue crew, which carried the media representatives during their visit. His executive officer, or second in command, is Lt. Cmdr. Paul Pampuro.
Each Trident sub includes two crews of 15 officers and about 140 enlisted men, known as the blue and gold crews, each with its own commanding officer. Each crew rotates onto submarine duty about every 112 days, while the other crew stays at base for training and preparation for the next time at sea.
A snapshot of the crew is one that is young, smart, and committed to the mission and fellow crewmembers. The average age is 23, and many have engineering, math or science degrees.
Ask submariners what they enjoy most about their work and the answer usually is the camaraderie of a tight-knit community, the highly specialized work, and the importance of the mission.
Lt. Colin Myers is a Naval Academy graduate who serves as the sub's main propulsion assistant, assistant security manager, intelligence officer and ship self-assessment coordinator. He said he enjoys the Rhode Island because of the quality of the crew.
"These are a lot of really smart guys," Myers said. "Some are double majors. It's a volunteer force, so they really want to be here." He added that because the submarine force is small, there are many opportunities and officers advance quickly; some obtain command by their mid-30s.
Serving on a submarine -– mostly submerged for three months with only periscopes to see out -- also can be stressful, tedious and boring, submariners say. The days are long, sleep is minimal, and submariners are surprisingly disconnected. E-mail is sporadic, only coming through every couple of days when an antenna is connected to the sail -- a submarine's exterior tower-like structure -- and attachments are not allowed. There are no phone calls; no text messages. Still, some say they don't mind being disconnected.
"You either love it or hate it," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Hurt, the torpedo room supervisor.
Reality in Mission Control
Around 9 p.m., some off-duty crew members gather in the mess to wind down with a movie. The chef has made pizza and Buffalo wings, and someone pops in the 1990 movie, "The Hunt for Red October."
"This is a comedy!" a long-time submariner proclaimed as the crew laughed at the creative license Hollywood took in producing the action-packed drama of a Trident submarine executive officer, played by Denzel Washington, who leads a mutiny after the captain, played by Gene Hackman, decides to launch a ballistic missile at a perceived Soviet threat.
In the real world of Trident subs, protocol and procedures rule. In the control room, the sub's nerve center, each area is manned in six-hour shifts with full attention on the equipment. The mission is to keep the boomer undetected, while detecting everything else around it.
In the front of the room, three enlisted men watch location and conditions on monitors while two of them do their part to "drive" the sub with long-handled steering wheels. Behind them, two others man multiple screens that track sonar and acoustics, analyzing sounds from as far away as 75,000 yards. Behind them, an officer always is watching through the periscope, and those images are provided on computer screens. Coordinates are constantly being called out above the sound of the equipment, and the standard response "very well" acknowledges receipt of the information.
Many of the screens are marked "Secret," and all of the crew has security clearances. While each has his own job specialty, all are cross-trained and expected to be able to do multiple jobs, Rolinger said. "Everyone is an expert at damage control," he said, noting the crew practices multiple drills -– from firing torpedoes to putting out fires –- several times per week.
During a missile release test, Clark stands in the center of the control room receiving information from every possible data point, some relayed repeatedly to ensure conditions have not changed. "All missiles will be released," he announces along with the exact time so all clocks are synchronized to the exact second.
"This is the captain. This is an exercise," Clark says over the sub's speaker system.
Down the hall, two crew members man the missile control center, divided between "launcher" and "fire" controls. The U.S. ballistic missile fleet fires four test missiles each year, and has had 124 consecutive successful tests in 20 years, Cmdr. Michael Sowa, deputy chief of staff of strategic weapons for Submarine Group 10, said. The tests also serve as a deterrent, and foreign countries are notified before testing begins, he added.
"The system works well, even better than it was designed to work," Sowa said. The British, French, and Russians also test ballistic missiles, and the Chinese are developing the capabilities, he said.
"The SSBN mission is to deter," Sowa added. "So, if we must launch, we've failed our mission."
Earning Their Dolphins
A more likely scenario than the release of a Trident missile is the release of a torpedo. Back toward the front end of the sub and down the stairs next to the smoking room, two crew members man the torpedo controls, watching red and green lights for the status of torpedoes that lie horizontally on hydraulic lifts. They hold several exercises each week to practice firing torpedoes, and avoiding torpedoes from an enemy.
"Everything we do down here, we get one minute to do it in," Hurt said. A submariner for four years, he said he now loves the job that is very trying for the first two years.
Three sailors earned the title of submariner here on Aug. 16 when they were presented the coveted Dolphin pins, which come only after a new crew member proves within 10 months that he has a basic understanding of everything on the boat. Clark presented the pins during a ceremony in the crew's mess.
"The whole thing is a little overwhelming," Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Iverson, 20, of Freeport, Ill., said after receiving his pin. "With this, you know you've earned the respect of your fellow shipmates."
Petty Officer 1st Class Herwin Marcia, who has served on submarines for 13 years, still remembers the stress of being new on a submarine.
"It's a big culture shock," he said. "You have to catch up to where you can support everyone else. You have to be ready when called on. We don't have time to wait."
Below is a link to an earlier post on the U.S. Navy submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland: