Friday, July 31, 2009

Dark Arts for Good Guys: Where there's smoke

Despite what you may think about evacuating out of a city that has erupted into chaos there is actually a lot of waiting. Hours of it. The world is crashing down. Except where you are. Down the street people just like you are running for their lives while you sit in your room on the sixth floor drinking coffee. Waiting for the right time to bug out.

While thoughts of leaving the room under the cover of darkness hoping to knock someone with a gun in the head with that crowbar may dance in your head, the odds aren't in your favor.

That doesn't mean be idle. When you are outgunned you have to out think them. Thinking tactically is constructive. It keeps your mind from running wild and going into a panic mode. It also gives you a creative outlet to incite fear into your enemy. There comes a point when your defensive thinking has to become offensive thinking. Sometimes that is with a gun, but first and more often its with your head. A defensive mind set tells your soul "just let me live" a mind positioned in offense meets an enemy head on in the fight. That's called strategy.

Even when you are unarmed you can still cause fear in your enemy. In a terrorist attack on the general population everyone is a target. You want to make the bad guys go and attack someone else, either out of fear or from being to difficult to access.

This is what we call hard targeting.

The reality is people are going to die in the chaos from bad men.That is the unfortunate reality of evil. It doesn't really ever change its mind, only direction. You have to change their direction.

Suicide bombers are often portrayed as martyrs for their cause. The bravest of their sect willing to sacrifice their own lives. As a leader you don't send your best and brightest off in a vest full of C4 and ball bearings. Rather (like any cult) you look for the poor, the weak, the outsiders who have no purpose (canon fodder). Telling them that their families will be better off financially and they'll be Valhalla for the sacrifice.

Just to be sure after the vest is strapped on its not uncommon for someone to shoot a needle full of heroin into their arm to keep them calm (and a remote detonator handy in case any thoughts of self preservation kick in).

Self preservation comes from fear and everyone.....everyone experiences fear, self doubt and anxiety. Whether you are just a guy trying to get things done overseas or a Quarterback trying to win the Super Bowl. You focus on the task at hand to get you through and minimize any unnecessary risks that can lead to the getting killed. Regardless of who you are.

Bad guys are no different.

Terrorist as a whole maybe inflicted with bravery for the cause (or the riot) when they are in a pack where they can feed off each other. Isolated most are not brave rugged men, but twenty-somethings (or younger) plagued with doubt and insecurity. That doesn't make them any less dangerous, just unsure of themselves. You have to feed on the insecurity.

You're not trying to get them to flee the city, but you can deter them off your hotel floor and possibly the hotel even if you're not armed.

With the exception of firemen and a few other certifiable crazies who run into buildings to save lives, no one wants to die in a fire. If the un-shaved kid in the ski mask, camo jacket and carrying a banged up assault rifle looks up the stair well or down the hall and thinks the building is on fire, and that the infidels are going to die anyway he's probably not going to see a reason to get trapped in a burning building. In third world countries plenty of people die in building fires and its a terrifying prospect for anyone.

So if camp fire smoke will make you close your eyes and turn your head, a hallway full of big white smoke will make you run.

But you don't have to set the building on fire to create smoke. Smoke can be created in pretty substantial amounts from field expedient smoke "bombs" out of ordinary materials found in the hotel, if not your room.

Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline compound (at room temp) found in fertilizer and explosives. Its also used in Instant Cold Compress/Cold packs you see sitting on the shelf at Wal-greens next to the ace bandages.

The cold pack has granules of Ammonium Nitrate rolling around inside along with a separate small pouch of water. When the ice pack is needed the bag is hit against something hard breaking the water pouch inside. The mixture creates an endothermic reaction (absorbing heat), forcing the packets temperature to fall to around 35 F for 10 to 15 minutes.

The same ammonium nitrate can be used to create a very billowy smoke "bomb".

Cutting open the main bag with out breaking the internal water pouch pour the crystals into a dried ice bucket (or mop bucket from the maintenance room usually located near the elevator).

Next add just enough water to the granules to get them to dissolve into a solution.Once the solution has dissolved take and fold individual pieces of newspaper into squares just big enough to fit the bottom of the bucket. You should be able to soak 3-4 folded sheets easily. Keep adding folded sheets of newspaper until the solution is completely absorbed and your sheets thoroughly soaked. Let the folded pages soak in the bottom of the bucket for ten minutes or so.

Next remove the sheets one at a time and lay them on a hard, flat, dry surface to dry. This will take a while but you can speed the process up by lightly (lightly) using a hair dryer or if the bathroom has a heat light, lay them on the floor with the light on. The sheets will be very fragile when wet so treat them with care.

After they have completely dried you are going to want to fold each page in a one-two inch fold from the top down until you have a kind of flat tube. Do this to each one. In order to keep the tube folded together you can either use tape or string (shoelaces or line from the curtains will work here), tightly together. You want to leave enough paper on the ends that the paper can easily be lit with a light or a match to get it burning/smoking.

Remember the goal here is to start smoke, not fire, so you can put a roll or two (or more if need more smoke) in the now dried ice bucket in the hall or stairwell and light them. Even if the bucket is plastic the burning paper shouldn't melt it (and its the least of your concern anyway), but if you must, put a wet towel under the bucket on the floor.

If your evac is by chopper off the hotel roof let your pilot know that you'll "pop" smoke to ID your position.

Its about using tools in a tool box to win. Winning is getting home. In a dire situation you can obsess over wanting or wishing you could have a gun, but there comes a point where you have to accept that its probably not going to happen. That's not to say give up. Be willing to out think and out move. If your mind can't get passed your finger on an absent trigger then you're no better set to get home than a suicide bomber. Mindset wins the day.

p.s. making "stuff" requires experimentation to get "it" right. Just like shooting.
Practice & experiment consistently.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dark Arts for Good Guys: Flight Plan

When the brain kicks into the Flight or Fight response (i.e. from an environmental stressor) your sensory cortex sends a signal to the brain stem. The instant your brain kicks out of homeostasis and into high gear, your alertness to the situation and the environment are more attuned than previous.

The longer or more intense and prolonged the situation is causes activation in the sypathetic region of your autonomic nervous system (This is how adreneline gets dumped into your system).

When this occurs your body physically responds in several ways. Pupils dialate, digestion of food in your stomach slows down or stops, there is an acceleration in your heart and breathing rate. Skin can go pale, flush or bounce back and forth. The mind and eyes get tunnel vision. This is why we threat scan. Rotating your head left to right pulls you from this and can save you from being blind sided.

The same holds true for not having a good plan to get out. While it may be very exciting to rush from the hotel and into a waiting car out front yelling "gogogogo!". To do so with no plan is tunnel vision.

If you find yourself in the middle of an attack fleeing is a good thing. It doesn't make you a coward, it makes you smart. You fight when you have no other option or it aids in your flight. But ultimately you have to realize this is someone else's problem to deal with in the bigger sense.

So how do you go about fleeing in a smart way. Unless your under immediate attack stay where you are and think it through.You have time. You may not have five hours, but you probably have a half an hour to an hour to brain storm and plan. In many cases longer.

The other thing you are going to have to do is lead. You may think its a given, but its one of the single biggest components missing in a crisis. When the shit has hit the fan there is no room for democracy. One person must lead and direct and the others must follow.

CCW classes teach about using shooting tactics and techniques, clearing holsters, and repeating the worn and increasingly untrue statement that most shootings happen at night with less than five shots fired inside seven yards. Very few are teaching students how to lead their people and/or families out of harms way.

Hang with me on this, because the immensity of leading a group, regardless of who they are in your life (co-workers or family), out of an extended hostile environment is far more important than the weapons cache you have in your room.

Someone is going to have to delegate and willingly assign tasks that may get people killed. As much as you might envision yourself in all sorts of heroic deeds it will take everyone working to get through it. If you are too much the people pleaser or don't want anyone hating you, your left with two choices, get someone else to lead or grow up.

Grow up.

Leading people out of a hell hole requires you to be smart, mentally strong, and willing. It also requires you to start learning how to do that before the shit hits the fan. Hollywood likes to show the meek man or woman suddenly rising to their feet from the corner telling everyone to shut up and listen and they suddenly are empowered with leadership skills. That is make believe.

Not sure.

Learning to lead is no different that learning to draw from a holster, going to the range for practice, or taking a martial arts class. You're not going to find out in a gunfight that you have these inherent skills for handgun shooting. Or that after years of dedicated couch potato'ing you can run a seven minute mile "because you have too". We train for reasons. Those reasons are to learn to do what it is we can not.

So what's the first thing you do as you look out from your hotel room at a newly battle scarred city and back at your co-workers? Realizing that you are all facing a local Armageddon?

Order room service.

Get everyone together and create an improtu command center. Set someone with the task of getting food and drinks together. Both for the immediate and the prolonged. Food reassures and calms people down. Subliminally it tells people that eating tonight means there is another sunrise coming and tonight is not their end. You also don't know when you may eat again.

First unofficial rule in Executive Protection: Eat whenever possible.

The second order of business. Remove anyone who is in the midst of panicking from the planning area. Even if its just to the next room. I simply can not stress this enough. People on the edge of losing or already losing it spread their panic onto everyone else.

IF you allow it.


It may sound harsh, but if you have to pick them up and remove them do it. Don't be abusive, don't scream, just remove them from the room.

Frankly these types don't provide solutions, they talk too much, put everyone on edge, and they soak up valueable time talking incessentnly and crying. Crying and screaming amidst a crisis is a monumnetal waste of time and energy.

I was once forced to duct tape a "client's" mouth shut to keep us both alive. It may not be an easy thing for you to do, but the whole prolonged ordeal is going to be full of things that aren't easy to do. Adapt.

Next assign (competent) team leaders. General rule of thumb. One leader for every five people. Why? Because that is the usual passenger size per vehicle. Should one car become separated in transit, they have leadership in place, reducing time in the "whose in charge in this car" panic conversation.

Get people working. If phone service is available get someone tasked with finding drivers (security spooks with combat driving experience is the best route), but as the city crumbles fore-hire-security will become less and less availabe and you may have to make do with what you get.

Assign someone to get maps of the city and if possible correlate with google-earth, and the television. Use all three to get square on where the worst of the trouble is and then work on navigating around it or out of it as the situation mandates. If you have nothing get on the roof and physically look for fires, flashing lights, smoke, and listen for gunshots. If Jaish-e-Mohammed are gunning down the peoples in the street its best to avoid them as much as possible.

If your final mode of transportation out is by plane learn what the security threat is to the airport. The last thing you want to do is spend seventeen hours fighting, running, ducking and hiding your way across a city to discover the airport is shutdown.

Most people never pay attention to it, but cities generally have two airports. The one you came in on and the one that the wealthy fly out of. Even small towns and villages have "airports" that maybe nothing more than puddle jump launchers, but they can get you out of the newest global hot spot for danger. Personally, stuck in the middle of a coup or terrorist attack I'm heading for the small private airport that isn't a target and probably doesn't have the military crawling all over the place.

There is also that "third" airport option that we'll look at in a coming article. That is the smugglers airport.

Have everyone get packed and be ready to move out. Surprisingly, you may actually be able to take everything you brought and bought out with you. You also want a "bug out" bag in everyone's lap as they ride. If you are forced to abandon vehicles everyone has their essential kit with them.

The point that has to be stressed here again is that, you aren't to do everything for everyone. The Wife and I have been married for four years and I still open her car door for her whether its going to the gym or a nice evening out. However, she is also an adult who is responsible for herself and in the midst of a crisis I expect her to function as such.

If you are forced to go down the hallway and around the corner with that Skorpion 61 jutted out front ready to shoot down those who oppose you, Sally from accounting can follow behind. But she's more than capable of being eyes at your six o'clock.

Julia Child may have authored seventeen cook books and made one hell of a soufflé but she was also in the OSS in WWII.

If you're in a place where you must hire drivers get them up to your command center (make sure they speak English) and have them go over the routes and get their input. If the say the routes are no good, ask them why. Specifically.They may have legitimate reasons for changing your plans, but ultimately they probably aren't as invested in getting you to the airport or border as you are. If they want to go different routes have them mark it on the map. Because the probability exists that your driver can get killed or bail out of the car the moment things get hairy. Take the drivers with you and inspect the vehicles yourself. Make sure there is air in the tires and the tank is full (not kidding), and that they are big enough.

Once your drivers are with you and you've gone over routes keep them with you. Tell them they are to only speak English (in as much as possible) and minimize their contact with anyone else outside your group(i.e. no chitty chat on the cell phone). You don't want them hand delivering you to the local chapter office of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (it happens all the time in Columbia and Mexico).

Should your driver get killed, leave, or simply freeze when the shooting happens, you are going to have to drive for some short period of time from the passenger seat. Hand on the wheel and foot over the console.

Its not hard just weird, and if you're here its the least "weird" thing that has happen so far.

Be flexible and understand that once moving all plans will shift, move or sometimes all together collapse. Its frustrating and maddening if you aren't willing to adapt as things happen.

Things will happen.

Thoughts on planning your Routes. Because you should plan more than two.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Coming Monday July 27

The Dark Arts for Good Guys Series continues with: FLIGHT PLAN

Strategic decisions for leading and evacuating.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dark Arts for Good Guys Series: Fight & Flight pt II

There can be difficulty in illustrating the point of how bad total social melt down can be, with you stuck in the middle. The best advice in this area I can give you is to watch the movie Black Hawk Down that depicts the Battle of Mogadishu.

<--photo of the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya 1998

Don't watch it from the line of sight of the soldier or the war lord, but rather the people ducking for cover as they run across the street in the back ground. Cause friend that's you.

To start with know where the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is in whatever country you are going to. It sounds like a given, yet its surprising the number of Americans who travel and assume there is an Embassy nearby.

To put it in perspective, Indonesia has two American stations, one is The Embassy in Jakarta and the other is the Consulate in Surabaya. However, Indonesia is comprised of 17,508 islands, of which 922 are permanently inhabited. Sooo there can be sometimes a bit of distance between you and soil-away-from-home.

Prior to and throughout your trip check on-line with the Over Seas Advisory Council. Not just the country you're in, but any additional ones that you are planning to visit. The OSAC issues press releases for each country, and advises its citizens abroad of everything from deteriorating political climates (ex: this spring in Madagascar) to city specific areas to avoid.

If you find yourself in need to evacuate and don't know how and are too far from the Consulate or Embassy. Call them.


Tell them you need contact information for local English speaking security services.

Companies like International S.O.S. , will provide you with estimates for out-of-country-extractions to local ex-pat English speaking security types (Mercs) to escort you to the airport.

Social disruptions vary, and no place is safe. Just like here at home. When rioting and looting broke out after Hurricane Katrina the entire Gulf Coast was on high alert. This didn't affect anyone in Missoula, Montana.

So it can be a regional problem and not a national one. If you're in a foreign country on business or pleasure and social break down ensues in the area and you have business elsewhere move up your time table and go. But let's say the shit has really, really hit the fan (that's why you're reading this anyway).

Car bombs are going off. Tanks and uniforms are in the streets fighting Molotov cocktails tossing teenagers with AKs and ski masks. Unarmed and in need of readily available self-defense measures means one thing.

It's time to go shopping.

Ask the Concierge or front desk where the local hardware store is as well as any local sporting goods store. Its important to remember that you want anything you can get. And it will probably fall into one of two categories: Bladed or Blunt.

This is about makeshift weapons. Most (save maybe the U.K.) have things like bush knives, machetes, pangas etc. If you can't get long bladed weapons buy a few cricket bats. Look for something with reach that is lethal. Buy butcher knives, steak knives and the like. You are also looking for a hammer, crow bar, flat head screw drivers (extra large and medium size), and sharpening equipment or files. Duct tape, and if possible a decent cordless drill and bits (remember this part as you will see it again in another up coming article).

One other thing. Always...always pack a decent high lumen flashlight like a surefire , a l.e.d. headlamp and extra batteries for both. Power outages are common all over the globe under normal conditions. Even in the five star hotel you are in. Local bad guys will always bomb the electrical sub-stations first (terrorist incite terror) to cause black outs. Bet on it.

Cardboard and duct tape can make for field expedient in-the-waist-band knife sheaths (complete with belt loop) to stove that butcher knife or extra large flat headed screwdriver in. Your Hula girl or Ex-Officio button down short sleeve shirt will cover the handle.

The nice thing about being an American overseas, no one (cops included) think about America touristas walking around with butcher knives in their pants.

One travel writer said that you can carry a hard plastic bic pen with the end snapped off at a rakish angle for a discreet weapon and walk down the street well armed. Hmmm no thanks, if I have to pick between pen and concealing a steak knife, I'm picking the knife every time.

In the tropics and the islands there is one thing you can find: A Dive shop. Where there is Scuba equipment there are knives and spear guns.

Roll your eyes if you so choose. But let me remind you of this. Some where lost in your DNA are your ancestors. Shocking but true there was some blood lineage version of you in the times of Caesar (and farther back). Until the prevalence of firearms came about man fought with knives, swords, spears, and arrow. They either lived or died, and you are no better than they are.

Laugh if you like, but you are the same one who would say "better a .22 in your pocket than the .45 left at home." When you have neither its either bare hands or get nasty.

Personally I'll take nasty.

If you have nothing, something beats that.

The good hotels to the outstanding ones have in each hallway two on the fly weapons. Fire Extinguishers and Fire Hoses.

A firehose? Really?

The normal range of pressure for a firehose is between 8 & 20 bars (or 100 to 300 psi), they can also have a burst pressure range of 83 bar (or 1200 psi). This pressure level is capable of breaking in weaker brick walls. If water can knock a hole in a wall what do you think it will do to human skin at twenty feet. So its more than capable of knocking down a bad guy with an AKM.

Three people can operate a hose. Knock your bad guy down and keep him there and send one man off hose to retrieve any and all weapons and reloads. The two men operating the hose can direct flow as necessary.

Give no quarter.

Recover the weapon and kill them right then and right there.

Its not pretty, but you can either finish that fight there or let them run back and get friends, and your going to have to fight them again with increased numbers. Minimize your threat.

If you obtain a gun remember that the weapon is hot. If its foreign to you and you can't figure out the safety mechanics Rule 3 (keep your finger off the trigger) is your safety. Look for additional weapons from pistols to grenades and spare magazines and take them. This isn't a house shooting in Burbank and you don't know when it's going to be over or where you will be. More than likely its just getting started. Retreat to the room and take stock of the newly acquired gear.

If its an automatic rifle it has a safety and a lever or button that removes the magazine. If a magazine goes in, it has to come out. If it shoots it has a way of not shooting.

Its called Dark Arts for Good Guys for a reason.

They started the fight and you best end it, because if you don't they will.

It's not about politics or religion its about the law of the jungle, which is to say every man for himself.

Like travelers in the Oberoi in Mumbia did last year or the Virgina Tech Massacre the year before you have one of two choices. Either lie down and die or stand and make a fight. That is it.

Its not a "nice" thing to say and in all honesty regretfully true.

Thirty-two people were murdered and more wounded by one s.o.b. at Virginia Tech, because of the hundreds of people who saw Seung-Ho Cho walk by them no one, not one, fought back.

Holing up in the room waiting for the door to be kicked in so you can stand unarmed between a gunman and your family is a senseless and cowardly way to die. Frankly. It is pathetic that your entire life (and that of your family) led up to the moment of being slaughtered because you (and they) did nothing to prevent it.

I would rather my life end in a fight in the hall or doorway with an empty and dented fire extinguisher than found in pieces on a blood smattered hotel wall and bed with my wife, while the gunman walked to the next room and did it again.

he ain't talking about me:
En masse evacuations in the last ten years

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dark Arts for Good Guys Series: Fight & Flight Flight & Fight Part 1

I woke up this morning to the headlines "Suicide blasts at Jakarta Ritz".

The headline hit home.

My second thought was of the attack on the Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai last year by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba . I had spent a few nights there in 2007.

But my first thoughts were of the Spring of 1998 and the Indonesian 1998 Revolution that centered around the resignation of President Suharto .

For two weeks in May that year, I was part of a small contingent of guys that were on 24 hour stand-by to do emergency evacuations for ten American paper mill executives on two Indonesian Islands.

The U.S. based company was trying to assess the particulars of getting their men out of the country in the most efficient manner (read: cost effective). If memory serves I think the cost thrown at the company to extract their men by us was $2-$2.5 Million dollars.

After day in and day out of green lights and red lights the operation was ultimately scrapped.

The Client said they felt like the situation was easing up in Indonesia and that their men in country should be able to get themselves home.

Six of those men did. Four did not. They were hacked up and/or executed on some jerk water island in the South China Sea. As I later found out the families of the left-for-dead were suing for tens of millions of dollars. I'm sure in retrospect that $2.5 looked cheap.

The fact of the matter is this. Regardless of where and why when the shit hits the fan its going to probably be up to you to get yourself (and anyone with you) home. Or at least out of the kill zone.

"Ridiculous" you say. "I'm in my hotel room right now in the Republic of Freeistan and can see the U.S. Embassy from my window. Its just over a mile away, and I ran a mile in seven minutes this morning on the hotel treadmill."

If rioting breaks out between you and the embassy getting there might be tough. If a civil war breaks out good luck. Especially if you're an American.


Regardless of what you think or who you are, right now in world history the U-S of A is the biggest kid on the block, With that comes the burden of being blamed for everything wrong.

But there is also something else you should realize.

Behind every coup and riot there are literal conductors to these orchestras of disaster and war. And since every leader wants international press coverage for their cause they riot and wage war in front of the American Embassy.

No one is going to let you yell "time out" so you can stroll in the very front gate they are trying to tear down. In fact they may ask you to be their guest at gun point.

The international airport that is also just a few miles away is the other big target. Again, big targets =big press coverage. Bad guys use things like youtube, myspace, facebook, and Fox News to get attention. Because like you they are fighting for their survival, good, bad or otherwise.

Now that KR&E Insurance policy you were advised to get doesn't seem so ridiculous. In it there are usually provisions that say for this much $$ we will send in men with guns to get you to a private airport and out of the country, negotiate your return, etc. But you or your boss thought it was absurd. After all this was just supposed to be a five day spearfishing trip in the Caribbean.

The sun has gone down, and your on the roof of your hotel by the pool listening to the crackle of automatic weapons fire and the wailing of sirens. The signal to your iPhone is cutting out, and you're relatively certain the news feed from CCN reporting two streets up just showed soldiers gunning down the citizenry. This was supposed to be paradise, now its a free for all.

So you have to improvise and start thinking hard, mean and fast, because you and your co-workers or spouse and the kids are alone, and you've got a Swiss Army knife. That carry conceal permit in your wallet doesn't have reciprocity in the South Seas and your SiG 250 and AR-15 are back home in the basement.

So how do you get out? What do you pack? How can you improvise weapons to get better weapons? How do you steal a car to get to the airport or the border?

Flight & Fight Part II: Bugging out and Arming up....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dark Arts for Good Guys Series: Bribery part II

Preface: This series is leading in a direction. Stepping stones so-to-speak. Its ultimately about you having to get yourself (and maybe others) out of a singular bad situation or a situation that is escalating (think traveling abroad and experiencing total social collapse even if its only for a short time).

Sometimes rules go out the window. Sometimes rules no matter what prevail, but you have to step outside of those rules to prevail.

Bare in mind I said prevail, I never mentioned not being scarred (mentally or physically) from the situation or paying the consequences for your mis-deed regardless of your honorable intention to do nothing more than "Get Home."

But that is what this series is about: Getting Home

Bribery often denotes the thought of cash, and usually lots of it. Traveling with excessive cash can be problematic. For one, there can be the lack of it. Some of my clients could easily get a wire transfer for $100,000.00. I'd have to put my house up for it.

So like always you have to think outside the box. Let's start small and look at what you do have.

Equipment and Gear.

Once in Pakistan surrounded by a wide array of AK-47s, AK-74s, Tokarev Machine pistols (and even a Springfield A3-03 ???) my hosts became completely enamored with my ASP airweight baton. I simply had something they didn't. My $65 baton had increased value.

Once while flying out of Guadalajara I got stopped by a Federale at the airport. My sin was trying to board the plane (this was prior to 9/11) with my very new (two weeks) Spyderco Military folder. He looked over the knife and asked what I did for living and I explained and he nodded his head, and said he would need to "detain" me for a bit. He closed the knife and flicked it open again.

And then he made his mistake. He grinned ever so slightly. I knew I had him.

So I very innocently grinned gave two open palms and gestured that he could have it. He nodded and then walked me through security.

Its akin to the mountain man and indians parlaying on a blanket in the Snake River valley in the 1820s.

Minus the gory details I once ended up over 100 miles away from my vehicle on an investigation here in the states. Short on cash and in a small town I needed to get to the train station 30 miles away (sounds like a math question doesn't it). I made my way to the local gas-n-sip for a couple of teenagers with a pickup truck and offered my 1st generation night vision scope ($120) for a ride. I had a long five hour wait at the train station, but I got there thanks to them.

A GPS in Bangalore or a set of Motorola family band walkie-talkies might get you that much needed boat ride up the Usumacinta River .

Where you and I can go on-line and get anything we really want from Brigade Quartermaster or Cabelas...or even Eddy Bauer other people can not. People in developing countries often have resources or resourcefulness but are more usually than not cash poor. Again, even those in official capacities.

Bargain fairly, and don't be insulting. But don't get taken either. You may think he's India's version of a hill-billy but he's probably a shrewed bargainer because he does it daily and you shop at Target with a debit card.

Depending on where you are also spells out the advantages you might have. In hill country where towns let alone cities are miles and miles away, you might trade your GPS for one thing and graciously include the batteries already inside. But those spare quality AAAs in your bag might get you a meal, and the instruction manual is worth something else (you need to read something on the plane anyway).

Seriously batteries in back-water towns around the globe may be around in Hadu's trade hut, but they are not the first class Duracell Extended life ones we generally use.

So the next time your light off for the territory ahead back some "trade" goods. Buy an extra $35 plastic Sure-Fire flashlight (maybe even leave in the package), it may bail you out of that "mistake" or get you a better room.

Next: Fight & Flight

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Dark Arts for Good Guys Series: Bribery

According to Black's Law Dictionary bribery is the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in discharge of a public or legal duty.

And it goes by many names, Baksheesh in Africa, Mordida, dash, spiffs, "fines", tea money, "processing fees", cadeau, payola, gifts, etc. For the morally uptight who don't travel the world, you think "not me." Well Ned Flanders let's just recognize that the rules of the world were set up before you got there, and not everyone loves Jesus like you and me.

Currently one of the biggest and most and acceptable forms of bribery occur in over seas adoption. I'm not talking about illegal child deals, but rather actual government officials and real legitimate orphanages. The current rate of "extended paper work fees" in Guatemala run between $5000.00 and $10,000.00 and China's go from $10,000-$20,000.

For the sake of this article let me preference this, as a general rule of thumb we are talking about outside the United States. Bribery in the U.S. isn't necessarily rare, but you won't find bribery acceptable amongst the road cops and highly advise against it.

Some fees are straight up. When I flew into one middle eastern country and we went through customs there was a $20 processing fee for Americans.

The thing you have to get past your own virtues.

If you're trying to change the world, good for you. You've got your Master's degree and you voted for Hope and Change. But people (including low level government types) are literally starving in that poor country you've come to "save". That sawbuck you would use back home for a McDonald's value meal might infact buy some poor smuck's family something more than rice to eat, or medicine for his kids ear infection where the free health care wait is six months.

So how do you deliver on the bribe to that unshaved patrol man after your fender bender in Mexico, or carrying that Makarov with no permit in Tanzania?

Never discuss dollor amount. Don't say "so how much to make this go away."


You don't start flipping out a wad of bills until he says stop.

This is as much about social palaver as it is about the bribe. Its also about you learning to be submissive, polite and keeping your potentially ugly American mouth shut.

Did I mention polite.

A good way to read the officer's intentions and level of honesty or corruption is when he arrives, if he talks with you and tries to resolve the problem first. That's good. He's open to talking and listening.

If he arrives cuff's you, begins beating your ass and won't let you talk. Shut up, go to the station and maybe you'll have better luck with his boss.

You'll be greeted with a scenario such as "I have to take you to the Polezia station to resolve this." Then he may pause for a moment. Your response should generally be something to the effect of asking if there is a way to take of the problem here and now so you both can be on your way. Because after all he is an important officer of the law and has better things to do with his day than deal with a dumb American like you.

One favorite is "Yes of course. You are the man in charge here. Thank you for being so reasonable (even if he's not). Obviously there is a fine involved here for my mistake. Can I just pay it here?"

Watch for hesitancy, and give him a moment to consider it. Look innocent and dumbfounded and keep quiet. If he says no immediately I wouldn't encourage pushing it. But if you want to try say something to the effect of " well I just figure I have to pay this fine for my mistake regardless and I was hoping I could just take care of that here. You wouldn't know what the fine is by any chance do you?"

Yes, for the most part I repeated my statement there.

Letting the other guy think he's smart and you're stupid is key here. He already has the authority, making him feel intellectually smarter can save you from a trip to the station, a beating or both.

It's also wise to pull out a smoke at this point and light up and offer him one.

But you don't smoke.

Neither do I, minus the occasional cigar. But I never, without cigarettes.

Marlboro's usually.

A smoke can open a door that would otherwise stay closed, get you an ally or a look out. Smoking establishes camaraderie and makes you a working class stiff just like him.

If language is a problem indicate that you are in a hurry and show him your passport, plane tickets, official papers (lots of stamps and seals are a good thing to have) with a single bank note of currency tucked where he can see it.

The key here is...have cash. He's not going to amble over to the ATM or Bank of Venezuela with you.

So how much?

Well it depends on the situation of course, but surprisingly most people get in trouble by offering too much money to too small of fish. He gets suspicious that he's being trapped. The flip side is you've just insulted a big gutted and slovenly captain that you thought was a patrol man by not offering enough.

I didn't say it was easy. There is an art to it.

A fake traffic stop (speeding when you weren't, stop signs that weren't there, headlights that work just fine but the officer insists didn't). These are a good sign of pay on the spot fines. They generally go for $5-$15 (U.S.)

Real traffic violations go for $20-$50

Serious Traffic violations (Drunk driving, racing, excessive speeding, etc) $50-$500

Serious Car accidents, no one killed, but injuries $500-$1,000+

Accidents where fatalities are involved. Along with Judges, police chief's, lawyers, and prosecutors $2,000-$10,000+

Those dirty bad things you've done (running guns, drugs, prostitutes, etc)? Get a lawyer and ask him how much the bribes are going to be (expect in the excess of $10,000-$50,0000). (Source: WMDP)

But there are also gangs and bandits to consider. Which is more safe passage than bribery since they are not officials.

Every country is different, and on this I couldn't be more serious. So do some research. In one country the best way to bribe is still with the U.S. Dollar. But in others (like Cuba) bribing a local constable with American cash can get him executed for being in possession of the Great Satan's $. So go with local currency that will keep you and him from getting lead poisoning in the back of the head.

IF you get in country and don't know. Go to the bar.


Hit up the ex-pats and local journalists (not foreign journalist. These dumb-asses copy everything from the local journo's). Give the bartender a smoke and ask where the locals go. Or contact the local U.S. Mission or embassy and ask where is a good spot to find the ex-pats.

The key to bribery is simple. You are simply greasing wheels to facilitate services that would otherwise be denied, restricted or delayed. If you don't mind waiting or being told no and turned away keep your money.

If nothing else, the next time you walk into your favorite exclusive restaurant without a reservation and they say its an hour and half wait slide the girl in the slinky black dress a ten spot and get seated in fifteen minutes and be the hero of your party.

I once paid (no joke) a $100 for a pepperoni pizza at 12:25am New Years Eve in Key West because my Principal and his girlfriend where starving. The line was literally out the door and around the block of the little walk up pizza joint. I strolled past the line looked at the manager and said "I'll give you $100 for the next pepperoni pizza out of the oven". He looked at me and said "done."

Of course advice on this blog is for entertainment purposes while you're at work and supposed to be doing that other thing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dark Arts for Good Guys Series

When you exist in a world that is relatively stable and law and order are the rule, it is easy to sit back and condemn the actions of others if you have never been there. To most Americans the thought of bribery is immoral and is a bridge that won't be crossed.For others who operate in a "different" climate you have to learn to adapt and think outside the box in an immediate fashion. Missionaries and Mercenaries all over the globe understand this, as does anyone who works covertly.

The first time a roadside soldier or police man in a poor and rural area tells you that your paper work is not in order and he's going to have to detain you. Its probably time to grease the wheels a bit. But there is an art and a protocol to bribery. Too little its a problem. Too much and you may have a much bigger problem.

So often we refuse to learn and utilize information that is other wise deemed immoral or just wrong. However there can be places and time when such knowledge can not only be useful but life saving.

Let me illustrate a point.

Several years ago I spent some time with a drug addict. He had among many things been addicted to prescription pain killers. As we talked he told me that he chewed the pills instead of swallowing. When I asked him why he simply stated that the drugs got into his system faster.

Flash forward. I occasionally have experienced food allergies with fruits here and there. On one particular occasion I had eaten a slice of fruit at a party and within minutes my lips began to swell and my arms itched. I was able to readily locate some antihistamine pills, and as I took it I chewed them up and let them rest in my mouth a moment before washing it down with water.


See here's the thing. Most tablets have a time released coating on them, often this is to help prevent making folks nauseous from putting too much into their system to fast. By crushing the pill I by passed 45 minutes to an hour of waiting for the itching an swelling to go down. With in 15 minutes everything was back to normal.

So what do you do if your traveling in a foreign country, and wake up the next morning to find that there are soldiers in the streets and overnight there is a civil war? Suddenly that easy trip to the airport that is 200 hundred miles away and near the U.S. Embassy is now a non viable option? Tourists and innocent people are being slaughtered.

How do you get out of the country?

How do you get from point A to point B so that you can get out of the country?

How do you make, make shift weapons to either defend yourself or get better weapons?

This is what is coming in a series of articles I'm writing called:

Dark Arts for Good Guys.


Our conversation had started with me asking “ So who shot you in the throat? ”, a basic conclusion on my part, b ecause on one sid...