This is the first chapter of a book I wrote called Playing Soldier, it is available at most online bookstores. Please be advised the book was published as fiction.
I did an interview for my book, you can find it here:
Stephen McGill- Section 1- Playing Soldier
NSWDG (Naval Special Warfare Development Group)
My day began late, so late that I was confused when I woke up to no alarm. My marriage was over and I had been discharged from the army a mere four days earlier. The date was 20 June 2005 and I was alone. I had dreamt of being alone for many years, but when reality hit me I was scared. I was fearful of my future. I was ashamed that my marriage had fallen apart. I had slept with a random girl two days ago in Norfolk, Virginia. She invited me over to cuddle with her and we ended up having an awkward and disturbing sexual experience, one that ended with me crying on my way back home to Virginia Beach. I cried because to me it signified the end of my marriage. It wasn’t enough that my wife had left me. She had left me for an older man with two adult kids. She took with her my longest sustained relationship—six and a half years—and my child, who had just turned three.
I walked around my empty two-bedroom apartment for an hour, waiting for 0800 to hit the clock. I waited and waited—I stared at my watch for long periods of time, waiting for the seconds to turn into minutes. At 0700 I decided to go for a run and ran roughly two miles, then returned to my apartment. It was strange having all of this time on my hands. I was afraid that someone was going to tell me that I was doing the wrong thing.
I ate a breakfast of cereal with soy milk. I finally jumped in the shower, and then changed into civilian clothes, a t-shirt and cargo pants. Looking back, it was as if I was wardrobe-retarded: my closet was full of clothing that I had not worn in four years—sweat pants, cargo pants, shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. It looked as though I was a college student.
At 0800 I got into my car and switched on the my Satellite radio that my wife had purchased for me the previous Christmas; in hindsight, it was my money that she bought it with, after review I had purchased it for myself. I listened to the NFL sports-talk station. They were interviewing some coach from the NFL.
The drive was short but deliberate. I was headed directly to the main gate of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG) or “Dev-Group” as some called it as a shortened form of development group. It was and still is the military’s highest-ranking special operations unit. These are the elite Navy Seals, who have saved presidents of other countries and whose actual work is cloaked in secrecy. Books have been written by their ousted leader, Richard Marsinko, who proclaimed himself and his men to be the most well trained units in the world.
I arrived without the decal (military access sticker) which I needed to turn in to Fort Bragg in order to clear (exit the Army). I did, however, have a piece of paper that allowed me to get onto Fort Bragg; but it turned out to be completely useless on a Navy base. I stared at the front gate security as if they had done something wrong, but I was the one who did not have a decal. I called Don Carlson, my contracting officer, but he did not answer. I left him a message about not being able to get on to the base. He called me back twenty minutes later with a number to the office I was to report to.
I was finally able to get hold of someone at roughly 0930. I spoke with Jake Roberts, who told me that he would have someone come pick me up. I waited for thirty minutes for Sandy Garcia to pick me up. She had me park my car next to the front gate at the security office, and then drove me in her car to another security gate where I had to fill out a visitor form.
Once I received my visitor’s pass, Sandy turned to me and told me how attractive I was. I thanked her in a polite way, as she was a dark South American woman with about twenty pounds of bonus on her. Needless to say, I was not interested. My choice of woman is normally that of Caucasian and near-anorexic. She was the exact opposite of my standard.
Once I was on the base, everything seemed surreal to me. I had no idea where I was and I had no idea what I was hired for. The only information I had received from Don Carlson was that my salary was fifty thousand dollars a year, and as I was an individual who made, at my best, thirty thousand, fifty seemed like a dream.
The job had been handed to me directly out of active duty Army as a sort of gift for attaining a high level security clearance and my background which included two tours of Iraq. I remember in the original interview explaining how important I had been to the overall success of my team.
My first impression of the office was how unorganized it was. There was a front desk, but it was made out of a flimsy particle board. The place looked like a dump. I could not believe the disarray that the office was in. Would I really be able to work in this environment?
I was placed at a desk with another first-day man named Sam Tobias, a former Marine Corps legal warrant officer. He was dressed appropriately, while my clothing left much to be desired. I looked like a plumber, not like an intelligence analyst. Sam and I eventually made our way into Jake Roberts’s office. Roberts was the GS-13, hence the director of the office. A GS-13 is comparable to a CEO of a one hundred employee company.
His PowerPoint presentation began with an audio track stating in a loud chaotic voice, “We are Naval Special Warfare Development Group. We are the most highly trained reactive force in the United States. We are trained for the proliferation, finding, and destruction of weapons of mass destruction as well as the emplacement of government officials. We travel in alias, we are hidden, and we do not exist.”
Next came video captures of uniformed Navy Seals climbing walls and grappling onto moving vessels. I felt my mind wander. I mean, how did I get here? What the hell was I doing with my life? I had just moved to Virginia Beach and here I was being briefed by a GS-13 about the highest-ranking special operations unit in the military. I had to pinch myself. I wanted to jump out of my skin and kiss everyone in the room. A sense of accomplishment washed over me and I smiled like a mental patient. How did I get here? The fact that I was here meant to me that every decision I had ever made in my life was absolutely correct. It meant that my struggle had been worth it.
The GS (general schedule) system was developed by the military in order to separate contractors from actual government employees, the GS stood for General Schedule, a term used for Federal Employees who worked a forty hour work week and were elected benefits.
The video ended and Jake looked at Sam and I. A long pause ensued while Sam and I looked over at each other, a bit confused, yet still excited for the question that was being posed at us. Jake finally explained that Sam was a GS-11 and I was a contractor, which meant that I would be sent to the training class at Baltimore in a year but that Sam would go immediately. Jake kept talking but I had stopped paying attention. He finally looked over and asked me to tell him which passport on the screen was real and which was an alias, not a forgery, a real passport that was issued by the state department for an individual that does not exist. I picked the second one because I had no idea what the difference would be. He stared at me for a long moment. Finally he told me that they were both real. I asked him how they could both be real. He explained slowly—as if I was mentally challenged—that the office was set up to create alias personas and that everything is real. The soldiers are given alias documents which include passports, driver’s licenses, military identification cards, credit cards, social security cards, and personal banking accounts.
The information hit me in an odd way, as I felt it was all extremely silly. I finally asked, “So how do you make the soldiers walk, talk, and convince people that they are who they say they are?” Jake continued to stare at me as if he had hired a complete moron. He finally said, “That is a good question. We send them to a school to learn how to be someone else, and we allow them to pick their names and create their own persona.”
It broke down in such an incredibly illogical way that I could not wrap my mind around it. Basically JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) represented the eyes and ears of the military yet somehow NSWDG were their own entity. NSWDG answered to JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) yet worked via JFSC (Joint Field Support Center) which provided alias materials and support in a number of ways which included, deserialized weapons, alias birth certificates, high school diplomas, college transcripts, and identification.
Jake’s phone soon rang and he asked us to leave the office. Immediately following the meeting, we all went to lunch. Sixteen people made their way to the local officers club, which offered a beautiful buffet. We sat around large tables and I was forced to introduce myself over and over again. Once people found out I had been to Iraq that was the only thing they wanted to ask me about.
One of the guys, Alan Halberson, asked me over and over again if I had killed anyone, as if that was the measure of a real man. Alan was an air force captain who had chased deployments his entire career. He felt as though he had been cheated out of deployments, so he got out of the air force and worked as a contractor in an attempt to be deployed. His first contracting job, however, ended abruptly when he was told one day to leave.
Alan pulled me aside and told me that I was not going to last a month at the unit. He told me that he did not believe that I would fit in the unit. I believe it was jealousy on his part. He was jealous of everything that I represented and jealous that I had been to a signal school. According to Alan, he had never gone to a signal school even though he was a signal officer in the air force. He also was jealous that I had gone through airborne school, a school that he had attempted to get into without success. His most extreme jealousy seemed to be over my deployment.
Alan and Sam became instant friends, watching videos on the intranet at work. I always felt as though I was the odd man out in the relationship with the two of them. Alan did eventually invite me over to his house to play Halo (a videogame) with him and Sam. Alan would play Halo in a guille suit—the uniform snipers wear in the tree line so as to appear transparent.
At the same lunch, another person who bent my ear was Fred Steinberg. Fred was a thirty-year navy man who retired as a command master chief. He was also married to Fran Steinberg who worked in N1 (the navy version of office workers) in the unit. Fred loved to smoke and sported a large mustache that wrapped around his whole upper lip to the sides of his mouth. I was envious of his mustache, as my face is so baby-like that I cannot grow a real one.
One of the great people of the office was a woman named Samantha, who was responsible for passport acquisitions. She worked all day cataloging the placement of passports and running reports on passport traffic. Samantha was an older lady but very polite and interesting. Unfortunately she worked on one side of the office and I worked on the other.
After the first day of sitting with Sam at a table in the corner of the room I was restless. I stared at the clock, waiting for the day to end. One of the first things I learned in the office was that no matter how little or how much you worked, no one paid attention. It was as if no one cared about the amount of work performed in a day.
My night life became legendary as I went from girl to girl. It was as if the handcuffs had been removed. I went out every night with a different girl. Virginia Beach became my basketball court and I was the point guard calling out plays and seeing the whole court in front of me.
After a few weeks, Alfred Alberts, another one of the travel office workers, told me that I would be helping a girl named Heather Woods move into her new apartment. I asked him who she was and he told me she was a new analyst who was transferring from Green to Blue. All of the special operations units go by color as a way around releasing intelligence over the phone. Blue was NSWDG, Green was the army Green Berets, White was an air force special operations unit, Purple was another army unit, and Gray was some sort of Marine unit or other.
The color coordination of units always confused me as I only worked for Blue through Green. Apparently that unit organization had been bestowed by color coordination years earlier and most people disregarded it and used personal names of people rather than units. They would say, “You know John in Fayetteville?” Of course the person on the other end knew exactly what unit was meant and what the unit’s responsibilities were.
Heather was extremely nice to me when I helped her move her belongings from the U-Haul to her apartment; however, once she arrived at the workplace she decided that I was too random for her. She was also upset that I declined her advances towards me; she had told me that she wanted to sleep with me. I felt inclined to take her up on her offer but decided against it not only because she worked in my office, but because she was married—and bi-polar.
The office was organized into three different sections. There were the four squadron representatives in the front of the three-tier office, next was the travel department, which was responsible for passport acquisition, travel claim transfer from alias to true name, and travel history, and then there was the incredibly secretive Black Squadron, These were the special operators who travelled as civilians under a program called NOC, or Non-Official Cover.
The four squadrons traveled as military members, but they traveled under alias in order to protect the identity of DEVGRU. DEVGRU was originally designed for counterterrorism, but due to some interesting antics by their original leader Richard Marsinko, who traveled with multiple personas on his person at one time, a huge no-no in the intelligence field. He also purchased items with Intelligence funds which was completely illegal.
After Marsinko was sent to jail, he wrote books titled Rogue Warrior and Holy Terror. These books gave a fictionalized account of his actions while commanding Seal Team 6. At one point I met Marsinko; he was cold and intimidating. He looked at my out-of-shape body and spit next to me. He then turned around as if I were nothing. It was incredibly insulting.
Needless to say DEVGRU was abolished on paper in the mid 1980s due to Marsinko; in reality, Seal Team 6 thrived throughout the 80s and 90s. In fact DEVGRU now trains people to be civilians from the beginning of their enlistment. They allow them to ETS, or leave the military, and then they keep them in the unit via intelligence funds. They pay them in cash and keep them off the books. They place them in civilian jobs as if they were in the mob, they do not show up to these positions, the Navy then pays off the employer. It is an extremely expensive way to keep people clean in the Special Warfare department.
Months went by and there was no work being assigned to me. I became more and more restless but also eager to be assigned any sort of task. When finally I was able to get some work, I took it on as if it was the most important task in the world. Even though it was a simple request for a CAC (ID card), I made sure that all the margins in the request were even and the wording was set just right. I was extremely proud of my request and tracked it all the way the headquarters where it was created whereas a representative from blue to pick it up.
I was placed in Black squadron, with Stephen Robertson as the lead. Stephen was young man who had been at the job for three years and was trusted. He was a back-stabbing individual who was only out for himself and had no real reason to discuss his movements with anyone. He also was the youngest in the office, yet somehow had the worst medical history. He placed so much stress on himself that he would break out in hives all over; he bothered me with his work ethic and hysterical whirlwind approach to things. He would take a call from an operator who required an ID card or drivers license, then freak out and snap at all of the Black Squadron analysts, which at this point included only Halberson and myself.
In October we went through a huge restructuring due to two new arrivals. The first was Roger Richards, a lifelong counterintelligence agent (called a CI agent) who had retired a mere five years prior and had been hired directly by the contracting office Northrup Grumman. Richards lived in Newport News and drove an hour and a half to work every day. He also was a big fan of rock music, specifically the bass guitar, an instrument which he had taken a liking to in his mid-thirties. When he first came to the office he had a long beard which made him look more like a rock star than an analyst. He was in fact more than an analyst. He was the analyst; he represented our credibility in the office. Operators knew about Richards, they knew about his career, and they had a tremendous amount of respect for him. Jake, the director, on the other hand, had been known by most operators when he was a member of the air force and they thought he was completely incompetent.
The other individual who was added to the office was a man named Julian Jones, a lazy and unfocused individual. He would always show up ten minutes late and leave thirty minutes early. He actually forced the office to enforce its work-hour policy. He would also show up with a grocery bag of food every day, full of chocolate drinks, donuts, beef jerky, lunchables, and microwavable sandwiches. That meal represented his breakfast.
Most of Jones’s day would include telling the office how great he was and how we were doing things all wrong. He was immediately hated by the entire office. He was excluded from meetings and not allowed on projects because of his lack of a work ethic. He also decided that he was the Intelligence acquisition guru.
Heather Woods’s husband Tommy Woods had been a pioneer in developing the software many years ago and if anyone was the acquisition guru in the office, it would have been Heather.
Kim Wainwright came from money and thumbed her nose at everyone else in the office. She would show up late and leave early, just like Julian Jones. She would also show up drunk and brag about how many operators she had slept with. Kim’s story goes further than that, though. She possessed a master’s degree in international business and on paper was a very intelligent person; however, once the layers were peeled away she was only attempting to use people in order to become a case officer, a title she coveted. In fact, before she started working in our office (called N01B), she was on the verge of becoming a case officer, as she had applied and interviewed right out of college. Subsequently she was asked to take a written test, physical agility test, and an interview in German, a language she learned in college.
According to Kim, all went well with the first couple of tests: she aced the written test, the physical agility test, and the language test. She was then escorted to the intelligence headquarters for alias personas, and asked to take a polygraph test. One of the first questions on the test, after the prerequisite questions of name, age, gender, etc., was about drug use. Apparently Kim had snorted line after line of cocaine three days prior to the interview. She was immediately escorted off of the compound and asked to never apply again. She was devastated; however she masked her devastation by snorting line after line of cocaine at a party that night. A few months after her debacle at the main office she applied for and received a position in N01B when she promised to sleep with Jake Roberts.
Kim was placed in the travel department with Alfred Alberts, Sandy Garcia, and Samantha Brown. The travel department was my first position; because there was no real training set up for the office, they would just send new people from place to place until they fit somewhere. I eventually ended up in Black Squadron.
Until about month four I stared at the wall, waiting for work to come by. When work would come in, I’d focus and perform: I felt as though I was a piece of the big picture. I would call operators in to sign documents. Alan would then pull me aside and tell me that I wrote e-mails like a kindergartener. I reorganized the folders which included all of the operator’s information and alias documentation. The folders took on the look of a finely kept baseball card collection, with every piece of alias material placed in a sleeve for protection. These items grew every time a new item was introduced. Once the BB&T credit card was authorized, I ordered every single operator a card. Once checking accounts were available, I dragged a group of operators, under their assumed personas, to the bank to open checking accounts in Washington, DC.
Alan Halberson and Sam Tobias, who had become good friends, spent most of the day sitting next to each other reading out live feeds on the network drive. They would flip between watching live feeds in Afghanistan to tankers in Iraq, to live television. Eventually Halberson became so wound up in the military that he decided that he wanted to get back into the military. But he did not want to work in the regular army, he wanted to be in Special Forces, and he set his eyes on the National Guard. In all honesty (as he put it) he just wanted the training. He wanted to go to more and more military schools; he wanted to be a case officer just like Kim did. When Alan was not playing games with Sam he would talk to Kim about their shared dream of being case officers.
A case officer is like a spy. He works on subjects to gather information from them, and case officers usually work alone. The idea behind case officers in much like what is shown in the movies, they are men and women who build a relationship with people and then exploit them for their position in life, whether it is that of a politician or a taxicab driver. Many case officers have gone out drinking and whoring with their marks and then used that information against them by threatening to expose their lifestyles to their husbands or wives. A case officer is a dying breed, as more and more people are involved in collection from afar rather than inclusive collection.
We soon ordered new furniture and were required to move all of the old furniture outside. The office layout was intricately set up, and the new furniture interfered with the internet and telephone connections. Instead of waiting for weeks for N6 (communications workers) to install the fiber links, I took it upon myself to route all of the communications equipment, a task I learned while on activity duty.
The office complained that I was not going fast enough when I began installing their devices. One of the biggest complainers was Tommy Brown, who sat on his rear end telling me that it was my job to set up his computer and phone. I explained to him that I was just trying to help, but he went directly to Jake Roberts to complain about me. Fortunately, Jake took my side as he had a terrible relationship with Tommy and would have said no to any request of his, sight unseen.
Tommy Brown began his career as a security guard and due to his incompetence was moved to N01B as an analyst originally placed in the position as a GS-5, which is the same rate of a security guard on site. GS-5 is comparable pay to roughly thirty thousand a year. Needless to say, Tommy was extremely upset when the majority of the office workers were hired as GS-11’s, roughly forty-five thousand a year, or contractors, who started at fifty thousand. Tommy was always telling people how he deserved more money even though the office had to send him to a basic Microsoft Word class. He could not type and he had no idea how any of the software on the computer systems worked.
Tommy somehow had developed a really poor work ethic which included spending hours with the security guards and taking anps at his desk. However, no one ever said anything.
One day Tommy was on one of his three-hour-long breaks in the middle of the day; however, on this particular day Jake Roberts and Roger Richards were at Fort Bragg meeting with JSOC, the highest military Special Forces unit in the world and Debbie Swartoski was in charge. Debbie was an unstable individual who would take every other day off in order to “mentally rest”. She was also oversight for Black Squadron in the office, which meant that she not only wore the hat of the third in command, but was also responsible for all alias movement in Black Squadron.
On this particular day Debbie decided to write Tommy up for not being at his work station. Tommy subsequently decided to sue NSWDG for racism. NSWDG did not allow any sort of litigation under their command and ended out settling with Tommy, which undercut Debbie’s authority, which made her even more unstable. She was eventually moved to Black Squadron proper, which was located in another office, and then fired.
The office seemed to be weighed down by Tommy’s lawsuit. It seemed as though the people in charge decided that they would not hassle anyone in regards to work performance while the lawsuit was active. Tommy took it upon himself to take advantage of the lawsuit by taking three-hour breaks during the day while no one could say a word about it to him. He was like this untouchable entity that could do whatever he wanted. He would accomplish ten minutes of work a day and would even sleep at his desk. He also turned up the volume on his level of pay.
The next person added to the office was an overwhelmed individual named Betty. Bettty was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of quantifiable work that she saw people perform on an everyday occasion. She had a background in leading soldiers in the Navy and had previously worked in an office that produced ten times faster than N01B did. Betty was a ten-year navy worker who was hired because of her education and not her expertise in any one sector of the intelligence field. Betty was brought in to allow Roger Richards to focus more on setting up classes for the soldiers who were to travel under the NOC persona. Subsequently Betty went from having no training in the alias field to being in charge of the whole office, as Richards set his sights on the immediate need for a more robust training program.
The Non-Official Cover persona was the definitive persona that the US Navy had been working towards the previous five years. The NOC cover was created in order to let people in and out of the country without any ties to the military whatsoever. It defied the common practice of intelligenced collecting thus created a problem for other countries to track. The NOC was a ghost, a hidden soldier in a group of civilians. Each NOC persona was carefully scrutinized and examined by no less than three or four government entities. Potentially the NOC, if captured and tortured, could end the alias travel program entirely. Needless to say it was an extremely sensitive program.
While I lived in Virginia Beach I spent money hand over fist. I went out for dinner every night, either by myself or with whatever girl I was sleeping with at the time. I also spent a lot of money on vacations to Seattle, Las Vegas, and San Diego. I loved spending money on things that I wanted. It seemed as though the world was my oyster. I literally spent every single dollar I had, every two weeks. By the time I received my pay I would plan out how to spend it. The idea of savings was foreign to me.
I eventually took a roommate, Carl, who worked as Heating and Air-conditioning operator for local apartment complexes. He drank every night and even picked up a girlfriend at a local bar. Eventually he decided to move to Alabama to be closer to his family, but soon returned with no money and no place to live. I saw Carl as a friend, so I allowed him to stay with me for a month for free. However, after a month I told him that he had to move out. He moved in with his girlfriend and ended up getting married to her a few months later.
My next roommate was a gay guy named Doug. Doug worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken and had just been paroled from prison after getting two DUIs in a row a few years earlier. Doug always had boyfriends come by to stay the night with him. I didn’t really care who he brought home, although I did have to explain to the girls who would come by to see me that my roommate was gay and wore sheer robes at night. Most of the girls were okay with it; the ones that had a problem, I broke up with.
I spent a lot of time tanning and primping myself to look better to my possible dates. I loved to have a clean appearance and to spend my time with women. At any given time I would be dating three or four girls. I dated a girl named Katina who was a personal trainer, I also dated Amy who was a restaurant manager; and there were many others. Amy received a huge discount at most restaurants, so she was always good to have around.
During this time I developed an obnoxious habit of dating girls for a while just to break up with them. I enjoyed inflicting hurt on them; not in a physical sense, more in a sense of watching them cry in front of me. I wanted to see them hurt as much as my ex-wife had made me hurt. I enjoyed seeing them beg for me to stay with them. I felt like a king when they told me that they loved me and I told them that I felt nothing.
I want to make this clear, I never hit anyone, I just allowed them to grow feelings for me and then I would tell them that I was done with them.
Once Alan Halberson returned from selection with a certificate of achievement he decided that work was below him; hence he read the Early Bird (military online periodical) all day. He would put his feet up and relax, sometimes falling asleep or writing memorandums for his personal use. The idea of graduating from Selection earned Alan a lot of credit in the office thus no one bothered him.
In the last four months of his employment Halberson worked ten minutes total. He also spent a lot of time with Kim, even sleeping with her at one point.
I spent a lot of time hanging out with the people from the office; we would spend every lunch together at one of the local restaurants. On rare occasion Richards and I would go to lunch, just the two of us. Richards would share all sorts of government stories with me, including those of his time in the secret aviation group in Newport News which flew planes that had been purchased with cut-out money. The planes could be tracked back to a local businessman who had purchased them on behalf of the government.
The two offices most closely connected were those of N01B and N2X. N2X housed all of the CI agents in the command. These agents ran oversight on the alias operations and we answered to them in a roundabout way. They would spend time in our office telling us what we could and could not do for the command. It would seem as though they would be some sort of pain to us, but their oversight was extremely helpful and they were always professional. I gained the respect of the N2X office due to my history in the 82nd Airborne Division. For some reason most of the CI agents were directly pulled from the 82nd and felt a closeness to any and all people who were stationed at Fort Bragg.
For two weeks Stephen Robertson attended the cover analyst course sanctioned JCITA course which was named analyst cover course two. Analyst cover course two was phase two of the intelligence-analyst course, which included the writing and dissemination of cover plans. Cover plans are the backbone of the intelligence field. They can be as brief as ten pages and as long as a hundred pages. Each line in the cover plan placed or named a possible position or company name that would be sanctioned if the cover plan was approved. Ideally a cover plan would take six to twelve months to approve. It first had to be formatted properly, which could take up to a week or two; it then had to be routed through two distinct cover shops and approved and eventually would end up at the legal department with a wait time of up to five months. The last person to see it was the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, who at that time was Dr. Stephen Camborne.
In 2007, after a disappointing search of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, Dr. Camborne resigned. The whole intelligence community was deeply saddened by his loss. Most people did not know him personally, but those who were familiar with him and his leadership style consistently gave him stellar reviews. He allowed leaders to perform with as much rope as they could handle.
During the two weeks that Robertson was in school I became the pseudo-leader of Black Squadron, which now housed Sandy Garcia, Tommy Brown, Julian Jones, financial whiz Carla Lemmings, Roger Richards, and Betty McCarthy. Without Robertson in the office Jones would perform little to no work. I would attempt to give him work but he would end up falling asleep or finding an excuse to leave the office.
One afternoon Jones volunteered to make the bi-weekly run to Hanover, Maryland, to pick up our new documents. Four hours into the trip he called the office and told Robertson that he could not stay the night, even though it had been originally pitched to him as an overnight trip. Day one was scheduled for a trip to the Pakistan embassy and day two was the pickup of all of our documents (doc’s for short). Jones cried on the phone about his dog and his house. It was incredibly pathetic as he had never volunteered to make the weekly run before and up to this point had been asked every week for sixteen weeks in a row. The normal culprits for the run to Maryland were Heather Woods, who due to a recent separation from her husband had reverted back to her maiden name of Dehart, Roger Cooper, myself, or Michael Fuller.
Eventually Robertson went over to Jones’s house to feed his dog and perform a number of other tasks that Jones had requested of him. It was a huge embarrassment to the office, subsequently Jones was never asked to make the trip again.
Eventually the trip to Maryland became a twice or three-times-a-week event as a large deployment loomed for Gold Squadron, a squadron which had been for the most part ignored in the front office, thus all of their items were ordered two weeks before they were to be deployed. I don’t mean to make myself look too much like the hero here, but I ordered ninety percent of Black Squadron’s items myself, as the majority of the mail going out and coming in was mine. I could not believe that the people in the front of the office could be so cavalier. They would brag about how little work they did each day, only to have to ask for help when their turn to deploy their soldiers arrived.
For the most part ordering items for the color squadron that you represented created a workload that you, the individual orderer, create thus the more items you ordered for your color squadron the more follow up work you would have.
While most days seemed to be slow I did find myself in the middle of a scandal as Heather kicked all of us out of the back room to cry on the phone with her husband, who had decided to re-enlist in the Army when their plan had been for him to get out of the army and move to Virginia to be with her and their child.
I was not sure how to feel for her present situation as I had recently been left without a child or wife. I felt a few of those real emotions bubbling up on me and wiped away a tear, a compassionate tear for not just her but for my loss of family and my directionless future. I felt lost for a minute. I leaned on a file cabinet and looked down, intensly listening to her conversation through the closed door. I lost myself in her words as she explained to her husband why she was upset, a conversation that I had replayed numerous times in my mind with my wife.
When she brought up their child together I boiled over with emotion while projecting my child into the story. I loved my daughter so much and because of my own arrogance I had pushed Melaine thus my daughter away.
A few days after our confrontation I stopped by her desk to say hello to her, being under the impression that time heals all wounds. However, she thumbed her nose at me and told me to get the hell away from her. Later in the afternoon Richards took me into his office and gave me a warning about my job performance. He explained that I was not very popular in the office and that if Don Carlson, my boss, had any other work that I should take him up on it. The strangest thing was that I performed eighty percent of the work load in the office. Work was measured on the amount of traffic an individual received, and every day my traffic was fifty times heavier than any of the others’.
When people came in I would assist them in filling out their social security requests or credit card applications. They always seemed to be happy that I was making sure that they had all of their items for deployment. I never received a complaint about my work, nor did I receive poor marks in my yearly review; in fact my yearly review was stellar. I felt as though I was being black listed in the office.
Luckily for me, I was next in line to attend the level one analyst course, the same course that Stephen Robertson had attended weeks earlier, which allowed me to get out of the office for three weeks while staying in Baltimore. The timing was good; I could not wait to get out of the office and away from the crazy people that were telling stories about me. I felt as though the office had become toxic with jealousy and backstabbing. I could not wait to go to the intelligence school.
I stayed in one of the nicest hotels in Baltimore. I was excited to be there, and I felt as though it was a sort of vacation. I could not believe that I was scheduled to stay in a beautiful hotel for three weeks. I made plans and schedules for exercise and conditioning, then abandoned them immediately and instead got drunk for two of the three weeks. I became extremely fidgety while sitting in my hotel room after class. I also had been dating a girl named Robin, who I was on the verge of caring about, and I missed spending time with her.
I felt as though I could care about Robin in a way that I had once felt for my wife. I pictured our perfect life together. I wanted us to succeed in the world. I could see myself settling down with her as she represented the magic triangle for me which included; Education (she had a Masters’ degree) attractiveness (she was gorgeous), and quantifiable goals (she wanted to own her own business someday).
The JOSTC course was set up to train intelligence analysts how to hide alias persona-trained operators in foreign countries. We learned how to request alias documents from JFSC—a task I had been performing for over a year to this point. We also had guest speakers. We were graced with the appearance of an ATF agent, The Defense Cover Officer director, two alias program oversight officers, the lawyer for DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer, and a member of the program Yellow Fruit.
Yellow Fruit was the original U.S. Army alias program; the program fell apart due to its leaders’ egos. Not only did the officer of the program set up illegal store fronts and buy huge boats with cash, he also cooked the books by directly hiring one of his best friends to make it seem as though the unit had procured the money via sales from their business. Unfortunately the friend decided to turn himself in, thus bringing everyone else down with him. Yellow Fruit ruined careers and sent people to jail. Eventually alias travel was barred up until the Navy with the help of Marsinko took off, he was eventually sent to jail also. These two examples are the exact reason why oversight is so important to travel in alias.
The main rules for traveling in alias were as follows: You could not be from an open state. An open state was defined as a state that allowed free information to the public, for example in open states any ordinary citizen—defined as someone without a police record—could request a copy of birth certificate, social security card, and or all public records. These states were completely off limits for back history. Phase two was the procurement of a social security card, the issue being that the social security cards that we received were only dated by a year, therefore if an individual (Navy Seal) was pulled in for question (quite often by our own government) they could see that their social security number was only a year or two old. This issue created a lot of problems with soldiers who traveled in groups, as all of their social security numbers could possibly be in sequence and if they were only a year or two old they raised a large red flag.
How did we get around the social security issue? We made sure that the soldiers traveled as small a group as possible and we taught them to use a story about credit fraud which would allow them to request a new social security number from the SSA (Social Security Administration).
One of the next problems was that of the same credit cards (we only had two credit card companies, at the time that worked with us), state of driver’s license, and work site. We decided to invest money and time in order to move the soldiers around so that they could pick up driver’s licenses in different states. It all tied in with their story, and their story had to be plausible and intelligent. If their alias persona was born in Arizona, we would get them an Arizona driver’s license. Arizona is a good example because it was the only state that allowed the soldier to receive a driver’s license until the age of sixty-five. Needless to say, the personas from Arizona were well seasoned. We would look at the cost of sending someone to Maryland to pick up a driver’s license and then attempt to explain to them that Arizona would be a better place.
This posed another problem as we began to receive massive Arizona requests. We closed Arizona in our office soon after exceeding the fifty-member threshold.
The next challenge was to create diversity in their wallets; it would look very suspicious if a group of five people had the same identical credit cards in their wallets. I attempted to correct this problem myself as BB&T finally folded and allowed us to use their product. Once the flood gates were open I requested that every single soldier in Black Squadron who was not in the NOC program have the option of carrying a BB&T card. I also got all of the soldier’s library cards as well as any others, including movie pass cards and blockbuster cards.
The next hurdle was the passport issue; in order to receive a passport, a driver’s license was required. Believe me, the State Department did not take kindly to the idea that soldiers were traveling all over the country under alias passports; if any of them were proven to be not who they said they were, it could have potentially come back on them because they issued an alias passport. All American citizens potentially could be hassled due to the State Department’s lack of credability. While I worked in the office the State Department twice threatened to shut the whole program down as a way to protect themselves.
Once a soldier received his alias passport, he was still not close to being able to travel in alias. The next phase was to send him to school to learn to walk and talk like another person. I am sure you can imagine the extreme ego that a lot of the Navy Seals have, imagine having to break into that ego and explain to them that not only are they not Navy Seals—a status they had worked for their whole life—but that they were not themselves any longer. These concepts did not work very well for some of the more seasoned operators, as they decided that they would just use their real names wherever they were deployed.
By the time a service member can call himself a Navy Seal he has been through some of the most intense training known to man, he has also dug deep inside himself to pull out the inner strength that most people cannot even dream about.
The training came in two parts, sanctioned by JSOC. Phase one was a two-week class in which the soldier would learn that he was not who he thought he was. This was like kindergarten; they learned to spell their alias name and talk like someone who had not trained to be a Navy Seal. The second school was a more comprehensive training course that lasted over a month, during which time the operator would learn how to be inconspicuous and blend in. This class was called “Travel class”. It was the tier which allowed soldiers to travel using either official cover protocol or non-official cover protocol.
The three-week-long JOSTC (Joint Operational Support Technician Course) I attended trained me how to train the soldier. The one highlight of week one was a mid-thirties fellow from ATF who had worked in alias as part of a sting against the biker gang the Mongols. He spent the better part of two years riding around with the gang and he went to parties—where he swore that he did not partake in drugs, I immediately made note verbally about his drug use, a fact that he denied yet had somehow worked into the story he shared with us.
The ATF agent shared stories with the class about what he went through emotionally. He explained that he became really close with the bikers and cried the night he turned them in. It was all very touching as he described what it was like to be in the biker family. By the end of his speech all of us wanted to join a biker gang. The agent made me think about my family and how I wasn’t very close to any of them. I was just distant and different. Most of my family were negative people who acted like bullies, attempting to tease people down to their level.
On the Friday before the end of our first week, an ICE agent came in to talk to us. He was a real badass and would not give up his firearm when he entered the building. He told the front office that they would either allow him to enter the building and speak to the class, armed, or he would leave. One of the instructors had to vouch for him in order to get him in the building. He was a real treat as he cursed a lot and kept repeating over and over again that we shouldn’t be shy or timid when using an alias passport—just answer the questions and move your ass on.
Towards the end of the day I talked to my classroom neighbor about my plans to drive back to Virginia Beach for the weekend. Fred Steinberg just happened to overhear me and said that he was going with me. I could not argue with him because he was the inner-office Don Carlson representative, which meant that, for all intents and purposes, he was my boss. When class ended we piled in my car and embarked on one of the most awkward eight-hour drives in history. He had nothing to tell me and I did not trust him, so I was quiet also. I just wanted to listen to some talk radio and drive by myself but as Fred has more or less forced his way into the car and then told me that he hated talk radio, we just sat in silence. It became a huge ordeal as I had to pick him up on Sunday night; he lived a cool forty minutes from my house in the opposite direction of our destination. He never thanked me or made any sort of inclination for appreciation.
My short-lived relationship with Robin ended that weekend. So as it turned out I drove eight hours to Virginia Beach in horrible traffic just to have a girl break up with me after I drove Fred forty minutes out of my way. I decided that I would not come back for the weekend next time. I stayed in my Baltimore hotel room drinking for the next fourteen days straight, when I wasn’t going to class in Hanover.
In total I spent three weeks in the classroom. By the end of it, the whole class hated me. They collectively attempted to sabotage my final project and told me I was fat. I cannot blame them for their behavior as I had acted like a young junior high school student with a sugar addiction during our class time. I also think it might have had something to do with my cavalier attitude. They were all wound tight and I was a happy-go-lucky guy at this point. I laughed a lot and smiled a lot as it all seemed to be going my way. They were also jealous of the fact that I had been deployed to Iraq twice up until this point. Apparently a large number of intelligence analysts spent their time behind desks and not “in the action,” as they put it.
When I returned from Baltimore, Fred announced that I should have never gone and that I was a huge distraction to his learning while I was with him. This all might have been true but I felt that there was a better way to construct a complaint about me. He was just another one of the guys who spent his whole career in the military and was never deployed, thus he felt as though I was some bastard child.
The office turned on me at this point; it became a turf war as the lines were drawn in the sand. I was the outcast. It seemed as though the office as a whole was looking for reasons to push me out. My only saving grace was that I spent every day with Roger Richards during lunch.
When I returned to DEVRGU, I took on a project that became really important: building alias personas for all of the CI agents. There were twenty of them and they all had to go to school within a week. Their future project was oversight on the deployed alias soldiers. Apparently there was an extreme problem in Afghanistan as a few of the soldiers decided that they no longer wanted to be in alias and were using both their personal identities and alias identities. Oversight was needed, and personas were slapped together in a short period of time.
The project was perfect for me because I loved a project and I thrived when short timelines were involved. I could not wait for a big project to land in my lap, and here it was. The first CI agent I arranged an alias persona for was a man named John Anderson. John had to attend the JCITC course as an oversight advisor. It was a nightmare to try to acquire a social security number for him in the seventy-two hour timeline. My first step was building a graph with the date of his class. I then backtracked every step of the way, making small deadlines for every single item that would be required. His window was so small that I had to arrange a driver’s license appointment within a week. Unfortunately for me, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC all required a two-week notice for an appointment.
I spoke with John about his deadline and then recalled a meeting I had attended many months prior; in that meeting, the state of South Carolina had entered our operation as an available option for licensing. I called the operations officer of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles and explained my extreme situation. He told me that I could show up on Thursday at ten with John and get a license but that I’d have to find a permanent address for him. John and I immediately flew out to Fort Bragg, then drove to Charleston, South Carolina, to pick up Jake Roberts’s mail and then made our way to the DMV. On our way back from South Carolina I stopped by the Fort Bragg, called DCO (Defense Cover Organization) and formally requested two credit cards, and an international driver’s license.
My trip to South Carolina won me a ton of respect from Roger Richards and may have kept me afloat for the next few months. I did, however, receive a ton of flack from some of the other workers, who found my dedication to the job a bit ridiculous. They laughed when they heard what I had done. It seemed to me that I was the workhorse and all of the others seemed to be just waiting for lunch.
Changes started to take place in the office due to the less restrictive period in the alias business. Apparently, as a special operations unit we were in some sort of transition period due to the recent operations success. The massive success of two separate teams traveling under non-official cover had been the talk of the town in the intelligence community. As intelligence analysts, we were given a lot of leeway with our ideas; suddenly cover plans were being pushed through at a much faster rate. It made for a great time as intelligent people were creating incredible operational plans. Plans that included hiding new businesses and incredibly complex operations that could potentially enable Navy soldiers to be part of international corporations thus enabling them to move form country to country undetected. However because the flood gates were open and everyone was given so much rope to hang themselves with, people began to make terrible decisions.
Jake Roberts decided to take a lot of rope in February of 2006 as he began the Navy’s first NOC program, with himself as the head of it. He submitted a cover plan with the name Destiny Maritime Services, which would potentially allow Navy Seals to travel in non-official cover. This action provided a means for them to travel all over the world as civilians while collecting intelligence on others. Ultimately Jake Roberts became Jake Briss; Briss lived in South Carolina running a shipping business. The business was an intricate front for the navy, which set up cut-out payment services to the company allowing Briss to move money around South Carolina. He would take trips from Virginia to South Carolina just to walk around the city of Charleston as Jake Briss. Unfortunately for the navy, Briss and Roberts shared the same issue of spending money on alcohol and strippers.
Roberts carried a cell phone with the name Jake Briss attached to it. He also had the Jake Briss binder with him in his office; whenever the phone would ring he would grab the binder to refer to, if needed. Jake’s story became incredibly pathetic on one particular night.
Jake invited the whole office to a party at his house in celebration of the first non- official cover deployment in navy history. Jake was married with four kids, ranging in age between ten and twenty. His twenty-year-old was home from college and was watching a documentary when I arrived. The other kids were in bed. Jake pulled out the barbeque and began throwing burgers and hot dogs on the grill. I was going through one of my low-fat diets at the time so I made an impromptu trip to the grocery store to purchase Boca Burgers, for which Jake teased me incessantly.
The N01B office was a cross-section of contractors and government workers. The government workers aspired to be contractors (who made more money) and the contractors aspired to be government workers because they possessed a certain sense of job security. The issue with being a contractor, which I wore like a scarlet letter, was that at any point—and I cannot emphasize the term any enough—you could be asked to leave and that would be it, you would be out of a job. With the government workers it was nearly impossible to be asked to leave. The hiring authority in the office to go from contractor to government worker was Jake Roberts, and all of the contractors (except for me) would kiss up to him and hint that they wanted to be a direct hire. A direct hire was the hiring of an individual without the potential employee having to apply for or interview for a position.
Jake’s party began to heat up as Melinda, a new employee who, at the ripe age of twenty-two bore the distinction of being the youngest person assigned to the office, took tequila shots with Jake and Heather. Melinda had originally arrived with her kids and husband but had sent her family home so she could party. Once her family left, Melinda, Jake, and Heather—all of whom were married to other people—decided to have a threesome. They began with making out and fondling of each other. It then moved on to Melinda rubbing on her covered crotch while moaning and kissing Jake. I immediately decided that I did not want to be witness to any of the antics at the party and left, due to the actions of the people who I worked with.
The next workday was a Monday and Melinda was fired. Heather was then pulled into a room and told that she was on inner-office probation. Jake had fired Melinda outright to protect himself, but he could not fire Heather because Roger Richards, the number two in the office, was infatuated with her. Richards would never have allowed Jake to fire Heather, but did allow him to place her on probation for a time. I was confused by all of these actions because of the way in which all of the actions were performed, I could only assume at the time that Melinda was attempting to use her sexuality to acquire a Federal position, it seemed strange that she had slept with the man and then been let go, so I spoke with Sam Tobias about the situation.
Sam listened intently, his forehead furrowing as I got to the part where Melinda was fired. He immediately escorted me to the assistant commander’s office. We stood outside waiting to be seen, but I felt terrible about going outside of my chain of command. I explained to Sam that I should have spoken with Roger Richards before making any moves above him. Sam disagreed.
The assistant commander was a very tall man, and when he spoke, everyone listened. He was everything that any leader would have liked to be. I explained the whole situation to him, and when I completed the story, he did not seem upset or shocked. I’m sure he was conditioned to always show a poker face when handling a problem. The phrase I was waiting for at the moment was, “Your job is safe, you cannot be fired.” He obliged, after a long silence. He encouraged me to keep everything to myself. He then took action by initiating a formal investigation into the situation.
The investigation lasted for three weeks as members of the office were pulled into the investigator’s office one at a time. Shortly after the investigation was closed, I was under investigation myself. It wasn’t that I was in trouble; it was the periodic investigation for my security clearance. Unfortunately for me it was also an opportunity for the office to tell the investigator that I could not be trusted. One after another, they spoke to the investigator and one after another, when returning to their desks, the office workers would walk past me and giggle. It was extremely embarrassing. I felt terribly angry. I knew my days there were numbered.
One day in late November of 2006 I arrived at work as usual. I went to my desk and watched Julian Jones eat upwards of a thousand calories in twenty minutes. I checked my email, but nothing was pressing for the moment. I made a few phone calls about some cellular phones that had been burned (traced back to the military). I had originally ordered them as clean cut-out cell phones; however JFSC had sent me military traceable cell phones, which tied them back to the unit. This was a huge error in an otherwise perfect non-official cover operation. It was not that I had messed up; it was a direct miscalculation from JFSC.
At roughly 0900 Fred Steinberg asked to see me out in the hallway. I followed him out. He then looked me in the eyes and said, “We have had some complaints about you in the office and I have a whole file on my computer with e-mails about you that show that you just don’t fit in here. So I am giving you a choice—you could either quit today or get fired.”
My mouth dropped. His words were like daggers. I asked him if he was serious, and he nodded. I could not believe that it had come down to this. Fred, the man that I drove home in an eight-hour marathon only a few months prior, apparently had no sympathy for me. The office that I had worked day and night for showed zero class when it came to the end.
I decided that resigning was my best avenue; however, I was going to attempt to take everyone else down with me. I went to the assistant commander’s office, but he had been transferred. I then went to the investigator’s office, but he was on vacation. I then attempted to speak with the commander himself, but he was in Afghanistan visiting troops. My next stop was the top civilian in the compound, a man who was involved second-hand in the investigation against Jake Roberts.
My last day was short as I left right before lunch. I called Don Carlson immediately after leaving the office. He searched in his database but could not find anything that I qualified for. I was broke and desperate. I thought that I had accomplished a lot, having gone from making fifty thousand dollars a year in the beginning to sixty-five thousand dollars a year at the end. Before I left the office I had to agree to a briefing from N2X and I was forced to sign a bunch of non-disclosure documents as I had been read-on (briefed) for many secret programs for the navy. The CI agent then told me something very interesting. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know, you could write a book about all of this and they could not stop you, in fact no one could stop you.” I had not planned on writing a book at the time; I just wanted my job back.
Over the next few days, I made calls to Don Carlson, who agreed to a severance package of two weeks’ pay. I applied to every single job in the local area, I even interviewed for a job at Northrup Grumman, but when they asked me for my salary requirements, I overextended my hand and asked for sixty-five thousand a year. They choked on the dollar amount and immediately escorted me out. Don offered me job after job and I said yes to all of them only for him to find out that they were not available.
At this point I had nowhere else to turn and I didn’t know what to do. I had no money coming in, and money was going out every day. I began sleeping with my extremely large apartment manager to see if I could get a discount on rent. I finally broke down and called my parents. They offered to have me come home and regroup; I agreed.
I was then contacted by an investigator in DEVGRU about my resignation. I wrote a statement that explained the circumstances. Apparently my statement was relatively powerful, as Jake Roberts was then demoted. I felt that if they found him guilty, I should be able to come back to work. I called the investigator to ask him about it and he told me that I would have to reapply. I called Don Carlson and he told me that I could not be placed there again; I reiterated my position in the case and he responded by telling me not to call him anymore.
In order to fill the next three weeks at home, I watched Grey’s Anatomy episodes one after another, three seasons in four days. My dad called, offering to help me drive across the country (to Federal Way, Washington), but I explained to him that he would not fit in my car (and I didn’t really get along with him very well). I looked forward to leaving Virginia Beach. I thought that I would move on to bigger and better things. I finished my class and packed a few of my belongings in my small car. I made CDs of talk shows and music. I slept with the apartment manager the night before I was to leave; I asked her if I could just stay with her and start a relationship. She paused and then said “no”. She did, however, break my lease without a penalty; I guess sleeping with her was not all bad as it saved me six thousand dollars.
On the morning of December 14th, 2006, I got into my car and drove for the next seventy-two hours straight, stopping for gas and bathroom breaks only. I was alone with my thoughts and it was great. I daydreamed about my future and then thought of my past. I organized my thoughts into a timeline, filling it with my childhood and moving forward. The drive made me happy. I was alone, I was free of everything. I knew I was going back to a toxic house but I did not care. I thought of how I got to this point in my life.