FIGHTING WORDS FOR A DUEL: "THEY ARE EVILDOERS IN WHOSE HANDS ARE WICKED SCHEMES AND WHOSE RIGHT HANDS ARE FULL OF BRIBES"
> We heard about the argument that took place during that meeting.
> What set it off? The talk going around here is that the two of
> you created quite a scene. Did that guy really challenge you
> to a duel?
> Hey, what's up? All of you were supposed to go in there like
> diplomats but from what I've heard it sounds like you two ended
> up negotiating a duel. Did that really happen? When did you say
> in your speech that inflamed those Europeans?
> I don't get it. What was Steamroller doing there? That brute's got the
> tact and diplomacy of a bull and a mouth big enough to put
> every foghorn in Europe out of business. You send a guy like
> that to pick fights and start wars. He was there only because of
> the politicians in his own country he's got in his pocket.
> Billy Jack
> Is that the same dude whose dirty deals that were exposed by you
> a decade ago gave him a black eye which cost him his reputation?
> P.J. and the Gang
FROM: William Brahms.
It cost him his reputation and it cost him and his company a lot of money for which he's been carrying a grudge against me since the 1991 Gulf War. That was the last time I saw this hothead whose mustachio'd face is a cross between Josef Stalin and John Wilkes Booth. Although Jennings warned me a week before that Steamroller was going to be there as a last minute replacement, the first sign I saw that he harbored the same animosity towards me was before the meeting started when Ives told me he overheard Steamroller asking several others, "What's that boy doing here? Don't they shoot spies anymore?" Steamroller has an acerbic personality and a confrontational style for which he received that codename when we had him and his organization under surveillance over a decade ago. He goes to great lengths to give everyone the impression that he is a force to be reckoned with because he is a man who fears nothing and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. When addressing an audience, he has a tendency to grandstand with a flair for theatrics, braggadocio, and bombast that can create a scene you won't soon forget. (Through a window I once watched him brandishing an antique pistol from his gun collection while he bawled out a dozen subordinates, threatening to dispatch them all down to the personnel office for "the firing squad.") He is fond of intimidating subordinates and competitors by reminding them that he owes his "success" to a business strategy of crushing the competition and rolling over it. He is prone to verbiage when sober and to vitriol after he's had a few. When angered, his bad temper lets loose and blows off steam at anyone unfortunate enough to be in close proximity, which makes him as bearable as Mount Saint Helens having a bad day. The turnover among his underlings was like a revolving door that never stopped, and those at the top suffered the worst with more than their fair share of ulcers and hospital stays. I couldn't understand how a fellow like that could last in a legitimate business until I uncovered what we had long suspected--that he owed his "success" to some very shady business practices.
As for the meeting itself I said nothing inflammatory. When it was my turn to speak, I told everyone that, in the post Cold War period that we are now in, HUMINT has got to be first and foremost in regard to certain types of intelligence targets. The 800 pound gorilla known as the Soviet Empire has fallen. In its place is a collection of poisonous snakes made up of rogue states, subnational groups, terrorist organizations, and so on whose activities include developing or acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terrorism, narcotics, etc. The current campaign against terrorism since 9/11 underscores the importance of stealing secrets. And to steal secrets you've got to do it with imagery, signals, measurement and signature intelligence, and human intelligence. The last of these includes espionage for which you've got to have spies. I gave examples of the following three situations:
You steal secrets to determine whether sanctions are functioning. Does anyone really expect a country to freely disclose that it can and does violates sanctions?
You steal secrets that relate to matters dealing with dual-use technology such as supplies and equipment that can be diverted to build WMD. Those involved with building WMD in a dictatorship state don't say much about what they're doing and for good reason. Talk too much and the dictator will liquidate you.
You steal secrets to find out who's gaining contracts and doing business by bribery, a long established clandestine practice. I explained that among the worst offenders were European countries who are friendly to the U.S. yet have had tax laws that encourage their companies to engage in this practice.
My talk was well received and followed by twenty-five minutes of questions before it was time for the next individual to speak. Though I did address controversial matters where differences of opinion were expressed by questioners, no one took offense and certainly no one expressed outrage. Two hours later when Steamroller's turn to speak came, he used most of his allotted time to talk about the European Union; but about two thirds of the way through his speech he suddenly shifted the focus of his talk and used his remaining time to harangue the United States and Britain about the exploitation of unfair advantages, the Echelon controversy, foreign policy, and so on. True to his style he intended to provoke controversy, but it backfired because his talk was followed for five minutes by questions from no one else but two of his own countrymen. I and several others I spoke with had the impression that the last portion of his speech was an impromptu addition that was delivered in reaction to my speech. We also had the impression that he was disappointed in his audience's reaction to something we all thought bordered on the comical.
What everyone is talking about did not occur during the morning session but during the luncheon that followed. While a group of about ten of us were standing about and having a discussion, Steamroller came over and immediately attempted to provoke an argument and engage us in a war of words over the topics he spoke on during the meeting; but nobody would take the bait. Nobody replied to what he was saying as it was quite obvious to all that he had been drinking, so we looked at each other and let him talk and talk and talk until he sputtered out and realized what everyone was thinking. But he wouldn't stop there. Steamroller could not abide the fact that he had lost face at the meeting, so true to character he decided to get personal and attack the object of his rancor. And he did when he turned to me and said the following in a sarcastic tone of voice: "Well, Brahms, so after all these years we meet again. You haven't changed at all. Now that I know who you really are and what you really do for a living, the fact that you're still alive after all this time is proof that you're very good at the ancient and honorable profession of thieves, liars, saboteurs, and assassins. Tell me, boy, what secrets have you stolen lately?"
To this I responded I was good enough to know that it is no secret to me that there are companies in his country that evade sanctions and sell to rogue or hostile countries and shady organizations goods and technology that are being diverted to weapons production while the greedy managers of these companies line their pockets and fatten their bank accounts. "They are evildoers," I said, "in whose hands are wicked schemes and whose right hands are full of bribes."
He took umbrage to that last remark and exploded with a fusillade of accusations against me followed by a loud, vituperative denunciation against the United States and, because Lyons was standing next to me, an equally bad one against Britain. This is the commotion everyone in the room heard. And when I had my bellyful of this hot air merchant, I answered his insults by threatening to name names and state facts so that everyone within earshot would know all the dirty deals he and his organization are involved in.
To this he replied, "Boy, there is only one way to answer a threat like that." With those words he flung the contents of his drink in my face. This amounted to three drops because liquor never lasted long in Steamroller's glass. Then he said, "Consider that as my challenge to meet on the Field of Honor in a country where there are places with little or no law. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, or some other place. You name the country!"
I wasn't going to give this farce-to-be-reckoned-with the pleasure of a simple refusal or an acceptance, even one spoken in jest, for either is exactly what he expected, wanted, and needed to make the most of his moment of high drama. So I gave him the following reply which he never expected: "Sir, I feel most honored that you consider me a gentleman worthy of such a challenge, to be worthy of providing satisfaction in a duel. But to be honest with you, I must refuse such a challenge; for in view of all that I know about your past and present I can say in truth what everyone here knows to be true and have been talking about behind your back since your speech this morning: That you are no gentleman and have no honor to be transgressed and no reputation worth defending."
With that reply he turned about, muttered something as he walked out the room, and was not seen again. An old, white-bearded English gent came over with three others and told us they overheard Steamroller saying to himself, "I should've shot that boy a long time ago and dispatched Peter Pan to Never Never Land." Then he turned to me and said, "By George, I can hardly believe what he just did. Everyone's supposed to be on their best behavior at an affair like this; but if this were any other place, Brahms, I and everyone else here knows that you would've given that blackguard the black eye he deserves."
To which I replied, "Another black eye. Yeah, if not a duel, it would've been a good fight with Captain Hook."
-- W. B.