by R.T. Lawton
On Wednesday, July 10th, our David Edgerley Gates wrote his blog article about Legends, the deep cover for a spy who needs to appear as someone completely different from his actual being. In David's article, he brings up the premise of possibly reinventing "yourself in order to escape your personal history, to slough it off like a chrysalis, to create an entirely new identity, to become a different character, cast in an altogether different drama."
Which Reminds Me of a Story
I was quietly enjoying life after about ten years of retirement when the telephone rang at home on a nice spring day. By the simple act of answering the phone, I was dragged at least fifteen years back into the past. On the far end of this long distance call was an Assistant United States Attorney in the judicial district of my last Post of Duty. He wanted to know if I remembered a Mister X.
Of course I remembered X. I was the case agent who testified in grand jury about Mister X's trafficking in large quantities of illegal drugs. Most of us in law enforcement, both local and federal, were aware of X's business ever since he had taken an earlier fall on state drug charges, went on to do his time as required and then slid back into society. Naturally, he was more difficult to build a case against the second time around. Seems that during his leisure hours spent in stir he had learned some valuable lessons about survival and being more careful with his transactions. He also made some good criminal connections for his future.
Before trial on his federal charges came up, Mister X disappeared into thin air. No one talking to us seemed to know where he went. Therefore when I retired, Mister X's case remained an open file with him listed as a federal fugitive. Yep, one had gotten away from me. But, this call from the AUSA was about to change all that.
Back to David and His Article
"The problem being that the world around you wouldn't change." "Putting on the clothes of concealment isn't safety." "The legend is a trap, an illusion of choice."
According to the AUSA, Mister X had been arrested in the mountains of Venezuela where he was running a camp for tourists. It was a small camp with fewer than a dozen cabins. Mister X was posing as a German national, had a comfortable life, but by no means extravagant existence. The locals had accepted him for who he said he was and had done so for several years. So, what went wrong for him?
Back to David Again
"We become what we pretend, and fade into the background noise. The danger is that when we shed our skin, and grow a new one, older habits of mind have to be discarded as well." "Living a lie, we trust it to protect us. As the Russian proverb has it: 'If you play the sheep, you'll meet a wolf...' "
Knowing he might have legal situations again someday, Mister X had used his criminal connections to build himself a rabbit hole in advance. He'd set up a new identity in another country, with paperwork to go with it. The man had successfully acquired a legend. Problem was he couldn't let go of family ties.
Before he left the States, Mister X arranged a method of getting money to him, which would supplement his meager income, by using a cutout or middle man. His Mom, who owned a legit business, would send money every month to a trusted friend in Florida (the cutout). After receiving these monthly transfers, the trusted friend would then drive south to Miami and transfer the money to Venezuela. Supposedly only three people knew about the financial corridor. It should have been safe. But, as the Hells Angels say, "Three can keep a secret if two are dead."
The trusted friend in Florida had a girlfriend who also knew everything, the fugitive status, the financial corridor, the whole can of beans. But, all was well, the secret was kept, right up until the trusted friend and his girlfriend had a knock down fight one night and he threw her out of the house. As we all know, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. In revenge, she went straight to the authorities and spilled the beans. The U.S. contacted Venezuela who soon descended upon Mister X and his legend was blown. Turns out for him, there were no hearings in Venezuela courts for extradition. Their Prez Hugo Chavez (before cancer got him), who did not like Americans to begin with, promptly threw Mister X out of the country without bothering about legal technicalities. When Mister X arrived on U.S. soil, he was immediately arrested.
The only saving grace to be said for Mister X is that he quickly took a plea bargain rather than go to trial. As part of the bargain, his dear old Mom would not be prosecuted for her part.
Our David knows what he's talking about. If you are going to create a legend, a new life for yourself, then you not only have to become someone else, you also need to cut all ties to the old life, old habits as it were. One small slip can reveal your disguise. And, sometimes you have no control over who the slip comes from. You can run, but you had better really be good at it if you want to continue to hide.