Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Man Who Lost His Name


I don't often dabble in political topics on my blog.  It's not something I like doing or seeing done in public fora.  But this week, after watching several promos about an upcoming interview on NBC News later tonight, I can't let this pass without comment.  Apologies in advance if I offend anyone's views or sensibilities.

Many in our country, and likely other countries as well, have gone through a full range of emotional reactions about a young man who decided his individual mission should be to expose his country’s deepest secrets.  His stated motivation from the beginning has been that the U.S. government has violated its basic charter to preserve and protect its citizenry as guided by the Constitutiona view I don't personally share.  Such a grand motivation assumes a certain righteousness that no one else working in the government (or knowledgeable of its inner workings) could ever possess. 
I believe the single person who might ever have made such a claim of pure righteousness chose not to set himself apart in such a way.  Instead he simply challenged anyone who is guiltless to cast the first stone.  To me, the young man who betrayed his country’s trust is now a man without a country.  He is a liability wherever he lands and the country which might opt to claim him is rare indeed. 
As for the damage done to national security, is there a cost to restore the level of protection for systems and data which trusted authorities are responsible to protect?  Yes.  Will the recovery take time?  Yes.  Will the locks to the kingdom be rekeyed and the new keys secured?  Yes—they no doubt already have been.  So, what else is left to do?  What is to become of the man without a country?  The answer is largely up to him.  He will decide if or when he will return to face his fate in his homeland. 
But what about the value of anything he has to say?  Very likely, there’s not much.  With each passing day, week and month, anything he revealed or plans to reveal continues to become less relevant.  As soon as his treason was exposed, the government would have immediately implemented defensive procedures.  First, every effort would have been made to determine what was lost.  Second, anything and everything that could have been changed would have been changed to blunt the impact of the revelations. 
And yet some seem to believe there is entertainment value in an interview.  Perhaps.   For at great expense and with considerable effort, a U.S. news agency has arranged an interview with the young traitor.  But what is the story to report?  Personally, I would be surprised if there is a story or if anyone is interested.  So, move along—there’s nothing to see here, right? 
But wait.  There may be a story after all.  Instead of the focus being the interviewee, the real story may be the details of what it took to arrange the interview in the first place.  How long did the negotiations take?  Who should do the interview?  How would all the media gear be transported into the country without creating a stir?  What location would have the lowest profile for the interview?  Would extra security be needed?  Would there be cover stories and aliases for the news crew?  How long would the interview team stay before and after the interview?  Would they be transported in and out of the interview location under cover of darkness or in plain sight?  And what was the Quid Pro Quo exchanged between the U.S. and Russia to allow the interview to happen?
The only other possibility that an interview might be of value would be to create opportunities during the interview for the young traitor’s narcissism and ego to kick in.  For example, he might inadvertently reveal something that would otherwise be left to conjecture.  Is there a crack in the purity of his motives?  Did his ego get in the way of rational decision making?  In front of millions or even billions in the TV audience, will he come across as a true patriot or will he appear flippant, foolish, arrogant, untrustworthy and irrelevant?  And maybe in all that will he have any regrets?
Personally, I have struggled mightily with the question of whether I will watch the interview or not.  My feeling is that the possibility of any value coming out of the interview is very likely a craps shoot.  Anyone in the Intelligence business, whether collecting, processing or disseminating, understands that failure to protect data and information held in the national interest is a failure to protect the interest of every American.  Anyone deliberately betraying that trust puts Americans at risk and is an affront to all who have been or are in the information security and facility security business.  The idea of watching the interview in hopes some value, or better yet even the slightest shred of satisfaction, will come out of it is indeed a bitter pill.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

To Junior: The Thanks Of A Proud Nation

Memorial Day always leaves me with conflicted emotions. It's not because I find it hard to intellectually understand that some have made, and will yet make, the ultimate sacrifice. And after 22 years as a military brat and another 20 years in the military myself, I totally get the realities of military service---life effects that may seem unacceptable to those who have not experienced them.

I even acknowledge there will never be 100 percent clarity of purpose when leaders must make decisions about what thousands of others are to do for the greater good. Missions are messy. And as "instruments of national policy", ours is but to follow and implement the best way we can, hoping our leaders are doing the same.

In terms of character, the oath of enlistment and oath of commissioning are essentially the same promise each military member makes to the nation they serve. Even after leaving the military, whether completing one stint or a career, wearing one's newly granted civilian status is neither easy nor complete---nor should it be. Yet among those who have served, you can see it in their bone-weary faces. There are few who would be happier and more relieved to return home, emotionally and physically spent, knowing they had done their best and glad that their burden can be set aside, if only for a while.

Sure there will always be grumbling about orders given. But, if called on again, likely almost all would take up the mantle once more and march on. Those unable to continue will stand in spirit behind all those who can and do. That is the unstated code not to be trifled with.

So, what is it that gives me pause on Memorial Day? In a visceral sense, it is hard to get my head around. It is just a deep, unfathomable feeling. But in truth, the conflicted emotions are fed by the discord that bubbles and boils as close as the TV remote or the never ending reports and interpretations of reports according to one's own world view. It is the constant din of disagreement, the ceaseless competition for a slice of the pie, swirling even as the distant combat continues. It is the masses apparently feeling no other option but to gnaw on bones tossed into the crowd by those who would incite riot.

And in the face of all that, how can an individual casualty among the thousands of dead and maimed warriors be understood and accepted? What of the mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters will no longer sit at table on Thanksgiving or find love or celebrate the lives of their children, born and unborn? For me, I think of an uncle I never knew: Alfred Washington Kirk, Jr., Private First Class, US Army. He was Jute or Junior to all who knew him.

Uncle Junior was a young man when he signed up, not much more than a boy, really. Born on August 10, 1923, he had yet to reach his 21st birthday when he died on a beach in the South Pacific. Junior had enlisted after Pearl Harbor, following two of his brothers (my dad and another uncle) who had joined up a year or two before him. Trading farm life for the company of thousands of others bound for an uncertain future, in less than three years, he fought what was likely his first and last battle on May 4, 1944. I can only imagine his final days and hours and minutes when, through serendipity, he became part of the nation's sacrifice.

When such loss is personal, the acceptance gets harder, even decades later. And yet, we go on in the knowledge that the totality of those losses are the price of freedom for all those left behind. Shouldn't the sacrifice of the few who we hold so close to our hearts call us to a common purpose that transcends our differences? Don't we owe the fallen at least that much, that they did not die in vain? Thanks hardly seems enough and yet it is all we have. Junior, I am humbled by your sacrifice. You and all your brothers and sisters in arms, who made the ultimate sacrifice then and since, were taken from us way too soon.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL! IT'S HALLOWEEN!

In honor of Halloween, this post finishes the month with an un-rhyme:
A Halloween story in free verse for those who dare to read on.


"Don't Touch That Dial--It's Halloween!"
By Bill Kirk

'Tis a dark and stormy night.
The moon is shrouded by low-hanging clouds,
Pushed along by a howling wind.
Branches dance erratically, all but disconnected
From massive, creaking trunks. Snap! Something breaks.

Momentary flashes of moon and stars
Yield brief hints of what awaits those
Who choose to travel on such a turbulent night.
Will we make it to our destination?
Or only wish we had?

This is not a night for the engine to fail.
Is that why we stopped?
A lone car approaches in the distance.
In a flash, virtually on top of us,
High beams shock shut our wide-open eyes.

Then nothing as tail lights disappear in the distance.
The first drops of an impending storm
Dot the dusty windshield
Leaving spider-like reflections
Of the dimming interior lights. Keep the engine running.

How long will the battery last anyway?
Without it, the night is impenetrable.
Yet squandering it by leaving the lights on
Gives the visual advantage to those outside looking in.
Sure they can see us-each one of us.

Turn it off then. But can we at least listen to the radio?
Anything for a little distraction-even for a few minutes.
Hey, does anyone have a cell phone? No matter.
No reception. Better save their batteries, too. Wait.
Go back to that last radio station. What did that guy just say?

"Mass escape from Ravenscroft…. Two guards killed…
Throats slit; hoisted feet first on the flagpole.
Three others left surgically blind, deaf or dumb.
No sign of where the monsters went
And no way to track them.

"To all who hear this broadcast, stay inside your homes
And let no one in, not even if you think you know their voice.
If you are out, keeping driving, as far and as fast as you can.
And hope you can find shelter quickly in the company
Of those you can trust for help and safekeeping.

"For there is evil prowling the night,
Looking for a hiding place away from the storm,
No matter what they must do to find it.
And just for entertainment, they will spare no suffering.
Relishing the screams and pleadings of their victims.

"If you are in your car, do not get out. Lock every door.
Turn out every light. Stay out of sight.
If you hear any scratching on your car, stay quiet and do not move.
Dial 911 if you can and give your location to the authorities.
Only turn the radio on for hourly updates from this station."

Click.

"THIS MORNING AUTHORITIES FOUND SIX COLLEGE STUDENTS
ASPHYXIATED AND HUDDLED IN THE FLOOR OF THEIR CAR.
A PLASTIC BAG, TRAPPED BY A BROKEN BRANCH BLOWN DOWN
IN THE WIND, HAD COVERED THE EXHAUST PIPE. DOORS WERE LOCKED.
ALL CELL PHONES WERE TURNED OFF. THE BRANCH HAD LEFT
HEAVY SCRATCH MARKS ON THE TRUNK.

FULL GAS TANK, GOOD BATTERY; ALL CELL PHONES WORKING."

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Fire Restrictions Are There For A Reason"

At the risk of suggesting a topical shift from writing to backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, my first entry for quite a while is a reflection on fire in the wilderness. But first a photo from a short backpacking trip in the Sierra in July of this year:



To snap the pic required a five-mile hike in to Showers Lake (photo) from near Woods Lake along highway 89, plus a brief wait after eating dinner in camp for the sunset. Needless to say, an i-Phone photo, although pretty spectacular, doesn't come close to a first-hand look. In a totally different context, Eric Sevaried once wrote of the northern Canadian wilderness in his book Canoeing With The Cree, "Such sights as this are reserved for those who will suffer to behold them."

Here's another shot looking easterly toward Lake Tahoe from a rock perch at the edge of the camping area. Arriving early enough in the day, a camper might be lucky to snag this campsite and awake to see the birth of the dawn over Lake Tahoe.



So, why these photos now? And what is the connection to the topic of fire in the wilderness? Anyone in central, eastern and northern California and parts of Nevada have been witness to the effects of the Rim Fire burning near and in Yosemite National Park in recent weeks. The fire was reportedly started by someone who disregarded fire restrictions which were (and still are) in place to reduce the possibility of just such an event. As a result, 400 square miles of wilderness area have been scorched, including several homes in the path. The livelihoods of thousands of people in the surrounding communities and towns have also been jeopardized by the drop in the number of visitors and the trade they bring.

Clearly, natural causes could have started the Rim Fire just as easily. Lightning strikes have destroyed thousands of square miles of wilderness over the years and will continue to do so. Yet, the obvious lesson is nature needs no help from people when it comes to starting fires.

Little can be done to recoup the losses of those affected by any wilderness fire. Nor can we soothe their disappointment about the carelessness of those who would disregard prudent restrictions on the many in favor of the momentary enjoyment by the few. Masking her frustration last week, one nearby resident affected by the fire summed up the feelings of many when she simply said, "Fire restrictions are there for a reason." The message doesn't get much clearer than that.

On a another trip to Lake Tahoe last weekend, I was part of the support group for the Emigrant Trails Bike Trek (no, I wasn't among the riders). Approaching Lake Tahoe on Highway 50, I was looking forward to the panoramic view of the deep blue lake nestled among the surrounding peaks. However, as I rounded the last of the tight curves which open up to the spectacular lake views, the lake was totally masked by the thick haze of drifting smoke from the Rim Fire.

Personally, I like a good campfire as much as the next person. And I can vouch for the same sentiment among the Boy Scouts in our Scout Troop and other Troops who frequently camp in California's wilderness areas. After all, campfires are an expected part of the camping experience. Yet when conditions warn against fire, there is no debate. Like the lady said, those fire restrictions are there for a reason.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dad, Can I Help?

I've included this rhyming story before but I can't pass up using again on this day, the first Father's Day without my dad. He passed away in January and all of his family areis missing him today. But he wouldn't want us to be droopy-eyed about him missing this day with us. I had him for 65 years and even he would probably say, that's long enough. And then there were three generations: My son, Chris, and his son, Dylan, with me hiking Bodega Head in California last week on June 8.

Cherish the fathers who are still with us, wherever they may be. And hold in your hearts the fathers we can only remember this day. May the Lord bless you and keep you all and may we all be sons with whom our fathers are well pleased.

Dad, Can I Help?
By Bill Kirk

The long weekend beckoned—
I’d written my list.
And I was quite sure
There was nothing I’d missed.

No yard work distractions,
No carpools to do.
The weekend was mine
Until I was through.

I had all my hardware
And lumber galore.
I’d work on the deck;
Replace an old door.

I set up my saw
And tested my drill.
With anticipation
I felt quite a thrill.

“No holding me back,”
I thought, a bit smug.
Then all of a sudden,
I felt a slight tug.

Stopping my work,
I turned with a glance
To see my small son
Grab the leg of my pants.

What could I do?
Did I have any choice,
When my little son asked
In his little boy voice?

“Dad, can I help?
I just need some glue
And maybe a nail,
Some wood and a screw.”

“I’ll be very careful
And do what you say.
I promise, I’ll try
To stay out of your way.”

I felt the deck slipping
Right out of my grasp.
And the door would remain
On its very last gasp.

We built a small boat
With a deck and a sail
Out of two bits of wood,
An old rag and a nail;

Then battled some pirates
And found chests of gold.
With each new adventure
A story was told.

We sawed and we hammered
Until we were done
With all of our work—
Like father, like son.

I never did finish
My list on that day,
Instead I spent time
With my son, just to play.

And those weekend projects?
Sometimes they must wait.
For some life appointments,
A Dad can’t be late.