Authors: Ken Methven
For all those taken from us by heroin
Copyright KEN METHVEN 2013, All Rights Reserved
stood at the corner of the stall and glanced up from the
tubs of cereals and grains without moving his head to look across the
Square at the target,
Akhtar al Hamid, lounging aimlessly in a café opposite. He was one of four
suspected personal couriers to the warlord Abdul
, more commonly known as Abu
was one of the most ruthless and feared Pashtun warlords and terrorist
province of Afghanistan.
There was a substantial American funded bounty payable on him, dead or alive.
had been a religious conservative
who flourished in the Taliban era under Mullah Omar but who was infinitely more
intelligent and worldly than the one-eyed Pashtun. This did not stop Abu
from exploiting the fundamentalist sharia regime
imposed by Omar to callously and ruthlessly expunge life from those whom he
chose, by cruel, bloody, and ignominious public torture, shooting and hanging
in prominent places. He fully understood the power of fear and fed the
imagination of his enemies at every opportunity.
was a prime target of the US Central
Intelligence Agency and they continuously pressed Afghan authorities to locate
him. The tracking of personal couriers had proved successful in locating Osama
Bin Laden and the CIA was hopeful it would work again in Abu
, the leader of a watcher team of the Afghan National
Directorate of Security (NDS), known by everyone as
, was tasked
with trailing one of the suspect couriers in case he made contact with Abu
or revealed clues that might lead to him.
Akhtar al Hamid, the courier, sat at a table on the street with his back
to the café casually watching the traffic. In fact he was studiously checking
for anyone taking an interest in him before he moved off to meet with a
He stood up and walked purposefully to his left.
turned to eyeball the other members of his team to make sure they had spotted
the move and was reassured to see all of them start to move in the same
looked around carefully to see if
there were any counter-surveillance people taking an interest in their abrupt
moves. Satisfied there were none, he also started walking casually in the
direction the courier had taken.
A hundred metres further on, the courier ducked into a building and was
lost to sight. The nearest watcher broke into a trot. Reaching the spot where
the courier had disappeared, he tentatively glanced to his right and seeing
nothing, turned into the building.
realised that if the courier’s move was a dodge to throw off
any followers, he would most likely use the network of alleyways behind the
building to get to the next thoroughfare over.
turned immediately to try to get to that street before the courier, leaving the
rest of his team to continue.
Sweating with the effort to move quickly,
Road and began scanning the pedestrians
for a familiar face. He looked carefully, appreciating that their quarry might
alter his dress or appearance, while lost to view. He stifled a smile as the
courier emerged, walking quickly and looking back from whence he had come, to
see if he was being followed. Crossing the road, he walked north, half turning
periodically to glance over his shoulder.
made sure he stayed on the opposite side of the street, with
other pedestrians between them and was sure he had not been ‘made’. This was a
real break. Akhtar al Hamid was up to something he did not want observed. All
the hours of tedious watching might produce a result that would bring credit
and esteem to
and his team. His team!
remembered his floundering team and called to let
them know the whereabouts of the courier. Unlike the CIA,
not have the luxury of communications networks, earphones and throat mikes.
After a brisk walk, the courier crossed a major highway and walked into
Garden. He took a few paces off the
footpath and sat down on the grass.
by surprise but continued to walk at the same pace, in the same direction to
avoid any reaction. He studiously avoided looking directly at the courier and
walked on, trying to look as normal as he could. His target was carefully
looking for anyone following him.
thinking furiously how to stop and take up the chase again without being
Veering onto a path that was oblique to his target, he could now see the
courier out of the corner of his eye without turning around.
called his team again to find out where they were
and tell them where the courier was; warning them that he was checking for
followers. He tried to make the phone call add to his appearance of
He kept walking until he found an excuse to pause at a fountain some two
hundred metres away from the courier and waited until his target got up and
moved off again. The courier went in the opposite direction to
, towards a domed shrine with blue-painted columns;
the burial place of Afghan heroes. There were people ambling around enjoying
the shade offered by the ornate roof and looking at the plaques extolling the
virtues of those interred at the shrine.
One of the watchers called back to report the team arriving in the park,
asking for new directions.
told them to make
for the shrine which he thought was obviously the meeting place.
The courier entered the wrought-iron fenced precinct of the shrine and
looked around for his contact. Walking around the outside of the shrine he
abruptly stopped, looked around once more to check he was not being observed
and stepped into the shadows.
that he was so far behind that he was
not observed, but close enough to have seen his target’s movements.
kept walking towards the domed shrine peering into
the shadows for any sight of the contact but could only see the silhouette of a
tall man in conversation with al Hamid.
reached the building the courier was
already walking out through a gate on the other side of the precinct. After a
few moments the tall man walked around the building, still in the shadows,
going towards the gate the courier had entered by. Their meeting had been very
brief. “This must be it,” thought
pulled out his mobile phone and started taking pictures of a
plaque about an Afghan hero. The tall man made for the gate, coming out of the
shadows and into the sunlight.
surreptitiously moved the phone at an angle to put the profile of what he
thought was a westerner, bareheaded, clean-shaven, wearing sunglasses into the
frame. He pressed the button, heart racing in case the tall man could hear the
simulated camera shutter sound of the phone over the background noise.
He looked like a westerner from his clothes; the shirt, trousers and dust
coloured boots did not look local. As he turned towards
to navigate through the wrought-iron gate,
had the presence of mind to lower the phone to waist level and zoom in for a
frontal shot as the tall man turned face-on towards the camera.
Checking the second image was captured
pocketed the camera and briskly walked around the precinct to get back on the
trail of the courier. He caught sight of him in the distance getting into a
three-wheeled auto-rickshaw and
flow of traffic. There was no way to get to another taxi fast enough to catch
up. The chase was over. He’d lost him.
The rest of the watcher team arrived. “Did you pass a tall westerner as
you came here?”
“Yes, he was going south towards the main road,” replied one, referring
to the A1, Kabul-Jalalabad highway.
“Quick! Let’s see if we can catch up to him,
They trotted back in the direction of the highway arriving in time to see
the tall man get into a white, four-wheel-drive.
had his phone out of his pocket quickly and photographed the receding vehicle
hoping to get the registration plate. The vehicle was on the opposite
carriageway going towards Kabul with traffic between them, and was already some
distance away. As he reviewed the image
disappointed to see only part of the registration plate.
The group of four watchers trudged back to base to report the contact;
ready to wear abuse and recriminations from their captain for having lost the
, the contact with the tall
man was sufficient redress.
The captain of the Afghan National Directorate of Security seemed unfazed
by the courier disappearing into the ether and
relaxed a little realising the anticipated ‘talking to’ would not ensue; a
The captain was much more interested that Akhtar al Hamid had made
contact with a mysterious, possibly western, tall man.
“Let me see the photographs,” he ordered, having heard
briefing, holding out his hand.
cued up the camera shots and handed over his phone. The
captain peered at the images, grunting satisfaction that they were clear and
focused, studying them intently for some time; quite unreasonably disappointed
that he did not recognise the individual.
“Get your team some food and drink and standby to go out again as soon as
we have a sighting of any of the couriers,” he said. “And well done,
! This is the kind of thing we are looking for.”
beamed and his chest seemed to expand. “
captain, sir,” he thanked in muddled English/Pashto.
phone the captain got up and went out of his office and down the corridor to
the CIA office and knocked politely. “Yeah!”
voice from within.
a lead. A contact…with the courier al Hamid,” he said, hardly concealing his
pride that his people had a result, holding out the phone.
resident Jalalabad CIA agent, reached out and looked at the images.
was in his late thirties, overweight, with dark
curly short hair that still seemed unruly. He was wearing an incongruously
clean, white, business shirt with a black leather jacket slung over the back of
Finally, he said “OK. Tell me the details
The captain related the brief encounter at
the shrine and the getaway of both the courier and the tall man.
“So he might have been going to Kabul,”
mused to himself. He plugged in a USB to the phone
and copied the images onto his computer. “Print out the images and pass them
agents to see if anyone knows who he is.”
He thought for another moment then said
“Check the person database and also foreign visitors in Jalalabad,” almost as
an afterthought, mind starting to engage. “I’ll see if I can get the license
plate image cleaned up enough to identify even a partial,” he continued.
was happy he had a lead to which he could apply
the substantial electronic apparatus of The Company.
The number of contacts that the four suspect
couriers were presenting to the
watcher teams was getting so
large that it was consuming all the local resources that
could call upon. He suspected that it might even be a tactic by Abu
to blind them to the one important contact he does
not want observed. The tall westerner might be that one important contact.
The phone rang on the desk of Bill Hodge.
Hodge was a New Zealander with Scots/Irish/Maori antecedents, known to everyone
An ex New Zealand SAS officer with several
years military service deployed in Afghanistan, Bill had joined the New Zealand
SIS (Security Intelligence Service) after leaving the regiment and was
currently on a two-year overseas exchange with the foreign wing of the UK
security intelligence service, known as MI6. His substantial Afghan experience
led him inexorably back to Kabul on his current assignment.
“Bill?” said the voice on the line.
Hodge recognised the voice of Joe
Martin, CIA station chief in Kabul that he had worked with several times since
he had arrived back in Kabul.
“We have a probable identification of a guy we think is a ‘
’, who might be involved in an operation we have
underway. If we can confirm who we think he is, we need to formally advise “our
British cousins”, but I’d actually like you to pick up on it personally and
check it out for us. I’ve already cleared it with Geoff.”
Joe was a typically non-bureaucratic and direct, Californian. Geoff was
Geoffrey Wynn-Thomas, MI6 Afghanistan station chief and Bill’s boss.
“We think you know him,” he continued intriguingly. “Come over and I’ll
show you what we’ve got” he said, putting the phone down without waiting on a
Bill was indeed intrigued, but knew that Joe’s call was more of an
immediate summons than a casual invitation. He walked to the next building but
one across the compound to the CIA base, wondering who the ‘
was, and what case he was involved in. The compound was within a fenced off
secure area inside Camp Rasher US military base in Kabul.
In the CIA building he went through the routine security checks, pat
down, magnetic scan, and identity verification, even though the marines on duty
recognised him. “SOPs” he thought; happy to comply, knowing that the process
was necessary to keep them safe.
The CIA station chief already had his door open and waved him in past his
personal assistant, a fresh young man in smart business dress that looked too
youthful to be useful. He looked up at Bill, long-haired, bearded,
, with a khaki tee shirt; pattern-disturbed cargo
pants, and cheap-looking canvas plimsolls and his gaze followed him all the way
into his boss’s office.
“Come in Bill. Look at this.” Bill walked into a large airy room with no
windows and several fluorescent lights with no diffusers and an ornately tiled
floor. There were three large panel screens on the walls. Two were switched off,
but the third had the three images
blown up large with a CIA file photo of the same man with summary demographic
details and a stack of offset tabs of file notes behind it.
“Aha!” Bill exhaled.
“Eh?” queried Joe, confused.
“George Wood, SS,” Bill explained.
“That’s what we thought. The
inconclusive, but together with the partial plate on his vehicle, we are pretty
sure it’s him. What do you mean, ‘SS’?” he added, frowning.
Bill was starting to get used to the Americanisms of the CIA and
understood Joe was talking about photographs, or image intelligence (
Bill explained that George Wood was a British special services soldier
that Bill had worked with on more than one operation in Afghanistan while he
was in the military. Wood was an NCO in the SFSG, Special Forces Support Group,
a special operations unit of the British Armed Forces formed to provide backup
support to other special operations units such as the
Special Air Service
Special Reconnaissance Regiment
“They are drawn from several units and
wear their originating regiment’s cap badge but have a shoulder patch with
silver dagger with a red-lined black
flash of lightning running through it. Looks for
world like the SS insignia. So they are known to most of the people they work
with as the ‘SS’. They love the sinister association, really,” he explained.
Joe looked blank and said, “…and…‘
Bill explained that as with most of these tight-knit groups, individuals
tend to be known by nickname. “George was known as “bone” after an American
grunt made a crack about ‘woody’, referring to slang for a hard-on, which was
morphed into a comment about ‘having a bone in it’.”
“Yeah, I get it” nodded Joe as it dawned on him, remembering what
separated the English-speaking peoples.
“Anyway, it stuck.
originally a ‘para’, fro
m The Parachute
” Bill clarified. “He’s a Welshman, so the SS suited him.
They’re based near Cardiff.” Bill suddenly realised he was starting to ramble.
Joe probably had no idea what or where Cardiff was.
Joe shook his head and continued, “Well he’s come up in connection with
“What kind of connection?” asked Bill, a frown forming on his
They had been side by side fighting people like Abu
couldn’t be carrying on the
fight, freelance? Or was he still serving and under some kind of cover?
“We got these images at a clandestine meeting in Jalalabad two days ago
with a local called Akhtar al Hamid, who we believe to be a trusted courier to
” said Joe. He went on to explain that al
Hamid was one of several possible personal couriers they had identified and
were intensively surveilling in order to find information to locate Abu
“We traced four-wheel-drives with the partial plate we got from the image
and the only one in the whole of Afghanistan with that partial registration and
a western registered owner was one for International Risk Management. So we
checked passport photos of everyone employed by them, and bingo! We identified
George Wood. We’re pretty sure, it’s him.”
Confident he had addressed Bill’s doubts, Joe said, “This tracking
thing worked with Bin Laden so we
are trying it with Abu
, but we’re getting
and need to concentrate on
.” Turning to the big screen he
continued “Wood doesn’t fit the mould so he’s ticked up in interest.” Looking
back at Bill, he said, “That’s why we need to take a different approach with
him, and that’s where you come in. We want you to find out what his connection
is with the courier al Hamid and whether it’s related to Abu
or whether there is some other innocent
Bill said “Sure. But I am not just going to barge in and ask him what
he’s up to. I’ve worked with him before but I’m not that close to him. If
there’s anything going on, talking to him will tip our hand.”
“Of course not,” said Joe. “But if and when the time comes to confront
him, the fact that you know each other gives us options as to how we might
engineer a chance meeting, or whatever.” Joe said it soothingly trying to be
“Geoff has already signed off on this and you’ll get all the technical
resources you’ll need and all you have to do is report back what you find.
him out if there’s an innocent
explanation, or we’ll escalate if we find he’s dirty and can lead us to. All we
will need is Abu
confirmed presence in a
specific location and we’ll fry his ass,” Joe promised.
“OK Joe, let’s get started,” said Bill.
Joe smiled and said “Fine!” He called out to his personal assistant “Jed!
Get technical services in here to brief Bill.”
While they waited for the technical services people to arrive Joe said, “Now
you can expense any operational costs through your normal channels. You just
need to use the operation codename “Dinner-Jacket” in your expense reports and
they’ll be cross-charged to me. Whatever you need to get answers” he said
conspiratorially. “Oh and the target codename for Wood is ‘
get operation codenames from an arbitrary sanitised list when we register a new
operation but at least we can choose our own target codenames that
to something memorable” he explained. “Otherwise we would
be lost trying to remember who’s who with the large number of targets we are
generating for this one.”
A corporal in a uniform Bill didn’t recognise knocked at the door. “Come
in Jenkins. Lay it out for Bill,” instructed the CIA chief spook.
Jenkins laid down a single sheet of paper and started talking, “Sir, in
addition to being subject to your annual British Official Secrets Act
declarations, the declaration on this agreement additionally covers all aspects
of the methods, capabilities, technology, credentials and codes that you may be
disclosed to you in this operation.” Jenkins lifted the piece of paper to
indicate the agreement to which he was referring.
Bill smiled thinking that Jenkins was a caricature of military
officiousness and procedure.
The corporal pointed to the line at the bottom of the paper with the end
of a pen, helpfully marked with an “x.” “This is where you sign, sir, and I
“Sure” said Bill taking the offered pen, sliding it back across the table
to Jenkins who countersigned, picked up the paper and placed it into folder.
Jenkins gave a physical description of the courier Akhtar al Hamid and
showing the only 3 known photographs
of the man. His codename was
. The only easily distinguishing
feature of the Afghan warlord was a slight limp in the left leg caused by
shrapnel wounds from as far back as the war with the Soviets. He started to
describe Woods, but Bill stopped him explaining he was already familiar with