Friday, May 22, 2015

Further to Soldier of Fortune: On Newsstands Soon

The July issue of Soldier of Fortune, with my story on the cover, has hit the presses! The magazine has been shipped to subscribers, and soon will be available on the newsstands. I thoroughly enjoyed reporting and writing this story, and can't wait to share it! Stay tuned for details.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Still on Assignment, Reporting a Horrifying Crime in Washington, D.C.

What happened inside the Washington, D.C. home where four people were found dead last week amid the ashes of a mysterious fire? I've been working on the story for People magazine, as part of a team reporting this tragic event. Our first efforts can be found both here and here, on Our hearts go out to family and friends of the people whose lives were lost.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mercenaries in Nigeria: Where Rules of Engagement Do Not Apply

How do missions unfold when rules of engagement do not apply? Longtime mercenary Eben Barlow has come out of retirement to combat Boko Haram in Nigeria. Soldier of Fortune has the story.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

In Which I Convene With Some Pilots...

So there we were: me, a German pilot, a Russian pilot, and a USAF ex-bomber pilot, hanging out on Capitol Hill and talking about airplanes. We bonded over B-52's and tales of Phantoms. Who says the Cold War didn't produce nostalgia?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Which the Baby of the Family Graduates University

I am having a Mom Moment here. This little girl...


Is all grown up, and a college graduate with honors. Look out. world...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stargazing With the IDF...

No, this is not my forthcoming cover story for Soldier of Fortune. It's on my bucket list, though.. to go stargazing with the IDF. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Further to Soldier of Fortune...

I mentioned my resumed SOF gig a while back. Keep an eye out. Specifically, on the next SOF cover story. It should be in the mail shortly for subscribers, and on newsstands toward the end of the month. It's a great story. I promise. You will love it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Stingray Tutorial, Final Installment: We Haven't Seen the Last of This Issue

Woodcanoe wraps up his Stingray series, with comments and observations...

It's not just local LEO holding the line on Stingray disclosure. The Obama administration is telling police agencies to refuse FOIA requests on security grounds. A few weeks ago, the US Marshals interfered in a case in Florida to prevent the ACLU from meeting with the cops to learn how this equipment works.The Marshals "deputized" the local police force, declared all materials related to Stingray use to be government property, and took the records off site!

As a reasonable person can readily see, there have been major steps made by government at all levels, and various police departments around the country, to keep this technology secret from the American citizens. Also this use/abuse has given rise to all kinds of questions regarding its use, especially as it applies to our Fourth Amendment rights to be protected from illegal searches and seizures. The ACLU is hot on the tracks, trying to break through the wall of silence. 

Imagine a scenario where YOU are charged with some sort of felony and taken to court. During the preparation for your defense when it comes time for the DA to "disclose" to your attorney the information and evidence that they have against you, the fact that vital information that might have been obtained by LEO use of a Stingray device will NOT be given to you. Nor will your attorney be able to ask any questions about same.....and receive any answers. How would you feel?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Stingray Tutorial, Part 4: Evading Disclosure on Secret Technology

Woodcanoe continues yesterday's tale of the defendant stung with a Stingray....

In response to a motion brought by the ACLU, the state released a transcript from a (closed) court hearing in 2010 relating to a Tallahassee rape case. The expert witness said that he had used special equipment to identify a suspect in a particular apartment.   

"We force the cellphone in question to register with our equipment," the witness said. "Once we identify that we have the correct cell phone, then it is only a matter of moving our equipment around and by 'direction finding' on that set we can pinpoint it's location." Using portable equipment, he said, "we can stand outside every door, and determine with relative certainty" the exact location of the target cell phone.

How reliable is the method?

Came the response: "100% accurate!"

In response, our boy McKenzie's attorney drew up a motion to suppress all evidence that had been obtained with the Stingray device. She argued that the police had not obtained a search warrant by demonstrating "probable cause" to use this device. 

"By scooping up all manner of information from a target cellphone, as well as nearly all cellphones in the general area, a Stingray device engages in exploratory rummaging," the attorney wrote.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Milspotters' Challenge: Test Your Jade Helm Paranoia Factor

For bragging rights: Why should the following road signs cause us to freak out, and how do they fit into the overall rubric of Jade Helm code-reading? In other words, what is the most paranoid interpretation you could place on these signs I found? Don't forget to consider that "they" will insert decoys to avoid alerting the populace to what is really going on.

Stingray Tutorial, Part 3: Woodcanoe Outlines a Case That Revealed Secret Technology

A Florida criminal case that seemed airtight was undone by secrecy surrounding surveillance technology. Our guide Woodcanoe explains here, in his third installment on Stingray programs, how the case unraveled. Take it away, Woodcanoe...

Florida police appeared to have a solid case against suspect Tadrae McKenzie. The 20 year old McKenzie and two buddies were accused of robbing a small time pot dealer using two "BB" guns (for those not familiar with them, "Airsoft" guns look amazingly realistic, especially with the orange removed or colored). Under Florida law, McKenzie was charged with "Robbery with a weapon," a felony with a mandatory sentence of at least four years in the tank. 

The cops had obtained a warrant to get McKenzie's cell phone records from Verizon. Using the phone records, police spotted what they considered a "suspicious phone" in the crime area (meaning that the phone's "activity" during the time of the crime looked like it could have been used by a perp). 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Announcement Expected From Ft. Benning Regarding Females in Ranger School

Officials at Ft. Benning, Georgia will make an announcement Friday regarding the eight remaining females who have been attending Ranger school, Army sources tell me. The announcement will pertain to the females' status as students in the course, sources say.

"They may be recycled; they may continue the course in an auditing capacity; or they may leave the school," says an Army source, who is not authorized to speak to the press and talked to me on the condition of anonymity. "Big Army is trying now to decide what to do."

Added the source: "The females will need to be counseled first, and then other factors will go into deciding what to do."

As of this week, eight females remained in the course from a group of 19 who began training April 20. The women were the first to go through the traditionally all-male school.

"The women are extremely capable soldiers," an Army source tells me. The source is not authorized to speak to the press, and spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They gave their all, but the course is extraordinarily challenging for everyone, both male and female."

The women completed the first portions of training, but did not pass the assessments that would have sent them on to the next phase of training, Mountain Phase, Army sources tell me.

Neither the Defense Department nor Army spokesmen responded to late night calls for confirmation.

The anticipated announcement from Ft. Benning may come as early as Friday morning.

The Latest on Women in Combat, for GX Magazine

For an up to date look at DoD thinking, and a SitRep on women in combat roles, check out my latest cover story for the National Guard's GX magazine.

If you're not in the Guard, you won't get the magazine; but you can read the story here, online

The story includes profiles of some very impressive women who are dedicated to defending their country!

Stingray Tutorial, Part 2: Woodcanoe Explains the Technology

Woodcanoe continues his Stingray tutorial. Take it away, WC...

This device, about the size of a small suitcase, is manufactured by Harris Corporation of Melbourne, FL. Trade names are King Fish, Amber Jack, Hailstorm and Stingray, the latter being in common usage to describe this product. It reportedly now is being made in a smaller size that can be hand carried and is more portable. The devices sell for between $68,000 and $230,000.

Harris Corp has NDA (non disclosure agreements) with ALL it's customers. Best understanding is that the FBI is the main agency behind this movement and has provided information and equipment to local PD's also requiring them to sign non disclosure agreements. In other words the police have a new surveillance technology that is used to provide evidence to make criminal cases that they are doing everything they can to keep absolutely SECRET... from the American citizens... and their attorneys!

So How Does it Work?

A stingray is a FAKE cell phone tower that is portable to the extent it can be carried in a vehicle or van. Some smaller models are now thought to be hand carried. 

When the stingray is turned on, it blocks out cell phone service in the immediate area and causes any cell phones within range to connect to the stingray, thinking it is a regular cell tower. Once these devices connect, the stingray can be used to "home in" on the target's location, or - with some models - to eavesdrop on conversations, text messages and web browser activity. 
Some phones will allow their call log activity to be read by the stingray device! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Meet Stingray, the Top Secret Phone Tracking Program: A Series From Woodcanoe

When accused cop killer Eric Frein was being hunted in Pennsylvania some months ago, commenter Woodcanoe popped into this blog with reasoned insight and analysis on the case. Woodcanoe speculated on everything from Frein's possible whereabouts to the course of the police investigation. Woodcanoe, known as WC, has been a valued contributor here ever since.

Now that Frein has been captured and charged, WC continues to examine the case - including a method that possibly was used to uncover the fugitive's whereabouts. Investigators will not acknowledge this, but it's possible that Frein was captured through the use of a powerful technology you might not have heard of: Stingray.

Why haven't you heard of it? Because it's secret. But WC has used some old-school gumshoe methods to learn what he can about Stingray via open source. And he's kind enough to share.

Over the next couple days, WC will present his finding in a series of posts here on the blog. 

Herewith the first installment, an introduction to Stingray.

Take it away, Woodcanoe...

Ever since the start of the cell phone era most of us have known that a cell phone user can be
"tracked" to a significant extent, thus pinning down the location of a particular phone to a particular a particular time. That little electronic doodad in your pocket works electronic magic while it is turned on - and sometimes when it isn't, even though you may not be aware of that fact. 

Cell phones are always searching for the tower that will have the strongest signal available, at any given moment in time. This may not necessarily be the tower that is actually "nearest" to you, but always is the one that has the best signal available. As the phone user moves around, his phone is constantly searching for, and "latching onto" that strongest signal. There are records kept of ALL calls that use each tower, 24 hrs a day. The call is monitored by time and date. Thus it has always been possible for the cops to get a search warrant and get the phone company(s) to turn over this data. Actually the phone companies have always been pretty cooperative about doing this. But this has limitations!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Back From Assignment, Covering Events in Baltimore

I talked to Maj Gen Linda Singh, who runs the Maryland National Guard, while on assignment for PEOPLE magazine. She was very forthcoming with me about her remarkable life, and how she applies personal lessons to her work as TAG. She is a strong leader, well suited for the job. I very much enjoyed talking to her and writing her story.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Full Moon, My Lovelies!

Full moon tonight, my beauties. All together, now: Ow-ooooo!

Stories of Heroism and Survival in Nepal, in People Magazine

My People magazine colleagues, as always, rose to the occasion. It was an honor to work with them on a tight deadline, gathering stories of heroism and survival in the wake of the horrific earthquake in Nepal. On newsstands now.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Meaning of Coins Left on Military Monuments, Memorials, and Headstones

What is the symbolic meaning of coins left on military monuments or gravestones? My old friend FULRO Mike says the coins are symbolic down payments on a beer for when we meet again. Each coin has a specific meaning. 

Penny: A fellow soldier stopped by, and paid respects.

Nickel: I was in basic training with the person. 

Dime: We served together. 

Quarter: I was there when the person died. 

Thank you, FULRO, for the tutorial in response to yesterday's post about the powerful and mysterious memorial in Colorado.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Mysterious and Powerful Memorial to Warriors Who Fought in Vietnam

A mysterious and powerful war memorial is tucked inside a clearing in the Colorado back country. A couple of motorcyclists found it while riding to the Continental Divide near Gunnison. According to the vid-maker, an old local at a trading post said the memorial is kept off of Park Ranger maps. According to local legend, the videographer says, a Vietnam veteran sneaked in the pieces via helicopter. However the maker did this, the result is stunning. If anyone knows the true story, give a shout. I'd love to hear it. H/T our faithful Navig8r for sending me the clip.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Battle of Gallipoli:One Hundred Years Later, ANZAC and the West Remember

100 years after the Battle of Gallipoli, ANZAC remembers. The overall campaign took part during World War I, and was fought on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey from 25 April 1915 to 9 January 1916. It was a British and French operation to capture Constantinople and secure a sea route to Russia.

The battle was the first major engagement waged by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The troops fought courageously, and took heavy casualties. These 100 years later, we remember and thank them for their service.

This rare footage captures but some of the action.

Second Amendment Saturday: Number One on Google Images

Thanks to my li'l baby Courtney, who also is Number One on images for "What is this woman afraid of?"  #ProudMamaMoment

Friday, April 24, 2015

Media Meets Power Meets Hollywood

I love the annual festivities surrounding the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Let the weekend begin!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Handoff Inside the Golden Knights

Today marks a big occasion for the Army's Golden Knights parachute team. My way-cool friend, First Sergeant Bryan Schnell, AKA "Top," is relinquishing responsibility for the team to Sergeant First Class Dustin Peregrin. The Knights will welcome the new guy, and say a sad farewell to Bryan. He's been at Ft. Bragg with the Knights for a long time, most recently as First Sergeant, and before that as a valued member of the team who spent a lot of air time out 'dere flappin'. 

My family and I first met Bryan some years back at the Manassas Airport in Virginia. The Knights appeared at an airshow there, and I reported a story about them. My daughters Kelly and Courtney also appeared at the show. Courtney performed a gymnastics routine dedicated to the Knights, and Kelly was the emcee. 

The airshow coincided with an epic windstorm that threatened to pick up the entire terminal and whisk all of us - including Joe Galloway, Barry McCaffrey, and some Tuskegee Airmen - to Oz, but that is a story for another day.

When there was a lull in the storm, the Knights jumped. From a perfectly good airplane. I'm pretty sure Bryan landed inside a tiny circle that he aimed for while still inside the plane. It was crazy watching him land precisely but casually, as if this were no big deal. 

Later, the girls and the Knights and I went out to the flight line. Bryan and crew rounded up a van, and brought us to visit one of the Knights' aircraft. Bryan let the girls try on a parachute harness, and gave them some GK posters and great bling. We all remained friends.

In the ensuing years, Bryan has done some amazingly cool things, including jumping out of a (perfectly good) airplane with former President George Bush (the elder) attached to him. That's Bryan and our then-80 year old daredevil former Pres in the photo. Bryan also jumped with Chuck Norris.

Bryan also is known for keeping his cool. One year I ran into some of his teammates during a gathering of mil-pals in Alexandria, VA. When it got really late (or early), we decided to call Bryan in Fayetteville and have him join us by phone. 

He was real nice about it, and didn't yell at us like I would have done in his position.

Now Bryan is heading to a new LZ. He will soooo be missed in Fayetteville. He will be a fantastic addition to his new unit. Seriously, folks: You will love this guy.

Congratulations to SFC Peregrin, and Go, Bryan! I know you are going to stay out 'dere flappin'!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Letters From Manila, 1989: "We're Still Reeling From the Shock of Col. Rowe's Assassination"

More from the Nick Rowe files. These are excerpts from a letter from a friend who was stationed in the Philippine Islands in 1989. Notice what he says in the second clip. Things don't change much, do they?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Raise a Glass to Legendary Green Beret Col. Nick Rowe, On the Anniversary of His Murder

Let's all raise a glass in memory of an old pal and legendary Green Beret, Col. James Nicholas Rowe, who died 23 years ago today. Nick was ambushed and killed on 21 April, 1989, while driving to work in the Philippines. At the time, he was assigned to the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Manila.

He was only 51 when he died. I got to know him when I wrote about Vietnam-era prisoners of war for The Washington Times. I wanted Nick to tell me about POWs. He was happy to comply. But he wanted something, also - for me to join his effort to secure a posthumous Medal of Honor for his fellow Vietnam War captive, Rocky Versace. I included Nick's story and words in my 'Nam POW book, Prisoners of Hope.

Nick's story is an inspiration.

By the time the bad guys finally got him in Manila, Nick had evaded death many times. First, while fighting in Vietnam; and then, while being held captive in the hands of Viet Cong guerrillas.

In 1968, Nick pulled off one of the most spectacular POW escapes in history. He was one of only 34 Americans to make the break to freedom during the Vietnam War. He was a prisoner for five years. During that time, he repeatedly tried to get away. He never accepted the lessons his captors tried to beat into him every time they recaptured him. Finally, his guards got tired of him. They decided to kill him.

 On New Year's eve, a band of Viet Cong marched Nick to where they planned to shoot him. 

"When I saw Cobras, it meant only one thing.... we were in for a bad day."

The mission quickly became complicated. The band stumbled into the kill zone of a flight of American helicopters: the deadly Cobras. As Nick told me in 1987: "When I saw Cobras, I knew it meant only one thing. If they spotted us, we were in for a bad day."

There ensued a bizarre sequence of events, in which the communists relied on Nick to help them evade the lethal choppers. Nick - who was carrying his injured pet dove - complied, all the while formulating a plan and waiting his opportunity. At one point, he somehow got access to the group's radio. While tuning the frequencies, he found Petula Clark singing Happy Heart. The song, he told me, bolstered his courage to act. 

When the timing seemed right, Nick overpowered a guard and broke into the open. He waved his arms at the helicopters. It was a calculated risk. He knew he likely would be shot on sight. He was right.

Monday, April 20, 2015

In Which My Grandpumpkin Liam Celebrates Turning Five!

Has it really been five years? Yep. It sure has. 

Exactly five years ago today, I woke up early to a phone call from my oldest young'un, Erin, who was nine months into being pregnant. Erin was so out of breath she barely could talk, but I knew what she was saying. Her baby was fast on the way. 

A few moments later, youngest young'un Courtney and I were dressed and out the door and headed for the hospital. I guess it's safe now to admit that we jumped into the HOV-3 lanes with only two in the car - our only hope of making it in time to Fairfax through the thick of I-95's northbound D.C. morning rush hour. 

How thick was the traffic? So heavy that Shawn and Erin (who by now was in hard labor and hanging out the window) came to a dead standstill atop the equally congested I-66. Fortunately they happened to be next to a Virginia State Trooper. An ex-Marine like Shawn, the Trooper instantly got them onto the shoulder and safely in place for a roadside delivery. A firetruck arrived to block off the gawkers. The morning news announced that a woman was giving birth on I-66, and that commuters should avoid the scene if possible. Thankfully, though, an ambulance materialized to whisk Erin off to an actual delivery room.

Courtney and I arrived at the hospital soon after Erin did. We raced through the halls, shouting at nurses: "Where's the girl who came in on the ambulance?" We followed the hand signals, and kept on running.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

One Awesome Kid: My Cool Friend Kevin Meets Madison Rising

It started out as a seeming annoyance, and turned into every parent's nightmare. Last summer, my dear friend Dbie, who has appeared on this blog as our Official Squint, told me that her son Kevin hadn't been feeling well. No matter how much rest Kevin got, he didn't improve. Dbie thought maybe he might have a virus or mono. It was time to see the doctor. Dbie got off the phone telling me she'd let me know what the doc said. 

Our next conversation was both terrifying and heartbreaking. Kevin was in the hospital. With leukemia.

Many prayers and chemotherapy sessions later, Kevin is doing fabulously well. He is out of the hospital and back at school. A couple days ago, he road-tripped with his family to New York, to visit Fox & Friends for the launch of the Defend Freedom Tour. This is a way-cool tour, by the way, featuring Concerned Veterans for America and my besties from Madison Rising.

While at the event, Kevin encountered my good pal Dave Bray, Madison Rising's lead singer. Dave traded a CD for a "Pray for Kevin" bracelet.

I am so proud of my cool friend Kevin for conquering so much in less than a year's time. That is one awesome kid. You can follow his continuing progress here, at Keeping Up With Kevin. Tell him SKK sent you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Madison Rising, Concerned Veterans for America Appear on Fox & Friends to Launch Tour

My absolute besties, the gang from Madison Rising, are in Manhattan today, along with Pete Hegseth and his Concerned Veterans for America, launching their Defend Freedom Tour. I soooo want to be there! But perhaps I shall join this fabulous endeavor at a later date!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Horror on Campus: Remembering What it Was Like to Cover the Virginia Tech Shootings

Eight years ago today, my editor at People magazine called from New York with a tentative request: 

"Hey... there's reports of a strange incident in Blacksburg. Something about a man with a gun on campus. Can you look into it?"

At the time he called, the only thing we knew was that someone had opened fire on people at Virginia Tech, the huge university southwest of Roanoke. Beyond that, though, we knew nothing. The police gave us little information; not because they wouldn't, but because they themselves were trying to find out what was going on. At first, the working theory was that a lovers' quarrel had turned violent, and that the shooter - presumably an angry boyfriend - was stopped speeding through the Virginia countryside and was in custody.

We were horrified, but partially relieved to think the incident had been contained. By the end of the day, we knew otherwise. An entire People team - and the international media - converged on Virginia Tech to cover the deadliest and most infamous shooting spree on an American school campus. 

Reporting this story was both surreal and intense. When we learned the horrible truth, that this was a mass murder spree, part of the People team mission was to write stories of heroism and survival. 

One student told me about his professor, Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who blocked the door so that students could escape. The student tried to pull Professor Librescu from the doorway, but the 76 year old held fast, refusing to move. The student told me: "He saved everyone in the classroom. He saved our lives. As I got ready to jump out the window, I turned back to look at the professor. He just stood there, holding the door. The last I saw him, he was blocking the door."

Radioactive Material Stolen in Mexico: Seriously Bad Juju

The theft of radioactive material in Mexico is not just a red flag. It's an entire stadium full of crimson banners. We know what this stuff is used for. It's the building block of a dirty bomb.