UPDATED: Intercepts

Editor's Note: This story was updated ay 11 a.m. March 15, 2006, to add "Feeling Clarke’s wrath."

This is my last contribution to Intercepts. After 15 years as a journalist, I’m making a career change. I’ve spent the past seven years covering the government, and now I will work for it.

My editor suggested that I sign off by writing about some of my interesting experiences covering government. I was hesitant at first because, believe it or not, my style is to lie low. But as I started clearing my desk and going through my files, I realized I’ve had some good experiences.

Nice suit, Gadhafi
It was early 2001 and the IDEX military show in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was approaching. I persuaded my editor to let me go with him. I promised I would land interviews with top government officials, including one from a rogue state.

A couple days into the show, I noticed some commotion. There he was, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi. He was impeccably dressed in a brownish-yellow, double-breasted Italian suit. I tried to get near him, but his bodyguard blocked me. So I approached one of his handlers, the Libyan ambassador to the U.A.E., and asked to speak to him. After they milled around some exhibits, he approached the young Gadhafi. They looked at me, and must have decided I was all right.

After we exchanged cordialities, I asked why he was at the show. He said he was looking for voice, video and data radios to help Libya better patrol its borders. He talked about people trying to smuggle drugs across his country’s borders. We exchanged pleasantries again at the end of the conversation, but we never shook hands. I sensed a Cold War-tension between us. He continued on, and the Libyan ambassador came to me and said perhaps our two countries could be friends again.

Journalist under fire
You hear stories in journalism of generals threatening journalists’ jobs. It happened to me in 2002. I was covering the Army’s Stryker vehicle and Future Combat Systems (FCS) programs. I was breaking stories from leaked documents about size, weight and transportability issues with vehicles in both programs.

The Army was trying to move from tracked to wheeled vehicles. Officials on both sides on the issues were adamant about their views. The Pentagon and Congress even got into the mix. I guess I was making the Army’s job miserable.

At a party during the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference, a tall guy I had never seen before approached me. He said he worked in the Army and wanted to warn me that a three-star general, who is now retired and will remain nameless, was going to return the favor. Needless to say, my job was difficult in many ways for the next three months. The last time I checked, the Army prefers to ship Strykers rather than fly them in, and the weight of FCS vehicles has increased.

Exposing Titan Rain
Reporting on China’s hacking of U.S. military networks has been a passion of mine — some say an obsession — for the past three years. Contrary to popular belief, nobody leaked the story to me. I had a suspicion and approached some people who might know. They were hesitant at first but eventually confirmed it. I spent many breakfasts meeting with them to learn as much as I could and to get the facts right.

Last year, the military held its first computer security stand-down. This summer, it will require all employees to use identity cards to log on to their computers. A top military information technology general said while having a beer recently that the stories about Titan Rain were the best thing that ever happened for information assurance efforts at the Pentagon. Maybe some good did result from the stories.

It’s been a fun ride. I’ve met a lot of people and made a few friends. I’ve grown as a writer. But now it’s time to try something else. Intercepts East signing off.

Feeling Clarke’s wrath
Everyone remembers Sept. 11, 2001. It is comparable to the day President Kennedy was assassinated. My memory of the day is of interviewing Richard Clarke, who was then the counterterrorism chief on the National Security Council. I had tried for weeks to talk with him about a new security plan for the federal government that he was working on, but he never returned my calls.

On the morning of Sept. 11, Clarke was speaking about that plan at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington. I decided to stake him out. Clarke spoke at 8 a.m. I listened for about 30 minutes and then walked to the door, the only entrance in and out of the room. Clarke couldn’t avoid me then. After he finished his speech and made small talk, he walked to door. I asked for a brief interview. He agreed, and we stepped out to the hall.

As soon as I asked a question, Clarke’s cell phone rang, and he took the call. As he listened, Clarke, an intense man with a pale complexion, turned bright red. He dismissed himself and walked briskly toward the door. I followed and asked another question. Clarke suddenly spun around and yelled something about a national emergency, and shouted that he had to leave.

That day I experienced Clarke’s famous temper and a moment in history. The phone call informed Clarke that a hijacked passenger jet had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Intercept something? Send it to bbrewin@fcw.com.

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