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Excerpt from Michael Hastings’ Book “The Operators” Re: Death Threats

In LEAKSOURCE ORIGINAL NEWS, Michael Hastings on June 20, 2013 at 11:57 PM

Michael Hastings - The Operators

Michael Hastings ~ The Operators (Nov. 2012)
Chapter 11: Totally Shit-Faced

A man I’ll call C. was sitting against the wall in The Duke’s Bar, a cushy hotel watering hole with dark lighting and oak panels on the ground floor of the Westminster. The younger members of the team—Dave, Khosh, and Casey—were crushed in the booth around him.

C. was a member of the SAS, the most elite British commando unit, and if I used his real name, I could possibly put his life at risk. He was on leave from Afghanistan, and he’d taken the train from London to Paris to hang out with McChrystal’s team. C., in his early thirties, was a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He was flying back to Kabul on Monday.

C., I’m told, is a crazy motherfucker. He liked to drive around Kabul in a Toyota Land Cruiser. He kept a nine-millimeter pistol in the driver’s side door compartment, an MP5 submachine gun resting on the driver’s side seat, a LAW rocket launcher in the backseat, and a machine gun mounted in the trunk.

C. was in the middle of a story: One of his Afghan soldiers had gotten fucked up in a gunfight, badly burned. He needed to get medical help, so he drove the soldier, who was screaming occasionally when not passed out, to a base where Italian doctors were on staff. The Italians refused to treat the patient—he was an Afghan, and they needed some kind of permission first, and it appeared that permission would take hours to get. C. told them to fuck off and tried the next clinic, run by French military doctors. “The fucking frogs told us the same thing,” C. said.

C. was getting really pissed off. His Afghan soldier was getting closer to death. He drove him to another NATO base. The guards phoned up a doctor. C. talked to the doctor—she seemed like a nice lady, he said.Five minutes later, an American man showed up. Where is the doctor? C. asked him. “I’m the doctor,” the man said. “What can I do to help?” He had a really high-pitched voice.

“The guy was a fucking poof,” C. said. “I swear to God I was expecting to see a girl.” The American doctor treated the Afghan soldier and saved his life. “That American was a good fucking guy,” C. recalled.

The team jumped back into a conversation about last night’s drama—McChrystal’s dinner with the French minister. Khosh, the Afghan aide-de-camp, had gotten snubbed. The American military attaché in Paris, a colonel, realized that he didn’t have a seat at the table when McChrystal and his entourage arrived to dine with the minister. Rather than bringing this up to McChrystal or the staff, the American attaché pulled Khosh aside and told him he was taking his seat at the table. He made Khosh wait outside for the entire meal.

This incensed the team.

“Where the fuck was that attaché’s last posting? Hawaii, then Paris? I mean, what the fuck?” said Dave.“It’s fine,” Khosh said diplomatically.

“It’s not fucking fine,” Dave said. The move, Dave explained, went against all fairness. It showed that these guys in Paris didn’t get it—they were completely disconnected from the war. The point of having Khosh at the dinner was to show that the Afghans were in the fight, that they weren’t just worthless shitbags who had to be prodded along by Americans and Europeans. The Afghans were part of the team, too. Khosh’s presence was meant to provide a “good visual” for the French government, as Dave put it, representing the importance of actually getting the people who live in the country you’re fighting in to fight for you. Stealing Khosh’s seat at the last minute undercut the message the team wanted to send.

There was an eagerness to tell McChrystal about it. He’d set the attaché straight.

“That guy is going to get fucking chewed out. I can’t wait to see that happen at the airport. His fucking career is over,” Dave said. Casey agreed.

C. stared at me. He had intense and hungry eyes, like a coyote on the hunt for a puppy. He had heard I was doing a profile of McChrystal. Unprompted, he decided to give me his input on him. The general, he said, was a living legend in the Special Operations community, a giant leap above the office-bound dipshits who usually had four stars on their shoulders. McChrystal had what C. considered to be the most important attribute for a leader: respect from men like himself.

“The fucking lads love Stan McChrystal,” he told me. “You’d be out in Somewhere, Iraq, and someone would take a knee beside you, and a corporal would be like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ And it’s fucking Stan McChrystal.

”McChrystal and the other top staff officers came into the bar. It was McChrystal’s thirty-third wedding anniversary. What had originally been planned as a dinner for McChrystal and his wife had now ballooned to include part of his senior staff going out for dinner with the two of them. The younger members of the staff would eat separately at another restaurant. They invited me to join them.

We left the hotel and walked a few blocks. We peeled off at an overpriced tourist restaurant and headed up to the second floor. We ate. Wine was served. I didn’t drink.

Midway through the dinner, Dave turned to me.

“Mike, you have to fucking come to Berlin with us, man,” he told me. Berlin was the next stop on the NATO tour.

“Ah, shit, I’d love to, but I can’t. I have to be back in DC. I’m supposed to interview Holbrooke.”

“You can fucking interview him anytime, that’s fucking easy. He loves publicity. Come on. Come to Berlin.” Dave looked to Duncan. “Duncan?”

Duncan smiled.“This is beginning to sound like fucking Almost Famous,” I said. “I’m getting kidnapped.

”The movie, directed by Cameron Crowe, was loosely based on his experience as a Rolling Stone reporter. His assignment was to write a story about a rock band. His one-day story turned into a lengthy road trip on tour with the band. (“Rock stars have kidnapped my son!” his mother cried.) Crowe befriended the band members, then wrote an extremely revealing story. (“Oh, the enemy. A rock writer,” one band member warned in the film.) The band got pissed off about what he’d written, and denied everything that happened. (“I am a golden god.”) At the end of the movie, the lead guitarist had an epiphany. He saw the error of his ways and showed up at the reporter’s doorstep, apologetic, and believing that the truth should ultimately prevail. Credits rolled. I’d enjoyed the movie, but my experience as a reporter had led me to believe that there wasn’t always a happy ending if you wrote about people with brutal honesty.

“You have to fucking come, man,” Dave said.

I didn’t want to stay with them. My editor, Eric Bates, had warned me about falling into the access trap. By becoming so indebted to them for the access they’d given me, I’d lose my objectivity. I’d e-mailed Eric back: If I start getting Stockholm syndrome, I’m sure we can knock it out of me. I could already start to feel the pull. I was starting to like them, and they seemed to like me. They were cool. They had a reckless, who-gives-a-fuck attitude. I was getting inside the bubble—an imaginary barrier that popped up around the inner sanctums of the most powerful institutions to keep reality at bay. I’d seen the bubble in White Houses, on the campaign trail, inside embassies, at the highest levels of large corporations. The bubble had a reality-distorting effect on those inside it, while perversely convincing those within the bubble that their view of reality was the absolute truth. (“Establishment reporters undoubtedly know a lot of things I don’t,” legendary outsider journalist I. F. Stone once observed. “But a lot of what they know isn’t true.”) The bubble compensated for its false impressions by giving bubble dwellers feelings of prestige from their proximity to power. The bubble was incredibly seductive, the ultimate expression of insiderness. If I succumbed to the logic of the bubble, I could lose the desire to write with a critical eye.

After dinner, the gang headed to Kitty O’Shea’s Irish pub, right around the corner from the hotel. Kitty O’Shea’s was a touristy-looking bar, not exactly the hippest spot in Paris.

Drinking began in earnest.

Around ten thirty P.M., I ran into Duncan outside. He hung up his cell phone. The McChrystals, the Flynns, and the rest were on their way over, he told me. They’d finished up the anniversary dinner.

By midnight, the team was totally shit-faced.

Except for me.

“Why aren’t you drinking?” Jake asked me. It was the third time he’d asked me that. Each time, he tried to push a beer on me while I was talking to him and McChrystal.

“I haven’t really drank in ten years,” I said. “Last time I got drunk, I ended up in a county jail with only boxers on, a navy blue blazer, a pair of Nike sneakers, and a restraining order against me. I was in there for, like, four days. My father said: A good scare is worth more than good advice. So I stopped drinking.”

“Shit. That stopped you?” Jake said. “That’s where we started!”

Jake and McChrystal and I laughed. There was a bit of the awkward moment. I had overshared.

Casey broke the silence. He pulled McChrystal aside. He started to drunkenly apologize for fucking up the index cards—he was sorry he didn’t get the right font size.

The team took over half the bar. They locked arms in a big circle and started giving toasts. They toasted to Afghanistan. They toasted to one another. They toasted to Big Stan. They toasted to Rolling Stone. They started singing songs.

“On the cover of the Rolling Stone,” Flynn and his brother Charlie belted out, singing the lyrics to the hit song performed by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. “On the COOOOVER of the Rolling Stone!”

In honor of Khosh, they started to do an Afghan wedding dance. The Flynns and C. added their Irish heritage to it. The bar quieted as C. started singing an old Irish ballad. I couldn’t make out the words; it just sounded sad. Lost love, ghosts, and famine.

“ERRRRRyyyyyEEEEoooooHHH…” C. howled.

The Flynns made up their own song. The words were unintelligible, but the chorus was clear: “AFGHANISTAN!” they yelled. “AFGHANISTAN!”

I was standing outside the circle.

Dave came up to me. “You’re not going to fuck us, are you?”

I answered what I always answer: “I’m going to write a story; some of the stuff you’ll like, some of the stuff you probably won’t like.”

Jake McFerren

Jake came up to me. “We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write,” he said. “C. will hunt you down and kill you.”

I looked at Jake. He had what I’d heard people in the military call retired colonel syndrome. A certain inferiority complex and bitterness about not rising to the rank of general.

“Well, I get death threats like that about once a year, so no worries.”

I wasn’t that disturbed by the claim. Whenever I’d been reporting around groups of dudes whose job it was to kill people, one of them would usually mention that they were going to kill me. I went outside to have a cigarette. Duncan joined me.

“How’s things, old chap?”

“Pretty good; this is really cool. By the way, Jake just threatened to kill me.”

Duncan’s face dropped. “What?”

“No, no worries, dude, I took it as a joke, and it’s not the first time.”

“He should not have said that,” Duncan said. “That’s not how to deal with the press.”

“You warned me; you said he was a dick.”

I could tell Duncan was pissed off by the development.

Back inside the bar, the toasts were still going on. McChrystal was standing outside the circle.

“It’s a great group of guys you’ve got. I mean, the team is very impressive,” I said.“

You see, they don’t care about Afghanistan,” he said.

I waited. They don’t care about Afghanistan? I didn’t think that was what he wanted to say, exactly, though it was true. It could be Iraq or Fiji or Canada. The country didn’t matter. The mission mattered.

“No, let me take that back. They care about Afghanistan. It’s each other. That’s what it’s about. All these men,” he told me, “I’d die for them. And they’d die for me.”

Jake staggered up to us.

“This is a dangerous man,” he said, pointing to me. “Watch what you say to him.”

McChrystal took his advice. Our conversation ended.

At two A.M., we exited the bar. Casey took care of the bill—about three hundred euros’ worth of whiskey and beer, he said. Mike Flynn came out the door, still singing what sounded like “Suspicious Minds.” McChrystal tripped over the curb, nearly face-planting in the street. The manager of the bar ran out behind us, telling us to be quiet and not to wake the neighbors. The boozy foot patrol continued down the street, back into the Westminster lobby.

Jake wobbled up the stairs in the lobby, a glass of beer he’d taken from the bar still in his hand. Charlie collapsed in a chair in the lobby, checking his BlackBerry.

“That’s dangerous to do while drunk, sir,” I said to him.

“C. is coming back down,” he said.

“Are you guys still going out?” I asked. He nodded yes.

Casey grabbed my arm and pulled me aside.

“Mike,” he said. “You have to understand. I’d do anything for General McChrystal. We’d do anything for him. You’re privileged to be here.”

I agreed.“

Remember the end of Saving Private Ryan?” Casey asked. “Remember what Tom Hanks said to Matt Damon?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said.

“What Tom Hanks said to Private Ryan. He saved his life. He said ‘Earn it.’ ” Casey paused. “With your story. Earn it.”

I started to walk back to my hotel. Before falling asleep, I typed up what happened that night, down to the last detail.

The team woke at seven A.M. the next day. McChrystal allegedly got his seven miles of running in. The staff went up the Eiffel Tower. The generals were worried that other tourists in the elevator car could smell the beer on them.

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