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23 January 2015


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William R. Cumming

P.L! A high school classmate-married name Sherry Mullikan Houghton- spent much time in Yemen and even there in last decade. Perhaps the husband was Ambassador or Consul.

Wondering if you crossed paths?

Abu Sinan

Colonel, I believe you are right about the SANG. I think their main role is suppression of internal threats. Do you have an opinion on the abilities of the tribal militias that serve in the SANG along with the regular forces?


Admittedly before the question was raised, it never occurred to me. It was by far too interesting to read.

Great story, I always hoped you would do this.


I loved the story. It sounded right to me. If it's not true, it should be.

Charles I

I was wondering about the policy & brains behind the interface as well, which from what I have read you handled with a certain moral results-oriented, er, facility.

I'm not too smart but the best thing I remember from law school was the first week advice to seek out specialists of repute smarter and better informed than you for the specialized stuff if you wanted some confidence in top notch product capable of withstanding any adversary as closest to the mark.

Charles I

I dunno, old Claude was pretty angsty there at the end, thought he was gonna blow himself up for a few pages!


"French intelligence had two of Salih’s ministers on their payroll."

Well, TIL !

I'm wondering if the French still have similar levels of first-hand intelligence in the area, outside of Djibouti.

ex-PFC Chuck

It certainly reads plausible to me, one whose only direct exposure to the Middle East was a week long business trip to Israel 21 years ago.


Not surprised. Neither would I be suprised to see them tested, seriously, very soon. They presumably expect us (US) to take care of them.

Should we bother?

Hmm, perhaps they cranked open the Big Spigot to remind us how much we like cheap gas...



It seems likely to me. They have worked at this for a long time. pl


Charles I
He might have but duty bound to the end he had to try to save what could be. pl



I think we should not continue to ally ourselves to the SA regime. pl

Margaret Steinfels

I wondered about the flourishing gardens.

And could it be that your faithful security man and guide was not only in the Yemeni military, but in the pay of the English, Chinese, and Russians? Perhaps that is too cynical; it would add to the enjoyment of the movie.


Abu Sinan

SANG has three parts 1- The SANG modernized force, two light armored brigades trained by the US for forty years, 2 - The SANG Regular full time force. These are motorized troops, 3 - the SANG reserve force, this last is a tribal militia, well funded and equipped and commanded by beduin chiefs who have rank in the SANG. Yes, the main function of the regular SANG is internal control and suppression of dissidence especially in the Eastern Province with its large 12er Shia population. The SANG reserve force has as its main function internal population control in desert areas of the north. Whaen I was DATT in SA I often went camping with them. All these SANG troops are recruited from tribes from the Ikhwan Army that brought the Saudi family to power in the 20s and who sided with Abd Al-Azid, the founder of the kingdom in the Ikhwan Revolt against Abd al-Aziz. pl


Margaret steinfels

Artesian water will make anything grow. The water table in Sanaa has been falling for 40 years. Ha Ha. If Abdullah made money on the side, God bless him. pl


Perhaps. I got and get the angst, really. If one could be in the humint business without angst...one would be way tougher or more simplistic or more focused on your goal or something than me. For god's sake, all I do is interview complainant and respondent(both of whom are, if not lying outright, arguing their own point of view vigorously) in minor business disputes, and I got plenty of angst. My reports sometimes cost people their jobs.

Your Christmas story, which i pretty much read every year, and the story about "Blackjack" are both very powerful and highly emotional, without really getting explicit about it...they are just narrations of very powerful and emotional events.

The 'Laine at the (second ?) battle of of Song Be' story(which seems to have disappeared?) is the same way. From what I remember, it told the events pretty straight-forwardly. It didn't particularly need to narrate the angst, the angst was screaming from events and word choices and the whole piece. If you'd gotten into Laine the way you got in to Claude, it would have been a very different piece.

I am observing that the common thread in the pieces that I like is that they are also short pieces, which are different than novels...but I do think you could write a novel in the style of “Laine”, and that I, personally, would be unable to put it down.

On the other hand, if you want to sell 1 book, write it according to what I like...

Ishmael Zechariah

Col. Lang,

Given my experiences in Turkey where one can move from the ultra-modern to the pre-medieval in one step, and meet all kinds of "strange" people,especially in the south-east, this reads like the truth to me. Also fits the quote frequently attribute to Mark Twain:
"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't"
Thanks for the story. Very enjoyable.
Ishmael Zechariah

Cold War Zoomie

This was the part I find incredible...

"Lang asked DIA and was given permission."

Would DIA agree in today's bureaucracy?


I can't imagine an embassy garden getting the attention one's own garden would receive.


was the mi6 man this gadje? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sawers



the part Im not sure about is your guard and his wife. There are many jokes made about old Yemenis getting their young wives pregnant only to find that its the younger brother-in-law or the local delivery boy.

What is sure is that the Yemenis in general are excellent at producing children with one of the highest birthrates in the world.

If French intelligence had two cabinet ministers on their payroll then I'd say those same ministers were also in the pay of a number of other countries as well. The second thing the Yemenis are good at is finding and milking the cow.



"...the part I'm not sure about is your guard and his wife." Ah, yes, I merely recounted Ahmad's words. I, and the French, assumed the ministers were multi-faceted. As you know double dealing is ordinary behavior in that region. After I left the government I had a rich Arab employer whose office manager was clearly getting backhanders from everyone we dealt with. I asked the boss if he cared. He did not. "So long as it does not cost me more, more power to him" was the answer. pl



No. This fellow in Yemen was a true pukkha sahib. He was a kind of combination of Noel Coward and Marty Feldman. He had a beautiful White Russian/Levantine French wife and yes, by god, a Sikh man servant complete with turban and beard. The MI-6 man was a former officer of the Coldstream Guards but must have been at the shorter end of the height requirement. He wore panama hats and linen suits with pastel shirts. He had spent a lot of time in Yemen and was one of the creators of the Yemeni secret police. At one point there was a dispute between Yemen and the UK over commercial aircraft landing rights and the Yemenis decided to kick him out of the country rather than the ambassador. He refused to go saying to them that they would soon change their minds and he was right. "Mistuh Jurj" was just too important to them for that to be their final desire. pl



The embassy had a dozen gardeners. pl



It was a better time. DIA was much less bureaucratic. it had about 6,000 people world-wide. Only about a third of these were active duty military. The Director, head of attaches and my desk officer were all lined up in support of me, and in the end there was always a decision to be made about what to report. pl

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