Tags: POW | Football

POW Football

Thursday, 23 May 2002 12:00 AM

Somebody in the Pentagon during World War II thought it would be a good idea to take German prisoners of war and teach them American football. You know: teamwork, blocking for your buddy, play by the rules; all that good stuff might help them get rid of all that Hitler Nazi stuff and prepare them for postwar democracy in Germany.

After a rather long period of instruction, drill and practice, the big day arrived, the day of the first all-POW football game. The two teams of Germans looked like normal football teams as they lined up for the kickoff, which went off fairly well.

On the first play from scrimmage, however, the intercultural filament snapped. EVERYBODY ON BOTH TEAMS chased after the man with the ball, who was thrown to the ground, stomped by 21 men, and carried off the field on a stretcher.

And that was the end of POW football for the duration.

That little bit of sports history expressed my feelings at the charges and countercharges over whether the government might have prevented 9-11. Nobody on either team – Democrat or Republican, pro- or anti-administration – gets it.

In the Army I was trained in security at a hush-hush agency during the Korean War. Even though I left with the rank of only Private First Class, I swear before my Lord I'm beginning to think I know more about security than anyone in the American government at this time.

"Bush was warned!" "No – there was nothing specific!" "That FBI memo should have raised more than eyebrows!" "No – there was nothing actionable!"

Everybody on both sides is wrong. WORSE than wrong. Had anybody in my agency uttered anything of the kind out loud ON EITHER SIDE, he would have been court-martialed.

All of them – don't make me name them; you heard me, ALL of them – are like children throwing not FOOD but our nation's topmost secrets into each other's faces, out loud and at full force.

An enemy knowing, for example, that an FBI warning memo came from Phoenix on a certain day can back-triangulate and discern how its plot was almost uncovered and how to prevent such leakage in the future.

A Bush associate declaring "We had only the vaguest kind of warning!" lets an enemy know the poverty of our information at a given time, indicating that their own security gambles had paid off.

What did we know? When did we know it? Where did our information come from? When did we receive it? What was our analysis and conclusion thereupon?

When the answers are literally shouted forth in media debate, we're in effect handing huge gift bundles of secrets to the terrorists!

The only proper way to handle this is for the CIA, the FBI, the Democrats, the Republicans and everybody else responsible for this nation's safety to get together and make one giant, permanent, silent Great Stone Face.

"But don't we have the right in this free country to know what went wrong, what warnings may have been ignored?"

The political answer may be "Yes," but the security answer is "No!"

We have no such right. We have only the duty to confuse, mislead, confound and bedevil the enemy. Let him suck for answers like a goldfish sucks for oxygen at the side of his tank.

But doesn't that unfairly reward the party in power, which may have committed egregious blunders? You bet it does!

When a democracy is at war, certain parties are likely to be unfairly punished and others unfairly rewarded. It's altogether possible that the Democrats are at the moment being unfairly punished and the Republicans unfairly rewarded. So be it. Blessed be the name of the game.

By all means, let the investigations proceed, but behind that Great Stone Face. One day we'll know more about who failed and how on 9-11. But meanwhile, though politics may demand raucous talk shows by the hundreds, security demands, "Don't ask. Don't tell!"

We understood security in the 1950s. At that super-hush-hush agency I worked for in the Army my photo-ID badge had a slash mark across the bottom indicating only "partial security clearance." Why only partial?

Although my four grandparents had never spent one minute in a communist country, they were all born in a country that BECAME communist years after they left. Might some surviving relatives over there have been Communist Party members secretly communicating with their American cousins through mail drops in neutral Sweden or Austria? Who knows?

And because of that imponderable, I occasionally had to wait outside the gate of a building on our base until somebody with a FULL clearance could take my completed work to the appropriate party on the inside.

Today that would be "ethnic discrimination." Back then it was normal security.

In 1957 in Oslo, Norway, I asked American Embassy official Mike Newland if I could read the clips he'd clipped from the Oslo newspapers the day before, which I'd missed and wanted to read. "Sorry, Barry," he said. "No."

"Come on, Mike," I said. "There's nothing secret there. I just want to read what the Norwegian newspapers printed yesterday. What could be secret about that?"

"What's secret," Mike explained, "is what we at the American Embassy found significant enough to clip."

That's security!

Had I been at that POW football game, I might very well have laughed when everybody on both teams made after the guy with the ball.

I've been laughing at the sickening naïveté of those Americans "tired of having the government cry 'wolf' all the time and then nothing happens!" Did it ever occur to those so easily annoyed that a well-timed and strategically worded warning might let the terrorists know we were on to their plans, causing them to abort their operation?

Bluffing works in more than poker. We may have been aware of only part of the terrorists' plan, but enough to make them think we were privy to more or all of it.

And this business about "our information coming from the highest-ranking al-Qaeda operative in our custody, Abu Zubayda" gives most Americans a ridiculous portrait of one single al-Qaeda captive jerking America's string by saying whatever he feels like and having the whole nation jumping like a cage full of agitated marmosets.

Did it never occur to the masses that, by leading the terrorists to think all our information is coming from one source, while actually having other sources, we might cause the terrorists to figure, "Abu doesn't know about anything we've planned since he was captured, so the Americans can't know anything about any of that, either"?

They teach things like that in the kindergarten wing of spy school.

Remember Wild Bill Donovan, the general who founded the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, which in due course became the CIA?

In the late 1940s a wealthy Washington dowager found her way into Gen. Dovovan's CIA office and said, "General Donovan, our clubwomen would like to honor you as the Man of the Year at our annual banquet for the good job you've done with the CIA."

"Thank you very much, Ma'am," Gen. Donovan replied, "but I'm afraid I've got to decline.

"You see," Gen. Donovan explained, "if you know enough about the job I've done with the CIA to know it's a good job, then it's a BAD job!"

If you see Daschle and Gephardt and Condoleezza and the others, tell them about it. Meanwhile, tell one and all that when you've been attacked and you're at war, it's a good idea for everybody on both teams to forget the color of their jerseys and get together.

But they should get together to BLOCK for the guy carrying the ball, not to tackle him.

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Somebody in the Pentagon during World War II thought it would be a good idea to take German prisoners of war and teach them American football.You know: teamwork, blocking for your buddy, play by the rules; all that good stuff might help them get rid of all that Hitler...
Thursday, 23 May 2002 12:00 AM
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