It’s time to play one of the PWB’s most popular games… Stuff We’ve Learned This Past Week.
The rules are simple, not surprising if you look at the collective bandwidth of the PWB staff; simply sit yourself down with the beverage of your choice, stare off into the distance for a good minute or two, and think hard about what stuff you know now that you didn’t know last week. I’ll go first.
Mind you, when it’s your turn, don’t prioritize the stuff on your list…simply blurt out whatever pops into your head regardless of where it might fit on the scale of what’s relevant. The important thing is to do an inventory of what crap has happened during the past week that a) caught you by surprise, b) made you say to no one in particular “Huh, would ya’ look at that…” or c) was simply stuff you didn’t know.
I got into the habit of playing this game during one of my first assignments overseas with the CIA. I had a boss who ran regular Monday morning operational meetings to discuss, among other things, operational activity. It was a time to rally the troops, review major cases and make sure we weren’t doing anything out on the streets that could get him in trouble and possibly jeopardize his chances for promotion.
During my first weekly meeting, he went around the small windowless office asking each officer what they were doing, whether they were engaged in any shenanigans that the intelligence committees should know about and, interestingly, what they learned last week.
Huh? A test?
The fact that no one else seemed surprised at his line of questioning indicated that this was a regular routine. As the new knuckledragger in town that week, I was spared the grilling and just had to sit there nodding smartly while being introduced.
The following Monday, after having spent the past week under the command of the QuizMaster, I was ready to play the game. First question — What was I doing?
I opened up my activity file marked with a Top Secret stamp and a Clash sticker and took the floor… (Note: Business tip… always arrive at meetings with a file, a notebook or an official looking clipboard. Do not let others near you view the contents of the file, notebook or clipboard and occasionally refer to the contents as if dealing with critical documents. This will make you appear important and possibly compensate for a lack of intelligence on your part.)
“Well Chief, Operation REDACTED is moving forward… we’ve XXXXREDACTEDXXXX which left us with XXXXREDACTEDXXXX. The chopper was late but XXXXREDACTEDXXXX a donkey and a tribesman named XXXXREDACTEDXXXX but who we all called Stinky after the incident involving XXXXREDACTEDXXXX with a can of squeesy cheese.”
“ Other than that,” I said, “we’re ready to move on XXXXREDACTEDXXXX with two hours notice and will install XXXXREDACTEDXXXX as the country’s new Grand Wazoo after securing XXXXREDACTEDXXXX and disposing of XXXXREDACTEDXXXX in a suitable manner. We’re pretty sure it’s gonna’ work.”
Folks, including the boss, seemed satisfied with my answers.
Next question; Am I engaged in any operational hijinks that could affect SpyBoy’s ascent to the pinnacle of CIA success? “Negative… all operational activity has been briefed to the relevant committees and they’ve all signed off. You’re in the clear sir…smooth sailing even if things go skeewampus.”
And finally, What did I learn this past week?
(Note: Business tip #2… based on actual experience, the following response should not be used. In fact, when answering questions, always pause and think about what you’re about to say… play it over in your head to see if there may be any potential for misinterpretation or misunderstanding as to your meaning.)
“Uh, this past week I learned that you’re a tool.”
Folks, except for the boss, seemed very satisfied with my answer. While we never played the 'What Did We Learn Last Week' game ever again in that location, it did become a popular drinking game in future assignments.
So without further rambling, the PWB presents, Stuff We’ve Learned This Past Week:
Item 1: I had no idea that Senator Barack Obama couldn’t bowl.
If you missed this on the television or internet sites, count yourselves among the lucky and the blessed. There is something uncomfortable about watching a grown, apparently athletic man, perform like a major goober in a pedestrian sport like bowling. He rolled a 37 during an informal stop at a bowling alley in Pennsylvania. That is the equivalent of getting nothing but your name correct on a math test.
To be fair, the PWB, in concert with the Council on Research and Politics (CRAP) down in Washington DC obtained a sizeable grant last year to study the correlation between leadership skills and average bowling scores. After spending a lot of tax dollars, we can finally report that there is no linkage between leadership skills and bowling scores. However, an addendum to the report will be released in April that does identify a fairly specific link between bowling scores and average quantity of beer consumed.
Regardless, Obama’s inability to keep the ball from rolling to the left was stuff I didn’t know before last week.
Item 2: Senator Clinton comes under fire for failure to come under fire.
About the time last week that Obama was telling us he hadn’t heard his long time Pastor Jeremiah Wright make incendiary comments during sermons at the Trinity Church in Chicago over the past two decades, Senator Clinton decided to shoot herself in the foot by dipping into her bag of wartime stories. She dragged out the old chestnut about coming under fire from snipers on the Tuzla tarmac during a visit to Bosnia while First Lady in the Clinton adminstration.
While Bosnia may seem like ancient history to many, it wasn’t that long ago that is was the world’s principle conflict. Clinton did in fact visit during a time of violence and continuing conflict. The problem is that she has retold the story of that visit a few times, and each time has given the impression that bullets were whizzing and folks were zigzagging their way from the military transport to cover. The vision of Hillary, and Chelsea, in helmets dashing from the plane to a bunker while some grizzled Sarge named Corky yells “Serpentine…serpentine…” is admittedly tough to imagine.
It turns out that the reason it was difficult to envision was because it didn’t really happen that way. Yes it was a dangerous time, and yes there were major security concerns for the visit, but the Battle of the Bulge it was not. The First Lady did not low crawl to safety through an enemy fusillade.
The twist here is that the correct spelling of “fusillade” is stuff I didn’t know before last week.
So, you get the idea. That’s how to play Stuff We’ve Learned this Past Week. Now it’s your turn. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what crap you know now that you didn’t know last week. It doesn’t have to be about world events or politics… it could be sports, life in general or what your cousin Mabel gets up to when she thinks nobody’s looking. And if you haven’t learned any new stuff during the past week, you might need to get out more.
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.