The Sydney Siege & Self-Protection

Police Hostage Situation Developing In SydneyNOTE: I originally wrote this up over on Facebook, but a good friend of mine, Jim Cobb, requested that I turn it into a blog post. So here it is.

My newsfeed is filled with a staggering amount of ignorance today in the wake of the Sydney siege. We live in a dangerous world; there are no places that are immune to violence and bad things can happen *anywhere.* Your life is first and foremost YOUR responsibility. To that end, you should – at the very least – have a basic understanding of the following items.

1. Environment: when you enter a new location, take note of entrances and exits. How many avenues of escape do you see if it became suddenly necessary to flee? If you’re in a restaurant, the kitchen likely has a door in the back. Does your office have a freight elevator? Stairs? Are you sitting with your back to a wall so you can observe a wider field of view in your area? Run down a mental checklist in your head; it’s not hard and it doesn’t take that long.

2. Firearms: a lot of people don’t like guns. That’s fine, but you should still have a working knowledge of various types. In the Sydney incident, for example, the gunman reportedly had a shotgun. If you were in that situation, you could ask yourself several questions: what type of load does it potentially have? Slugs or shot? (the difference between a “spray” effect or not) Does he have to pump every time to shoot? If so, there’s a better chance of escape before he can chamber a fresh round and fire again. (compare that to a situation involving a full-auto AK47 where he could spray off a full clip of devastation before needing to swap magazines).

3. Hostage Rescue Tactics: if you find yourself in a situation, you should understand the basics of hostage rescue. This way, you’ll have an idea of what is going on on the outside and that knowledge could well keep your morale up. Ordinarily, this will break down as follows: the assault team arrives and immediately sets up an immediate action plan (this is the plan for what happens if everything goes to shit immediately and the gunman starts killing people; they have to storm the location and do the best with what little info they have). Sniper teams will set up to relay intelligence to the assaulters. Negotiators will be trying to establish first contact and then develop rapport with the offender. All intelligence gathered will be relayed to the assault teams and they will develop and refine the plan for going in. One assault team is usually ready to deploy immediately while another rests. Negotiators will attempt to get the offender to release a few people as a token of good faith, usually in exchange for a small demand from the bad guy. This isn’t always the case, nor will the negotiators promise things they can’t deliver since that jeopardizes any rapport built up. As the hours drag on, both sides will grow weary. In a confined space like an airplane, it will smell like hell. This is a dangerous time, especially at night, so you need to be extremely vigilant. In the event the situation deteriorates and the decision is made to send the assault team in, they will lead with flash/bangs that will shock and disorient you. Lay down as the team comes in – get your head down. Once they have neutralized the threat, you will be roughly manhandled out of the immediate area. This is not the time to be offended at how you are being handled. The team’s concern is twofold: get you out of the danger, and also make sure you are not another threat. Don’t give them a hard time and pretend you’re important – you ain’t. This is a brutally short thumbnail of tactics, research for more comprehensive stuff.

4. Your Priorities: If you’re alone and can escape safely, you need to know what you are willing to risk. Some people simply can’t bring themselves to try to escape. Others jump at the chance. Be honest about what you are prepared to do. If you have children with you, how will you get them out of harm’s way? What will your exit route be? Can you put obstacles between you and the gunman? Can you hide? Are you prepared to fight and potentially kill someone? All of these are hard questions that you need to ask yourself. Are you armed? Have you trained under extreme duress conditions? In low light? Amid screams and confusion? If you haven’t, then don’t make the matter worse by pulling a gun. The team coming through that door has no clue if you’re a good guy or a bad guy. They will see a gun and label you immediately as a threat. And those guys HAVE trained to shoot under the worst possible conditions. In other words, don’t think you’ll go Hollywood if the shit hits the fan. Be smart. Otherwise your ego could make a bad situation catastrophically worse.

5. Practice Being Gray: in the event you become a hostage, don’t try to stand out. Don’t make eye contact – even if you’re the biggest baddest SOB on the planet. In fact, if you stare at the bad guy or if you make him feel intimidated, he may simply use you as an example of his intention even more readily. You want to blend into the background as much as possible and reduce the likelihood that you’ll be noticed. Don’t try to friend the attacker. Instead, keep your wits about you. Practice simple breathing exercises to keep calm. Don’t ask for anything. If the bad guy lets you go to the bathroom, or eat, or drink – take advantage of it, but don’t press the issue. Don’t ask the bad guy questions about why he’s doing this or if he has family. Make a note of anything you can potentially relay to the authorities in the event you’re able to escape. They will interrogate you about what you saw: how many bad guys? weapons? explosives? what is his mental state? what languages are they speaking? etc. etc. All of this will be fed to the intel teams that are developing a picture of the bad guys, which then is fed to the assaulters. The longer the duration of time you are held hostage, the more likely it is that some of your fellow hostages will begin exhibiting signs of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a tendency to start sympathizing with the bad guy. Be aware of this. And make a note of who among the hostages may be aligning themselves with the hostage taker.

At the end of the day, this isn’t paranoia; it’s self-protection. The world is a dangerous place and you have choices: you can be active and embrace life, knowledgable about a wide variety of topics that could help lengthen your lifespan. Or you can live lazily among the sheep, given to hysteria and panic when things go bad.

Eyes up, head on a swivel. Stay alive.

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Why Reviews Matter

Valuable intelligence is often disguised as a throwaway bone at the tail end of a conversation. If you’re not attuned to being able to objectively assess scraps of information, the human mind has a tendency to disregard much of what it hears and sees. This is a byproduct of the media overload we experience on a daily basis – we’re immersed in so much noise, that sifting through for the good stuff often demands more energy and effort than we want to commit.

One of the things I learned recently was this past weekend during a conversation about publishing. The two people involved are industry veterans who know this stuff inside and out, so because it was so matter-of-fact, they didn’t attach too much importance to it. In other words, they didn’t turn to me and say, “Hey Jon, do you know this? Because you should definitely know it.” Instead, it was a throwaway line that I would have probably missed but for years of training and great teachers along the way (Tom…Mark….etc.) who taught me how to absorb and later examine what I’ve witnessed in order to determine the value of such things.

Reviews, in the publishing industry, are fairly standard fare. New books come out and the ARCs (advance reader/review copies) circulate among trades to garner reviews which are then used on covers to entice readers into buying copies. Sometimes, those reviews are great, sometimes they’re mediocre, and sometimes (like in my case with Publisher’s Weekly savaging my latest novel THE UNDEAD HORDES OF KAN-GUL) they are terrible. Reviews can also be used to drum up interest in subrights, foreign translations, etc. Typical practice when a review comes in is judicious editing to extract cool lines that make the book sound better.

For example, if the review says something like this: “Derek Twinklemeister’s latest missive shows that while he understands the mechanics of writing a sentence, the natural gift of storytelling still eludes him. While the prose is tight, the characters are wooden. There are brief glimpses of skill with regards to the pacing, but otherwise, the novel careens ahead and ends in a boring fashion.”

You can bet that it will look more like this on the cover or back of a book: “Derek Twinklemeister’s latest is natural, tight, and careens ahead with incredible pacing.”

But reviews DO matter. And they matter quite a bit on Apparently, the good folks who determine which titles get featured for the Kindle routinely examine book reviews written on the site and make judgments based on those reviews as to whether they should promote them or not. And promotion in this case – unlike what many of the reviews in the trades can do – actually translates into sales. LOTS of sales.

Amazon, after all, has the email addresses of millions upon millions of people. They can reach out and turn a flagging book into a bestseller. Almost instantly. Nowhere else in the book business is this actually possible, unless you happen to buy your way on to the New York Times bestseller list.

Which brings me to my point of this post: reviews on Amazon. Currently, THE UNDEAD HORDES OF KAN-GUL has 5 reviews for the paperback and 6 for the Kindle version. That’s not much. Not much at all, given that the book has been out for over a month now. So I’m asking you to take a moment and head over, write a review (it doesn’t have to be long) and post it for both the paperback and the Kindle version, if possible. If you’re visiting this site from another country, please leave the review on your country’s Amazon site instead. My goal is to get a lot more reviews of THE UNDEAD HORDES so more people find out about it, so the good folks at Amazon take notice, and maybe throw some promotion behind it.

So many things are out of a writer’s hands when a book comes out, but this – asking you to write a review – is something I can somewhat control. I hope you’ll do so – especially if you enjoyed the book. And you haven’t bought the book yet – GASP! – feel free to pick it up!

Many thanks!

Intelligence Gathering 101: Making Contact

I’ve been out running each morning this week, and as so often happens when I’m a sweaty bag of mess, my thoughts have tended to drift on to a wide variety of topics that I write about. I haven’t written about intelligence gathering in a while, so I’ve wanted to do another blog post. And as so often happens, the perfect opportunity presented itself earlier this week and each day since.

During the morning, very few people are out and about. But each morning for this entire week, I’ve seen one guy on his bike pedaling furiously as he gets a good workout in. It prompted me to talk about how intelligence operatives sometimes cultivate an asset. But cultivation of an asset – that is, turning someone into a useful source of information or material – doesn’t happen without first making contact.

Depending on the target, there are multiple methods used. The one I’ll talk about this morning is the casual approach, sometimes called the “brush by.” The brush by is different from a “brush pass,” which is used to make an actual exchange in public. If you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show where two operatives walk toward each other – each usually has something identical like a briefcase or a newspaper – pass close by or make actual contact via a staged bump and then continue on their separate ways, then you’ve seen a brush pass in action.

The brush by, on the other hand, is used to make a target comfortable with the idea of your presence. There’s nothing aggressive about this approach; it’s organic in its execution so as not to trigger any alarm bells in the target. The easiest way to explain it is to use my runs as a good example.

Let’s suppose that I’m looking to cultivate a particular target who happens to hold some sort of position I need information from, access to, etc. From studying the target via any available information I can find about them, I know that he’s an avid bike enthusiast. Further, from conducting surveillance on the target (this will normally be done by other officers and not the one who makes contact) I know he starts his day earlier than most other people. He’s a dedicated early riser who gets his workout in, drives into the city to his job, and accomplishes a great deal. He’s also savvy and knows that his job might possibly expose him to recruitment attempts by intelligence professionals.

The brush by is employed in this case because it’s non-aggressive and non-threatening. Here’s how it works:

The officer making contact begins to show up in the target’s world. Just on the periphery of it, barely even registering on the radar. Given that the target is a big bicycle fan and gets his workout in early, the officer starts running at a time when he is certain to pass by the target. As the target bikes past, he notices the officer doing his morning jog. The first few times this happens, the target doesn’t necessarily even acknowledge the officer. But gradually, as the officer becomes part of the target’s world, a certain degree of familiarity breeds a rising comfort level. In other words, the first time the target notices the officer running, it’s a bit of an anomaly. The target might be used to doing his workout without seeing anyone. So it’s unusual and therefore uncomfortable. But the more the officer becomes part of the routine of the target’s workout, the more comfortable the target becomes with seeing him each and every morning. In fact, the target might become so comfortable that he almost begins to expect the officer to be there each day.

As the comfort level of the target grows, the officer or the target himself might initiate a quick greeting in passing. “‘Morning.” “How ya doing?” Something that simple and quick because neither of these guys has any time to stop and engage in discussion; after all, they’re both focused and dedicated men who are working out. (Don’t discount the psychological leverage at work here; that concept of a shared struggle tends to bond people whether we consciously realize it or not. It’s powerful stuff.) It’s that simple. Nothing too elaborate, nothing forced. Just an easy greeting any friendly person might make. This is the essence of the brush by; casual contact that is completely non-threatening.

As the days and weeks progress, the target and the officer are now familiar with each other. They expect to see each other every day. They exchange a greeting. For the target, this is the extent of the interaction, but the officer now takes the lead and initiates a way to change the relationship into something more substantial. After all, the goal of this is to actually cultivate the target and turn them into an asset.

So the officer might do something like this: the next time the target approaches on his bike, the officer might be stooped over breathing hard, showing how exhausted he is. At this point, the target might stop and offer him water from his bottle (unlikely, but it could happen). Or the officer might progressively act more and more tired each day, perhaps rubbing his shin splints out or otherwise seem to be in pain and finally wave the target over and ask him about the quality of workout that bike riding gives him. The target might be more willing to stop and give him useful information about bikes.

Now the relationship is moving into the next level. The officer might run a few more times and try to fit a few more words in when he sees the target. “I really need to start cycling.” Or something like that. “I don’t think my knees can take this anymore.” Any of these are effective at planting the idea in the target’s mind that the officer might be looking for more advice.

Finally, the officer might wave over the target and say something like, “I know you’re busy, but is there any way I could give you a call and ask you some questions about cycling?” Or maybe it’s meet for a beer. Maybe it’s an email. Any option is fine from this point, because it now grants the officer a higher level of access to the target and from there, the officer can start turning him into an asset.

All of that from a simple “brush by.”

This technique works and it works incredibly well. As I mentioned earlier on, I used the example of my own runs to illustrate this point. On Monday, I saw the cyclist and we passed each other by without saying a word. Tuesday, he nodded at me as he flew past. I said “‘Morning.” Yesterday, he called out the greeting first. And today, we both said it at the same time leading to a quick laugh as we went our separate ways.

Now I’m certainly not interested in cultivating this guy as an asset, but the technique is so subtle that if I was, I’d already be well on my way to doing so. This is just one of the ways officers make contact, but it’s definitely one of the more subtle and undetectable techniques. When done well, the target doesn’t even notice. Think back in your own life to times when you’ve met someone new. Did you see the precursors of eventual friendship or relationship? A lot of times we don’t, and this is just one area that makes us vulnerable to recruitment.

How Manipulation Works

By Jon F. Merz

Let me preface this post by saying I am an Independent when it comes to politics. I have some things that I am conservative about (mostly national security issues) and yet I am also very socially liberal. As far as I’m concerned most, if not all, politicians are two sides of the same coin. I think serving in Congress should be like jury duty rather than an opportunity to stay in Washington and skim the system for the rest of your life. And there’s hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle.

Okay, so this is an election year, which means the manipulation machines of both parties are hard at work. It also provides a great opportunity to point out how they manipulate facts in order to sow confusion and spread misinformation to the general public. We’re going to take a look at one such example right now.

Last night over on my Facebook page, I posed a question directly at those female friends of mine who happen to tilt to the Right or consider themselves Republican. I wrote, “How do you reconcile your support of Republican agendas when every single one of them just voted against the equal pay for women bill? Are you truly interested in being seen as equal to men or is that not important to you? If what we hear from the Right is to be believed, then this election is all about the economy – and yet, they just voted NOT to give equal pay to you; they just voted NOT to improve YOUR economy. Does that make sense?”

Specifically, I wanted to hear from Republican women. I didn’t get any responses. But then late last night (I went to bed early before he posted) another friend of mine, Scott Brody posted this reply to another one of my friends who had called out legislators in this way: “So my question is, should female legislators be paid less than male legislators? Perhaps THAT would make them see the light.”

Scott’s response was this: “Laurie, your question about legislators needs to be posed to Nancy Pelosi who pays the women on her staff less than the men for the same jobs.” Scott also had some other comments about both sides of the aisle that aren’t germane to this post. But his initial line there intrigued me. And being Independent, I consider it mandatory that I try to figure out if there’s any truth to such a claim.

I googled the following search string: “nancy pelosi staff salaries” and a bunch of hits came up. The first was for a website called Legistorm and then every other hit on the first page was for a Right-Wing blowhole website from the likes of Michelle Malkin, The Washington Beacon, and others. I clicked Malkin’s website first and saw her assertion (well, not HER assertion, but some dude named Doug Powers) that Pelosi’s staffers make less than their male counterparts. The blog post would seem to be backed up by a quote box that linked to another Right-Wing blowhole that said – nearly word-for-word, mind you – the exact same charge that Malkin did. (Side note: this is a favored tactic of the right: hand out a script and then repeat the exact same wording over and over – none of their proxies stray from the script, they just keep hammering it home – and eventually people will believe it – whatever it is. Democrats, by comparison, often suffer because they can’t get everybody on the same page saying the same lines, so their message comes across as diluted and confusing.)

The Washington Beacon’s article linked back to Legistorm, so that’s where I went. But first, look at the “script” – this is the talking point that the Right wants to use to combat the fact that every single Republican just voted against the Equal Pay Bill for women. Here’s how they are trying to avoid that by leveling the following charge:

“According to publicly available salary data at the website Legistorm, Pelosi’s female employees earned an average annual salary of $96,394 in fiscal year 2011. Male employees earned $123,000 on average, a difference of 27.6 percent. The gap is even larger if calculated using the median salaries for men and women. For Pelosi’s female employees, the median annual salary was $93,320 in 2011, compared to $130,455 for male employees—a difference of $37,135, or 40 percent. Pelosi’s entire staff—men and women—earned an average annual salary of $108,150 and a median salary of $114,662. By both measures, women made considerably less.

Those percentage points are the “whoppers” they want people talking about. Those percentage points would lead you to believe, “Holy crap, what a hypocrite Pelosi is.” And because the Right knows all too well that the vast majority of the people it speaks to will not go and research these claims, they can float something like this out there, see it get traction, and not have to worry about the fact that their claims are, well…full of crap.

So, let’s head over to Legistorm and see for ourselves. Legistorm is a website that tracks Congressional data and tries to be a non-partisan entity. And they have disclaimers on their website like the following: “Congressional staff salaries shown are the amount paid in the period shown. They are not annual salaries. Because bonuses may be included here and other payments may not be (most notably with aides working for multiple offices or for a political campaign committee), please use caution in extrapolating annual salaries from the figures shown here.”

Hmm, “please use caution in extrapolating annual salaries from the figures shown here…” Something to keep in mind as we progress. Going back to the “script,” the Right claims that for fiscal 2011, women on Pelosi’s staff earned a difference of 27.6% or 40% versus male counterparts depending on whether you want to look at averages or medians. Legistorm lists figures on a quarterly basis, which means in order to figure out the annual pay for staffers, you have to get the ol’ calculator out and do some basic accounting. Even for a math-phobe like me, this isn’t asking too much.

The bone of contention with regards to the Equal Pay Bill is that women are paid LESS than men for the same work. It’s important to remember that. Because what immediately stands out as you look at Pelosi’s staff is that very few people share the same job title. In fact, there are only two job titles that are identical and have more than one person working with that title. Those titles are: Staff Assistant and Co-Director of Communications. Every other staffer has a different job title. And those titles range as they should.

Why is this important? Because in the same way that no rational human being would expect someone working the fryolator at McDonald’s to earn as much as a neurosurgeon, no one should likewise expect that everyone in Pelosi’s office will be earning the same salary given the fact that they have DIFFERENT jobs with DIFFERENT responsibilities. But the “script” that the Right wants to use to manipulate you into thinking Pelosi is a hypocrite is deliberately set up in just that way.

Let’s get back to the folks who actually DO share a job title in the Pelosi office. At varying times in 2011, Pelosi had upwards of five Staff Assistants. Three of them were women and two were men. None of them worked all four quarters. Ally worked for just two, Katie for three, Patricio for two, Ricardo for three, and Ethan for just one.

Katie for her three quarters of work earned $24,301.42 while Ricardo for his three quarters of work earned $29,641.80. Ricardo was paid $5,340.38 more than Katie. Which is a difference of a shade over 22% for the same job.

GASP! Shocking! How dare Pelosi pay Ricardo 22% more for the same job that Katie has. What a hypocrite! ZOMG!

But wait…going back in time to the previous years, we see that the first time Katie shows up on the pay register is in fiscal 2011. But Ricardo worked in Pelosi’s office back in 2010. So Ricardo had more experience or previous experience than Katie did and was probably hired on at a slight pay difference for just that reason. As any rational human being would expect. More experience? More pay. That simple.

Let’s move on to the second job title that features more than one worker and that was for the Co-Director of Communications. Robyn and David both split this title and it’s not unreasonable to think their duties are probably about the same. So what about their pay for fiscal 2011?

Robyn earned $38,660.51 while David earned $40,005.21. That’s a difference of $1,344.70 or 3.48%. Now, both of them have been around since 2007 and both were put into their current position in February 2011. So, why did David earn an earth-shattering mind-blowing insanely-insulting extra $1,344.70 more than Robyn? Part of the reason is he worked a shade more overtime than Robyn did – to the tune of $133.41. But another part of the reason may be that David’s position was listed as being with the Office of the Speaker of the House up until January 2011 when Pelosi had to give up the Speaker role to John Boehnert. During that time, David was primarily working in the Speaker’s office and not in Pelosi’s congressional office, although he soon transitioned over once Pelosi lost the Speaker position. Robyn, on the other hand, was always employed in the actual Congressional office. Now, I don’t know for certain, but it seems there might be a shade more prestige and therefore money attached to working out of the Speaker’s office than there would in the normal Congressional office. But I’m not sure.

There’s definitely a discrepancy there, but the discrepancy is hardly what the Right wants you to believe. It’s not some insane amount of money. We’re talking about $1,344.70 or the equivalent to $25 bucks a week.

As to the Right’s use of percentages like 27.6% or 40% that’s just bullshit. They’re comparing apples and oranges and expecting you to be dumb enough to swallow the whole twisted mess. I don’t expect a Staff Assistant in Pelosi’s office to make the same amount of money as the District Administrator makes. And yet, that’s exactly what the Right wants you to think in this case.

And why does it work? Because in our fast-paced lives, it takes time to research this stuff and figure out where the truth is. Now, it may, in fact, be that there is some pay discrepancy there between David and Robyn – after all, $25 bucks is well, not much – and if so, then clearly Pelosi needs to rectify that on the next performance review-

-huh? Did you say “performance review?”

Why yes, I did, actually. And therein lies the variable that we unfortunately do not have access to. It’s entirely possible – especially since for the first two years of her employment Robyn earned MORE than David – that either Robyn had a not-so-good performance review or that David had a stellar performance review that gave him this extra $25 bucks per week. You know those pesky reviews…sometimes you get a decent one, sometimes not so much, and sometimes you get a great one. And you get a little extra pay for those great reviews. Merit increases, I think they’re called.

Food for thought.

The genius of the Right is that they come out with a script and then everyone repeats it verbatim. That script is then reposted on blogs that link to other Right Wing blogs that link to Right Wing newspapers and columnists. And the old adage of the more you see it, the more it must be true comes into play. Links on one article go to another website that repeats the same talking points over and over. And since most people are lazy at best and uneducated at worst, the script is seen and believed.

I don’t like Nancy Pelosi nor do I dislike her anymore than I do most politicians. But trying to generate silliness like this as a means of combating outrage over Republicans blocking the Equal Pay Bill is simply ridiculous. The percentages used might be right, but the jobs aren’t the same, and things like experience, overtime, and performance reviews weren’t taken into account.

At the end of the day, you can cook numbers and get pretty much any result you want. The Right knows this. They know they can twist things just so and give the appearance they are correct – and they know better still that the vast majority of people are too lazy to do basic fact-checking or too dumb to question it or too filled with hatred that they don’t even care if they’re being lied to. It happens on the Left as well. And there are just as many vehement nutjobs on the Left as there are on the Right.

So rather than swallow the scripts that the players read and post, make sure you do some homework and try to get the real truth. You owe to yourself to do so. The world already has enough sheep.

Intelligence Gathering 101: An Open Mind

(One of the more critical traits of anyone involved in intelligence gathering is the ability to keep an open mind. In one of my earlier posts on intelligence gathering, I stressed the importance of not letting ego impact an operative’s ability to remain objective. Maintaining an open mind is directly attributable to the necessity of keeping the ego in check as well. One does not work if the other is not firmly under control.)

Back when I was hanging around with an ex-special forces Korean War veteran named Tom, (“hanging around” is not entirely accurate – I was, for all intents and purposes, being mentored by him) we were both working at an eye care facility in the Boston area (I was the receptionist). Tom would create certain exercises that would drive home an important lesson he wanted me to understand. One such exercise started off easily enough, with Tom casually mentioning over lunch at McDonald’s that he wanted me to strike up a friendship with a guy named Farid. Farid, to my knowledge at that time, worked in the parking lot shack at the back of the building where the eye care facility was housed. He wore his hair in a tight perm that gave him a strange, somewhat greasy appearance. I’d see him every once in a while when some patient’s car needed to be moved or if someone had left their lights on. But that was it. I knew next to nothing, aside from the fact that he was about ten years older than I was.

I wasn’t crazy about the exercise; in my mind, I’d already formed a picture of Farid and could see very little point to creating a relationship. Tom questioned me about why I was reluctant and when I told him, he simply grinned and said that I should keep an open mind and not close myself off to possibilities simply because of preconceptions, stereotypes, or a media-distorted view of the world. He went on to state that good intelligence gathering is often the result of simply not hampering the organic flow of information – rather than forcing a set of parameters on to a situation. I wasn’t quite sure I knew what he meant at the time.

I also had no idea how to start a friendship with Farid. And it was really the first time in my life I’d actually had to put real thought into how I would make my approach. Tom had stressed previous to this exercise that forcing a connection was not his preferred method of establishing a relationship, unless there was no other option available or if time was an issue. He preferred a slow, methodical approach. I reflected on that earlier lesson and used that to start a casual friendship with Farid. I decided that I would start the next time he came to see me about a patient’s car, rather than me suddenly initiating something without pretext. I didn’t have long to wait; two days later, Farid came inside asking me to find a patient and let them know they had a flat tire. The patient was having his eyes dilated, which meant that whenever we released them, they would go outside wearing these insane wraparound Terminator-esque glasses so they didn’t fry their retinas in the daylight. He wasn’t going to be able to do much about a flat tire. I went outside and let Farid know the situation and then hung around while we debated the best course of action. Farid decided he would replace the tire with the spare so the patient could at least make it home. I got the patient’s car keys and together we replaced the deflated tire.

From there, the friendship grew organically. I made a point of swinging by to see how he was doing. During the summer months, the parking lot was an inferno and Farid kept a small fan going nearly all the time, even though he never complained about the heat. Gradually, the friendship grew and Farid was telling me about his family, what part of Lebanon he came from, and even began tutoring me in some very basic Arabic. And contrary to the picture I’d formed of him based on my limited interaction before striking up the friendship, Farid didn’t work at the parking lot – he and his brother owned it, along with several others in the Boston area. They were, in fact, quite wealthy and chose to work hard every day simply because that was what had been instilled in them by their father before they came to the US. Farid often spoke of his home and the olive trees that grew on his land in northern Lebanon. We spoke at length about how the civil war had devastated his country and how much he wished an end to the violence so that Lebanon could return to peace. Beirut, he told me, had once been the crown jewel of the Mediterranean and judging by the stories he told me, it must have been.

While this was going on, Tom would routinely ask about our conversations, question me about aspects of Farid’s life and friends and family. I realized that Tom’s exercise had numerous components to it, and on one level was actually producing fairly decent intelligence about a certain demographic within the Boston community. It was a fascinating lesson for me about the importance of making sure I maintained an open mind and refrained from injecting any of my subjectivity onto the situation. In Tom’s words, I was simply supposed to let Farid talk about whatever he wanted and let it go from there.

Had I not had an open mind, I would have never gotten to know Farid as well as I did. I would never have had the opportunity to see my own life enriched by his acquaintance, nor would I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the Lebanese immigrants who lived in the Boston area at that time. I also would not have had the chance to be introduced to a friend of Farid’s who would later turn out to be far more important than I knew then.

Tom’s lesson of keeping an open mind was one he swore by. In Tom’s neighborhood, he was surrounded by all manner of folks – recent immigrants from all over the world, college kids, gays and lesbians, families, corporate bankers, and more. And yet Tom knew how to blend seamlessly with each group – which always amazed me. Here was this grizzled old vet who’d seen his share of awful stuff in his lifetime and who, by most people’s standards, would have every right to be this opinionated, rigid man who clung to his stereotypes like they were a life preserver. Yet Tom was as open and welcoming as he could be. He knew how to talk to folks and, more importantly, listen. He made sure they felt entirely comfortable when he was around and as a result, they talked more and more. So much so, that Tom knew where the trouble was long before it arrived and was able to let the police and others know ahead of time. It was because of his open mind that he was so effective and keeping the peace in that neighborhood. Had he been judgmental or condescending toward one or more of the various demographics that lived there, he would never have had such a finger on the pulse of that place.

There are all too many examples of intelligence gathering gone awry – data collected to force a certain agenda or outcome or congressional action even. But truly good intelligence comes from where you sometimes least expect it and is only capable of being gathered if one has an open mind – not one closed off to the possibilities and potential that exist all around us. There’s no real sense in trying to gather information if you already have formed an opinion about someone or something; your ego and subjectivity have already compromised the data. Keeping an open mind is critical to being able to see and create opportunities where they may not have existed before. A narrow mind, on the other hand, constrained by the whims of ego is incapable of accurate and reliable intelligence gathering and only useful to those who seek to manipulate you.