This weekend finds me on the West Coast recuperating from a persistent intestinal malady courtesy of my last supper in Singapore, a Turkish (non-) delight. Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak has been in the international press for over a year over his possible role in diverting almost US$4bn in funds from Malaysia’s national equity investment company, 1MDB. The Justice Department leads investigations and recent revelations again read like fiction, as a fraction of the looted funds were used to finance The Wolf of Wall Street, buy a business jet, and purchase L’Hermitage Hotel in Los Angeles. If we take the PM at his word, he didn’t siphon off—much less benefit from—the money. However, if we accept this statement at face value, the thorny question remains unanswered of just where did the billion-plus in unexplained funds in Najib’s bank accounts come from?

Najib Razak frowns

Source: NDTV.com, Najib quizzed over billion dollar deposits, December 2015

 

We also cover a few other topics of interest to True Lies nation and fellow conspiracists:

 

  • We see what the Insider’s Guide to Sea of Lies has to say about the assassination of a Bulgarian dissenter, the remote control murder of a bomb maker in Lebanon, and “Kill Bill’s” (David Carradine’s) accidental suicide (or maybe murder) in Bangkok.

 

  • An update on how the writing is going on the second book, Pack of Lies

 

  • Two dandy quotations from military geniuses

 

  • A rumination on the risks writers run in seeking mass adulation instead of focusing on finding their niche readers

 

Till the next time!

 

 

Bradley West

Larkspur Landing, California/Vancouver, BC

 

“Ready, Fire, Aim!”

 

The 1MDB scandal reads as being African-like in its breadth and audacity

 

The Malaysia government founded 1 Malaysia Development  Berhad (“1MDB”) in 2009 with the objective to invest in energy, property and infrastructure projects to benefit the citizens of Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib Razak started and chaired the company.

 

In August 2015, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that a government probe had traced a missing $681 million from 1MDB to bank accounts investigators said belonged to the PM. The Switzerland Office of the Attorney General announced its own probe and froze 1MDB-related accounts. Protesters took to the streets of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and former Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir called for Najib to resign or be replaced as leader of the ruling political party, UMNO.

 

Skipping over the intervening year, today PM Najib is still in office, the amount of money missing has grown to over $3.5 billion (out of 1MDB’s total debts of $11 billion), the FBI has identified (and frozen) over $1 billion in US-based financial and physical assets believed to have been purchase with stolen funds, and a couple of Malaysia investigators and/or investigative taskforces have come and gone.

 

Along the way we learned that Najib did indeed receive a total of $681 million from Saudi Arabia between 2011 and 2013. (He also landed another $400 or so million according to the international investigators.) Najib initially described the funds as being a thank you for Malaysia’s helping combat the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Why the funds were deposited to an individual’s account instead of the Central Bank wasn’t explained.) The next explanation offered was that the monies were a personal gift from a member of the Saudi Royal family to Najib to help UMNO contest the 2013 elections. (Campaign financing rules in Malaysia allow for unlimited personal donations, and politicians receiving these donations don’t have to report sources or pay tax. When I lived in Kuala Lumpur in the early 1990s, the phrase “money politics” was coming into vogue. I suspect it’s emblazoned on family coats of arms today. However, even Malaysia’s peculiar laws punish embezzlement.)

 

Later we were told that in August 2013, the PM returned $620 million to the Saudis, leaving just $61 (!) million unaccounted for. To date, there’s been no statement from Najib as to what happened to the $61 million. This apparently was a rounding error unworthy of further explanation.

 

In July, 2015 prosecutors appeared ready file charges, and Najib’s cabinet prepared to dump him. Instead, the PM fired the Deputy PM and the Attorney General, decapitating the revolution. The Public Accounts Committee bravely soldiered on, with one newspaper headline declaring that the PM wanted to get to the bottom of matters. In November, the PAC chairman Datuk Hasan Arifin decided that there was no need for his commission to interview the PM. When repeatedly asked why by local reporters, Datuk Arifin said in colloquial Malay, “Don’t la . . . I have to eat, too.” Najib then blocked any further onshore investigations.

 

In February, 2016 the BBC reported that the Singapore authorities—quite late to the party—seized a large number of bank accounts and was coordinating actions with the Swiss and US regulators. Some of the money was traced to Swiss accounts in the names of former Malaysia politicians and citizens of the UAE. London’s Financial Times published a who’s-who list of Najib cronies. Less the two weeks later, 1MDB’s Goldman Sachs partner relationship officer Tim Leissner left the bank. Goldman underwrote two 1MDB bonds in 2012 and 2013, taking a whopping US$300 million fee on the largest US$3 billion offering.

 

Tim Leissner DOJ seal 2016 Mar

 

Source: FreeMalaysiaToday.com, Leissner out after violating Goldman rules March, 2016

 

In July, 2016 the US Justice Department filed a money laundering case naming “Malaysian Official 1” as the recipient of $731 million from 1MDB. This was just more water off a duck’s back. Najib controls UMNO, also holds the Finance portfolio, and, as prime minister, doles out the patronage that populates the civil service. That the PM’s also a good friend to the US and staunchly anti-terrorist also helped. By end July, the New York Times published an article entitled “Malaysia’s Leader, Dogged by a Billion-Dollar Scandal, Proves Untouchable” (http://nyti.ms/2aDaCSU).

 

 

STOP! Let’s please just believe Najib!

 

One of the great things about being a fiction writer (never to be confused with investigative journalist) is that you make things up that, while not true, are perhaps directionally correct. In this way fiction can be a path to the truth. So let’s undertake a thought experiment. Leave Najib Razak out of these speculations, too, as what follows doesn’t have anything to do with him other than he’s one of maybe fifty people worldwide fitting the profile of a senior politician in a developing Muslim nation. Focus instead on two points:

 

  • Saudi royals paid Mr X at least $681 million and—taking the PM at his word—it wasn’t money that originally came from 1MDB. I’m also dismissing the Saudi’s putative reason for the gift, that being [the country’s] assistance in opposing the Muslim Brotherhood which was wreaking havoc in Egypt at that time.

 

  • There’s a reason for everything, even though it’s hidden. The role of the conspiracy theorist is to lift the veil. In this case, someone very wealthy—either a government or an individual—paid Mr. X at least $680 million using the Saudi’s to disguise the money’s true origin.

 

I imagined a handful of (almost) plausible explanations, but what follows is my favorite because it explains another puzzle: how bin Laden got away when his bodyguards and he were surrounded in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, the Taliban were on the run and the #1 US military objective in the world was to kill bin Laden.

 

After September 11, 2001, the US and Northern Alliance fighters hounded Osama bin Laden (“UBL”) to his last redoubt, caves within the Tora Bora region of northeastern Afghanistan. In December, 2001 somehow the sheikh escaped and eventually made his way to Pakistan where it was a decade later in May, 2011 when the SEALs finally caught up in Abbottabad.

 

Tora Bora Afghanistan Map 2011 Apr CNN

Source: CNN, Tora Bora and Afghanistan Map,  April 2011

What if senior elements in the US intelligence establishment—but not necessarily including the president—decided that their number one objective wasn’t to kill bin Laden? Instead, they wanted to ensure that never again would al Qaeda attack Americans on home soil. Through intermediaries—perhaps a minister in a moderate Muslim government—the US put out a feeler to see if an al Qaeda intermediary authorized to speak for UBL and the other senior leaders (e.g. Iraq-based Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or global 2IC Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan) wanted to meet?

The intermediary quickly sent an answer back to the Americans via the go-between: Yes, but only if you stop hunting UBL.

The US spymasters were equally swift in their reply: We are going to hunt bin Laden down like a rabid dog until he is dead, or we have a deal in place.

It was now November 2001 and US Special Forces had bin Laden on the run. Kabul and Jalalabad had fallen to the good guys, and safe havens were hard to come by for al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

The al Qaeda in Europe chief sent back the message, “We meet in three days in [somewhere on the Continent].”

Neither side trusted the other, so both relied on their honest broker Muslim politico to select the venue.

Sometime in late November, 2001 one or two spymasters flew to Europe incognito, and under disguise traveled to a residential apartment building in one of Europe’s secondary capital cities. The shortness of time has meant that the US wasn’t able to sweep the meeting place—perhaps a luxury apartment in building with good security—for bugs and surveillance cameras.

The discussions were blunt as time was short: the Americans were days, maybe hours, away from killing the sheikh and his family. The Americans wanted al Qaeda to undertake not to attack the US homeland again. Abroad it was open season for both sides, that’s understood. But no more suicide attacks on public places in the US of A. In return, the US military would hold their lines around Tora Bora and allow bin Laden to slip through. And for every year that al Qaeda desisted from attacking the US homeland, the US intelligence establishment would pay $50 million to UBL, $25 million to al-Zarqawi, $25 million to Ayman al-Zawahiri, etc. The go-between agreed the deal, and the pact between two devils was in place.

The honest broker’s own security people showed him their tape, and he realized he was sitting on a goldmine. Neither al Qaeda nor the US could ever afford for this video to see daylight. What could he charge the US to keep quiet about what he knew? Quite a lot—certainly hundreds of millions—and that money could fund a rise to national leadership and, eventually, the top seat at the table.

The law of unintended consequences being what it was, I surmise that Iraq’s radical al Qaeda chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi used his annual payments to fund the establishment of ISIS, a subject central to the finale of the trilogy, End of Lies.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi photo

 

Source: Arabia Today, Abu-Musab-al-Zarqawi feature, May 2011

 

*  *  *  *  *

 

Of course it’s all make-believe, but you’ll be seeing much more along these lines in 2017’s Pack of Lies.

 

Insider’s Guide to Sea of Lies extracts

 

Recent scientific discoveries reveal that “gut feelings” have more substance to them than once thought. There is a high capacity two-way nervous system conduit between our central nervous system and the “second brain”, the enteric nervous system or “ENS,” (the one hundred million nerves lining the digestive track from the top of the esophagus all the way to the rectum). The two centers communicate instantaneously, and one affects the other. So “trusting your gut” may actually be more accurately described as “shared CNS and ENS nerve impulses.”

 

The reasons I bring this up are twofold. At present I’ve got a stomach bug that’s laughs at activated charcoal while ignoring Imodium. Then there’s the general—and I hope more durable—observation that, if I were so inclined, I would be very nervous following through on any government blackmail ideas, especially those involving intelligence community seniors. Ex-covert operations field officers don’t take well to being extorted. Any politician from a moderate Muslim country would profit from reading Sea of Lies and the following inspirational snippets from the Insider’s Guide to Sea of Lies.

 

A fatal earache: In 1996, the Israelis placed a cell phone containing RDX explosive with people close to master Hamas bombmaker Yahyah Ayyash. Ayyash’s father called him, the Israeli’s confirmed his voice, and Shin Bet detonated the phone remotely, killing Ayyash instantly. See Assassination of Yahyah Ayyash via cell phone bomb.

In more recent years, the Israeli’s have moved on to hiding GPS devices (before they were pre-loaded in every smart phone) in cell phones that in turn were used as homing devices for air-to-ground missiles. Chumakov isn’t being paranoid when he says to Nolan, “You’re an old friend of the Israelis, aren’t you? They’re famous for doctoring cell phone signals to attract drone-fired missiles. You want me to confiscate your phones, is that it? Keep your f*cking phones.”

 

A prick, indeed: ‘Your Bulgarian has a nice umbrella’/ ‘Watch out for him. He’s really a prick,’ alludes to the 1978 London murder of Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov using a ricin-poisoned pellet shot from a modified umbrella. Western intelligence agencies believe that the KGB provided the technical knowhow, while a Bulgarian was the triggerman.

 

umbrella_gun_diagram

 

Source: The View East The umbrella that poisoned Georgi Markov

Double Llama Trading was a pushmi-pullyu: DLT is a fictional arms-trading company based in Bangkok purely by chance. I made the disguised murder of the co-founder Daniel Kranz due to auto-erotic asphyxiation. This is an allusion to the death of Kung Fu TV star David Carradine in a Bangkok hotel room at age 72 in 2009. See ABC News article on death of David Carradine  for more.

 

David Carradine, Kill Bill 2

 

Source: Challenges (French), Kill Bill Vol. 2 article in French

 

The Other Side

 

I’m pleased to report that Pack of Lies sits at 27,500 words and six chapters, four and one-half of which I have edited in the last week. I’m not certain how much progress I’ll be able to make in the next two months, but it’s not for a lack of material or ideas.

 

 

Locker Room Motivation

 

Two quotes from military thinkers speaking to the necessity of providing maximum effort:

 

Lawrence Kasdan/Leigh Brackett

The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.” (Master Yoda)

Marshal Ferdinand Foch (Supreme Allied Commander, WWI)

Precepts and Judgments, 1919

“There is but one means to extenuate the effects of enemy fire: it is to develop a more violent fire oneself.”

 

Hue and Cry

 

Every author—particularly a new, self-published author—seeks validation. Rave reviews and strong sales are powerful ego massages. Good reviews and moderate downloads during free promotional periods also are welcome. One also realizes that writing a non-mainstream book like Sea of Lies (way too long, way too complicated according to all the online pundits) means that many fans of typical thrillers aren’t going to like the book because it doesn’t meet their expectations. Of course, some other fans of complex, real-life thrillers won’t like Sea of Lies for their own reasons. Drawing a deep breath, I’m OK with all of that. My goals are to write the best books I can, and then find people who like my kind of real life thriller. Audience discovery is my major challenge, and that’s what I’m spending my time on now. It makes no sense to try like hell to have your book displayed alongside Paterson’s, Corben’s and Child’s latest offerings if your book isn’t anything like theirs. (And then there’s the topic of marketing and promotional budgets and publicity campaigns: is any casual mass market thriller reader going to recognize Ocean of Deceit if it hasn’t been promoted dollar-for-dollar alongside the Big Boys?)

 

But the temptation to aim for mass sales and superstardom is there. After all, The Da Vinci Code wasn’t well-written, but it told an interesting story and became a global phenomenon. Stig Larsson’s The Girl trilogy was well written, but the books were so long I have to confess to having given up after the second one. Most espionage thriller readers have read multiple Dan Brown and Stig Larsson books, but if you ask them why, often you’ll hear it was because, “All my friends were reading them, and I wanted to be able to participate in the conversation” as opposed to “I’m a big fan of Jesus-had-a-kid/Knights Templar conspiracies” or “I love Scandi noir offerings.”

 

Every novelist wants to be the next Brown or Larsson (at least if Stig had lived long enough to enjoy his posthumous fame and fortune!), but you can spend a lot of time, money and effort aiming in vain for a mass audience. If you’re a niche writer, then sell and market to your constituencies. Focus on the fans of books like yours, or TV shows that appeal to the same fans. To get the ball rolling, my wife and I enjoy The Americans and Homeland, and believe that followers of these shows (in particular) are potential recruits for True Lies nation.

I’d be very interested in hearing what TV series True Lies nation watches.