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Greetings, Team Lies nation! Thanks to you, Sea of Lies was downloaded 11,000 times over five days, a multiple of the best case scenario. Welcome to the revamped and relaunched blog. The menu is varied and includes:


  • China’s illegal occupation of the South China Sea may be more about submarine offense and defense than anything going on above sea level.


  • There’s been so much lying by government in military and intelligence matters that no one can tell what, if anything, to believe any more. This has implications both domestically—where obtaining budget for vital programs may fall victim to the “Crying Wolf” effect—and internationally where the US has spent $70 billion just on training Iraqi security forces and yet one-third of the Iraqi populace believes that the US backs ISIS.


  • An introduction to money laundering, smurf marks and Burma’s quirky currency preferences


  • Two quotations from ancient Greece, both classics


  • A couple of articles to read if you’re thinking about self-publishing.


Till the next time!


Bradley West

Singapore and Angkor Wat


“Ready, Fire, Aim!”

Lowdown dirty tricks

In mid-July, the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands ruled that China’s occupation and build-up of permanent bases in the South China Sea was illegal as it violated Philippines territory. China rejected the ruling, declaring it “null and void”.


South China Sea territorial claims

Source: UNCLOS and CIA as quoted by

To buttress its side of the argument, China deployed more warships into the area while the US responded by sending additional nuclear aircraft carriers into the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.


US Aircraft carrier off the Philippines 2016 Jul

Source: BBC News (see below)

Most of the world’s press published what you’d expect, but the BBC surprised on the upside with “The submarines and rivalries underneath the South China Sea” (BBC News 12 July 2016 and BBC Chinese Submarines deep water goals in SCS). The author, Alexander Neill, is a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia.


China submarine on surface 2016 Jul BBC

Source: BBC News (see above)

China’s modern nuclear submarine base at the southern tip of Hainan Island is adjacent to the relatively shallow water (100m or so) of the South China Sea. US submarine hunting aircraft and ships track China’s nuclear missile subs easily as they can’t hide in deep water or use underwater features as shields. China’s quieter diesel subs are harder to follow, and the US is deeply concerned about the possibility of a diesel sub attacking a nuclear carrier. (Source: “What the South China Sea ruling means for the world,” Washington Post, 15 July 2016 and South China Sea ruling meaning WP.)


As it so happens, there is 4000 meter-deep water off the continental shelf adjacent to the so-called “nine-dash line” that China asserts is its historical sphere of influence in the South China Sea. If China secures its current claim, its subs will have a much easier time reaching deep water undetected, and from there to the US West Coast. This would give China a nuclear second-strike capability that it doesn’t possess today with its vulnerable land-based ICBMs. In addition, should China control the South China Sea, it would be much easier for the PLA Navy to lay and operate its own acoustical listening array. And, of course, from the number of illegal airstrips and ports newly constructed on reclaimed land, we can see that China is already deploying its own sub-tracking planes and ships.


My take on recent history is that China played the Obama administration, all the time talking about peaceful intentions and all the while working non-stop to convert abandoned islands and reefs into viable military airfields. The BCC article states that “. . . China’s new islands are bristling with advanced sensors including radar arrays and satellite communications stations, all of which bolster its navy’s situational awareness above and below the South China Sea.”


What few have written is that history amply proves that appeasing bullies only encourages them. The US should have stopped China years ago by parking a carrier task force in the middle of the disputed zone, and declaring all it a no-go area for the competing countries starting with China, but also including Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam and even Malaysia (all have claims within the area). Only when the international courts ruled would the US vacate the area, with the pledge to back whichever country was deemed to be the rightful owner. (Everyone in the West thought that Philippines was the odds-on favorite to prevail, and it did.) Chances were very high that China would have backed down bloodlessly. Now the stakes are higher with China having bases, ships, planes, missile batteries and troops permanently stationed in the area. The next president has fewer options—none of them appealing—open to her or him.


One reason why the above scenario never came to pass is that the US never ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the very same treaty that underpinned the panel’s ruling.


So much spin, no one can see straight

I have two unrelated articles in front of me. After you read excerpts from each of them, below I give my two cents worth.


“In a May 2005 memo to the CIA Director, Inspector General John L. Helgerson wrote, ‘[the opinions do not address] the possible application of the international Convention Against Torture, which prohibits “cruel” and “degrading” techniques. By any common understanding of the term, for example, use of the waterboard may well be ‘cruel.’” (Source: “Newly released CIA files expose grim details of agency interrogation program,” Washington Post, 14 June 2016.)


“The FBI has completed of (sic) review of the in-home flight simulator that belonged to the captain of the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet and found “nothing suspicious whatsoever . . . .” (Source: FBI Finds ‘Nothing Suspicious Whatsoever’ on MH370 Pilot’s Personal Flight Simulator,”, 29 May 2015.)

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OK, so what did you make of the preceding? My thoughts:


  • The CIA Inspector General shouldn’t be writing memos trying to defend waterboarding as something other than “cruel”. Waterboarding is torture by any definition, so either negate the anti-torture treaties the US signed, or else stop waterboarding. (That waterboarding hasn’t produced useful intel in the fight against al Qaeda is a secondary issue.)


  • The FBI was lying in May, 2015 when it said there wasn’t anything on Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s flight simulator that made it suspicious. On 28 July 2016, led with an article entitled, “Captain’s home simulator had Indian Ocean course plotted.” (See Indian Ocean flight plotted on simulator. See also Jeff Wise’s excellent website for the original story that inspired CNN to take a look.)


Take a look at two last quotes:


  • “1 in 3 Iraqis think the US actively supports ISIS,” (Source:, 7 April 2016.) I’m surprised that the proportion isn’t higher. On one hand, the US has the most powerful military in the world, and it seemingly can’t defeat a bunch of volunteer soldiers driving around in pickup trucks with 50-caliber machineguns mounted on the beds.


  • “The U.S. Pacific Command ‘suffers shortage of submarines today, my requirements are not being met,’ Adm. Harry Harris told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.” (Source: “Chinese, Russian Subs Increasingly Worrying the Pentagon,” Washington Post, 24 Feb 2016.) I’m a military hawk. My father served in the US Air Force. And yet I can’t read a statement like that without wondering if the Admiral is lying or telling the truth. One of these days, Congress is going to call the bluff of a military man and a desperately needed weapons platform won’t get funded. And that debacle would have been totally preventable had there not been decades of BS leading up to it.


I’m angered that the US missed its one best chance to stop China in the South China Sea. Was it incompetence? A president who lost his nerve? Or a military that thought, “Let’s let China go a little further. It will scare the hell out of the politicians and the public, and we’ll then get the appropriations we want to fund the next generation of super-expensive weapons platforms.”


Speaking of weapons, did you see this headline? “Navy’s most expensive warship ever years behind schedule and still not ready for warfare, memo shows” (Source: New York Daily News, 21 July 2016 and New aircraft carrier years late and billions over budget.) The USS Gerald Ford was supposed to deploy in September, 2014. It now costs US$12.9 billion and is more than a year from being ready to fight because four critical systems don’t work properly.


But True Lies readers shouldn’t panic. The US already has ten nuclear-powered (two reactors each), nuclear-armed Nimitz class supercarriers. The next highest count? Zero or one. China has one carrier, the Liaoning, and it doesn’t even have catapults to launch aircraft: it has a ramp instead. Russia has one aircraft carrier as well, the Admiral Kuznetsov. It was built in 1991 and features anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and a full complement of aircraft and helos. US allies the British have two aircraft carriers under construction, the Queen Elizabeth due in 2020 and the Prince of Wales in 2022. (Source:, “Here’s how every aircraft carrier in the world stacks up to the US Navy’s, 25 Jan 2016.)


“Insider’s Guide” to “Sea of Lies” extracts

The section of the just-published Insider’s Guide to Sea of Lies that’s elicited the most “I didn’t know that” responses to date deals with money laundering, smurf marks and the need for gently circulated (almost-but-not-quite new) US currency if visiting Burma.


Clean up your act!

Unless you watched Breaking Bad and made the connection between Gus Fring’s methamphetamine sales and Los Pollos Hermanos chicken fast food restaurant chain’s outsized earnings, it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to launder money.

Money Laundering Schematic

Source: Online MBA, Hypothetical how to launder money

Money laundering is a three-stage process of placement, layering and integration. It’s sufficiently difficult that third party launderers charge up to twenty percent for their services. In sequence, here’s a little more about the three-step money laundering process.


  • Placement: the physical money needs to pass from the criminals to the legitimate business(es) being used. Money launderers use runners, paying them by the number of bills (or overall value) delivered from Point A to Point B. But with dozens of runners working for a medium-sized drug trafficker, how does the recipient at Point B remember whether the forty thousand in circulated US twenties came from runner “Guido” vs. runner “Slick”? Easy: smurf marks. A “smurf mark” is a tiny stamp the runners (“smurfs” in street parlance) use to mark the bills they are carrying. Maybe Guido’s smurf is a downsized red “﴿” whereas Slick’s is a tiny blue “₼”. The recipient of the illicit cash need only look at the smurf marks to confirm who-delivered-what. Runners often make bank deposits in small enough sizes that the bank doesn’t have to file a report with the US Treasury. Technically, this is sums under $10,000 but as practical matter a series of $9950 deposits to the same few accounts will draw scrutiny these days.

Smurf Runners and Money Laundering

Source: International money laundering methods

Consequently, many US twenties, fifties and hundreds (“Ben Fatheads” in the new designs) circulating through honest people’s hands have smurf marks on them (as well as traces of cocaine: Google that one). Other people—especially cash-based businessmen in Southeast and South Asia—don’t like transacting in marked bills even if the smurf marks have nothing to do with them. Marked bills are easier for third parties to trace (e.g. governments looking for evidence of under-reported taxable income).


  • Layering: this middle step involves moving the funds to disguise their illicit origins. Criminals move a mixture of physical cash, wired money, and big ticket assets (e.g. art, jewelry, watches, boats) through various countries, perhaps recombining the sums at a single destination.



  • Integration: step three ends with the philosophically repugnant need to inflate the turnover and profitability of the business being used (bars, restaurants and construction companies are favorites for the potential to receive lots of cash). Then the business owner pays taxes on those inflated profits. The resulting excess cash is laundered and free to use in any way the owner sees fit.


In Burma smurf marks are about as welcome as skid marks

In Burma, the preference for clean bills goes way beyond “no smurf marks” to something that Monica on Friends might approve of in terms of clean-freak-neurotic behavior. Even banks in Rangoon rarely accept foreign bills that show even moderate wear (even if they are unmarked). Travelers are forewarned: visit Burma only with almost-new foreign currency if you wish to convert any to kyat. Expect to have some of your almost-uncirculated bills turned down for no reason . . . at least none you can see. There are many serial number sequences known to have been counterfeited over the last twenty years, so there’s a long list of “rejected” bills, but as the serial numbers aren’t published your guess is as good as any as to whether your particular bills will pass muster. If the banks and money changers reject them, you had better have backups. The funny thing is that banks and money changers in sophisticated Singapore will accept the same bills refused in Rangoon. I suspect that the money changers in Burma know more about counterfeiting and marked bills than their big city regional peers, but who can say for certain?


US currency defaced

Source:, US Currency defaced with pop icons

Source: Insider’s Guide to Sea of Lies (pp. 44-47)


*  *  *  *  *

Subsequent to writing the above, brother Chris West (former Burma resident and the indirect inspiration for Sea of Lies) offered up the following anecdote: “The money changers are often owned by the opium cartel and they always give a better exchange rate than any of lenders/bankers. Most new $100 bills start their journey IN Burma because the US Treasury traces their journeys with sophisticated stuff. I got flagged in Stockton, California by Wells Fargo and asked why I deposited marked bills into my account. Was there something they needed to know?”


The Other Side

In-between the launch of Sea of Lies in paperback and free promotion on Kindle, and reviving this blog, there’s been no progress this week on Pack of Lies.


Locker Room Motivation

Two quotes from the Golden Age of Athens.



The Republic, 375 BC

“I affirm that might is right, justice the interest of the stronger” (Thrasymachus)


Agamemnon, 458 BC

By the sword you did your work, and by the sword you die.”

Hue and Cry

Since this is the first in the new series, there aren’t any fresh reader comments to post. However, the single question I hear most often is, what advice do you have for new self-published authors?


Almost a year ago, I posted a blog entry Unqualified Advice on this same topic. (See Bradley West compares fiction and non-fiction writing, Aug. 2015.) That’s still worth a glance if you’re interested in the topic. My favorite jumping off point is the transcript of an insightful, profane and funny dialogue between thriller author Barry Eisler and his author buddy Jon Konrath. The resulting title, Be the Monkey, is a free PDF download from Eisler’s website. See


After you read those two articles, if you still have questions then shoot me an email. I’m likely to know more in the future than I do today, so this is an added-value approach.


I’m taking a short research trip to Angkor Wat this week. I’m looking for settings for future books, and boy does this place sure provide food for thought. Visitors to the Night Market, be sure to sample the marinated, barbecued baby snake.