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Editor's Note: Mr. Greinke is an ordinary citizen currently taking a few months' vacation to drive solo across the USA on a rather unordinary historical tour: a tour of the Cold War. His objective is to visit the many "Battlefields of World War III" that lie scattered across our great land. These battlefields include anything and everything related to the Cold War and the long-promised nuclear Armageddon that never happened.
Barney Greinke, Nuke Tourist: Part VI -- The Shocking Conclusion
WE KNEW YOU WERE COMING...
A PICTURE IS WORTH TEN THOUSAND ... BUCKS?
The sky cooled to a shapeless ashen gray, stretching from horizon to horizon. Somewhere behind the mixture of low clouds and smoke was a white light, maybe the moon, illuminating the dusk evenly in all directions. The gentle prairie wind was still blowing, but it had grown chilly, brushing against the skin with a hint of moisture lifted from the sea of grass.
With the sunset completely finished, I leaned back against the Blazer and turned my attention toward the only action around: the search party, whose members were still carefully walking the access road to the silo.
They seemed to be about half done, so it appeared we were going to be here for a while longer. I watched the seven of them for a couple of minutes, waiting for somebody to stoop down and examine a telltale piece of evidence, but no one ever did.
After a little while I turned away, bored. This wasn't like television. They weren't going to find anything. And a boring thing to watch is a boring thing to watch, even when it's your own neck on the line.
Of course there wasn't much else to do, standing on the side of a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. I leaned closer against the Blazer, trying to stay out of the chilling breeze. After a minute I decided to try making a little conversation with one of the security troops standing nearby.
"I hope you guys had a big lunch before this all began," I yelled over to the closest soldier.
It had been a good four or five hours since the Broncos had started following me back at "my" silo, and it was getting to be well past everyone's dinner time.
The soldier turned around, and I noticed he had a hint of a friendly smile. It's a good thing when the guys with the M16s can give you a little smile. "I packed a dinner," he yelled back at me, before turning again to continue watching the empty road for traffic.
His short answer and quick turn indicated to me that socializing with suspects was probably not a part of his job description.
I went back to watching the uneventful search and contemplated what might come next. I figured there were three likely courses of action that the FBI and OSI might take: they could just let me go with some sort of warning; they might hold me for a night until they could come back for a more sophisticated search; or they could arrest me on whatever evidence they thought they had so far.
The first two possibilities didn't sound so bad, especially since I was on vacation and had a bit of time to kill. The third sounded like it'd be sort of, well, expensive.
And expensive was OK. At least compared to the prospect of getting disappeared, I reminded myself.
I thought about what kind of lawyering I'd have to hire if they did arrest me. Trespassing at a nuclear missile silo sounded quite a bit more serious than getting caught TP-ing a schoolmate's house. And I was innocent, so I didn't even want to consider anything to do with prison.
I kept my concern focused on the high-powered attorney I'd need to clear this mess up. And what he'd cost me. Five thousand bucks? Ten thousand? Twenty? It'd be no small chunk of change, that was for sure.
A LONG DAY FOR AGENT X
After about a half-hour more, the searchers appeared to be done. They were gathered in a huddle in the middle of the access road and seemed, from what I could tell by their pointing and gesturing, to be discussing the search. After about 15 minutes, Agents X, Y, and Z broke off from the others and held their own little powwow, probably to discuss my particular fate. Every now and then I could see one of them looking over in my direction.
This was the moment of truth, I told myself. It was important that I look as innocent as possible. I suddenly became very aware of my posture.
Did I look too casual, standing there with my hands in my pockets, leaning against the Blazer? Would an innocent person be standing up straighter, arms crossed in concern? I stood up a little straighter and took my hands out of my pockets. Or would an innocent person be slouched down even more, calm and nonchalant? I slouched down just a bit and put my thumbs back into my pockets.
Of course I didn't want it to look like I was trying to appear calm and nonchalant, that would look unnatural and suspicious. I stood up a little straighter. No, that was too straight. I forced myself to slouch down just a tad. Perfect.
"Now I look innocent," I said to myself. "I think."
The three agents discussed my fate for about 10 minutes, while I tried to maintain my carefully calculated pose. It wasn't easy. The wind was starting to pick up and I was beginning to shiver from the cold. Or maybe I was getting really nervous. I couldn't tell which. "Don't cross your arms," I told myself, even though I knew I'd be both warmer and calmer that way.
Eventually, Agent X broke from the group and started walking over to the Blazer. When he was just the right distance away, I broke my pose and spoke.
"How is it going, Agent X?" I asked, pointing in the direction of the silo.
He didn't break stride, walking past me toward one of the side doors of the vehicle. "We're almost done, Barney," he said, opening the door and climbing into the back seat.
I watched Agent X forage through some of the boxes of equipment he had in the back. Was he looking for some evidence bags? A camera? Handcuffs? I had no idea. After a minute or two he came up with the object of his search: an aspirin bottle. Agent X grabbed some water from under the front seat and popped a couple of the pills.
"I've got some Tylenol over here," came a yell from over my shoulder. It was one of the security troops who'd been part of the search party.
"That's OK," came Agent X's return yell from inside the Blazer. "I've got some right here."
Agent X tossed the medicine back into one of the cardboard boxes and climbed out of the Blazer.
"I've been working 15-hour days for the last four days now," he said to me. "I think it's starting to catch up with me."
"Sounds kinda rough," I answered. Now I felt even worse about him having to come out here on a three-day weekend.
He didn't close the Blazer door, and the two of us just stood there for a few seconds. The awkward silence made me think he was about to tell me something about the search, but in reality he was probably just steeling himself against the pain in his head.
My shivering had gotten worse in the last minute or so, and I was starting to worry that Agent X might notice it and interpret it as fear. Or guilt. I very quickly decided that it was much better to look cold than scared.
"Hey, Agent X," I asked, "do you happen to have a jacket in there I can borrow?"
Agent X wordlessly reached in and handed me a nice, new, green military jacket. I put it on and zipped it up. He and I were about the same size, so it fit pretty well. Great jacket, I thought.
"Hey, this is a really nice jacket? What kind is it?"
The ache in Agent X's head made him a little slow to respond. "It's military surplus. I'm sure you can get one at any surplus store in California, Barney," he replied, and began walking back to the powwow. After taking a couple of steps he turned around to add, "I think it's called a 'Tank Crew Jacket-Winter.'"
My shaking, I noticed, had gone away. "Man," I said, "when this is all over, I'm gonna have to get me one of these."
Agent X went back to convene some more with Agents Y and Z. I watched them for a little while, until a movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. I looked over to see one of the security troops waiving a flashlight up and down at a vehicle coming toward us far down the road.
At night, on some of the long and straight roads that crisscross the American heartland, you can sometimes see a car coming 10 miles away. The soldier must have begun signaling the vehicle while it was still pretty far off, because it was several minutes before it came close enough that I could identify it as a truck. When it got even closer, I was able to make out that it was some sort of maintenance vehicle, outfitted with ladders, cabling and toolboxes everywhere.
The maintenance truck turned off onto the silo access road, and its crew began conferring with the security troops. At the same time, Agents X, Y, and Z finished their discussion and, with the four security troops who had driven out with us, began walking back toward me and the column of parked vehicles.
"We're done here, Barney," said Agent X, approaching the Blazer.
I wanted to ask him if I was going to be arrested now, but everyone was already beginning to pile into their respective vehicles, eager to leave. My question could wait. It didn't really make any difference whether I learned my fate now, or once we were on the road.
The Air Force security troops that had driven out with us mounted their Broncos. Agent Y took the wheel of the OSI vehicle, and this time Agent Z took the seat behind me in the FBI Blazer. Agent X didn't bother repeating his joke about Agent Z having to kill me if I went for his gun -- if it had indeed been a joke.
Agent X started the motor and we drove forward about 20 feet, when one of the security troops who was staying behind with the maintenance crew flagged us down.
"Hey, your left rear looks really low there," he said, pointing a flashlight at our tire. "Looks a little dangerous."
Agent X got out of the Blazer and walked back to the tire. I could hear them discussing the situation:
"It's not so bad. Conrad's only 15 miles. I could get it fixed there. I have to go there anyway for gas."
"I don't think anyone's gonna be open to fix it. Saturday night. Labor Day weekend."
"Yeah ... you're right. One way or the other I guess I have to fix it. Might as well do it now."
"You need a jack? We got a jack, I think. No tire iron, though; we're missing our tire iron."
"Nah. I've got three jacks in the back. One of them should work."
Agent X came up to the front of the Blazer and told Agent Z and I that we'd have to get out so he could change the tire. We piled out and joined a growing crowd of well-armed bystanders at the rear of the vehicle.
Being a bunch of guys -- and in this case mostly buff, young military guys -- everyone was eager to pitch in, demonstrate their manly automotive prowess, and help change the tire. Agent X would have none of it.
"This is my problem," he said. "I don't want you guys to have to do this for me."
It was probably some interagency political thing, I figured. Agent X didn't want the FBI to look like it was handing out all its shit jobs like changing tires to its fellow agencies. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we then had to watch a man with a splitting headache change a tire all by himself.
It was not a pleasant thing to witness.
All seven of us winced every time Agent X gave a yank on the tire iron. Everybody cringed in sympathetic pain as we watched Agent X lift the heavy 4x4 tire and carefully line it up on its lugs. Worst of all, his face disguised no pain.
Wherever he'd allow it, one of us did manage to assist him. One of the security troops jacked the vehicle up while he was busy removing the spare from its back-door mounting. And I ended up being one of the flashlight bearers, along with one of the security troops.
"Agent X loan you that jacket?" asked the other flashlight bearer as we watched Agent X painfully tighten the lug nuts back on.
"Yeah. It's really nice," I replied. "I wanna get me one on these. You don't happen to know what they call these jackets, do you?"
"I think they're called, uh, 'Field Jacket-Cold Weather,'" said the soldier.
The tire fixed, we piled back into the vehicles and again began our journey to the gas station at Conrad.
It was going to be about a 15-minute drive. Agent Z and I didn't speak, both of us a little concerned about Agent X's headache. After a few minutes, Agent X broke the silence.
"You might be interested to know that this is the Official Ted Kazcynski Blazer," he said.
Agent Z and I looked at each other, not knowing which one of us he was talking to.
He was talking to both of us.
"The UNABOMER sat right there in the back seat. Right in the middle, surrounded by federal agents. Right where Agent Z is sitting now."
I looked back at Agent Z and gave him a smile and a nod. Agent Z replied with a big grin and some raised eyebrows.
"My boss had just gotten into town, and his first week up here he's on national TV bringing in the damned UNABOMER."
"Cooooool," I said.
And it was cool. Now, not only did I get stopped by the FBI and OSI, I was riding in the official Ted Kazcynski Blazer. This was gonna be one hell of a story to tell my friends. Of course, there was just one little thing I still needed to know.
"So, uh, Agent X," I asked, "Is my little FBI adventure over now? Or is this the part where I get arrested or something like that?"
Agent X didn't answer immediately. Time seemed to stop as I watched him drive in silence for a couple of seconds. He had a perfect poker face now, absolutely unreadable. I turned away to watch the headlights fill the dark road and waited for him to lay out my fate.
"Well, Barney," he began slowly, "It's like this: we didn't really find anything to prove you were at the silo when the incident occurred, but we also couldn't find anything to prove that you weren't at the silo when the incident occurred."
I looked back over towards him, impatient for the answer to answer my question. "Soooo," he continued, "I'm not going to arrest you. But my report is going to have to say that we couldn't prove one way or the other whether you had anything to do with the intrusion detected at the silo."
I thought about that for a moment. Was this going to have any lasting effects? I couldn't tell.
"Well, I understand," I said. "That's cool ... I guess."
"And, I'm afraid to tell you that I'm not sure what this might do to the rest of your ... 'tour.'"
"You mean I'm on, like, some sort of list or something now?" I asked.
"Well, you're not on any list. We don't keep lists." He paused. "I can tell you that your vehicle may not be welcome at any Air Force bases in the future. You might have some trouble that way, I'm afraid."
I thought about it. I could still just park the Trooper at the visitors' centers of wherever I went, and walk in. That didn't sound so bad.
"Well, that shouldn't hinder me too much. I mean, as long as I can still get tours and stuff of all these Cold War facilities."
"Maybe you could change your tour to some other part of history, something a little less. ... Well, maybe you should just follow the Lewis and Clark Trail or something?"
That didn't sound interesting at all. Not compared to nuclear weapons and World War III and the end of the whole world.
"Nah," I replied. "Lewis and Clark don't have quite the same..." I wanted just the perfect word here. "Appeal."
"I see," said Agent X. "Well, I'm sorry if this messes up the rest of your trip. You understand, though, our position? We've gotta be careful out here with these nuclear weapons. It's funny, but now that the Cold War is over, our threat in this area has actually increased."
I'd read about this in some of my defense industry trade magazines. Everybody these days wants his own nuke. From Kim Jong Il to Timothy McVeigh to Aum Shinri Kyo, there's a big demand out there for CNN-grade firepower, and a stolen nuke will do the job just as well as something homemade.
"For all I know, Barney," he said with a little grin, "you could be working for Osama bin Laden."
He then turned toward me and dropped into his serious tone, "You aren't, are you?"
It was exactly the same voice he'd used back in Dupuyer when he'd told me Agent Y would kill me if I went for his gun, and just like then I couldn't tell if he was serious, or if this was some kind of dark FBI humor.
I Safely and Prudently assumed it was a joke. "Ha-ha," I laughed, then very quickly added "No," in my own serious tone, just in case.
RETURN TO DUPUYER
We arrived in Conrad after about 15 minutes. The four-vehicle convoy pulled into a large gas station with a fast food place built in, and Agent X offered to buy all of us dinner. No one was really hungry, least of all me. I'd been adrenalized so long that my body felt almost poisoned, and I was certain that anything I ate would immediately come back up in liquid form.
We gassed up, got some sodas and a can of Pringles, and left. The blue Broncos with their complement of missile security troops headed southeast towards Malmstrom AFB. The FBI and OSI vehicles headed southwest toward Dupuyer. It would be a 45-minute drive to drop me off at my Trooper.
Agent Z and I still were a little concerned about agent X's headache, so once again, neither of us felt comfortable starting a conversation. As we pulled out of the south edge of town, Agent X broke the silence.
"I have to tell you, Barney, that we actually had some warning that you were coming to Montana. We knew when you arrived in the area, in fact."
This was interesting.
"Really?!" I exclaimed. "Is that 'cuz I've been calling and asking for tours and stuff?"
He was silent for a moment. "I can't tell you how we knew."
There was another brief moment of silence, the same socially awkward, conversation-stopping silence you get whenever you ask a military person a question with a classified answer.
"Uh, I understand," I said.
"I should tell you, Barney, that right now the FBI is going into your background, putting every facet of your life under a magnifying glass."
"I'll bet they are." I said.
I couldn't help but smile. It was a funny thought, even in this situation. Every facet of my life? Or every facet of anyone's life, for that matter. Moore's Law and computerized record-keeping have made it easier for organizations to retain vast amounts of trivial information rather than throw it away.
What sort of bizarre, contorted analyses would the FBI and whoknowselse be coming up with to explain every little quirk in the reams of documents they'd soon be digging through? How many terrorist profiles could I be made to fit based on credit card records, old police reports, and the comments of a 7th grade teacher I didn't get along with?
At least I now knew for sure that the FBI had a file on me. I'd always wondered about that.
The remainder of the ride back was mostly uneventful. Agents X and Z seemed to be pretty much done with me, and for most of the trip the three of us talked about local hunting and firearms. Agent X, it turned out, was an FBI firearms hotshot. An advanced instructor of some sort. The conversation, I'm sure, would have been very interesting, but my knowledge of small arms is somewhat limited, and I've never hunted in my life.
NOT QUITE THE END
We pulled into Dupuyer at about 11 p.m. The deputy who'd been left to guard my Trooper had done a fine job. Not that much was likely to have happened to it in a small, honest Montana country town.
I climbed out of the Kazcynski Blazer for the last time and moved to hand Agent X the nice, warm jacket he'd loaned me.
"That's your jacket, Agent X?" asked Agent Z. "I used to have one of those. Great jacket. It's really warm for a medium-weight jacket. I used to go out into the snow with just that and some Nomex-lined gloves."
"Nomex?" I asked. "Isn't that the flame-retardant cloth in firefighting clothes?"
"Yeah, but it's woven really tight, so it's also really warm. Kinda like how O.J. Simpson used to wear pantyhose when he played in cold weather. Pantyhose are woven really tight."
"What do you call that jacket?" I asked.
"I think it's called a 'Flightline Maintenance Crew Jacket,'" answered Agent Z.
I was never gonna find a jacket like this, I could tell.
Agent Z gave me his business card, and Agent X wrote his phone number on the back of it. For fun, I promised to add them to my list of e-mail addresses for dispatches from my Cold War Tour.
And that was more or less the end of the story. The FBI was done with me. The OSI was done with me. Everyone was done with me.
Or so I thought.
THREE WEEKS LATER...
It was about three weeks after the silo incident, and I'd had no further trouble with America's able and ever-vigilant counter-intelligence services.
In fact, I'd actually taken tours of two of our more critical and secure Cold War facilities: the massive phased-array radar at Cavalier AFS, where we watch the northern skies for incoming missiles; and STRATCOM headquarters beneath Offutt AFB, the impressive, Strangelovian room where our generals and admirals will fight the first (and last) 30 minutes of World War III.
And now I was in Ohio, east of Dayton, to visit the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. For anyone interested in seeing examples of American military aircraft, this is the place. They have one of just about everything, from Wright Flyer to stealth fighter, Bockscar to B-1. It's the mother of all military aircraft museums.
It was also closed when I arrived in Dayton, late in the day. I was going to have to spend the night camped out a few miles away and return the following day.
I pulled into John Bryan State Park at about 6 p.m. and stopped at the campground entrance to register and pay my $9 fee. About a minute or two after I stopped, I noticed a big red American pickup truck pull straight into the campground, ignoring the registration station. The couple in the truck selected a site at the top of the hill and began to set up camp. This was nothing to be suspicious of, to be sure.
I finished registering, drove into the campground, and selected a site a few hundred feet down the hill from the couple in the big red truck. I cooked dinner, read until the sun went down, and then fired up the computer.
I had been powering my laptop with the car battery a lot during this trip, and tonight was no exception. What was exceptional was that I ran the computer an hour or two too long, and drained the Trooper's battery. Of course, I wouldn't learn this until the next day.
I woke up late the next morning and proceeded to pack up the Trooper. I noticed that the couple in the big red pickup were also packing up at the same time, which was a little unusual, since most people in these state park campgrounds wake up and get going a little earlier than noon. Still, it was nothing to be suspicious of.
With the Trooper ready to go, I got in and turned the key. "Click-click, click-click," came the noise from under the hood. I wouldn't be going anywhere soon; I had one very dead battery.
I looked around for someone who might be able to give me a jump. There were several occupied campsites in the campground, but the only people around were the couple just up the hill, who just happened to be packing up to leave at the same time as me. Quite convenient for both of us, I figured. I grabbed the jumper cables from under the passenger seat and walked up to ask for a jump. The husband said he'd be right down.
I returned to the Trooper and laid out the cables. A minute later the big American truck pulled up and the husband and I rigged the vehicles for the jump-start. He got in his truck and revved the engine. I got in my Trooper and turned the key. "Vroom," my engine roared to life.
We got out of our vehicles and detached the cables.
"Here you go," he said, handing me his ends of the cable.
"Hey, I really want to thank you a lot," I replied, rolling the cables up. "I'd have been stuck here for a while if you hadn't been here to give me a jump."
"You're welcome, Barney," he said.
I smiled and stared at him hard for just a second. He smiled and stared back, for just a second. He then got in his truck and drove back up the hill. I got in my truck and drove slowly out of the park.
I hadn't mentioned my name.
Editor's Note: For now at least, this installment marks the end of Barney's Cold War Tour. But the question remains: Is it really over? This, we suppose, depends almost entirely on the FBI...
Write to the Nuke Tourist at:
||Also in this issue:
BARNEY GREINKE: Cold War Tourist, Part VI
ALEX SALKEVER: History's Horrors Revived in Russia and at Home
New in TABLOID:
BARNEY GREINKE: Cold War Tourist, Part VI
Moscow Meets the Repo Man! Banks Race to Grab Russian Assets
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