Monday, November 5, 2012

A Veteran's Day Thank You


Michelle's grandpa Richard “Dick” Ketchum, was the pilot of a B-24D in World War II. He was a larger than life (though not tall) gruff Texan rancher and one of my heroes. Knowing him was one of the great experiences of my life. Steve, Jr. found a post on-line from his late co-pilot which included a photo of Dick and his crew just prior to deploying to their temporary base at Benghazi, Libya. Richard is standing, second from the left.

Three months after this photo was taken, (12/1/43, nearly 22 years to the day from the birth of his granddaughter Michelle) over Cologne, Germany, they lost an engine en-route to the target and attempted to continue on their bomb run instead of abort, drop their bombs and return home at high-speed. They were sitting ducks. They and one other aircraft became separated from the protection of the bomb group and were set on by fighters. The other aircraft was shot down with no survivors.

Richard's plane caught fire, but he stayed at the controls until all the survivors got out. The wing then blew off, nearly trapping him in the tumbling aircraft. Crawling out of his seat, he was able to find his parachute (pilots and co-pilots didn’t wear theirs in the air). Amazingly, he succeeded in donning his parachute and bail out through the still-full bomb-bay, escaping less than a minute before the aircraft exploded. He eluded capture until the next day, and spent the balance of the European war in Stalag Luft I on the Baltic. After repatriation, he began training on the B-29 for the upcoming invasion of Japan. The war ended before he completed the training. He remained in the service after the war and commanded a DEW line station in northern Alaska in the 1960’s, flying until the end of his career.

Today; his children and his grandchildren (Michelle, Jeff, Eric, Chad, Heather, Terice, Carrie and Evan) know that 'the right thing' frequently requires sacrifice. I am grateful (most of the time) for the iron will and wisdom he taught my wife and his children and grandchildren—and now his great-grandchildren.

In this photo, Richard is standing, second from the right. His crew flew harrowing missions out of Benghazi and survived only a few missions after returning to England. The link I have to Benghazi and the sacrifice of Americans there is still fresh.

Dick’s late co-pilot, Clint Gruber, annotated the snapshot:

"This photo (taken with my camera) shows our crew at Hardwick in England in early August, 1943, just prior to flying to Benghazi to rejoin our Group after the low level Ploesti mission. We had just acquired a new Navigator and a new airplane which we named ROUNTRIP. Upon arrival at Benghazi, the powers that be, took away our ROUNTRIP and assigned IRON ASS (42-40769) to us." [It was in “Iron Ass” that they were shot down.]

Standing (L-R)

Navigator - Dave Stamper (KILLED)
Bombardier - Fred Grenwis (POW)
Co-Pilot - Clint Gruber (POW)
Pilot - Dick Ketchum (POW)
Eng/Top Turret Gunner - Leon Sellers     

Kneeling (L-R) (KILLED)

Waist Gunner - PJ Tramontin (POW)
Waist Gunner - Floyd Dawson (UNK)
Asst. Eng/Tunnel Gunner - John Sykes (POW)
Radio Operator - Nelson Crawford (POW)
Tail Gunner - Harry Byerman (KILLED)

Richard's pilot seat (note unfastened belt) in the wreckage of the cockpit of "Iron Ass" in a Cologne suburb.                                    Richard was 20 years old at the time of the shoot-down.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Italian Geologists Convicted of Manslaughter


Sometimes something is so sublimely idiotic that it needs no comment. No introduction is necessary, no closing remarks called for. While the actions reported on in the following article are an exquisite example of that type of event, yet I can’t help but comment just a little. L’Aquila, Italy is 107 miles (as the tumbrel rolls) from Perugia where Amanda Knox was branded a witch in the year 2011 (A.D.) So, under the heading of, “You can’t make this stuff up, folks,” I submit the following:

7 experts convicted of manslaughter in Italy for failing to adequately warn about deadly quake

Published October 22, 2012

Associated Press

L'AQUILA, Italy –  In a verdict that sent shock waves through the scientific community, an Italian court convicted seven experts of manslaughter on Monday for failing to adequately warn residents of the risk before an earthquake struck central Italy in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

The defendants, all prominent scientists or geological and disaster experts, were sentenced to six years in prison.

Earthquake experts worldwide decried the trial as ridiculous, contending there was no way of knowing that a flurry of tremors would lead to a deadly quake.

"It's a sad day for science," said seismologist Susan Hough, of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. "It's unsettling."

That fellow seismic experts in Italy were singled out in the case "hits you in the gut," she said.
In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one appeal, so it was unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.

Italian officials and experts have been prosecuted for quake-triggered damage in the past, including a 2002 school collapse in southern Italy that killed 27 children and a teacher. But that case centered on allegations of shoddy construction in quake-prone areas.

Among those convicted Monday were some of Italy's best known and most internationally respected seismologists and geological experts, including Enzo Boschi, former head of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

"I am dejected, desperate," Boschi said. "I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don't understand what I was convicted of."
The trial began in September 2011 in this Apennine town, whose devastated historic center is still largely deserted.

The defendants were accused of giving "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" about whether small tremors felt by L'Aquila residents in the weeks and months before the April 6, 2009, quake should have been grounds for a warning.

The 6.3-magnitude temblor killed 308 people in and around the medieval town and forced survivors to live in tent camps for months.

Many much smaller tremors had rattled the area in the previous months, causing frightened people to wonder if they should evacuate.

"I consider myself innocent before God and men," said another convicted defendant, Bernardo De Bernardinis, a former official of the national Civil Protection Agency.

Prosecutors had sought convictions and four-year sentences during the trial. They argued that the L'Aquila disaster was tantamount to "monumental negligence," and cited the devastation wrought in 2005 when levees failed to protect New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Relatives of some who perished in the 2009 quake said justice had been done. Ilaria Carosi, sister of one of the victims, told Italian state TV that public officials must be held responsible "for taking their job lightly."

The world's largest multidisciplinary science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, condemned the charges, verdict and sentencing as a complete misunderstanding about the science behind earthquake probabilities.

There are swarms of seismic activity regularly in Italy and most do not end up causing dangerous earthquakes, said geologist Brooks Hanson, deputy editor of the organization's Science magazine. He said that if seismologists had to warn of a quake with every series of tremors, there would be too many false alarms and panic.

"With earthquakes we just don't know," Hanson said Monday. "We just don't know how a swarm will proceed."

Quake scientist Maria Beatrice Magnani, who followed the trial closely and knows the defendants professionally, called the outcome "pretty shocking."

She disagreed with putting scientists on trial, and contended that the death toll would have been lower had buildings in the quake-prone area been better reinforced.

The verdict left Magnani and others in the field wondering about the way they articulate their work.
"We need to be extremely careful about what we say, and the information we provide has to be precise. We cannot allow ourselves to slip," said Magnani, an associate research professor at the University of Memphis.

Comments on Twitter about the verdict abounded, with references to Galileo, the Italian scientist who was tried as a heretic in 1633 for his contention that the Earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa as Roman Catholic Church teaching then held. In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared that the church had erred in its ruling against the astronomer.

Still, some experts argued that the trial was about communicating risk and not about whether scientists can or cannot predict earthquakes.

"This was about how they communicated" with a frightened public, said David Ropeik, a risk communications consultant who teaches at Harvard and offered advice to one defendant scientist. It was "not Galileo redux," he said.

Defense lawyer Filippo Dinacci predicted that the L'Aquila court's verdict would have a chilling effect on officials tasked with protecting Italians in natural disasters. Public officials would be afraid to "do anything," Dinacci told reporters.

Frances D'Emilio reported from Rome. AP science writers Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report


  •        In a daring pre-dawn raid, SWAT teams from Rome and Turin arrested the entire staff of the “Servizio Meteorologico” (Italian Meteorological Institute) for a 1908 snowstorm in northern Italy which killed 4 mountain climbers. While no one at the Servizion Meteorologico was actually alive in 1908, Italian authorities charged the 123 defendants as accomplices to murderer under the Italian judiciary doctrine of “six-degrees of separation”

  •       A court in Milan has handed down an indictment against the builders of a 30-story building which was hit by a light aircraft in 2001, killing three. The builders and architects were charged with “placing the building in air, which is where airplanes fly.” Milanese prosecutors are quoted as saying, “What’s so difficult about this? Air? Airplane? Is it not obvious?”
  •       The 250 year search for “The Boogie Man” continues in Sicily. Searchers have now begun to spread out on foot. Local citizens have been warned to obey their parents
  •           A request for extradition has been forwarded to the Irish Republic, demanding that they turn over “The Leprechaun.” He is accused of currency rigging, in that he has been proven to hoard gold near the end of the rainbow.
  •           Napoli, Italy: A warrant has been issued for a Neopolitan youth by the name of Pinocchio. He is wanted for perjury.

Police Composite Sketch of Suspect

  •           Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) was convicted in absentia this week in Avezzano for failing to prevent the “Black Death” plague which took millions of lives in the years 1348-1350. The families of the victims have been awarded several billion euros apiece from the Pasteur family.

    ·        The origin of cancer has allegedly been traced to the CIA by an Italian prosecutor in Firenza. The entire CIA is being sought for the crime, which is believed to have occurred on or before 6,000 BC.

    ·         Ethiopia was fined €600 billion by a court in Orbetello, Italy for armed resistance to Mussolini’s invasion in 1936. Demand is made for return of lost property.

    ·         A San Salvo court today indicted Pope Benedict XVI and (posthumously) Pope John Paul II for not being Italian.

    ·         In a landmark move, the Vatican today gave absolution to God for “innumerable acts of God” (including lightning, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and avalanches) which are believed to have killed untold people. They hope that this move will remove any obstacles God feels in dealing with humankind.

    ·         A reward of €1 million was announced today for the return of Italy’s second boot. It was allegedly lost in a card game in 1912.

    ·         A poll conducted just now shows that all reasonable Americans feel a burden in their hearts for our wonderful Italian friends (and others) who live at the mercy of Italian courts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


The attack was expected by many, not the least of which was the small group of Americans inside the building. Still, the ferocity and organization of the assault was startling and confirmed their worst fears. For weeks, requests for reinforcements had come to naught.  Situated deep inside a hostile foreign country as they were, their vulnerability should have been obvious to all. But inexplicably, no help was sent.

The assault continued in waves throughout the day. Within a few hours of the firing of the first shots, the facility was aflame and the walls were breached. The remaining defenders were driven from the first building to a smaller one where they made their final stand, dying at the hands of pitiless intruders. The leader of the Americans was a young, charismatic, handsome lawyer who was liked by all who met him. In the weeks before the attack, he had personally requested more personnel to defend the facility. In the confusion of the final assault he had dreaded and tried to prepare for, he was separated from the group and died alone, a short distance away from the rest.

So died William Barret Travis, the commander of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. His last letter requesting reinforcements contained this poignant plea:

“I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase….”

Sadly, this situation should sound tragically familiar to Americans this month. The facts are eerily similar. Like the Alamo, a group of Americans, including Ambassador J. Chris Stevens, found themselves in an extremely vulnerable position deep inside a foreign country. Recognizing the risk, Ambassador Stevens, according to the Daily Mail, added his voice to the chorus of security personnel who had requested reinforcements over the past few months in an urgent cable sent on the morning of September 11, 2012.  He was dead by the end of the day. On the morning of September 11, approximately 125 heavily-armed attackers moved on the consulate, and in the ensuing battle, Ambassador Stevens and three other men died.

In 1836, the phrase “Remember the Alamo!” became an American war cry--as well as a tacit promise that no Americans will ever be abandoned to their fate while defending the United States. It appears, however, that some in the State Department have forgotten the Alamo.

I have worked as the chief FBI investigator on a consulate attack (Karachi, Pakistan, June 14, 2002), and I know  well the security threats of a consulate situated deep inside a country of hostile citizens, if not a hostile government. My team was threatened with a terrorist attack while in Karachi, and I know what precautions were necessary and I know what precautions were taken. I know that reinforcements were sent.

Make no mistake, the tragic death of Ambassador Stevens was unnecessary and avoidable.  In 1836 Texas/Mexico, efforts were at least made to reinforce the beleaguered garrison. But the technology of the time, the weather and logistics conspired to defeat attempts to arrive at the Alamo in time. Benghazi’s requests simply fell on deaf ears.

The events before, during and after the assault must be investigated and lessons learned. The actions of the State Department have raised many legitimate questions. And those questions must be answered.

1.       Was security for the Ambassador adequate?

Adequacy of security is easily evaluated empirically by its success or by its failure. It’s not a gray area. There is no other way to adequately quantify security. Security at the consulate is to protect the facility and the personnel, most importantly the Ambassador. In this case, the facility was sacked and burned; the Ambassador and his security team were murdered. The result could not have been worse.

There can be no other conclusion but that security at the consulate was tragically, cruelly and negligently inadequate.  To assert anything else is self-delusion.  Due to State Department decisions, the odds against the Ambassador and his team were insurmountable. They were, for all intents and purposes, abandoned to their fate. The multiple decisions to deny security to Benghazi’s American personnel were made NOT by State Department security people with boots on the ground in Benghazi; they were denied by State Department Executives sitting in air conditioned offices in Washington, D.C.

Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy defended the denial of multiple requests for additional security at Benghazi, using the bewildering explanation that the assault on the Benghazi compound was, "an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men." That answer begs the question; “What did you think you were defending against?”

An apt metaphor would be watching the prototype of a new airliner take-off on its first flight, lose its wings a minute later and crash into the ground killing all aboard--then having the manufacturer claim, “It flew well, until we encountered the unprecedented engineering problem of having to lift the weight of the entire airplane with the wings.”

Sadly, in a kind of “Flat Earth Society” intentional denial of the obvious, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb told the Congressional House Oversight Committee that State "...had the correct number of assets in Benghazi.”

Really  Ms. Lamb??  Do you think you'd get an Amen from the late Ambassador Stevens?

Oversight Committee chairman, Lebanese-American Representative Darrell Issa of California responded with the obvious: “To start off by saying you had the correct number, and our ambassador and three other individuals are dead ... doesn’t seem to ring true to the American people.”

2.       Who is responsible for the inadequate security at the consulate?

Easy. The State Department. This is one of the few facts State's executives are not denying. Now, it is left only to determine who ignored the frantic pleas for more security and to ensure that such a dereliction of duty never recurs.

3.       Why was added security not given?

This is an open question. It is almost incomprehensible that no further security was provided. This must not be skipped over, sideswiped, or swept under the rug. A decision made at State killed four brave men just as certainly as the fire in the safe-house did.

As an FBI counter-terrorism supervisory agent, I remember vividly the frustration of working with the State Department not only in Karachi, but in Indonesia and other unstable countries. The problem was not usually with the State Department Regional Security Officers (RSO’s), who by and large were brave men and women who were fighting the same bureaucratic battle as the FBI, but it lay with the ambassadors and the Washington “suits” who were making decisions for us on the exact opposite side of the world.

The former State Department RSO for Benghazi , Eric Nordstrom, was apparently feeling the same sense of what I like to call ‘betrayal by inertia.’ In a conversation about security at Benghazi with his boss, Nordstrom complained;

"You know what makes it most frustrating about this assignment? It's not the hardships. It's not the gunfire. It's not the threats. It's dealing and fighting against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.”

I know that frustration well.

4.       Why were the initial reports to the press and to congress by the State Department untrue?

The reports made by high State Department officials were not simply mistaken, they were demonstrably false at the time they were made. They reported situations that were plainly fabrications, and held on to those stories for days after they were disproved in almost every way. Even today, Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, states that far from unorganized mob action as sworn to by State, the attack instead was "clearly" planned and conducted by terrorists.

While Panetta concedes that it “took a while” for information to be gathered which resulted in that conclusion, it does not explain why the State Department was reporting almost immediately facts that had no basis in reality. If it “took a while” to learn that the assault was a planned terrorist attack, why did State allegedly know “immediately” that riots and demonstrations (which did not occur) were going on at the consulate prior to the attacks?

As horrible as the deaths in Benghazi were, I am just as horrified by the apparent attempt by the State Department to protect themselves rather than allow others to learn from their mistakes, and thereby protect their own people.

Finally, possibly the most important question:

5.       Why was the FBI investigative team held in Tripoli for three weeks, and who made that decision?

When the FBI responds to an attack against American interests overseas, it deploys an “Extra-Territorial” investigative squad. These are sometimes known as “Fly Teams.” There are only a handful of these squads in the United States, the most notable being based in the New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles offices. I created the Los Angeles Extra-Territorial Squad and was their first supervisor. In that capacity, my squad and I responded to attacks against many US assets around the world, including the 2002 car-bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan.

Each ET squad is backed up by an FBI Rapid Deployment Team (RDT), consisting of crime scene and evidence collection experts, intelligence analysts, bomb technicians, weapons of mass destruction experts, SWAT team members for security, and various other specialty agents who would be needed at the site of a terrorist attack. The ET squad runs the investigation. In my time as the ET squad supervisor, one of my biggest jobs was simply to ensure that the FBI could gain access to countries and terrorist crime scenes. I found that among all of the many impediments to access to crime scenes and successful investigation in foreign countries, the biggest impediment was almost always the US Department of State. 

On June 14, 2002, a car bomb was detonated outside of the consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. 12 people were killed, and 51 injured. My team was deployed immediately, but we were stunned to find that we were limited by the State Department to four investigators. Total.

When operating overseas, the FBI must obtain “Country Clearance” for its agents from the State Department, and the number and location of the agents are strictly governed by State. Four investigators were in no way adequate to investigate a case on which the bomb scene itself was almost a half-mile in diameter. 

In that situation, the State Department cited the “political sensitivities” of the Pakistani government for its devastating investigative limitation. The FBI team was protected at Karachi by approximately 10 members of a deployed U.S. Marine Corps “Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).” However, at one point during the FBI team’s investigation in Karachi, a real, actionable threat against the FBI team and the Marines was discovered. At the time, there was little thought of evacuating, and the decision was made to remain on site and conduct the investigation. 

The restrictions on the FBI investigation of the Benghazi consulate attack in Libya have raised troubling and broadly unresolved (yet easily answered) questions.

A three week delay in reaching the crime scene compromises any serious chance of finding certain types of evidence. A three week delay in reaching an unsecured site compromises the probative value of any evidence recovered. In short, a three week delay in reaching an unsecured crime scene devastates any chance of an effective forensic investigation.

A.      Was the decision to detain the FBI team made by the Libyans?

Unlikely. The Libyans are in no political situation to dictate U.S. government actions in the country at this time, especially when an ambassador has been killed by Libyans.

B.      Was the decision to hold the FBI team in Tripoli made by the FBI?

No.  This would not be in character for the FBI; especially the current FBI. Director Robert Mueller is a former Marine who has shown no tendencies to be overprotective of his agents overseas. His management style with the agents has been characterized as “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Mueller is not one to let the risk to agents keep the FBI from conducting important investigations, especially the murder of a U.S. Ambassador. It is not in his makeup. It is also not in the makeup of ET teams to do anything but chomp at the bit to get working on scene. And a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of adequate size to protect the investigative team could be quickly deployed.

C.      Did the CIA make the decision to keep the FBI away from the Benghazi consulate?

No. That assertion is almost silly. Never once has the CIA posed any objection to a full and complete investigation of these attacks. The FBI would never divulge CIA operations of which they became aware during an investigation. I know because I personally have conducted investigations at facilities overseas where the CIA operates. That the CIA is present at a location is not germane to the investigation or the subject of attacks against U.S. facilities. The CIA is not responsible for security at embassies or consulates; the State Department is.  And State would scream bloody murder (pun intended) if CIA tried to keep the FBI out of an investigation of the killing of one of their own. Sadly, dozens of times over the last few decades, State Department personnel have been murdered, many in facilities where CIA operations “may” be occurring. In fact, in every situation in which I have been involved, the CIA has been an invaluable partner in the investigation. The assertion that the CIA kept the FBI out of Benghazi is simply the latest in an epic series of misstatements about the truth of this attack and its investigation. 

D.      Did the State Department make the decision to keep the FBI away from the Benghazi consulate?

In my years of overseas experience, this is the only plausible explanation.  During my investigative work overseas; travel, lodging, logistics and governmental contacts were all controlled by the U.S. State Department. In fact, frequently they attempted to control FBI investigations. They seemed at times to resent the presence of others in “their” turf.

The questions about inexplicable actions in Benghazi before and after the attacks of September 11 MUST be answered and the State Department held accountable for their actions and their inactions. The House Foreign Affairs committee has held hearings twice in the last three months on State Department inaction in the case of Americans held illegally overseas. I testified at both hearings, yet the State Department declined to appear and answer questions or even defend themselves from criticism on both occasions. 


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now taken responsibility for the failures of security in Benghazi. Fine. And what will be the action taken against the person responsible? In any high government position, if a mistake is made that costs millions of dollars, the person is routinely sacked or resigns. If an entire facility is destroyed because of mistakes, the sacking and resignation usually occur more quickly, and congressional investigations occur. But now we have a situation where an entire facility is destroyed, millions of dollars is lost, the State Department is humiliated, lies are told, and four good men, including an Ambassador, have died violently. So I ask, what action is the government going to take against the person who has admitted responsibility?

Saying, “I take responsibility,” isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. If action isn’t taken, it says to the American public that the men who died weren’t worth the job of the Secretary of State. You don’t leave a person in office who makes those kind of mistakes. Taking no further action in this matter will be tantamount to a cover-up.

The kind of people we send to out of the way places like Benghazi, or who flocked to defend the Alamo are the type of people whose bravery we sometimes don’t understand. These are the kind of people for whom personal responsibility is paramount. These are the kind of people who put their put their lives on the line (let alone their career) for what they believe in. This is not a common mindset in Washington. Sadly, a more common Washington mindset is the frequent State Department “circle the wagons and protect the guilty” mentality that not even armed Libyans can pierce. Group cowardice is a formidable wall. 

The State Department executives in Washington who are responsible for the safety of their own people in Benghazi may not know how to keep an Ambassador alive, but they never neglect adequate protection for themselves.

"I'm here for you Chris. 
And by 'here,' of course I mean here in Washington, DC.
Just let me know if you need anything....."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012




Last week, I was called to testify before the congressional House Foreign Affairs Committee, Human Rights Subcommittee. My appearance was at the request of the subcommittee chairman, Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey. The hearing was called to investigate the illegal arrest and imprisonment of  American Jacob Ostreicher, and the inaction of the United States government (read “State Department”) on the case.
As I said in my testimony on Wednesday, June 6, (appended to this article, below), Jacob is essentially a political prisoner accused of a crime which never happened. Not only can the government of Bolivia not provide a single iota of proof that Jacob Ostreicher committed a crime, they cannot provide a single iota of proof that a crime was even committed. Yet Jacob remains in a squalid, dangerous prison; one run by the inmates themselves. (See my blog, “Three Days in Hell,” 4/17/2012). He must pay to have a cell, he must pay to eat, and he must pay protection money to stay alive.
The judges and prosecutors in the country are puppets of Evo Morales and must toe the line or risk prison themselves. The defense lawyers, in turn, are many times puppets of the prosecutors. In fact, in the very prison in which Jacob is being held hostage, there is a special wing just for prosecutors, lawyers and judges. The inference is inescapable: “Play ball” or join the person whose innocence you are championing. Either way, the innocent arrestee has no chance of release.
During the Foreign Affairs hearing on the 6th, Congressman Smith voiced his interest in attending a scheduled legal hearing for Jacob in Bolivia, yesterday, June 11, 2012. I cautioned him, though, that I felt that there was exactly “zero” chance of the hearing taking place. Only once has a hearing for Jacob gone forward, and in that hearing months ago, Jacob was ordered released on bail. Before he could even muster out of the prison, the judge reversed himself sheepishly, in wording that sounded oddly like a person speaking with a gun to their head. In fact, the judge criticized himself for putting “..too much emphasis on evidence presented to him.” That’s a nearly verbatim translation. Since that date, no hearing has taken place, though many have been scheduled.  Yet Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey was on a plane in less than 48 hours. It was an act that provided the only ray of hope in a dark tragedy.
The reason no hearings will ever take place is that there is no evidence to support the charges against Jacob, and like a student who has no homework to turn in, the Bolivians are doing whatever they can to avoid the inevitable moment of truth. Yesterday, with Congressman Smith in attendance, the hearing began this morning in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Almost immediately, the judge ordered the hearing postponed. No surprise. But what happened next would have put tears of pride in the eyes of Joseph Stalin. (And trust me, Evo won’t take that as a criticism.)
Jacob’s defense attorneys strenuously objected to the postponement, and the judge, between a rock and a hard place, finally agreed to hold the hearing at 3:30 pm, which incensed the prosecutor. At 3:30, when the hearing reconvened, the Minister of Government, (MOG) (not the Minister of Justice), ordered the judge to recuse himself from the case, apparently because his ruling that the hearing should take place showed favoritism to Jacob. The judge refused. The MOG then threatened the judge with prosecution if he did not recuse himself from the case. Even in a judicial world with little pretense of propriety, this threat was blatant. The judge, instead of recusing himself, sent the matter up to the Supreme Court to decide—in effect cancelling the hearing. This appeal will result in yet another delay of months before the next hearing.  If this judge recuses himself or is forced out, he will be at least the third judge removed from the case.
Tragically, this whole charade is simply a shell-game to keep Jacob in a prison they are betting he will not survive. One must seriously consider whether the aim of the Bolivian government is to ensure that there is no Jacob for whom a congressman would fight.


I must preface this section of the article by saying that I believe that the State Department is one of the most essential organizations in the United States government, and it is staffed by and large, by honorable, brave and caring people. I hope that the situation with Jacob Ostreicher is an anomaly caused by nonsensical State Department policies, but I fear that it is much more than that.
By using the hearing sham, the Bolivians have checked the right boxes with a risk-averse U.S. State Department (see my testimony below), allowing them the cover of allowing the Bolivian “judicial process” to run its course. Amazingly, the State Department’s written evaluation of the Bolivian “justice” system is a scathing indictment of political retribution and corruption. Specifically, according to the 2011 State Department “Country Report on Human Rights Practices,” Bolivia’s “justice” system engaged in “arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life (murder),” “arbitrary arrest or detention,” and “denial of a fair and public trial.” These are not my words, these are the words of the U.S. State Department. But now that an American is being victimized by these exact human rights issues, the Bolivian judicial system is legitimate. The State Department finds it a compelling argument that the Bolivian justice system should be allowed to continue in Jacob’s case without intervention.
Frankly, an innocent American in a foreign prison is an impediment to close relations with the host country, which is the State Department’s main goal. Jacob is a rock in the State Department’s shoe, and the life of one Jewish businessman is apparently is not worth the State Department’s best efforts. In support of that statement, I provide the following information which was entered into the congressional record on June 6, 2012:
Not once has the Charges d’Affaires John Creamer, chief U.S. diplomat in Bolivia, visited Jacob in prison. Not once. This is a strong message of ambivalence to the Bolivians.
Not once has a meeting with the Bolivian government been called to discuss the plight of Jacob. He has allegedly been mentioned, but only during meetings previously scheduled for other topics. Kind of a diplomatic, “Oh, by the way….” Again, a strong message, but the wrong one.
Not once has any staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia uttered the name Jacob Ostreicher in a public forum. In fact, if one had only the State Department to provide information on justice for Americans overseas, no one would ever have heard of Jacob Ostreicher.
Not once has the embassy contacted Jacob’s family unless they are replying to a call from the family or providing information promised during that call. Not once has the U.S. State Department unilaterally reached out to Jacob’s family. Not once.
Maybe they’re too busy.
On May 30, 2012, the House Foreign Affairs Committee posted notice of the hearing on Jacob Ostreicher’s case with the hearing’s subject and purpose listed as,

The U.S. State Department’s Inadequate Response to Human Rights Concerns in Bolivia: The Case of American Jacob Ostreicher”

 One would think that the State Department would consider Jacob’s plight a serious matter. If not Jacob’s plight, one would think that they would like to set the record straight and avoid criticism they might consider baseless. However, the State Department immediately declined to appear. Yet, four days later, and exactly four days before the hearing, Charges d’Affaires John Creamer made time to dance in Bolivian native costume in a Bolivian festival. El Deber, the main newspaper in Bolivia, explained that in order to learn the dance, Creamer had to take lessons four times each week for over a month. A total of 16 dance lessons before he donned the costume of the country illegally holding an American citizen fighting for his life in a squalid prison. A very busy man indeed.

All this while Jacob continued a hunger strike. As Jacob told me recently, the hunger strike is as much in protest of how the U.S. State Department is ignoring him as it is of his illegal detention by the Bolivians.

Charges d’Affaires John Creamer and wife, June 2, 2012, the 48th day of Jacob Ostreicher’s prison hunger strike.

The above photograph of Mr. Creamer and his lovely wife Liza dancing in Bolivian costume was proudly posted on the embassy website two days before the Foreign Affairs hearing which they refused to attend. A thorough search of the U.S. Embassy Bolivia  revealed no mention of “Jacob Ostreicher.” A website search engine query answered “no results” for Jacob’s name.
The U.S. State Department is completely aware of the corruption and use of the “judicial” system in Bolivia for political purposes. (Yet, they apparently believe it is good enough for an accused American.) The State Department knows for many reasons, not the least of which are the events of May 30, 2012, 8 days prior to the hearing. On that day, Roger Pinto Molina, a prominent Bolivian Senator took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz, requesting political asylum and protection from Evo Morales and his government.
Molina has accused the Morales government of human rights abuses, drug trafficking, the incarceration of political prisoners and corruption. In response, the Morales “Justice” Ministry has charged Molina with a series of crimes, including political corruption. Molina told the Brazilian Embassy diplomats that he feared for his life.
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia linera said on June 6, the day of the U.S. congressional hearing, that Molina was not being persecuted, and that there were no political prisoners in Bolivia.
The vice president also said, “If he believes that….he didn’t commit these crimes, well, he should be happy to defend himself” in court. Molina is apparently aware of an accused person’s prospects of a fair trial (or any trial) in Bolivia. Apparently, Brazil, which shares a border with Bolivia agrees. Yesterday, June 11, the Brazilian government granted Senator Molina political asylum.
Senator Molina knew better than to stay in Bolivia, and it appears that he knew better than to seek sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy. Jacob, unfortunately did not have the same information Molina had. Jacob was too trusting. Of both the Bolivians and the Americans.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jacob Ostreicher; "Nightline" Tuesday May 8, 2012

In April, I spent 10 days in Bolivia, three of which were with Jacob ("Yanky" in Yiddish) Ostreicher in Palmasola prison. Jacob is an American businessman who is essentially being held hostage by the Evo Morales regime. He has been charged with "Illicit Enrichment," another way of saying, "you have too much money and we want some of it." 

No trial has been scheduled, even though Jacob has now been in a Bolivian hell-hole prison for a year. The "good news" is that the Bolivian "justice" ministry has somewhat brazenly floated the prospect of giving Jacob a trial if he pays a six-figure bribe. The reality is that Jacob's case is no longer about money. It is about politics, hatred of Jews and Americans as well as the insecurities of a second-rate dictator of a third-world banana republic.

I met with ABC News in Bolivia,, and on Tuesday, May 8, "Nightline" will air their story on Jacob and his plight. With any luck, my interview with ABC might not have landed completely on the cutting-room floor. 

I have included an article about Jacob which recently appeared in AMI Magazine. Jacob is a conservative Jew, and AMI is a magazine for that community, published in New York and Israel.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012



“What goes on in Cartagena stays in Cartagena.” At least that was the ops plan.

This week the Secret Service revoked the security clearances of the eleven agents involved in the Colombian prostitution scandal. Employment (and significantly, continued employment) as a Secret Service agent requires several things, and arguably the most important is a Top Secret clearance. When agents’ conduct falls short of expectations, even if their behavior is legal, clearances can and are revoked. Without a clearance, an agent is no longer employable.

Special Agents, whether FBI, Secret Service or any of the myriad of other federal law enforcement agencies, know going in that they will be held to higher standards than the average citizen. For example, they are prohibited from engaging in many legal activities, such as campaigning for a political candidate, taking a second job or writing books without authorization. They are on call 24/7/365, and know that certain behaviors which would be no more than personal speed-bumps in other people’s lives and careers would be career-enders in the Bureau. A DUI, a bankruptcy, marrying the “wrong” person or even a bad credit rating could jeopardize their clearances and therefore their jobs. I’ve seen an FBI agent fired for arguing loudly with his wife in public.

The truth of these special expectations is obvious when you realize that approximately 21 U.S. government personnel have been sent home from Colombia under investigation. 11 were Secret Service, and the rest were U.S. military. Have you seen many headlines on the military involvement? America has certain expectations of Secret Service agents.

Though the agents in Colombia were apparently not breaking any Colombian or American law, they embarrassed the United States. If you wonder if that’s true, check out what Al Jazeera is doing with the story. Every agent is aware that sex (and/or blackmail following sex) can and is used by foreign governments to elicit information from their targets. Whether it is legal prostitution or a girl (or guy) targeting an agent at a bar, blackmail is always a possibility, especially when the agent is married. Additionally, a common form of robbery in some parts of the world is picking up and drugging a “John” in order to rob him. Some men who pick up hookers wake up in the morning finding nothing left in their room but the underwear they never got a chance to take off.  Agents overseas who do not believe that they are being watched and evaluated for exploitation by intelligence agencies of even some “friendly” governments, are naïve.

Secret Service agents know as much or more than other agents about the potential implications of “risky” behavior because they’re in the business of personnel protection. These agents had no excuse. Likely, however, if only one agent had been involved, this would never have made the news. If the problem was discovered by the Secret Service, it never would have made the news. Instead, the State Department was involved when Colombian police complained to the Embassy. The size and scope of this particular incident was epic and the lack of discretion Biblical. A drunken party at the official hotel with a dozen hookers, loud enough to cause noise complaints? Then you argue with a hooker about price? I think clearances might be in jeopardy just for lack of judgment while displaying lack of judgment.

The Secret Service, like the FBI, has within its structure an organization known as the Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR. OPR, as the name might suggest, does not simply investigate agents engaging in illegal activities, but legal activities prohibited by their special employment. The Justice Department (parent organization of the FBI) and Homeland Security (parent organization of the Secret Service) have their own Offices of Professional Responsibility. Secret Service and the FBI have fought for years to maintain the autonomy of conducting their own internal investigations. They have done that by having tough, unforgiving OPR investigations and punishments.

However, in this case, it is clear that the public will not accept an internal investigation as legitimate. Homeland Security will indeed swoop in and conduct the investigation. Likely congress will also conduct hearings. It is crucial that the investigation be open and comprehensive. This behavior did not begin in Colombia. A complete investigation of the activities of Secret Service agents on foreign travel for years in the past will likely follow. Regardless of the outcome, the Secret Service will be less autonomous now than it was before the Colombia scandal.

The U.S. government has some soul-searching to do in this case, however. Throughout the history of the U.S. military, it has been a given that a significant number of soldiers, sailors and airmen, when on leave soon find two things very quickly; alcohol and prostitutes. This has never been a secret from the American public. Towns like Olongopo, just outside the sprawling U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay in the Philippines were at one time little more than support communities for the brothels on Magsaysay street. Navy Shore Patrol (police) patrolled Olongopo not to curtail prostitution, but simply to keep order.  Anywhere in the world where a U.S. military base sprang up, so did brothels. The military will have a hard time defining the location of the line crossed, given the tolerance it has displayed in the past.

It is a mistake to believe that non-military Americans are altogether different than military Americans. Agents involved in U.S. government business, whether State Department, Justice Department or Homeland Security are not taking advantage of lax local laws and women when overseas. It is also a mistake to believe that the U.S. government has until now done anything to discourage this behavior beyond hanging posters about sexually transmitted diseases. When I was first deployed on an overseas assignment with a group of agents, we were not warned to avoid prostitutes, but of the AIDS percentage among prostitutes in the area into which we were deploying. We were then briefed on precautions against STD’s. Don’t think that anybody in the U.S. government didn’t know that this type of behavior was going on.

The only time that this type of activity becomes an issue for the U.S. government is when the discretion is absent among the participants. As a supervisor of overseas personnel, I have had to travel thousands of miles to deal with an agent who transgressed FBI regulations without breaking a single local or U.S. law, but whose behavior created an incident.

Alcohol is cheap and prostitution legal in many South American cities, including the now infamous Cartagena, Colombia. I overflew Cartagena last week on my way back from a case in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Prostitution is also legal and plentiful in Santa Cruz, also. Brothels on the main streets combine with strip clubs where customers can bring girls home for a fee. Like Las Vegas, many Americans for one reason or another are tempted to engage in activities when away from home that they would never consider when near home. Perhaps a psychologist would be a better person to speculate on why that is. But the seeming lack of accountability, pennies-on-the-dollar prices, and incredible availability are factors. To many men, it’s like an outlet mall for sex. The type of person drawn to military and law enforcement special teams are frequently the types of people drawn to adventure of other types. Some of the participants in the party which got out of hand in the president’s hotel were allegedly members of the Secret Service’s Counter Assault Team (CAT). When on SWAT, I worked with CAT teams during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. They are no different than many other special teams “operators;” seeking action on and off duty, and easily bored.

I know people party and release tension when traveling on business. It is true that overseas deployments are some of the more stressful assignments. Like Hillary Clinton last week, I too have blown off some steam in overseas establishments which serve alcohol (but not women). There are limits, however to the license one may take. In the FBI you are never officially off-duty. One would have to assume that when the president is in-country, Secret Service agents must be ready to be on duty at any second. Judging from the cases they carried, they were armed. Could they have responded to a presidential threat? Would they have been functional or even sober? These are questions that must be answered.

Most troubling to me though is that this behavior was tolerated, enabled, condoned and/or facilitated by the supervisor(s) of the agents. Misbehavior on such a scale could not have occurred without supervisor knowledge. Or in this case, participation. When the boss is at the party, there’s reason to believe it’s sanctioned, or at least that the higher-ups are looking the other way. Or they were until the police and the Embassy got involved. I’m reminded of the scene in Casablanca when Vichy French Captain Louis Renault is told by the Gestapo to close down Rick’s Café Americain. As he is being handed his roulette winnings for the night he exclaims,

“I’m shocked! Shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!”

No, this was officially condoned behavior at least at some level and likely not an isolated incident. This activity received de facto authorization by at least the supervisor and likely his superior. The trick will be finding where the buck should truly stop.

(Feel free comment on this or any of my blogs at

Monday, April 16, 2012


Santa Cruz, Bolivia, April 7, 2012:

Palmasola Prison, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is a modern-day Dante's Inferno. But instead of  the Roman poet Virgil guiding visitors through this modern-day underworld, my passage  is shepherded by a good man named Jacob.

When one thinks "Bolivian Prison," one might think 'barbarian.' But really, that word is so inadequate in this case.

Palmasola itself is a series of concentric rings of walls and barbed wire. In the center ring is a squalid slum where the prisoners--and their children--live, and into which guards venture only a few times a day when all of the prisoners stand for roll call. (Unless, of course, you are one of the hundreds who have enough money to bribe your way out of appearing for roll call.) In actual fact, the prison is completely run by a mafia of powerful prisoners. They charge the others for their cells, taxes on "imported" items and privileges, and extortion money. Those who cannot afford to pay for a cell sleep in the gutter. Food is a gulag-style gruel served once a day for those who lack the dinero to have their food brought in.  This is my third day with Jacob, an American incarcerated in the hell that is Palmasola, for a crime he did not commit. I would call it purgatory, but the ....

Saturday, March 3, 2012



I am happy to announce that has undergone "URL-reduction (URLRS)" surgery. I had been putting this off for a long time, but I finally decided it needed to be done. Happily, it appears the surgery was a complete success. The URLRS is also known as a "blogspot-ectomy." Before I agreed to the surgery, I was told by the doctors that I will retain full blog function.  Right now, I am resting comfortably and recovering with cold Hefeweizen beer and a Dominican cigar. This is, of course, the radical recovery treatment recently postulated in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The symptoms of blogspot dysfunction (BD) were very manageable until the site began to get more than about 20,000 hits, which, though immensely gratifying, began to cause issues with functionality--at all the wrong times if you catch my drift. Of course, it was embarrassing, but I keep telling myself this happens to a lot of normal people.

My new URL is now simply "" and it is more than just a blog; it is my website. In the last year, I have been blogging, working cases, appearing on CNN, HLN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, etc., writing a book, and speaking to groups around the country. People needed to have a way to communicate with me, and to learn a little more about me. This is what the new site will do. One page is the blog. The blogs will not change, and the catalog of past blogs was transplanted during the surgery. Only one or two were rejected by the body, I suspect because they were not my best work, or were simply unnecessary.

Please understand that I am still adjusting to the loss of the blogspot, and a certain clumsiness with regard to a website, which I have never had before the surgery. Please join me there. You can even send me messages and comment on the blogs for a change. I figure that if everybody who regularly reads my blogs tells just one other person, I could have four readers very soon.

All my best and see you at

Friday, January 27, 2012


“The Contract of Command” 
The last voyage of the Costa Concordia and “The Wrong Stuff”

No man or woman ever knows how they will react when their life is in danger. I hope, and I’m sure we all hope we would react in a such a way as to earn self-respect, if not honor—but we just don’t know. However, a decision to accept a position as a ship captain, airline pilot, fireman, policeman, Coast Guardsman; any position where danger is possible and the job gives you responsibility for the lives of others, is in effect a contract. A contract in which the implicit agreement is that the lives of others come before your own. It is a guarantee that you will do as promised. You are, as the old saying goes, acknowledging that  “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” So if it appears that anybody is being criticized in this piece for cowardice, it is not criticism of character or a human failing common to many, the criticism is aimed at a person who apparently defaulted on a contract; the contract of command.

 fence is never needed until something pushes against it. Similarly, courage can never be measured until fear is present. One can test a fence by simply pushing on it, but gauging a man’s courage is difficult absent imminent danger.

Fight or flight. At one time or another, nearly everyone wonders how they would react if their life was on the line and they had a choice of acting or running. Those who rise to the occasion are said to have “the right stuff.” There is no polite phrase for those who fail in those situations.  

Captain “Sully” Sullenberger answered all his own questions on January 15, 2009. His decisiveness, skill, and calmness are now legend. Sully’s friends describe him as “shy and reticent,” but beneath that shyness lay the makings of a hero. Finding himself in an engineless, 75 ton flying fuel tank over Manhattan with the lives of 148 people on his shoulders, Sullenberger knew that he had just one or two chances in a thousand to survive. Over the shouting of the electronic voice of the plane, “pull up pull up pull up pull up…..” the questions from air traffic control, and the attempts to restart the engines, he thought quickly, decided on the only realistic option, and flawlessly ditched the airliner in the Hudson River next to Manhattan.  Listening to his confident, decisive communications on the radio is nothing if not inspiring, if only for knowing what “the right stuff” sounds like.

Two days short of three years later, on January 13, 2012, Francesco Schettino, captain of the luxury Costa (Carnival subsidiary) Cruise liner “Costa Concordia” also answered his own questions and provided the world an example of what “the wrong stuff” sounds like, via his radio communications with the Livorno Port Authority.

Somehow, a cruise liner in good weather ran aground. It apparently did so during a “Salute” to the island of Giglio. A ship’s ‘salute’ is a close sail-by of land to generate excitement and is the nautical equivalent of the aviation “buzz-job,” itself one of the leading causes of fatal aircraft crashes. This ‘salute’ was allegedly intended to raise the visibility of the cruise line. It worked. Costa Cruise line rules allegedly prohibit the ship from coming within a half mile of land while underway. Schettino claimed to be no nearer to land than .29 miles. The charted rocks he hit, however, were 450 feet off shore. It is said that he might have been distracted by a beautiful 25 year old blonde who was somehow a guest on the bridge after witnesses say she and Captain Schettino split a carafe of wine. But the even more troubling issue than how it happened, is what occurred after the ship ran aground. The commander of the Livorno Port Authority is Gregorio De Falco, and De Falco had by Italian law, control of the scene. He contacted Schettino by radio after being told that the captain of the Costa Concordia had abandoned ship with passengers aboard.

Gregorio De Falco: "Hello. Hello."
Francesco Schettino: "Good evening, captain."
De Falco: "Hello, I'm de Falco, from Livorno. I am speaking with the commander?"
Schettino: "I'm Commander Schettino."
De Falco: "Listen Schettino, there are people trapped aboard, you go with your lifeboat under the prow of the ship on the port side and you go aboard the ship using the rope ladder. You go aboard and you tell me how many people there are. Is it clear? I'm recording this conversation, Commander Schettino."
“I’m recording this conversation, Commander Schettino.” De Falco knew the gravity of the situation and he knew what he was saying. He was obviously stunned that the captain of a foundering ship had fled, leaving his crew and passengers behind. I must admit that I too am stunned, as is the world, likely. De Falco felt that it was necessary to threaten the captain with exposure of his cowardice if he would not return to the ship.
One cannot help but compare this to Sullenberger’s demeanor as his plane plummeted at over 200 miles per hour toward downtown Manhattan. Sullenberger’s words in the cockpit and on the radio were strong, decisive and inspiring. In contrast, Captain Schettino was speaking with such diffidence that De Falco had difficulty understanding him.

Schettino: "So, I'll tell you something..."
De Falco: "Speak louder."
Schettino: "Now, I'm in front of..."
De Falco: "Commander, speak louder, take the microphone and speak loud. Is that clear?"
Schettino: "Commander, right now the ship is skewed. [listing to starboard]"

De Falco: "Understood. Listen,…….. you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for sure. Go aboard, (expletive)!"
But even then, Schettino argued that his presence was not needed aboard.
Schettino: "Commander, please?"
De Falco: "Please, now you go aboard!"
Schettino: "I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven't gone anywhere, I'm here."
De Falco: "What are you doing, commander?"
Schettino: "I'm here to coordinate rescues."
De Falco: "What are you coordinating there? Go on board and co-ordinate rescues from on board! Do you refuse?"
Schettino: "I'm not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there."
De Falco: "Go aboard: it's an order*. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?"
(* Once a captain has abandoned his ship, he no longer commands it, it is under the control of nautical search and rescue command.)
Schettino: "Commander I'm going aboard."
De Falco: "Call me from aboard, my rescuer is there at the prow of the ship. There are already dead bodies, Schettino."
Schettino: "How many dead bodies?"
De Falco: "I do not know. One for sure. You have to tell me how many!"
Schettino: "Do you realize that it's dark here and we can't see a thing?"
De Falco: "And what, do you want to go home, Schettino? It's dark, so you want to go home...? Go on the prow of the ship, using the rope ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what are their needs. Do it now."
Schettino: "Here there is also the vice commander. I'm together with him."
De Falco: "Then go aboard together. Together. What's his name?"
Schettino: "Dimitri."
De Falco: "Dimitri what? You and your vice go aboard. Now, is it clear?"
Schettino: "Commander, I want to go aboard, but here there is the other lifeboat, there are other rescuers who stopped. Now I called other rescuers."
De Falco: "You've been telling me this for one hour. Go aboard. Go aboard. And you tell me right away how many people there are."
Schettino: "Ok commander."
De Falco: "Go, quickly."

Just because a man has the coordination and the skill to handle a ship doesn’t mean he has what it takes to be a captain, especially when lives are at stake. Skill at navigating a ship can no more guarantee suitability as a captain any more than the fact that a male can produce sperm guarantees that he would be an adequate father.

Not only did Schettino fail, but it appears that his flight led some of the crew to abandon the passengers with him. Undoubtedly, there were brave crew who stayed and may have even paid with their lives, but they did this in spite of their captain. But make no mistake, Schettino’s acts were not the first in the tragic string of events. Nor was hitting the rocks. It was that he had been given command in the first place.

In the cases I worked in the FBI, particularly those perpetrated by the most violent, evil men, there had been a trail of acts, behaviors and episodes where the person’s personality was tipped-off. And in each of the cases, innocent people lay dead because the responsible people had shirked their duties. Schettino was responsible for the safety of thousands of people. With apparent failure of courage this blatant, could it be possible that there were no indications of Schettino’s inability to handle fear prior to this crisis?

Carnival has a responsibility to determine the suitability of a man or woman to command. There is no excuse anymore in today’s world. There are ways to weed out those who cannot ‘cut it.’ Even more traditional methods could have determined his fitness for duty. Marine Boot Camp, as horrible and stressful as it has been described, is not that way as some kind of sick initiation, it is to weed out those who cannot function under extreme duress or fear. Drill Instructors and the fear they instill are two of the main reasons that cowardice under fire is not something that people think of when they hear the words “United States Marines.” In a perfect world, Schettino would not have been given command, and he would have been spared what must be the worst experience of his life. He is not evil, he was just incapable of what was asked of him. And somebody in authority likely knew that. They were simply betting on the odds that his courage would never have to be tested.

Fortunately, Costa Cruise lines has now realized the magnitude of the tragedy and has made quick, astute moves to prove to the passengers and the world that they understand the gravity of the situation: They have offered the surviving passengers (and I’m not making this up) a 30% discount on a future Costa cruise. If that doesn’t restore your faith, I don’t know what will.

De Falco’s soon to be famous statement to the fleeing captain; “Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I'll make you pay for sure,” ended with the Italian phrase, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” “Go on board, ‘cazzo’!” Cazzo is Italian profane slang for male genitalia. De Falco had lost all respect for a Schettino and was goading him to “man up.” Interestingly, there are already T-shirts with the phrase, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” being made. Possibly it will enter the lexicon as a phrase intended to shame cowards into meeting their duties. Finally and pitifully, Schettino later explained his departure from the ship by saying that he had “tripped into a lifeboat,” a statement which only exposes the depth of his deficiency as a captain.

But to be fair, Sullenberger is not perfect either. After he skillfully ditched his A320 in the Hudson river, he deviated from the aircraft checklist and did not comply with what a captain should do. The checklist told him to don a life preserver, open the cockpit window and evacuate the aircraft. 

Instead, Sullenberger left the cockpit but not the aircraft. He left the cockpit through the interior door, going into the sinking rear cabin of the plane to ensure that everyone was out. Twice. When the last crewmember besides the captain boarded a raft, the airplane was halfway under water. Sullenberger, however, had one more thing to do. He went forward one last time to retrieve the aircraft’s logbooks to aid in the investigation of the crash before he departed—the last to leave the ship. The right stuff.