GHOST: Counterterrorism Agent Fred Burton

16 07 2009

A 12 year stint as a special agent (and later deputy chief) of the Diplomatic Security Service of the Department of State’s counterterrorism division began for Fred Burton on February 10, 1986. A former Maryland police officer, he Fred Burtonhad some experience working in the shadows and with the dark strands of society. His life totally changed on that cold Bethesda day and became consumed in finding and disarming those all over the world whose purpose is to cause harm and destruction and to strike fear in the hearts of innocent people.

I heard Fred Burton speak at the Texas Book Festival right before the election last year. I found his talk intriguing and bought and read his riveting book Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. In it, he tells stories of how the initial office of himself, his boss Steve, and another agent (and later additional agents) investigated many international incidents to determine if they were terrorist attacks. These incidents included the following:

  1. A bomb on TWA Flight 840 from Athens to Rome
  2. A bomb at a German disco in West Berlin
  3. The Beirut hostage crisis
  4. The airplane crash that killed Pakistani President Zia
  5. The first World Trade Center bombing

Mr. Burton is a true American patriot. He kept a suitcase packed and was ready to go anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. He often was gone for weeks and his wife would have no idea where he was; he couldn’t tell her for security reasons. He rarely got a full night’s sleep as he would either be awakened with an emergency call that necessitated him going into the office or would lay awake anticipating such a call. He rarely even had a weekend morning to himself. He was always on call, always on the ready, always working to keep Americans and people all over the world safe.

Since 1998, Fred has worked for Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) in Austin, Texas, a company that does “geopolitical intelligence and economic, political, and military strategic forecasting.” He is currently VP of Counterterrorism and Corporate Security. There he and his counterterrorism team “watch overseas threats, analyze them, and report our findings to our clients.”

Mr. Burton was kind enough to send me a note when he saw that I listed on my blog that I was reading his book. I said I’d love to read another book by him and he replied that “My next book is MANHUNT and centers on my 25 year quest to capture a Palestinian terrorist who gunned down an Israeli secret agent in the DC area.” That sounds like another riveting book and I look forward to reading it when it is released in April 2010.

When you go to bed tonight, your thoughts may be on an argument with your spouse or a slight from your boss, but most of us won’t have to worry about whether we are safe or not. Eight years into his stint in counterterrorism, Fred Burton made these observations:

Do the people around me have any idea of the ruthless depths of the world they live in? Do they have any clue what lurks around them? I certainly didn’t eight years ago. Perhaps that ignorance is a good thing. Living life in perpetual fear is not a life at all. In truth, there are moments where I miss that blissful ignorance. Knowledge and a top secret clearance do not equal happiness. I’ve found that out the hard way.

We can be grateful for people like Fred Burton who are willing to give so much so that we can live blissfully and ignorantly safe lives. Here’s Mr. Burton in February discussing his book:

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Somaly Mam: One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and a Real Hero

5 05 2009

She was raped and tortured for five years in a horrendous brothel. Her parents and then her grandmother had disappeared. She was left to fend for herself. A “grandfather” (really a stranger) said he’d help. He raped her at age 10 or 12, made her be his personal slave, and then sold her at age 14 into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She escaped in 1993 and returned to help others living through the same nightmare. Somaly Mam is a true and courageous hero(ine).

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

In 1996 she founded a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, which is French for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) to help law enforcement rescue trafficked women and children from brothels and bring them back into society. One of every 40 Cambodian girls is sold into sexual slavery; some are as young as five years old.

So far, she has helped more than 4,000 women escape a life of sexual slavery. Somaly has suffered enormously for the stand she has taken and the work she has done. She has received death threats and assaults, had her house burned down, and endured the horrific kidnapping, drugging, and raping of her 14-year-old daughter in 2006. She courageously continues the work.

She details her experience in the September 2008-released book The Road of Lost Innocence. She offers vision and leadership to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending slavery.

In November 2008 she was the first recipient of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award “in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery” from the new human rights and Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation. The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) she received to continue her work is almost exactly the amount awarded to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has won several other prestigious awards.

Somaly Mam was named this week one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and was lauded with the others named tonight at the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Angelina Jolie, who with her partner Brad Pitt adopted their son Maddox from Cambodia, wrote the TIME article about Somaly Mam. She is an Oscar-winning actress, goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Somaly Mam suffered tremendously in the first part of her life. She not only lifted herself up, but so many others with her decision to help those who lived the horrors she did. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands of trafficked young women and has given a face and voice to human trafficking throughout the world.

Stand up and applaud. This woman is a true hero.

Here are Somaly Mam and Somaly Mam Foundation board member and actress Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks show.





Three Cups of Tea’s Greg Mortenson: An Unlikely Hero, A Builder of Schools

24 04 2009
Greg Mortenson didn’t set out to be a hero, but life pushed him into it. His sister Christa, a lifelong epileptic, died and he decided to honor her memory in 1993 by climbing Pakistan’s K2, the second highest mountain in the world and possibly the most difficult to climb. After 78 days, he did not reach the summit and stumbled into the village of Korphe…ill, worn out, exhausted.

The people there nursed him back to health. He visited the local school and saw 84 children writing their lessons in the dirt. They so desired an education, but poverty prevented them from having what they needed to learn. He promised the people he would come back and build them a school.

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

That promise led Greg to build 78 schools…and counting… in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 28,000 students so far have gotten an education because of Greg’s promise and passion.

The thing that is remarkable about Greg is that he had no money when he returned to the U.S. He lived in his car for a while. But he was determined to keep that promise. He wrote letters to 580 prominent people. He said he could build a school for $12,000 and finally Jean Hoerni, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, sent him a check.

Greg had no experience fundraising or building schools, but he had a strong will to help the children get an education and he continually found the way to make it happen. On Hoerni’s death, he endowed the Central Asia Institute with $1 million and named Greg the director. It gave Greg the funds to build more schools and eventually more people were brought on board to help in the efforts, both in the U.S. and in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg has given tirelessly of himself in the last 16 years and has had tremendous support from his wife and two children. He spends part of each year in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and the other part in the U.S. giving fund-raising speeches. He is a current nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and has won numerous awards.

This post just cannot do justice to the miracles that Greg Mortenson has brought into reality through his tenacity and passion. He has withstood personal danger, financial hardship, long separations from his family, and much more to make an education a reality for children…especially girls…who would otherwise have no future.

Greg has found that educating a girl does three important things:

  1. Significantly decreases the population explosion over a generation or two
  2. Reduces infant mortality dramatically in a decade or two
  3. Significantly improves the basic quality of health and life itself

Greg’s efforts have also helped build bridges, pipes to provide clean water, women’s centers, and other structures necessary to make it possible for children to attend school.

three-cups-of-tea-book-coverGreg is a testament to what one person can do…an unlikely hero, but a hero still. Read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg and David Oliver Relin about Greg’s journey. It is captivating. You can read more about Greg on the www.threecupsoftea.com website.

You can also learn more about the Central Asia Institute and make a donation to help build more schools. Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute that educates children about the world outside their experience and encourages them to make an impact globally by contributing pennies.

It only costs $1 a month to educate a child and $1 a day to pay a teacher’s salary. Consider giving. Your money will go a long way to making a huge difference in a child’s life.

Bravo, Greg Mortenson! You are my hero!

UPDATE 11/28/09: In a 11/25 letter from the Central Asia Institute, they say that they established 21 new schools in 2009 in Afghanistan. They also “started two dozen more women’s literacy centers, scholarship programs for hundreds of eager students and a new maternal health-training program in northern Pakistan.” Their Pennies for Peace program grew from 250 to over 4,600 schools in 2009. The program brought in the equivalent of 160 million pennies to help students all over the world. Greg’ new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being released 12/1.