I check my watch and if all goes well, the killing will begin in less than two minutes. I’m hiding with two other members of my sniper team in the barren mountains of northeastern Lebanon, just a few klicks away from the Syrian border. Jordan Langlois is the shooter and San- tiago Sanchez is his spotter. Jordan is from the mountains of Kentucky and Santiago is from East LA. From the way they joke and work together, you’d think they were raised in the same or- phanage.
No, not really. Just the Marine Corps and eventually the CIA. I’m originally from Maine, then went into the Army, and now
I’m the lead officer for this squad of the CIA’s highly classified Spe- cial Activities Division— a very bland name for a very dangerous job. We go in way behind enemy lines, kill bad guys, then get the hell out. Along the way, we work very, very hard to ensure that our names and activities never appear in the newspapers.
Considering I’m married to a journalist, that can sometimes be a challenge.
Today we’re waiting for a convoy to appear below us on a nar- row, rugged dirt road, carrying a number of al-Qaeda fighters and leaders traveling into Syria for a summit meeting. Hypothetically
my new place of employment could rain down thunder and fire from any one of half a dozen drone platforms to wipe out the entire convoy and any lizards or buzzards in the vicinity, but the rules of engagement have recently changed.
There’s been too much embarrassment and too many scathing news stories (and accompanying editorials) over killing wedding parties and other innocents traveling in convoys in remote parts of the Middle East and Asia during the past few years. Now it’s up to a small killing unit like us, sent into the field under secrecy, doing our job directly and quickly, so that mistakes are kept to a mini- mum and not instantly broadcast around the world.
Plus it’s cheaper to kill a terrorist with a 99-cent round through his forehead than with a $115,000 Hellfire missile from a stealth drone— especially if the host country allowing us airstrip access doesn’t want to be ID’d as helping out the infidels who are inciner- ating jihadists.
It’s a new rule I’m comfortable with, because I know from sad experience the bone-dead feeling you get when you realize that a squeeze of your finger on a trigger in an air-conditioned room in Kentucky killed half a dozen innocents seconds later.
My spotter, Santiago, thankfully breaks up that dark memory: “Got dust on the westbound approach of the road, Amy.”
“Roger that,” I reply.
Santiago has a very powerful and highly classified optics system, set on a bipod, that allows him to “see” through the supposedly im- penetrable black-tinted windows of SUVs in this part of the world, along with a laser facial-identification system that will ensure our target inside the SUV is indeed our target.
Next to him, Jordan is scanning the road with his weapons system, a high-powered military-issue-only Remington .308 bolt- action rifle whose aiming system is similar to Santiago’s. Whereas Jordan is focused on the approaching target, Santiago— as the spotter— keeps a wider view of the target and any emerging threats our sniper can’t see.
Me, the superior officer in this group, I’m muddling along with an off-the-shelf German-made pair of Zeiss 10x50 binoculars. Rank sometimes doesn’t have its privileges.
I’m spotting the dust cloud now, moving right along in our di- rection.
According to our latest briefing, there should be four SUVs in the convoy, and we have two targets: hard men from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines. Once upon a time great men and women thought that with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Facebook, we’d all live in one harmonious world.
That didn’t quite work out, now did it?
A British male voice comes through the earpiece secured to my left ear.
“Zulu Lead, Zulu One here,” he says. “We’ve acquired our target.
Across this narrow canyon is another sniper team, on loan from Britain’s famed MI6 intelligence service. The shooter is Jeremy Windsor and his spotter is Oliver Davies, both former SAS troop- ers. It’s Jeremy’s cultured British voice I hear in my left ear.
We’ve worked with them twice before, and despite the usual complaints and competition about the empire versus the colonials, the team has clicked, successfully completing Classified, and later Highly Classified, missions.
Or successfully killing a number of men who deserved to be killed.
Take your pick.
“Jordan,” I ask, turning my head. “How long?” “About another fifteen seconds, Amy.”
I toggle the microphone switch at my lapel; it’s connected to the classified Motorola Saber-X radio strapped to my side. “About fif- teen seconds, Zulu One.”
I hear a click-click as Jeremy toggles his microphone in reply.
I keep my chatter to a minimum. I’m dressed like Santiago and Jordan, in a combination of northern Lebanese tribal pants and overcoats, along with sniper veils and ghillie suits that allow us to blend into the rocky background. About the only difference be- tween the two guys and me is the elastic bandage wrapped tight around my torso, to keep my boobs under control.
Nearly a year ago, in training at the CIA’s Camp Peary— a.k.a. The Farm— some clown suggested I should stuff a cucumber in my crotch to complete my disguise. That made a lot of folks laugh, including me— right up until that night in the mess hall, when I secured a cucumber from the kitchen and shoved it halfway down his throat.
Also, there’s the matter of firearms. Jordan has his sniper rifle, and Santiago and I have 9mm Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns with a 40-round magazine, with each of us carrying extra magazines. All three of us are also packing 9mm SIG Sauer P226 pistols, along with a variety of other killing tools. Our rucksacks contain rations, water, extra ammo— nearly every necessity to sur- vive in this hostile part of the world.
The pale blue sky overhead is clear of our drones, so it’s just us kids. The CIA recently learned that our supposed allies have been locating our drones and passing along the information to the ter- rorists, so the fact that the convoy is on the move this early in the morning means they’re confident all is safe.
Cue a deadly lesson proving otherwise.
In my binoculars, the four SUVs emerge from the dust about thirty meters below us, clearly heading in our direction. One Abu Sayyaf leader is riding in the second SUV, the other in the rear SUV. The vehicles all seem to be black GMC Suburbans with tinted win- dows.
“Target acquired,” Jordan says.