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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 V
Back to the Scene of the Crime
Q and A
The four sport-utility vehicles pulled out of town in a neat, closely-spaced column. We quickly accelerated to 55 mph, which was, I 'd find out later, the military's own speed limit here in the land of the safe and prudent. Having reached cruising speed, the questioning commenced.
"The first thing I have to ask you," began Agent X, "is why are you traveling with night vision?"
"I've just always wanted night vision," I answered. "I mean, ever since I was maybe ten years old I wanted night vision. It's a pretty cool toy. Didn't you guys ever want night vision when you were ten years old?"
"And now, with the collapse of the Evil Empire, you can have night vision for, like, two hundred bucks. Hell, I hear you can get the cheap Russian stuff at Wal-Mart. That stuff in the Trooper, it's totally crappy first-generation stuff."
Agent X glanced over at me. "It's better than mine," he said.
The stuff in the Trooper really was absolute crap as far as modern night vision equipment goes. It was first-generation stuff I'd gotten out of some gun-nut catalog, and only slightly better than what you might find at Wal-Mart. Like the Wal-Mart stuff, it too was made in Russia, a country not exactly world-renowned for quality electronics. Current military and law enforcement systems are third-generation, technologically about 25 years ahead of the first-generation equipment. If Agent X had some FBI-issue night vision, I certainly hoped it was better than mine.
I twisted around to answer him. The rear of the Blazer was strewn with all sorts of random stuff, exactly like you'd expect to find the rear of any well-used sport-utility vehicle. There were a couple of jackets, a sleeping bag, a fire extinguisher, a random assortment of tools, boxes of papers, jumper cables, an old briefcase, some shoes, stuff like that. Agent Y looked a little uncomfortable in the space he'd carved out amid it all.
"Well, you gotta have GPS!" I answered him, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the Global Positioning System. "GPS is the future. In a few years you won't be able to buy a car without it. It'll be in every cell phone, every wristwatch. You guys must use it out here, right?"
Agent Y was looking at me funny, like he was studying me. I studied him back. "Yeah," he replied. "We do."
That was the end of the information-gathering part of their questioning. The rest of the 45-minute drive was devoted to more traditional police-type questioning, which basically means that they spent the time trying to figure out if I was a liar.
Nearly everything I know about Montana may come from television, but I'm afraid the same isn't true when it comes to what I know about police questioning.
I'd had a run-in or two with the police when I was growing up. Nothing serious: fireworks, BB guns, toilet-papering houses. The kind of dumb stuff that every healthy young American boy ought to have an interest in at one point or another. And from these minor run-ins I'd learned a few of the standard operating procedures police use during interrogation: asking the same question five different ways to see if you'll change your story, asking questions they already know the answer to to see if you'll lie, intentionally mixing up facts to see if you'll catch their error, good cop/bad cop, pressuring you to see if you'll break, that sort of stuff. These guys may have been FBI and OSI, but their interrogation methods were not unfamiliar.
"Barney," began Agent X, "I gotta tell you it's not looking too good for you." He was putting the pressure on right from the start. "First we detect this security breach, and then ... well then you show up in the area, packed to the rim with stuff like night vision and GPS. It looks a little ... " He flattened his hand and turned his palm skyward, gesturing for a missing word.
"Suspicious?" I inserted.
His response came quick. "Well, you're not a suspect at this point."
Obviously there was some FBI-specific definition of what a "suspect" is that's a little different from the dictionary definition, because it was obvious to me that I looked pretty damned suspicious.
"Let's just say it doesn't look so good for you right now."
I waited through a moment of silence as Agent X turned his attention back towards driving. He wanted to give that sentence a minute to soak in, I could tell.
"I understand what you're saying," I said after a few seconds. I turned to watch the road ahead and waited for more questions.
The interrogation continued. Agent X and Agent Y took turns, sharing the workload. The questions were mostly trivial, based predominantly on things they'd found in the Trooper. It was a good way for them to see if I'd contradict my own story, or if I'd flat out lie to them.
"Why do you carry a digital camera?"
"Does it have a zoom?"
"How many pictures can it hold?"
"What do you do for a living?"
"Who do you work for?"
"Do you keep a journal on your computer?"
"Where did you get your nuclear weapons documents?"
"Have you been paying for things mostly with credit cards on this trip?"
"How long have you had your vehicle?"
"What states have you been to so far?"
"Do you usually camp or stay in hotels?"
I answered all their questions as best I could. And by that I mean I nervously blabbed on and on about every little petty detail I could come up with, trying to appear like I was cooperating fully. Unfortunately for them, I have a pretty good memory for petty little details, and my endless ramblings must have been painfully boring to sit through. I'm not sure their training had prepared them for such an annoyingly cooperative suspect.
Between questions the Agents and I did engage in a little bit of small talk, which may have just been part of their strategy to loosen me up, but even so I could tell that both these guys were genuinely decent fellows. It made me feel worse about them having to come out here on a holiday weekend. It also made me really glad that they didn't bother pulling the good cop/bad cop routine.
Our convoy turned off the highway and onto the gravel side roads. The FBI Blazer, I noticed, had a very impressive air filter; the cloud of dust from the Broncos driving in front of us barely penetrated the cabin. It must be human nature to notice really dumb things when put in a critical situation.
"Ever traveled outside the country?" asked Agent X.
This was a question he already knew the answer to. I had my passport along on this trip, in case I ever needed to prove my citizenship, and he must have looked through it when they'd searched the Trooper.
"Yeah." I answered. "I lived in Prague for about ... 18 months. Back in '92 and '94."
There was a slight pause in the conversation. I looked over at Agent X. His gaze stayed fixed on the road, but his face showed he was working on his next question.
The answer to that question was stamped into my passport too. I wondered for a second whether he was just asking me questions to see if I'd lie, or if perhaps he was trying to plug me into a specific terrorist profile. My passport did have a couple of weird stamps in it from places like Bulgaria, Turkey, and Yugoslavia (or Greater Serbia, or Serbia and Montenegro, or whatever the hell they were calling it when I'd passed through); and I seemed to remember being in Prague around the time they'd nailed that guy for selling stolen Russian plutonium.
"Yeah." I replied. "I've been through London Heathrow about 10 times. Nice airport ... Oh, and I did go into London once, between flights, for about 4 hours ... You ever been to England, Agent X?"
Agent X didn't respond for a few seconds. He just sat there. Driving. Thinking. I began to worry. Had my answers fit the profile? Or maybe, hopefully, he was just tired of this whole interrogation exercise.
"No, I've never been," he finally answered.
I waited for the next question, but it didn't come. We drove down the gravel road in silence for a couple of minutes. It was an uncomfortable silence, at least for me.
"Who is Heather Songoir?" came Agent Y's voice from the back seat. He hadn't said it especially loudly, but it broke the silence like a cannon.
"Heather who?" I replied, not recognizing with the name.
"Heather Songoir ... from Portland."
Now this was an interesting question. When I was in Portland, I'd stayed for a couple of days with my friend Julie and had met some of her friends, one of whom was a woman named Heather. I'd jotted her name and email address into one of my notebooks so I could add her to my Cold War Tour e-mail list. The interesting thing was, nowhere had I written down that she was from Portland, and it wasn't very obvious from her email address. How did Agent Y know?
"Uh, I think I know who you're talking about," I answered. "She's a friend of a friend. I just met her ... I think."
I looked back at Agent Y, hoping we were talking about the same Heather. He was studying me again, his curiosity piqued by the uncertainty in my response. All I could do was smile nervously and turn back around.
We kept driving inside the dusty wake of the Air Force Broncos. And I continued to be impressed by the Blazer's air filter. After a minute, Agent X started talking again, once more using his serious, official voice. It didn't sound so ominous this time, though. Maybe I'd gotten used to it.
"I've already told you, Barney, that lying to an FBI officer is a federal crime, and I'm telling you again that if I find out six months from now that you lied to me, I'm gonna charge you with that. Now, does any of this look familiar to you? Have you ever been here before?"
"No," I replied, pausing to look around. We were still driving through prairie, and all this prairie stuff does look alike to a city boy like me from California. I quickly qualified my answer: "Unless we're near the silo I described to you back at Dupuyer. I mean, it all looks sort of the same out here."
Agent X could tell I was being very careful with my words. "We haven't crossed the interstate," he said. "We're on the other side of the interstate from your silo."
"Oh, then definitely no," I replied, looking around again.
The Other Silo
"Hey Agent X," I asked, "If it's gonna be a while, any chance we could pull over so I can take a leak?" Adrenaline does that to you, makes you need to urinate during lulls in the action. It's some sort of survival trait, no doubt, and I had been non-stop adrenalized now for about 4 hours.
"We're almost there, Barney."
Moments later we came over a rise and saw another blue Air Force Bronco pulled over by a silo. This was obviously the right place. The silo looked a lot like the silo I'd visited, which probably looked a lot like every one of the other 499 Minuteman silos. It was off the main road, about 150 yards down an access road. This silo too had a sign blown over, but it was the stop sign at the mouth of the access road, not the antenna sign like at my silo.
"Is that the sign you told us about, Barney?" asked Agent Y. "The sign that was blown over?"
Agent Y wasn't confused. He knew this wasn't the sign I'd described back at Dupuyer when they'd had me tell them everything about my silo photo shoot. He was pulling one of those interrogation tricks, mixing up facts on purpose.
Nice try, Agent Y.
"No," I said. "The sign I saw that was blown over was an antenna sign, not a stop sign; and it wasn't at the mouth of the access road, it was about halfway down it; and it wasn't at this silo, it was at the other silo." It was bit of a smartass answer, I knew, but I said it slowly and clearly, trying to sound like I was being precise and not being hostile. I had no personal issues with these agents. They were decent guys just doing their jobs. They probably weren't even getting overtime.
We came to a stop and were greeted by yet another pair of M16-toting soldiers. The eight of us newcomers got out of our vehicles. I walked down into the ditch on the side of the road to a leak while whoever was responsible for guarding me probably tried to watch me and not watch me at the same time, in accordance with universal male bathroom etiquette. When I was done I zipped up and returned to the row of vehicles.
"We're going over to examine the silo ... " said Agent X. He didn't need to tell me they'd be looking for footprints and tire tracks.
" ... And I should wait here by the vehicles?" I replied with a little smile.
I realized then that I wouldn't get a chance to visit a silo super close up. Neither Agent X nor I wanted my footprints contaminating the crime scene.
Agents X, Y, and Z went up to the silo, along with four of the security troops. They formed up line-abreast and began walking the gravel access road, looking for tire or shoe prints. It was obvious, even from 150 yards away, that their chances of finding any sort of print on a road made of deep gravel were pretty slim. And so my chances of being cleared of this trespassing mess anytime soon were pretty slim too.
The two security troops waiting with me back at the vehicles seemed to consider me no threat at all. They were more concerned with watching the road for that rarest of occurrences out in the middle of the Montana Nowhere, traffic. They kept their attention focused down the road in either direction.
I kept my attention focused on the western horizon. Montana's moniker of "Big Sky" is no lie, and the smoke from some nearby forest fires made for a beautiful, and big, sunset. I glanced over at the ad hoc search team. Their chances of finding any evidence to clear me of this mess were slipping away with the sun. Did that mean that they'd have to hold me until they could conduct a serious search tomorrow? One of those hair-and-fiber, DNA, microwhatchamacallit FBI searches like on TV? And what if tomorrow they still found nothing? Did they have enough to charge me anyway? I turned back to watch the sky burn itself to embers, and I wondered if this might be the last sunset I'd be seeing for a few days.
Next: The final chapter? Write to the Nuke Tourist at:
||Also in this issue:
Slur-Slinging Car Reviewer Apologizes to 'Nazi' Germans
BARNEY GREINKE: Cold War Tourist
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