Saturday, January 27, 2018

An Example of the Failure of OPSEC During a Food Crises

          I'm reading A Train To Potevka by Mike Ramsdell. Ramsdell indicates in the forward to the book that he had operated as a spy in the Soviet Union, including about the time it collapsed. The book is a fictionalized account of his time there (details changed to protect sources and avoid problems with revealing classified information). So far, the story is about an operation that went south, leaving him to evacuate via a train (hence the title of the book) to avoid being captured by Russian mafia and/or KGB, but he also offers along the way some side points or stories. One of these that caught my attention, because of its obvious lessons for preppers, had to do with the robbery of a diplomat and his family for their food as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Some of you may be old enough to remember that for several years around that time, the economic situation in Russia was dire, with both fuel and food shortages. I can remember the efforts of various charities and churches (including the LDS Church) to get food and clothing to Russia during the worst of it (including an account of Russian aid workers "drafting" a translator for one of the Church authorities to assist with explaining what were some of the food stuffs, and how to use or prepare them--none of the labels were in Russian!).

         Ramsdell relates the following incident:
        It was during this same time period that those in our diplomatic corps stationed in the Soviet Union thought themselves immune from the growing food crisis until it showed its ugly head, even in the capital city of Moscow itself.  
          The very week I had arrived at the American Embassy in Moscow in preparation for this mission to Siberia, three Russian men broke into the apartment of an American diplomat in the middle of the night.  The young attaché officer was living with his wife and young baby a short distance from the American Embassy compound in one of the old high-rise, Stalinesque apartment buildings.  
          The diplomat had obviously been seen taking groceries into his apartment each week, which he had purchased at the small commissary at our embassy.  With the Soviet food crisis growing worse day by day, the U.S. State Department had established an emergency program of flying in foodstuffs from abroad for the embassy personnel posted in Moscow.  
         As the thieves entered the attaché’s apartment brandishing handguns, they took the baby hostage from the hysterical mother.  Never asking for money, they said they would return the infant unharmed once she and her husband emptied their flat of all food.  
         After two anxious hours of carrying boxes of food from their apartment to the thieves’ car near the building exit, the thugs gave the baby back to the frantic parents, then drove off in a Russian Zhiguli loaded with the couple’s entire supply of food.
The diplomat and his family were lucky that the incident turned out as well as it did. But it is sobering reminder that during a crises--particularly an extended crises--some people will resort to desperate measures to get food and other necessities. In such a crises, if you have food, you best either conceal the fact and/or be prepared to defend yourself. In the story related above, the thieves just wanted the food, but that won't always be the case.

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