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When I was in the Army I was in intelligence. Before you get to thinking that being in intelligence sounds all exciting and James Bondy, let me assure you that it generally is not. Mostly it is about long, tedious hours of information gathering followed by meticulous analysis that was more grueling than thrilling. Analysis is only as exciting as the thing being analyzed, and most of the time, the thing we were analyzing was about as thrilling as a recipe for white bread. I imagine that psychiatrists experience much the same boredom, analyzing Van Gogh would be interesting – analyzing a neurotic paper hanger from Bayonne would be a root canal.
My service career was during the cold war, which was primarily about keeping an eye on the other guys while they did exactly the same thing we were doing, which was usually a lot of huffing and puffing and posturing while we (and they) trotted out our military toys to show how big and bad we were. We intelligence people were stuck in the middle watching and listening and wishing someone would come along and either do something interesting or let us take a nap.
Every once and a while, something entertaining actually happened. This was before the days of being able to Google some spot on earth and instantly be looking at it as if you were standing next to it. There were satellites, but they had nothing like the capabilities they have now. If you wanted a good look at things you had to get close enough to it to take pictures. Surveillance was a much more hands on kind of business. I knew guys who spent days on end hiding in some spot with a camera waiting for something to happen. They also took a lot of pictures of nothing happening just in case someone cared. Intelligence, however, had it share of sack of hammers madmen who did crazy things. There was an Army Major in Berlin who used to ride around in a customized, fully bullet proof, super charged Mercedes. He used this vehicle in his work, which consisted of driving across the border covertly into East Berlin, and careening around like a crazy person at ridiculous speeds while taking pictures of Russian activities. Everyone knew who he was, including the Russians, who would happily fire a hail of bullets at the famous car whenever they saw it. The Major would then turn around, drive back to the border going about 120 mph, and screech into the parking lot of the base, trailing smoke like a locomotive. When it cleared off he would jump out of his beloved car and count the bullet holes. When he was finished he would turn around to the ever-present crowd of admirers and announce, in a voice they probably heard in Minsk, exactly how many rounds had been unloaded into the Mercedes. The higher the number of bullet holes, the more delighted he would be, and he would end the ritual by patting the car on the hood like a faithful dog and sending it off to be patched up. After each foray into enemy territory those of us listening to the boring maneuvers on the other side would be treated to a load of radio traffic from the Russians who would call greetings to the Major, the car, and all of us listening in. They had some kind of pool going about the number of rounds pumped into the Mercedes and we would oblige them by having our guys mention the number in the field so that they could intercept it and find out who won. In truth, they actually liked and admired the Major and were just as happy as we were to have their tedious existences enlivened with a little insane fun. The Major was never hurt or wounded, which is a pretty good indication that they were enjoying his antics since they could have easily ended his circus act with one well-placed mortar round. The Major took a lot of pictures, although I doubt if they were terribly valuable and undoubtedly not worth the risk, but I never heard anyone suggest that it would be a good idea to close down his sideshow. If we had, it probably would have caused an international incident and an escalation of hostilities. The Major was universally loved and a surreal ambassador of goodwill.
In reality, the entire business of spying during the Cold War was was about 90% stupid – everyone knew that everyone else was doing it and everyone went right ahead and did it anyway, and if that weren't enough to vividly prove what we had in common, there was the popularity of the Major, the crazy guy in the black Mercedes who was fancied by both friend and foe. If they had made an action figure out of him, I bet you the sales would have been fabulous at the Kremlin.
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