Fifty and fit to fight

You noticed yesterday that you lost your car in the Wal-Mart parking lot for third time this month. This morning you looked through you address book and saw that most of the names for your entries end in M.D. You disregard this and head out to breakfast. Woops, you can’t read the menu at the local Perkins Pancake House. Hum, must be the lighting, right? Nope, you guessed it, you have hit 50, and you are officially middle aged. But what to do if you are still active in a profession where fitness is not just an optional accessory, but essential to your survival? Clearly, you have some choices. On the one hand, you could take it easy and go hang out at the local Panera with the other retired or soon to be retired agents and cops. This is tempting. There are plenty of other people your age there, the food is good, and you can read the newspaper free of charge if you play your cards right. If on the other hand, you are like me and you want to maintain your level of fitness the question arises, how to do it?

After 25 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration, I learned a few things. One of those skills was learning to do things “the DEA way.” The DEA way is best described as keeping it simple, stupid. I once had a wise old agent tell me “Don, if you can’t fit your operational plan on the back of a paper bag, its too darn complicated!” I think that sums up the culture of my former organization nicely. And the DEA way works well. Our people got the job done and always punched above their weight in terms of results obtained verses resources available. Okay, so how does this work with respect to fitness? Certainly, there are a couple more pieces to the puzzle than just working out. Nutrition, for example, plays into it too, as does quality medical care. However on the workout side of the house, all you need is 30 minutes, something heavy, a pair of walking or running shoes and a timer. On days you want to work your cardio, walk briskly or run for a max of 30 minutes. On days you want to strength train, grab a sandbag, dumbbells or a weight plate, find a place to train, set your timer for 30 minutes, and do circuits of upper body exercises followed by lower body exercise with little or no rest in between movements. These moves can be push ups, squatting with a weight, burpees, pressing a weight over your head, etc. Push yourself as hard you can. When the timer goes off, you are done.

I witnessed the effectiveness of this system firsthand the last time I went on temporary duty to DEA’s Tactical Safety and Survival Unit at our academy. Taking a break from my desk and the chore of editing our agency’s defensive tactics manual, I sat down for a talk with one of the instructor cadre. How, I asked, when every one of you is over 40, do you guys stay in such great shape? Especially when you have to set an example for young agents half your age? Do you take anything special? Is there some secret piece of equipment hidden in the bowels of the academy that only you can use? Nope, the instructor answered, we don’t have any of that. We just circuit train for 30 minutes a day, three times a week and do cardio the other three days. Uh? That’s it? Apparently it was.  Enough said.

Zero Dark Thirty

I think the recent debate regarding the release of the report on “enhanced interrogation” makes my original post all the more relevant.  See below:

In the film, Dark Zero Thirty, the use of “enhanced interrogation”—also known as torture—compels a detainee to reveal information that eventually leads the United States to Osama bin Laden. This should come as a surprise to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Senators Diane Feinstein, John McCain, and Carl Levin. They all have access to classified information, and they all have reported that torture did not play a key role in the hunt for Bin Laden.

Of course, the movie is not a documentary, and the director Katherine Bigelow is free to use her creative license. However, in our media-driven “they wouldn’t show it if it weren’t true” culture, it will no doubt re-enforce the false notion that torture works.

As a former professional interrogator, I doubt the accuracy of any information obtained through the use of coercion. I have performed numerous rapport- based interrogations and can attest to their effectiveness.

I once interrogated a hardened gang member suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.  At the time of the arrest, we had little to go on save a bit of physical evidence and a sketchy set of facts from a questionable witness.  The subsequent questioning included the tension-filled verbal sparring depicted in crime dramas, all within the legal framework. After what seemed an eternity, the suspect broke. We were able to use his confession to secure a conviction.

After the interrogation, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction at having successfully taken a dangerous criminal off the streets. Had I used any form of torture or abuse, that win would have come with an asterisk. In the world of law enforcement professionals, using coercion to obtain a confession is akin to winning a championship after testing positive for steroids.

You can hardly consider yourself a law enforcement officer after you’ve broken the law. Likewise, how can you effectively defend the United States when you’re trample on its ideals and its laws?

Every day, thousands of members of the U.S. military, intelligence officials, and law enforcement officers interrogate suspects using legal, moral, and effective methods. They wouldn’t think of using torture, and if asked to do so, they would refuse.

Although you wouldn’t know this from watching Zero Dark Thirty, people within the United States government objected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. They included the director of the FBI, who was so opposed to the use of torture he removed his agents from the investigation so that they wouldn’t be complicit.

Following the 9-11 attacks, Ali Soufan was the only FBI agent in New York who spoke Arabic. He drank tea with suspects, winning their trust and drawing out information. Later, he elicited actionable intelligence from Al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah, but then the CIA took over. A Department of Justice Inspector General Memo explains what happened: “Zubaydah was responding to the FBI’s rapport-based approach before the CIA assumed control over the interrogation, but became uncooperative after being subjected to the CIA’s techniques.”

Interrogators who follow the law are the true professionals, and they should be celebrated on the bigscreen instead of a bunch of cowboys who use torture. I wonder, however, if Hollywood would tell their story, since real detective work consists of seven hours and forty five minutes of boredom interrupted by fifteen minutes of sheer panic.

On the other hand, I’ve got some pretty good stories. Ms. Bigelow, call me maybe?