Task Force Mandarin [better known as Task Force Orange or the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA)] was a support organization formed to provide signal intercept and intelligence gathering capabilities to Tier One organizations. It was a body of men and women first sent to Japan to study Ninjitzu, then on to China’s Shao Lin Temple to study Kung Fu, then finally to Iran to study the ways of the Immortals under the former King of the Persian Empire, Xerxes the Great.
“But what if I don’t need signal intercept and intelligence gathering support for my mission?”
“Look, Geo… they’re here, they’re queer, and they’d like so say hello — just deal with it because they’re not going away. This is directed from –”
“ — waaay above my pay grade… yeah, I get it.”
So there they were sitting in our Tactical Operations Center in Bosnia waiting to be integrated into our PIFWC hunting operations. What does one actually do with such… persons?
“I’m telling you, they are packed parachutes for you; all you have to do is jump — they don’t need any training or preparation — they can do it all!”
Well, say… that was certainly good news. And with that our boss, the Cantor, doled out a mission for a two-man team of mandarins. He tasked them to install a clandestine video camera (clandcam) framed such that it would record all the license plates of all vehicles turning down a specifically designated road.
Boss Cantor seemed satisfied with how the mandarins gathered the necessary hardware for the mission and then marched smartly out the door. He seemed equally satisfied when they reported the next morning that the clandcam was up and recording and that they would have the product with them when they returned the next morning.
The next morning arrived, but the moping mandarins came empty-handed:
“Where’s the video?” puzzled the Cantor.
“It’s gone.” came the mopey reply.
“Ok, give me a rundown on the entire operation starting from when you arrived at the install site.”
“Well, ok we arrived at just around 1630hrs and –” the mandarin began.
“WOAH, WOAH, WOAH!” the Cantor interrupted, “you’re telling me you put in the camera in daylight hours, and now everyone is supposed to be surprised and sympathetic that it’s gone?”
The moronic mandarins merely blinked and nothing more.
“And now somebody — SOMEBODY — knows that somebody is recording all the cars turning down that specific road. This is a potentially significant compromise.” the Cantor lamented in earnest.
I — though not wanting to be the harsh critic at jump street — found it rather novice of them the way they got their camera compromised. But it had no effect on me or what I was doing — not for now at least. But the poor Cantor had to suffer through the mandarin menace sure enough.
There was a task I did for the Cantor routinely and at a moment’s notice. There was a chain barricade that the Serbian police (MUPs) used to block access to a side road that junctioned with highway M4. Access to that road saved a considerable amount of travel time for support for an ongoing mission. We had a “key” to that lock that the MUPs did not know about; that is, I could pick the lock with consistency.
The Cantor sent me out as usual to throw the lock, wait for our operational vehicle to pass, then shut it again. Cake duty!
“Geo, take a mandarin with you,” the Cantor directed without looking at me.
“Come again, Cantor?” I was trying to make him look at me while he repeated that last instruction. He looked up at me momentarily though he did not repeat himself. Good enough, I thought.
That night, the mandarin and I stashed our car and cut through an orchard whose northwest corner gave way to the bollards and the chain barricade.
“Here, I’ve got it,” offered the mandarin with hand extended to my lock pick set. I pulled out a pick and tension bar and handed them to him. He scurried off to the barricade. A goodly amount of minutes went by. I didn’t think a thing of it, as it had taken me a while to throw that lock open on my first few tries.
At last, he came back, and, handing me the tools lamented: “I couldn’t get that fucker!”
Feeling the working end of my pick with my fingers I could tell that it was destroyed; the neck had a corkscrew twist in it and it was staved to shit. He had literally tried to muscle open the lock with tools designed for a sincerely delicate operation. Not wishing to be a dire critic, I found it rather novice of him, but drew another pick from my kit and threw open the lock.
A vehicle on time and on target rolled through the barricade. We locked the chain back up behind it and returned to base.
The Cantor, busy writing, asked me how it went. I delivered the unemotional skinny to the Cantor who neither commented nor looked up from his work. That close-holding of his cards was typical of him.
Some solid intelligence gleaning prompted the community into action to capture PIFWC Serbian General S. Kladanj on his scheduled move out of Serbia proper into the Republic of Serbia. The capture was to happen as he would be heading south to the city of Vlasenica. The simple plan called for pipe-hitters to deploy from the states and set up an ambush at a blind S-curve along the general’s route.
My team, me and happy-trigger-fingered Kay-Kay, were to position north of the ambush site, report the approach of the General’s car, then pull our car out onto the highway to block traffic for the hot minute it took the assault force to stop Klandanj’s car and scoop him up. A team of mandarins was tasked with blocking traffic in the same fashion on the south side of the ambush site, then with following the assault force north to provide rearguard to the convoy.
I grabbed assault rifles and ammo can from our stash in the attic of the safe house and reluctantly handed one to Kay-Kay:
“You keep this damned thing on safe at all times!
“Check, chief!” and she yanked the gat our of my hand. I could tell by her skunk-eye that she had a dagger in the pipe ready to launch, so I lightened up.
Kay-Kay and I sat at a table jamming some 12 magazines and chatting over our actions at our blocking position. The mission criteria were pretty simple: we would fail our mission if we missed reporting the general’s car, or if we allowed someone to get around our blocking position and into the ambush site. It was so simple that we didn’t even need to create a nursery rhyme to recite to help us remember all the steps.
The southern blocking force team of mystified mandarins meandered in where we were stacking mags and:
“What are you guys doing with all the hardware?”
“Mission prep for the Klandanj takedown.”
“Yeah, but why the guns and ammo?”
“Well… we’re a blocking force; we’re supposed to block cars — keep them from getting around us to the ambush site. This is how we block. How do you guys block?”
“Should we junk-up too then, you think?”
“I don’t know how you guys operate. Unless you plan to body-check those cars I would junk up.”
The operation went smooth up until the force rolled away. The whole force drove north as planned, putting Kay and me upfront to clear ahead and report back to the assault force. The mandarins had inexplicably turned and ran south back to our home base leaving no rear guard for the main body. The Cantor said nothing.
The Cantor finally said something, and he said it very very loudly when the mandarins lost control of some weapons and encrypted radios. It was late in the evening after a long day and long drive for the mandarins, who finally stopped to stay the night in one of the many safe houses we had scattered throughout the country.
The mandarins decided they were much too tired and sleepy to unload their car to safekeep all of their sensitive items in the house with them. Plus, they wouldn’t have to load the car back up again the next day — what a grand and magnanimous plan that proved to be.
As they soundly slept in the reverie of their grand plan, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy happened by and found the car unlocked. They skillfully pushed the car down the dirt driveway and out onto the hardball road a-ways where they could hot-wire and start the car without being heard by the slumbering princesses in the safe house.
Me, I don’t like to be on the delivery end of harsh criticism; however, I do find that whole situation with the mandarins to be just ever so slightly south of sensational, and fairly fundamentally… novice!
By Almighty God and with honor,
Author’s cartoon depicting the mandarins installing the soon-to-be compromised surveillance camera.