(For those of you who've already read this, pls. see the update added as the last section. Happy Father's Day weekend everyone!)
Since it's Friday, rather than finishing up a heavier post I'm working on that takes a closer look at that infamous PowerPoint, reading between the lines (and it is actually a very telling document) I decided to give OUTSOURCED a proper introduction. I've included snippets for the past few days, but they were chosen due to topicality, not to do the book justice. So here's a short passage, followed by a discussion of the backstory behind the book. Have a great weekend!
The worrisome thing isn’t what Halliburton and other big contractors are supposedly doing behind the scenes. It’s what they’re doing in plain sight. National defense, the blood-and-iron burden of government, is increasingly becoming a province of the private sector.
--THE NEW YORKER, January 12, 2004
CAMP TORNADO POINT, ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ
Her nose burned as she inhaled the dry air, heavy with diesel fumes that barely masked the stench of the burn pit and the overpowering fragrance of night-blooming jasmine. To Camille Black it was the sweet scent of life on the edge, the smell of money, the perfume of Iraq. She coughed dust and smiled as she circled her new mine-protected personnel carrier, a six-hundred-thousand-dollar Cougar, admiring it as if it were a Ferrari. In this part of Iraq, it was her Ferrari. Its V-shaped underbelly made it look more like a boxy boat than a small troop transport, but it could channel away blasts that would rip open an armored Humvee. As she watched several troops saying short prayers and kissing pictures of loved ones, she ran her hand along the vehicle’s side and sent off her own lonely prayer. She felt a blister in the desert-tan paint and she pretended to care.
Without warning, Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” blared over the Cougar’s sound system, heavy metal shifting the mood. All at once, the men put away their photos and got in each other’s faces, shouting the song’s angry words about letting bodies hit the floor. “Three! Four!” They counted with the lyrics, laughing and smiling, pumping themselves up for the night’s combat mission, a mission that she, too, was supposed to be part of, even though at the moment it didn’t feel that way to her. When the song was over, the operators slapped each other on the back in a bravado of brotherhood—a brotherhood that Camille had grown up with.
She admired the men. Some of the operators wore the short beards and moustaches favored by Force Zulu and Delta Force and others sported shaved heads typical of Navy SEALs. All but one had more wrinkles than their active-duty counterparts and they all had fatter paychecks, Black Management paychecks that she signed. They were the rock stars of the Iraq War. And they were hers.
The men’s bodies moved with the heavy metal rhythm of combat as they groomed one another, inspecting each other’s equipment, cinching their buddies’ gear and slapping duct tape over loose straps. None of them seemed to notice as she walked into the shadows on the other side of the Cougar, smiling. There she quietly sang “Bodies” to herself as she felt for her extra magazines of ammo to make sure everything was there and accessible. She touched her USP Tactical pistol, then her knife to confirm positions and she tightened her webbing. After she checked her XM8 assault rifle, she was geared up, ready for action. And she was amped.
She circled back around the vehicle. By then the men had already crammed themselves and their war gear into the back of the Cougar, ready for a preemptive raid on what Black Management intelligence suspected was an insurgent safe house. As Camille approached the crew door, one by one each man stopped inspecting his weapon and stared.
But no one spoke to her.
She grabbed a rung and started to climb aboard. Her body armor and gear weighed her down, but she was determined to board without assistance—not that any was offered to her. It stung. All of her life she had trained with Special Forces operators and she knew what they thought about women accompanying them into combat. No matter how many times she had proven herself in battle, they never quite trusted her. She remained an interloper in their shadowy male world, the very one that she was raised to inhabit. She hoisted herself up, barely able to get her center of gravity far enough inside.
The men were tightly packed on benches along the side walls and they seemed to spread out a little more as she searched for space.
“Like it or not, boys, you need to make room for me.”
“Put yourself down right here, sweetie.” An operator grinned at her as he patted his thigh.
“You really want a lap dance from a woman with a Ka-bar knife strapped to her ankle?” Camille smiled as she pointed to the Marine combat knife her father had given her for her sixteenth birthday. “I’m game if you are.”
He elbowed his buddy and they scooted aside. Camille Black took her place among the operators, pleased with herself.
OUTSOURCED: The back story
Over two years ago I heard the first reports of contract soldiers--mercs or whatever you want to call them--in Anbar province in Iraq, claiming to be working for "State" even though it was obvious there were no diplomats in Anbar. These tier-one operators--former SEALs and their ilk--reportedly sometimes disappeared for days at a time. It didn't exactly seem they were part of a VIP protective security detail. Fire in my belly told me I had a novel to write.
I scrapped the book I had sold to my publisher and began work on OUTSOURCED. At that point in history, it appeared to be a very foolish thing to do, to write about a war that seemed to be over and a country where troop withdraws were expected soon. In Iraq purple fingers were pointing into the air, fresh from polling booths, and the White House, media and Beltway pundits believed it pointed to the future, a smooth transition to democracy. At that time the only ones familiar with that lawless part of Iraq were the Marines trying to keep it from further devolving into chaos, but the general sentiment was one of optimism and excitement at the progression of Iraqi democracy.
A wise author never writes about actual politics and current events because they're such a fast moving target. The publishing process is so slow, the novel is likely to be dated well before it goes into the galley stage, let alone hits the bookstores. I don't do well with conventions and I'm a risk taker by nature, so I delved into the shadows of the War on Terror to learn everything I could about what was really going on.
As fiction author, I was able to get people to talk to me who would have shunned a reporter or nonfiction writer. From frontline players to boardroom executives, I’ve worked with SEALs, Marines, mercenaries and other creatures of the night. I've talked to countless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This book is the product of the generosity of strangers who have taught me everything from how to hotwire a Black Hawk to how to handle road rage in Iraq.
I’ve also been threatened and at times have been afraid, but for the most part I've been warmly welcomed. I've been on a mission, fueled by passion, to reflect the reality of the War on Terror with all of its nuances and shades of gray and portray it in ways that cause the reader to reexamine his beliefs. For this reason, I was so personally touched when I read in the first online reviewers wrote:
Hillhouse has accomplished something very few have: she has forced me to reexamine my own relationship with the government, including who I support and why. Who in charge is really looking out for our interests? And even if they are, is it moral for me to bask in our safety and prosperity when it comes at such a tremendous cost? Whatever answers I eventually settle out in my own head, the process of answering them will have proven extremely valuable.
It's said that a good mystery novel is one where the cop doesn't just work on the case, the case works on him. With OUTSOURCED, I didn't just work on the novel, the novel worked on me. I came out of it with a much deeper understanding of the immorality we throw our troops and intelligence officers into and expect them to behave morally. I'm slower to judge, quicker to listen and perhaps lost some of my own morality along the way as I've been forced to live the moral and emotional hell of Iraq along with them. To write a character well, I have to become that person, see the world through his or her eyes and when writing about the War on Terror, it's a particularly emotionally draining, albeit schizophrenic experience. When a bad-ass Marine friend who has done two Iraq tours told me there were places he had to put the book down and walk away because it was too real, I knew I had done my job.
As the project progressed,the Iraq War quickly developed in the directions I was already writing about: Private corporations began taking on a a larger and larger war effort and CIA outsourcing trends continued unabated. And the turf wars between the Agency and the Pentagon continue, despite claims on both sides that they've finally learned how to play together. Through rigorous analysis, I've tried to stay one step ahead of the headlines, but early into the project, the headlines did catch up with me. I was writing about fictional secret CIA prisons when Dana Priest broke the story of the black sites. I've sweated it out on other headlines, hoping to get the novel out before someone broke some other major stories structured into the novel I have little doubt are true.
The War on Terror has revolutionized covert and overt warfare and OUTSOURCED is the first novel about this transformation. It's the first book--fiction or nonfiction--about the outsourcing of intelligence and it's the first novel about private military corporations. And this week, exactly two years after the first sentences were written, OUTSOURCED is in bookstores. Two years later, we still don't know what those contract soldiers are doing, working for "State" in the wilds of Anbar...
INTRODUCING CAMILLE BLACK
CAMILLE BLACK, President and CEO, Black Management
Camille Black is the only female to ever run a private military corporation. Camille was raised by a single father, a recon Marine and her childhood was a Marine boot camp. By the time she was in her teens, she was competing against Secret Service and Marine snipers at long distance marksmanship competitions where she caught the attention of CIA case officer Joe Chronister. Chronister recruited her to join the Agency, convincing her that the paramilitary Special Activities Division (SAD) offered her something the Marines never would: the opportunity to become a real tier-one operator like the SEALs and Delta Force soldiers. On her eighteenth birthday, she broke her father’s heart and left the Marine recruiter’s office with Chronister.
Years later, on the eve of the Iraq War, Camille learned that it was old mentor Joe Chronister who was blocking her transfer to the CIA’s paramilitary SAD. She left the Agency, mortgaged everything she had to start her own private military corporation and realize her dream of going into combat with tier-one operators as one of them. She landed some Pentagon and Agency contracts, but couldn’t attract the top professionals because they didn’t trust a company run by a woman, even though she was a legend due to her counterterrorism work for the CIA. After recruiting the highly respected operator from the SAD to join her, top players flocked to Black Management. Black Management's growing intelligence division holds multiple personal services contracts for "green badgers" with the CIA.
Camille was engaged to her high school sweetheart USMC Master Sergeant Hunter Stone, but two weeks before their marriage she learned that he had been killed in action in Iraq. Two years later she discovers that he was still alive and had faked his death to get out of the wedding. This, along with evidence that he really staged his death so he could marry another woman, helped Joe Chronister convince Camille to accept a CIA contract to kill Stone, who was also suspected of collaborating with terrorists. Camille Black divides her time between Black Management forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and her corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia.
First, a housekeeping note. WTOP radio in DC just confirmed for this Monday at 7:35 a.m. EDT. See the previous post for details.
This is an unusual post to update, I realize, but this is best way to respond to a comment Tyler posted this in the comments section:
Ms. Hillhouse- please keep up the good work; your blog is one of a kind and never ceases to impress or educate me. I picked up a copy of Outsourced yesterday and look forward to diving in.
I do have to say though...an XM8? For a woman who wants to be respected, she might as well have gotten into that Cougar wearing makeup and high heels! ;p
Thanks, Tyler. I was only going to put the short except here as I didn't want to over to it, but since you caught that, read on...
In the twenty minutes since they’d left the base, no one had spoken to Camille. The Cougar’s air conditioning was fighting the summer heat, but it was a losing battle. The air was warm and stale and the ride hard. A man with a scar the entire length of his right forearm sat across from her, staring at her, calculating something. She looked him in the eyes and he wouldn’t look away or even blink.
His dark eyes looked intelligent, the wrinkles around them, experienced. He was bald and most of his face was clean-shaven, but taunting the Black Management dress code by several inches was a long narrow moustache and a thin veil of a beard that outlined his jawbone and came to a point well below his chin. As she studied him, she realized he could only be the operator known as Genghis.
Genghis studied her weapon. The lightweight assault rifle was a next generation kinetic energy system that the Army had hoped would replace the Vietnam-era M4 and M16 carbines until Pentagon politics killed the program. Camille loved its sleek design, molded polymer casing and clear plastic magazine. To her the XM8 seemed more like something used to blast space aliens rather than Iraqi insurgents. It had outperformed her expectations on the firing range and she couldn’t wait to field test it, but more importantly, it was cool, jock-cool and it made her feel that way, too.
Genghis cleared his throat. “That’s one sexy kit. Haven’t seen that before here in the sandbox.”
The men stopped talking among themselves and watched. Camille handed him the rifle. He weighed it in his right hand.
“Light enough for a girl, I see. So what’s a little lady doing all dolled up with an XM8?”
“I know who you are.” His teeth were stained from chewing tobacco. He tossed her the carbine. “There’s never been a finer warrior than your daddy. Everyone agrees the Malacca incident never would’ve happened if Charlie had still been with his team where he belonged. It was a helluva blow to the unit when your mommy died and he chose to leave the Corps to raise his little princess.”
“He raised a warrior, not a princess.”
“We’ll see, won’t we?” Genghis reached for an empty plastic water bottle and spat tobacco juice into it. Brown sludge oozed down the side of the container and she turned away.