The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

The 58 year-old US citizen who attempted to cross the demilitarized border zone between North and South Korea into the communist dictatorship had political motivations and wanted to help Pyongyang and Washington negotiate.


The man, who has not yet been named, has been detained by the South Korean government and now will be deported, according to NK News.

The man crossed “with the judgment that he could contribute to the situation in the North,” Suh Wook, Chief Director of Operations at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NK News.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Korean Demilitarized Zone. ROK and US Soldiers at Observation Post Ouellette, South Korea. Army Photo by Edward N. Johnson.

The man apparently thought he could help along the peace process between the US and North Korea, two nations still technically at war, authorities told NK News.

Related: These ax murders along the DMZ almost started another Korean War

The man had planned his defection on the internet and intended to simply walk across the ceasefire line, which is illegal under South Korean law. Most who enter or exit North Korea choose to do so through the country’s border with China, rather than crossing one of the most heavily guarded and militarized zones on Earth.

On Nov. 14, the same day the US man attempted his crossing, a North Korean soldier defected to the South while fleeing from a hail of gunfire and being shot five times. The North Korean is being treated for his injuries in South Korea.

Articles

Senator says the $400 million payment to Iran ‘put a price on the heads of Americans’

Was it ransom? That is the question that is now being asked as a Wall Street Journal report of a $400 million payment to Iran emerges. The money, reportedly Swiss francs and Euros that were provided by European countries, was delivered in pallets of cold, hard cash via unmarked cargo plane as four Americans were released back in January. Three of the Americans were flown out of Iran by the Swiss, while the fourth returned to the United States on his own.


The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Geneva. (Photo: U.S. Mission/Eric Bridiers)

Supposedly, the money was delivered as part of a $1.7 billion settlement surrounding an arms deal made before the fall of the Shah of Iran. Among the big components of that deal were guided-missile destroyers and F-16 fighters. The destroyers later were taken into service with the United States Navy as the Kidd-class destroyers, all of whom were named for admirals killed in action during World War II. The timing of that settlement, though, raised questions about whether the settlement was cover for a ransom payment. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, told The Wall Street Journal, “This break with longstanding U.S. policy put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures.”

Cotton’s comments were echoed by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who served for over two decades in the Naval Reserve. “Paying ransom to kidnappers puts Americans even more at risk. While Americans were relieved by Iran’s overdue release of illegally imprisoned American hostages, the White House’s policy of appeasement has led Iran to illegally seize more American hostages, including Siamak Namazi, his father Baquer Namazi, and Reza Shahini,” he said.

The senators’ comments seem to be backed by comments on Iranian state media by a high-ranking commander of the Basij, an Iranian militia force, who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “Taking this much money back was in return for the release of the American spies.”

Since the first payment in January, the three Americans mentioned in Senator Kirk’s statement have reportedly been seized by the Khameni regime, leading some to speculate as to whether or not Iran is seeking leverage to force the release of other frozen assets. One portion of those assets, $2 billion frozen in 2009, was awarded to the victims of Iranian-sponsored attacks in a case that was finally resolved by the Supreme Court.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Army keeps one of its most lethal enemies from striking again

Soldiers must be ready and capable to conduct the full range of military operations to defeat all enemies regardless of the threats they pose. But bad sanitation can keep them from the mission.

According to a 2010 public health report from the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, “Influenza and pneumonia killed more American soldiers and sailors during the war [World War I] than did enemy weapons.” The pandemic traveled with military personnel from camp to camp and across the Atlantic in 1918, infecting up to 40 percent of soldiers and sailors. In this instance, the enemy came in the form of a communicable disease.


Preventative measures and risk mitigation work to impede history from repeating itself, keeping the Army both ready and resilient. One such preventative measure implemented in Jordan was a week-long Field Sanitation Team (FST) Certification Course last month at Joint Training Center-Jordan.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

U.S. Army Spc. Shelby Vermeulen, with 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 96th Troop Command, Washington Army National Guard, works through the steps of water purification during a Field Sanitation Team Certification Course.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla Hakeem)

U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew A. Kolenski, with 898th Medical Detachment Preventative Medicine, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) “Desert Medics,” has been an Army preventative medicine specialist (68S) for more than seven years. He said 68Ss and FSTs help mitigate unnecessary illnesses, allowing soldiers to focus on their mission.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

U.S. Army Spc. Shelby Vermeulen, with 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 96th Troop Command, Washington Army National Guard, drops a chlorine tablet into water during a Field Sanitation Team Certification Course.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla Hakeem)

Army regulations require certain units to be equipped with an FST, preferably a combat medic (68W), but any military occupational specialty can fill this position. The 40-hour certification covered areas such as improvised sanitary devices, testing water quality, identifying appropriate food storage areas, placement of restrooms, controlling communicable diseases, proper waste disposal, dealing with toxic industrial materials and combating insect-borne diseases.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

U.S. Army Spc. Shelby Vermeulen (center), with 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 96th Troop Command, Washington Army National Guard, tests a water sample for chlorine residuals during a Field Sanitation Team Certification Course.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla Hakeem)

The goal of the course was to “enable soldiers to maintain combat readiness and effectiveness by implementing controls to mitigate DNBI [disease non-battle injury],” said Kolenski.

He said environmental testing and figuring out how to mitigate problems before they start can drastically decrease DNBIs. These injuries can include heat stroke, frostbite, trench foot, malnutrition, diarrheal disease — anything that can take a service member out of the fight. Sometimes reducing risk can be as simple as washing hands or taking out the trash.

“If you reduce the trash, you’ll mitigate the flies, which reduces the chance that you’ll get a gastrointestinal issue,” explained Kolenski, “Because you can’t fight if you’re in the latrine [restroom].”

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

A week-long Field Sanitation Team Certification Course, spearheaded by U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew A. Kolenski (far right), with 898th Medical Detachment Preventative Medicine, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) “Desert Medics,” was held from Dec. 9 – 13, 2019 at Joint Training Center-Jordan.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Shaiyla Hakeem)

Hazards are identified by sampling air, water, bacteria, pH levels, chlorine residue in water and bugs in the area.

“It was interesting to learn about the different standards for food facilities and rules on the preparation of the food,” said U.S. Army Spc. Shelby Vermeulen, with 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment, 96th Troop Command, Washington Army National Guard, who serves as a combat medic at JTC-J.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

History of Camp Pendleton in film and television

With its vast training areas and prime location along California’s shorelines, Camp Pendleton is well known for producing the finest fighting forces on the West Coast. What Camp Pendleton might be less known for, however, is that it has been a backdrop to some of America’s most famous films. Throughout Camp Pendleton’s history, multiple movie producers have utilized its training grounds over Hollywood sets to recreate authentic war scenes of our Country’s most famous battles.


“[Working with the entertainment industry] gives us an opportunity to showcase assets and capabilities that are available to production companies,” said U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Katesha Washington, Entertainment Media Liaison Office (EMLO). “It allows us also to accomplish our mission of telling the story of Marines.”

Camp Pendleton has an ongoing story to tell that continues each day. Since the base opened, over 20 films have been produced including “Sands of Iwo Jima,” starring, John Wayne. During the filming which also cast 2,000 Marines, producers transformed the installation to resemble the Japanese island also using elements to resemble the volcanic ash from Mt. Suribachi. Additional familiar titles include TNT’s television series, “The Last Ship,” and Columbia Media Corporation’s, “Battle Los Angeles.”

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

(IMDb)

With access to starstruck active-duty Marines and their familiar training grounds, producers are able to create authentic scenes without a need to hire actors or build sets in some cases. But the Marine Corps does not merely reduce production costs without some benefit. In giving Marines opportunities to share the limelight with some of their favorite characters, the Marine Corps legacy is captured by telling its stories and reaching an audience, they might not typically reach.

For over a century, the Marine Corps has helped producers, writers and directors coordinate personnel, aircraft and equipment. “There are several steps leading up to filming a production,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Matthew Hilton, also with the EMLO. “We figure out how and if we can or cannot support.”

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

(IMDb)

There have been countless stories told and countless stories yet to be told when it comes to Camp Pendleton’s rich history and tradition. Watching the actions of its Marines and sailors come to life on the big screen, both fictionally and non-fictionally only serves to preserve the Marine Corps heritage and real-life activities. And remember, the next time you watch your favorite action film, it just might have been filmed on the one and only Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump’s latest threats remind us we’re still close to nuclear war

President Donald Trump addressed a key North Korean complaint on May 17, 2018, ahead of a planned historic summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

But in doing so he evoked the threats that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 2017.


Asked about comments by his national security adviser, John Bolton, that the White House was looking at a “Libya model” for ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons, something to which North Korea responded angrily, Trump essentially issued an ultimatum: Denuclearize or die.

The ultimatum was clear, but Trump’s understanding of the history of disarmament in Libya was not.

“The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation,” Trump said. “We went in there to beat him.”

The US and other nations agreed with Libya in 2003 to remove the Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s nascent nuclear weapons program and his chemical weapons.

Gaddafi gained international acceptance as a result, and he ruled for eight more years until a popular uprising plunged his country into civil war.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Muammar Gaddafi

The US, along with NATO allies, then backed the uprising against him, and attacked Gaddafi’s forces, but did not kill Gaddafi.

Though the US strikes were effective, they were focused and did not “decimate” the country in the way that, say, US bombers pounded North Korea in the Korean War.

Gaddafi died within six months of the US intervention, but it was his own people who killed him after finding his hideout and dragging him through the streets.

Bolton’s original comments about a Libya model appeared to address the disarmament in 2003, while Trump on May 17, 2018, appeared to address Gaddafi’s death in 2011, something North Korea has picked up on and responded to.

A model involving national devastation for the country “would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely,” Trump said. “But if we make a deal,” he continued, “I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy.”

Return to fire and fury

On May 14, 2018, the US and North Korea were going into their fourth month of warming relations, preparing for a summit for Trump and Kim to discuss peace and possible denuclearization.

On May 15, 2018, North Korea threatened to back out of the talks, spewed vitriolic anti-US rhetoric, and reasserted itself as a nuclear power.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jon Un.

By May 17, 2018, Trump was back to talking about decimation and framing North Korea’s future as a choice between death or denuclearization.

Both Trump and Kim have incentives to keep the summit and peace push on track. But as Trump’s comments on May 17, 2018, show, despite the hand-holding and peace talks, almost nothing has changed in North Korea, or with Trump.

Experts warn that a Trump-Kim summit carries huge risk. If the summit fails to achieve peace and agreement, the highest cards in both countries’ diplomatic decks have been played, and all that remains is confrontation.

So far, 2018 has been almost clear of nuclear brinkmanship between Trump and Kim, but May 17, 2018, should remind us that as long as North Korea has nuclear weapons, the US stands a hair’s breadth from war.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The military pay raise for 2017 might be a bit underwhelming

The U.S. military has a reputation for being overworked and underpaid.


But we all knew that going in.

The virtue of service and pride of wearing the uniform makes up for much of the disparity in pay compared to the civilian market. Still, it’s nice to get that bump in our paychecks every year.

Yet, the pay increase for 2017 won’t be so big. In an August 2016 letter to Congress, President Obama announced a 1.6 percent raise for the armed forces, consistent with the budget he sent to The Hill earlier in the year.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
(White House photo)

Across-the-board pay increases for other federal employees will be 1 percent.

“These decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified Federal workforce,” Obama said in his letter to Congress.

Pay raises for the military peaked in 1983 when President Reagan instituted a 14.3 percent pay raise. Since then, the increase hovered steadily between 3 and 5 percent, with an average of 4.2 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Military pay raises since 1977.

According to Military.com’s Brendan McGarry, the Senate backs the President’s proposed numbers, but the House of Representatives was looking for a 2.1 percent raise.

When Congress agrees on how much it will be, the military pay raise will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

Humor

This is what it would be like to be a Space Shuttle Door Gunner

The idea of a “Space Shuttle Door Gunner” has always been a joke around the military. It’s so outlandishly silly that no one would dare think it’s real.


With last year’s proposed Space Corps, the expansion of civilian space programs, and a growing need for a military presence in space to protect American assets, President Trump gave his nod to the idea of a “Space Force.” This joke may soon be reality. But there are still many roadblocks in the way – like physics, for instance.

For obvious reasons, the door would have to be closed during takeoff and landing, otherwise, friction alone would tear the shuttle apart. Tragic examples of what foam shedding and a faulty O-ring can cause means that any fighting a door gunner would see would have to occur beyond a distance from Earth to allow for EVA (extravehicular activity).

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

Now that the door gunner is properly outside of Earth’s atmosphere, they could begin their watch. A properly tethered door gunner could hold their post for a while. The current record for longest EVA, also known as a “spacewalk,” is held by Cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin at 7 hours and 29 minutes. They walked outside of the International Space Station to install power and data cables — but a door gunner could hold that post for longer.

Finally, the nitty-gritty of space combat. A door gunner could easily bring modern weapons into space and, surprisingly, only have a few problems firing it. This is because modern ammunition has its own oxidizer, so no atmospheric oxygen is required. There wouldn’t be any sound (since audible sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum) and the recoil wouldn’t matter in low-Earth orbit because the shuttle would be moving at around 4 miles a second.

 

Tests on Earth have proven bullets fire in a vacuum. (via GIPHY)

 

The downsides would be that, without friction to slow down the bullet, it would travel until it hit something — the enemy, Earth, or some distant object forever away. Also, without gravity and oxygen to dissipate the gunpowder smoke, a large cloud would expand from the barrel.

So, yes, being a Space Shuttle Door Gunner is physically possible and may be needed one day.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

3 Americans released from North Korea are finally home

President Donald Trump welcomed the arrival of the three Korean-Americans held captive in North Korea at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on the early morning of May 10, 2018, following weeks of speculation about their release.

Authorities released the three detainees — Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Hak-song — after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in North Korea and met with leader Kim Jong Un on May 8, 2018.


Walking out of their plane without assistance and onto the tarmac, the detainees appeared in good spirit and waved at a cheering crowd. On the ground, two firetrucks hoisted an enormous American flag, giving the impression of a major political victory for the US and Trump.

“We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home,” the three said in a statement released by the State Department.

“We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world,” the statement continued.

Trump called the former detainees “incredible people” and said their release “was a very important thing to all of us.”

“This is a special night for these three, really great people,” Trump said as he shook their hand. “And congratulations on being in this country.”

“It was nice letting them go before the meeting,” Trump continued. “Frankly, we didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did.”

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Then-CIA director Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state-run media outlet, said that Kim “accepted an official suggestion of the US president for the release” and granted “amnesty” to them.

The alleged crimes that landed them in custody in North Korea ranged from committing “hostile acts” to subvert the country and overthrow the government. Criminal charges in the North are typically exaggerated and disproportionate to the alleged offenses.

The three men were previously held in labor camps, with Kim Dong-chul being held captive the longest after his arrest in 2015.

“You should make care that they do not make the same mistakes again,” a North Korean official said to Pompeo. “This was a hard decision.”

Their return to US was a long time coming. Discussions between South and North Korean officials during the 2018 Winter Olympics earlier this year culminated in a historic summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un in April 2018 — the first such meeting between leaders of the North and South in more than a decade.

The mens’ release and Pompeo’s trip to North Korea, his second since April 2018, are seen as the latest signs of warming relations on the Korean Peninsula, and a prelude to the upcoming US-North Korea summit. After months of missile launches from the North and chest-beating from the US in 2017, Trump and Kim began to soften their rhetoric after the Winter Olympics.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un andu00a0South Korean President Moon Jae-in

“I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this and allowing them to go,” Trump said to reporters after the release of the three captives.

Trump announced that the date and location of the US-North Korea summit had been set; however, did not reveal specifics other than that he ruled out the Demilitarized Zone as one of the options.

Still, the US president remains cautious: “Everything can be scuttled,” Trump said of his scheduled meeting with Kim.

“A lot of good things can happen, a lot of bad things can happen. I believe that we have — both sides want to negotiate a deal. I think it’s going to be a very successful deal.”

The release of the detainees may be a reason to celebrate, but it comes too late for some — in 2017, Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American student, died shortly after his release from a North Korean prison.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Otto Warmbier appears before a North Korean trial.

After serving a year of his 15-year prison sentence for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster, Warmbier returned to the US in a comatose state. Unable to see and react to verbal commands, Warmbier succumbed to his condition and died.

Warmbier’s parents have since railed against the regime, despite it’s recent overtures of peace. Recently, the Warmbiers filed a wrongful death lawsuit against North Korea and alleged it tortured and killed Otto.

“I can’t let Otto die in vain,” Cindy Warmbier, Otto’s mother, said on May 8, 2018. “We’re not special, but we’re Americans and we know what freedom’s like, and we have to stand up for this.”

Upon the arrival of the former prisoners, Trump offered his condolences to the Warmbier family: “I want to pay my warmest respects to the parents of Otto Warmbier, who is a great young man who really suffered.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch a Chinese ship try to block US navigation

A Chinese warship threatened a US Navy destroyer during a tense showdown in the South China Sea in late September 2018, according to new details of the encounter.

A Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer challenged the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese warship sailed within 45 yards of the American vessel, nearly colliding with the US destroyer.

The Chinese vessel “approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” where it engaged in “a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart,” a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement. The Decatur was forced to change course to avoid a collision.


A transcript of the radio exchange between the two naval vessels obtained by the South China Morning Post from the British Ministry of Defense shows that the Chinese ship threatened the Decatur, warning that it would “suffer consequences” if it did not move.

“You are on [a] dangerous course,” the Chinese destroyer warned over the radio. “If you don’t change course, [you] will suffer consequences.”

“We are conducting innocent passage,” the Decatur reportedly replied.

In a video of the incident, an unidentified Navy sailor can be heard saying that the Chinese ship is “trying to push us out of the way.”

The video is a little unclear, but there appear to be ship fenders deployed off deck, Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, noted on Twitter. He explained that “fenders are designed to mitigate the kinetic impact of a collision,” adding that the deployment is “clearly an indication of preparedness for such an eventuality.”

Ankit Panda, a foreign-policy expert who is a senior editor at The Diplomat, called the incident “the PLAN’s most direct and dangerous attempt to interfere with lawful US Navy navigation in the South China Sea to date.”

Unsafe or unprofessional encounters between the US Navy and the Chinese military are, however, not particularly uncommon. “We have found records of 19 unsafe and/or unprofessional interactions with China and Russia since 2016 (18 with China and one with Russia),” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, recently told CNN.

A number of these incidents involved dangerous Chinese intercepts of US Navy aircraft. In August 2018, the Chinese military sent a total of six warnings to a US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane, warning it to “leave immediately and keep out.”

It is potentially noteworthy that the details of the showdown between the US and Chinese warships in the South China Sea came from the British Ministry of Defense, as a British naval vessel also found itself in a standoff with the Chinese military in the South China Sea not too long ago.

In early September 2018, China dispatched a frigate to to take on the UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion when it sailed too close to Chinese outposts in the Paracel Islands. China called the incident a provocation and warned that it would “take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”

The US Navy is apparently expecting incidents like this to occur more frequently going foward. The US and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas,” Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Oct. 30, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The truth about the threat MS-13 brings to the US

There’s one thing everyone can agree with President Donald Trump on about the street gang MS-13: The group specializes in spectacular violence. Its members attack in groups, in the woods, at night, luring teens to their deaths with the promise of girls or weed. One Long Island boy told me he doesn’t go to parties anymore because he worries any invitation could be a trap. A victim’s father showed me a death certificate that said his son’s head had been bashed in, then lowered his voice and added that the boy’s bones had been marked by machete slashes, but he didn’t want the mother to know that. A teenager who has left the gang told me he considers himself dead already, and is just trying to make sure MS-13 doesn’t kill his family.

I’m spending the year reporting on MS-13 members and their associates. I’ve been combing through their text messages. I’m talking with the detectives building cases against killers not yet old enough to buy cigarettes. And I’ve been spending long evenings with the gang’s victims, who often start crying as soon as they start talking about the violence that has marred their lives. Everyone agrees the gang is bloodthirsty. Most of the other assertions I’ve heard from the Trump administration about MS-13 have almost no connection to what I’m seeing on the ground.


1. MS-13 Is Not Organizing to Foil Immigration Law

Trump often talks about how MS-13 has carried out a string of murders in the suburbs outside New York City. One of the first things I did when I started reporting was talk to the ex-girlfriend of the gang leader charged with ordering six of those killings in 2016 and 2017. The girl sat at a Panera Bread in a Long Island strip mall and told how he had kidnapped and raped her shortly after her 15th birthday, threatened her family, and forced her to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. As I talked to her, I imagined a man like the ones I had seen in news reports on MS-13 — chins jutted out, arms strong from lifting weights, and gothic tattoos of the letters M and S on their faces and chests. I was shocked when I eventually saw this gang leader in court; he was a baby-faced 19-year-old who blushed when girls waved to him from the gallery. The indictment against him laid out killings that were ordered in response to adolescent trash talking.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
A member of MS13 gang.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called MS-13 the most brutal of the gangs driving the drug trade, and promised to go after the group like the government went after mob boss Al Capone. Really, experts have found the gang has barely any role in the international drug trade. The Congressional Research Service said that it could be misleading to call MS-13 a transnational criminal organization at all, because it has no central leader or global ambitions. The gang is made up of sometimes competing cliques, often led by teenagers most interested in wielding power over other young people in their immediate circles.

On Long Island, a detective told me police officers call MS-13 members “mighty munchkins,” because they have often not yet hit their growth spurts and tend to commit their crimes in large groups. They meet at night because, while other criminal organizations have massive international revenue streams, these guys — even the leaders — have to work menial jobs and sometimes go to school during the day. Each clique has its own shot caller, and its own hyperlocal focus. On Long Island, the gang’s focus has often been on controlling the halls of a single high school.

2. MS-13 Is Not Posing as Fake Families at the Border

In justifying the policy of child separation, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said, “The kids are being used as pawns by the smugglers and the traffickers. Those are traffickers, those are smugglers and that is MS-13.” The theory is that Central American gang leaders are showing up at the border falsely claiming to be the parents of children, and are also instructing unaccompanied minors to go to the U.S. and claim territory.

Actually, there have been fewer than 200 cases of false family claims this year — a fraction of 1 percent of the total number of families apprehended at the border — and there is no indication that any of those cases involved MS-13. Of the hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come to the U.S. since 2012, Border Patrol says only 56 were suspected of MS-13 ties.

The gang is trying to find new members, but there’s no need to step on the toes of the Mexican gangs that control human smuggling to do it. Long Island teenagers tell me that when they show up to school, gang members sit down next to them at lunch and ask them to join. Many— worn down by loneliness, boredom and the threat of violence if they try to refuse — accept the invitation.

People who study MS-13 agree that when young gang members travel from El Salvador to the U.S., they are driven by the same economic factors driving other Central American immigrants. Even the 19-year-old gang leader charged with six murders on Long Island told his ex-girlfriend he was not a member of the gang when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He said it was only later, in the New York suburbs, that he was recruited.

And some MS-13 members are born right here. The Suffolk County Police Department examined a sample of active MS-13 members and found that just a quarter had come to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. The natural conclusion: This is not a border issue. It’s a recruitment issue.

3. MS-13 Is Sticking Around, but It’s Not Growing

Trump talks about the gang as if it is suddenly taking over. “The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.,” he wrote in a tweet.

MS-13 has been stubbornly persistent, but it remains a boutique criminal organization, accounting for a tiny portion of 1.4 million gang members nationwide. Trump’s Justice Department says there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as 10 years ago. There’s also nothing new about MS-13 alarmism. Back in 2005, Newsweek ran a cover story about the group, citing its 10,000 members, under the headline, “The most dangerous gang in America.”

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
An MS gang sign and tattoos.

On Long Island, the murder people cite most often when talking about MS-13’s brutality is the killing of a two-year-old and his mother back in 2010. But the gang’s history goes back much further than that; the FBI set up a Long Island task force to crack down on the gang in 2003. And MS-13 never invaded the U.S at all. It was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and then mixed with California prison gang culture and was exported to El Salvador.

The group remains significantly smaller than the Crips, the Bloods and the Latin Kings; it’s also smaller than several gangs you’ve probably never heard of, like the Gangster Disciples in Chicago. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been labeled an extremist group for its anti-immigrant ideology, can’t come up with more than an average of 35 murders per year attributed to MS-13 — far fewerthan that Chicago gang you didn’t know existed.

MS-13 is not the largest, the most violent, or the fastest-growing gang, but it is the U.S. gang most strongly tied to Central America, which is where the majority of asylum-seeking teenagers come from. In that way, it’s the perfect focal point for Trump’s message of closed borders.

4. MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large

When confronted in June 2018 with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.

I often think about this when I’m out reporting. In 2018 I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.

The White House put out a statement in May 2018 that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.

5. Immigration Raids and Deportation Can Only Go So Far

Secretary Nielsen said in June 2018 that the presence of MS-13 in the U.S. is “the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws.” The loopholes she is talking about are actually specific protections contained in United Nations conventions on refugees and torture, which the U.S. ratified. The U.S. is obligated to allow Central American immigrants to stay in the country while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years. If the person pleading asylum is a minor, they are supposed to be released to relatives.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Mara Salvatrucha Graffiti

But if U.S. officials determine that a teenager is a gang member, they stay in custody. And immigration officials can also re-detain teenagers who are recruited into MS-13 once they get here. Dozens of Long Island teenagers were re-detained in 2017 on suspicion of gang ties. The problem is that it can be hard to tell who is in the gang and who is just adopting gang style. MS-13 has its own music and aesthetic, bound up in Central American pride. On Long Island, some immigrant teens use MS-13 markers as a fashion statement, the way American kids might once have worn the blue bandanas associated with the Crips because they liked Snoop Dogg.

I sat in on one hearing for a Long Island 17-year-old who had been detained for half a year after he wrote the El Salvador telephone code, “503,” in a notebook at school. He had spent some of that time in a detention center now under investigation for child abuse. At the hearing, an immigration judge ordered the teen released and openly mocked the gang charges. “I note that ‘503’ is an area code,” the judge said. “He may have had his grandmother’s phone number written in his notebook. We don’t know. But I think this is slim, slim evidence on which to base the continuing detention of an unaccompanied child.”

That’s not to say that all of the immigrant teenagers accused of gang affiliation are innocent. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested some 8,000 suspected MS-13 members in the past decade. If deportation was all it took, the gang would be gone by now.

So What?

This all matters because the gang really is terrorizing a portion of the population: young Latino immigrants in a few specific communities.

In May 2018, I accompanied the mother of a high school freshman killed by MS-13 to a Trump event on Long Island. Inside a government building, the president railed against the gang. “They killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop,” he said. (They did not kill a cop.)

Outside, the mother drifted between a pro-Trump rally and a counter protest. She took tranquilizer pills so she could face local reporters, and then told them she was unsure if Trump really cared about victims like her. She said she hoped the president’s fixation on MS-13 might spur changes that will keep other kids from being attacked and recruited by the gang.

But for any policy to work, it needs to be rooted in reality.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why military weathermen are more important than your local ones

It’s important to know what the weather will be like on any given day. With just a quick check on the internet or your local news, you can determine whether your uniform of the day is going to involve shorts or rain boots. And while knowing the weather back in States is helpful, it’s not like the success of a mission is hanging in the balance.

This is where military weathermen come into play. Whether it’s to determine if conditions are suitable for aircraft or for delicate SEAL operations, military meteorologists play an essential role.


The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

Military meteorologists and the National Weather Service often work together.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

There are three types of military meteorologists used by the United States Armed Forces. The first are the most conventional, often found behind the computers at the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (for the Navy) and the 557th Weather Wing (for the Air Force). Historically, these are the troops that commanders would rely on to accurately forecast the weather, which would often be the deciding factor of an upcoming battle.

Civilian meteorologists are fantastic — they average a roughly 2 percent margin of error. Military meteorologists, on the other hand, can’t afford such a margin. They use sophisticated techniques and technologies to deliver the most accurate forecasts when massive operations are on the line.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

Nope. Screw that.

(NOAA)

The second type of meteorologists are the (slightly) insane pilots that fly directly into the eyes of hurricanes. They’ve been given the apt name of “Hurricane Hunters.” Wind speeds over 100 miles per hour are enough to swat an aircraft out of the sky, but these pilots make due in order to keep the civilians back stateside safe — mostly because no one else is daring enough to take on such an important task.

These courageous airmen fly into the eyes of hurricanes and collect whatever data they can about the approaching storm, including wind speeds, air pressure, and humidity. Getting this sort of information from the direct center of the storm is the only way for the folks back home to accurately determine the hurricane’s trajectory — and any potential damage it may cause.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

Make no mistake. The gray berets are just as operator as the next.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery)

Finally, we have the airmen that have rightfully earned the right to call themselves operators. Troops who’ve never encountered the special operations weather technicians of the Air Force may scoff at their “special operations” status, but they’re no joke. These airmen are embedded with the rest of the operators as they sneak into locations with recon teams and collect valuable information for an upcoming assault.

The SOWTs are trained as recon first and weathermen second. They’ve been a part of nearly every major special operation mission since their establishment in the 70s. These guys were the first into Pakistan just before Operation Neptune Spear with the CIA and gave the final thumbs for the operation that ended in Osama Bin Laden’s death.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US and Egypt will now team up to fight ISIS in the Sinai

The United States and Egypt on Feb. 12, 2018 reaffirmed their commitment to battle Islamic militants in the Middle East as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo at the start of his week-long trip to the region.


Tillerson and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, cited productive discussions on regional security and the struggle against the Islamic State group, whose Egyptian affiliate, based in the Sinai Peninsula, has struck military and civilian targets across the Arab world’s most populous country.

At a joint news conference with Shoukry, Tillerson said Egypt was an important part of the anti-IS coalition and that Washington was “committed to strengthening this partnership in the years to come.”

“We agreed that we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures, including our joint commitment to the defeat of IS,” Tillerson said.

“We highly value this relationship and we thank the United States for what it presents to Egypt in terms of support, which benefits both countries,” Shoukry said, adding that Cairo hoped to further boost cooperation.

The visit comes as Egypt is undertaking a major military operation in volatile Sinai, where Islamic extremists have been leading an insurgency for years, and in remote areas of the mainland where militants have attacked security forces and civilians.

Also read: Tillerson tackled these major issues in his South Asia trip

Attacks picked up after President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi overthrew his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013. And militants have become more brazen of late. In November 2017 they massacred 311 people at a north Sinai mosque, and in December 2017 they tried to kill the defense and interior ministers with a missile attack during an unannounced visit to the area.

North Sinai has long been under emergency law, with a nighttime curfew in place in some hot spots, but alert levels have been heightened in recent days due to the new offensive, called Sinai 2018. Hospitals in North Sinai and in other neighboring provinces have cancelled leave for doctors in anticipation of casualties, while many local gas stations and shops were ordered shut.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.)

The operation, announced in a televised statement by army spokesman Col. Tamer el-Rifai, began early Friday and covers north and central Sinai as well as the Nile Delta and Western Desert and targets “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations.” It is unclear how long it will last.

In its latest update, Egypt’s military said it had killed a dozen militants in firefights and arrested 92 people, bringing the total militant body count to 28, based on earlier statements. It says it has destroyed dozens of targets, including vehicles, weapons caches, hideouts, communications centers and illegal opium fields in the sweep.

North Sinai is closed off for non-residents and journalists, and the army’s casualty figures could not be independently confirmed. Telephone connections to the area, both mobile and landlines, are often shut down as well. The army has not mentioned any killed or wounded on its own side.

Related: Top military leader at odds with Trump on ‘Islamic’ terrorism

The campaign also comes ahead of elections in which el-Sissi faces no serious competitors, after authorities sidelined his opponents using a variety of charges and disqualifications, leaving only a little-known supporter to run against him. El-Sissi, who held talks with Tillerson later in the day, says he is the only one who can bring stability to the country. Militant attacks, however, have surged under his leadership.

A video purportedly by Egypt’s IS branch has called on fighters to stage attacks during the presidential election, defiantly mentioning the offensive and warning Egyptians to stay away from polling centers. Voting will take place over three days — March 26, 27, and 28, 2018 — in what critics say is an attempt to increase participation by a disinterested public.

Washington, which gives Egypt some $1.3 billion in annual military assistance and hundreds of millions more in civilian aid, withheld some $100 million of the funding in summer 2017, ostensibly over new Egyptian legislation that blocks much foreign funding of non-governmental organizations, especially those involved in human rights research.

More reading: 9 places where ISIS is still a major threat

Asked about his country’s view of the upcoming vote, Tillerson said the U.S. always advocates for free and fair elections and would continue to do so. He did not specifically mention el-Sissi’s virtually uncontested election, or the aid being withheld. El-Sissi also faces criticism for quashing all dissent in the country, in what is the harshest crackdown in Egypt’s modern history.

“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections, not just for Egypt but any country,” Tillerson said.

In the evening, el-Sissi’s office said he “underscored the robust strategic relations between Egypt and the U.S.” when he met with Tillerson, urging further American engagement in the country.

“The President noted that Egypt looks forward to forging closer economic cooperation with the U.S. and to increasing American investments in Egypt,” it said in a statement.

Tillerson then left Cairo, traveling on to Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where he will meet local officials as well as Saudi, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian delegations.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US wants prosecution of foreign prisoners held in Syria

The U.S. State Department has called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens captured by U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of militias dominated by the Kurdish YPG, “has demonstrated a clear commitment to detain these individuals securely and humanely,” the department’s spokesman, Robert Palladino, said in a statement on Feb. 4, 2019.

The alliance, known as the SDF, say they have detained more than 900 foreign fighters who had traveled to Syria to fight with the extremist group Islamic State.


They are also holding more than 4,000 family members of IS fighters.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

Questions arose about what the SDF would do with the prisoners it is holding after President Donald Trump announced in December 2018 that the United States would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops from Syria.

Few countries have so far expressed any readiness to repatriate their citizens.

Washington is set to host a meeting on Feb. 6, 2019, of about a dozen coalition partners fighting against the IS group.

IS militants have lost virtually all the territory they once held in Syria and neighboring Iraq, but Palladino said it remains “a significant terrorist threat.”

“Collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge,” he added.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.