Monday, June 28, 2010

Embedded Law Enforcement Professionals in Iraq

Part III
Hunting Down Terrorist Bombers
Retired FBI Agent Greg Snider has a spent the last year and half hunting for one of the most dangerous predators on earth—men who use bombs to kill others. Greg, imbedded with our military units in Iraq, sifted through the debris of the latest bombing sites, searching for elusive clues. He and his teammates searched for evidence that might lead military and law enforcement to identify these bomb makers and track the manufactures who provided the parts of these deadly weapons.

In this last of a three-part interview, Greg will tell us about his experiences in this search for these killers. Key to the success of this mission—to bring terrorists into Iraqi court as criminals—is the collection and presentation of evidence. This sound simple, but in Iraq the journey through that country’s judicial system is politically and culturally challenging. Who are these terrorists and how do we stop them? Greg Snider will tell us about the last eighteen months he and others worked to find an answer.

MARK: During our last interview, Greg, you told us about arriving in Iraq and some experiences and challenges in investigating these cases. Many of our readers are mystery readers and writers, looking for unique characters that seem to bring the story alive. Those that create a special place in our minds. Tell us more about some of the interesting people you met while overseas.

GREG:  I believe that I mentioned several individuals who contributed greatly to our success in Iraq during our earlier interview.  I’ll recap a few of them as follows: 

First there is Captain, now Major, Perez-Rivera, aka; “Captain PR.”  His individual efforts and self-sacrifices went far beyond the call of duty.  As I said before, he received his higher education at the seminary.  Quite a dichotomy from being a war fighter wouldn’t you say?  He slept about four hours every other night.  He read hundreds of e-mails every day and the amazing part was his ability to sort out those that pertained to our Area of Operation (AO) and the names of those who posed the greatest threat to our unit.  He briefed our colonel daily advising him on who posed the greatest threat for that day and week.  He is the person responsible for establishing the targeting of bad Iraqis in our AO.

My job was to establish a working relationship with him in order to prove what I could bring to the fight.  Upon my arrival it was obvious that he was the busiest soldier in the army.  His time was valuable. I had my work cut out getting him to listen and accept my value to the unit.  This proved to be a daunting task and a test of my patience.  As Mark knows, I don’t like sitting around.

I found that I could pose small bits of information to PR because he had only small bits of time to listen.  I would sit and watch him, trying to determine when his brain might be in neutral so that he would hear what little bits of information I could pass on.  I got his attention after the colonel assigned me to review all the “release packets”—detainees on the list to be released. This task did not sit well with the soldiers.  I searched computer data bases to find “evidence” that could be used to dissuade the attorneys from releasing certain individuals.  This was absolutely one of the most frustrating tasks.

Almost all the detainees were gathered up with “army intelligence,” information not releasable to the Iraqis due to its sensitive nature or the techniques used to gather it.  I quickly learned that the colonel did not want anyone released.  Within the first couple days, I learned that one of the individuals was linked to a Jordan bombing.  That set the tone for getting Captain PR’s ear when the timing was right.  He had a reason to believe I could be of value.  This suspect was detained further. However, over the coming months, many detainees were released due to “lack of evidence.”  Evidence was my mission, a brand new concept to the army.

It should be noted that Captain PR was almost singlehandedly responsible for the 101st Airborne’s distinction of capturing the greatest number of bad Iraqis in this conflict—175 enemy combatants during a twelve month period.

He also holds another distinction.  Together we were the first unit in the army to acquire Iraqi Warrants for Arrest, nine in our first attempt.  We had evidence.  I was able to train a team of our soldiers to gather evidence at capture sites and attack sites.  These soldiers became enthused with their new tasking.  We formed a good team.

(L-R) Bill King, Leon Schenck, Major Kelby Brake, and Greg

Another individual I mentioned was LEP Leon Schenck.  Along with being a very funny man and a retired FBI agent, he earned distinction through his work at the detention facility in Baghdad.  It became apparent to him that releasing thousands of bad Iraqis due to lack of evidence was not a good idea.  However, due to “bleeding hearts” around the world and the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), this became routine based upon directives from above. LEP Schenck discovered that many of the detainees did not have fingerprints, DNA or photographs on file, contrary to what the army believed.

I must take this opportunity to point out that the army has attorneys and—as all law enforcement comes to know—attorneys are not always on our side.  To clarify, the overwhelming majority of army lawyers are fresh out of law school and owes their time to the army to pay for their education.  That being said, here is LEP Schenck’s story:

 LEP Schenk, being a forward thinker, contacted the FBI and requested supplies to fingerprint some 30,000 Iraqi detainees.  He learned the FBI not only offered to provide these materials, but the bureau sent some 20 agents to help collect this data.  Supplies arrived shortly and about six weeks later agents come to take fingerprints, DNA and photographs.

I need to digress a bit to make what happens next make sense.  When LEP Schenck first arrived at his new assignment at the Baghdad Detention Facility, he continued to refer to those incarcerated individuals as “prisoners.”  He was corrected by the JAG Officers on many occasions and directed to call these prisoners “detainees.”  A “prisoner” is a person captured during war, and since this conflict is not a “war” they are “detainees”.  LEP Schenck questioned this because he pointed out that many “detainees” had been in custody of the army for over five years.  He subsequently learned to refer to those in custody as “detainees.”

Returning to my story about fingerprinting the “detainees”, about a day and a half into the project of FBI agents taking fingerprints, photographs and DNA, a JAG officer showed up and said the FBI could not continue taking photographs of the “detainees” because the Geneva Convention precluded pictures taken of “prisoners.”  The FBI insisted that “we are the FBI and we’ll do what we want.”  LEP Schenck walks into the dispute and tries to reason that those in custody were “detainees”, not “prisoners,” as JAG officers repeatedly make clear on numerous occasions.  As such, these “detainees” are not subject to the Geneva Convention.

The FBI halted their efforts when they were not able to resolve this issue. It was referred to the Pentagon.  A week and a half later, the FBI agents got the green light to continue with their photo recognition pictures.  (More on this practice later as it pertains to soldiers’ morale.)

Two other individuals I briefly spoke about earlier were Officer in Charge Major Kelby Brake and our interpreter, Sammy Wassim.  I believe I detailed their contribution and my appreciation for their friendship, knowledge and professionalism in my previous interview.

MARK: Tell us more about trying to make cases on those who created or manufactured these IEDs. Are there any specific cases you can talk about?

GREG:  There were numerous cases as you can tell from what I’ve already discussed.  Choosing one would be like choosing my most significant FBI case.  I do remember one attack that remains in the forefront in my mind.  One evening we had all our captains come to our main base for a Battle Update Brief for our colonel.  Upon leaving our compound, just outside the gate, they were attacked with parachute grenades.  

This happened on several other occasions in the past, but no one was ever hurt.  This time one of our sergeants, riding in the passenger seat, lost his right arm.  Immediately, Captain PR went to work to determined who transported these devices into our AO.  We launched out to find this individual. Within hours he was shot “by Iraqi soldiers” while fleeing from our soldiers—or so the report reads.

In another case, we seized about seven tons of scrap copper ingots at the border of Iran which were on their way to make disks for EFPs, projectiles that turn into flying molten masses of metal.  I would say that almost all my cases in Iraq were very similar to the drug cases that I worked as an FBI agent, the only difference being that the products were devices or components used to kill our soldiers. 

MARK: How did you store and disseminate this information? Who did you work with to build these cases in court?

GREG:  There are several electronic databases significant to the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and duplicated in the States for each of our forensic capabilities—fingerprints, ballistics and DNA.  Each database is specific to its discipline.  These systems are checked routinely upon doing a background investigation in Iraq, Afghanistan or the States.

MARK: Where is this equipment coming from? Who are the suppliers?

GREG:  In my opinion—beyond what is readily available in Iran—it is obvious training of bomb makers falls primarily with the Taliban in Pakistan.  I have no doubt that Iran is supporting this effort in whatever way they can. 
Iranian 107mm rockets seized

It should be noted that when we first invaded Iraq our invading armies discovered stores and caches of munitions that belonged to Saddam’s Army.  These locations were reported but were not the immediate mission at hand.  Almost all of these sites were emptied before our troops were sent to dispose of them.  These projectiles are the major source of the explosive material of all the major bombings we read about that are killing our troops and innocent Iraqi citizens.  Fertilizer is another source.  These larger explosions are all set off or triggered by the same means as described previously and/or by suicide bombers.

There is no doubt that the EFP copper liners (projectiles) are being pressed into shape in Iran.  At the JEFF we analyzed samplings of cache of liners and found that through tool mark examination of the thousands of liners seized, all were pressed into shape by only nine different dies.  To date we have not discovered one die.  The die is the portion of the pressing machine that contacts the copper, pressing its shape.  A larger die can and does press smaller liners.
EFP and Shaped Charged Liners

MARK: Who puts these IED’s together?

GREG: I would like to say that an IED cell consists of the following individuals:
  • Bomb Materials Smuggler
  • Bomb Making Instructor 
  • Bomb Maker
  •  Bomb Emplacer
  • An Observer (signals the Trigger Man when to ignite) 
  •  Trigger Man (electronic or hard wired)
  • Video Man
The attack has to be documented by a video in order to get paid for killing or wounding our soldiers The going rate for the killing a soldier is about $7,000-$8,000.  As you can imagine, these recordings are valuable pieces of evidence.

MARK: What kind of organization are you up against?

GREG:  We are fighting organizations that function very much the same as a drug cartel.  They consist of gangsters and thugs who are misled by their hatred of the western civilization and they call us “infidels,” non-believers of Allah and the Koran.  I learned quickly during my assignment to investigate detainees before their release that the highest level of education in Iraq routinely is sixth grade….their sixth grade, not ours.  Their “higher education” consists of many years of studying the Koran and listening to someone else interpret its meaning for them.  

In my mind it is clear why this civilization is easily misled.  Don’t get me wrong, there are those who set out to become educated.  However, many were systematically rounded up and killed for no other reason than they were educated.   The masses receive a watered down education making them more susceptible to control.  Women have nothing. Men have a very meager existence rendering them to the temptations of a small amount of money to become a bomb emplacer, much like the “dope and a mope” I’ve previously described.  

MARK:  Are these efforts to curb violence proving to be effective?

GREG:  When our army had control, prior to July 1, 2009, we were doing a very good job of squelching violence.  A few weeks after this historic date there had been an increase in the activities of the insurgents.  There were multiple huge blasts in what was the Green Zone, killing many and toppling several buildings.  Numerous popular shopping locations of Sunni or Shiites are being bombed as a message from the insurgents that the new Iraqi government does not have control.  In my opinion, the new government does have a hold—as small as it might be.  It is their’s to hold strong or to fold.  They are their own worst enemy, supporting the thought that they have to do it on their own with no outside intervention.  The first large blast in the Green Zone was a dismal example of a lack of security.  All five or so vehicles passed right through their security check points the morning of the blast.
Saddam's Al Faw Place
MARK: In looking over your time there, what most sticks out in your mind? What thoughts came to mind as you packed to leave? 

GREG:  Mark, as I prepared to leave the states for Iraq, most on my mind and my ultimate goal was to save soldiers lives.  There is no doubt of that accomplishment.  I and the LEP Program were very successful identifying IED cells of criminal organizations.  Our input assisted the army by identifying, capturing, and in some cases convicting them.  I sleep well knowing that I made a difference in bringing back my “battle buddies,” the soldiers to their families.

In preparation for my return to the states my first thoughts were missing my wife and family and that I made it through relatively unscathed.  Upon leaving, I dreaded the many hours of flight time and redeploying through Ft. Benning, GA.  The “hurry up and wait” was most discouraging, but necessary process that I had to go through before reuniting with my wife and family.

The only anxiety I felt was my scheduled flight out of Kuwait because it was the last flight before Christmas.  The three groups of LEPs leaving Kuwait before me were all turned away from their scheduled flights due to overbooking.  If I missed mine, I would have to stay in Kuwait for two to three weeks at best.  This was most disturbing due to the accommodations at Kuwait. We would be lodged in tents that had “hot-bunked” other contractors from many Third World countries.

Since I was traveling armed, the only flight I was allowed to take was the “Freedom Flight” going directly to Atlanta, GA.  Without my weapon I could have taken any commercial flight to anywhere in the States, then transferred to another until eventually reaching Ft. Benning. 

My wife, Mary, was alert to this problem and—as luck would have it—she is friends with Lou Waters, the original CNN Anchor, now retired and living in Tucson for the past 11 years.  She shared our story with Lou, who made an inquiry with the CNN Baghdad Bureau and, lo and behold, when I arrived in Kuwait the contractors and soldiers were triaged for their destinations.  Many of the soldiers who were scheduled for my Freedom Flight going out on R&R were put on other flights because they did not carry weapons.  Many of them left in a matter of hours.  

My Freedom Flight, scheduled to leave in two days, now had space available.  What a relief for me and the other two LEPs I was traveling with.  We made it!  I have since met Mr. Lou Waters and he takes no credit for my relatively smooth departure from Kuwait.  He admits to nothing and I guess I’ll never know what part his inquiry had to do with successfully getting me and my fellow LEP’s home for Christmas.


July 5: Novelist Shawn Grady’s second novel, Tomorrow We Die, will be released in July, a story of a paramedic struggling to save lives while trying to solve a deadly mystery. Shawn, a real-life fireman and EMT, brings his on-the job experiences to the written page in this fast-paced story set in Reno, Nevada, where he currently works in emergency services. Shawn’s debut novel, Through the Fire, was released last year.

July 12 and 19: In these back-to-back  interviews—police and writer articles— we will focus on a man of many experiences. Mike Smitley, novelist and publisher, spent over thirty years in law enforcement. Our July 12th interview will focus on his three decades wearing a badge—police chief, director of drug and homicide task forces, SWAT leaders, sniper, and criminal investigator. Then, on July 19, we’ll turn our attention to the publishing world as Mike shares with us his two crime mystery novels, efforts to create and run Father’s Press to help and encourage struggling writers, and his fight to publish in this struggling industry.


  1. This is fascinating stuff.

    I'm adding this blog to my list of fav blogs on my blog.

  2. Again, thanks Nike. I've been following your blog for a while. See you on the pages.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. FOUO doesn't mean post the photo on the internet.