| Tuesday, December 14, 2004
| THE THIEVES OF BAGHDAD
|**** This is a little bit long---
but it's worth reading.***
(abstracted from MAXIMMAG/ by Adam Piore)
SOLDIER'S FORTUNE: While in Iraq,
U.S. soldiers stumbled onto a war trophy no man could resist:
US$200 million in cash.
THE NERVOUS OFFICIAL AT IRAQ'S CENTRAL BANK
did'nt ask any questions when Qusay, son of Saddam, passed
him the handwritten letter from his father. In it the dictator
stated that he was making a withdrawal: US$1 Billion,
most of it in U.S. Bills.
TO SAVE THEM FROM AMERICAN AGRESSION,
TAKE THE NECESSARY ACTION,
read the note. It was about 4 a.m. on March 18,2003,
and if banking hours had never applied to Saddam, they meant
even less today. In 26 hours, the first bombs would strike Baghdad.
Security guards from the bank immediately began executing
the dictator's orders. Entering the main vault, they pulled
out 230 stainless steel cases, each brimming with up to
US$4 Million in shrink-wrapped bricks of immaculate US$100 bills,
then loaded them onto three tractor-trailers parked outside.
Two hours later, at the dawn of the war's first day broke over
Baghdad, Qusay and his retinue drove off, trucks in tow.
In the following days, a quarter-million American troops would
invade Iraq. They would scour the country in a search for leaders
of Saddam's regimes and weapons of mass destruction, unaware
that somewhere out there, in a scene eerily reminiscent of the
1999 movie THREE KINGS, was nearly 10 tons of cash.
Sgt Matt Novak was good at finding things. In the weeks before
the 3rd Infantry Division deployed to Kuwait, the brass back
at Fort Stewart had awarded the blond, blue eyed supply sergeant
with achievement coines and citations for his dedication in
equipping his unit, the 10th Engineer Battalion, for the upcoming
war. Novak had worked long hours, often running off base in serach
of hard-to-find like GPS devices, Camelback Canteens,and sun goggles.
A veteran of the first Gulf War, who reenlisted after 9/11, the
32 year old's experience and cool headedness had earned him respect
among superiors and grunts alike. Then, on the first night in Saddam's
palace, after the lightning race to the Baghdad, his reputations as a
wrangler grew tenfold.
"How can you sleep when Iraqis and Republican Guards guys are
trying to kill you?" Novak had said to his running mate,
Spc. Jamal Mann, after pushing him awake. "Let's go explore".
The two activated their night vision goggles, the began to sniff
around the palace grounds in search of war trophies. One ornate
building festooned with U.S. Army yellow tape looked particualrly
enticing. Mann and Novak climbed over a wall, hopped a metal gate,
and went in through the rear pool door.
It was worth it. The place was tocked with leather couches,
spottles Persian rugs, and crystal chandeliers from the cathedral
ceilings-- boxes upon boxes of grade A booty. Novak collected
designer party dresses for his wife; Mann stashed diamond necklace
and earring sets in the truck. Their buddies were drinking cases
of cognac, smoking $800 Cuban cigars, and toking hash for weeks.
"I dont'care what you do," Novak claims his captain,
Jim Ahearn, told him after that. "If I tell you to get it,
use any means necessary. We conquered this country, and I can
do whatever I want."
Mann and Novak say the company set a challenge for them:
an air conditioner, a computer, a televisions, and a DVD player
for every squad. Novak hit the palace of Saddam's son, Uday,
took his silk sheets for his brass bed and later handed out
pieces of gold embossed regime stationery. The tony streets
that snaked out from the presidential palace were like a
giant shopping mall, stocked with fine carpets, Middle Eastern
art, expensive china, big screen TV and jewelry. They came across
stashes of cocaine and heroin. Things could also get a little
macabre. Novak stepped on a hand in a drak room once, then
flipped over a mattress and jumped at the sight of a decomposing
Mostly, they peered in windows, blew open doors and safes with
C-4 explosives, and ripped apart storefronts with forklifts.
They broke windows with bricks and hauled documents out of a
camouflaged government offices. They looted everything from
computers to a gold palted submachine gun and MP5s you could fire
without even removing from their briefcases. They loaded it all,
along with brroms, toilet papers, bottled water and electronics,
into a tow, a half ton Russian truck they'd hot wired and
christened the "haji truck". When they pulled up to the brigade,
their fellwo soldiers would shout out their nicknames for
Novak and Mann, "Sanford and Son".
Then, a few weeks after arriving in Baghdad, they struck the jackpot.
STAFF SERGEANT BUFF MAKES A FIND
On April 18, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Buff went looking for a saw to
trim some trees on the conquered palace grounds. Near Baath Party
headquarters, he came across a coupld of odd lookin, shedlike
buildings. The windows and doors had been cemented over, so he
and another soldier smashed through them.
Inside they found $360 Million in cash.
A SOLDIER'S FORTUNE
Some of the items Matt Novak and Jamal Mann
"liberated" from the homes of Baghdad's elite.
** Uday Hussein's silk sheets
** Golden faucet fixtures
** 50 cartons of Cuban Cigars
** Russian vodka and cognac
** "Five or six" golden toilet seats
** 15 designer cocktail dresses
** Several diamond necklaces sets
** Numerous gold brooches inlaid with rubies
** Gold embroidered vest belonging to Uday Hussein
** The Kuwaiti royal china
** One chrome plated Smith & Wesson 9 mm with black
** A large collection of Smith & Wesson pistols from
a cabinet in a top general's house
** 23 MP5 briefcase assassin guns, with triggers in handles
** A gold plated MP5 submachine gun
** Bags of cocaine from Uday Hussein's palace
** Scuba sets from a republican guard locker
** 10 high quality Persian rugs
** Saddam's armored Mercedes
** A duffel bag full of cameras and production
quality video equipment
** Various 12,18,and 24 piece royal Iraqi dish sets
** DVD's, including a copy of Bad Boys II
** Photo album of Saddam Hussein and his family
** One sony play station
NOVAK BECAME THE FALL GUY
Capt. Ahearn ordered Mann, Moyer and Novak restricted to
the compound, theri weapon confiscated. The next moring
officers from the Criminal Investigation Command (CID)
interviewed the three men. According to Navak, they told him
that Mann had confessed in taking $200,000 and that they were
going to nail Navak's ass and send him away to prison for
20 years because he hadnt' come clean.
Novak lay awake in his bunk later that night. He thought about
his modest house back in Hinesville, Gerogia and hiw wife and kids.
What kind of life would they have with a father in prison?
Early on the morning of Aril 22, Novak went to see his chaplain.
They sat in the middle of a sprawling field, the four towered
palace booming above the trees before them. Novak told him about
the greed, the fear, his dreams for his wife and kids, and how he
felt like a failure.He asked the chaplain to call brigader Commander
Lt. Col. Michael Presnell, Cpt. Jim Ahearn, and the CID investigators.
He was ready to confess.
Two hours later Novak was escorted to a cold interrogation room --
a technique soemtimes used to rattle Iraqi prisoners. He opened up
his laptop, displaying a written statement recounting everything
that had happened, naming Greenley, Wilson and Burns, Presnell, Ahearn,
the chaplain, and one CID clustered around the computer, reading.
"Go get Greenley and have him standby!" Capt Ahearn
barked at a couple of soldiers nearby. Outside a dust storm kicked up,
pelting the windows with grains of sand. The CID investigator
finished reading Novak's account of what had occurred.
"Prove it." he said.
Novak led them to a field where Mann had told him they had hidden
the third box, but nothing was there.
"This isnt looking good for you Novak", Presnell said.
Soaked with sweat and shaking with nervouseness, Novak lead them to
the river where they had sunk the other two boxes. The water level
had dropped a good four feet. They could see the boxes, coated with
grime and sewage, sticking out of the muck.
"You gotta be fucking kidding me!" said one of
the CID agents.Novak would later show them the rocks,
little twigs and bushes where he said Meyer had stashed
the money. They recovered at least $178,700.
By the time Novak arrived back in the interrogation room,
Wilson, Emmanuel and Burns were all in he hall outside.
Nobody would look him in the face except Greenley, his eyes
burning with hatred and bitter tears.Later Emmanuel would
lead the CID agents to the spot where he waid he and Greenley
had rehidden the box.
The next day Presnell summoned everyone involved to a
briefing room. Novak remembers about 20 people, some he had
never seen before. Apparently, theirs had not been the only "incident".
"Gentlemen, you don't get a second chance in life,
and you damn sure don't get a second chance in the army",
Novak recalls Capt.John Peabody, the engineer brigade commander,
saying."But if you come forward, tell us anything you know
about any monmey and everybody involved, the slate will be
wiped clean...While other brothers and sisters were dying
for their country, you were lining your pockets.
Major General Blount does not want this black eye on the
3rd ID. We were the conquerors of Baghdad, and this needs to go away".
Peabody announced a two day amnesty period; whoever came
forward would get amnesty.
Emmanuel, Wilson, Mann, Greenley and Novak all signed
statements admitting invlovement . A bag containing
$275,300 was left on one officer's desk, with a note--
he suspected from Wilson--that read:
REST WENT DOWN SEWER.
Novak and Mann were reissued their guns,and within days
sent out to get new carpets, a mattress, a comptuer,
and TV's for the colonel, and gold plated toilet fixtures
for their new digs in Fallujah. It look likes,
all was forgotten. The guys in the unit teased
Novak by calling him Clooney, after the actor who played
the ringleader in the THREE KINGS.
But despite the army's desire to have the incident
"go away", the Los Angeles Times
ran a story about it, and that October Novak's
commander at Fort Stewart informed him that he was
being recommended for a less than honorable discahrge.
His crimes, the arnmy said, were to serious to overlook.
LOSING THE HOME FRONT
Recently, Novak sat on the front porch of hus buddy Leo Lumer's
bed and breakfast in Linden, North Arolina, smoking and thinking
back on it all.
His wife left him a few months after he got home from the war,
took the kids, and told him she did'nt love hims anymore.
Now he is broke, jobless, living with friends,and lost.
A military doctor diagnosed him with depression
"In the middle of combat, there was nothing---nothing---
I could't get my hands on," he said. "If they had told me they
wanted a nuclear warhead, I probaly could have gotten it for them.
I lost myself there with $200 million in that dark room."
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By the way, I served with CPT Ahearn in OIF 1. He was killed in Iraq in 2007 during his second tour of duty. I remember Jim as being very dedicated to his country, friendly and a very hard worker.
DoD Identifies Army Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died July 5 when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq. They were assigned to 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C..
Maj. James M. Ahearn, 43, of Calif.
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