Simulmatics’ shadow

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

A while back I posted about an interesting urban insurgency game I found on the shelves of the US Army War College called URB-INS. It was produced by Simulmatics, a political consulting and analysis company that started in 1959, rocketed to prominence as one of the early proponents of big data for political analysis, and went bankrupt by 1970. 

Jill Lepore, a professor of history at Harvard, has written a book called If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future that traces out just how far, high and fast Simulmatics went in the world of politics, government and academia. Have a look at this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education – if nothing else, for the description of what Eugene Burdick, writer of The Ugly American and Fail-Safe and spokesman for Ballantine Ale, had to do with it all!

https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-has-a-silicon-valley-problem

Heat Ray!

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54187961

An Army National Guard officer has testified that his unit was asked by military police whether they had a “heat ray”, more formally known as the Active Denial System, as Washington DC authorities prepared to clear demonstrators from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

This is a vehicle-mounted system that uses a tightly focused beam of microwave energy to make the target feel as if their skin is burning, though the chances of actual physical damage are low. It was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 but sent back unused, and was proposed to be but wasn’t deployed to the US border with Mexico in 2018. I am not sure it has ever actually been used in other than demonstrations for the media; a smaller version may have been used in prisons (possibly to break up impromptu performances of “Telephone” in the exercise yard).

The National Guard unit did not have one of these jolly contrivances, but YOU can have one of your very own – IF you get a copy of my forthcoming game Civil Power!

The counter for it is pictured above (art by Ivan Caceres). Rules are as follows:

  • The ADS may be used in scenarios taking place after 2010.
  • The ADS may apply its Shock Combat strength of 10 to one target unit in the Fire Combat Phase. The die roll is not modified. In the case of an X result, no WIA is counted.
  • The ADS has an infinite range (even at night) but only one unit in a stack may be targeted. 
  • The ADS may not attack units that are in a building, in the same area as a Gas cloud, or units where the LOS to the target crosses a Fire area or Barricade (the beam does not penetrate solid objects, and even a small amount of smoke or mist will reduce its power to the point where the target only feels toasty warm).

Team play of COIN system games

O’er the hills and far away….

The estimable Brant Guillory of Armchair Dragoons and other manifestations has published a guide to the team play of GMT COIN system games that he and his group have put on at Origins!

It’s brilliant, go check it out.

The hidden intelligence part is reflected in having teams of two players for each faction – one diplomatic and one military – but the diplomatic player cannot see the map and the military player cannot see the card, nor are they privy to the negotiations the diplomat has hammered out with the other players. This makes this method very good for games where there is a lot of argle-bargle, and Brant usually does this method with A Distant Plain (an even better wrinkle with this one is that the Warlords faction is played by two, but they take both roles, on alternate turns!).

Very clever, indeed.

“Incipient insurgency”: Kilcullen

[I think I really dislike this new editor WordPress is making people use. I am going to put the link to the Kilcullen piece at the bottom, as it obscures everything under it.]

When David Kilcullen writes something, I pay attention to it. A recent short article by him (though he has been writing in this vein for some time) declares that the United States is showing warning signs of having an incipient insurgency. Final two paragraphs from the piece, though it’s all worth reading:

One possible interpretation is that America may be in what the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency calls “incipient insurgency.” This encompasses pre-insurgency and organizational stages; it may involve inchoate action by a range of groups, followed by organization, training, acquisition of resources, and building external and public support, then increasingly frequent antigovernment incidents displaying improved organization and forethought. Many simultaneous proto-insurgencies can coexist, and it may be impossible to determine which (if any) of them will progress to a more serious stage.

Clearly, current conditions in the United States match some – though not all – of these criteria. There is no reason why, even with today’s toxic political polarization, we must inevitably slip further toward conflict. But if we want to avoid that risk, it is essential to recognize that it does exist and that, “insurrection” or not, the best thing to do is to treat the current unrest as a wake-up call and act urgently to address it.

Meanwhile, Fred Kaplan give it a somewhat more strident and overtly political context, in a piece for Slate magazine with other references to Kilcullen’s writing. Bonus points for references to focoism and Stathis Kalyvas’ The Logic of Violence in Civil War.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/09/america-insurgency-chaos-trump-violence.html

The word to apply right now is “inchoate”, and I have a feeling that it will be the one to apply for some time to come… widespread but disorganized disorder that will, possibly, persist until it becomes its own reason for continuing on… but nothing approaching the “second Civil War” that some people seem to love to fantasize about. For one thing, events would have to reach the stage where both sides consistently show up with firearms.

So much more to write on this, but I have to get back to more urgent and better-paying tasks…

Hidden COINs

original image: Greg Groesch for Washington Post story, 2016

Many of my Constant Readuhs will know of my fondness for games with limited information for one or both sides, and my disdain for games that make a point of giving both sides complete information when lack of same was critical to the historical situation the game claims to represent.

I’ll freely admit that many of my games have this exact fault. I rationalize that it’s for ease and speed of play when the players may have enough new stuff to struggle with already, that Chaos may rear its head and wreck the perfect plans people make with their undue dollops of information, that most wargames are played solitaire anyway (maybe even truer of my games too!), that players hate the loss of control and certainty and don’t particularly care how unrealistic that is, and so on… But I keep making such games, and write optional rules for other games where fog of war can be introduced.

But hoo boy, would I like to make it a big part of everything I design. If you’ve ever played an umpired or double-blind game, board or miniatures, you quickly get the feelings of angst and caution you should be feeling when playing these things… every bend in the road is an ambush, every house is boobytrapped.

And so, from the time that I first started in on the GMT COIN system (playtesting of Andean Abyss, then work on A Distant Plain and later Colonial Twilight), it didn’t bother me much that these games were perfect-information exercises, as the multi-faction nature of the games gave people enough to tussle with. But more than a few people have commented about how this does let the game down in the realism department, where insurgency situations are concerned.

I can’t shake the feeling that an umpired game of say, A Distant Plain would be something to see (or not see, or not be sure you’ve seen!) indeed. It wouldn’t be hard to arrange with multiple copies and a willing Director, would take a long time to play most likely but it would be an eye-opener for the players… who would also have to be willing, because this kind of thing strains the patience of most players who like their complete information and control of things, though that situation is far from reality. 

I’ve never had the time or opportunity to try this. Anyone is welcome to give it a spin. Has anyone tried it, or heard of someone trying it? What do you think?

Interview: Diagonal Move

Over at the Diagonal Move blog, an interview where we cover my design history, thoughts, and descriptions of some projects I have been working on.

Thanks Neil!

[ETA: Neil reposted this interview to his blog on Boardgamegeek.com on September 5, where it was top news for a day!]

https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/107850/interview-brian-train-asymmetric-wargames-and-diy

The Game Political

A very good piece on aspects of the current (and not so current) “keep politics out of my games” breast-beating, by Iain McAllister at the blog There Will Be Games.

https://therewillbe.games/articles-essays/7944-the-game-political

+1 for the House of Cards image!

So much of my design work has been and will continue to be overtly political, or at least about politics. And certainly designing a game, any game, is a creative and therefore a personally-political act.

And yes, I think the games themselves are works of art, and as such deep and very telling artifacts of popular culture to boot. And that popular culture that we all swim about in is changing – it’s always changing, but nowadays it is changing in ways that make many of the inhabitants of this niche of a niche of a niche uncomfortable. We must all ask ourselves where we draw our sense of identity from, and what parts of life we overtly tie it to.

The Game Political

The Game Political

Tthegiantbrain Updated July 23, 2020 

‘Don’t get Politics in my game’ goes out the cry. It rings out during debates over diversity, games set in less than savoury periods of history, and ideologies overt and subtle in the world of tabletop games. This voice is getting louder and louder as boardgames shake off the cloak of being a niche hobby and make their tentative way to a more mainstream audience. As the number of people playing boardgames grows, more and more questions are being asked of the creators intent: the message the game is trying to convey. On top of this we are waking up to the idea that maybe diverse genders, sexualties and people of colour should be seen more on front of boxes and behind the scenes at companies. More questions, more probing of the status quo.

Should these concerns be shoved aside for the sake of ‘just playing the game’? Isn’t such criticism fundamental to the growth of any art form? Let’s take a deep breath together, and dive into some murky depths.

Defining the issue

This is a thorny subject, so let’s establish some ground rules. First of all we need to look at what is being said by those who declare ‘Don’t bring politics into my games’ (or words to that effect). Turning for a moment to the Oxford English Dictionary for a definition:

Politics: relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group

Fundamentally we are talking about ideas, and of course people are going to argue about them. Unfortunately a lot of the time what they are arguing for is the status quo, as if politics has never existed in boardgames until this moment.

Since we first started making art the act of creation is one that expresses ideas. Ideas of place, of people, of lived experiences. We cannot separate politics from the act of creation, as one influences the other. From hanging portraits in a gallery to the latest blockbuster, our creative acts are imbued with the ideas, and politics, of their creators.

A foundation for discussion

I think we can agree that Boardgames are a creative endeavour, and I have argued that the creative act by its very nature is political. It therefore follows that boardgames are political.

Why then do we have voices telling us to get politics out of boardgames? My experience of seeing this said generally comes in one of two cases: when a company seeks to include more diverse voices, art, or to represent a particular political point of view more overtly, or when the game is coming in for criticism. It is the latter that really interests me (though we will come back to the former).

Are they art?

We’ve established that boardgames are political due to being a creative act. Are they art? That is a much trickier question to answer with any certainty, so let me answer it from my own perspective so we can move on.

I think we all recognise that individual components of a boardgame can be recognised as art: the illustrations, miniature design, graphic design, writing (both technical and creative). Therefore the whole that is created out of these elements, can also be seen as an art form. Simplistic maybe, but as I said this is my point of view. I think boardgames are art.

Art that is never seen, experienced or consumed, is art without purpose. Art needs interpreted, it should have emotional impact. To me the greatest sin a piece of art can commit is to not move me at all. If I watch a film and my reaction is a shrug of the shoulders and ‘meh’, then it has not done its job. Even films I dislike have provoked a strong reaction at least. Art should provoke a reaction, even if it is just in one person. If it provokes a reaction, it is likely to receive criticism as well.

On the defensive

When something we love comes in for negative feedback, it can feel like an attack. We take it personally. I get that, I’ve been there myself. We rage against the idea that the thing we love is not perfect, and one of the ways that happens is to call foul on the idea of ‘bringing politics into games’. This seems to be especially the case when that criticism is to do with the treatment of different cultures, people of colour, and diverse genders in games.

Curiously you don’t see this happening when Twilight Struggle stood colossus like atop the BGG top 100. Twilight Struggle is a game about a literal political fight (the Cold War). Did anyone shout ‘Keep politics out of my games’ when this happened? No. No they didn’t. How many wargames are there? Think war isn’t political? Where are these angry voices everytime a new wargame hits the market? Silent as the grave. Watergate, a current favourite of mine, has had a rapturous reception across the critical spectrum. I don’t recall seeing a single person saying ‘get politics out of my games’ despite it being about a political scandal. The moment someone says ‘could we please have a non-sexualised female miniature’ or ‘what about representing people of colour in your art’ then it’s all loud hailers and signs.

I think I’ve amply demonstrated that these comments do not come from a place of wanting to get ‘politics’ out of games. It’s about prejudice. White prejudice to be exact. All white people have it, myself included. We are conditioned in a certain way of thinking about other cultures and societies in such a way that we must always ask questions of ourselves and the games we play. I’ve been doing my best to educate myself about the struggles black people have endured, and I recommend the documentaries ‘I am not your Negro’ and ‘13th’ as good places to start. I have also been reading ‘White Fragility’ by Robin DiAngelo and that has given me a lot to think about.

If we want the hobby to grow it must represent all people. I can find myself everywhere in the hobby because I am a white, CIS, straight male. If you are not that, then your representation in the hobby is poor, bordering on non-existent. This is changing, albeit slowly. If you are represented in the hobby, you can use your voice to lift up great examples of inclusive practices, to shout about the designers, artists, developers who do not fall into the norm of the hobby’s demographic. You don’t need to be an influencer or reviewer, every voice helps.

Asking questions of ourselves, being critical of our own choices and actions is paramount. Such a course keeps us honest and stops us slipping into the outright discrimination that is ever prevalent in our culture and the hobby. I hope to do better myself in the future, and where I can will endeavour to highlight voices from a different cultural background to my own, whatever form that culture takes.

A critical moment

As critics start to ask hard questions of the endless colonial themes, the lack of racial & gender diversity both on the front of the box and behind the scenes, we must be accepting of these questions. If we want the hobby to grow and expand, we must listen to diverse voices, for we will only be enriched and strengthened if we do. Now is not the time to be afraid of these questions.

It will be painful, there are choices to be made that may make us feel uncomfortable, but we can make those choices together, as a community. We can choose to lift up a diverse range of voices. We can choose to ignore those who would foster hate and division. We can choose to welcome the whole world to sit round a table with us and chuck some dice. But we must make the choice. We must actively choose these actions. If we do not then boardgames don’t deserve to grow at all.

(By the way, sorry if this piece looks weird – I am trying to use the new editor WordPress is foisting on us all, and it’s not going well!)

A Force More Powerful

b4s93

Akito and I made a large version of Battle of Seattle with dollar-store miniatures… the cops came ready-made, we repurposed some of them as protestors.

https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/May-June-2020/Chambers-Beehner-Competing-Below

Quite fresh from the pages of Military Review, an interesting article on nonviolent action and how it has been and can be harnessed to drive opposition to foreign regimes.

A good quick introduction to techniques, advantages and examples of its use. Written from the perspective of “hey, this is a great force multiplier for the USA”, but the point is taken… and still effective. The concluding paragraph:

The U.S. military must look past its institutional biases toward large-scale combat operations, and in line with MDO [Multi-Domain Operations], truly look toward converging political and military capabilities across multiple domains to create windows of advantage.54 If we look at future conflict through the lens of most likely and most dangerous, the most likely form is low-intensity, gray-zone type conflict. In these types of conflicts, third-party nonviolent intervention is a viable course—within its constraints—which allows nations to achieve strategic objectives without resorting to large-scale troop deployments, and in some cases, maintaining plausible deniability. As the ubiquitous “small wars” continue and the U.S. military prioritizes preparation for large-scale, decisive-action type conflict, policy makers need a capability to limit U.S. entanglement while still achieving strategic objectives. Support for nonviolent action fills this niche, and consequently, deserves recognition and resources.

PDF of the article is available at the link above, Military Review also has a collection of interesting past articles on civil disobedience, Colour Revolutions and “democratic coups”:

https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Special-Topics/Hot-Topics/Coups-CR/

And just to tie this back into gaming, there are a couple of computer games on the topic.

Image: ICNC.

People Power: the game of civil resistance, a free game for Windows or Mac from the International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).

http://peoplepowergame.com

Rex Brynen on on Paxsims reviewed it in 2011, the game was revised in 2015.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/people-power/

People Power is the sequel to A Force More Powerful, an older game on the topic of colour revolutions that uses Gene Sharp’s writings as a basis and came out some time ago as a companion to the 1999 documentary of the same name (available on Youtube). The latter game is abandonware and Windows only; I snagged a copy in a local thrift store years ago.  Rex and colleague Gary Milante were less than impressed by its sedate pace.

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2009/02/03/a-force-more-powerful/

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/a-force-more-tedious/

 

Coo-Coo-ca-Coup II

venezuela-politics

From ABC News, this fits with stories I’ve read in the aftermath of the 2019 coup attempt about the plotters’ footsoldiers being abandoned… new twist is the bizarre “advisory”  support.

Link: https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/green-beret-led-failed-attempt-oust-venezuelas-maduro-70463070

More on the plot: Coo-Coo Ca-Coup

Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro: 

Some 300 heavily armed volunteers planned to sneak into Venezuela and ignite a popular rebellion that would end in President Nicolas Maduro’s arrest

What could go wrong? As it turns out, pretty much everything.

The ringleader of the plot is now jailed in the U.S. on narcotics charges. Authorities in the U.S. and Colombia are asking questions about the role of his muscular American adviser, a former Green Beret. And dozens of desperate combatants who flocked to secret training camps in Colombia said they have been left to fend for themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The failed attempt to start an uprising collapsed under the collective weight of skimpy planning, feuding among opposition politicians and a poorly trained force that stood little chance of beating the Venezuelan military.

“You’re not going to take out Maduro with 300 hungry, untrained men,” said Ephraim Mattos, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who trained some of the would-be combatants in first aid.

This bizarre, untold story of a call to arms that crashed before it launched is drawn from interviews with more than 30 Maduro opponents and aspiring freedom fighters who were directly involved in or familiar with its planning. Most spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation.

When hints of the conspiracy surfaced last month, the Maduro-controlled state media portrayed it as an invasion ginned up by the CIA, like the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961. An Associated Press investigation found no evidence of U.S. government involvement in the plot. Nevertheless, interviews revealed that leaders of Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition knew of the covert force, even if they dismissed its prospects.

Planning for the incursion began after an April 30, 2019, barracks revolt by a cadre of soldiers who swore loyalty to Maduro’s would-be replacement, Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized by the U.S. and some 60 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful leader. Contrary to U.S. expectations at the time, key Maduro aides never joined with the opposition and the government quickly quashed the uprising.

A few weeks later, some soldiers and politicians involved in the failed rebellion retreated to the JW Marriott in Bogota, Colombia. The hotel was a center of intrigue among Venezuelan exiles. For this occasion, conference rooms were reserved for what one participant described as the “Star Wars summit of anti-Maduro goofballs” — military deserters accused of drug trafficking, shady financiers and former Maduro officials seeking redemption.

Among those angling in the open lobby was Jordan Goudreau, an American citizen and three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he served as a medic in U.S. Army special forces, according to five people who met with the former soldier.

Those he interacted with in the U.S. and Colombia described him in interviews alternately as a freedom-loving patriot, a mercenary and a gifted warrior scarred by battle and in way over his head.

Two former special forces colleagues said Goudreau was always at the top of his class: a cell leader with a superb intellect for handling sources, an amazing shot and a devoted mixed martial arts fighter who still cut his hair high and tight.

At the end of an otherwise distinguished military career, the Canadian-born Goudreau was investigated in 2013 for allegedly defrauding the Army of $62,000 in housing stipends. Goudreau said the investigation was closed with no charges.

After retiring in 2016, he worked as a private security contractor in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In 2018, he set up Silvercorp USA, a private security firm, near his home on Florida’s Space Coast to embed counter-terror agents in schools disguised as teachers. The company’s website features photos and videos of Goudreau firing machine guns in battle, running shirtless up a pyramid, flying on a private jet and sporting a military backpack with a rolled-up American flag.

Silvercorp’s website touts operations in more than 50 countries, with an advisory team made up of former diplomats, experienced military strategists and heads of multinational corporations — none of them named. It claims to have “led international security teams” for the president of the United States.

Goudreau, 43, declined to be interviewed. In a written statement, he said that “Silvercorp cannot disclose the identities of its network of sources, assets and advisors due to the nature of our work” and, more generally, “would never confirm nor deny any activities in any operational realm. No inference should be drawn from this response.”

`CONTROLLING CHAOS’

Goudreau’s focus on Venezuela started in February 2019, when he worked security at a concert in support of Guaidó organized by British billionaire Richard Branson on the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

“Controlling chaos on the Venezuela border where a dictator looks on with apprehension,” he wrote in a photo of himself on the concert stage posted to his Instagram account.

“He was always chasing the golden BB,” said Drew White, a former business partner at Silvercorp, using military slang for a one-in-a-million shot. White said he broke with his former special forces comrade last fall when Goudreau asked for help raising money to fund his regime change initiative.

“As supportive as you want to be as a friend, his head wasn’t in the world of reality,” said White. “Nothing he said lined up.”

According to White, Goudreau came back from the concert looking to capitalize on the Trump administration’s growing interest in toppling Maduro.

He had been introduced to Keith Schiller, President Donald Trump’s longtime bodyguard, through someone who worked in private security. Schiller attended a March 2019 event at the University Club in Washington for potential donors with activist Lester Toledo, then Guaidó’s coordinator for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Last May, Goudreau accompanied Schiller to a meeting in Miami with representatives of Guaidó. There was a lively discussion with Schiller about the need to beef up security for Guaidó and his growing team of advisers inside Venezuela and across the world, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Schiller thought Goudreau was naive and in over his head. He cut off all contact following the meeting, said a person close to the former White House official.

In Bogota, it was Toledo who introduced Goudreau to a rebellious former Venezuelan military officer the American would come to trust above all others — Cliver Alcalá, ringleader of the Venezuelan military deserters.

Alcalá, a retired major general in Venezuela’s army, seemed an unlikely hero to restore democracy to his homeland. In 2011, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly supplying FARC guerrillas in Colombia with surface-to-air missiles in exchange for cocaine. And last month, Alcalá was indicted by U.S. prosecutors alongside Maduro as one of the architects of a narcoterrorist conspiracy that allegedly sent 250 metric tons of cocaine every year to the U.S.

Alcalá is now in federal custody in New York awaiting trial. But before his surrender in Colombia, where he had been living since 2018, he had emerged as a forceful opponent of Maduro, not shy about urging military force.

Over two days of meetings with Goudreau and Toledo at the JW Marriott, Alcalá explained how he had selected 300 combatants from among the throngs of low-ranking soldiers who abandoned Maduro and fled to Colombia in the early days of Guaidó’s uprising, said three people who participated in the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Alcalá said several dozen men were already living in three camps he maintained in and around the desert-like La Guajira peninsula that Colombia shares with Venezuela, the three said. Among the combatants in the camps was an exiled national guardsman accused of participating in a 2018 drone attack on Maduro.

Goudreau told Alcalá his company could prepare the men for battle, according to the three sources. The two sides discussed weapons and equipment for the volunteer army, with Goudreau estimating a budget of around $1.5 million for a rapid strike operation.

Goudreau told participants at the meeting that he had high-level contacts in the Trump administration who could assist the effort, although he offered few details, the three people said. Over time, many of the people involved in the plan to overthrow Maduro would come to doubt his word.

From the outset, the audacious plan split an opposition coalition already sharply divided by egos and strategy. There were concerns that Alcalá, with a murky past and ties to the regime through a brother who was Maduro’s ambassador to Iran, couldn’t be trusted. Others worried about going behind the backs of their Colombian allies and the U.S. government.

But Goudreau didn’t share the concerns about Alcalá, according to two people close to the former American solider. Over time, he would come to share Alcalá’s mistrust of the opposition, whose talk of restoring democracy was belied by what he saw as festering corruption and closed-door deal making with the regime, they said.

More importantly to Goudreau, Alcalá retained influence in the armed forces that Maduro’s opponents, mostly civilian elites, lacked. He also knew the terrain, having served as the top commander along the border.

“We needed someone who knew the monster from the inside,” recalled one exiled former officer who joined the plot.

Guaidó’s envoys, including Toledo, ended contact with Goudreau after the Bogota meeting because they believed it was a suicide mission, according to three people close to the opposition leader.

Undeterred, Goudreau returned to Colombia with four associates, all of them U.S. combat veterans, and begin working directly with Alcalá.

Alcalá and Goudreau revealed little about their military plans when they toured the camps. Some of the would-be combatants were told by the two men that the rag-tag army would cross the border in a heavily armed convoy and sweep into Caracas within 96 hours, according to multiple soldiers at the camps. Goudreau told the volunteers that — once challenged in battle — Maduro’s food-deprived, demoralized military would collapse like dominoes, several of the soldiers said.

NO CHANCE TO SUCCEED

Many saw the plan as foolhardy and there appears to have been no serious attempt to seek U.S. military support.

“There was no chance they were going to succeed without direct U.S. military intervention,” said Mattos, the former Navy SEAL who spent two weeks in September training the volunteers in basic tactical medicine on behalf of his non-profit, which works in combat zones.

Mattos visited the camps after hearing about them from a friend working in Colombia. He said he never met Goudreau.

Mattos said he was surprised by the barren conditions. There was no running water and men were sleeping on the floors, skipping meals and training with sawed-off broomsticks in place of assault rifles. Five Belgian shepherds trained to sniff out explosives were as poorly fed as their handlers and had to be given away.

Mattos said he grew wary as the men recalled how Goudreau had boasted to them of having protected Trump and told them he was readying a shipment of weapons and arranging aerial support for an eventual assault of Maduro’s compound.

The volunteers also shared with Mattos a three-page document listing supplies needed for a three-week operation, which he provided to AP. Items included 320 M4 assault rifles, an anti-tank rocket launcher, Zodiac boats, $1 million in cash and state-of-the-art night vision goggles. The document’s metadata indicates it was created by Goudreau on June 16.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of cowboys in this business who try to peddle their military credentials into a big pay day,” said Mattos.

AP found no indication U.S. officials sponsored Goudreau’s actions nor that Trump has authorized covert operations against Maduro, something that requires congressional notification.

But Colombian authorities were aware of his movements, as were prominent opposition politicians in Venezuela and exiles in Bogota, some of whom shared their findings with U.S. officials, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

True to his reputation as a self-absorbed loose cannon, Alcalá openly touted his plans for an incursion in a June meeting with Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate and appealed for their support, said a former Colombian official familiar with the conversation. Alcalá also boasted about his relationship with Goudreau, describing him as a former CIA agent.

When the Colombians checked with their CIA counterparts in Bogota, they were told that the former Green Beret was never an agent. Alcalá was then told by his hosts to stop talking about an invasion or face expulsion, the former Colombian official said.

It’s unclear where Alcalá and Goudreau got their backing, and whatever money was collected for the initiative appears to have been meager. One person who allegedly promised support was Roen Kraft, an eccentric descendant of the cheese-making family who — along with former Trump bodyguard Schiller — was among those meeting with opposition envoys in Miami and Washington.

At some point, Kraft started raising money among his own circle of fellow trust-fund friends for what he described as a “private coup” to be carried out by Silvercorp, according to two businessmen whom he asked for money.

Kraft allegedly lured prospective donors with the promise of preferential access to negotiate deals in the energy and mining sectors with an eventual Guaidó government, said one of the businessmen. He provided AP a two-page, unsigned draft memorandum for a six-figure commitment he said was sent by Kraft in October in which he represents himself as the “prime contractor” of Venezuela.

But it was never clear if Kraft really had the inside track with the Venezuelans.

In a phone interview with AP, Kraft acknowledged meeting with Goudreau three times last year. But he said the two never did any business together and only discussed the delivery of humanitarian aid for Venezuela. He said Goudreau broke off all communications with him on Oct. 14, when it seemed he was intent on a military action.

“I never gave him any money,” said Kraft.

`WE KNEW EVERYTHING’

Back in Colombia, more recruits were arriving to the three camps — even if the promised money didn’t. Goudreau tried to bring a semblance of order. Uniforms were provided, daily exercise routines intensified and Silvercorp instructed the would-be warriors in close quarter combat.

Goudreau is “more of a Venezuelan patriot than many Venezuelans,” said Hernán Alemán, a lawmaker from western Zulia state and one of a few politicians to openly embrace the clandestine mission.

Alemán said in an interview that neither the U.S. nor the Colombian governments were involved in the plot to overthrow Maduro. He claims he tried to speak several times to Guaidó about the plan but said the opposition leader showed little interest.

“Lots of people knew about it, but they didn’t support us,” he said. “They were too afraid.”

The plot quickly crumbled in early March when one of the volunteer combatants was arrested after sneaking across the border into Venezuela from Colombia.

Shortly after, Colombian police stopped a truck transporting a cache of brand new weapons and tactical equipment worth around $150,000, including spotting scopes, night vision goggles, two-way radios and 26 American-made assault rifles with the serial numbers rubbed off. Fifteen brown-colored helmets were manufactured by High-End Defense Solutions, a Miami-based military equipment vendor owned by a Venezuelan immigrant family.

High-End Defense Solutions is the same company that Goudreau visited in November and December, allegedly to source weapons, according to two former Venezuelan soldiers who claim to have helped the American select the gear but later had a bitter falling out with Goudreau amid accusations that they were moles for Maduro.

Company owner Mark Von Reitzenstein did not respond to repeated email and phone requests seeking comment.

Alcalá claimed ownership of the weapons shortly before surrendering to face the U.S. drug charges, saying they belonged to the “Venezuelan people.” He also lashed out against Guaidó, accusing him of betraying a contract signed between his “American advisers” and J.J. Rendon, a political strategist in Miami appointed by Guaidó to help force Maduro from power.

“We had everything ready,” lamented Alcalá in a video published on social media. “But circumstances that have plagued us throughout this fight against the regime generated leaks from the very heart of the opposition, the part that wants to coexist with Maduro.”

Through a spokesman, Guaidó stood by comments made to Colombian media that he never signed any contract of the kind described by Alcalá, whom he said he doesn’t know. Rendon said his work for Guaidó is confidential and he would be required to deny any contract, whether or not it exists.

Meanwhile, Alcalá has offered no evidence and the alleged contract has yet to emerge, though AP repeatedly asked Goudreau for a copy.

In the aftermath of Alcalá’s arrest, the would-be insurrection appears to have disbanded. As the coronavirus spreads, several of the remaining combatants have fled the camps and fanned out across Colombia, reconnecting with loved ones and figuring out their next steps. Most are broke, facing investigation by Colombian police and frustrated with Goudreau, whom they blame for leading them astray.

Meanwhile, the socialist leadership in Caracas couldn’t help but gloat.

Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 most powerful person in the country and eminence grise of Venezuela’s vast intelligence network, insisted that the government had infiltrated the plot for months.

“We knew everything,” said Cabello. “Some of their meetings we had to pay for. That’s how infiltrated they were.”

———

Investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York and investigative reporter James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.

Creative math

mentorhead

On the weekend someone asked on Facebook (a place where I am spending too much time, I’ll admit) about designers’ favourite methods of managing workflow or design projects generally.

I answered that I suppose if it were more of a business for me, like Ty Bomba and Joe Miranda who are Living The Dream, I’d be more businesslike about it. As it is, progress on my projects flows according to the equation

Pr = sqrt (TA – DG) x (IN – MWD)

Where Pr is Progress, TA is Time Available, DG is Daily Grind, IN is Inspiration, and MWD is Middle of the night Wakefulness Doubts.

Note that it is possible for Pr to have a negative value, where IN < MWD. This is where I go back and rip things apart because of something I thought at oh-dark-thirty.
Also note that where TA < DG, the square root will involve imaginary numbers, and any progress on the project will also be imaginary.