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You can re-cycle anything, even a War Criminal



I find that ideas for stories seep into my head in a subliminal way rather than my sitting down trying to dream something up. When I was replacing my computer, a 1999 Dell that had served me well, I was going to bring it to an electrical shop for re-cycling. I asked a friend about clearing the hard drive and he told me to take it out and hit it with a hammer, or put in a hot oven so that all the plastic elements melt. I chose the oven.

The less said about the smell, the better. It’s a memory, but on a clear day I can still smell burning plastic in the kitchen. Around the same time, a programme appeared on BBC about people’s bank account details being sold in Nigeria. Apparently local computer whizz kids were able to recover internet banking data stored on hard drives of recycled UK PCs. Experts on the programme said that simply deleting files was not enough and that before disposing of computers, hard drives should be wiped using specialist software. Alternatively, the hard drives should be removed and destroyed.

In 2009, Carla Del Ponte, who was the United Nations’ Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), published a book, Madame Prosecutor, which claimed that, though Serbia’s government had promised ICTY prosecutors that war criminals would be extradited to The Hague if arrested, “the Americans intervened and stopped the action”. She also alleged that Ratko Mladic was hiding under the protection of the French intelligence services. Remembering that the US employed Nazi war criminals as spies against the Soviet Union after World War Two, it was a short step to imagining that elements within the CIA might have employed Serb war criminals in the War On Terror.

After all, the War On Terror’s principal enemies were Muslims, and the Serbs had conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims. Moreover, there had been Arab fighters in the Bosnian War who went on to take part in Al-Qaida sponsored operations, so why not use the Serbs against them? Of course, the Americans wouldn’t shout about employing Serb war criminals. As long as they got results, who cared? And if the Serbs were killed or captured, they were deniable.

Pulling all these threads together, I wondered what would happen if a CIA man’s computer was removed before being cleared as part of a programme to upgrade his office’s machines.

If the computer was re-cycled to Nigeria, the hard drive might be removed, its contents discovered and then sent to Europe. The CIA would launch a hunt to get the disc back, while the Europeans launched a hunt for the war criminals. Throw in a retired civil servant living in Marbella, a love story going back forty years, a chase through Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Berlin and Greece, with a lot of nice restaurants and good hotels, and a year later I’d finished the first draft of Better Beginning.

From → Better Beginning

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