Friday, March 24, 2006

Getting to Iraq part two: Counter Terrorism

When we left Alaska it was to head to a joint-service job in Virginia. Kirk was going to continue the innovative work he had done in information operations, and set up an info-ops joint forces unit with the Navy. When he showed up in November, 1999 he was told that the plan had changed and instead he would be in charge of Y2K. I think it was basically a job no one wanted and the Powers That Be figured the new guy (and the Air Force guy at that) would be the best person to tag.

Kirk had never done counter-terrorism; the learning curve was enormous. He began the work pattern that would hold for the next full year. He would often get to work by 5 am, sometimes earlier, and not get home until sometimes after 7 at night. If it wasn't too late he would sleep for an hour, then spend time with the family, getting to bed around 10. On Christmas day he watched the kids open their presents at around seven, then headed in to work, not getting home until well in the afternoon that day.

But it was New Years' day that really sticks in my mind. Of course we knew he couldn't spend it with us, and he couldn't talk about what he knew, or what had been going on. The kids and I turned on the Crocodile Hunter marathon and watched home alone; Kirk watched the news at work. I remember flipping to CNN every hour to watch the New Year roll around the world. There was a sort of sick apprehension each time, and a nervous relief as Asia, the Middle East, then Europe, safely celebrated the new Millenium. Kirk said the tension at the unit was unbelievable; they knew how much they had stopped - they were terrified they hadn't gotten everything.

After Y2K, Kirk became more and more consumed by the counter-terrorism world. He was read into higher and higher clearances, learned more and more about the largest threats to the US and her allies. Specifically he became deeply aware of Osama Bin Ladin and his organization.

Kirk was involved with designing readiness excercises - scenarios to be used by various units as they tested their skills. He proposed that a small boat filled with explosives be used as a weapon against a large warship - and was told it was an unrealistic idea. This was, of course, well prior to the USS Cole attack.

He also, along with his team, not only suggested that a commercial jet could be used as a terrorist weapon, but predicted the most likely targets that would be chosen. Again, he was ignored, and sometimes laughed at.

Perhaps if the frustration hadn't been so high Kirk might have stayed with the military. He loved the Air Force - the work, the people, the culture. But counter-terrorism is a consuming job. To do it well you have to think like a terrorist - something Kirk found, in his words, 'profoundly discouraging.' With the clearances he held, it seemed likely he would be doing counter-terrorism for the forseeable future. He made the difficult choice to leave the Air Force.

Ugh - terrible prose! It's not easy to write all this... maybe at some point I'll edit it into better shape.


Susie Dow said...

There's so little information about what your husband/father was like as a person outside of David Batstone's article in the Sojourner.

For the last year, I kept hoping that you'd start blogging about Kirk von Ackermann. And so, welcome. At the same time, I'm sorry to 'meet' you all this way.

Best wishes,
Susie Dow
The Missing Man
susie.dow at

Anonymous said...

Kirk and his unit dreamed up counter-terrorism readiness exercises that mirrored actual events yet to come? Coincidence? Amazing foresight?

And you say they were laughed at.

Amazing. And riveting. Kirk's story is incredible. I hope you are allowed to continue writing.

Anonymous said...

Great blog.

What was Kirk's "team"? And what happened to the predictions he made? Was one of the targets the World Trade Center?

And finally, why was he laughed at?

Sorry. Lots of questions.

Megan said...

Kirk's team was a combination of military and civilian intel people who were responsible for y2K counter-terrorism, and then counter-terrorism in general. I don't know much about what they did, or their composition because there was practically nothing Kirk could tell me. In fact, I met his team exactly twice - once at an award ceremony, once at a farewell dinner.

Yes, he did predict the twin towers as a target, also the Pentagon and the White House.

He was laughed at because he was suggesting scenarios and methods that were outside the accepted lore. Crazy ideas, no one would possibly imagine such things happening.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad no one listened. Had they listened, he would have saved many many lives.