Former CIA officer and satirist Alex Finley on making fun of spies — “Intelligence Matters”

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In this episode of “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell speaks with Alex Finley, a former CIA officer in the Directorate of Operations and an author of three satirical books depicting life and work at the agency. Finley describes how CIA officers often use humor in unique ways to cope with high-stress assignments, and she and Morell discuss the ways in which satire can illuminate little-known realities about serious subjects. Finley also describes her newfound role as an amateur ‘yacht-watcher,’ tracking Russian oligarchs’ yachts through the port of Barcelona. 

Highlights

  • Humor at the CIA: “I think there was a lot of humor at the agency. And I think actually I would attribute that to the need for release. Right? We work – it’s a high stress environment. People have enormous responsibility, even very early on in their careers. The consequences of the decisions that they’re making can be big and grave. And so to deal with that, we get sort of into dark humor and we find all kinds of things to make fun of or to make jokes about.”
  • Satirizing serious subjects: “I find that satire can really highlight some interesting realities that we can’t necessarily get to if we’re trying to be very serious, or we see them in a different light if we sort of highlight them in a funny way. I also just think it makes things more entertaining. I think people like to interact with things that are funny because it can bring joy even while it’s educating you. So satire had always been something that was a part of my writing.”  
  • James Bond illusion: “One of the other things, I think, where there is a great sense of humor among agency people is that we recognize that we are not James Bond or Jason Bourne. And so this sort of popular cultural understanding of what we do was so completely contrarian to what our normal daily, everyday lives were – you know, sort of sitting in a cubicle sometimes, that that, too, was such a funny dynamic to be able to play with. And we still do it today. And every time there’s some fancy CIA movie out there, we all sort of laugh at it, like, ‘Right. That’s really how it works.’ Imagine James Bond filing his, you know, expense reports or having to explain why the car got scratched.” 

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INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – ALEX FINLEY

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL: Alex, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.

ALEX FINLEY: Thank you for having me.

MICHAEL MORELL: I think we’re going to talk about some serious stuff, but I think we’re also going to have some fun.

Alex, you’re the author of a new satirical novel, “Victor In Trouble.” The book follows CYA, case officer Victor Caro on his adventures during his final tour in Rome. You managed to make the book both hilarious and insightful at the same time. It was a joy to read, so congratulations.

ALEX FINLEY: Thank you.

MICHAEL MORELL: Before we get into the book, I want to ask you a couple of questions about how you got to the book and how you got to this point in your career. Before you joined CIA in the directorate of operations, you worked as a journalist. And I’m wondering what drew you to being a journalist and then what drew you to CIA?

ALEX FINLEY: So I had always been interested in international relations, but I had also always been a very strong writer. And so I really when I left graduate school, my idea was to sort of combine the two. And I started working in local papers. And then I actually was in Washington covering Capitol Hill for a while and very quickly, actually, became a little disillusioned, I guess you could say, with Capitol Hill and Congress.

I was there as a reporter when the Bill Clinton scandal with his intern broke. And yeah, I started to realize, ‘Maybe this isn’t the right place for me.’ And I was still leaning more towards sort of national security type of stuff.
And then the opportunity just arose to join the agency. I actually wasn’t seeking it out. A friend of mine worked there and he came to me and he recruited me and asked me to come in and that’s it. I really need a sexier story for how I joined the agency, but, that’s it.

MICHAEL MORELL: You do. Strong writer and operations officers don’t usually go together. I know there’s a whole bunch of people who are going to throw things at me for saying that, but that’s a little unusual. So you’re pretty special.

So, you worked at CIA from 2003 to 2009. Why did you decide to leave?

ALEX FINLEY: Well, so, first of all, I was not a case officer. I was a reports officer. That’s where the writing came in.

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay. Got it.

ALEX FINLEY: I had to fix all of those sentences from the case officers.

I left for a number of different reasons, some of them personal, some of them professional. But I think overall, what I found was just it was not quite the right fit for me. I was very creative, you know, I had a creative background and I wanted to be more creative. And while operations can be creative, the bureaucracy of the agency, I found a little bit stifling.

And that actually is the theme of my first book, ‘Victor in the Rubble.’ And part of that also grew out of my frustration with the war on terror. You know, a number of people, of course, have written about their experiences in that. I was extremely low level. Like you said, I joined in 2003. So I was a very low level, sort of a cog in the wheel for all of this.

But I did have a front row seat to what was happening, and there was a lot of absurdity that I was seeing, both in the bureaucracy and with some of the policies. And it was frustrating to me, that’s all. And I didn’t really see up where I wanted to go, you know, when I looked in the agency and looked at what there was for me, the reports officer cadre just wasn’t quite interesting enough for me, growing-wise, and I was not cut out to be a case officer. I know that about myself.

MICHAEL MORELL: Me too.

ALEX FINLEY: So that’s it. I decided to leave and to pursue other adventures.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Alex, not many former CIA officers write books after they leave the agency. And then among those who do write books, even fewer write satire. Can you tell us how you got into writing satire? Is it something that was an interest of yours early in life? Did you read and write satire in high school or college or did you develop that interest later?

ALEX FINLEY: I think I had always had that interest. A lot of what I wrote – I mean, first of all, I was always a writer. I always wrote. And so even through college and graduate school, when I was writing things, I did tend to write more humor-related – I liked to take sort of serious issues and find what was absurd and funny in it and then kind of make fun of it.

And I find that satire can really highlight some interesting realities that we can’t necessarily get to if we’re trying to be very serious, or we see them in a different light if we sort of highlight them in a funny way.
I also just think it makes things more entertaining. I think people like to interact with things that are funny because it can bring joy even while it’s educating you. So satire had always been something that was a part of my writing.

And so, yeah, when I left the agency in 2009, I did already have this book in mind. And, you know, like I said, the first book, ‘Victor in the Rubble,’ is, you know, it’s about the War on Terror. And, you know, that’s a very serious subject, obviously. And I mean, I, myself, had trauma from what I had experienced. And I knew plenty of other people around me who had sort of suffered because of this war.

And I knew that I needed to write about it. But then, there are different ways that we manage how we deal with that. And for me, it was through satire.

MICHAEL MORELL: Did you consider yourself or do you consider yourself a funny person? Can you make people laugh? Is that something you always had as a kid and growing up?

ALEX FINLEY: No, no. I actually was an introvert and I never thought I was all that funny. But I did always find writing was a great way to express myself. I don’t know if I find it less risky in some ways – even though in many ways it’s more risky, right? Because you’re opening yourself up to anybody; anybody could read it. It’s not just to the people right around you. But now, for some reason, I think I feel safer being funny when I write.

MICHAEL MORELL: You know, street tradecraft is a big deal to to CIA officers. Is there a tradecraft to writing satire, to writing humor? Is there a kind of an outline to follow to do that? Or does it just flow out of you?

ALEX FINLEY: I would say in many ways, like with street tradecraft, you want to be creative and not censor yourself. So when it comes time to actually execute the operation or the writing, you know, you need to sort out all of your details, but you need to allow yourself, first, in the brainstorming session, to go wherever it is you’re going to go. And you may go down hundreds of wrong paths before you find the way that really works.

So I’ve gone through drafts and drafts of things where I know there’s a joke in there somewhere, but I can’t quite get it. And you just have to keep working at it a gazillion times. But I think the best sort of lesson that I’ve learned over the past ten years of writing is just: don’t censor yourself, get everything out on the page and and then you can fix it and make it better.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Alex, a couple of more questions before we get to your books. There’s a lot of humor at CIA. Lots of jokes being told. Lots of laughing as people are going through their work every day.
And I’m just wondering, based on your experiences, is the agency in any way unique in that regard? IS there more humor at the agency than there was at other places you’ve worked or you’ve been? Just a sense of that.

ALEX FINLEY: I agree with you. I think there was a lot of humor at the agency. And I think actually I would attribute that to the need for release. Right? We work – it’s a high stress environment. People have enormous responsibility, even very early on in their careers. The consequences of the decisions that they’re making can be big and grave. And so to deal with that, we get sort of into dark humor and we find all kinds of things to make fun of or to make jokes about.

I also think one of the things that I noticed, and I still notice today when I get together with former agency people or friends who are still there, we talk different once we’re all together, because we don’t have to cover up a lot of the things that we have to cover up in our real lives.

There are still a number of things that we can’t talk about, right, sort of daily lives. And when we’re all together, it’s a safe environment where we can share all of that. And so I think that that’s the kind of environment that I always had found in the agency.

Also, you’re going through – it may not be trauma, but it may be you’re going through a very strange thing. I was based in West Africa, my first overseas tour. And, yes, it was a strange place. It was very different than anything that I had done or any place I had lived. And I was with other people who were experiencing all of that sort of strangeness and the culture shock and adjusting to it. So you’re also with other people who understand all the strange things that you’re going through, too. And so you have all that in common and it’s shared. And so I think that’s what makes it sort of this environment where we all have this very similar sense of humor.

MICHAEL MORELL: It also seems to me that the agency provides lots of material for satire, right, everything from polygraphs and financial disclosure forms – when the vast majority of people don’t have any money – to burn bags and not enough parking. And there’s lots of material there. Is that your sense, too?

ALEX FINLEY: Absolutely. And in fact, the first book, ‘Victor in the Rubble,’ is a lot about that. There’s a lot of poking fun at the bureaucracy, a lot of poking fun at sort of the day-to-day job of it.

And one of the other things, I think, where there is a great sense of humor among agency people is that we recognize that we are not James Bond or Jason Bourne. And so this sort of popular cultural understanding of what we do was so completely contrarian to what our normal daily, everyday lives were – you know, sort of sitting in a cubicle sometimes, that that, too, was such a funny dynamic to be able to to play with. And we still do it today.

And every time there’s some fancy CIA movie out there, we all sort of laugh at it, like, ‘Right. That’s really how it works.’ Imagine James Bond filing his, you know, expense reports or having to explain why the car got scratched.

MICHAEL MORELL: Last question, Alex, before we get to Victor: do you think, within the confines of good taste, that almost anything is open to satire or are there some issues that are simply too serious to write about from a satirical point of view? You know, I’m thinking about Putin’s possible use of tactical nuclear weapons, for example. Is there a line there?

ALEX FINLEY: I have a very good friend from college who is now an extremely successful film writer and TV writer. And one of the things that he taught me back when we were working in theater together in college is there is absolutely nothing that cannot be made fun of. And I do truly believe that.

Now, how you make fun of it does make a difference. So there are, of course, ways to come at these things. Like I said, my first book is about the war on terror. That’s a terribly serious subject, but is something that has affected so many lives of people around the world. But I found things in it that were absurd and that needed to be pointed out: ‘This is ridiculous.’

And so there are ways – it’s just you have to find the right ways. And that’s actually one of the things when I was saying before: don’t censor yourself. You have to let yourself go through some of these ways that maybe they’re not – You start down a path and you realize, ‘Okay, that’s not going to work. That’s not a funny way to approach this.’

But I know that it’s in there somewhere, but I have to work through it and find the right angles for how going to do this.

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay, Alex, let’s turn to Victor and your third novel, ‘Victor In Trouble.’ Could you give us a short, spoiler-free synopsis of the book?

ALEX FINLEY: Sure. So in this book, Victor Caro arrives in Rome, as you said, for his retirement tour and is expecting, you know, three years of pasta-filled, wine, drinking and pure fun like Dolce Vita. And a quick run up to the retirement finish line.

But the world has other plans for Victor, and he finds himself going after a source or recruiting a source to provide information on Russian influence operations after the Russians have gone after a number of politicians in the West.

And he then finds himself having to protect his source from the politicians who have been corrupted by those very same Russian intelligence operations. And he’s doing all of this within the context of a very large disinformation campaign going on all around him.

MICHAEL MORELL: Sounds eerily reminiscent of a certain election.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. So it’s no wonder – where do I get my inspiration?

MICHAEL MORELL: So how does the book fit in with your first two in the Victor Caro series?

ALEX FINLEY: So it’s the third book, but they actually don’t have to be read in order. The first one, as I said, is, ‘Victor in the Rubble,’ which is about about the agency. It’s more about the agency, I think, than the others and and about the war on terror. And it takes place in West Africa.

The second one is called, ‘Victor in the Jungle,’ and looks at the perils and the pitfalls of populism in a South American country with a narco trafficking dictator.

And the third one is, ‘Victor in Trouble,’ which takes place in Rome and looks at the Russian intelligence operations to interfere in Western politics.

MICHAEL MORELL: So without giving anything away, given what happens to Victor at the end of the third book, will there be a fourth book in the series?

ALEX FINLEY: Well, never say never, as they say. But I think Victor deserves a little bit of retirement time. He needs to enjoy a little bit of time at least. But, you know, even James Bond came back right from retirement. So who knows?

MICHAEL MORELL: Right. And then what about another series, another new character? Is that in the offing?

ALEX FINLEY: It is. I actually have a fourth book, about halfway written, with new characters. It’s still a CIA-type of a book. And it’s still a satire. But all new characters.

MICHAEL MORELL: You know, I guess Victor could come back as an analyst, right? I’m sure Victor would love the review process for a PDB.

ALEX FINLEY: Oh, I’m sure he’d sit still for all that. Sure. Yeah, that might be a very short book.

MICHAEL MORELL: I could help you with that one.

So, Alex, what I would love to do next, if you’re game, is to mention some of the characters, some of the things from the book and just get you to react, right? Just say the first thing that pops into your mind. Okay?

ALEX FINLEY: Okay.

MICHAEL MORELL: So here we go. CIA employees take long breaks from work to compete in a gingerbread competition.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. That’s – that’s real.

MICHAEL MORELL: I know. That’s real.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. And it’s on the website now.

MICHAEL MORELL: It is, it is. So we can actually talk about it. It’s not secret.

ALEX FINLEY: Exactly. They tweet out – it makes an appearance, actually, in one of the other books. And people are like, ‘Is that you?’ And I, I wasn’t sure what I could say. I mean, the books were all cleared by the Publications Review Board. But finally, when they started tweeting out the entries for the Gingerbread House contest, I was like, ‘OK, now I can really make fun of it.’

MICHAEL MORELL: But I guess people should know these aren’t traditional gingerbread houses. These are gingerbread houses that are kind of unique to the CIA. So think of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, but in gingerbread.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah, this is it. People get very creative. And I know some people love it, but it’s a funny, lighthearted thing. When you’re in a very serious work environment, you need that kind of release.

But I do also know people who were sort of out in the field trying to get responses to cables, and the desk officer was like, ‘I got to run out to vote on the gingerbread house guy.’

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay, here’s another one. Victor’s boss in Rome, a guy named Wilcox, is arrogant, completely out of touch, and wants to launch military strikes at every turn.

ALEX FINLEY: Yes. So Wilcox grew out of 20 years of the War on Terror. Let’s say – he’s the chief of station who has only spent his career so far in war zones. And then finds himself in a European capital where intelligence operations and tradecraft is much more complex. He can’t just buy people off like you can do in so many other places. And you’re dealing with very sophisticated host countries who – their own services are very sophisticated. And so it’s not like a war zone. It’s a completely different way of operating, as you know. And so, yeah, I wanted Wilcox to sort of represent that that dichotomy.

MICHAEL MORELL: When you should be eating pasta and drinking wine, right, in meetings, he’s thinking about conducting military strikes. I’ve actually seen that before.

So at one point, Wilcox says to Victor – and we put this in quotes, here: “You represent the greatest intelligence service in the history of our country or any other in the history of mankind or any other species.”

ALEX FINLEY: Yes. That’s a little bit of arrogance, right, sometimes in American foreign policy. And I think some of the idolization that we have given to our military and our intelligence services over the years – some of it well-deserved, but some of it sometimes goes too far – that we hold these agencies up on a pedestal and and we sometimes get a little bit arrogant about our own position in the world.

MICHAEL MORELL: You know, it it also sounds a little bit – and I speak from experience, here – of senior agency officers visiting CIA stations and giving a talk in what’s called an “all hands,” right? Where everybody shows up in the hallway and the senior person is up front and they give a talk and they they sort of say things like this, right? That, “You guys are the greatest intelligence service in the history of the country,” sort of thing.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. I mean, this is it. I mean, it’s meant as motivation. But at one point they come on and, when you start – when it’s, like, a participation medal for everybody, you know what I mean? Everybody gets praised all the time for – everybody getting an EPA just for showing up on time. It’s like, ‘Okay, I mean, come on.’ And it starts to lose its value.

MICHAEL MORELL: I think at one point my side of the agency actually started giving out little awards for writing like one or two or three PDBs. And every time you wrote one, you got this little card, this little token or something. It reminded me of fifth grade soccer.

ALEX FINLEY: This is it. I mean, these are professionals. They shouldn’t need every little trophy for doing every little bit of their job.

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay, here’s another one. The deputy chief of station is so bland that the other characters don’t notice her unless she’s holding a highlighter. Where’d that come from?

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. I bet you there are some people who just sort of disappear who become, you know, like they never leave the building. Their life is the job. And so they never leave the building. They sort of take the color of the cubicles.

There are just some who don’t have quite the same forceful character as others. Maybe she was doing something really important behind the scenes. It’s just not written about.

MICHAEL MORELL: And she was using her highlighter.

ALEX FINLEY: So she had a purpose, right? Yeah. I think she had to be doing something.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. And you know, on the analytic side of the agency, highlighters are pretty important.

ALEX FINLEY: This is true. This is true. So maybe she was just on the wrong side of the house.

MICHAEL MORELL: Maybe she was misplaced.

Okay, here’s another one. I love this. So Patrick, who’s a counterterrorism analyst, is conflicted when the president declares an end – and I’m going to quote this again – an “end to the total war on terror.”

ALEX FINLEY: Yes, he is conflicted because what it means, either he totally succeeded, or – but he maybe succeeded himself out of a job, or he recognizes that, in fact, have not succeeded at all, but the top policymaker’s declaring the war on terror over. So what is he supposed to do with his free time now?

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. There is this weird irony, right, that bad things happening in the world are good if you’re in the intelligence business, right. You’re more in demand. It’s this weird irony.

ALEX FINLEY: This is true. This is true. But in Patrick’s case, the irony here is the fact the work continues.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yes.

ALEX FINLEY: Just that he’s now been told you shouldn’t pursue it in any particular way.

MICHAEL MORELL: You know, I shouldn’t tell this story, but I was in the men’s room once and this was right during a phase of the actual peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. And there were some analysts in there who were lamenting the peace process because of what their job is.

ALEX FINLEY:And, you know, when you put so much time, so many years into something, there’s a little bit of of a letdown actually, right afterwards.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah.

ALEX FINLEY: I mean, I know for sure after the bin Laden raid, there actually also was a lot of – there was a super excited at first, like, ‘Okay, okay, we finally succeeded.’ And then there was sort of the the drop after the high. You know, ‘What could we do now? Well, now what? We’ve all just put so much effort and time and sacrifice into doing this.

Because, of course, it’s not just that group that we see in the movies that did it, right. And this was built on years and years of of people running these operations and getting information and analyzing and putting all of this together. So all of these people putting in all this effort – now it’s, ‘Okay. Now it’s done,’ right? ‘Okay.’

MICHAEL MORELL: Now take a week off.

So, Alex, let’s continue with some stuff from the book. So the next one on my list here is that the president requires Dicky the Doll to be present at all of his intelligence briefings. What’s that all about?

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. So the new president that is brought in and that is elected in ‘Victor in Trouble,’ the new president was quite likely elected with help from Russia and is not the most intellectual, let’s say.
And the analysts, of course, have a responsibility to brief him every day. But they have trouble getting his attention and they have trouble getting him to understand things. So there’s a sort of a running theme in the book of the analysts looking for ways to get his attention and to pass on to him this information that he, as president of the United States, needs to know.

And what they eventually land on is Dicky the Doll who attends all of the briefings. And he walks across a very large map. So he starts at the White House. And then if they’re discussing Afghanistan that day, Dicky the Doll goes to Afghanistan, tells us a little story as he’s going. And then he explains whatever it is the president needs to know in a high-pitched Elmo voice, I believe is how I describe it, and explains everything to the president in that way.

MICHAEL MORELL: So when I was briefing President Bush, he required that his two dogs, Barney and Spot, be in the room for every briefing, but they mostly just lay down and slept.

ALEX FINLEY: They were bored?

MICHAEL MORELL: 

I bored them.
ALEX FINLEY: You needed a dog translator because maybe they could have helped.

MICHAEL MORELL: You know, what was really tough was when George Tenet and I, who was the director at the time, walked into the Oval Office and Spot was asleep on the place in the sofa where George usually sat. And – what do you do, right? Do you actually move the president’s dog or not? It’s a tough question.

ALEX FINLEY: And so what did he do?

MICHAEL MORELL: You know, he waited; he just stood there and waited for the president to tell Spot to move. It’s interesting to watch your boss in front of the president, right?

ALEX FINLEY: I’m sure. I’m sure. But he’s like that in those those little details. Right. Those are very funny, absurd details. That’s a satire right there.

MICHAEL MORELL: And of course, I went back to the agency and told everybody. And then it spread like wildfire. Which is something else about the agency, is funny stories spread like crazy. You can’t talk about some real serious stuff that might be compartmented, but you can sure share gossip.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. And we all sort of understand why that is so funny, because some other people might be like, “Oh, he’s talking about being in the Oval Office again,” but, like, for PDB briefers, that’s hilarious, like, “That happened to me last week.”

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay, last one. Victor is distracted because he wants a blue ball, an exercise ball to sit on like his wife, who works for the FBI. But once he gets the ball, he has to wear a helmet because of safety concerns.

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. That grew out of a lot of the things – there are a lot of bureaucratic regulations, right? So, like, to get a desk, the desk has to be at your grade level. You know, you can’t have a GS- 15 desk if you’re a GS-12.

And they do have a lot of these weird sort of safety regulations. One minor mishap in some far away station in a random corner of the world, and then there’s this blanket, worldwide regulation to make sure that one teeny, tiny thing that could only have happened in that particular station doesn’t happen anywhere else. And it just becomes this huge blanket, generic regulation.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. No, it is absolutely true that a lot of regulations exist because one bad thing happened somewhere. Yeah, that’s absolutely true. It’s just funny.

Okay, Alex, one more issue to raise. While some might think a job at CIA is pretty cool, I’d argue that your new status as a yacht-watcher is pretty cool, too. Can you tell us about your new online persona?

ALEX FINLEY: Sure. So, growing actually out of, ‘Victor in Trouble.’ So one of the characters, which you didn’t ask me about, so I’ll tell about him – there is an oligarch in ‘Victor in Trouble.’ Because the oligarchs, of course, played an integral role in Putin’s destabilization activities.

So one of the characters in the book is an oligarch. And if you’re going to have an oligarch, you have to have a yacht. So I had actually started doing a lot of research on oligarch yachts before this war ever started in Ukraine. And I happen to live in Barcelona. So a lot of those yachts, the Russian ones, actually – I mean, there are lots of big yachts down here in the port in Barcelona, but that also the Russians loved it here. So we had Russian oligarch yachts here all the time. So I got to know them and I got to know the boats. Not the oligarchs. I never got invited on.

MICHAEL MORELL: But that’s probably a good thing.

ALEX FINLEY: I know, I know. But I still am hoping one of these detained yachts that I can get on one day with like a Ukrainian flag and just get a photograph of myself.

MICHAEL MORELL: Maybe you can get one pretty cheap, too, right?

ALEX FINLEY: Yeah. See? Yeah, well, that’s it. They may all be on sale pretty soon, and I can’t imagine there’s a huge market for a $700 million yacht.

But so I had become quite familiar with these yachts and I had occasionally on Twitter given tours of the port in Barcelona, taking pictures of some of the boats and accompanying it almost always with some kind of snarky comment. And people thought it was funny, whatever.

And then before that, just even before the war began, I started highlighting the Russian yachts that were here in Barcelona. And because I knew sanctions were coming, I knew that – I assessed for myself that the war was going to start. It was never in doubt for me that Putin was going to invade. And my understanding then was that the next step would be sanctions on the oligarchs, and that would include their assets, like their yachts.

So I started highlighting the different yachts that were here in Barcelona and it got a lot of traction. And then one day I was down at the port and by chance one of – Roman Abramovich’s several yachts, called Solaris, was out running sea trials. It had been in one of the shipyards here. They’re doing refit or some kind of repair work or whatever and was doing sea trials. And I started tweeting about it and saying, ‘You are watching it prepare to flee sanctions.’

And in fact, that’s exactly what ended up happening. The boat left here on a Tuesday afternoon, I think, and then sanctions came down something like 36 hours later. So, I had this background because of, ‘Victor in Trouble’ and other work that I had done. I had this background in the oligarchs and the yachts and that’s it. It kind of took off. And so suddenly I became the watcher and everybody started asking me about yachts.

MICHAEL MORELL: It’s really cool. You mentioned Abramovich has multiple yachts. How many yachts does a person need?

ALEX FINLEY: Apparently at least six. And he sold one – there’s one that the changed to ownership hands the day of the invasion of course it’s to somebody else who you know is like listed on the Chelsea FC group as well. So it’s somebody very close to him. He still has access to it probably.

But that’s the thing. I mean, there are a number of yachts that we know belong to the oligarchs. So we’ve been able to track those. But they’re also discovering there are yachts being built or other yachts that we just didn’t even know belonged to them. And so if you don’t know they exist you don’t know to look or them.

So this this story is far from done, because I also think that the yachts have been used to launder money and to move money into strategic spending for Putin. So I think there’s still a lot more to uncover here.

MICHAEL MORELL: And these aren’t what I think most people think of as yachts. I mean, these are huge ships. Yeah. These aren’t your typical yachts.

ALEX FINLEY: I mean, we’re talking 140, 150 meters, you know, so bigger than an American football field. A field and a half.

And extremely high tech. They have, you know, personalized submarines, anti-missile defense systems, bulletproof glass, the swimming pool that turns into a disco, because how can you live without that? Retractable helicopter hangar, because, you know, once the helicopter lands, it’s just so unsightly. You know, you don’t want your guests to see that.

MICHAEL MORELL: Alex, you are terrific. Thank you so much for joining us. The book is, ‘Victor In Trouble.’ The author is Alex Finley. Go to Amazon, buy all three books. Alex, thank you so much for joining us.

ALEX FINLEY: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. 



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