CRF Blog

Mirror Stage

by Bill Hayes

In Mirror Stage for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviews The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Narco-Terrorism by Edward Follis.

Follis joined the Drug Enforcement Administration after a stint in the Marine Corps, and from the moment of his first bust — when he posed as a buyer for a group of Mexican heroin wholesalers — he was “hopelessly addicted to undercover.” During the next three decades, he fought the drug war in Thailand, Mexico, and Korea, and rose to become the agency’s chief representative in Afghanistan. The cast of characters he met along the way could populate a movie set. There was Dragan, “a young Rutger Hauer, six-one, close-cropped blond hair and cobalt-blue eyes,” for whom the D.E.A. put together an entire warehouse of advanced weaponry in a drugs-for-arms deal. “His demeanor remained ice-cold,” Follis writes: “… Didn’t so much as nod. And he damn sure didn’t smile. I don’t think he was a white supremacist, but to me, he had an almost neo-Nazi appearance; he held your gaze for too long, and those blue eyes were chilling. I’ve learned with guys who look like that, guys who think they’re bad-asses, you don’t keep your distance from them. You move in closer.”

Then, there was Kayed Berro, scion of the infamous Berro clan, from the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon, and an alleged associate of the Pakistani heroin kingpin Muhammad Khan, who, Follis tells us, was widely feared and never seen, in the manner of “the Keyser Soze character in The Usual Suspects.” In Thailand, Follis went in search of the elusive Khun Sa, the opium warlord known as the Prince of Death. Follis became so fluent in Thai that his Thai girlfriend once exclaimed, after listening to him set up a meeting with a trafficker, “When I listen to you speak, I wouldn’t even know you were white.” He hauled duffelbags stuffed with five hundred thousand dollars in small bills through a secret passageway under Hong Kong International Airport. He stared down an ex-con named Mike, who pointed an Uzi between his eyes, wondering if Follis was who he said he was. (“What are you talkin’ about, Mike?” Follis fired back. “Think I’m a fuckin’ cop or something? . . . How could I be a cop? Listen, man, I’d be in … jail for what I’ve done with you so far.”) When one of his informers was grabbed in Kabul, he picked up an M4 carbine, a Glock, and a bowie knife, and took off through the city’s streets in a scene worthy of the “Fast and Furious” franchise …. [more]