Nov 122003

“Gooden Afternoon. My name is Herr Jesse Covner. I’m am a valve and actuator expert from Krautworks, the leading German manufacturer of stainless steel valves, pneumatic actuators, and penstocks for municipal water processing market.”. Thus began my insertion into the secret Iraqi biological weapons factory (ingeniously disguised as the JiaAn Water Factory).

It all started, like many great stories, in a bar. The M-Factory. Not really a bar as much as a poorly decorated post-modern disco which lacks a proper disco dance floor. It was jammed with locals. Girls were dancing on the tables – like they saw in some bad 90’s teenager movie – to Jon Bon Jovi “Shot Through the Heart” as sung by a short Chinese girl in a pink sweater. I tried to be inconspicuous in my army boots, blue dry-fit t-shirt, and matching blue pants. I sat at a table with two citizens. Guy; completely average looking, but with confidence and money. Girl; average looking by Chinese standards, pretty round face and big eyes. Start up small talk with guy. Give business card. I move on.

Monday. Receive call from Annie. Annie got my number from Kevin. Kevin? “He told me you met in a bar.” “Lady, I meet lots of people in bars. Most of them have more feminine sounding names.” “Look, its a job. We are a *German* company . We manufacture valves. We need your help.”

German company. Everyone in the field knows this is a code word for unofficial undercover CIA op. Black ops stuff. Wetworks. I’m finally going after the dirt. The WMD.

I previously did my research, never knowing it would come in handy so soon. I attended the International Expo on Valves and Pumps, located in the convention center across from my apartment. I learned what a valve is – in Chinese.

Its a cold, wet night in South Shanghai. I’m wearing work cloths; black wrinkle free micro-fiber pants, dress shirt, polished combat boots, and black imitation Hugo Boss long coat. Paisley tie. Secret pocket on the side to keep my tools of the trade.

The first appointment is in a small office over a bank. I take the bare walled elevator to the 10th floor. Annie greets me. She is wearing farmers overalls – she’s probably going to the countryside on a support mission. We get right down to business.

“Mr. Ke (my Chinese code name), we have an important meeting on Wednesday. Its very important for ‘the company’. But there was a snafu; the ‘engineer’ from HQ cannot attend. We need someone to represent the company from HQ. Can you do this?”

“But I’m not from HQ. I’m not an engineer.”

“But you can still *represent* the company as our valve expert.”

I see where this is leading, but I want Annie to spell it out. Lets not pussyfoot around the details. This is going to get messy. “And how do I become a valve expert?”

The company handler was eavesdropping. He decides its time put the cards on the table. He walks in. Calm. A little nerdy, but confident. “Hello Jesse” he says in English. “My name is David. I do *sales*. (back to Chinese) Let me try to explain the situation.”

“David, let me explain the situation to you first. You want me to infiltrate the meeting. My cover story…I’m to pretend I’m a valve expert from Krautworks HQ. You think you need this to get the *sale*”.

“Mr. Ke, you are to represent the company HQ as our valve expert in this important meeting.”

Annie is looking down and her face is red. Is she nervous? Did this mission come about because she failed to communicate/ coordinate a schedule? “David, you say represent. I say I’m putting on a disguise. The issue is,.. why is it so necessary? You’re sales. You have come across many situations in which you could not satisfy customer demands. Why go to these measures?”

“That is what I need to explain to you. You see, the customer is using electric actuators in their plant. We need them to use our pneumatic actuators. The plant design plans need to change.”

“So the customer needs me at the meeting to change their designs.”

“No. We need you at the meeting to confirm the change in designs. The designs have been changed. But the president of the *Water Administration* won’t OK the design changes unless he sees a representative from the German company. He needs to see high level support from our HQ. And that is part our problem. The HQ engineer cannot come.”

I press for the main point. “So why are pneumatic actuators so important?”

“Electric actuators break often. Maintenance costs are high. And the electric actuators in the original plan do not fit with the valve product which we wish to sell.” This was a lie. I’m 100% positive the pneumatic actuators are rigged to explode, and thereby uncover Saddam’s secret WMD factories in China. But that’s neither here nor there; a job is a job. What’s important is the background work; I don’t want to be caught in the field with my pants down because someone didn’t do their homework.

“So how can I fool them that I’m the German expert?”

“Simple. Memorize this product lit. Talk fast. Talk with an accent. Say whatever you want. They don’t speak English. And you will have Krautworks business cards to give them. That will fool them.”

“You’re 100% sure they don’t speak English?”

“100% copasetic.”

“I don’t know. Sounds dangerous. Why not just call in an air-strike?”

“Believe me…if there was any way we could have avoided doing this, we would have”. He looks at Annie, who’s face is a little red. Something going on there.

“So the plan…you pick me up at 8. We ride for 1 1/2 hours. Have the meeting. In and Out. Have lunch – very important! Then we are back here around 3PM. Clockwork.”

“Sounds about right. One last question,” David says.

“Yes. My compensation.”


“I want 1200 RMB for this half-days work. And I consider that cheap.”

David stays silent for 10 seconds. “Fine.”

“What? You don’t want to haggle?”

“We’ll talk about this price when we call you for future missions.”

“Well. That’s good. But understand, I didn’t come to China to pretend I’m from Germany… if you know what I mean. This is a one-shot mission. I’m doing it because I’m bored. If we are going to work together in the future, no more undercover. I want legit work.”

“Sounds good to me. See you on Wednesday.”

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