Written by Edward Osborne
An international security expert plays cat and mouse with a reporter until the very end. The prize: Amanda Lindhout, the Red Deer woman abucted in Somalia
It’s been over a year since freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout was dragged from her vehicle in Somalia and taken into the hands of the Al-Shabaab Islamist group. Having only been in the country for three days, she and her photographer Nigel Brennan found themselves hostages of an armed gang, far from home, and with little support.
The family was afraid to talk in case media attention brought the already substantial $2-million ransom higher. Her parents, John Lindhout and Lorinda Stewart, received little or no assistance from the Canadian government and things seemed desperate.
Then, on November 25th 2009, the hostages are released. After 458 hellish days, Lindhout and Brennan appear in a hotel in Mogadishu, planning to fly to Nairobi that night and then home.
As news of her release surfaces on the Internet excitement hits me like a wave. This is it; this is my chance. Less than a half hour after the news breaks, I am on the phone with Gregory Boyd, editor of the national desk at the Globe and Mail.
“We’re interested in your story,” he says to me “But I want you to bring every connection between Lindhout and this guy to the top of the article . . . every time he mentioned her, make sure you get it in.”
He gives me an hour to get a workable draft ready, faxing me a freelance contract and an agreement to exclusivity. I’m about to make the biggest deal of my journalism career.
At 8:22 p.m. EST, my story, Who Freed Amanda Lindhout? goes up on the Globe and Mail website. It spikes to the second most read online story, and will stay in the Top 10 for the next 24 hours.
But less than an hour after uploading I will be glued to the phone with Boyd, surrounded by a forest of notebooks, papers, photographs and printouts. Boyd sounds suspicious; unsure of his decision to buy my story.
“This Daniel Clayton fellow. He’s saying he’s never met you.”
My heart drops.
The first time I met Daniel Clayton was in a small brightly-lit office in the Banker's Hall office building downtown. His hair is cropped close and gelled back, and his handshake is the warm vice grip one would expect from a military man. There are no pictures of family in his office. Instead there are framed images of soldiers jumping from helicopters, a statue of a Lancaster Bomber, and a world map pimpled with pins that dominates one wall. He brushes dust from the sleeve of his dark grey suit and folds his hands across his chest expectantly.
Clayton runs a self-described “Risk Management Company” out of Calgary called Diligence Ltd. He is the only person from Diligence I have ever met. But he says it also has three regional directors, 25 full-time crisis operators, and approximately 150 “connections” that can be called upon. There are bureaus and offices in London, Kabul, Baghdad, Lagos and Jakarta, just to name a few. His “operatives” are employed in war-zones around the world. They offer bodyguard work, development of security plans, and have been known to break into locations to provide information on weakness in infrastructure. This is known as “penetration testing,” and is often to serve as a wake-up call to the vulnerable company or institution.
Clayton is an ex-special forces soldier from the United Kingdom with a penchant for fine food and firearms and lives a life so shrouded in caution that to me it borders on paranoia. I first got onto Clayton when I was commissioned to do a story on Amanda Lindhout during her captivity. At the time coverage was minimal and almost no one was willing to speak on the subject. Except in a number of articles I found commentary from Clayton. He’d lambasted the federal government for their lack of response and made a number of alluring statements about the situation on the ground. He told the Toronto Star on August 23: "We have the location of where she is. We have a cell-phone number for the group that's actually holding her. We have a lot of credible intelligence. Enough to mount a rescue if the government was so inclined."
But in September he clams up. When I ask him about Amanda Lindhout he says flat out that he can't say anything about the subject, that it is too risky. And then tells me conspiratorially over the phone to “keep an eye on this story over the coming weeks . . . When she’s back home and safe we can sit down and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
So I take an interest in his company, something to keep me close and involved until the Lindhout situation develops into something solid. When I leave his office we shake hands and he smiles as he says to me “Remember, if you write anything I didn't say. . . I know where you live.”
The second time Clayton meets me; he withholds the location of our rendezvous until 12 hours before we are scheduled to be there. This means a late evening phone call to his office and some questioning “about my purpose” before he tells me to be at the Shooting Edge the next morning. He's going to be training some students, and has agreed to let me take pictures. This course only happens a few times a year, where Clayton takes in a handful of men to turn into Hostile Environment Close Protection Operatives. Armed bodyguards.
Clayton emerges from the snow with heavy boots and a woodland camouflage jacket. He ferries boxes into the private range that are overflowing with rope, knives, dummy grenades, scopes, ammunition and bottles of water. I'm told to wait outside while they get ready.
Five bulky guys brought their own weapons and their own outfits just to practice. They joke and play like teenagers and despite a few strained muscles from the day before, they are excited to go.
Inside the double sets of soundproof doors is an empty hallway. It’s just over 50 metres from the door to the steel backing and the Volution Trap at the end of the range that collects spent bullets. Five paper silhouettes dangle from wires on the ceiling. Many of the fluorescent lights have burnt out, and it is cold enough that we can see our breath.
They start with basic pistol drills. Crawling on their bellies, lying on their backs, and firing with their off-hand just to try different levels of comfort. They memorize acronyms of roles and equipment for their upcoming exam. If they pass they'll be able to work in Iraq and Afghanistan as bodyguards and private contractors. But first they have to get through Clayton. In the office Clayton told me “we usually know the people we hire from working with them before” so none of these guys will end up on the Diligence payroll. Instead they each pay him $2,250 to get the training and certification.
Troy Wiebe and Adrian Anderson, the two men on the firing line draw guns from hip holsters and work on their “double tap,” pulling the trigger twice in quick succession to improve stopping power. They only shoot once a week but they score 35 out of 40 shots in less than a minute. As they rotate off for the next pair of shooters Wiebe offers a fist bump.
“This is so much fun,” he is literally grinning as he reloads his magazines.
Wiebe works in the oil industry, but he was also a key part of Alberta Tactical Rifle: The Calgary company manufactures its own weapon parts and produces custom firearms in the $12,500 price range. Wiebe used to test accuracy of these rifles until he says he was “cut loose” as a result of the recession. Now he does part time gunsmithing and plays with products until he can get back into it professionally.
The smoke clears and we're called back to the other side of the safe line. It’s time for an entirely different set of drills.
The duct-tape pulls at my skin painfully. My wrists are bound in front of me as though at prayer, with elbows touching at my stomach. There are already six layers of tape, but Anderson wraps one more around just to be sure.
“Good luck getting out of that.” He laughs and tosses the tape onto the workbench next to his Glock and combat knife.
You only get one chance to tear free of duct-tape. If you fuck it up, the tape just stretches, leaving you writhing around like a damaged dancer. The trick is to psych yourself up, and then use your radius bone as a cutting edge.
My wrists are so tight together the pulses seem to touch.
This won't work for plasti-cuffs, the favoured restraint system used by the U.S. army. If you use this method to get out of those glorified zip-ties you will chop your wrists raw. The fastest way to get out of plasti-cuffs is to find a vehicle and force your wrists against the hot exhaust pipe. You'll blister and burn, but it'll melt through the cuffs in seconds.
I set my boots a shoulder width apart and hunch over. I close my eyes and try to focus on my breathing.
Not five minutes ago I was watching Anderson try this exact same technique. We had to cut him loose after he wound up just wrenching back and forth. Now I'm the one under inspection as Clayton watches with his arms crossed.
I didn't sign up for this. But after cutting Anderson free Clayton pointed at me with the knife and told me.
“F$%k it.You're here, and we're ffffffing tying you up!” He laughed and took me by the shoulder, propelling me towards Adrian. “Look at all those little hairs! They're going to tear right out.”
Daniel Clayton was born in Britain, where his grandfather served in the Canadian Airborne. Beyond that, he shares very little. “I don't have any parents,” he says.
He always wanted to be soldier, though. When he was 16 he dropped out of high school and forged his mother's signature to get into the British army. She had no idea until the first day of basic training. He served from July of 1997 until 2004, doing tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He served in the aviation unit of the UK Special Forces, before moving to Canada in 2005.
He founded Diligence in 2006, selling off a security arm of the company two years later. “I work on the business instead of in the business,” he says.
So now I suck in deep breaths and imagine a car accident. This is to get the adrenaline going in your system; to cheat yourself into a high energy state.
“Better stand back.” He doesn't think I'll make it.
I rip my arms apart in a forceful twisting motion, fracturing my radius in the process. I won't know that till two days later but right now all that matters is I am free. They cheer, I laugh, and Clayton prepares for the next lesson.
By the time the rifles come out, I've filled up my camera with photos of men training and wrestling. Clayton pours water on them, flashes my strobe in their face, and forces them to put their arms into a bucket of snow, all for the sake of mimicking combat stress. And even when they come away cursing, they slap each other on the back and swear to do better next time.
This is combat neutered. The guns are real, the kinship between men is real, but nobody's going to go home in a box. Sure Clayton might tell them it's training for reality, but the fact is these guys are all happy in their jobs as technicians and managers. They will never have to go overseas and experience targets that shoot back. It is a fabrication.
As they pack up I pepper Clayton with questions, most of which he refuses to answer. He admits to being afraid once, when he thought he'd driven over an IED in Iraq in 2005. And he confesses that his fiancee calls him “the tin man” at home, apparently because he has no heart.
I do warn him that I'll be calling again, leaving my door open. Shortly after this news comes that Lindhout might have been moved from her holding position into the remote wastelands of Somalia. This comes as disheartening news, and I call Clayton to see what he might offer. We end up discussing the ins and outs of war correspondence and the importance of buying ransom insurance, a service his company sells.
I'm a little taken aback when he says to me, “I'm a big believer in that you always get what's coming to you. If you go over to one of these dangerous countries with no training whatsoever and get kidnapped; you have no one to blame but yourself.” He seems frustrated, and when I ask him about Amanda's situation he tells me “I know what's going on on the ground so I can't comment.” It all seems very exciting, but he refuses to tell me any more than that.
Until November 25th, when she's freed. Before I call the Globe and Mail, before my harried night of long distance phone calls, I dial Clayton's cell. I have to call four times before he picks up. I share the news, but of course he already knows.
“Was this you?” I ask.
“Well I . . . I can't confirm anything at this point. I can confirm that a ransom has been paid, that she has been released and that she's on her way home.”
“But, was it you?”
I'm a little taken aback when he says to me, “I'm a big believer in that you always get what's coming to you. If you go over to one of these dangerous countries with no training whatsoever and get kidnapped; you have no one to blame but yourself.” -- Daniel Clayton
“I've been teaching a course today so I'm very busy, but I can tell you it's been a crazy day for me.”
He promises to meet and talk on Monday. But Monday is too far. I know that the story will have passed by the time he is willing to sit down and give me an after action report. So I offer the Globe and Mail what I have. A story of hinting and supposition, which makes no solid claims, only offers a possibility of involvement.
Within 15 minutes of the story going up Clayton calls me on my cell-phone. He’s never done this before.
“I presume the story in the Globe is from you?”
It’s a strange question, my byline is right at the top.
“That story has to come down right now. If that’s in the newspaper tomorrow morning then this could go seriously wrong.” I get nervous. One of the main reasons kidnappings are suppressed in the media is because the attention can change the dynamics of negotiations. What if Lindhout isn’t as free as I’d thought? What if I’ve thrown things into jeopardy by exposing Clayton? I try to back out of it, telling him that I’ll call the Globe and ask what would be needed to make the story acceptable. But that’s not enough.
“Just get it down!” he’s shouting now. “This is the sort of thing that wrecks careers, and rest assured I will wreck yours if you don’t fix this.” This sparks a flurry of back-and-forth between Clayton, myself, and various people at the Globe and Mail. My story is refined to frame Clayton more positively, but it stays up. No facts or quotes are removed, and I’m actually relieved when he asks me to buy him coffee on Monday still. It seems like things have worked out okay.
Two days later, he emails me a press release from Diligence, explaining that he had nothing to do with Lindhout’s release. That while he had gathered intelligence he was never contracted by the family or the government and that Diligence “withdrew our involvement approximately six months ago, when we learned of other efforts being co-ordinated to rescue Amanda.”
He cancels our final interview.