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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hunting bin Laden: The Shadow Wolves 


This is incredibly cool:

An elite group of Native American trackers is joining the hunt for terrorists crossing Afghanistan's borders.

The unit, the Shadow Wolves, was recruited from several tribes, including the Navajo, Sioux, Lakota and Apache. It is being sent to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to pass on ancestral sign-reading skills to local border units....

The Pentagon has been alarmed at the ease with which Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters have been slipping in and out of Afghanistan. Defence officials are convinced their movements can be curtailed by the Shadow Wolves.

The unit has earned international respect for its tracking skills in the Arizona desert. It was founded in the early 1970s to curb the flow of marijuana into the US from Mexico and has since tracked people-smugglers across hundreds of square kilometres of the Tohono O'odham tribal reservation, southwest of Tucson.

Harold Thompson, a Navajo Indian, and Gary Ortega, from the Tohono reservation, are experts at "cutting sign", the traditional Indian method of finding and following minute clues from a barren landscape. They can detect twigs snapped by passing humans or hair snagged on a branch and tell how long a sliver of food may have lain in the dirt.

This group is not, shall we say, well publicized. The second hit is an old article from Smithsonian magazine. Fortunately, it teaches us about "cutting for sign."
A full-blooded Navajo, Nez belongs to an all-Indian Customs unit, nicknamed the Shadow Wolves, that patrols the reservation.The unit, which numbers 21 agents, was established in 1972 by an act of Congress. (It has recently become part of the Department of Homeland Security.) “The name Shadow Wolves refers to the way we hunt, like a wolf pack,” says Nez, a 14-year veteran who joined the U.S. Customs Patrol Office of Investigation in 1988 after a stint as an officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Navajo Police Department. “If one wolf finds prey, it will call in the rest of the pack.” What makes the Shadow Wolves unique is its modus operandi. Rather than relying solely on high-tech gadgetry— night-vision goggles or motion sensors buried in the ground—members of this unit “cut for sign.” “Sign” is physical evidence—footprints, a dangling thread, a broken twig, a discarded piece of clothing, or tire tracks. “Cutting” is searching for sign or analyzing it once it’s found.

I had no idea that there were Native Americans still skilled in these arts. Naturally, this makes me wonder whether the Japanese still have ninjas...

18 Comments:

By Anonymous GreenmanTim, at Sun Mar 11, 10:12:00 PM:

Back in the bad old Apartheid days during Namibia's independance struggle, the South African Defense Force organized "Bushman Battalions" to track down SWAPO "terrorists". The bushman's legendary tracking skills were the one thing that whites admired about this otherwise maligned group, who not so many years before were themselves hunted for sport. While it is true that many bushmen had highly developed bush skills, they were 20 years removed from the times when hunting and foraging provided their main subsistance. At R500 a month(about $US200 in the mid 1980s), soldiers pay, alcohol, and unprecedented violence only further marginalized these first people of southern Africa. They ended up on the wrong side of the Independance struggle, unloved by Namibia's new rulers and their old colonizers.

Rural traditions do still preserve remarkable skills. I have met Ju/'hoan bushmen who are extraordinary trackers, and their traditional knowledge is amazing. But then, I've met a number of people, in tune with the land, who are remarkable at following spoor who had no such indigenous tradition. I met someone here in Connecticut once in a bar who looked me in the eye and said "I track humans" and then proceeded to tell me how to tell who had been poaching deer on a nearby preserve: Go to a bar, look at the men sitting at the stools, and take a good look at the soles of all their obligingly exposed boots.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 12:27:00 AM:

A first-rate Indonesian "dukun santet" (black shaman) possibly could find and kill Osama.

Indonesian shamans have things in common with the witch doctors of African tribes and the medicine men of American Indians. The shamans allegedly can communicate with gods, demons, and ancestral spirits in an unseen world. Supposedly the shamans can use their power to discover the hidden. Shamans who are willing to use their powers for negative purposes are black shamans. Black shamans allegedly can cause fatal illnesses.

In the early 1990s, a black shaman put a curse on one of my Indonesian employees. I had to hire a more powerful shaman to reverse the curse and save the employee's life. Scary stuff.  

By Anonymous GreenmanTim, at Mon Mar 12, 01:26:00 AM:

Better yet, DEC - and I'm sure you've encounter this in your travels - get Osama to go nightswimming off Figi at a high tide with a full moon. The muti man will come down the beach with a candle on his head, walk out into the water, touch his chest and take his soul. I met an Irishman who swore he had had that experience, and his restless soul was in constant torment. He also couldn't get laid, but I've never understood that possession of a soul was a prerequisite.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 01:53:00 AM:

That's interesting, GreenmanTim. I knew that some muti-men allegedly dealt in human body parts. But I never heard about the soul snatching.  

By Anonymous aiwdgya, at Mon Mar 12, 03:32:00 AM:

As with a lot of information these days, illuminating but why I am I being told this.

Is it because the PR value is more important than the mission. Or maybe Gates, the former CIA man, spoke when he should not have.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 12, 10:38:00 AM:

"I had to hire a more powerful shaman to reverse the curse and save the employee's life. Scary stuff."

So they pulled the old "black shaman put a curse on me" bit and you bought it? And paid a shaman to "reverse" the curse? How much did that cost? Where do you think the money went?

There's a bridge in Brooklyn that I'm selling, do you want to buy it? It's a good deal....  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 11:27:00 AM:

Anonymous: "How much did that cost?"

Less than $5. I was there. My Indonesian employees don't cheat me, Anonymous.

Perhaps it is time for you to get out of "Brooklyn" and see the world.

Indonesia is full of evil spirits. For example, many experienced Western traders never buy a closed container inside the country. An evil spirit can hide inside the container, leave the country with you, and ruin your life.

Fortunately, Indonesian evil spirits never seem to get inside containers such as suitcases that you bring with you.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 12:15:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 12:24:00 PM:

P.S. By "closed container," I mean an empty box with a lid.  

By Blogger Tom, at Mon Mar 12, 02:35:00 PM:

Wait, this is the same Indonesia with the ketok magik, the magic mechanics who claim to fix your car using magic, rather than tools? (Skeptics note that no one is ever actually allowed into the garage to check...)

Sure, you can psych people into believing that they're cursed and they'll even die. But if you don't believe in it, it's ineffective.

As to the main story -- if these guys are so effective, which didn't they do this five years ago? Not in much rush, are we, Mr. Bush?  

By Blogger Lt Col Patrick, at Mon Mar 12, 02:35:00 PM:

From "Duty in the Desert": Tigerhawk has found an interesting story about the U.S. using an elite group of Native Americans to help catch Taliban and al Qaeda fighters crossing Afghanistan's borders".

I hope we hear about some success from this unit very soon.

Patrick  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 12, 02:57:00 PM:

Re:
this makes me wonder whether the Japanese still have ninjas...

Sure they do, check out genbukan.org  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 03:01:00 PM:

Tom: "Sure, you can psych people into believing that they're cursed and they'll even die. But if you don't believe in it, it's ineffective."

I used to think that way, "Scully." But 18 years ago, I leased a 19th-century house in California. I periodically heard coughing when I lived in the two-story home. I searched the place, but I failed to find the source of the noise. One day I flipped through old newspapers at the local public library. I read about the death of a man in my house. He had died from tuberculosis in 1912.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Mar 12, 07:54:00 PM:

Reminds me of The Princess Bride...  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 08:17:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 08:36:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger DEC, at Mon Mar 12, 08:41:00 PM:

A pleasant hotel worker in Indonesia once told me: "My wife is a midwife. Last night she left her scissors at a strange house where she delivered a baby. Today she went back to get her scissors. The house and the people were gone."

"She probably went to the wrong address," I said.

"She went to the right place," he continued.

"What is the explanation?" I asked.

"My wife thinks she delivered a baby ghost," he replied.

"The explanation makes sense," I said. "The ghosts probably needed the scissors to cut eyeholes in white bedsheets."

The hotel worker agreed and smiled.

In the global marketplace, American businesspeople make more friends by respecting other people's nonthreatening beliefs.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Mon Mar 12, 10:21:00 PM:

That same approach works pretty well here at home too.  

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