In 2005 while living in Bahrain, I underwent training with Naval Security Forces. As part of that training, I was sent to train with NCIS. The courses were First Responder Security and also Counter Surveillance. We basically learned the best ways to monitor and spy on people as well as detect those trying to do the same. The preferred technique is of course, cutting out two large eyeholes in a newspaper, and then holding the paper in front of you while you follow your target around. Since they just assume you’re reading a newspaper, they are none the wiser. Tee hee.
One also can’t forget to wear a khaki trench coat and fedora. You’ll never stand out when you look like Mcgruff the Crime Dog.
One of our field assignments for the course was a security survey. They split us up into small teams and assigned each team a target place out in Manama, Bahrain’s capitol. In a security survey, you’re supposed to obtain all the information you can pertaining to security weaknesses, strengths, choke points, and whether or not any security guards present will know the difference between a sonic screwdriver, a lightsaber, and a dildo.
You’d be surprised at how many people mistake those differences. It’s obvious. One is a lethal weapon, one is a sex toy, and one is a dildo.
Anyway, the survey team I was assigned to also included a fellow Navy petty officer and two Marine Corps corporals. Our target to be surveyed was Bahrain’s many fancy hotels. This particular Fancy Hotel is one of those nice and ritzy five-star palaces. It has its own private swimming pool that is also a tropical lagoon with about 547 bars amidst the imported plant life that decorates the area.
I say imported because there is barely anything living that grows naturally in Bahrain. It’s so hot there and devoid of any fresh water sources that I suspect the palm trees you find scattered here and there are actually Legos. Bahrain looks like a Mad Max wasteland where developers started building high-rise hotels and luxury apartments in random places.
Desert wasteland aside, Bahrain has many, many, many, many, many watering holes. And by watering hole, I mean a place where one can imbibe in all manner of alcohol.
The four of us left the U.S. Navy base and drove over to the Fancy Hotel. We parked in the hotel’s covered parking and sat there for several minutes discussing what we were going to do. We weren’t exactly sure what to do with this security survey. Umm…look for choke points? Well, the entrance to the hotel is kinda cramped for cars. Sitting in the parking lot, we realized that we’d have to go inside to actually accomplish anything.
We decided to split up so that we could maximize our security-izing, spy wannabe thing. I went with my fellow petty officer, and the two Marines went somewhere else. Myself and my partner entered the hotel, which had one of those large, spinning doors. You know the kind where superheroes spin really fast while changing clothes? It doesn’t matter. We were just glad for the Fancy Hotel’s awesome air conditioning.
Summer in the Persian Gulf is so hot and humid, it’s like getting cuddled by a morbidly obese trucker inside a Finnish sauna. After walking through that and into the hotel lobby, air conditioning blowers going at full blast, my eyebrows froze over within seconds. I’d heard rumors that some people lost entire limbs due to frostbite and that Walt Disney’s body is kept there. It felt glorious.
Instead of doing actual work, we decided to lounge inside the hotel lobby, taking a load off in some of their many comfy chairs. We told ourselves that we were surveying, you know, getting a feel for the place. Yeah…that’s right. However, after a while, we got a bit bored and decided we needed to do something more. That’s when we had a great idea.
Mind you, we weren’t in uniform–just plain civilian clothes. So when we approached the desk and asked to speak with the hotel’s security manager, it came as a shock to us that they agreed without question. The security manager came and we told him we were from the American navy base, and we wished to tour the security for the hotel. You would think that a security manager would ask to see some credentials at this point, considering that we were mundanely dressed and sweaty.
Nope. He smiled warmly at us and invited us to the security office.
We couldn’t believe it. The security manager led us behind the closed doors of the hotel and into the area where the many hotel workers, maids, bus boys, etc, milled about. We passed by the service elevator, which was used by hotel staff to deliver the room service requests to rich people, such as drinking water from a Patagonian glacier or a Siberian Elvis impersonator. The guests had their own private elevator. Not far from the service elevator was the security office that also contained the feed for the hotels entire count of CCTV cameras.
Here we were, easily having bluffed our way into the more secure halls of the hotel, standing in front of a bank of TV screens that showed all of the feeds from the various security cameras scattered about the hotel. The security manager proudly proclaimed for us the exact number of cameras in the hotel and that this one location had access to all of it.
After that we left and met up back at the car with our Marine cohorts. We laughed as we told them the story and then found they had their own similar story to tell. They first went on the private guest elevator and noticed that the penthouse suites didn’t have buttons, but only special key-card access. Basically private floors for the insanely rich guests.
But that didn’t stop those Marines from accessing that floor. They simply walked behind the desk and into the same hallway the security manager had led us through. They boarded the service elevator and had complete access to the building. No one stopped them. No one questioned them. They casually toured the private floors by themselves and then went to check out the hotel’s roof.
After laughing all of this off, we returned to base and reported our security findings. Our instructors laughed, told us we did a good job, but to never do that again. That evening, I and my Navy friends knew that the end of the course called for beer. That’s all there is to do in Bahrain, really. Especially when there is a place called Rick’s Country Kitchen.
Rick’s Country Kitchen was started by a retired Marine expat. It’s basically a Tex-Mex restaurant with a full service bar. I spent many a night there during my tour. I can’t think of any other place in the Middle East where you can eat nachos and pancakes while drinking Jagermeister as a Filipino guy sings karaoke to a bunch of Johnny Cash songs.