In 2010, aid worker Linda Norgrove, working for a US government funded aid contractor in eastern Afghanistan, was kidnapped. The ensuing rescue attempt went awry when a Navy SEAL threw a grenade at Norgrove. Now a recent article in The Intercept Norgrove worked for MI6 claims that the British Secret Service might have had her name on the roster.
How true is this?
This one kind of caught me off guard a little bit. Since in theory the job that pays my bills is aid and development work, back in 2010 I had a couple of conversations with people about this raid. Then there was a point when I knew a few people who knew some people who worked with Norgrove.
Based on my vast knowledge of all things both Norgrove and MI6 in Afghanistan…who the fuck knows?
And “worked with MI6” could mean a whole lot of things that don’t mean Norgrove was going full Jane Bond and getting her 007 on in eastern Afghanistan.
For all the challenges I have with the Intercept and its editorial vision, they do tend to document the shit out of any story they run, and so there’s little reason to believe they’ve strayed from that here.
Whether the source used for the story was full of complete shit? That’s a tougher call to make. And I’d be a speculating motherfucker if I made out like I knew anything at all with any certainty on this.
So there’s no way this could be true?
Whoa whoa whoa.
It’s entirely possible that Linda Norgrove was working in some capacity with MI6. Because aid organizations like Norgrove worked with have been used before by governments to put people into place who otherwise wouldn’t have had any access.
DAI, the company Norgrove worked for at the time, did something along those lines with Alan Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban jail accused of espionage after working for DAI to set up internet service in the country.
Granted, the Cubans have a long history of accusing the Americans of doing shit in the island nation that they weren’t really doing. Except that the United States did try to invasion via the Bay of Pigs, and of course all those attempts to assassinate leader Fidel Castro.
And DAI isn’t the only USAID contractor that got into trouble doing work in the Land of Better Cigars. According to the Guardian in 2014, Creative Associates created ‘Cuban Twitter’ with the goal of destablizing the Havana government.
None of which means that Norgrove was in eastern Afghanistan doing anything other that what it said on the tin: Helping the Afghan people. Because to say otherwise is pretty disingenuous based on USAID actions in Cuba.
But there is precedent
Not just yes, but fuck yes. Aid work is a fantastic cover for secret services, because they have contacts in places that conventional security agencies could never operate. And aid workers have the potential to gain trust of local actors at a level unreachable by other organizations.
Of course in places like Afghanistan the nature of the security posture around aid workers means they’re pretty closed off from access to local populations. Particularly in eastern Afghanistan, which even before the rise of the Islamic State was a less-than-comfortable place for the Noble Order of White Helpfulness to roam free.
And for the most part the kind of people that end up volunteering for work in those conditions can bring some pretty significant interpersonal challenges to the table. By which I mean they can be slightly unhinged assholes.
And that’s on a good day before they start drinking.
By all accounts, Norgrove was none of those things. A bright, caring, human being who died trying to help others. That’s what we know from her family, who are denying she ever worked for Britain’s Secret Service.
Is this a dangerous story?
Oh fuck yes – and this is where I take exception to The Intercept and its decision to run that in its report on SEAL Team 6. Which is relevant to this story because after Norgrove was kidnapped, the SEALs mounted a failed rescue attempt.
“Failed” because someone threw a grenade.
And that “someone” was a SEAL.
Norgrove, as it turned out, was not grenade proof.
So I get that it’s part of the story, but adding a hint of the covert to people like Norgrove makes it harder for the rest of the aid and development community to do their job. Which is hard enough to begin with, even if you’re not an asshole who couldn’t function in the real world.
But journalism a la The Intercept cares more about the story than they do about its effects. And now that a whole lot of people working in aid work have to fend off questions about being spies for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Glenn Greenwald Gigglefest gets its page views, which is what really matters here, right?
So fuck The Intercept
Well, not exactly – there’s value in an organization that specializes in a particular brand of deep-dive investigative journalism. Even if it does so with a certain degree of irresponsibility. And there’s no doubt that they’ve hired some more-than-functional journalists to feed the reading beast.
It’s not that the story is a bad one – there’s a whole lot about the actions of SEALs that should (but won’t) prompt more investigations into what special operators are doing in places like Afghanistan. What’s sad is that a sidenote in a larger piece becomes the only way people will remember the life of someone who lost hers in the service of others.
And service, even if done at the behest of a government funded contractor, is still service. It’s still being done in the name of the greater good. I can’t say the same for the story that covered it.
Where I know I’ll be further disappointed is in the silence that’s going to follow this from anyone who could shed any light at all on this story. Because what we need to hear from would be someone in authority that either explains what Norgrove was doing for MI6, or officially deny any involvement between the spy agency and the aid worker.
That’s what we call “closure,” and that’s not how governments do business. So we may never know if Norgrove was the next Jane Bond. All we know for sure is that she died doing something she loved.