CASS Global was accruing cell phone charges from Syria. Behind us, on the hill overlooking our location, were Turkish machine gun positions. Iraq was a 5 minute stroll down the road. There is risk mitigation, and even risk adaption, but the hard truth stated that this would be a tough nut to crack. So among hordes of Syrian refugees splashing across the river, we went to work.
CASS Global, in 2012, was tasked to conduct a feasibility study for an energy company in one of the world’s more inhospitable locations. The petroleum firm wished to develop a new field and tasked us with the overall security plan.
The locale was going to be tough. It was the tri-border region where Syria, Iraq, and Turkey meet. History, coupled with arbitrary British Colonial authority when it came to drawing lines on maps representing national borders, had not done any favors to the peoples who called the strife torn region home.
Syria was in the midst of a full on civil war. We were so close to that forlorn country (perhaps 50 meters across a knee deep river) that our cell phones accrued Syrian roaming charges.
We all know what has happened to Iraq in the last decade. To further exacerbate the issue, we were in Northern Iraq which is commonly referred to as Kurdistan. The Kurds, already practically autonomous in terms of separation from the Shias and Sunnis that make up the rest of Iraq, have long been desirous of creating an independent nation. This hardy race, victims of horrific repression at the hands of Saddam Hussein, do not interact well with either of the other two tribes of Iraq unless it is over the barrel of an AK-47.
Enter Turkey. The drilling sites were actually located on Turkish soil which created several additional headaches which were as follows:
- The region we were to operate in had an overwhelming ethnic majority of Kurds, whose primary allegiance was to the rest of their populace located in Northern Iraq. As such, the Kurds (both in Iraq and Turkey) had been engaged in an interminable civil war/insurgency against the Turkish government in an attempt to carve out a large swathe of Turkish soil to create autonomous “Kurdistan”.
- This armed Kurdish faction, commonly referred to as the PKK, was labeled a terrorist organization by both the Turkish government as well as the USA and thus conducting any form of business with them was illegal.
- Because of the sensitive nature of the Frontier with Syria and Iraq, the red tape issues in terms of permits, licenses, etc were formidable, in both political and financial terms.
- One of the biggest hurdles was going to be the creation of the on site guard force. The Turkish government, having no desire to support the local chapter of the PKK, allowed only a handful of security companies to operate in the frontier zone. All were exclusively ex- Special Forces, composed of retired soldiers who had spent most of their careers fighting the locals in the precise area our client wished to drill. Therefore, all guard force would be strictly non-ethnic Kurds, recruited from other sections of the country to operate in isolation apart from the local populace whose sympathies lay with the PKK. To us, that was an open recipe to disaster.
- The ONLY other option was to hire local civilians from the nearby villages. CASS Global entered into negotiations with the area chieftains and they adamantly insisted that it would require a minimum of 50 guards. The Special Forces company wanted 8. We had little doubt that some of the funding for the 50 would wind up in the coffers of the PKK. The second that happened the Turkish Government could shut the whole thing down.
- Shortly before we arrived, the PKK shot down a civilian helicopter belonging to a French energy company. The reason why was never clearly established but unconfirmed reports tied the downing of the aircraft to failure to pay off the PKK which is commonly called racketeering or extortion in the USA.
Confronted with a myriad of competing claims, ideologies, and pressures, CASS Global opted for the best resolution available. We went direct to source.
Conferring with community leaders in the tri border Frontier Zone. Going to Source
Our goal was to achieve community economic development via commercial enterprise that would be micro financed/ supported by the energy firm. We conducted feasibility studies in cotton, bees, cattle, and cottage manufacturing specializing in linens. As in nearly all of CASS Global’s interactions with the locals who are trying to eke out a living devoid of politics and strife, our proposals were met with support and enthusiasm.
We studied the logistical chain, running from the city of Diyarbakir to Silopi to the rigs. Diyarbakir was considered the headquarters of the PKK which was not the best option to use if you went with a Special Forces Turkish security firm. However, if we employed the local civilians, all it would take is one person to be identified with the PKK one time and the entire program could legally and legitimately shut down by the government based on the premise that our client was supporting terrorist organizations.
The next challenge arrived in the form of Syrian refugees from the civil war, who were beginning to wade across the shallow river on a nightly basis in an attempt to avoid the turmoil further to the West in their war torn nation.
CASS Global arrived at the crux move of the mission after several very long weeks of 18-hour days, trying to extricate the client from one impasse without burying him in another.
Our team was standing on the proposed drilling site. Our cell phones insisted we were in Syria. Iraq was a 10 min stroll down the river bed. Above us, further up the ridge, Turkish infantry were changing shifts at the bunkers with machine gun nests clearly visible some 200 meters away. And finally, the next group of refugees were splashing across the river, the start of the nightly exodus.
We all looked at each other and our expert in all things relating to energy quietly summed it up for all when he stated, “ There is no way this is ever going to work.”
Financially, it was a sad day for CASS Global, as we were tapped to be the security provider should the project move forward. We walked away from a lot of money.
On every other plane, however, it was a great day for CASS Global for we clearly branded ourselves as a quality provider of services who did not place the dollar before all else. In that, we clearly stand apart from competitors.
So we went home and told the client the truth. To be frank, we were not too popular in the board meeting as no public firm enjoys losing money already spent. But the logic was irrefutable and they refrained from plowing any additional dollars into a project that would never yield fruit.
Choosing the hard right over the easy wrong is not the preferred doctrine of most security providers. But it is at CASS Global because we are in for the long haul over the short term gain. It’s also why we are a privately held company.
CASS Global. Choosing the hard right over the easy wrong.