I’d like everyone to stand up and give Karl Braungart a big round of applause for taking part in our exciting adventure.
Karl Braungart’s Bio
Karl was born in Baltimore, Maryland. During his US Army service, he worked in military intelligence during the Cold War when living in Germany. He worked in the administration of a military intelligence department, interviewing, initiating security clearances, fingerprinting, and MI seminars. That training and his travels throughout Europe helped develop his understanding of espionage tactics and diplomacy. Karl graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. He majored in political science (international affairs & comparative governments). Karl has spent the last several decades studying Middle East politics and social movements. Karl is a member of the Maryland Writers Association, Eastern Shore Writers Association, the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild, and Creatures, Crime and Creativity.
Karl and I talked about writing espionage thrillers, how his experiences have shaped his novels, his latest book, SPY DETERMINATION BOOK 2, studying Middle East social movements, why we should check under our car seats before we go for a drive, notes to give yourself before you start writing, whether or not he’ll have to kill me after we’ve done the interview, what to do when your first editing fails, the politics of editing espionage thrillers, writing past Beethoven’s 9TM symphony and being prodded by AARP to write.
You can find links to Karl’s books on the right or at the bottom of this post (depending on your device). You’ll also find links to Karl’s sites underneath the video. And please comment both pro and pro. Okay, con, too, if something really peeves you.
An excerpt from Karl’s Spy Determination Book 1
The two men placed their Beretta pistols under the car seat. With false identification papers they entered the building and got past the desk guards at the living quarters for the United Nations International Military Institute (UNIMI) in Stockholm, Sweden. After passing the guard station, they got on an empty elevator. When the door opened on the second floor, they stepped out into the flow of soldiers, some dressed in civilian clothes, some in uniform. They were dressed like civilians, and both had olive skin, black mustaches and dark eyebrows. They turned to the left, the busy corridor helping them blend in with the crowd. Because they also modeled a clean cut military appearance, they could easily pass for officers from the Middle East. Luckily for them, socializing in the corridors rarely occurred so no one questioned them. When they got to room 207, the shorter, stocky one deftly jimmied the lock and opened the door. They entered, locked the door, and waited.
This week, ten military officers were participating in a program designed to teach them to minimize the threat of war through negotiation with foreign rebels. The idea was to minimize killings and destruction. Captain Eric Miller stood behind the podium presenting his ideas and a model problem, followed by various solutions. When he finished, the group exchanged theories. This type of self-teaching was routine at UNIMI. Unfortunately, and to Miller’s displeasure, most of the Middle East soldiers disagreed with the solutions, believing they were harsh ways to negotiate. They appeared to feel as if the harshness was directed toward them.
The class ended at four p.m. Miller headed to his small, one bedroom apartment, which was not much bigger than a good sized hotel room. It had amenities, but wasn’t somewhere he’d want to live indefinitely. He looked forward to graduating.
He entered the apartment, flicked the wall switch and let the door close. He stopped in his tracks when he saw two men sitting in the side chairs. He instinctively looked for weapon bulges inside their clothing, but saw none. “Who are you?”
Rather than answer him, the taller one said, “We came to offer you a proposition, Captain Eric Miller. Are you interested?” Surprisingly, he even recited Miller’s military serial number.
Adopting his visitor’s approach of answering a question with a question, Miller said, “What do you want?”
The shorter man said, “We want to offer you a proposition, but we can’t explain here. You have to come with us for a little while.”
They stood up and Miller said, “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me more. What is this about?”
The shorter man smiled and said, “You are in no danger. We only need one hour of your time, and then you can come back. You can even follow us in your car.” He gave a description of their vehicle. “I will flash my headlights for you.”
Miller almost burst out laughing, thinking that they were nuts to let him drive his own car. He said, “Okay then, let’s go.” He began to believe it was all a trick that the UNIMI managers plotted to see what he would do.
They all went downstairs and the two men went to their car. Miller went to the parking lot, opened the trunk of his car, and lifted the spare tire cover to get his nine millimeter pistol. As he got into his blue Saab, he checked the magazine to be sure it was fully loaded and put it in the inner breast pocket of his winter jacket. When he drove out onto the street, the lights of the other car flashed. He followed them until they parked in the back of a large building. It looked like an embassy building, but he couldn’t identify its nationality.
The men were now wearing heavy overcoats, which they didn’t have on before. Miller wondered if they had armed themselves as well.
They entered the building and the shorter man opened the door to a room furnished like a living room, with a sofa in the middle facing them and several chairs and tables around it. Miller noticed Iraq’s national flag hanging on the wall above a photo of Prime Minister Jalal Masum.
“Okay, I did my part by following you. Now, tell me what this is all about.”
“Captain Miller, we know that you are connected with military intelligence,” said the shorter man. “My associate and I work for a government committee based in Baghdad.” He walked past the sofa to stand near the wall with the flag, his hands folded behind his back. He looked at Miller and said, “We have been informed that the US Army is going to receive some vital information. We want it, too.”
The taller one reached behind the couch and lifted a large duffle bag. He opened it and turned it upside down. Tens of thousands of dollars dropped onto the cushions and the floor. The shorter man riffled a wad of $20 bills and said, “We are offering this money to you.” He let it drop to the floor, adding, “We will pay half now, and the remaining half when we receive the information. The information we seek is a scientific research project developed in the United States. It deals with the production of energy by combining certain natural elements. You are familiar with photosynthesis?” Miller nodded.
Miller still thought it was a joke of some sorts on the part of the UNIMI managers, but decided to play along. “How am I going to obtain this new discovery?”
“When you leave UNIMI for good, the duty station you are assigned to will have access to the information. I must tell you, however, that if you refuse us we have no choice but to kill you because you know our plan.” As he said this, the shorter man removed a pistol with a silencer from the back of his waistband.
Miller, still wearing his winter coat, looked up as if thinking about their offer but watched them from the side of his eye. The taller one motioned toward the pile of money with his left hand and the shorter man’s eyes followed. As they looked down at the bundles of cash, Miller stepped to the side and quickly pulled the nine millimeter out of his coat’s inner breast pocket. The thug with the silencer looked up and turned as Miller fired two rounds in quick succession. The man fell to the floor. Miller could tell by the pulsing blood that he had hit his carotid artery. The other wound, also bleeding profusely, was in the man’s abdomen.
Miller raced for the door before the other man could react. As the pool of blood increased, the other man’s shock wore off and he felt quickly for his own gun. By the time he realized he had left it in the car, Miller was gone.
As Miller drove back to UNIMI, he checked the rearview mirror often, ultimately accepting that he had not been followed. At a red light, he rested his head against the steering wheel and thought, “Man, I got to get the hell out of here.” He quickly returned to his apartment and called his superior.
Yury Nikulin made a right-hand turn out of the Embassy of the Russian Federation onto southbound Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
It was 6:55 a.m. He was preparing to carry out an assignment in the United States after being trained by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, better known as the SVR or the successor to the KGB.
Before being assigned to the Russian embassy in the United States, he was a scout who shadowed other counterintelligence spies throughout Europe for information for the SVR. That had been two years ago. In between these times, he acquired work to clean congressional offices. Now the ambassador felt he was ready to resume his former, more serious espionage campaign.
As Nikulin reached the middle of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown proper, it became nerve-racking. Cars coming north wouldn’t yield to let anyone come southbound. It reminded him of Moscow’s motorway madhouse. As a car stopped to unload passengers in the northbound lane, he raced through.
He got to the end of Wisconsin Avenue and sped up to beat the yellow light, then slowed to the posted twenty-five miles an hour. He turned on to C Street and drove until he reached the US Department of State building. Two DC cops were patrolling the front grounds and one man dressed in civilian clothing strolled by the building’s sign, talking on his cell phone. Since it was early, Nikulin found a place to park at the end of the street. He got out to put coins into the meter, but stopped when he found out payment wasn’t needed until eight o’clock.
Nikulin opened the passenger-side door and leaned in. He inserted a thin memory card into a remote radio receiver and compact recorder before putting the unit between his shirt and undershirt. Then he put a small, flesh-toned plastic bud into his right ear. The plastic covered wire connection to the recorder also functioned as the receiving antenna. He turned on the remote and adjusted the volume. A listening device was already planted in the conference room behind the chair railing. Walking away from the car, he flung his right-hand backward toward his shoulder and pressed the car’s remote control button. There was a slight beep from the horn. He liked these American rental cars.
It was now seven thirty. Workers were entering buildings all up and down the street. He was relieved because now he wasn’t the only civilian walking around. He approached E Street and turned left onto its uphill sidewalk. He fiddled with the dial, but still only heard scratching sounds. He wondered if it was working.
He reached the mid-point of the back of the State Department building and the scratching sounds changed. Walking across a grassy area, he reached inside his shirt and fine-tuned the remote. He heard voices talking about an eight o’clock meeting. He leaned on a concrete retaining wall that was just high enough to be comfortable while he watched the traffic below.
The Russian embassy was already busy at 8:00. Ambassador Oskars Linkov accompanied his emissary, Galina Trofimoff. They walked the outside grounds to discuss her standing in for him today at an important meeting. Linkov was a tall, broad man with a thick black mustache, in contrast to Trofimoff’s slender, five foot five height.
Later that morning, she was going to confer with members of the Senate Economic and Security Commission regarding US oil drilling partnerships in Siberia. Since the United States and Europe were being taken advantage of by Middle Eastern oil masters, Russia was the only nation with petroleum potential for the United States.
It was a touchy international situation. The United Arab Emirates had raised and lowered oil rates over the past decades, and market uncertainty was beginning to take a toll on the world. Although the United States had acres of its own untapped oil fields and a lot of refined reserves, Russia’s vast petroleum underground needed a buyer. The United States refused to partake in the beginning unless they shared drilling rights with Russia and had a written contract.
It was up to Russia to negotiate an oil price with the United States, and that was the reason for this first congressional meeting. Ambassador Linkov knew this first meeting was a waste of time and would only be an exchange of words. Today, Linkov was needed in other areas.
As he and Galina walked, the ambassador read off questions that the congressional committee would likely ask and Galina answered. The quizzing helped her feel prepared.
Linkov looked at his watch. “Galina, it’s already 9:00.” They walked back toward his office building, one of the two white buildings. She shook his hand and went into the two-story office building. Linkov walked into the other building that not only served as his office but also held his two floor penthouse apartment.
“Excuse me, Ambassador Linkov, but here is a telephone message from Moscow,” said the receptionist. As Linkov walked into his office, he was followed by Minister-Counselor Mikhail Berolsky, second in command at the embassy. They took their seats.
Yury Nikulin walked back to his car to find a parking ticket stuck under the windshield washer blade. The time was 9:47. “Dammit!” he mumbled as he pushed the ticket into his back pocket, but as he sat in his car he was filled with pride. His first day on this job and he had recorded a special meeting between State Department personnel! He drove back to the embassy to meet with the ambassador and Mr. Berolsky.
After closing the door, Linkov buzzed the receptionist and said to hold all calls, except Moscow. “So, Yury, let’s hear what you got for us today.” Linkov put the flash drive into the computer and another one in a second port to record. Before they could start the recording, the phone rang.
Linkov picked up the telephone and said with a smile, “Yes, President Borodin, I’m doing fine. And, you, sir?” He made hand signals for the two men in his office to wait outside while he took the call.
“I do not have a lot of time, Oskars.”
“Yes, Mr. President. I understand. Please, continue.”
“I have heard from some of our Iraqi diplomats that a new political faction called Tariq’Allah is sending spies into Germany. These people obtain jobs from the US Army, claiming that they are ISIS political refugees. Anyway, they are gathering security intelligence information.”
“How is this possible, Mr. Borodin? I mean, how do they get work?”
“They find jobs with the US Army by doing the same thing your scouts are doing in Washington, DC. They clean military administrative areas, including security offices.”
“Maybe it’s a situation like here in the United States; they are doing jobs Americans do not want.”
“Yes, Oskars, they know the Germans do not want this sort work anymore. We are going to have to keep an eye on them. If you come into contact with any of the Iraqis visiting the United States this month, follow them. They are looking for something.”
“Yes, Mr. Borodin, we will do that.”
Karl uses ProWritingAid and recommends it.