Secretocracy (3)

The personal story of Gene Westmoreland, the protagonist of Secretocracy, is, like the rest of the book, firmly based on my own experiences. When Gene’s marriage fails, he lives in an attic in a shared house in northwest Washington, D.C. After some years of solitude, he begins tentative exploration of relations with women. Lots of problems follow.

When my own marriage collapsed, I lived in the attic of a ramshackle mansion on the edge of Rock Creek Park in northwest Washington. I worked hard to maintain my relationship with my children who went on living with their mother. I was severely constrained by lack of money and had no interest in entanglements with women. Those years gave me plentiful of experiences to use in my writing.

One facet of Gene’s character fascinates me, even today. That is his uneasiness about a relationship with a woman because he was so deeply hurt by the end of his marriage. His fear of committing himself almost drives away the woman he comes to love.

Gene’s dealings with his wiseacre son was perhaps the most enjoyable feature in the book for me. I drew upon my relations with all four of my children in portraying the father-son bond.

But the heart of the story is Gene’s work and his persecution by the Trump administration. I know all too well what it feels like to suffer through an administration’s harassment. Gene handles it as I did—by hanging on, hoping he can outlast his tormentors.

More tomorrow.

Secretocracy (2)

I noted yesterday that the novel Secretocracy is based on my own experiences. The fury of the administration I describe in the novel is drawn from events I lived through. Like the protagonist of the novel, while on assignment as an intelligence budgeteer, I refused to submit to Congress a funding proposal for a highly-classified operation that was illegal. I was persecuted and isolated in hopes that I would give up and resign. Instead, I persevered. When an election changed the administration in power, I was exonerated and resumed my career.

I can’t tell you what the proposed operation was or when the events took place. All that is, as far as I know, still classified to this day. After my assignment as a budgeteer, I returned to my home agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), and lost the special clearances given to me to allow me to process top secret codeword-plus budgets. Glimmers and hints in news reports led me to suspect that later administrations may have revived the project I nixed. And my guess is that the project would prove powerfully attractive to the Trump administration.

If the current administration is pushing that operation, there is some likelihood that the press will stumble on to its existence and expose it publicly. The president is notorious for his casual handling of classified information, and many of his principals are equally careless.

But two factors argue against the probability of compromise. One is that the public would almost certainly react very negatively to the execution of this classified operation because of its very nature. So the administration would have strong motivation to keep it under wraps. And the press, throughout my years in the government, showed great restraint about revealing classified information that might prove harmful to the U.S. Many times during those years, the press caught wind of classified information but agreed not to publish it for the good of the country.

So I’m reasonably confident that if the Trump administration is pursuing the operation in question, none of us would know it. Time will tell.

More tomorrow.


My latest novel, Secretocracy, has just been accepted for publication. Adelaide Books of New York will bring it out early next year. The story is set in Washington, D.C. in 2018 and 2019, during the Trump administration. Senior federal budget reviewer Gene Westmoreland refuses to approve funds for an administration initiative called Operation FIREFANG—building clandestine nuclear missile sites world-wide—on the grounds that it is illegal and violates treaty agreements. The administration attacks him. A general and a senator rebuke him, his phone is tapped, his car is tailed, and his adult son is trapped into a dangerous relationship. His boss, Clem, who opposes FIREFANG and refuses to fire Gene, is blackmailed and commits suicide. Now without protection, Gene is stripped of his security clearances and exiled to a warehouse to await termination. If he discloses what he knows, he will be prosecuted for revealing classified information.

As with all my writing, the story is drawn from my personal experience. My reliance on my own memories as a basis for my fiction is why reviewers so often remark on the facticity of my stories. One reviewer wrote that Last of the Annamese is fiction in name only—all the events described really happened during the fall of Saigon, and the travails my protagonist endures are ones I personally experienced.

Why is my fiction drawn from fact? I believe it is because my own life has been so colorful that imaginary tales fade by comparison. When my friend, the author Larry Matthews, introduces me at public functions, he always says I have led a life that Indiana Jones would have envied. Such a life has its downsides, for example my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, but it also provides rich memories to write about.

More tomorrow.

More on PTSI

I’ve written a number of times in this blog about Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), noting that I call it an injury rather than a disorder because it is the direct result of damaging experience, not the mind gone awry. I’ve observed that PTSI is permanent—the memories never go away or even weaken. The victim can’t be cured; he must learn to cope.

I have learned to cope. I no longer am subject to irrational rages, panic attacks, or flashbacks, although I still have occasional nightmares. Instead, these days, my emotions remain close to the surface. Tears come into my eyes when I read of combat. I choke up when I’m with other combat veterans who understand what I went through. When I read of the suicide rate among veterans, so much higher than among nonveterans, I cry.

I have no complaints. I have no shame about tearing up when faced with the horrors of combat. I’m proud of my work to defend our country. I sense the same pride among other veterans. And tears in reaction to the grisliness of combat are nothing to be ashamed of.

What has helped immensely is that it is no longer a disgrace to admit participation in the Vietnam war. American attitudes have changed. We Vietnam veterans are now honored along side our brothers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I am content.


Recent events have brought back memories of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and our abandonment of the multiple thousands of South Vietnamese that fought by our side against the North Vietnamese. Among those left behind were the 2700 South Vietnamese soldiers who worked with me and my organization in collecting intelligence against the North Vietnamese invaders. I did everything I could to get those men evacuated at the end, but I failed. They were all killed or captured by the North Vietnamese. If they survived, they went to so-called re-education camps, really concentration camps where the death rate was very high.

Now President Trump is preparing to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. That withdrawal will, as one commentator put it, “produce an outcome that large parts of our foreign policy establishment long resisted — an endgame that accepts the possibility of true defeat, a full Taliban takeover, as the price of reducing American commitments and bringing American troops home.”

Worse, the withdrawal will leave behind Afghan soldiers who might well fall victim to the Taliban.

We Americans have developed a pattern. We engage in wars in places distant from our own shores to obstruct forces inimical to our values and to protect others from tyranny. Then we tire of the battle and withdraw, deserting those who have fought by our side. We did it in Vietnam and Iraq, and now we plan to do it again in Afghanistan.

What does it take for us to learn that if we make a practice of forsaking  our allies, we will soon run out of allies?

The Palette and the Page First Friday

On Friday, 1 February, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., I’ll be at the Palette and the Page in Elkton, Maryland, for the first Friday member show reception. On display will be my combat boots from Vietnam, a North Vietnamese combat helmet, and one of my ceramic elephants from Vietnam, as well as photographs of those items by the artist/photographer Ann Gonzalez. I’ll be autographing my books and talking to readers. Come by if you’re in the area.

The news release from the Palette and the Page, with more detail and the address, follows:


The Palette & The Page Announces The February First Friday Opening Reception!

The Opening Reception for our Member Show, “Response” will feature the art of eight of our member artists paired with seven of our member authors, music by the Celtic harpist & member artist, Deb Mackie, plus a book signing with Christine Burke Friday, February 1, 2019, 5pm-8pm.

ELKTON, MD, January 5, 2019/The Palette & The Page/- The February 1, 2019 First Friday Elkton Art Loop Event features an Opening Reception with live music from 5pm-8pm.

The First Friday Event, February 1, 2019 at The Palette & The Page gallery features the opportunity to meet member   artists and member authors that are represented by The Palette & The Page at the Opening Reception for “Response.” The exhibit features collaborative work between artists and authors.  The reception is from 5pm-8pm and will have live music by member artist & Celtic harpist, Deb Mackie during the Opening and a book signing with Christine Burke.  The Show will be in the gallery from January 28th through February 22nd.


Jenny Davies-Reazor, ceramics, mixed media

Ann Gonzalez-Yager, photography

Judy Hotchkiss, painting

Susan O’Hanlon, ceramics

Nancy Kavanagh O’Neill, photography, mixed media

Patti Paulus, calligraphy, book making, charcoal

Marcie Tauber, fused glass

Lynn Whitt, wirework



Deborah Arnold

Sharon Brubaker

Tom Glenn

Ray Greenblatt

Susan Bremer O’Neill

Lisa Lutwyche

Christopher Malone

ChristineBurke is the author and illustrator of A Dream Inside, a children’s book about the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly. She recently published a book titled The Well-Nourished Artist: 8 Ways to Feed Your Creative Soul.She will be signing both of her books during the evening

Performing live music during the Opening Reception will be member artist at The Palette & The Page and Celtic Harpist of 22 years, Deb Mackie.

The Event is FREE.

The exhibit is from Monday, January 28th through Friday, February 22nd.

About The Palette & The Page

Established in November 2009, The Palette & The Page is a woman owned gallery that carries art by local artists, books by local authors, the music of local singer/songwriters,and gently used books.The gallery also offers workshops in the arts. We are located in Elkton, Maryland, a designated Arts and Entertainment District in the State of Maryland. Our goals are many: to support Artists, Authors, Musicians, Poets, the Arts, and to provide YOU a place to find unique, handmade, artistic items for yourself and gifts for your family and your friends.

“Enriching Lives Through Art & Beauty”


Patti Paulus, Co-Owner, The Palette & The Page, 120 East Main Street, Elkton, MD  21921. Phone: 410-398-3636