Jeff Miller and Nick Brokhausen are former Green Berets and entrepreneurs with a shared philosophy: where there's war, there's money to be made. They planned to open a commando training school for Bosnian forces in Sarajevo in the 1990s. They even had $2m in backing from Saudi financiers, but war - and sometimes even peace - can be a dangerous game.
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True Spies, Episode 91: The Consultants

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? This is True Spies, Episode 91: The Consultants.

JEFF MILLER: It was a mess. There was nothing open. There was no light. There was no electricity. They had built earthen berms on both sides of the main streets of town so that you could go down the street without small arms fire hitting you. Every building was completely pockmarked with bullet holes.

NARRATOR: This week's episode begins deep in the Balkans, in the ancient city of Sarajevo, Bosnia. It’s the story of two men who had the guts and audacity to think they could train the besieged citizens of Sarajevo to rise up against the Serbs. It's a brilliant story, and it almost happened.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: You have to remember they were shelling the city constantly from the heights from different areas, different calibers and that, and they were indiscriminate as hell. They'd just shell a neighborhood. In anybody's book, that's not right.

NARRATOR: Their names are Jeff Miller and Nick Brokausen. Two US Special Forces veterans. It’s 1995. Four years after the break-up of Yugoslavia and the onset of war in Bosnia. Serbian nationalists encircle Sarajevo with a siege force of 13,000 stationed in the surrounding hills, and subject the city's residents to sniper attacks and shelling. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: People were getting killed, not just ones and twos. It was all over the city. Everywhere the Serbs had a shot down on the city, they put their snipers up.

NARRATOR: The Special Forces are known to the public as Green Berets but they call themselves ‘the quiet professionals’. They're one of the most elite fighting groups in the world. They silently slip into hostile countries to train and lead guerilla forces. That’s our true spies mission too. To set up a commando school for the government defense forces inside the besieged city. They’re ill-equipped, they’re demoralized, and they’re on the back foot.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: We laid out the plan. Basically what we need to do is, they need to train up the Bosnians so they can take the ground. And hold that ground and make it so that the Serbs - or anybody else - can't come up there and set up their mortars and start shelling the city again, which seemed perfectly feasible because they had the basic skills and manpower there. So it was just a matter of trimming it up, shaping it up, putting it into a cohesive form. 

NARRATOR: Jeff Miller has a vision for the kind of elite commando he's planning on delivering to the Bosnian government. It is modeled on the First Special Services Force, which earned its place in history through daring exploits in France and Italy during World War II.

JEFF MILLER: Guys armed with small arms and knives. They could get out there in the dark and take control of the night and basically just make it too frightening for any people from the other side to want to come into that terrain after dark because the odds are that they wouldn't get back out. 

NARRATOR: Jeff and Nick have the skills and experience to train such a team. Between them, they’ve got decades of experience executing military ops and training up guerilla forces. Both joined the US Army in the 1960s and spent their early years in the military embroiled in the Vietnam War. Jeff Miller, the shorter of the two, bespectacled, alert, full of charm, spent most of his time with the Green Beret’s in an intelligence role. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: He's got two things. He's got skill and he's got luck. And you need to have both of them there on the same day at the same time, and he's pretty good at that. And the other thing is, he's got aplomb. I used to think it was the cuff links, but he actually has aplomb in a bad situation. He's normally the calmest one. 

NARRATOR: Jeff’s a man who likes to dress well. He wears three-piece suits, French cuff shirts, and his Cufflinks were a gift from the president of South Korea. Nick, on the other hand, is something of a one-man army. He was in a unit called MACV-SOG short for Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group - the elite Special Forces unit of the Vietnam War.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: We were operating in the enemy's backyard all the time. Small recon teams. Six to 10 guys. I had somebody tell me one time, he said: “Well, I was surrounded once.” Well, every time I went in, I was surrounded. That's the nature of the job. So you develop skills there, survival skills, combat skills that are essential and special. Then you realize what a small group can do.

NARRATOR: Moving through the Vietnamese jungle undetected and relying on stealth, Nick’s unit undertook some of the most dangerous - some might say suicidal - reconnaissance missions ever. Taking the fight to the enemy wherever they were. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: I had situations where eight of us would take on an 80-man company and bruise them so bad that they would back off.

NARRATOR: Missions often led to epic gunfights, as the team would be compromised and hunted down by a devastatingly superior enemy force. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: And our first reaction was, as soon as we got hit, we rolled over the top of them. You have to get out of the kill zone. That kind of applies when you get into what we got involved in later. It is that you want to get in, get the job done, get out.

NARRATOR: In 1976, Nick moved from a war in the tropics to a Cold War. He was assigned to a clandestine unit of about 90 Green Beret’s based in Berlin, Germany. Detachment A.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: And Detachment A was originally planned into NATO's war plans as a stay-behind unit. If Russia decided they were going to come through the fold, the gap, with 55 divisions of armor, we would blend into the local population and establish a underground and a resistance and everything was designed to support them.

NARRATOR: Detachment A was on 24-hour standby in Berlin in the event that the USSR pushed over the wall from East Germany and invaded Western Europe. Secreting themselves in safe houses, the Det A members would activate once the forward line of Soviet troops passed over their positions, then carry out acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Our training and tradecraft, we actually cross-trained with the German Special Police a lot of times where we would do surveillance and counter-surveillance training, actually working with them, surveilling a suspect or a group and that. Berlin was full of spies. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting somebody doing somebody else's bidding. So finding people to follow and people to watch and see how they’re doing dead drops - or are they meeting people, etc - to sharpen your skills in the hope that when the balloon went up, that's what the Soviets would be like on you. You knew the proper techniques in order to slide one way or the other.

NARRATOR: The two men met by chance on a remote military airbase in Berlin in 1978. Four years later they left the service within a few weeks of each other and began a working partnership that has lasted over 40 years. 

JEFF MILLER: Well, we started when we first left the military, we started our first contract with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. And the whole concept of SWAT and hostage rescue requirements and barricaded suspects and stuff like that was brand new. And that led to the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who was a police chief in Massachusetts at the time, to come and say: “We need this everywhere in the country. Would you guys be interested in putting something together to go around the country and teach this under the auspices of the IACP?” And I jumped at it. My wife was tired of the military life. She wanted to get out. And Nick had just gotten out so he said: “Let's go give this a try.” 

NARRATOR: The two undertook missions for the US government, other governments, large multinational corporations and occasionally just for suffering individuals who couldn’t find help anywhere else. SWAT training and hostage rescue mainly. But by 1995 they were bored and looking to branch out, to do something more interesting. Something more lucrative, and clandestine. The kind of thing that might be carried out by a private military contractor.

JEFF MILLER: It was a term that didn't exist at the time, but that's what would be used now. We just called ourselves consultants, security consultants or something. Sometimes there was no name for what we were doing at that time. We'd been out of the military about 12-13 years when the Bosnia thing came up. We didn't have a label. We were just a few guys trying to do whatever we could do to both be helpful and make money. 

NARRATOR: Private military contractors, which is what Nick and Jeff had become, play a major role in conflict zones all around the world. Gathering intelligence, providing training, serving as the intermediary between professional soldiers and governments. The global market for the industry today is worth in excess of $100bn and the line that differentiates a private military contractor from a mercenary is... blurry. However mercenaries are banned by international law. Private military contractors are not. But it's a dangerous business, and Nick and Jeff needed to be discreet. And privacy was something their clients wanted. So they set up a front company to give them cover. 

JEFF MILLER : Yeah, it was a real company. I won't mention what it was called here because that would create other problems, but sort of a corporate veneer. It wasn't very deep. It was like a coat of paint, but that's what we used to do our banking and stuff. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: We should have used that as the name, ‘The Front.’ 

JEFF MILLER: Like the thin red line, only the thin veneer.

NARRATOR: By 1995, their cover was already established when Jeff had the idea for the Bosnia mission.

JEFF MILLER: Well, it must have been CNN in those days that I was watching and they were doing a lot of coverage of downtown Sarajevo being mortared from the surrounding hills. And some of those mortars were landing in the central marketplace. And there were women that had been killed, children that had been killed. And I just said to myself: “This looks like a problem that we could solve. The Bosnians needed some sort of capability to counter that. And the best way to do that is to make the terrain that's close enough to be available to mortars untenable for people to come and set their mortars up.”

NARRATOR: Jeff’s now living in Fountain Valley, California. He gets on the phone to Nick and arranges to meet him in a local bar, Silky Sullivan's. He orders a couple of drinks - Scotch for himself and an Ouzo for Nick - and lays out his plan. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: First thing I said, was: “How much money?”

NARRATOR: Nick’s initial reaction was less than favorable. Where would they get the money to go to Bosnia to set up a commando school? It would cost millions, at least.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Yeah, I mean, we've done a number of things before and we have a free flow between us - bouncing back and forth until it eventually gets polished. So it made sense. It was feasible. The question was whether or not we could pull it off with the people concerned for both permission and for the money.

NARRATOR: The pair set about drawing up a cost plan and a list of possible financial backers. Jeff suggested approaching the Saudi Arabians. He had friends there, rich friends.

JEFF MILLER: And because, of course, the Bosnians on the receiving end of the attacks were Muslim. And it only made sense to go to fellow Muslims to protect their own, especially when you know that they got the financial wherewithal to do it. Seems simple. 

NARRATOR: In September 1995 the two men fly into the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the stifling heat. 

JEFF MILLER: It's just amazing. It hurts to breathe. I don't know how people actually live there. 

NARRATOR: They book into a hotel and fix up a dinner with three or four of Jeff’s old contacts at one of their homes. 

JEFF MILLER: These were personal friends, where most of it was sitting outside on the balcony after dark. We'd have a little bite to eat and then go sit around and drink coffee, basically and say: “Here's what we want to do.”

NARRATOR: Over coffee, Jeff outlines his idea for the commando school in Bosnia.

JEFF MILLER: And it would cost about $2m. But first, we've got to get to Bosnia and get an agreement with the government to actually set up a training program for them. If we can do that, will you pay? And they said: “Yes.”

NARRATOR: The plan seemed to be coming together more easily than expected. They had a provisional ‘yes’ from the Saudis for the backing, to the tune of $2m. That was enough to train up the Bosnians for a couple of months. They could finance a unit of ‘company’ strength, which would be 100 to 120 men, plus reserves.

JEFF MILLER: Most of the money would go to instructors and just the cost of moving them to Bosnia, maintaining them in Bosnia and paying them to be in Bosnia. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: They had everything else. They had all the proper tools, weapons, ammunition, structure, and personnel. What we needed to do was go in, and kick it in the lorry, and polish it up. 

NARRATOR: So what motivates two guys living comfortably in California to move into a war zone? Was it the challenge? The specter of human misery? Or the money? 

JEFF MILLER: Oh, that's a tough one. 

NICK Well, that's a tough one. You gotta eat.

JEFF MILLER: If we didn't have a moral compass, we'd have a hell of a lot more money because you can always get way better paid by bad guys than by good guys. So there is that, and we never crossed that line, and went 100% over to the dark side. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: We never broke the law. We bent the crap out of ‘em a couple times.

JEFF MILLER: Well, we broke some laws in other countries, but we tried very hard never to break US law. We always wanted to be able to come home. So there's that. So between just trying to do the right thing, which was certainly part of the equation, to wanting to stay on the right side of the US government - at least to the point where they weren't going to send some people in polyester suits to haul you away in a van - that was part of the equation. And then, of course, getting paid. You get you can't do anything without money. So it's an entire equation. You can't separate the parts that way.

NARRATOR: So the Saudis bought into the idea. There’s a promise of money. Now our spies need to get a permission slip from the Bosnians themselves. They’re given the name and address of a man in Istanbul. We’ll call him The Doctor. He handles international funding and the importation of arms and munitions for the Bosnian government, most of which, at that point, is coming from Iran.

JEFF MILLER: So a bunch of Iranian money and material was flowing through the hub at Istanbul and being taken up to Bosnia by means that we never really got involved in. That was his job. He had been a very close friend of the president of Bosnia at some point in the past. That's how he got that job.

NARRATOR: So Jeff and Nick fly to Istanbul to meet the doctor and are taken to a fairly disreputable suburb. This is not the city that tourists see. Picture narrow, narrow streets, bad lighting, and lots of closed doors. And, every once in a while, you might catch a glimpse of somebody loitering in a doorway with a hat pulled down over their eyes.

JEFF MILLER: It was really like the Casbah in an old movie, like Algiers. It wasn't a great neighborhood, and they took us up to a second floor balcony and The Doctor was there with a couple of other people. I don't remember precisely. And he was skeptical of us, to say the least. 

NARRATOR: The Doctor thinks Jeff and Nick are CIA agents. He gets angry, and the atmosphere quickly grows tense.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: The worst part is, there's always at least three agendas going on. Yours, the one that’s the guy you’re talking to, and probably somebody else that’s in there that’s using both of you to get somewhere else. So you never know what you're going to walk into. It could be: “All right, kill everybody in the room because they heard too much.” And so you're always cautious.

NARRATOR: You’ve walked into an unknown situation in the slums of Istanbul. There’s no guarantee you’ll get out alive. How would you prepare?

JEFF MILLER: A knife is always a good idea. In Europe, very rarely a gun. Although there are times. But always a knife. I always had a knife. 

NARRATOR: Guns come with a whole set of problems. They're useful to have, sometimes necessary, but a knife is always available. These two never go anywhere without one. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Usually a folder or a short dagger, mostly folders. And there's a plethora of people out there that make quality folders. You don't want it to be too long. You don't want to pull it out and then unfold it and now it's two-foot long because you’ve got to put that other foot in your pocket at some time. So it's something that's small enough, flat enough, to be put in your pocket or carry it on your person without noticing and that. And when you take it out, being able to actually use it leathally on someone, if you had to. 

NARRATOR: But Nick doesn’t have to use the knife today. After convincing him that they’re not CIA agents, The Doctor agrees to consider their proposal. And eight days later he gives them the green light. They have permission to meet the Bosnian Defense Minister and to pitch their idea to him directly. Time to head to Sarajevo. 

JEFF MILLER: Which is a whole other challenge because now we'd spent eight days of our money, hotel rooms, and mild partying in Istanbul. So even though we thought we had plenty of money at the beginning, it was less than it would have been after only one day. So we flew to Paris from Istanbul. We took the TGV down to Marseilles. We got on a regular train in Marseilles and went across the south of France to Venice. Then we got on another train in Venice, and we took that train up to Zagreb, Croatia. Then we got on a bus in Zagreb, Croatia, and took it down to Split, Croatia. Then we got on another bus in Split, Croatia and took it to God knows where in the middle of the Bosnian war zone.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Over the mountains of the Moon.

NARRATOR: There are two reasons why they decided to take the bus on such an epic journey. The first is economic. They didn’t know how long they’d be in Sarajevo. The second? Put simply, it’s easier to fly under the radar on the bus. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: When you come in and out of the airport, immigration, people know you're there. So does everybody else, and they can start tagging. However, if you arrive on the local bus that comes from a village on the other side of the border, you're probably pretty much assured you're going to go mostly unnoticed. 

JEFF MILLER: Then we got in a Volkswagen Jetta, driven by a teenager, and drove on dirt roads for about five hours up and over the mountains and eventually got close to Sarajevo. It was quite a trip.

NARRATOR: On roads winding over the mountains, the spies slowly approach Sarajevo. And the closer they get, the more destruction they see.

JEFF MILLER: We went through the city of Mostar or went near it and it was leveled. I mean, leveled. It was worse than footage I've seen of Germany after World War II. And all the bridges were gone so the bus would have to crab and slip and skid sideways down these mud roads and cross on a little floating Bailey bridge and then struggle to get up the other side back to road level, which was exciting in its own right. 

NARRATOR: The only way in and out of Sarajevo back then was a tunnel known as the ‘Tunnel of Hope’. 

JEFF MILLER: It was a foot tunnel. It was beautiful. I mean, plywood floor - all beamed and supported tall enough to stand up straight in. And there were offices down there underground. It was a beautiful piece of work. I believe it's some kind of a shrine now. I think you can take tours of it. I don't know. I haven’t been back, but I've heard that the tunnel is like a thing that tourists go look at now. But it wasn't that way when we were there.

NARRATOR: When Nick and Jeff arrive at the tunnel, they’re turned away. They don’t have the right paperwork. Come back tomorrow. 

JEFF MILLER: So we were denied the use of the tunnel at 1 am, 1:30 am. Our only English translator had been allowed to use the tunnel, so he was gone, and we're in this bombed-out, shell-pocked mess of a village. We didn't know what the hell we were going to do. It's like: “Okay, sit in a tree all night?” There’s not like an all-night diner you can go to. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: We have a saying. We're basically ‘Plan B specialists’. You know what Plan B is? Plan B is when Plan A falls apart and you’ve got to pull it out of your backside - something that you’ll then hammer together and make it work. 

 NARRATOR: This particular Plan B turns out to be their cab driver who’d brought them the last leg of the journey. He took them home to his bullet-pockmarked house and woke up his wife. 

JEFF MILLER: They had a spare room, only one bed, so we had to spoon that night. Woke us up in the morning. She made us fresh coffee. It was a life saver. That's the kind of thing that happens when you're just out sort of flying by the seat of your pants every once in a while. A little miracle happens. That’s what you meant when you said I have luck. Well, luck was smiling on us that night.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Grinning from ear to ear. 

NARRATOR: The next day, the two finally get through the tunnel and reach Sarajevo. As they’re standing at the desk checking into their hotel, they witness two women being killed on the pavement outside. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: I was inside the hotel. He was the one outside at the time it happened. But, life goes on even in a war zone. People still have to go to work. People open shops. People have restaurants. Cities still live. And it produces amazing personalities like the cab driver, Fatima. Fatima drives, well... Please look at the road while you're driving. Yeah, but they manage to make things work. 

NARRATOR: They were told something when they were in Sarajevo, a story that’s stuck with them. That the Serbian snipers were competing against each other. To see who could shoot the most watches off the wrists of the city’s inhabitants. 

JEFF MILLER: But of course, they often miss it. Get some other part of the person. Yeah. And that was it, because they were bored and they just sat and waited for somebody to come into the zone. And if they were wearing a watch, they'd try and shoot it out and they’d get some kind of points. A lot of bloodied drunk teenagers on both sides. Remember, most Armies are teenagers. We were old people when we were doing this, and this was a long time ago. But we were probably around 40-ish, and most of the soldiers were like 18, some of them 17. Seventeen and drunk. Fired up on: "Let's kill somebody.

NARRATOR: How would you feel in that situation, surrounded by younger, trigger-happy soldiers half your age. Anxious? You might be having second thoughts about the mission. Jeff? Not so much.

JEFF MILLER: I'm weird. I love it. I mean, there is nothing like being in an active combat zone. Really, it makes you feel so alive. It's just like this. And remember, everybody in Europe and America was watching this on television.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: It is better than sex. 

JEFF MILLER: And it's, yeah.


JEFF MILLER: So you're at the center of the world. And then there's a possibility of a lot of money, which is also very cool. So yeah, that adrenaline.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: The adrenaline is just amazing because it never slows down. It peaks. That's a nice thing about a war zone. You never fully come back to suburban America in the afternoon in your hotel room. That peak’s always there. There's always something that's going to happen.

NARRATOR: The pair are completely in their element. They’re not wearing bulletproof vests, or helmets, but they’re alert, energized and supremely confident in their ability to survive the situation. What they need next is some kind of contract or letter of intent from the Bosnian Ministry of Defense to prove to the Saudis that this project has been officially sanctioned. Then, our spies can have their money. 

JEFF MILLER: So our first stop was the Ministry of Defense, which is in the main... they call it the Presidential Palace. It's a big, huge brownstone government building right down - not right now in town, but new town and on one of the main streets. And we went there. I believe if I remember right, it was three stories tall and they did have an elevator, which was amazing. 

NARRATOR: The Minister is away that day, they’re told, so they’re ushered in to meet his deputy. Jeff does most of the talking and gives the same pitch that he gave the Saudis.

JEFF MILLER: What you need is a Commando Unit. You need people that can get up there into those hills silently and surprise and destroy a few mortar crews. And once that happens, the enthusiasm for being on those mortar crews on the other side is going to diminish precipitously because it's one thing if you just go out in the woods and set up your mortar and kill a bunch of civilians. It's a whole other thing when you find out that that night that two other crews were found with their decapitated heads on stakes or something.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Violence, selective surgical violence has a very appropriate effect if used properly. And that's essentially what we wanted to do. The raw material was there, as he said. There's a lot of teenagers. They've already been at war for two or three years, so they had combat experience. So it was merely a process of doing the selection, putting a training program behind it, organizing it, and then turning them loose on the other side to wreak havoc. 

NARRATOR: The Bosnian Deputy Defense Minister liked what he heard. But it wasn’t up to him to make the decision, he told them. They’d need to come and make their case to his boss, the minister. 

JEFF MILLER: And he said: “He won't be back today, but tomorrow you should be able to get a hold of him.” So we had nothing to do but go find a place to sleep and come back the next day.

NARRATOR: The two checked into the Hotel Bosnia and Jeff hit the bar.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Well, I went up to clean up and take a little nap and that. And meanwhile, he's down there. What’s the name of that woman? It was…

JEFF MILLER: It was a very well-known CNN anchorwoman, put it that way.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: She was in the bar and she's got a hollow leg and an extra liver.

JEFF MILLER: Oh yeah, amazing. She could slam ‘em. And somehow she had hooked herself up with three Norwegians in uniform with their little red berets on. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Big chest, small heads.

JEFF MILLER: Who were, I found out later, the air traffic control contingent at the airport, which was being operated now by the UN. For some reason, the Norwegian contribution to the United Nations effort was to send air traffic controllers. So they're sitting there, and I went in and I sat at that table and bought a round. And then, of course, you're everybody's friend. And listen to them tell war stories and learn more, as much as I could about the war and just having a ball. He showed up after his little catnap.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: I was aghast, I tell you, aghast.

NARRATOR: The next morning, bright and early, they head back to the Ministry, this time to meet the minister himself and, hopefully, to get his sign-off on their bid.

JEFF MILLER: Well, we get on the elevator, and…

NICK BROKHAUSEN: That's when our dreams ended. 

JEFF MILLER: There was a guy on the elevator when we walked in the door. He was already standing there, waiting for the elevator to go up. We rushed in and jumped in the elevator with them. And I remember I was looking at him going: “God, this guy looks so familiar. I have seen this guy somewhere before. Who... ?“ I can't place him. And so we got up to the third floor and he got up and he turned left. 

NARRATOR: The man in the lift is Richard Holbrooke, arguably the most famous US diplomat since the Cold War.

NICK BROKHAUSEN: What should have given it away was his hair was perfect.

JEFF MILLER: Yeah, yeah. He had that very shiny State Department look about him in a sharkskin suit, perfectly coiffed hair. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Brooks Brothers shirt. 

JEFF MILLER: Somebody that you could never bring yourself to trust.

NARRATOR: Holbrooke’s here in Sarajevo to declare a ceasefire and to ferry the warring leaders back to Dayton, Ohio, where they’ll have to sit down in a bleak Air Force base until they compromise.

JEFF MILLER: He's Bill Clinton's personal envoy, and he was arranging the ceasefire meeting at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. And everybody in the Ministry of Defense was in complete jubilation. We have engineered a ceasefire. The war's going to end. Could anything be better? And we're like: “Yeah, lots of things could be better.”

NICK: It was the worst thing that could possibly happen!

JEFF MILLER: You wanna declare peace and break our rice bowl? We had $2 million! And yeah, that was that. That happens. Your best laid plans of mice and men.

NARRATOR: The president was on a plane to Ohio 48 hours after that. Once all three sides had agreed to a cease fire, things moved quickly. 

JEFF MILLER: And you can't blame them. They've been suffering for like four years. I would have been happy too if I was them. They just didn't have $2 million rigging on it. No, I mean, sympathetic. Yeah. I, on the other hand, the Saudis are sitting there with cash in their hands. Yeah, I feel. But it's not about the money. Yeah. Well, not entirely. It's painful. 

NARRATOR: $2 million worth of private contract work slipped through their fingers. Weeks of planning had resulted in a busted flush. For Jeff and Nick the mission was an invigorating challenge. But there’s a lesson to be learned. Life’s not like the movies. 

JEFF MILLER: First off, there is no script. It doesn't come out the way you planned. It never comes out the way you plan. This one had a particularly dramatic departure from the plan at the last minute. But nothing ever went according to plan. You're always making things up and sort of flying by the seat of your pants. And you don't know, the negative consequences are always looming out there, like we were talking about where we say: “Well, at least he didn't kill us in Istanbul.” That's a real thing. In the movies, the hero sort of knows that he’s going to win everything and there's no conflict of adrenaline and anticipation and fear.

NARRATOR: But it was an operation that helped pave the way for others. And in some very important ways, Nick and Jeff were ahead of their time. 

NICK BROKHAUSEN: Well, you have to remember something. We were there before Lockheed, General Dynamics, British Aerospace Industries. And that all became private military contractors and took over the industry and developed that into the morass that it is now. We joke a little bit about the fact that it's about the money, but in essence we have a saying in Special Forces: “It's not a job description. It's a way of life.” And that's what we had been trained and formed to do, to go and help people help themselves. And that's essentially what we were doing in those days and pretty much how we continued to do things over the years.

NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. If you’d like to hear more about Jeff and Nick’s escapades you’ll find them in their book Vagabonds: Tourists in the Heart of Darkness.

Guest Bio

Minnesota-born Nick Brokhausen (pictured) was a member of the US Special Forces with a 17-year career that included combat tours in Vietnam with MACVSOG, a highly classified special operations unit.

California-based Jeff Miller joined the US Army and was selected for intelligence work with the US Special Forces. He has since worked with an array companies as an Instructor.

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