Friday, May 21, 2010

Connections in Connecticut

Dr. Richard Ward is one of the most pre-eminent experts on crime and international terrorism in the United States.

And it was thanks to Dick that I received my introduction to the Chinese police when I started writing my China Thrillers series in 1997, since when he has been a constant source of research and inspiration for all my books.

He has also become a great friend. And it is with Dick and his wife, Michelle, that we are staying these three days in Connecticut. It is my first trip to New England, towns and villages with quaint English names nestling amongst rolling countryside of spring green natural forest.

They live just outside of New Haven, the home of Yale University. Dick is Dean of the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, a part of the University of New Haven. He moved there two years ago from Sam Houston State University, where he was Dean of the College of Criminal Justice for ten years.

During that time he set up a terrorism monitoring organisation, where data gleaned from open sources is analysed by specially designed software to find hidden links between terrorists, terror groups, and organised crime. The data is collected and entered by criminal justice students, both domestic and foreign, at five different locations around the US.

The group is known as ISVG - the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups - and has its own website.

I took advantage of my time here to sit in on some of their briefings, and talk to the guys who are running the show. Fascinating stuff!

A local journalist thought so, too, and showed up for a briefing while we were there. On the table in the briefing room, was a CV of the Times Square bomber, which the guys at ISVG had put together for him. Not realising it was for him, he proceeded to spend the next fifteen minutes surreptitiously sliding the CV in amongst his own papers so that he could slip quietly away with it when he left.

Oh how we laughed when he was gone. He figured he had pulled off some kind of journalistic coup, when really he was just stealing from himself.

A further source of amusement came when he briefly left the room with his photographer to take pics of the kids entering up data at computers in the facility. We were all startled by the sudden ringing of a cellphone in the pocket of his jacket which was hanging over the back of a chair - the theme from Mission Impossible (a comment on his own self-image, perhaps?). We half expected the cellphone to self-destruct after five seconds.

Dick also does an hour-long weekly radio show which broadcasts to around 400,000 people, so we spent the next hour in the studio, where he recorded an interview with me for the show.

That was Tuesday, an unseasonally cold and wet day.

Wednesday we took the train to New York City to sign books at the Mysterious Bookshop at Tribeca in lower Manhattan. Afterwards, La Patronne and I met up with Susie for lunch. The weather was still cool, but improving.

Thursday was beautiful, with temperatures soaring to 28C, and Dick and Michelle drove us up the coast to the beautiful historical town of Mystic on the Mystic River, where majestic talls ships are berthed in a sheltered harbour overlooked by the original boatyards and chandlers, banks and immigration offices that lined the dock.

Tomorrow, it’s an early start and a long drive south and west to the city of Pittsburgh where I will give a breakfast talk on Saturday at the Mystery Lovers’ Bookshop, under the heading of “Coffee and Crime”.

At the same time, Dick will board an airplane and fly to Afghanistan.

I think I prefer my itinerary.

Dick and Michelle go overboard in Mystic

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