Don't have an account yet? Get the most out of your experience with a personalized all-access pass to everything local on events, music, restaurants, news and more. The Mercedes is still parked outside. I should make him some coffee perhaps. The poor guy has been out there all night. Isn't he being a little theatrical?
Possibly, but the story Aaron Cohen needs to tell has brought me from Southeast Asia to Southwest Florida and back to Los Angeles, where I've already been waiting two weeks for him to materialize.
I guess when you're in a tunnel hiding out from the Burmese army, you can't worry too much about returning a journalist's phone calls.
So far the job has brought him to dozens of countries like Colombia, Sudan and Cambodia, where the business of human flesh is of special concern to the U. State Department and other agencies or governments who subcontract his services.
He is what is known in covert operations as a NOC, a special agent working under "non-official cover," but unlike an agency man, Cohen's primary allegiance is to people, not political agendas. What makes Cohen's story even more unusual is that he used to be known as Perry Farrell's best friend and spiritual collaborator. Their mutual passion for music and human rights led Cohen and the Jane's Addiction front man to help Bono and Bob Geldof deliver, inthe 17 million signatures that persuaded G8 bankers to drop the debt of developing countries.
But since embarking on his unorthodox new career, Cohen has gone places your typical e-mail petitioner and Sunday-afternoon activist have never even heard of. He has survived a shooting in Haiti and an alleged poisoning in a Westminster restaurant, along with a string of other near-death experiences, most recently in the backwaters of Myanmar, where he believes he saw evidence of a far more dangerous trade — the production and selling of enriched uranium.
So last night when he offered to let me sleep in one of his four empty bedrooms, I thought better of it. As I pulled away, Cohen pointed to a beige Mercedes parked out front. I couldn't see a driver. Nevertheless, I found myself checking my rearview all the way to the Little Saigon Inn, where dreams of its advertised Wi-Fi and heated pool promised to dull the images of the enslaved preteens Cohen had been conjuring up for me all day.
Both enticements were, in the words of motel management, "broken. I went to bed trying to grasp how Cohen went from talking mysticism and Lollapalooza with Perry Farrell to Im white and hookup a haitian man calling aaron global human-trafficking trends, breaking Vietnamese girls out of Cambodian brothels and being hunted down by the Burmese army.
And now, this morning, another text message about the Mercedes:. I'm sure you'll have Feds flagging you today. I'm starting to be concerned about all this and feel uneasy. I'm feeling a little edgy too, but maybe it's only the lack of sleep and a slight caffeine addiction. The patio is packed with graying, well-dressed Vietnamese men in small groups — the old guard, I think, ex-military who shipped out before the Communist takeover, 32 years ago.
Professorial in tweedy pants, turtlenecks and neat sweaters, they smile and nod as I pass — not unnoticed. Few non-natives venture in here, it seems, and the only women are the ones behind the counter — just like in Vietnam.
After ordering a bowl of pho and iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, I finish reading Cohen's journal entries. His uneasiness seems justified in the context of his most recent mission to Myanmar formerly and, to the U. In March, the Royal Thai Police and Council for National Security the military government that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin in September sent Cohen there to investigate the Burmese government's alleged use of slave labor to build infrastructure in Naypyidaw, the country's sprawling new jungle capital.
Inthe ruling generals relocated the capital overnight from Yangon — formerly Rangoon — a move Al Jazeera said had been motivated by "superstition, megalomania and paranoia.
Despite more than a decade of Western sanctions against the Burmese government — the so-called "State Peace and Development Council," which changed its name in after consulting a Washington, D. The latter two vetoed the U. Security Council's January resolution urging Myanmar to stop the persecution of political prisoners and brutal military tactics many have called "genocide. In the few weeks since Cohen returned from Myanmar, the country has restored ties with North Korea, signed a cash deal for a Russian nuclear reactor and vowed to "crush" state opponents.
One of those is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader whose party overwhelmingly won a general election in but has since been terrorized and rendered largely impotent by the state. Suu Kyi has spent more than 11 of the last 17 years under various forms of detention, and on May 29, the government extended her house arrest once again — so much for its self-styled "road map to democracy.
Cohen had no trouble finding slaves in Myanmar and neighboring Laos, where he says kidnapped Vietnamese, Laotian and ethnic-minority boys with guns guard heroin and methamphetamine labs for the mafias that control trafficking routes. But he started hearing far more sinister rumors, as noted in his journal:.
I am advised that Burmese tradition holds an ancient legend still believed to be practiced even today in the art of human sacrifice — that every time the ruler moves the capital, four people are to be sacrificed at each of the Im white and hookup a haitian man calling aaron corners of the foundation to the facility. Human sacrifice is also carried out under, above and on each side of each bridge crossing the moats corresponding to the 12 astrological signs, and the seven passages leading into the capital.
Why is the vice minister telling me this? I am not sure if he's a double because he Im white and hookup a haitian man calling aaron to be threatening me about my mission to free the pagoda slave labor crew. I say no to the pork and am careful not to drink or eat anything offered to me by my perceived allies. We finish the meeting and I go to eat some bok choy and eggs from a vendor down the road. By the late s, Cohen started making volunteer trips to Sudan, where he was among the first Westerners to document slavery and genocide by Muslim militias.
Photos courtesy Aaron Cohen. I'm brought out of this surreal picture by the young waiter bemusedly watching me eat my noodle soup.
I'm about to tell him I've used them since I was a child, but hold back when I realize the men at the surrounding tables are hanging on our words. But the grizzled folk next to me are talking about their teenage children's cell-phone bills, which are astronomical because of this thing they call "Nhan tin. Five thousand text messages a month! The couple behind me are talking too softly for me to make out much, but I distinctly hear "ma-fia" a couple of times.
I turn back to Cohen's diary:. I can see her coming a mile away. She is so tall and thin I know to stay away, though she does radiate something mysterious I am desirous of, but never mind that.
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In the next scene, Ian Fleming would have had Bond in the hot tub with that beautiful French agent, just before she attempted to drown him. But Cohen is no Bond and his mission is not the stuff of Fleming — although it does sometimes sound like it:.
The real deal look like unshot virgin tapes and she steals the beautifully labeled blanks. Sure, it's got all the elements of an overblown spy novel. That's why Cohen has a book proposal about to make the rounds with top agent David Kuhn, and why he's had dinner with Oliver Stone, and met with Band of Brothers writer Bruce C.
But the publishing, film and TV people haven't heard Cohen's best story yet. I pay my bill, nodding to the Vietnamese men with the newspapers, and drive a few miles to an unremarkable ranch-style house on a quiet suburban street where Cohen grew up in the s. His parents are dead, and the house has been home base since Cohen, 42, left Venice to care for his ailing father in Although we've met several times, I'm still surprised by the height 6 feet 5 inches of the figure who opens the door and leans down for a hug.
Dressed in jeans and an old French army shirt, dark wavy hair flowing to his shoulders, he resembles a rumpled Oscar Wilde. The rest of his clothes are strewn across an open suitcase on the floor of an otherwise empty room. Cohen's been back from Asia less than 48 hours, and still looks jet-lagged. He is visibly distressed about two men who were lost on the mission.
Kao was assigned to protect me.
Kao was part of a Shan Army unit clearing a path for Cohen's motorcycle caravan when he stepped on the mine. In the photo, Kao's eyes are, impossibly, looking in different directions.
There are more images, of flourishing poppy fields in Shan State, a part of northeast Myanmar where the SPDC claims to be eradicating opium poppy as part of its "war on drugs. Civilians are allowed to earn just enough to survive, as long as they keep producing opium, which is synthesized along with methamphetamine in nearby labs also run by the Burmese army.
In the days he spent there, Cohen says, he saw virtually no people, besides soldiers. According to a Human Rights Watch report, in the SPDC was the only government in the world to use antipersonnel mines on a regular basis: Except for one bed, a table and two guitars, Cohen's house has no furniture.
Bob Im white and hookup a haitian man calling aaron is playing on a box radio in the steamy bathroom. And the back garden, although neglected, is in bloom.
I spot a few familiar varieties of bamboo, a banana tree and other tropical plants.