But I Digress – UnderCover, Inside Operation Julie

undercoverFargo, North Dakota.

It was a Christmas present, sort of. During our Christmas holiday in Fargo, the postman brought me a book, one that traveled across two oceans from its printing in England to the Philippines where the author signed it, and then across the Pacific Ocean again to my home in Fargo.

Regular followers know that I don’t usually do book reviews here, but I do have a precedent. In January 2014, I posted a review of a book I read, a historical novel set in Viet Nam called Village Teacher. You can check out that review here. But I digress from my digression, which obviously happens to be another book review, this one an insider’s perspective about a real series of events in Great Britain that led to the capture and breakup of one of the world’s largest drug rings.

The author, Stephen Bentley, and I became acquainted through an online blogging course he and I attended. We connected on Twitter and Facebook and through a bit of luck, I won a promotional copy of his book. Before you get the idea that this review is payback for gifts received, I don’t review books generally, and I don’t write about negative things in my blog. There is enough negativity in the Interweb. I enjoyed the book, and I don’t mind sharing that.

I am a fan of the James Bond style of novel, and Stephen Bentley is probably as close to a real James Bond as I will ever meet. Prior to his retirement in the Philippines, he worked as a police officer and a barrister (lawyer to us U.S. folk). Through a bit of luck and some effort, he was selected, along with another officer, to go under cover long term to infiltrate a drug ring. In the mid-1970s, the “hippie generation” discovered LSD and there was a new market for a new and dangerous drug.

I have no recollection of the outcome of their work, not even the term “Operation Julie,” but Operation Julie was big news, especially in Great Britain when the drug ring was eventually broken up. In the long run, it wasn’t just about the LSD. In the process of breaking the LSD connections, they also unearthed a plot to smuggle huge quantities of Bolivian pure cocaine into the UK via Miami. The Operation Julie team handed over the principals in the cocaine trade to the DEA in the United States so team efforts could remain focused on the LSD operations. The story unfolds in short chapters from Stephen’s perspective. I don’t have a personal frame of reference regarding the events described as I might have with something that happened in the United States, so the telling of this story is completely new to me. Yet, the backdrop of the hippie era and the music of the day was familiar. Indeed, Stephen mentions in the book about the connection between the British LSD and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love made (in)famous by such characters as Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey.

Steve and his partner, Eric changed their last names and they were given alter-identities and appropriate official documents. In true “spy” fashion, public records were created so that should someone get inquisitive, their cover story would match public documentation. Stephen and Eric lived and worked day-to-day for several months directly with suppliers and dealers in the drug underworld. How they lived and what they had to do to protect their cover kept me reading.

I hesitate to provide any great detail about their surreptitious life for those many months, I leave that for you to discover in case you decide to read the book yourself. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions. In fact, it was number 1 on Amazon’s Best Seller List in Great Britain. Search Amazon.com for “Operation Julie”, and there are several books that come up. The one you want is Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story, published September 14, 2016 by author Stephen Bentley.

John Steiner

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