This afternoon, I had a consultation with Dr. Runkkari Paskanaama, Special Attaché for Political Affairs at the Embassy of Finland here in Washington. He brought a bottle of Lakka, the Finnish Lapponia Cloudberry liqueur, which isn’t easy to find in DC.
“From the embassy’s own stock,” he confided as he placed it on the coffee table by the couch. For a moment, he turned to gaze past the couch, out the picture window behind it, which overlooks the White House. A visible shudder ran through him, after which he shook his head and took a seat in the chair immediately in front of my desk.
“Mr. Collins,” he began, leaning close toward me, “Ambassador Kauppi asks that I convey our sincere gratitude for the advice you have provided over the last several years that the Embassy of Finland has been your client. And we realize that, compared to many of your other clients, the problems upon which we have required your consultation have been relatively mundane – butter and vodka international export issues; intellectual property, particularly that behind-the-scenes business concerning Angry Birds and mobile phones; reindeer conservation in Lapland; foreign exchange and import duties matters with respect to the EU versus the Schengen Area and the EFTA; Sami culture preservation; trade restrictions with NATO members, that sort of thing. Today, however, I must warn you. We have something… special… to discuss.”
I considered Dr. Paskanaama’s remarks – and his reaction to a glimpse of the White House a few moments earlier – and hazarded a guess. “The recent summit meeting, perhaps?”
At that, he leaned back, rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and heaved an extensive sigh. “Yes. How perceptive of you, as usual, I might add. Believe me,” he continued as he leaned in close once again, “holding the US – Russia summit in Helsinki was definitely not the bright idea of anyone in Finland. But once Trump and Putin started talking about it, what could we do? Sure, Uncle Sam and Kremlin Bear, go right ahead – have your damned summit in our capital and by the way, cost us a mint worth of money for security and police overtime while you are at it! We’re Finland, after all – always the nice, civilized, polite, accommodating Scandinavians, aren’t we?”
“Gee, Doc,” I joshed, “tell me how you really feel.”
“Ha!” he exclaimed. “Doing that would not be very diplomatic, I don’t think.”
“Probably,” I agreed with grin. “So, the United States and the Russian Federation took advantage of your good nature and barged into Helsinki for a hastily convened, chaotic, absurd and essentially asinine summit meeting between their two highly loathsome leaders, which you cordially hosted, as everyone expected. Kudos for Finland, I say. You once again demonstrated your moral, intellectual and cultural superiority to both the boorish cowboys and the barbaric cossacks by facilitating their relations with your customary élan and panache.”
“Thank you,” he pointed remarked. “I only wish more people here in Washington and over in Moscow appreciated what we go through during this sort of thing. However, this time, I am afraid we made a serious mistake.”
“What kind of mistake?” I asked.
“Well,” he began, pausing once more for a gargantuan sigh of regret, “This time, some ambitious fools at Supo, our national secret security service, got permission from the Interior Ministry to conduct surveillance of the summit meeting.”
“And they managed to accomplish that without detection by either the Americans or the Russians?” I inquired.
“Apparently,” he shrugged. “In such matters as these, who ever really knows for sure one way or the other? As far as Supo can determine, anyway, we got an audio recording device and a pinhole camera into the room where Trump and Putin had their famous two-hour-and-ten-minute one-on-one meeting without being detected by any third parties.”
“So Supo has a record of the meeting, then?” I sought to confirm.
“As do the Russians,” he shot back.
“But not,” I pressed, “the Americans?”
“Again, we can’t be absolutely certain,” he warned, “but we have reason to believe that the Americans had some – ah, difficulties – with their equipment at the last minute and weren’t able to restore function until after the meeting had concluded.”
“How confident are you about that?” I wondered.
“Pretty much,” he affirmed. “Because the Americans have been bugging us – pardon the pun – since Tuesday for our copy. Which, naturally, we deny having.”
“At this point,” I suggested, “I would recommend that we adjourn to my secure TS/Q cube and continue our conversation there.”
The TS/Q Cube, accessible from the corridor behind the exit door to the left behind my desk, is furnished rather sparely with a rectangular teak conference table having a central pillar, surrounded by four Aeron chairs. The floor is raised – two steps up bring you to the gate of the internal Faraday cage, which is constructed from a perforated metal grill material similar to that found in the windows of microwave ovens. No electromagnetic radiation outside of a narrow range of visible frequencies can escape the Faraday cage. And no visible light can escape the Cube, of course, since the cage itself is encased inside four walls, a ceiling and a raised floor behind a mechanically locking outer door leading to the corridor. The walls, the ceiling and the raised floor outside the Faraday cage are covered with anechoic, sound absorbing material capable of reducing a 140 decibel gun blast to five micro-pascals. Not even the wiring for the lights inside the Cube goes outside the Faraday cage – there’s a pack of rechargeable batteries built into the conference table pillar. They’re good for eight hours of continuous operation, after which I have to switch them with another pack from a recharger located outside the Cube. In short, it’s the perfect place for complete paranoids to have a nice, private conversation.
“Impressive,” Dr. Paskanaama murmured as he took a seat at the table. “Now, I am getting some idea of the overhead your astronomical hourly fees must support.”
“As my critics in that matter are regularly told,” I commented, “you get what you pay for. Now – what’s on that audio record? What does the video show?”
“Mostly,” he replied, “it’s just President Trump giving away the store, as you Americans say. He bows down to Putin on Crimea, NATO, Syria, the whole ball of wax, as you Americans say. Putin keeps asking for favors and Trump keeps agreeing to provide them, one after the other. But that’s pretty much what everybody expected, right? In some sense, no surprise there, correct?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” I concurred. “And if that’s all Supo has a record of, we might as well go back out into my office. But your tone of voice seemed to indicate there’s… more than that. Am I wrong?”
“No,” he admitted, “you’re not. You are, in fact, eerily perceptive, again as usual. You see, there’s an eighteen-minute interval in the audio and video recordings where Putin kicks the translators out of the room.”
“And Trump doesn’t object?” I queried, somewhat taken aback – if not by much.
“No,” my guest assured me, “not a peep out of him, as you Americans say.”
“And then what happens?” I beseeched, quite curious at this point, I must confess.
“Um, well, the video view is blocked for the entire eighteen minutes by a notebook Putin’s translator abandons lying on a table when he leaves the room,” he continued, “but we still got the audio.”
“And?” I blurted, growing somewhat impatient at what by now had become his rather slow rendition of events. “What?”
“Forgive me for struggling to tell this,” he apologized, apparently noticing my irritation. “It becomes… increasingly difficult, you see, because first of all, you know that Putin speaks English, don’t you?”
“Quite well, it is said,” I acknowledged.
“But he has an accent,” Dr. Paskanaama noted, “which is to say, we could tell on the audio recording whether it was he or Trump speaking, and each of the translators, for that matter, when they were translating, for example.”
“Makes sense,” I agreed. “Besides, I’m sure Supo can take a voice print as well as any security agency. Of course they know who was saying what.”
“So they do,” he nodded. “And everything said during that eighteen minutes is spoken by Putin, in English. Otherwise, there are only some… suggestive sounds.”
“Suggestive of what?” I exclaimed.
Dr. Paskanaama’s pale Nordic face turned bright red. “What we in Finland call, um… ‘ime munaa,’ which in English, I believe is… ah, how do you say it… a ‘humbler’ or something like that?”
“Trump?” I gasped, “Giving Putin a blow…”
“Yes, yes,” he interrupted, clearly embarrassed, “the audio is sounds of what your President Clinton did to the Lewinsky girl in the Oval Office – not with the cigar, but… the other thing. Meanwhile, Putin says things like ‘faster,’ ‘deeper,’ and ‘more tongue.’ Then he says, ‘And tell them I am coming to Washington during your next election for another summit!’ After that, there is a… guttural… sound, made by Putin, after which he says, ‘that’s it, swallow every drop!’”
“Christ Almighty,” I observed, “I’ve heard plenty of comments about Putin and Trump having a bromance, but this is ridiculous! So – I suppose you want some advice on the best way to reveal the truth?”
“Quite the opposite,” he declared, shaking his head emphatically. “In fact, the Finnish government has decided to keep an absolute security lid on this information.”
“Under no circumstances,” I told him, “would that be my recommendation. It is essential that the American people in particular, and the world in general be made aware of the situation!”
“Perhaps,” he allowed, holding is hands out, palms up in a gesture of helplessness, “but in that case, let the Russians or the Americans reveal it, not Finland.”
“But neither the Russians nor the Americans would ever do so!” I protested. “Finland is the neutral one in this imbroglio! It’s up to you!”
“That’s easy for you to say,” my guest insisted. “Look at the facts. Trump is insane. Putin is insane. Together they control eighty percent of the military might and ninety percent of the nuclear weapons on the planet! And you want little Finland to tell the world that the Russian lunatic is dressed up in black leather and chains, walking the American lunatic around on a leash with a dog collar around his neck, making that fat, orange, blithering moron do obscene tricks like some idiootti huora?”
“Doctor,” I cautioned, “you may very well owe the idiootti huoras an apology for comparing them to Donald J. Trump. All right then, for the record, Finland is chicken to let the cat out of the bag.”
“Chicken?” Dr. Paskanaama bridled. “I know that figure of speech, and the hell you say! We stood up to Stalin when Russia invaded us in World War II! Did America help us then? No – because the Soviet Union was your ally against the Axis. We had to fight off the Red Army all by ourselves! You call that chicken? No, we Finns are by no means chicken, but also, we are not suicidal. And we realize that if it is we who break this unfortunate news, then we will be the ones who pay the price for doing so.”
“But you have to,” I argued. “It’s your moral responsibility!”
Oh, turku!” he wailed, burying his face in his hands, exuding abject despair. “If only those cretins at Supo had kept Finland out of that room! Ignorance, Mr. Collins! Ignorance would be such bliss! And this!” He raised his head to stare at me. “This is why I am here today! Please, tell me if you can, what can Finland do now that we have this terrible knowledge and it is only a matter of time before some other cretin – present company excepted, of course, you know what I mean – before some other person decides it’s a good idea to reveal the contents of the Supo summit surveillance to the world and the two most dangerous sociopaths on the entire planet are totally [expletive] off at Finland?”
“Oh, really?” I calmly responded. “I thought I was going to have to struggle with some tough questions and gnarly puzzles to earn my fee on this one, but if that’s all you need, as the song says, ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ It’s what we consultants call a ‘no-brainer’ – glaringly obvious.”
“Okay,” he huffed, “now you’re making me feel stupid. What is it?”
“Just say,” I advised, “that it’s all a plot by the Democrats to discredit Trump, and defy anyone to prove otherwise. Then have your ambassador complain to the DNC and congressional Democrats about this craven attempt to use poor little Finland as the fall guy in their heartless, vicious scheme, and issue a press release calling for the United States and Russia to leave Finland out of their internal political brawls and disruptive, irresponsible, self-serving bilateral squabbling.”
Dr. Paskanaama sat quietly for a few minutes, pondering. After a while, he spoke.
“You know,” he opined, “In this box of yours, I can hear my own heartbeat.”
“Listen harder,” I proposed, “and you will be able to hear both of us.”
“So I can,” he whispered. “And now that I have, it’s making me nervous. Can we get the hell out of here now?”
“Sure,” I replied as I unlocked the door.
“Wait just a minute,” he requested. “I concede that your plan sounds like it will work successfully, but won’t it be an extremely cynical, callous and cruel thing to do to the Democrats?”
“Yes,” I admitted as I began to open the door, “it will. But Democrats have become accustomed to being treated like that. So no problem, they’ll…”
“One more thing,” he interjected. “I have this… terrible image… you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I have this horrible, disgusting, disturbing, nightmare image in my brain. How can I make it go away?”
“Well,” I suggested, “it’s five-thirty, so for starters, we can go polish off that bottle of Lakka you left on the coffee table.”