Chekhov’s Midnight Raid on the Logistical Platform for the French Army’s External Operations

 

070715 miramas-m“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story,” Anton Chekhov advised. “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

This just really happened:

A pile of explosives, 180 detonators and around 40 grenades were stolen from an army base in Miramas in southern France, a source close to investigations said on Tuesday, despite the country still being on high alert following recent terror attacks.

An investigation has now been launched into the theft by the prosecutor’s office in the nearby city of Marseille, which said it was working on the basis that the crime was the work of an “organised group.”

The Marseille prosecutor said regional gendarmerie and forensic scientists had been mobilised to help with the probe.

The thieves broke into the compound overnight Sunday, cutting a wire fence to gain entry, a source told the AFP news agency.

The Miramas site serves as a logistical platform for the French army’s external operations, French radio station Europe 1 reported. It said the 250-hectare (618 acres) compound is protected by two rows of wire fencing but has no surveillance cameras.

The theft came despite France having raised security after a suspected Islamist beheaded hisboss and tried to blow up an industrial gas plant near Lyon on June 26, six months after gunmen killed 17 people at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery shop in January.

The theft prompted the country’s Defence Ministry to say Tuesday it asked all military sites storing ammunition to compile internal security assessments “within two weeks.”

(I very nearly wrote, “I’ll bet heads are rolling in the Defense Ministry over this,” until I realized that that under the circumstances, that might not be the best way to put it.)

Frédéric Vigouroux, the mayor of Miramas, described himself as “thunderstruck” by the theft. “This is very disturbing. Really astonishing. Especially for the military professionals. Security is their second nature, or even their first nature.” Pressed for details about what was missing, he said, “It wasn’t cotton candy.”

That’s all we really know, for now.

I’m hoping the story-master of life just forgets all about this by the end of the play.

Photo via AFP: A sign reading “prohibited area” at the Miramas army base in southern France

Published in Foreign Policy, General, Military
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  1. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I really do hope we’re not living in a Chekhov play, then. This reminds me that I vaguely remember other cases of stolen or at least unaccounted-for weapons over the past decade or so (explosives, radioactive material from Russia) that I haven’t seen used…but maybe we’re not up to Chapter 3, yet.

    Tangentially, this is where I’ve always disagreed with Chekhov. If you remove *everything* that won’t be important to the story, then you’ll never be surprised by anything that happens. I don’t want to guess every move of the plot in advance.

    • #1
  2. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    It said the 250-hectare (618 acres) compound is protected by two rows of wire fencing but has no surveillance cameras.

    The theft came despite France having raised security …

    So they just put in the second row of wire fencing you can cut through with a decent wire cutter—no need for a bulky, suspicious, and let’s face it, utterly lacking in je ne sais quoi bolt cutter?

    I’m reminded of the third Bourne installment, which apparently cast Scott Glenn for the sole purpose of summarizing the plot, then delivering the line “You can’t make this stuff up” without bursting out laughing.

    • #2
  3. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Fortunately life does not necessarily imitate Chekhov.

    Seawriter

    • #3
  4. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    No surveillance cameras.

    I’ve had occasion to hear military facility security professionals in the US opine that “a fence is not a barrier, a fence is a marker.”  That hit me as fairly obvious, once I heard it.  So what’s up with the French military facility security professionals?

    • #4
  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tim H.:I really do hope we’re not living in a Chekhov play, then.

    Me too. This is top of the news everywhere in France and I suspect we’re all looking at this and thinking … Well? How alarmed should we be, exactly?

    Kind of hard to imagine a benign interpretation of this. This obviously wasn’t some teenaged prank. And as some talking heads are saying, “The possibility that the thieves had internal help has not been definitively excluded,” meaning … well, we don’t know.

    This reminds me that I vaguely remember other cases of stolen or at least unaccounted-for weapons over the past decade or so (explosives, radioactive material from Russia) that I haven’t seen used…but maybe we’re not up to Chapter 3, yet.

    Tangentially, this is where I’ve always disagreed with Chekhov.If you remove *everything* that won’t be important to the story, then you’ll never be surprised by anything that happens.I don’t want to guess every move of the plot in advance.

    I don’t either. I’m hoping this headline was thrown on my front page today by a masterful Playwright of the World who likes to keep me guessing.

    Otherwise, the plot’s a bit too obvious.

    • #5
  6. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    I’d say wow, but I suspect this stuff happens more often than we’d like to think.  In the US, a disturbing trend is that most post security on bases is done by 3rd party contractors rather than soldiers, sailors and airmen.  The security contract goes to the low bidder, or the politically connected one, who employ the individual they can hire for the lowest wage.

    • #6
  7. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    With a semi-armed populace, in the US, there is at least some hope that any attack might be foiled by the public.  In France, Britain, etc., I guess you just have to pray and put your faith in government…..or, on second thought, just pray harder.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    TG:No surveillance cameras.

    I’ve had occasion to hear military facility security professionals in the US opine that “a fence is not a barrier, a fence is a marker.” That hit me as fairly obvious, once I heard it. So what’s up with the French military facility security professionals?

    I don’t really know. Other reports say the place is under “heavy surveillance,” so I’m not quite sure what the story is. Clearly the surveillance, if it is indeed heavy, is supposed to be conducted by means other than a security camera. Figaro seems to be hinting at “inside job” here:

    The investigators have got to be asking themselves whether it could have been an inside job [“internal complicity” is the phrase they use], since the criminals seemed so knowledgable. About 150 people work at the site, which does not have a surveillance camera. 

    • #8
  9. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    The Office of Personnel Management didn’t even have a fence.

    • #9
  10. user_1065645 Contributor
    user_1065645
    @DaveSussman

    Good thing France allows its citizens and police to lawfully protect themselves from criminals and terrorists.
    Oh, wait.

    • #10
  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    If Nidal Hasan was able to keep his position in Texas, an inside job is probably just as easy in France.

    • #11
  12. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    No security, no alarms going off when the fence is cut, no armed guards, sounds about like the French. But we are no better, our military on our bases, are unarmed. Fort Hood wouldn’t have happened if our military had their weapons on them and a bullet in the chamber. IDF have their guns with them all the time, even off duty and when they are home, shopping, and at the beach. Their weapons storage are not left unattended.

    • #12
  13. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: A pile of explosives, 180 detonators and around 40 grenades were stolen from an army base in Miramas in southern France, a source close to investigations said on Tuesday, despite the country still being on high alert following recent terror attacks.

    Well they really did not get that much.  I have seen more than that at a monthly gun club meeting.  The only fuss is that their secure site was not really secure at all.

    • #13
  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    David Knights:

    With a semi-armed populace, in the US, there is at least some hope that any attack might be foiled by the public.

    They made off with the kinds of explosives you’d find at an Opex logs base. And the detonators. I don’t think an armed populace has much hope of foiling whatever they’re planning to do with that.

    As you’d expect, given that journalists are prone to confusing earplugs with bullets, the media is hysterically reporting the theft of “an unspecified quantity of military-grade explosives!!!!!!!” without explaining that this term might mean many things. And obviously, no one who knows is saying exactly what went missing. But that’s where they keep the stuff you’d like to have on hand if you’re invading Mali, so it could theoretically be on the more impressive end of the “military grade explosives” scale.

    • #14
  15. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Frédéric Vigouroux, the mayor of Miramas, described himself as “thunderstruck” by the theft. “This is very disturbing. Really astonishing. Especially for the military professionals. Security is their second nature, or even their first nature.”

    Absent an investigation’s objective conduct, I’m reluctant to condemn off the bat.  There’s not a box made by man that another man can’t break into.  Or out of.

    But no surveillance cameras coupled with no randomly timed patrols coupled with no dogs?  That is curious.

    Oh, well.  At least France hasn’t any analog of the KKK to make use of the stolen goods in displays of bigotry.  Oh, wait….

    Eric Hines

    • #15
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Real Jane Galt:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: A pile of explosives, 180 detonators and around 40 grenades were stolen from an army base in Miramas in southern France, a source close to investigations said on Tuesday, despite the country still being on high alert following recent terror attacks.

    Well they really did not get that much. I have seen more than that at a monthly gun club meeting. The only fuss is that their secure site was not really secure at all.

    Do you know what they have? No report I’ve seen has been more precise than “military grade explosives,” (type and quantity totally unspecified), so it’s totally possible they’re just talking a bunch of cheap grenades and a vial of guncotton. Also possible that it’s something else. (Ah, the helpful media are now reporting “plastic explosives.” That clears everything up … )

    • #16
  17. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: They made off with the kinds of explosives you’d find at an Opex logs base. And the detonators. I don’t think an armed populace has much hope of foiling whatever they’re planning to do with that.

    Depends.  Admittedly being armed will not help much once a bomb is place, but being armed can make a big difference if you stumble across someone carrying or placing a bomb. Snipers were very effective at eliminating sappers placing IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    An example – if someone in Texas with a CCW permit is going to his car in a garage beneath a big office building and sees someone placing a bomb there (think the 1990s WTC bombing) the concealed handgun can go a long way towards foiling the attempt.

    Knowing that is a possibility will lead a terrorist to seek a softer target. Maybe in a blue state city, like New York. (Rough on NYC, but they have to live with the choices they make.)

    Seawriter

    • #17
  18. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Two things you can know for certain:

    1) this has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. (More likely American right-wing extremists)
    2) the streets of Paris are perfectly safe.

    Of course, a long visit to relatives in the US might be somewhat relaxing all the same.

    • #18
  19. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Seawriter: Snipers were very effective at eliminating sappers placing IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I think that’s the most optimistic way to put it. The less optimistic way is that IEDs killed 3,100 American troops wounded 33,000 more, and we didn’t send alert civilians with CCW permits into Iraq and Afghanistan. We sent the most advanced military human history has known. 

    • #19
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I think that’s the most optimistic way to put it. The less optimistic way is that IEDs killed 3,100 American troops wounded 33,000 more, and we didn’t send alert civilians with CCW permits into Iraq and Afghanistan. We sent the most advanced military human history has known.

    Texas does not have a population sympathetic to or apathetic about the bomb setters. Iraq did. (New York or Paris might be different stories.)

    J. C. Masterman’s book The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939 to 1945 is applicable to the type of challenges terrorists would face in places like Texas. So is the Northfield Bank Robbery. There are a lot of folks here who would notice stuff and act on it.

    Seawriter

    • #20
  21. J. D. Fitzpatrick Member
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    TG:No surveillance cameras.

    I’ve had occasion to hear military facility security professionals in the US opine that “a fence is not a barrier, a fence is a marker.” That hit me as fairly obvious, once I heard it. So what’s up with the French military facility security professionals?

    Ceci n’est pas une clôture?

    • #21
  22. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ryan M:Two things you can know for certain:

    1) this has absolutely nothing to do with Islam. (More likely American right-wing extremists) 2) the streets of Paris are perfectly safe.

    Of course, a long visit to relatives in the US might be somewhat relaxing all the same.

    Despite a day of breathless reporting, we still truly have no idea what they actually stole. (The place is now impregnable — the hordes of journalists at the gate are finding themselves up against the fully-alert French military, who’s presumably been called back from … well, wherever they were when this happened.)

    We know from LeMonde that “significant stocks of ammunition are sheltered in dozens of igloos in semi-buried bunkers” at Miramas, which I could have told them last week, as could anyone with access to the Internet. What we don’t know is what exactly went missing, how, or where it is now.

    No one in France is speculating that it’s right-wing American extremists. The going theories are Islamists or the mob. As for relaxing trips, well, I could either visit my relatives or go to the US. Remember (as stunning as this is to me every time I think of it) I don’t have any living relatives left in America. Those statistics about the odds of dying from cancer versus the odds of dying in a terrorist attack? They don’t seem to be kidding about that.

    But I do, thank God, still have living relatives. My sister-in-law was just sent to Bamako with MINUSMA, though, so I’ll probably have to go to Mali to see them next. (The security situation in Bamako’s pretty good now, although not so much in the north.)

    There’s no such thing as “perfectly safe.” Life is 100 percent fatal. But as odds go, the streets of Paris are a perfectly reasonable place to feel as safe as you would anywhere.

    • #22
  23. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    An armed citizenry is a last line of defense.  You don’t want to rely on it, but it does give the terrorist/criminal one more thing to worry about.  There are plenty of documented cases of armed citizens foiling crimes and even mass shootings.

    That said, you’d hope security would have been better in the first place.  I’ll be interested to hear from Claire what later reporting tells us about this.  Thought I’d be willing to bet the staff of Charlie Hebdo would, in retrospect, like to have been armed.

    • #23
  24. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    @Claire: no living family in the US?? I beg to differ. There is a Seattle meetup in a week or two, as I recall, with some NR overlap. I haven’t seen the celebrity guest list just yet, of course…

    • #24
  25. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    It said the 250-hectare (618 acres) compound is protected by two rows of wire fencing but has no surveillance cameras.

    How was I to know the compound was being robbed.

    Even if both Chekov brothers were on the job they probably would have got the stuff.

    Chekov Anton

    Chekov

    Not to change the tone from total nonsense but I think maybe we need to tighten up the ship. We are under attack. They are desperate and insane. Time to wake up.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #25
  26. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Real Jane Galt:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: A pile of explosives, 180 detonators and around 40 grenades were stolen from an army base in Miramas in southern France, a source close to investigations said on Tuesday, despite the country still being on high alert following recent terror attacks.

    Well they really did not get that much. I have seen more than that at a monthly gun club meeting. The only fuss is that their secure site was not really secure at all.

    Do you know what they have? No report I’ve seen has been more precise than “military grade explosives,” (type and quantity totally unspecified), so it’s totally possible they’re just talking a bunch of cheap grenades and a vial of guncotton. Also possible that it’s something else. (Ah, the helpful media are now reporting “plastic explosives.” That clears everything up … )

    I just know that a “pile of explosives, 180 detonators and around 40 grenades” sounds like a fun Saturday among my friends.  A few of us together could come up with that and a couple more toys.  :)  But hey, we like to take a machine gun to the range to shoot a bomb in a car / fridge to watch it blow up for fun.

    • #26
  27. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

     I’ll be interested to hear from Claire what later reporting tells us about this.

    Well, so far we have no more actual information than what I’ve mentioned here, but we’ve certainly got lots of people screaming at each other and lots of journalists sounding shocked and lots of grandstanding politicians accusing each other of incompetence, as is to be expected.

    But one charge does strike me as standing out, and I wonder if it will stick when all the inquiries have been conducted. Hollande satisfied public demand for a great display of security theater in January when he ordered troops to be deployed to every “sensitive site” in France. A lot of the soldiers I saw here had been quickly redeployed and I’m pretty sure many of them had never been to Paris before. (I asked a group of them for directions once, and discovered to my dismay that they were totally lost. They were very nice, but they were definitely not from these parts. If they’d received orders suddenly to deal with an emergency in another part of the city, I can’t imagine they’d have had a hope of doing it expeditiously.  They were just there for display.)

    The military was hinting that they didn’t have the manpower both to protect genuinely sensitive sites and to send kids from Alsace to wander back and forth all day in every place suddenly viewed as “sensitive” in Paris. And the military’s human resources branch sent a report to the National Assembly in January saying, in effect, “Look, we just don’t have the manpower for this yet.” So it wouldn’t be totally implausible to me if we learn that to satisfy public demand that it do something fearsome-looking, the government overruled the military’s advice to keep the forces where they were most urgently needed. But I don’t know.

    • #27
  28. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    I recall several years ago someone had the bad form to point out that Americans were hiring Palestinian subcontractors to guard our weapons depots in Europe. I don’t remember any follow up but wouldn’t be surprised if they were sent to sensitivity camp for their racial profiling.

    Drudge linked to an article in The Telegraph yesterday about the leader of the group responsible for shooting up the beach in Tunisia. He lives in West London with his five kids on a combination of welfare and disability payments of about $70,000 per year, if I have my exchange rates right. The world, or at least the West, has truly gone mad.

    • #28
  29. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    I find it hard to believe there were no guards or surveillance. Most likely the explosives and the detonators were stored in separate igloos. And the igloos were likely secured with high quality locks. Leading me to conclude two things. First, the thieves had time to cut through the fences and break into 2 separate igloos. Second, it was probably done with the witting or unwitting cooperation of insiders.

    • #29
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