By Pat Roush
Thursday, March 20, 2003 1:00 a.m.
After three years of battling the State Department and the Saudi government for the lives of my young daughters who were illegally stolen from me, my mother and I decided to hire an experienced, former CIA operative from Boston, Ed Ciriello, to go get the kids. He was an “old soldier” who had a background right out of a Raymond Chandler novel.
He had a good track record of recovering children from the Middle East and had previously lived undercover in Saudi Arabia. A fiftyish former “spook” who was living on his boat, “The Private Eye,” in Boston harbor, Ciriello’s business card read, “an unusual service for unusual problems.”
With no tourist visas being issued by the Saudi government, Ed had to get into Saudi Arabia on some type of “work related” business. And in August 1989, he arrived in the kingdom for the first phase of the mission – reconnaissance. Saudi Arabia is a mercenary-private investigator’s nightmare. There are no street lamps to stand under, no unmarked, inconspicuous cars to hang out in on the street while you do surveillance, and no cheap, local informants you can safely buy.
Saudi society is closely monitored by religious police, secret police, provincial police, military police and Saudis watching other Saudis to report to the police. There are no pedestrians taking leisurely walks, and women cannot walk alone or they will be either arrested or kidnapped and raped-killed. Houses are not numbered, and mail is not delivered to the houses but to post office boxes only. It is difficult to get around, and there is an aura of repression everywhere.
Each residence or villa is surrounded by high, concrete walls with a tightly secured metal door at the front entrance. Small slits in the concrete walls of these villas serve as windows. Little light gets in. Saudis spend little time outdoors and women in black are ushered in and out of these concrete mausoleums into waiting cars driven by hired drivers from the Third World.
Ed knew he was walking into a dangerous situation, but he had courage and savvy that I had never seen before. No more State Department double-talk and Saudi government lies. This was the man I knew could get my daughters back to America, if it was God’s Will.
A few months after his arrival, Ed came up with Plan A. After “bumping into” a old friend from British Intelligence whose Pakistani wife worked in the Saudi school system, contact was made with Alia. She was 11 at the time, and had been gone for almost four years. The woman met her in the courtyard at school. “Do you want to go to America to be with your Mommy?”
Alia responded, “Yes, I want to go home but Allah will kill my whole family if I leave.”
Ed sent a letter, “Would you take one and not the other?” I told him they both had to walk out together.
One night I had a dream: Ed and I were trapped in a deep pit, each holding a little baby. High above the pit was a glass wall that totally surrounded us – there was no way out. Looking down on us from the other side of the glass was Khalid – their father, who kidnapped them – smiling.