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Smoke and Mirrors or Valued Guide in Global Mine Field? : Counterterrorism Expert Wheels and Deals Way to Fortune

November 09, 1986|MYRA MacPHERSON | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — He looks more invented than real, like a character in an Arnaud de Borchgrave novel filled with international intrigue and right-wing derring-do. A fringe of blond hair cloaks a shiny head. The shirt is white on white, the suit dark and expensive. The watch is gold and so is the heavy linked bracelet. There are three rings and they flash as his hands work over some Turkish worry beads. The beads, too, are pure gold.

The voice is deep but quiet, with little inflection, even when he says Moammar Kadafi should have been killed long ago.

He lives, as would a character in a Washington novel, in the Watergate; a huge crystal vase filled with flowers rests on a glass table next to the Partagas cigars. The black Corvette is stabled in the garage below.

In one room are replica instruments of death--models of Czech pistols and letter bombs that he uses in lectures--and collected writings on germ warfare. On one wall is an autographed picture of President Reagan; on another, a picture of a half-dressed woman, a flak jacket only partially covering her bra.

Welcome to his world: Neil Livingstone is the name, counterterrorism the game. It is a world of studied mystique; scoffed at by some as a smoke-and-mirrors province of the right wing or a fast-buck consultancy scam exploiting scared travelers; valued by others as a reassuring guide service through the global mine field of alien cultures and political violence.

At 39, Livingstone is one of the more flamboyant and controversial of the breed. "Anti-terrorism is the fastest growing industry in America," he says, "which is why it has attracted every type of bozo and thug along with some very good firms." Although he regards himself as one of the more rational voices in the trade, others, particularly academicians, view Livingstone as an alarmist ideologue who advocates assassination and the violent overthrow of governments and scares up clients with high-decibel prophecies of germ warfare terrorism.

"We should have killed the ayatollah," he says, softly. "Assassination is a dirty word but I do believe there are terrorists and people like the ayatollah who can so disrupt the world order we have today." As for Nicaragua, "Somoza was a bad guy, but these guys are worse. The right thing in my judgment is to overthrow that government. Whether the contras or the United States should go in and throw them out, I'm not prepared to say."

One might wonder how the 1964 graduate of Helena (Mont.) High School--a hot-rocket entrepreneur who owned a Ferrari at age 16, had time for both track and debate, won a Voice of Democracy contest and listed "politics" as his future--wandered into the shadowy world of counterterrorism.

It was a convoluted trail. His thinking on world affairs began to crystallize while he was studying for a doctoral degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the early '70s.

"I became seduced from being a normative person who said we have to design the world to being a pragmatist that said, 'Let's look for real solutions,' " he says.

"Our world is populated by people who don't enjoy our sensitivities, don't enjoy our institutions and, quite frankly, mean us real harm. We have to roll up our sleeves and do the dark and dirty deeds."

Livingstone has lots of former lives--former Hill aide, former partner in Air Panama airlines, former power broker at (public relations firm) Gray & Co., former executive in a now-defunct security company--and a pretty lucrative present. He is a consultant on terrorism to ABC television's "20/20," and to the CBS series "The Equalizer."

He also wrote a book, "The War Against Terrorism," in 1982, and last year edited, with Terrell E. Arnold, a book of essays, "Fighting Back: Winning the War Against Terrorism." In February, Lexington Books plans to publish a book on germ warfare by Livingstone and Joseph D. Douglass, "America the Vulnerable: The Threat of Chemical Biological Warfare." He teaches a course on terrorism at Georgetown University and is trying to start a Ramboesque magazine aimed at a "more upscale audience" than Soldier of Fortune.

For a handsome fee, he lectures kidnap-fearful corporate executives, warning them, among other things, that the hooker eyeing them in some European boite may be a member of, say, the Japanese Red Army or the Baader-Meinhof Gang. He says he also helps advise various governments at crucial times on terrorism, but what he has done and with whom is always vague.

"I wish I could be more forthcoming," he says, "but in the security business you never talk about your clients."

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