Sunday, June 15, 2014

Inteview with Voice of America about Operation Valuable Fiend

On June 14, 2014, I met at the studios of Voice of America with Mr. Ilir Ikonomi of the Albanian Service for an interview about my book, Operation Valuable Fiend.

A transcript of the interview follows:

Ilir Ikonomi, Voice of America
Ikonomi: A new book titled Operation Valuable Fiend has just been published in the United States. It is written by Albert Lulushi, an Albanian-American author, and describes covert operations of the CIA to overthrow the communist regime in Albania between 1949 and 1954. These operations failed for a number of reasons which we will discuss shortly. This was the first effort by the CIA to strike at the Iron Curtain. We have in the studio tonight the author, Mr. Albert Lulushi, to further discuss his book, Operation Valuable Fiend.
Welcome to our studio, Mr. Lulushi, and congratulations for this very interesting book. I have read it very closely and you have discovered a number of previously unknown facts in this book. How would you explain the title of the book? What is behind the terms 'Valuable Fiend?'
Lulushi: These two terms come from the codenames that the CIA and British Secret Intelligence Service used for their Albania operations. FIEND was the codename used by the CIA and VALUABLE was the name used by the British.
Ikonomi: How did these operations come about? What was the genesis of the CIA and British operations against Albania?
Lulushi: The CIA that had just been formed at the time, in 1947, desired to strike against the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. They found in Albania a good target of opportunity because at the time it was isolated from the Soviet bloc as the result of the rupture in relations between Tito and Stalin. The thinking was that since Albania was physically isolated from the Soviet bloc, a focused effort would be sufficient to topple the communist regime.
Ikonomi: So, we are talking between 1948 and 1949?
Lulushi: Planning began toward the end of 1948 and the first operations were conducted in 1949.
Ikonomi: Why did the CIA choose Albania and not another country behind the Iron Curtain? Did they find Albania a softer target that offered better opportunities to overthrow a communist regime?
Lulushi: One important factor is the physical isolation of Albania from the Soviet bloc. It made it very difficult for the Soviets to send troops in support of the Hoxha regime. Another reason was the civil war that was raging in Greece at the time between communist and anti-communist forces in that country. It is known that the Albanian communist government had opened the southern borders at the time to allow communist insurgents to cross into Albania to escape capture. Thus, a regime change in Albania would also improve the outcome of the civil war in Greece.
Ikonomi: Naturally, the basis for the operations were Albanian émigré groups. Who were they specifically?
Lulushi: There were three main groups who had come out of World War II as opponents of the communists. Perhaps the largest group was Balli Kombetar; the next group were the followers of Legaliteti led by Abaz Kupi; and a third group were anti-communist elements from Kosovo and the northeast mountains of Albania led by Said Kryeziu. These three groups had fought the communists during the war and after they went into exile they were used by intelligence services of the United States, Great Britain and other countries in the region against the Hoxha regime.
Ikonomi: Where were these groups based?
Lulushi: The majority of them were émigrés living in refugee camps in Italy and Greece. Some of them had moved to Egypt, close to King Zog who lived in Alexandria at the time. The overwhelming majority lived in desperate conditions in refugee camps, scraping by from one day to the other.
Ikonomi: Very interesting. How were these groups organized? How did the CIA sent them to Albania?
Lulushi: They were infiltrated by land and sea, but the preferred method for the CIA was to parachute them from the air. The British preferred to send their agents by sea. Toward the end, in 1952, '53 and '54, the main method of infiltration was overland through the Greek borders.
Ikonomi: I imagine it must have been very difficult sending these groups in Albania, whether by parachute or other means.
Lulushi: It was extremely difficult, especially for those who were parachuted in. If you compare the training of regular paratroopers in the armed forces with the training that the CIA provided their parachutist agents, you can understand what courage and bravery these agents must have had in order to jump from the airplanes. The majority of them experienced their first jump experience during the mission.
Ikonomi: Then, they would drop in unknown territory.
Lulushi: Yes. Especially during the first missions in 1950 and 51, there were no reception parties in the ground to signal the drop zone. And perhaps this was one of the reasons for their lack of success. A number of these agents lost their weapons, ammunition, and supplies during the drops, or were dropped in the wrong location to start with. This led to their pursuit by the government forces and the Sigurimi.
Ikonomi: I spoke recently with Nicholas Pano, Professor Emeritus of History, who has read your book and spoke very highly of it. Let's hear an excerpt of his comments.
Nicholas Pano
[Pano in audio]: I think what the book does is to put the role of H. A. R. Philby in perspective. It demonstrates that although he was knowledgeable of the plans against Albania, he did not have access to the operational plans in Albania. Although he was a factor in the failure of this adventure in Albania, the main factors were the rivalry and divisions among the Albanian émigré groups, the leaks of operational details from these groups, the bureaucratic approach that the CIA and British planners of these operations often took, and the rivalry among different intelligence agencies with interests in Albania at the time.
Ikonomi: So, then, you argue in your book that the main reason for the failure of the CIA and British operations against Albania at the time was not their betrayal by Kim Philby, the Soviet mole inside the British SIS, a thesis put forward by Nicholas Bethel in his book Betrayed. How are you able to prove this, based on what documents?
Lulushi: The CIA had declassified the majority of the documents related to this operation and they are accessible at the National Archives in Washington, DC. There were three waves of operations. For those conducted in 1949, Philby could not have known because he was still assigned in Turkey at the time and had no knowledge of these operations. Philby was in the know of the 1950 and 1951 operations, but in early 1951 he was withdrawn from Washington under the suspicion that he was a Soviet agent.
Ikonomi: So, Philby came to Washington as first secretary at the British Embassy?
Lulushi: That was his diplomatic cover. In fact, Philby's role in Washington was to coordinate between the British SIS and the US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA at the time. The major failures in the Albanian operation came in 1952, '53, and '54, when Philby was without a doubt out of the picture. He had been more or less expelled from the SIS under suspicion of being a Soviet spy.
Ikonomi: Nevertheless, Philby would have given the Soviets information about the operation.
Lulushi: Theoretically, it is possible. But if you dig deeper, Philby's main assignment from his Soviet handlers was to uncover US nuclear secrets and to keep tabs on the developments of the CIA as the newest intelligence organization in the United States. In my opinion, the Albanian operation was too irrelevant for the Soviets to risk uncovering such a major source that had burrowed deep in the British service and had access to the US services as well.
Ikonomi. An important role in these operations from the American side was played by Frank G. Wisner, father of the renowned diplomat Frank G. Wisner, Jr. former assistant secretary of state who played a leading role in the negotiations that led to the independence of Kosovo. I talked to Mr. Wisner two days ago on the telephone. He has read your book very carefully and has a high opinion about it. Here's what Mr. Wisner had to say.
Frank G. Wisner, Jr.
[Wisner in audio]: I thing a great deal is new in the book, because the author explores a field that has not been reviewed extensively in published literature. The author gets into the essence of the mistakes in the operation. They include the lack of careful planning, poor execution and insufficient financing of the operation. The motivation was clear but the execution left a great deal to be desired. The Albanian groups were divided among them, which gave the Tirana government a lot of latitude to explore these divisions to its favor.
Ikonomi: It is interesting that, as Mr. Wisner says, one of the main reasons for the failure of the operations was the division among the Albania groups. Why did these divisions exist?
Lulushi: In my opinion, these divisions existed since the time of World War II and in some cases even before the war. An example here is the followers of Zog and the followers of Balli Kombetar who were anti-Zog. As during the war, these factions did not have the maturity to look at the communists as their main enemies and to unite in opposition against the communists. After they went into exile, although most of them fell under the umbrella of the National Committee for Free Albanian, they continues their rivalries. As an example, Company 4000 in Germany where most of the exiled Albanians were enrolled at the time was split along party lines. All followers of Balli Kombetar were in one unit, the followers of Legaliteti were in a separate unit. They did not communicate with one another and in a lot of cases fought with each other.
Ikonomi: Naturally, the CIA was aware of these divisions.
Lulushi: The CIA was aware of these divisions and at some point in time it gave up hope that these groups could come together.
Ikonomi: Another thing than Mr. Wisner mentions is the poor planning on the part of the CIA of this operation. How do you explain this? Was it because they lacked good information or what?
Lulushi: I was able to discover something interesting in the documents I was able to find in archives, which then have been summarized in the book. The CIA abandoned its main objective, that is the overthrow of the Hoxha government, very early on. By the end of 1949, early 1950, the situation in the Balkans had changed to the point where the CIA decided to continue the operations in order to put pressure on the Hoxha regime but without taking the final step to overthrow it.
Ikonomi: That is interesting. So, the CIA gave up the goal to topple the regime very early then?
Lulushi: Yes. In my opinion, the mistake the CIA made at this time was not to share with its Albanian agents the fact that they were prepare to continue operations to put pressure on the regime but they were not prepared to take the final step.
At the VOA studio on June 14, 2014 with Ilir Ikonomi
Ikonomi: So, then, the groups of exiles continued to think that the goal of the operation was to overthrow the regime?
Lulushi: Yes. They were all convinced and believed that their final objective was the overthrow of the Hoxha regime.
Ikonomi: Very interesting. Did the CIA try other operations later on? I am talking about the period after 1954.
Lulushi: After 1954, they suspended more or less all the operations. At least there are no documents available to show that any other operations were planned. In my opinion, there have been no other operations.
Ikonomi: Why do you think the CIA did not pursue other operations?
Lulushi: If you consider the historical situation at the time, Stalin died in 1953 and after some internal machinations, Khrushchev came to power in 1954 aiming to soften the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. At a strategic level, the State Department and the CIA decided to dial back covert paramilitary operations against the Soviet Union and its satellites. Espionage and intelligence gathering operations continued but paramilitary activities were abandoned. The attention shifted to Latin America, Iran, Southeast Asia, and Cuba.
Ikonomi: I am sorry we have to cut short our conversation here. Thank you!
Lulushi: Thank you!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 7: Editing
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
In the series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps," I have so far covered these steps of the process:
At this point, the bulk of your work with the manuscript is finished. The editor and other staff in the publishing house begin their activities to edit, proof-read and prepare the work for publication. Every house has its own process, so it's hard to generalize what happens now. From my experience, the editor does a first reading of the manuscript you submitted and provides feedback with regards to content, flow, possible areas for expansion or revision. Depending on how extensive these comments are, it may take several days to several weeks to address them.

Once you re-submit the manuscript with the changes, the line editing process begins. Now the editor(s) go with a fine-tooth comb through the text line by line revising, deleting, adding, and changing things. You get to review and decide what to do with these editing suggestions. There may be more than one such cycle of editing.

During the entire editing process, you still have the opportunity to insert or delete content from the body of work. Just make sure you turn "Track Changes" on in Word so that the editor can see your changes and review them accordingly.

Eventually, the editing process ends. Your manuscript has reached 99 percent of its final shape. The editor turns the text files over to the composition staff who paginate it and lay it out to look exactly as it will appear on the printed page. At this point, the publisher may print several advance reading copies (ARC) of your work, typically in paperback, small format versions. You use the ARCs to solicit early reviews of your work and obtain favorable comments some of which will appear on the back of your final book in the form of blurbs. The publisher may also use ARCs to support the marketing and sales efforts.

Once the pagination of the book is finished, the editor will send you the work in PDF format. It is now time to proof it and make sure that everything reads the way it should read. Even though you spellchecked the manuscript and worked with your editor to fine-tune the words, you will be surprised at how many errors may still need to be ferreted out. During the proofing stage, you may also make changes to the text, but their magnitude is very limited now. You may change words or a even a few sentences, but nothing more than that -- every change needs to be checked by the editor to make sure you are not introducing new issues.

After the entire body of work has been finalized and laid out, you prepare the index to reflect the final page numbers and most likely, this will be the final step in completing the text for your manuscript. In parallel, you will have worked to finalize artwork, illustrations, photos, if any, that will be part of your book, which I explain the next Step 8: Artwork, Permissions, Etc.

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 6: Finalizing the Manuscript
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
In the series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps," I have so far covered these steps of the process:
Now, with a signed contract from the publisher in hand, you have to focus all your efforts in completing finalizing the manuscript within the deadline stipulated in the contract. It is important to meet the deadline because the entire publishing cycle is driven by it. The publisher performs a number of sales and marketing activities, such as inserting your book in their upcoming releases catalog, introducing the book to wholesalers and distributors, and presenting it at book fairs and festivals. All these are done before you submit the manuscript with the assumption that you will deliver on schedule. So, don't miss the deadline.

From the drafting phase of the manuscript (Step 3), you should have come out with an "80 percent" complete, almost publishable product. Now is the time to fill the gaps and tie any loose threads in your story. At this stage, I send out the manuscript to several people whom I believe can read and provide valuable feedback on its quality and helpful suggestions for improvements or additions. Naturally, I ask them beforehand to make sure they have the time and are willing to read the draft.

Eventually, after all the input has made it in the manuscript, I finalize it and prepare it for submission to the editor. Up to this point, I have taken advantage of MS Word formatting features, such as headings, subheadings, bibliography entries, references, and so on. Now, I convert everything in straight text, double-spaced, font size 12, Times New Roman (unless the editor has specified a different font). I check the bibliography and notes one last time before I convert them to text, as well. From this point forward, the manuscript will be one big text file.

The publisher may also have a style guide preferred by the house. I take a final pass to ensure that I have incorporated all their style requirements. Finally, I email the final manuscript to the editor and move to Step 7: Editing.

Monday, June 2, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 5: Negotiating the Contract
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
In the series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps," I have so far covered these steps of the process:
Now, you are at a point where you (or your agent) have convinced the acquisition editor of a publishing house that there is a business case for the house to publish your book. In other words, you have convinced the publisher that your book will sell enough copies for them to:

  1. Recoup the initial outlay of funds required to publish the book, including any advance you may receive upfront
  2. Cover the ongoing costs to print and market the book, and pay you a royalty, which is a portion of the proceeds for each copy that sells
  3. Make a profit
At this point the publisher will offer you a draft contract. 
This is a legal document that outlines any and all binding agreements between you and the publisher. In essence, through the publishing contract or agreement, you grant the publisher rights to your work -- what these rights are may take several paragraphs in the agreement to specify. The publisher in return agrees to pay you a certain portion of the proceeds it receives from monetizing the rights you granted -- these are the royalties you receive. Defining royalties usually takes several paragraphs to articulate as well.
Obviously, it is more complicated than this and you need a lawyer specializing in publishing agreements to review the contract before you sign it.
Can you negotiate the terms offered by the publisher? Certainly. Everything is negotiable, but go in the negotiation prepared, having done your research, and with realistic expectations. By the way, the contract negotiation is the step in the publishing process where an agent provides a great value.
Two more items specified in the contract are the delivery date of the manuscript and its length, as a range in thousand word, for example between 85,000 and 90,000 words. When you sign the contract, these become your next goal posts.
You are ready move to Step 6: Finalizing the Manuscript.

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 4: Writing the Book Proposal
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
In the series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps," I have so far covered these steps of the process:
As you may recall from Step 3, I usually draft the manuscript through multiple iterations. Once I make it past Draft 2, which is the detailed outline of the book, then I begin to think about Step 4: Writing the Book Proposal.
Do you like to write proposals? Me neither.
Nevertheless, writing the book proposal is an essential part of the process to getting published. The goal of the proposal is to convince somebody who is not in love with your book idea and talents that it is worth their time and money to invest in your book. To achieve this goal, your proposal has to demonstrate that:
  • You have a good idea for a book
  • You possess the skills to go through with the idea and deliver a full-length manuscript
  • You know there is a market demand for a book like yours.
  • You are committed to making the book as successful as it can be
A proposal that allows you to demonstrate these characteristics has the following sections:
  1. Title. Strong title and subtitle (for non-fiction work only) that catch the attention of someone browsing at a book store or online and within five seconds convince them to look at your book versus the one next to it.
  2. Synopsis. This is Draft 1 of your manuscript which you prepared in Step 3, tightened and polished one more time.
  3. Marketing. Identify and quantify the audience for your book. The narrower the definition, the stronger your proposal will be. A narrower definition may sound like a smaller audience and it may very well be when you just start out, but that's OK -- your audience will grow as you continue to produce good quality work.
  4. Promotion. Identify how much of the audience identified in the previous section you can target yourself. What are you willing to do to promote your book online, among your friends, co-workers, and anywhere else?
  5. Similar Books. Research on Amazon and list in this section a reasonable number of books that are similar to your book. You may already have identified these books during your research in Step 2 of the process. On one hand, these books will be your competitors -- how will your book be better or different? On the other hand, they provide a strong indication of how well your book will sell.
  6. About the Author. In this section describe what qualifies you to write this book. Earlier published work is great; professional credentials, educational coursework, life experiences will do.
  7. Detailed Outline. This is Draft 2 of your manuscript which you prepared in Step 3, tightened and polished one more time.
  8. Sample Chapters. For non-fiction work, you should have 2-3 chapters ready to submit with your proposal. If you have the whole manuscript, wait to be asked before submitting it. For fiction work, you will need to have the manuscript finished before submitting it.
After you finish the proposal, it is time to draft the query letter. This is a 4-5 paragraph summary of your proposal. It contains a description of the book (1st paragraph), your qualifications (2nd paragraph), what makes your book unique and interesting (3d and/or 4th paragraphs) and a strong closing paragraph. 
Now that you have the proposal and draft query letter ready, it's time to send them out to editors or literary agents. Here's what they do for you:
  • Editors work directly for publishing houses. If you convince them to accept your book proposal, congratulations! They just made a business bet on your ability to produce the work. Don't let them and yourself down. Now, you are ready to go to Step 5: Negotiating the Contract.
  • Literary agents work for themselves or for literary agencies. If you convince them to accept your proposal, congratulations! You found someone who trusts in your talents enough to spend his or her time upfront to sell your book to publishers. You have to put your trust in his or her skills as well and work together to make the sale to a publisher.
There are pros and cons to going directly to publishers versus literary agents, which I may address in another blog post. I will just say for now that 50 percent of books today are published by five biggest publishing houses -- they don't accept unsolicited queries or proposals and want to be approached only by literary agents.
Where do you find the contact information for editors and agents? Online at Writer's Market: This is a database-driven website that allows you to narrow down the list of candidates by genre, topic, and many other criteria. It also lets you keep track of submissions and responses, which is extremely helpful after you have sent dozens of queries out on the ether.
Once you identify the targets, visit their website and make sure to follow their specific submission instructions -- they may not necessarily be the same as what's published on Writer's Market. Finally, submit your query letter and/or proposals per these instructions.
Once you submit, sit back and wait. If you submitted a query letter (hardcopy, email, or website submission) you will know within a couple of weeks if they have an interest in your work. If you submitted a full proposal or manuscript, assuming they allow it, it may take 4-6 weeks before you hear anything back. If you don't hear back within these timeframes, assume they have no interest in your work -- don't despair, you will find someone else who will like it. If they reply with a form rejection answer, that's OK, too -- move on to the next contact. If they reject your proposal and a human explains the reasons, that's great -- someone is providing you feedback that may point out to weak areas you need to address. Make sure you thank them and re-send the proposal after addressing the deficiencies if they have left the window open for re-submission. Eventually you will find someone who will like your proposal. Pat yourself in the back and go to Step 5: Negotiating the Contract.
Now that you have finished reading all it takes to write a book proposal, you may say "Why bother with a proposal when I can cut the middleman and self-publish my work?" There are pros and cons to self-publishing, which I will cover in another post in the future. For now, I will just say that even if you decide to go the self-publishing route, I strongly suggest you write a book proposal. It will sharpen the focus of your work, help you understand its market value and begin thinking of the audience and how you will take the book in front of this audience -- all of these things need to be done no matter which way you go.