How the Sausage Gets Made
by Luke Bruhns
Corporal Brad Snow manipulated an arrow on his screen with a mouse until it hovered over the word “send”. He waited, staring at his computer which sat on his desk in a small hut on asprawling airfield outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. His muscular frame sat slouched and visibly nervous pondering whether anyone would ever see what he found. Brad had been working as a 25B or network specialist for the army for four years and he knew every communication going in and out was closely monitored by any number of three letter agencies. Would they stop it before it ever reached the list of reporters he had copied into the “to:” line from a list he found on a government watchdog website? Would those reporters do anything with it? Brad had seen reporters come and go through this airfield, none of them had gotten it right yet. Would it be different this time? He had to decide soon, he knew the anonymous email service he subscribed to was shutting down due to a court order forcing them to release their data. The website owner decided to shut it down rather than give in to what he saw as oppressive demands. Brad used this service already to send encrypted data to that same list of reporters. All he had to do now was send the 16 digit key he saw flickering on his screen.
Brad next thought of what might happen to him. There would be no ticker tape homecoming. He would not see his mother and father waiting for him at the airport nor would they show the slow motion embrace with his girlfriend on his local news station. He would be called a traitor, a leaker, a criminal. The word whistleblower seemed to have disappeared from the lexicon of the fourth estate. Anonymous email or not, once he sent this code they would be able to reconstruct what he’d already sent. Only a small list of people had access to it. It would not take long before he found himself in an interrogation facility not unlike what he was trying to expose.
Brad thought of his friends back home in Detroit. He thought of his brother Steve and wondered what he would do. His brotherwas like him in many ways, tall, fit, confident, intelligent. They both thought for themselves, and their father, an assembly worker for Ford, instilled in them both a strong sense of loyalty, always telling them to “do it right, even when no one’s lookin”. The only real differences between them were the tattoos Steve had covering both arms and the joint he usually had tucked into his pack of cigarettes. Steve encouraged Brad to join the army. They worked together at the Dearborn Sausage Factory at the time. Steve helped him get the job after high school. Bradremembered his brother telling him “It’s good work but there’s nowhere to go from here. The army will pay for college, it’s the best chance you’ve got”. Brad joined the army right after he andhis brother were fired from the sausage factory.
They made hot dogs, most of them for Coney Island restaurants in Detroit. Brad liked that job, he took pride in it. Brad was always defending the quality of Coney Island hot dogs. It was his job to inspect the meat and cut out the blood clots and black spots and all the other things you wouldn’t want in your hot dog.On his watch they made good hot dogs. Brad thought about how much he missed eating hot dogs smothered in onions, chili, and mustard. He remembered why he and his brother were fired.
Steve worked on the same line as Brad. After brad would cut out the defects in the meat he took a black marker and marked the bin with the time and date and the word “good” for the meat that was meant for the grinder and the word “bad” on the bins that were meant for disposal. It was a simple job but it was important, people want hot dogs and no one wants to eat lips or blood clots.
Steve sorted the bins. Steve put the meat from the “good” bins into the grinder and the meat marked “bad” and tossed it into what amounted to a large garbage disposal a lot like one you would find in your average home kitchen.
Rick was their supervisor, an older guy with two kids in public school, a Harley he rode on the weekends, a mortgage and two car payments he could barely afford. He often disagreed with brad on what was “good” and what was “bad”. Blood clots would change the color of the hot dog so those had to go, everyone agreed on that. There was a grey area: grey meat, skin, lips, cartilage, bone, snouts, patches of hair, hooves, unidentifiable organs, and anything else that didn’t discolor the hot dog. Brad could get away with putting those things into hot dogs if he chose to. Brad did not, Brad liked to eat at Coney Island, Brad cut those things out. Rick was more concerned with weight and money. The more bones and feet that went into the hot dogs the more hot dogs they made and the more money he got in productivity bonuses.
Brad as a hot dog eater had the incentive to make better hot dogs. Rick as the recipient of the bonuses had the incentive to make more hot dogs. Rick would often stand between Brad and Steve and if there was nothing in the bin anyone would notice inhot dog form he would cross out the word “bad” and replace it with “good”.
The first time this happened Steve tried to bring it up to the General Manager. The GM asked Steve if he had seen anything illegal. He hadn’t so the GM told Steve to shut up and get back to work. Steve didn’t want to, but he started throwing bins into the grinder that were meant for disposal. After a couple of weeks Steve thought he was going to have to stop eating at Coney Islands. Instead, he came up with a plan.
Steve knew that, above all else, what the GM and the rest of the suits cared about was the number of hot dogs they produced. All Steve had to do to get rid of Rick was reduce that number significantly. That was easy, but he knew both he and Bradwould have to go with him.
He talked over the plan with Brad and they both decided it was the right thing to do. The next time Rick changed the marking on one of the bins from bad to good, Steve tossed one of the black markers in with the bone marrow and pig skin. Minutesafter throwing the contents of the bin into the grinder Steve heard a horn and the hissing screeching sound of the entire line grinding to a halt. Black sausage had started pouring out of the far end of the machine. The meat packers and collagen wrappers stared in dismay. The GM looked like steam was about to start bursting from his ears. Everyone there immediately knew something was amiss. Over a ton of pork would have to go towaste; the line would be down for hours. Steve didn’t know how many hot dogs they weren’t going to be making but he knew it was a lot.
Brad and Steve both played dumb. The GM decided that the two of them couldn’t be trusted and let them go. He also decided that he couldn’t keep a supervisor who couldn’t manage to keep his line running, so Rick was let go, too. Steve and Brad weren’t sure if the next guy was going to make good hot dogs or not but at least their consciences were clean and that was enough.
Brad thought about the soldiers who were in the streets every day. These were the guys who ate the hot dogs. They had to faceAfghans everyday, they had to live and die by the decisions they made. He thought of the contractors who ran the interrogation facility. Those guys made three and four times as much money as the soldiers and only had to look Afghans in the eyes after they already had flex cuffs restraining their hands. With the “performance based” contracts in place there the more prisoners,and the longer they were held the more money the contractorshad to go around.
The contractors ran the interrogations, which led to the intelligence which made more missions, which meant more prisoners to interrogate and so on. The soldiers were ordered todetain every fighting age male on any given objective. They gathered the evidence; they took the risk, chewed the sand, dodged the bullets, and swallowed the guilt and the loss when something went wrong. The contractors interpreted the evidence and had the most influence on which prisoners they kept and which they released by recording and tracking the evidence.
The soldiers knew if they took men from a village, and did not return them, that village was no longer safe. Brad thought of what he would do if someone came and took Steve from their house in the middle of the night. The contractors knew the longer they kept prisoners the more money they made.
A soldier tasked to raid a farm thought to be a terrorist training camp would cuff all of the men and put them on a truck with anycomputers, cell phones, electronics or weapons they found. They would take pictures of everything else, pitchforks, plows, cattle, mud huts, fishing poles, tractors, food storage, and hay, all of it.
Brad remembered seeing a memo from the contractors’company headquarters. The memo described the “correct” way to classify evidence. Pitchforks and farm equipment were“makeshift weapons,” food stores were “material support to terrorism”, and cell phones and transistor radios were “evidenceof a connection to network leadership”. The list went on and on with increasing creativity until every conceivable object could be linked to terrorism.
Brad showed the memo to his boss. He got the answer he expected. This wasn’t illegal and he should stick to fixing computers and not worry about what was on them. Brad knew his boss was right, this wasn’t good sausage but it wasn’t a crime. Brad needed a marker, a big fat black magic marker.
Brad ran a scrape, a search for a particular kind of file. He was looking for images and videos on the network. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for but he was sure it would be there. When the scrape finished Brad browsed through to make sure it was enough. Would he find torture, sex scandals, human trafficking,or theft? He wasn’t sure, but he knew he didn’t actually needevidence of any of those things. All Brad needed was an image that looked like one of those things and that would be enough.He was not surprised when he found what he was looking for.
The images had already been sent but without the key Brad was staring at, they were useless. Brad took a deep breath and exhaled the worry and doubt about the decision he had made weeks ago. It was too late to go back now. He was all in, even if he didn’t send the key someone would eventually figure it out.
Brad clicked “send,” walked over to his cot, took off his boots,and laid down to the best night’s sleep he’d had in months.
Luke Bruhns served with the 1st Ranger Battalion in Iraq and Afghanistan and after working as a civilian contractor in diplomatic security he returned to military service where he now works as a Civil Affairs Team Sergeant near his home town of Detroit. He writes fiction and nonfiction stories that reflect his service experience and raise questions about American values.