Monday, 9 September 2013

Paranoid in Carlsbad

Covert operatives apparently moved to Carlsbad, Calif., when the Cold War ended. The golf equipment capital of the world seems like a second-career haven for intelligence types who don’t have the Soviet Union to kick around anymore. Physicists who once built missiles are designing irons, while agents who tried to keep the world safe from Communism are trying to keep club and ball makers safe from each other.

Those “Intell” alums can be a pretty cautious bunch, especially when it comes to matters of security. And the culture they have helped create in Carlsbad – similar to that of other industries with security concerns – has a way of making even the steadiest soul feel a little paranoid.

Consider, for example, the Callaway Golf Co. receptionist who cheerfully insisted I sign a “Non-Disclosure and Facility Admission Agreement” after I walked into one of the company’s buildings during an October visit. I resisted, largely because it seemed the document would prohibit a person from ever writing or saying anything about what he saw there. And I didn’t see how a journalist could consent to something that would prevent him from doing his job. Besides, I work for a well-respected golf publication and have never tried to overthrow a Third World country or sneak trade secrets out of a company lab.

But the receptionist refused to give in. I had no choice but to sign (if I wanted to make my meeting on time), although I assumed that whatever I would write about Callaway from then on would violate the agreement. The only question left to ponder now: Where will I serve out my time?

The second person I met was the “manager of investigations,” a former Army Intelligence officer who said he used to “catch spies.” Nice guy, but I still felt a little nervous sitting next to someone who once collared KGB agents for a living and probably knew dozens of ways to make them talk.
Then at the end of my afternoon, I got to enter the new, super-secret building from which Callaway will market and manufacture its line of golf balls. And as I was being escorted to the office of president Chuck Yash, I couldn’t help imagining what would happen if I suddenly bolted to some forbidden sector down the hall. Would I be “neutralized” by Dr. No-type drones clad in brightly-colored jumpsuits? Would I die in a hail of machine-gun fire like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape? Was all this security stuff making me a little nuts?

The answer to the last question was probably yes. I tried to flush those ideas from my mind, but as soon as I walked out of the building, I saw a helicopter hovering overhead. And I instantly started to wonder: Who is up there, and what do they want?
See what just a few hours in Carlsbad did to me?

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