Monday, April 28, 2008


"So, Susie. Who did it?"

I don't know.

But I do have some thoughts on where to look -- starting with the Passing Patrol that first reported Kirk von Ackermann's abandoned vehicle.

The Passing Patrol:

Also I think there was a report given in at the nearby checkpoint of an abandoned car very soon after Kirk had made the phone call (again, going off memory here). I remember when the CID was telling me the timeline that whoever grabbed Kirk had had only the smallest window of time - maybe a matter of minutes - to find him and not have any witnesses.
It's easy to assume that the person(s) in the Passing Patrol were American troops but that's not necessarily the case. In 2003, there were still Coalition troops in Iraq. In addition, because of disagreements over local turf, the Kurds and area Turkmen were running patrols in the region. Even assuming the Passing Patrol were in fact Americans, it's still possible they were foreign born. That's a lot of wiggle room.

There's just too little information to make any assumptions about them.

So, I'd first like to know more about the Passing Patrol and the personnel manning the Check Point:
Who were they?
Where were they from?
What was their background?
Were they supposed to be there?
Did they regularly patrol the area?
Where were they going?
Were there any connections to Ultra Services or Irex Ltd?
Who took the initial report?
The Missing Mechanics

Until I can be convinced otherwise, I'm holding firm to the belief that Kirk von Ackermann sought to repair his tire. I'd like to know if he spoke with any of the mechanics at FOB Pacesetter and if he tried to visit - by ground or by air - any of the other area bases, most especially Camp Anaconda. That's a whole lot of ground to cover but if he did speak with some mechanics, it could greatly narrow the time frame as well as the location of his abduction. Just to be clear, the mechanics are possible witnesses, not suspects.

John Dawkins

By the Fall of 2003, John Dawkins had pissed a number of people off. His investors at Stratex back in Central Asia. His employees at Ultra Services. I'm under the impression the pissed off list included some suppliers and Turkish manufacturers. At one point, Charles Phillips reported that he was afraid John Dawkins wouldn't pay the bills and that he'd end up knee-capped by local suppliers.

Oddly enough, one exception was Dawkin's Turkish partner, Mete Mutlugolu. Mutlugolu's deal was negotiated and signed with Stratex, not John Dawkins, so he'd get paid no matter what.

Again, until I can be convinced otherwise, it's my belief that Kirk von Ackermann was killed because he was mistaken for John Dawkins. That so many people to this day fervently want Dawkins to be guilty, lends credence to the idea. That's a lot of hatred to carry around.

Questions worth exploring:
Who hated John Dawkins in the Fall of 2003? (Unfortunately, it's not a short list)
Did anyone have anything to gain by his death?
What was their financial situation at the time?
Was anyone looking for vengeance?
Past or unpaid debts?
Woman scorned with an angry friend on duty in Iraq?

Without even addressing the accusation of fraud, there was a lot of money at stake. Ultra Services' employees were seeking to shoplift the company out from under Dawkins to create Irex Ltd. Irex already had suppliers, manufacturers, subcontractors, and investors lined up. There was already interest in their Demountable Guard Unit from outside Iraq. Anyone involved in future business with the new company could have had sufficient reason to want to hurry things along by getting rid of John Dawkins.

Strangely enough, Irex Ltd. didn't really see itself as a competitor to Dawkins. In his email to Geoff Nordloh (ref), Charles Phillips described Irex Ltd. as more of an agent or middle man rather than a direct supplier as Ultra Services was at the time.
Effectively, we would [be] switching our core competency from sourcing and logistical support to contract consulting, negotiations, and high-level strategic support.

Squeeze from the Missing Mechanics to the Passing Patrol. Find out what happened to Kirk von Ackermann. I've always believed that if Kirk von Ackermann's disappearance was solved first, the connection, or lack of one, to Ryan Manelick's murder would be clear.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Time Line - Work in Progress

Note: I had to make some edits to accommodate the table spacing in different browsers.

I've been trying to nail down a tighter Time Line of Events surrounding the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann on October 9, 2003. In fact, some of the information I sought in the rejected FOIA request to the CID was related to constructing a time line.

I'll share with you what I have so far, which isn't very much.

Bay Area civilian vanishes in Iraq
By Colin Freeman

"It is a real mystery," one source close to the investigation said. "Kirk was on a day trip from Kirkuk to Tikrit that day and was coming back when he rang one of the company's Iraqi employees around 3 p.m. to say he had a flat tire and couldn't get it fixed with the jack he had. He was stopped right on top of a road that runs over a small range of hills ... at the time.

"The employee took about 45 minutes to get to him, and when he got there, Kirk had just vanished into the desert. There was no blood on the road or sign of a fight, no bullet cases fired anywhere, nothing. It was as if he had been abducted by aliens."
The 'source' quoted above was Ryan Manelick.

Von Ackermann may have purchased his Nissan Patrol on the morning of October 9. He had a meeting that morning at FOB Pacesetter. It's about 140 miles driving distance between FOB Pacesetter and the Jabal Hamrin where his vehicle was later found abandonned. A conservative estimate is 3.5 hours drive time, averaging 40 miles an hour. That should allow enough time for some highway driving, road blocks, detours, etc.

The Iraqi employee was Safa Shukir; he received the call for assistance from von Ackermann's satellite phone. Shukir tried calling Kirk von Ackermann as he drove towards where the Nissan Patrol was stranded but no one answered. Shukir arrived about 45 minutes after he received the call.

A passing patrol reported an abandoned vehicle at a nearby check point about 5 minutes after the call was placed to Shukir. No information on what time US military arrived or when/how the vehicle was taken away.

I've included Sun/Moon data, for sunrise, noon, sunset, and curfew.

Backing in to a Time Line of Events based on a phone call at approximately 15:00 PM...





Curfew Lifts
Leaves guest quarters
Purchase Nissan Patrol SUV
Arrive FOB Pacesetter
Leaves meeting
Leaves Balad Area
Solar Noon
Safa Shukir receives phone call
Passing Patrol
Safa Shukir arrives
Moonrise (99% full moon)
Curfew Starts
Obviously, subject to change.

There's only 5.5 hours between sunrise and the Nissan Patrol SUV leaving the Balad area. In my opinion, those are the most critical hours of the entire day, and warrant as close to a minute by minute reconstruction as is possible.

But then, that's because I believe von Ackermann was abducted near Balad, not where his car was found. (See: Missing Contractor: US Military Mechanics May Hold the Keys)

  1. Where did Kirk von Ackermann stay the night before - assuming he purchased his vehicle that morning - prior to his meeting at FOB Pacesetter?
  2. Location, date and time Kirk von Ackermann purchased his vehicle?
  3. Did the Nissan Patrol have a full tank of gas at time of purchase?
  4. What time did he arrive at FOB Pacesetter for his meeting?
  5. Last sighting at FOB Pacesetter?
  6. Where did he eat lunch? It's close to noon when the Nissan Patrol leaves Balad, logic says he'd have something to eat before getting on the road. I also wonder if they found a water bottle in his car. No water bottle in a desert environment would certainly raise some questions...
  7. Records indicating he tried to fix his tire at other area bases?
  8. Exact time Safa Shukir received the phone call about the flat tire?
  9. Last incoming call logged on von Ackermann's satellite phone?
  10. Times Shukir's cell service recorded outgoing calls to von Ackermann's phone?
  11. What time did the Passing Patrol report an abandoned vehicle?
  12. What time did Safa Shukir arrive at vehicle?
  13. Did von Ackermann have any meetings scheduled in Kirkuk for later that day?
Additional Reading:

Sun, Moon, Weather Data
April 18, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Note to CID - about the NSA

I do most of my thinking in the car as I spend a lot of time sitting in traffic. This morning, the car in front of me had a placard that said, 'Disaster Communications,' which got me to thinking. It was another one of those bingo! moments.

Many years ago, I worked on a $25 million project with some very prominent folks. (Yes, I could name drop, but I won't.) It was, for me, a tad intimidating. My responsibilities included attending large presentational meetings where I both asked and answered questions for my boss who had much more important things to attend to. I was the proverbial messenger and I was shot each week. Over and over again. And again. And once more for good measure.

One of the things I learned from that experience is that as a very small fish among obviously very big fish, I could raise really stupid questions. And more often than not, I got critical, often vital, answers that not only impacted my small department but every aspect of the entire project. I called them my 'stupid questions.'


Here I am. And I am once again the small little fish with a stupid question for the very big fish at CID. (Really, I have a lot of these questions but I know better than to push my luck.)

National Security Agency

Some one recently mentioned the NSA to me. I'm a bit slow sometimes, but it just occurred to me that the NSA must have been monitoring the communications of those at Ultra Services because of the geographic zones each of the company principals communicated with. Just off the top of my head they were communicating to/from: USA. Europe. Middle East. Central Asia. Russia.

I made up a chart (below) to illustrate my point.

The key point here is that each communicant would have had contact to and from the Middle East and Central Asia and, in turn, to and from the US. It's the US part that matters, at least, that's my understanding, as communication into and out of the US to those regions would have been the trigger for NSA to monitor communication.

Imagine it's the fall of 2003.

Saddam Hussein, from the Tikrit area, has not been caught yet. Most of Ultra Services work is in the Sunni Triangle and the lead US Army contracting office is in Tikrit. Everyone still believes there is a connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. They're looking in Afghanistan and Pakistan and all over Iraq and, I imagine, the rest of the Middle East for both men in addition to their various underlings, etc.

Principals at Ultra Services

Now, let's look at each principal at Ultra Services:

John Dawkins - he's from California. So it's safe to assume he called or emailed home on occasion. Initially, he would have been in contact with his partners in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. His friend, Greg Manelick, is in the Russian Far East. Dawkins' last business was in Moscow, where he may have still been in contact with friends. The main office for Ultra Services is in Istanbul, Turkey so there's communication to and from Istanbul to Dawkins' satellite phone when he's in Iraq.

Charles Phillips - he lived in California, likely was in touch with family and friends in the US. Initially he was communicating with Kirk von Ackermann in California who hadn't yet joined the company. Increasingly, Phillips became the point of contact for the Stratex investors in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Phillips was primarily based in Istanbul but would have maintained contact with everyone in Iraq on a regular basis.

Ryan Manelick - he's living in Baghdad, Iraq. He has family, including children, in the US. His father, Greg, is in the Russian Far East. He's communicating with Ultra Services' main office in Istanbul, Turkey. At some point, he may have had contact with the Stratex investors in Central Asia.

Kirk von Ackermann - initially, he's communicating with Charles Phillips who is working out of the Istanbul office. Once von Ackermann arrives in Istanbul, he's calling home to his wife and children in California. He makes several trips in to Iraq, calling both his family in the US and the Ultra Services office in Istanbul.

In addition, all of the principals are communicating with each other. (And by communication I mean email, fax, satellite phone, etc)

In fact, it's almost impossible to believe NSA wouldn't have monitored Ultra Services communications given the geographic zones they were all communicating with. They were practically begging for electronic eavesdropping given the communication paths.

Little Fish, Big Question

So...CID...have you spoken with NSA to see if there are recordings of Ultra Services phone calls and emails?

In particular, have you asked if there is a recording of the call made from Kirk von Ackermann's satellite phone to Safa Shukir on the day he disappeared - October 9, 2003? Are there additional NSA recordings to compare to so as to confirm the voice is or is not Kirk von Ackermann? Is there additional recordings from that day that might help pinpoint the exact time and location Kirk von Ackermann was last heard from?

And if you haven't asked NSA yet, there's also that fateful call to Charles Phillips satellite phone moments before Ryan Manelick was killed on December 14, 2003.

Also, please do not overlook the company emails. I have long held the belief that the key to really understanding the interpersonal relationships of everyone involved was in the email server. If NSA has those emails, you have hit the big bingo!

Like I said, stupid question. Well actually, more like 5 or 6 But I'm glad I've asked and gotten them off my chest.

Military Mechanics May Hold the Keys

This is a reprint of my article at ePluribus Media.

Missing Contractor: U.S. Military Mechanics May Hold the Keys
By Susie Dow

April 21, 2008

Both Kirk von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick worked for Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey.

October 9, 2003 -- Kirk von Ackermann left a meeting at FOB Pacesetter, a small and isolated base just north of Balad, Iraq. His vehicle was found later that day abandoned in the Jabal Hamrin mountains roughly 140 miles away.

December 14, 2003 -- Ryan Manelick was killed in a drive-by shooting just after leaving a meeting at Camp Anaconda, later renamed LSA Anaconda, just south of Balad. Shortly before his murder, Manelick had alleged fraud within his company, fraud that involved US Army officers.
That's the short version of the story. The longer version, as is often the case, is much more involved.

Kirk von Ackermann

Kirk von Ackermann may be one of the most important American heroes you've never heard of. His former work as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force is so highly classified that no one outside of an elite counter terrorism task force knows the full scope of his mission. Kirk von Ackermann wrote predictive analysis on potential terrorist attacks in the U.S., which essentially foresaw the possible use of an aircraft as a bomb to strike the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, and other buildings. He also predicted the USS Cole bombing, just weeks before it happened. The small task force of which he was an important participant defended the United States of America from the asymmetric threats of modern terrorism. Kirk von Ackermann -- in deed and fact -- saved lives. He should have testified at the 9-11 Commission hearings. He didn't. And neither did any of his colleagues. As to why, perhaps history will one day be kind enough to tell us.

All of this is to say, Kirk von Ackermann was no slouch when it came to security.

Rather than being honored for writing the manual on contemporary counter-terrorism, Kirk von Ackermann is remembered instead as the longest missing American civilian contractor in Iraq. He disappeared on October 9, 2003. Friends and family accept that he is dead - a Presumption of Death Certificate was issued and a memorial service was held in January 2007. He leaves behind a wife and three children. His remains have not been found. But perhaps equally as distressing, the memories of those who could help find his killers are rapidly fading.

Current Status

It wasn't until the murder of Ryan Manelick, that any meaningful investigation really began, a full two months after Kirk von Ackermann's disappearance. In August of 2006, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) informed von Ackermann's family that they had determined von Ackermann was killed during a botched kidnapping attempt by hostiles in Iraq. On the surface, the kidnapping and subsequent murder of an American contractor working in Iraq appears to be a perfectly reasonable conclusion. But scratch below the actual details surrounding the von Ackermann case and doubt immediately rises to the surface. To elaborate: In March of 2008, ePluribus Media was denied its FOIA request for access to the general information in von Ackerman's case files because "an active investigation is in progress with an undetermined completion date."

Going to Iraq

After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Kirk von Ackermann briefly explored going to work for a U.S. Senator. Eventually, he accepted work with Siebel Systems of San Mateo, California. In August of 2003, a former colleague from the same Silicon Valley company, Albert 'Charles' Phillips, offered von Ackermann employment with Ultra Services, a new company that was providing containerized housing units to the U.S. military in Iraq. Ultra Services was based out of Istanbul, Turkey where local suppliers assembled the units. Von Ackermann accepted the offer, eventually working out of the Istanbul office, and traveling back and forth between Iraq and Turkey two times.

Hitting the ground running, von Ackermann faced his first challenge: the design and development of an armored demountable guard unit that could be set up in less than one hour. The guard unit had enormous potential well-beyond Iraq and was attracting a lot of attention from investors, suppliers and manufacturers.

From The Missing Man

Kirk von Ackermann told his wife that he had found his calling assisting the U.S. military in rebuilding war torn areas. He loved the work and was ready to enter a new phase in life. As a result, the von Ackermanns made the decision to move their entire family to Turkey. But Kirk von Ackermann had one last trip to make into Iraq before he could return home to California and help pack up their household.


Traveling back and forth between Turkey and Iraq, von Ackermann needed a good reliable vehicle. An avid car buff, von Ackerman knew that any decision to purchase a vehicle would need to be made carefully, knowing that the wrong choice could easily mark him as a target in Iraq's growing sectarian violence. At the time, the four most popular SUV models were the Mitsubishi Pajero, the Hyundai Galloper, the Toyota Land Cruiser, and the Nissan Patrol. Each SUV carried its own risk, identifying its driver with unspoken but acknowledged stereotypes. If the vehicle was too flashy, the driver was an immediate target for kidnapping and ransom. In 2003, most Iraqis tended to drive used sedans.

As a teenager Kirk von Ackermann and a friend each spent their free time restoring a pair of vintage Mustangs - one red, the other black. Kirk von Ackermann even installed a nitro-boost in his Mustang. Years later, even though he was trained as a Russian linguist, he more often found himself assigned to vehicle maintenance in the U.S.Army. According to his wife, Megan, Kirk von Ackermann usually maintained the family's vehicles himself.

Traveling between Iraq and Turkey, von Ackermann needed a durable vehicle with a good maintenance record. Based on what he knew about reliability, he chose a used Nissan Patrol SUV. The Patrol, while financially out of reach for most Iraqis, is still considered popular by non-governmental organizations and is well-known for 40-year track record of hard work for the United Nations. At the time von Ackermann paid for his vehicle, the sellers told him one of the tires had a problem. Von Ackermann told the sellers the tire wasn't an issue. And it wasn't. Kirk von Ackermann was perfectly capable of changing a tire -- even in the middle of Iraq.

The events of October 9, 2003

Kirk von Ackermann attended a meeting with Çuneyt Demirici, an employee of one of Ultra Services Turkish suppliers at FOB Pacesetter. After the meeting, Demirici said good bye to Kirk von Ackermann, got in his car and headed south to return to his home in Baghdad. Demirici's meeting would prove to be the last publicly known sighting of Kirk von Ackermann before he disappeared.

What Actions did von Ackermann Take to Repair his Tire?

Because of his experience repairing vehicles in the US Army, Kirk von Ackermann knew the language that would get him access into the Motor Pool to take a good look at his vehicle. While FOB Pacesetter was still a primitive air strip with little of the creature comforts increasingly common on other area bases, the base was sure to have a wheeled vehicle mechanic, a lift, and an air compressor with an impact wrench--ideal for quickly removing the lug nuts. If von Ackermann ran late repairing the tire on his car, he could stay on base, just as he had stayed at another base the night before when it had gotten too late in the afternoon to risk being on the road at nightfall.

Having served two full terms in both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, von Ackermann knew the number one priority of the military mechanics was to keep their vehicles rolling. And von Ackermann definitely wasn't going to do anything that would jeopardize their mission. He'd find a quiet corner, set up over to the side, keep out of every one's way, and just get down to business. If he was lucky, he'd make some new friends along the way. Outgoing and friendly, Kirk von Ackermann loved to chat with and meet people.

But FOB Pacesetter had just one small battalion and only a few hundred artillerymen. Kirk von Ackermann stood a much better chance of getting his vehicle attended to at Camp Anaconda, less than 25 miles away, south of Balad on the other side of the Tigris River, where his company, Ultra Services, was overseeing a large project.

Camp Anaconda is 15 square miles, supports two runways, with 22,000 troops and contractors on premises and was the central distribution point for all supplies, parts and repairs for ALL vehicles in Iraq. In 2003, Anaconda processed vehicles in and out country as well as maintained a Motor Pool with 19 mechanics responsible for over 1,000 vehicles a week. Anaconda was the busiest air base operated by the Pentagon in the world. Camp Anaconda was the perfect choice for taking a good look at the vehicle von Ackermann had owned for less than 24 hours.

From The Missing Man

Jabal Hamrin ('Reddish Mountain')

A small ridge of mountains known as the Jabal Hamrin runs between Tikrit and Kirkuk, from Baiji in the north tapering off in to Iran in the South. The road from Tikrit and Kirkuk is approximately 65 miles long of which a 7 mile stretch passes through the Jabal Hamrin, a rolling, rocky and isolated area that Kirk von Ackermann had previously identified as the most dangerous section of road between Tikrit and Kirkuk. It was here, 140 miles and several hours away from the meeting at FOB Pacesetter, that Kirk von Ackermann's car was discovered abandoned.

Kirk von Ackermann carried a satellite phone. A call was placed to Safa Shukir, an Iraqi employee 40 miles away in Kikruk. A voice Safa assumed was von Ackermann's told him that he was stranded, to come get him and bring a jack because the one in the Nissan Patrol didn't work. Within 5 minutes of von Ackermann's satellite service recording that outgoing call on his phone, a passing military patrol reported an abandoned vehicle by the side of the road. Oddly, just several miles down the road, the U.S. military maintained a checkpoint. And yet, von Ackermann chose to stay where he was, stranded by the side of the road, an easy target hidden by outcroppings.

Perhaps ironically, or perhaps tellingly: Years before, Megan von Ackermann had to drive through 'a slightly scary area of town' -- her husband had advised her to be prepared to ruin the rim on her car should she get a flat tire, drive slowly, and keep going until she was somewhere safe rather than stop the car. So why did Kirk von Ackermann ignore his own advice and stop his car rather than keep going? In addition, Kirk von Ackermann was licensed to carry a side arm, which he is reported to have had with him that day. But there was no evidence of any kind of struggle where his car was found. No shell casings. No sign of fire fight. In fact, his laptop computer, $40,000 in cash in a case on the back seat, and his satellite phone remained undisturbed inside his vehicle. His colleague Ryan Manelick would later remark, "It was as if he had been abducted by aliens." (ref)

It certainly seemed like Kirk von Ackermann made a lot of poor choices the day he disappeared -- that is, if you believe that Kirk von Ackermann was abducted from the location where his Nissan Patrol was found. And to believe that Kirk von Ackermann was abducted in the hills of the Jabal Hamrin requires ignoring his years of defensive training and service in both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force as well as years maintaining his own vehicles and his time in vehicle maintenance while in the U.S. Army. Embarking on a 185 mile journey through hostile areas in Iraq with a bad tire was completely out of character with who Kirk von Ackermann was.

Decisions and Actions

Indeed, the accompanying chart reconstructs the decisions Kirk von Ackermann made on the day he disappeared. Megan von Ackermann identified three points at which she felt her husband would have acted differently, marked in blue. The chart is broken into three stages, each stage an opportunity to change the course of events.
Stage 1 - decision to repair or ignore tire

Stage 2 - decision to proceed alone to Kirkuk
Stage 3 - decision not to defend himself

Given Kirk von Ackermann's background, each of his decisions make little sense with one possible exception: if von Ackermann was abducted before he had the opportunity to repair his tire, then absolutely none of the decisions in Stage 2 and Stage 3 previously assigned to von Ackermann were actually made by him.
Someone else didn't repair the tire. Someone else drove his car and abandoned it in the Jabal Hamrin mountains. Someone else used his satellite phone to call an Iraqi employee who spoke little English. Someone else walked away without a struggle.
Kirk von Ackermann, who was licensed to carry a weapon, was quite possibly never there to defend himself.

My own opinion is somebody killed Kirk von Ackermann before he got a chance to fix his tire and that he was abducted and killed near Balad which is where his colleague, Ryan Manelick, was killed two months later, shortly after leaving a meeting at Camp Anaconda.

Camp Anaconda. We've now come full circle in search of the mechanic von Ackermann sought out to repair his vehicle.

In the Hands of the Mechanics

U.S. forces rely on a wide range of mechanics, both military and civilian, with diverse skills to maintain a truly staggering amount of equipment from cranes and fork lifts to airplanes, helicopters, tanks, HMMVVs, and ships. Yes, ships. Even the U.S. Army maintained patrols with MK-2 boats on the nearby Tigris River. So in addition to the Motor Pool, Kirk von Ackermann may have approached any number of the mechanics at FOB Pacesetter and/or Camp Anaconda for help. From FOB Pacesetter, Von Ackermann may have asked for a contact name at Camp Anaconda, made plans by phone or radio with someone at vehicle maintenance, and then just never showed up.

While Kirk von Ackermann could have driven the 25 miles alone to Anaconda, it's also possible he may have asked truck drivers for help to transport his Nissan Patrol SUV. The vehicle could have been towed, carried on a flat bed or heavy equipment trailer, stored in the back of an empty container truck or stake bed, or joined a convoy. The vehicle may have gotten a lift by air transport.

Is it possible that the mechanics of Camp Anaconda could solve the mystery of the longest missing American civilian in Iraq?

If you or anyone you know was a mechanic at Camp Anaconda or FOB Pacesetter in October 2003 and you think you remember Kirk von Ackermann, please contact the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division immediately. Please keep yourself safe. Ryan Manelick was gunned down and Kirk von Ackermann disappeared.

HQ, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command
Report a Crime to CID
6010 6th Street
Fort Belvoir, VA 22060-5506
(703) 806-0416
email CID at
The Mind of Susie Dow is a fictional account of what the author believes happened to Kirk von Ackermann on October 9, 2003 written by Susie Dow, The Missing Man, April 6, 2008

Additional Reading

Missing in Iraq (see March - August 2006) by Megan von Ackermann

Bay Area civilian vanishes in Iraq by Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 2003

Suspicion surrounds missing Bay Area man by Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 2005

One Missing, One Dead: An Iraq Contractor in the Fog of War by Susie Dow with Steven Reich, ePluribus Media, May 15, 2006

Death of a Contractor: Greed and Murder in Iraq's Lawless Desert by Dan Halpern, Rolling Stone, March 8, 2007, Issue 1021 pp 70-74, 76-69 (print version includes photos)

Photo Credits

Kirk von Ackermann - photo source Megan von Ackermann
Demountable Guard Unit - web archive from the former website registered to John Dawkins
Map of Balad, Iraq region - from Google Maps
Decision Chart - by Susie Dow
Missing Poster - by Susie Dow, Kirk von Ackermann photo source Half Moon Bay Review, Nissan Patrol SUV photo source Expedition Portal Team

About the Author Susie Dow is the Editor of the weblog, The Missing Man, which follows articles on Kirk von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick. She is a volunteer researcher and editor at ePluribus Media.

ePluribus Media Contributors roxy, cho, rba, jenn718

From The Missing Man

Could U.S. Military Mechanics Hold the Keys to Finding Missing Contractor?

I have a new article coming out at ePluribus Media based loosely on The Bridge Theory. I'll post the link as soon as it's available today.

Could U.S. Military Mechanics Hold the Keys to Finding Missing Contractor?
by Susie Dow, ePluribus Media, April 20, 2008

On October 9, 2003, civilian contractor Kirk von Ackermann left a meeting at FOB Pacesetter near Balad, Iraq. His vehicle was found later that day abandoned in the Jabal Hamrin mountains, roughly 140 miles away with no sign of struggle and $40,000 in cash on the backseat.

ePluribus Media researcher and editor Susie Dow strings together the events of the last day of Kirk von Ackermann's known existence on earth.

And things just don't add up.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Unanswered Questions - Ryan Manelick

I realize it's repetitive but I like to repost the following overview for those who might stumble on this post, unaware of the background.

October 9, 2003 -- Kirk von Ackermann left a meeting at FOB Pacesetter near Balad. His vehicle was found later that day abandoned in the Jabal Hamrin mountains, roughly 140 miles from FOB Pacesetter.

December 14, 2003 -- Ryan Manelick was killed just after leaving a meeting at Camp Anaconda also near Balad. Shortly before his murder, he alleged fraud within his company and that it involved US Army officers.

Both worked for Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey.

In addition to Ryan Manelick at the December 14th meeting at Camp Anaconda, there were other Ultra Services personnel: Charles Phillips, Bora Tuncay and a driver named Aydin. By the date of that meeting, there was an enormous amount of internal company strife and open hostility within Ultra Services. Employees were in the process of 'shop lifting' the business out from under the founder, John Dawkins, who was viewed as difficult, disorganized, sloppy, and a risk to personal safety. The new company -- which had not yet received any contracts -- was registered in late October in Bermuda and was named Irex Ltd.*

Excerpt from Death of Contractor by Dan Halpern

On December 8th, [Ryan Manelick] met Charles Phillips and Bora Tuncay, from the Istanbul office, at the Turkish border and spent the next few days taking them to Army bases around Iraq. Then, on December 12th, the three co-workers went to Saddam's former palace in Tikrit, where CID was headquartered. According to Tuncay, Manelick told CID investigators that he was convinced von Ackermann had discovered that Dawkins was bribing Hall, and that Dawkins had ordered von Ackermann killed before he could talk. Manelick also told the investigators that he feared he might be next.

As Manelick and the others were leaving the base, Dawkins arrived. The meeting was unplanned, but Phillips took advantage of it to confront Dawkins, all but calling him a murderer to his face. "You are one shady motherfucker," Phillips said. "I hate breathing the same air as you."

Dawkins was silent. "I had never seen a guy humiliated like this," says Tuncay. "Charles was talking and Ryan was grinning. And that day I saw the hatred in John's eyes. This is a character who would never accept this. He took it, but he would never let that go. And Charles said to Ryan, 'Never tell him where we are, never tell him what we are doing, never tell him what we are going to do.' Because Charles was very scared John was going to try to get rid of them."

In response to a discussion in the comments of an earlier post, The Bridge Theory, the following are just some of the many questions I have accumulated over the last four years. I'm posting them here in the event anyone out there might have information.


Who scheduled the December 14 meeting for Ryan Manelick, Charles Phillips and Bora Tuncay at Camp Anaconda?

How far in advance was the meeting planned? (Did someone make arrangements that day, the day before, a week before, etc.)

Was the meeting for past or future business with Ultra Services or for the new business venture Irex Ltd?

Where were Ryan Manelick, Charles Phillips, Bora Tuncay ('the group') just before the meeting at Camp Anaconda?

Where did they stay the night before the meeting at Camp Anaconda?

Did Ultra Services maintain an 'office' or base of operations of some sort at Camp Anaconda? (even if just a desk and an outlet to plug in a lap top, etc)

There were two vehicles
Vehicle #1 - Manelick's white Hyundai Galloper
Ryan Manelick
Iraqi Employee #1 - survived
Iraqi Employee #2 - killed

Vehicle #2 - what was the color and model of the car?
Bora Tuncay
Charles Phillips
Aydin - driver

Names of the Iraqi employees in Ryan Manelick's vehicle?

Did the vehicles arrive together or separately?

What time did each arrive at Camp Anaconda?

What were base access procedures to enter Camp Anaconda?

Did the guards at the Anaconda gate search vehicles at entry and/or exit?

Where did the vehicles park?

How long did the process take to get on to the base, off of the base, through security?

'Escort' or 'No Escort' - status on base

Did the group require escort as Bora Tuncay was a Turkish citizen? (Non-American citizens generally require 'escort' at all times)

If there was an escort, how many person(s) and who were they?

Did the escort 'check in' periodically with supervisors?

Did they have full base access?

The Meeting
Who was at the meeting?

What was discussed

What time did the meeting end?

How long did the group stay at Camp Anaconda? (approximate)

Who else did the group meet while visiting Camp Anaconda? Other suppliers, subcontractors, or their employees, friends, etc?

Leaving Camp Anaconda
What time did the group leave (approximate)?

Which gate(s) did both groups leave through, the north gate or the south gate, or both?

Where was the vehicle carrying Charles Phillips and Bora Tuncay when Phillips satellite phone rang in the car?

Change in Attitude

Ryan Manelick was Colin Freeman's source for the first article on Kirk von Ackermann's disappearance, Bay Area civilian vanishes in Iraq. There is not so much as a hint of internal company strife in the article. The article was first published in the UK on November 9, 2003.

When was Ryan approached about joining Irex?

Did the sudden 'promotion' to business partner influence his perception of Kirk von Ackermann's disappearance?

Additional Reading

For additional background information on Irex Ltd., please see my article One Missing, One Dead which details corporate structure and history.

Ultra Services - Who, What, Where - includes photos

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Most Wanted

Considering that 9 Americans are known to currently be missing in Iraq, you'd think they'd at least include information at CID who would maintain a list of missing Americans with their photos and information like, you know names, faces, date and circumstances, etc. Sadly, no. See for yourselves:

Iraq Area of Operations

But if the men were duffle bags, they'd get top billing.

Look, I don't make this stuff up. I just report on it.

Somebody at CID needs to very seriously get their act together.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I have an undiagnosed condition similar to trigeminal neuralgia. After a three year remission, it is now active again. I have no idea how long it will last this time.

As a result, this will likely affect my ability to post and respond to emails as I'll be spending my free time in whirring tubes for a while. Which sounds a lot more fun than it really is.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

LSA Anaconda - Virtual Tour & Dump

Three clips of a virtual tour of LSA Anaconda. The hosts are pretty funny in the first two clips, so you should enjoy watching them. Bonus link at the end.

The Dan & Kai Show
LSA Anaconda Balad, Iraq, December 29, 2006

Part I - includes images of containerized housing units, sewage treatment, port-a-johns are emptied daily

Part II - includes footage of the salvage yard including equipment, vehicles, etc and an "entrance control point" and the "burn pile" with a garbage truck

More on the 24-hour open pit Burn Pile. Some great footage of a trip to the Dump. Think of it this way, at least you are spared the smell. Not so for you congenial host, Sgt. John Hansen.

Dump Run
By ZenVikings of the Field Sanitation Team, December 30, 2003

Includes detailed footage of the burn pile area on LSA Anaconda. Solid waste is dumped onto the pile from a small trailer towed behind a HMMWV and incinerated.

Bonus silliness at LSA Anaconda:
Chicken Trick

Additional Reading

Mayor of Camp Anaconda
Anaconda Times

Irex Ltd. - Corporate Structure

I recently wrote a fictional piece, The Mind of Susie Dow, based on the idea that Kirk von Ackermann was killed due to mistaken identity. Specifically, von Ackermann was mistaken for the founder of Ultra Services, John Dawkins. Where did that idea come from? John Dawkins was so universally disliked by the fall of 2003, that I caught myself wondering one day why nobody took a sledge hammer to him. It was a pivotal 'bingo!' moment for me.

What does this have to do with Irex Ltd?

It would be an understatement to say that there was a lot of 'dissatisfaction' with the quality of leadership skills of the founder, John Dawkins, at Ultra Services. A small group were busy planning to shoplift the business out from under Dawkins and launch their own new venture, Irex Ltd. Irex Ltd. already had its first product in development, an armored demountable Guard Booth, designed by Kirk von Ackermann and his wife, Megan.

Irex Ltd. never quite got off the ground--Kirk von Ackermann disappeared and Ryan Manelick was killed. Irex Ltd. never received any contracts and was a legal entity in name only. However, there are two possible ways the creation of Irex Ltd. could have played a role in the disappearance of Kikr von Ackermann and the murder of Ryan Manelick. Both involve money:

  1. Irex Ltd. was a threat to Ultra Services and by extension, John Dawkins
  2. John Dawkins stood in the way of Irex Ltd. moving forward quickly
Just to be clear, there's no indication Irex Ltd. played ANY role in the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann or the murder of Ryan Manelick. After all, Manelick alleged 'fraud' shortly before he died. While fraud can easily be interwoven in to either of the above, it also isn't necessary as a sole motivating factor. If fraud IS the sole basis and sole motivating factor of events then Irex Ltd. has NO role:
  1. Kirk von Ackermann was killed because he was going to blow the whistle on fraud
  2. Ryan Manelick was killed because he found out
I hope the above is clear because I'd like to spend a few posts on Irex Ltd. but I don't want people to be confused in to thinking there's any evidence of a direct correlation or connection between Irex Ltd and the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann or the murder of Ryan Manelick. There is none.

Corporate Structure

An email was sent from Charles Phillips to Geoff Nordloh just days before Kirk von Ackermann disappeared. I have referenced this email on various occasions, including in an article I wrote for ePluribus Media on the corporate history of Ultra Services:
One Missing, One Dead: An Iraq Contractor in the Fog of War
by Susie Dow with Steven Reich, ePluribus Media, May 15, 2006
Geoff Nordloh was kind enough to grant me permission to post this here at the Missing Man.


From: Geoff Nordloh
Sent: Tuesday, May 02, 2006 03:10 AM
To: Susie Dow
Subject: FW: Corporate Structure

This is a long email, but in it Charles makes reference to Kirk vis-à-vis the “new” company setup. Although this email doesn’t list Irex by name, I know that’s what we were talking about…


-----Original Message-----
From: Charles Phillips []
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2003 10:23 AM
To: 'Geoff Nordloh'
Subject: FW: Corporate Structure

I sent it to the wrong services.

(Note: this is a reference to initially sending the email to the wrong address. I have included this short note because of the date the email was sent and then re-sent.

Keep in mind that internal company emails were monitored and read, and that there was the ability to forward emails to unknown outside parties. This adds an extra layer to the potential to abuse the information in the email below.

All of this raises two questions: 1. who had a vested interest in interfering with Irex Ltd. plans and 2. who might have seen the email?

That Charles Phillips sent the email through the Ultra Services email server shows an almost naivete on cyber security one would not normally expect to see in a person who had had previously worked at a software company. That in itself raises more questions. At some point, I'll address all of the questions I've just mentioned here in a later post. - Susie Dow)

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles Phillips []
Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2003 7:45 PM
To: ''
Subject: Corporate Structure


I’ve been giving our corporate structure a lot of thought and I’d like to share them with you so that we can lay out a blueprint for what the company ought to look like going forward. First, a bit of corporate news: we are currently in the process of scaling back the John Dawkins model of service in Iraq . This model involves securing contracts in Iraq and then managing the purchasing and packaging of all the piece parts which are necessary to make those projects successful.

An example is a shower unit. This unit requires the following pieces to be sourced in Turkey for its completion:
  • 2 AC/ECU units
  • 1 5000 Lt fresh water tank
  • 1 5000 Lt grey water tank
  • 1 5000 Lt black water tank
  • 1 250 Lt water heater (3KW x 2 heating element)
  • 1 Water Pressure tank
  • 1 Sump Pump
  • 1 Grey Water collection tank
  • Miscellaneous Pipes, Valves, Cables
These items must then be packaged with the shower unit itself and shipped to Iraq . Once in Iraq , the unit has to be effectively escorted to the base and then installation must take place with a team of local workers. This process involves working with at least 7 different vendors in three languages, and a rather precarious financing structure which is heavily dependent on advance payments from the U.S. military. Typically, this process leaves us strapped for personnel and cash, and while it potentially garners a larger margin on each individual projects, it necessarily limits the number and size of projects you can take on. It also puts us at considerable risk of finishing projects late which has an opportunity cost if nothing else.

Company management has of course found a more viable option. We are currently working with Turkish partners who are able to secure financing and financial terms which require substantially less financial outlay from the company. These companies manage all sourcing and logistics of the projects, sub-contracting them out to trusted vendors. Typically, their costs are more predictable and the logistical flow to the installation site is much smoother. What they require from us is firm contract specifications and help contacting the military, getting onto the bases, etc.

Many of these vendors we have worked with and a few we haven’t worked with have approached us about extending this idea even further…in short, they promise to provide all financing, logistics, and installation as long as we help them source and negotiate the contracts and deal with the military on an ongoing basis (getting onto bases, securing living privileges, etc.). In some cases, these companies even promise to help source contracts for us. Effectively, we would switching our core competency from sourcing and logistical support to contract consulting, negotiations, and high-level strategic support.

This switch is not without risk. The proprietary model, although limiting, had some built in protection against partner risk. We owned our sourcing and many of the vendor relationships were effectively isolated from the U.S. Army. If we follow a tighter partnership model, we are exposed in the following ways (but there are ways we can limit that exposure):
  • We could enter into partnerships with companies which are not capable of filling out their responsibilities, either financially or operationally.
  • Solution: We are currently engaging the preeminent law-firm in Turkey to do due diligence on each of these companies and allow us to pick companies which have the proven financial base and operational expertise to service the contracts
  • We could enter into partnerships with companies which engage in predatory tactics and end up taking our clients from us.
  • Solution: Engage in high value projects and maintain a strong corporate front. Ensure that all contracts signed with Turkish partners are backed by enforceable confidentiality and exclusivity agreements. Build as much "intellectual property" as possible into projects and maintain tight institutional control of client relationships (primary mover of all meetings with decision-makers).
We continue to be one of the only American groups cognizant enough of the real risk in the region to do business throughout Iraq and the time is ripe to leverage Turkish company’s interest in the region.

To that end, I am trying to achieve the following milestones as quickly as possible:
  • Finishing Bermudan incorporation
  • Finishing Turkish subsidiary incorporation
  • Replenishing deal pipeline
  • Selecting financial and strategic partners
  • Finalizing and servicing deals
A word on the Bermudan Partnership:

Stratex and I will be 50-50 partners in the initial corporation, as promised. One of the board members will be your employee, one of the board members will be me, and one of the board members will be chosen from Kirk, Bora, and Egemen. After that (and hopefully concurrent with it), I want us to immediately ask our Bermudan lawyers to issue an agreement that allows for an issuance of more shares which will end with the shares conferred in the following proportions:
  • Stratex: 10% vested (founder)
  • Charles Phillips: 10% vested (founcer)
  • Bora, Egemen, Kirk: 20% options (vested over 2 years)
  • Charles Phillips: 30% options (key employee, vested over 2 years)
  • Key Financial Partner: 10% (Key Financial partner defined as $15 million in available equity or loan)
  • Future employees/key strategic partners: 20%
As you can see, I want to make sure everyone is incentivised to add value going forward. To that end, many of the shares are performance based. Of particular note is the share block set aside for the Key financial partners. This item is for partners who wish to add cash to the concern which is in excess of what our current partnership portfolio can effectively provide. The number I’m looking for for full participation is $15 million—that number gets a partner in at full 10% value. Any number short of that allows entrance to the partner at a pro rata share.

The same is true of the pool for future employees or key strategic partners. As we go forward, we will need to add employees, board members, and/or partners which clearly provide an entrée into large businesses we wish to enter. These individuals or entities will be allowed to have equity in the company provided they present a compelling case about the business interest they represent.

Finally, a word on some of the administrative functions of the company:
  • Legal: I would like to have a word with Conyers, Dill, & Peterman about handling our ongoing legal relationships in Bermuda . I will also be working with Izzet Hatem, a prominent lawyer here in Turkey to do business here.

  • Financial: I think it would make sense for Stratex to provide some CFO functions, but most of the active controlling and accounting work I would like to farm out to local people here in Turkey. Basically, we will need our CFO to be someone who lives and works here and therefore can help perform regular audits on our partners to make sure that we are getting the right information from them

  • Marketing: We will quickly move to get a website up and running and I have talked to some people in the U.S. about getting funding.
These are my thoughts, but I feel that time is of the essence. Additionally, and this is an important point: Mete is under the impression that he is Stratex’ exclusive partner in Turkey . If this is the case, then these details will have to be changed pending reconciliation of that situation.

Let me know what you think…I’d like to close on these items as quickly as possible.


FOIA - Rejected

For some time now, I've been working on a new article related to the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann and the death of Ryan Manelick for the Journal at ePluribus Media. I'm a very slow writer -- both of my previous articles took me close to a year to write -- so I am very fortunate I don't have a deadline. One result, I can take the time to file FOIA requests.

ePluribus Media received a written response to one of my FOIA's, specifically one I filed with the US Army Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC) for information regarding Kirk von Ackermann's case. The FOIA was rejected.

A search of the USACIDC file indexes revealed that an active investigation is in progress with an undetermined completion date.
Most of what the FOIA requested was the kind of information one might expect to receive at say a press briefing: time von Ackermann's vehicle was first reported abandoned, etc. In other words, the FOIA request didn't ask for anything particularly earth-shattering like the names or identities of secret sources of information.

At this time, ePluribus Media will not be filing an appeal. Why? The FOIA request was always a long shot and the reason is provided by the Department of Defense Freedom of Information Policy Office (DFOIPO) in the FOIA Handbook (PDF)
The nine FOIA exemptions are cited in the Act as 5 U.S.C. § 552

(b)(7)—investigatory records or information compiled for law enforcement
Fingers crossed for some positive responses to the other FOIA requests.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Short Note

I don't have too much more to add at this point. Some additional research on Anaconda, some background information, that's about it.

I'll let everyone take some time to digest what I've thrown out there for public consumption.

Like I warned, my mind is a dark place.

The Demountable Guard Shack

In the spring of 2006, with a small group of volunteer researchers from ePluribus Media, I spent a great deal of time looking into the hijacking of the registration of, the domain of John Dawkins latest company, Mesopotamia Group LLC.

In the process of researching associated domains in shared IP blocks and cross referencing internal html code -- exciting stuff -- I came across images of a guard shack, a product once offered on the Ultra Services website. The guard shack was designed by Kirk von Ackermann with the help of his wife, Megan (credit where credit is due after all).

I pulled the images of the guard shack off of the archived version of the Ultra Services website at the Web Archive. The Ultra Services website has not been maintained and the data has since degenerated further making access to images no longer possible. But fortunately, I had the presence of mind to take screen captures of what still remained of the pages.

Caption above the photographs reads:

Mobile & Demountable Armored Guard Booth Units :

Ultra Services has designed a mobile armored fighting unit to provide force protection for forward units in hostile environments. The units are armored according to client specifications (U. S. Level IV maximum). The units are designed to be mobilized or demobilized by no more than 10 personnel within 1 hour of deployment at the site.

The units are fully modularized, meaning that if one of the armor or glass panels must be replaced, additional panels can be purchased from Ultra-Services on an individual basis-the unit does not have to be totally replaced. Ultra-Services will train and certify personnel on construction of the units. Ultra-Services will also provide certification teams to perform periodic inspections of the panels to insure their readiness for force protection.

Each unit has 360 degree visibility, 360 degrees of fighting position

72 piece unit - assembled by hand, each component 65kg or less; damaged parts can be replaced (see picture).

5 piece unit

1 piece unit

We produce vehicles made to transport and quickly support the assembly of the 72 and 5 piece units.

This was the product Irex Ltd. was in the process of researching and developing when Kirk von Ackermann disappeared.

PS One day, I'll get around to telling the story of the domain hijacking. It's a fascinating whodunnit for geeks like myself. But for now, it would prove an unnecessary distraction to an already full plate.

The Mind of Susie Dow

The Story

On October 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann left a meeting at FOB Pacesetter near Balad. His vehicle was found later that day abandoned in the Jabal Hamrin mountains roughly 140 miles from FOB Pacesetter.

A little over two months later, on December 14, 2003, Ryan Manelick was killed just after leaving a meeting at Camp Anaconda also near Balad. Shortly before his murder, he alleged fraud within his company and that it involved US Army officers.

Both men worked for Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey.

That's the short version of the story.

Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey

The founder of Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey was an American with a flair for the dramatic named John Dawkins. Dawkins was a chameleon with an uncanny ability to land on his feet no matter the difficulty. In business, he liked to describe himself as an 'idea person.' He was charming, brilliant and creative, but equally difficult, exasperating and aloof. Great fun as a loyal friend, frustrating as an uncommunicative business partner who didn't like to get bogged down in small details. He had a tendency to promise too much and get in over his head. Grandiose ideas also meant he got interesting projects off the ground quickly. John Dawkins had absolutely no fear of stepping into the unknown.

Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, the US invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001. Sensing opportunity, John Dawkins partnered with an American by the name of Glen Lockwood whom he'd first met in Russia. They approached the US Army offering to set up an Internet cafe for American soldiers. The cafe would be built by local suppliers from Uzbekistan using pre-fabricated shipping containers. However, when the time came to complete the contract, the US Army no longer needed Internet services but they were in need of pre-fabricated buildings. The company was called Stratex Freedom Services.

By early 2003, anticipating an invasion of Iraq, John Dawkins sought to recreate the success of Stratex Freedom Services. With the assistance of Stratex' Chief Financial Officer, Geoff Nordloh, Dawkins created a new company, Ultra Services, this time pairing with a local Turkish partner, Mete Mutluoglu.

Mutluoglu was the owner of Microserve in Istanbul, Turkey. Microserve agreed to change its name to Ultra Services for a 50–50 split in ownership: 50% of the shares would be owned by Stratex Freedom Services LLC through a $50,000 investment; 50% of the shares would be owned by Mutluoglu.

For putting the company together, John Dawkins would be granted a 50% share through Stratex Freedom Services LLC in exchange for contributing his own “sweat equity” by being in Iraq. This arrangement would give Dawkins a 25% share in Ultra Services.

Two men from Turkey would also join the company as employee managers, Bora Tuncay and Egeman Çakmak. Geoff Nordloh remained back in Central Asia with Stratex Freedom Services.

Business quickly picked up in Iraq. One of the first Americans to join the company was Ryan Manelick, the son of a close personal friend of Dawkins, Greg Manelick, a retired US military officer whom Dawkins knew from Russia. Meanwhile, Geoff Nordloh had heard from former Stanford Business School classmate, Albert "Charles" Phillips who read about Nordloh in Stanford’s Alumni notes. After several phone calls, Phillips joined the company.

Initially Phillips was supposed to work out of the Baghdad office and Manelick was supposed to supervise the manufacturers and suppliers in Turkey. But as Manelick spoke some Arabic, he was instead sent to Baghdad. Charles Phillips would eventually become the main point of contact between the Stratex investors and Ultra Services.

Prior to arriving in Istanbul, Charles Phillips had worked for a software company in California where he had met former Air Force Captain Kirk von Ackermann. Von Ackermann had experience working in combat zones, having been assigned to NATO intelligence operations in Kosovo. Through contact with Phillips while he was in Istanbul, von Ackermann would eventually join Ultra Services, traveling between Turkey and Iraq.

As Ultra Services’ workload grew, Phillips was increasingly sending up alarms about Dawkins to Nordloh. He accused Dawkins of being disorganized and endangering people in Iraq. At one point Phillips reported Dawkins had driven up too quickly to a military gate, resulting in the car being fired upon. Phillips made it clear to Nordloh that he felt Dawkins was a risk. He also claimed to be nervous that Dawkins might withhold payments to Turkish suppliers.

Phillips had also developed a network of relationships with the local Turkish suppliers and vendors. He spoke with Nordloh and proposed creating a new company -- without John Dawkins. On October 2, 2003, the domain name was registered. On October 7th, Charles Phillips sent an email to Geoff Nordloh with the subject: Corporate Structure,Phillips provided a detailed outline of the new company and its future. On October 22, 2003, Irex Ltd. was registered in Bermuda.

Irex Ltd. already had its first product in development: a demountable armoured guard shack designed by Kirk von Ackermann. Manufacturers and suppliers were rapidly lining up to get in on the ground floor of the new venture. New investors were showing interest. Every one could clearly see that the simplicity of the guard shack design had the potential to propel a new small unknown company on to the international stage, well beyond Iraq.

It was in this environment that Kirk von Ackermann prepared to visit Iraq for the third time.

"Fools go where angels fear to tread."

Kirk von Ackermann actually had a lot in common with John Dawkins. They were close in age. Both were married with children. Both could call California home: Dawkins had graduated from University of California in 1989; von Ackermann's wife and children lived in Moss Beach. Both men spoke Russian. Both men enjoyed sports: Dawkins loved to play soccer; back in the States, von Ackermann coached his son's soccer team. Both men were outgoing and friendly. And both now worked to secure contracts with the US military for Ultra Services.

But where Kirk von Ackermann was organized, John Dawkins was scattered. Dawkins was constantly reinventing himself. His international zig-zag of partnerships over the years was too indicative of a nomadic wanderer, someone who got bored too easily. Dawkins resume was filled with company shake ups that had shown him the door. The response was always the same, Dawkins seized sudden change as an opportunity to discover new horizons with new revenue streams.

Once again, by October of 2003, John Dawkins had made too many enemies, this time through Ultra Services. And once again, a sizable amount of money was at sake. The employees, suppliers, manufacturers, and subcontractors all saw the enormous potential for a business future without John Dawkins who was now seen as standing in the way of both progress and profit.

If only John Dawkins would just go away...

Some one may have decided to give fate a hand.

Kirk von Ackermann

Kirk von Ackermann told his wife, Megan, he had found his calling assisting the US military in rebuilding war torn areas. He loved the work and was ready to enter a new phase in life. They made the decision to move their entire family to Turkey. But Kirk von Ackermann had one last trip to make before he could return home to help pack up and move the household.

Traveling back and forth between Turkey and Iraq, von Ackermann needed a good reliable vehicle. He found and purchased a used Nissan Patrol SUV, a model known for its 40-year track record of hard work with the United Nations. At the time von Ackermann paid for the vehicle, the sellers told him one of the tires had a problem. Von Ackermann told the sellers the tire wasn't an issue. And it wasn't. He could easily handle a bad tire. Even though he had been a linguist while in the US Army, von Ackermann had often been assigned to vehicle maintenance. He liked working on vehicles. As a teenager, he'd souped up a vintage car, even installing a nitro boost. Von Ackermann could easily handle a small problem like a bad tire.

October 9, 2003

Kirk von Ackermann attended a meeting with an employee of one of Ultra Services Turkish suppliers at FOB Pacesetter, a small, isolated and primitive base located at an air strip just north of Balad, Iraq. After the meeting, the employee, Çuneyt Demirici, said good bye to Kirk von Ackermann, got in his car and headed south to return to his home in Baghdad. Demirici's good bye would prove to be the last publicly known sighting of Kirk von Ackermann before he disappeared.

This Could Have Happened

From this point forward in this story, almost everything is my conjecture.

Motor Pool

Because of his experience repairing vehicles in the US Army, Kirk von Ackermann knew the kind of language that would get him access into the repair shop on a military base. He could set up over to the side, keep out of every one's way, borrow a lift and some tools, most especially an impact wrench to get the lug nuts off, and get down to business. If he ran late, he could stay on base. The tire still looked ok, but better it was taken care of before it became a problem.

Just 25 miles from FOB Pacesetter was Camp Anaconda, later renamed LSA Anaconda.

LSA Anaconda is the primary logistics support base in Iraq. Located near the town of Balad, just north of Baghdad, it is spread over 15 square miles. The base is home to approximately 25,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and civilians. The base has two runways and is the busiest airport in Iraq. LSA Anaconda directly supports all surrounding forward operating bases with personnel, equipment, and logistics support. (ref)
In 2008, LSA Anaconda was reported as 'the busiest air base in the world operated by the Pentagon' and 'the second busiest airport in the world.' (ref) Camp Anaconda was the distribution point for parts and service for all wheeled US military vehicles in Iraq including salvage. By 2006, maintenance dispatches were done on approximately 1,100 vehicles each week. (ref)

Von Ackermann popped his head in to the motor pool at FOB Pacesetter and spoke with the mechanic. He explained the situation and said he really wanted to head over to Anaconda in case he uncovered a bigger problem than expected. The Pacesetter mechanic made a call and told von Ackermann that his buddy over at the Anaconda motor pool knew to expect him and would get him hooked up.

Next time the Pacesetter mechanic spoke to his buddy at Anaconda, he asked how it went with the contractor. He was surprised to hear the contractor never showed up.

Camp Anaconda

Von Ackermann entered the air base through the North Gate. On his way to the motor pool, he made a last minute decision to stop and visit a project that Ultra Services had under way on base.

Several days before, word had come down that the founder of Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey needed to disappear. There were a number of reasons given, all of which convinced two men in fatigues* that the guy, an American civilian contractor, deserved what he had coming. Instructions were clear: make it look like nothing more than the collateral damage of working in a war zone. The men in fatigues were warned the task might prove a bit difficult because the American usually traveled with an Iraqi body guard. Some one would be back in touch with more details and hopefully a schedule of the contractor's movements. The men in fatigues had a few days to kick around some ideas, how to get rid of the body and what to do with the car. They waited for a 'thumbs up' to proceed when an opportunity suddenly appeared to present itself.

Just in from the company headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey, Kirk von Ackermann walked into the small office alone. His colleague, Ryan Manelick, was out, affording von Ackermann an opportunity for a friendly chat with two men dressed in fatigues. They chatted about Iraq, work, Istanbul, their kids, and one of those quirky discoveries of a shared passion for all things Russian. The two men in fatigues agreed to run von Ackermann across the base over to the project Manelick was supervising.

'It's not far,' they said, offering to take him in their vehicle, 'Jump in front.'

Within 30 minutes, Kirk von Ackermann was dead. He never saw what hit him.

Getting rid of the body was the surprisingly easy part. The two men in fatigues wrapped it up in a tarp and unceremoniously dropped it in to a container with some construction debris headed for the dump, then an open pit burn pile located in one corner of the base. Since Camp Anaconda hadn't quite worked out how to deal with solid waste, the US Army had little choice but to burn everything - including 'poop' - operating the 24-hour burn pile, 365 days a year. Between the eye-burning acrid smoke and the horrific stench that could permeate clothes, all anyone ever wanted to do was get in, dump their load of waste, and get out. Within an hour of dumping von Ackermann's body, more loads of solid waste covered his burning remains.

No one outside of a small elite defense task force really knew the full truth of Kirk von Ackermann's former work defending the United States of America from the asymmetric threats of modern terrorism. Kirk von Ackermann had -- in fact -- saved lives. Lying at the bottom of a burning rubbish heap was an ignoble end for an American Hero who should have been immortalized in history books.

Jabal Hamrin (Reddish Mountain)

The two men in fatigues returned to the office and picked up von Ackermann's car. They borrowed a patrol vehicle and driving one behind the other, headed out the South Gate for Highway 1, where the two vehicles turned north to Tikrit. From Tikrit, they turned east to pick up an isolated road to Kirkuk that ran through a low range of mountains known as the Jabal Hamrin. Their plan was to park the Nissan Patrol SUV near a neighborhood in Kirkuk where they were told the company maintained an office of sorts. They'd leave one door open and let the contents of the car slowly distribute themselves through out Kirkuk. No one would ever suspect the body was back in Balad. But half way through the mountainous area of the Jabal Hamrin, one of the tires on the Nissan Patrol blew out stranding the vehicle right in the middle of the most desolate section of road.

While the two vehicles were making their way to Kirkuk, Kirk von Ackermann's satellite phone rang several times. The phone now provided the perfect cover story. As satellite phones were well-known for spotty reception, the two men were certain they could get away with pretending to be the actual owner of the phone as long as they kept the conversation short. One of the men in fatigues dialed a number he recognized as a local cell phone. He was in luck. Safa Shukir, with caller id on his cell phone, picked up the call and answered with a thick Iraqi accent, 'Hi Kirk.' An Iraqi was least likely to discover the ruse.
'Can you hear me? I can barely hear you.'
'Yes, Kirk, I hear you.'
'I've got a flat tire.'
'My. Car. I. Have. A. Flat. Tire. I'm on the road between Tikrit and Kirkuk. In the Jabal Hamrin. I've got a flat tire. In the hills. Can you come get me?'
'Yes. I come get you. But I am here in Kirkuk.'
'Come as quick as you can. And bring a jack. Mine doesn't work.'
'Yes, Kirk. I come now.'
'Thanks. See you soon. Bye.'
The day was getting late. Sunset was coming and evening curfews were still in effect. In general, it was a good idea to be off the road by nightfall. As Safa Shukir raced towards the area where he believed Kirk von Ackermann was stranded, he repeatedly tried calling von Ackermann's satellite phone. But no one answered any of his calls.

Only a few miles down the road from where von Ackermann's Nissan Patrol sat stranded, the US military maintained a temporary check point. Minutes after an outgoing call was logged with von Ackermann's satellite service, two men dressed in fatigues drove up to the check point, leaned out the window and told the soldier on duty that they'd just passed an abandoned vehicle and that it was just a couple miles down the road. They offered the helpful suggestion that the soldier might want to send someone to check it out. The two men in fatigues were in a hurry to get to Kirkuk, otherwise they'd stick around.

A few days after October 9, word came down to the two men in fatigues that their assignment to make John Dawkins disappear was on hold. One of the Americans had mysteriously disappeared and the military was now poking around and asking questions. Most likely a kidnapping but no ransom note yet. Under the circumstances, it was probably a good idea just to wait until things settled down.

It didn't take long for the two men in fatigues to quickly figure out that they killed the wrong guy. Lucky for them, no one else knew. Or, at least, that's what they hoped.

Ryan Manelick

Ryan Manelick told his friend, Colin Freeman, about the strange disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann. 'It was as if he had been abducted by aliens,' Manelick told Freeman (ref). Freeman was a freelance journalist from the UK who sometimes stayed at the same hotel in Baghdad as Manelick. They'd become friends. On November 9, 2003 Colin Freeman published the first extensive article on the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann in the UK Telegraph, appearing two days later in the San Francisco Chronicle under a slightly different title, 'Bay Area Civilian Vanishes in Iraq.' The article contained absolutely no indication of the internal company strife raging at Ultra Services.

Within a week, on November 16, Ryan Manelick wrote to his father that he and Charles Phillips had severed relations with John Dawkins. Phillips brought in Manelick to replace Kirk von Ackermann. Manelick was joining Irex Ltd. as their new point person in Iraq.

Emotions were running high after Kirk's disappearance. And unknown to some of the Ultra Services employees, internal company emails had long been monitored, read, and some times forwarded to unknown recipients. As accusations and speculation about Kirk von Ackermann's disappearance flew through the company email server, the rapid fire flow of information created a feed back loop that severely distorted facts. A hypothesis posed in one email was repeated as fact within the office gossip circle that was then emailed to someone else where it was once again repeated. The cycle grew into a giant ponzi scheme until no one knew the difference between fact, fiction or hearsay. It didn't take long for paranoia to settle in.

On December 8, Charles Phillips, Bora Tuncay and their driver traveled from Turkey to meet with Ryan Manelick and tour Iraq with an eye towards the future for Irex ltd. They visited several US military bases, finishing off the tour with a meeting at Camp Anaconda on December 14. (ref)

Ryan Manelick was convinced John Dawkins had had a hand in the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann. He said he knew what happened to von Ackermann, that it involved Dawkins, fraud, and US Army officers and that he was going to talk to Army investigators. On the evening of December 13, Manelick told his friend Colin Freeman he was in fear for his life.

The two men in fatigues caught wind of Manelick's accusations. They both liked Manelick. They'd tried to play up the insurgent card but he wouldn't bite. Manelick had them backed into a corner. He just wouldn't shut up. Sooner or later, someone would look in their direction. It was just business. Nothing personal. He really wasn't leaving them much choice.

The two men in fatigues decided on a drive-by shooting. Such shootings were becoming more common and no one would think much of it. They could care less about the Iraqis traveling with him that day. They borrowed a white SUV and pre-positioned the vehicle to leave the base just ahead of Manelick. Once on the road, all they had to do was wait for Manelick to pass. They put on some head scarves and tunics to look like local Iraqis, and when the time came, pulled up along side the vehicle and opened fire.

At the first sound of gun fire, Ryan Manelick grabbed his satellite phone and dialed Charles Phillips. For a brief moment, he thought he recognized his assailants but it was too late. The minor delay in satellite service didn't allow Phillips to answer in time for Manelick to tell him what was happening. One of the Iraqis in the car grabbed the phone and started shouting frantically in Arabic but it was no use.

Ryan Manelick was dead and the nice white Land Cruiser that had pulled up along side them and opened fire was long gone.


Quite simply - prove me wrong.

Interview the dozens and dozens of mechanics who were working through out the Balad area on October 9, 2003. Talk to both the civilian and military mechanics. Talk to the helicopter and air transport mechanics. Talk to every single living being who was within ten feet of a lug wrench that day. Check the base entry and exit records. Talk to the men and women who worked in the hangars on FOB Pacesetter and make sure von Ackermann and his SUV didn't a hitch a ride by air from Pacesetter to Anaconda. (Don't tell me that never happens. I know all about 'test flights.') Trace every movement, no matter how small. Find out where Kirk von Ackermann went and who he contacted about his tire.

Talk to the 'passing patrol' and the soldiers at the check point. Again. Check their back grounds. Again. Check their assignments. Again. Where were they supposed to be that day? What vehicles were they supposed to be driving? Were they running late? Were they running too early? Confirm every detail no matter how small. Don't assume that just because they're US military personnel they are immune from a complete and thorough investigation, all the way back to their childhoods.

Talk to the good folks in Defense Logistics about solid waste disposal at Camp Anaconda. Yes, it's four years later but could anything have survived? Von Ackermann had shoulder surgery - did he have a titanium joint? Could it have survived? What about teeth?

Prove me wrong. Dammit. Prove me wrong.

*two men in fatigues - at least one is a man who spoke American, the second person could be a woman but for brevity is described above as a second man.

Additional Reading

Bay Area civilian vanishes in Iraq
by Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 2003

Suspicion surrounds missing Bay Area man
by Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 2005

One Missing, One Dead: An Iraq Contractor in the Fog of War
by Susie Dow with Steven Reich, ePluribus Media, May 15, 2006

Death of a Contractor: Greed and Murder in Iraq's Lawless Desert
By Dan Halpern, Rolling Stone, March 8, 2007, Issue 1021
pp 70-74, 76-69 (print version includes photos)

Missing in Iraq (see March - August 2006)
by Megan von Ackermann

The Missing Man
by Susie Dow

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