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Post Sabah Jerges Jose Daddah, People Smuggler and Mystery Man (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 07/12/19 4:27 AM

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Sabah Jerges Jose Daddah, People Smuggler and Mystery Man (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 07/12/19 4:27 am)

Gary Moore writes:

José Ignacio Soler's great reminiscence (July 9) about running into the disappeared WWII double-agent "Garbo" (Juan Pujol García, "the Man who Saved the World"), has coupled with Boris Volodarsky's addition (July 10) of rich details, to suddenly jar from my memory another story of "My-God-that's-the-Mystery-Man!"

You may remember, in Nacho's tale, how he was shocked to learn years later that a fellow he had known routinely in Caracas had a buried past, trailing earth-shaking spycraft through Lisbon, Barcelona, London and finally Angola, where Pujol had reportedly faked his own death, before beginning a new life in Venezuela, to cross our colleague's path.

Well, the other night I was digging fanatically for another kind of secret, the hidden life of the world's multi-billion-dollar people-smuggling industry, a main player in current US immigration controversy--though people-smuggling is so successfully veiled that sensational journalistic guesses are almost all we have on its daily life (somewhat like the early-1950s Cosa Nostra, when even Hoover said it was a myth). People-smuggling, with its willing clients (paying big bucks) is not "human trafficking," that much worse monster-world of sex slaves and hidden bondage (often indignantly alleged but in fact seldom proven).

The less monstrous people-smugglers--or coyotes, or polleros ("chicken hawks")--may charge thousands per head to often poor clientele on harsh installment plans, but they are paid allies of the smuggled cargo that gets stuffed into trucks, buses, cargo holds or desert sheds (unless over-stuffing becomes fatal, whereupon the alliance pales somewhat). Otherwise, people-smuggling is one of those consensual crimes that no one quite knows what to do about, greatly reducing the number of court cases or exposés that might reveal its Bonanos or Giancanas in cinematic relief. Still, there is the overstuffing, which periodically grows explosive, and authorities then have to make a great show of chasing down some representative monsters, whose arrests give rare glimpses behind the veil. This was the trove I was Web-searching when I came across the following.

In 2014, as it turns out, an idealistic Wordpress blogger went traveling to southern Mexico, on a mission to help the disadvantaged for a couple of months. While on this "Volunteer's Adventure in Mexico," the blogger wrote, she was charmed to meet a cryptic older gentleman, visible every day sitting silently in his quaint specialty shop, where he "sells the most aromatic and delicious coffee, just down the road." A physics riddle--immovable object meets irresistible force--had gushingly begun. "I asked him his name," the blogging hands enthusiastically typed, "but he gave me the longest answer I couldn’t completely understand, talking about coffee beans and honey. He must have thought I asked him something else." Sure, right, that must be it. But not even the old fox could outfox this enthusiasm.

"Thankfully, I noticed his name written in the caption below the large black and white photograph of him he has hanging in his little shop." How puzzlingly strange. "He just sits on a wooden chair in front of this large photo all day, until someone walks past his window to buy coffee." And gosh, no amount of mumbling could prevent her taking an innocent snapshot or two--and another hint: "His Spanish was especially difficult for me to grasp because of his Iraqi accent." Huh? Thus ended the nice story, no further remarks. The resulting blog post took as its title his full name, as triumphantly ferretted out by our enthusiastic sleuth. The name was showcased all alone in the title, nakedly, no other words for camouflage, in big Arial Bold to tell the world:

Sabah Jerges José Daddah

By God, she had found him.

It was 2003--more than a decade earlier--when the biggest of all people-smuggling explosions had briefly and spectacularly revealed the hidden world. Those were heady years, when more than 2 million illegal entrants were streaming annually across the southern US border (Border Patrol calculus for "got-aways" takes the actual number of 2003 entrants far beyond the oft-said million-plus officially apprehended). But in this rush the coyotes and chicken hawks grew careless, or greedy. The volcano started blowing in 2002, when a Union Pacific gondola car was locked down on human cargo whose horrifying skeletons--eleven men and women baked alive in pitch-black grain dust--weren't discovered until a siding in Denison, Iowa. Meanwhile a July 27 Dallas semi-trailer overstuffing left two dead, synergizing with the Iowa remains, whose dessication prevented tracing until May 2003--when they could also combine with still larger scandal, in the Victoria, Texas, semi-trailer horror of May 14--this time cooking to death 19, including a child, with headlines now forcing extensive official reaction--on both sides of the border. Anyone who could be caught and who was even distantly linked to the tragedies became a symbol. "Coyote kingpin" Pat Valdes received a 27-year sentence. Honduran pollero princess Karla Chávez, age 27, got 17 years. Truck driver Tyrone Williams got life. In Mexico, vast networks previously invisible were suddenly, in the second half of 2003, subject to massive raids and arrests. Some 700 Mexican officers were said to swoop down on hideouts ranging from fortified ranches to the Mexico City airport to a crowded jungle river outpost like something out of the Heart of Darkness. Flashes from the hidden world were mind-numbingly rapid--and brief--a blizzard of names of arrestees often with little or no context in the lockstep Mexican media to say who they were--or where they went. A 2003 arrestee named Carlos Mata disappeared into Mexican jurisprudence to surface years later as a master smuggler in Brazil. His son, bearing the same name, made a more recent flurry when sentenced to death for massive drug smuggling--in Vietnam. Two cryptic worlds--the coyotes and the city called Ho Chi Minh--now seem to have swallowed any word as to whether that sentence has been carried out.

But there was that other name. One shadowy 2003 arrestee was perhaps attached to the jungle outpost, or, in another dangling news item, perhaps to the Mexico City airport. His was one of three similar names, all from the Middle East, but living and operating in Mexico (one was breezily identified at first as Pakistani). They linked from the Mideast clear to the US border at Tijuana. Did they form only a noble help line for smuggling Lebanese Christians to safety in the US? What about the signs of Hezbollah? This was two years after 9/11, and on May 1, 2003, the "Mission Accomplished" banner flew just miles from Tijuana on the USS Abraham Lincoln, for the doomed war in Iraq. The Tijuana cover was said to be a quaint specialty shop, La Libanesa Cafe.

The flood of names remained in its limbo. Where did they go? What did they do? (Or who did they pay?) Thus, too, went the one cryptic name, four words long, with its tantalizing gutturals and air of minarets --until a hot tropical winter in 2014, when an intrepid volunteer adventurer, fully 2,000 miles south of the Tijuana border (but in a town that happens to be another smuggling node) wondered why, when asked his name, the blank old face just seemed to mutter.

Like Pujol basking placidly in Nacho Soler's Our-Man-in-Caracas, the global people-smuggler Sabah Jerges José Daddah seemed never to drop his old name.

JE comments:  There's something endlessly intriguing about criminals who hide out in plain sight. One can only assume a larger conspiracy at work--or is it simply the incompetence of the authorities?

Gary, did you find any followup to this 2014 encounter?

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  • Hiding in Plain Sight: Sabah Jerges Jose Daddah (Edward Jajko, USA 07/13/19 6:05 AM)
    I found this listing for José Daddah Sabah Jerges (see Gary Moore's post of July 12th):

    SABAH JERGES, JOSE DADDAH | Tapachula de Córdova y Ordoñez | Chiapas | HOGAR MÉXICO


    JE comments:  Tapachula (Chiapas) is a border city with a Wild-West (Wild South?) reputation.  I presume Gary Moore has visited.  I've never made it past San Cristóbal in the state of Chiapas.

    I'm not 100% certain on the correct order of Sabah's name, but from the above, I'd guess his paternal surname is Sabah, with Jerges his maternal surname and his given names José Daddah.

    If JDSJ Googles himself perhaps he'll contact me:  waisforums@waisworld.org

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    • Arabic Names and Surnames (Edward Jajko, USA 07/17/19 4:36 AM)
      A comment on JE's comment on my posting about That Man in Tapachula (July 13th):

      John wrote, "I'm not 100% certain on the correct order of Sabah's name, but from the above, I'd guess his paternal surname is Sabah, with Jerges his maternal surname and his given names José Daddah."

      This is probably wrong. His name appears in several forms online: "Sabah Jerges José Daddah," "Sabah Jerges, José Daddah," and "José Daddah Sabah Jerges." I think the last is the most likely correct name, with "José" added to fit in in Mexico.

      As for JE's surmises about the significance of the names, paternal and maternal surnames, no. Arab names don't work like that. In Arab countries in which family names, surnames, or tribal names are not common, the pattern of naming is child-father's given name-grandfather's given name. So, Muhammad Ahmad Mahmud, Muhammad son of Ahmad son of Mahmud. Muhammad has a son, whom he calls ‘Arafah, so that son becomes ‘Arafah Muhammad Ahmad. All given or first names. In countries or areas where surnames are uncommon, this rotating pattern is what is found. The mother's family name is not used.

      I am reminded of a time many years ago when our founder telephoned me with some questions, among them a query about how Arabic verbs work. He was incredulous that the verb in Arabic does not work like the verb in Spanish--I do not recall the specifics of his question--and it took the longest time to convince him that he was wrong.

      JE comments:  I believe that immigrants in Mexico are legally required to use a maternal surname, even if they weren't born with one.  The standard tourist form for visitors to Mexico even asks for surnames.  The following is only a blog entry, but it's what I found in a two-minute search:


      This must result in a lot of improvising for people from the Arabic-speaking world.  In the case of our Mystery Man, the proof (I suspect) is in the comma:  Sabah Jerges, José Daddah.  Alphabetize him under the letter S.  

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      • Mayan Surnames...and Hyphens (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/19/19 4:59 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        Edward Jajko's enlightening discussion of Arabic non-surnames,
        evoked by the mysteries of Our Man in Tapachula, Sabah Jerges
        José Dada (July 17), points up the remarkable completeness of the
        veil covering many people-smugglers.

        The inquirer, meeting a blank
        wall, is reduced to analyzing the only scrap appearing, incidentals
        like the structure of their names. And further, had Sabah been arrested
        in the United States, not Mexico (as various people-smugglers were
        in the 2003 swoop that got him), there is yet another naming
        convention that would have complicated things: the maddening
        US prosecutorial custom of turning Spanish inverted surnames
        into imaginary hyphenates. El Chapo becomes Joaquín Guzmán-Loera,
        as if he's so millennial that he adopted half his wife's name. Some of
        the examples grow obfuscational. I see the point, that the hyphen
        is fixing the original surname in first position for record-searching,
        but it's unsettling to think of the law itself turning into a shrugging
        tourist at the border.

        Ed might also have looked just across the Suchiate River from Tapachula,
        where a short trek into the Guatemala highlands finds many customers
        of people-smugglers in the traditionally migratory Mam and Chuj Mayan
        groups. They outdo the US prosecutors, namewise, to sound a bit Arabic,
        taking an admired first name as a child's surname. In 2000, a witch hunt for
        alleged satanists was started high in the Cuchumatanes by a woman named
        Catarina Pablo. This all leads back to Guatemala's ancient wound, the enslavement
        of its Indian majority, with the adopted surnames originally designating a hacienda
        owner--a slave name, as it were. In the hidebound traditionalism that shelters
        many besieged groups, the Mams and Chujs held onto this, though the numerous
        Kekchis, next door, somehow did not, despite being just as enslaved. The little girl
        who made headlines dying in US Border Patrol custody last December was Jakelin
        Caal, with a characteristically curt Kekchi surname. More fortunate was Leslie
        Angelia Cac Pop, who took eight days to reach El Paso on smugglers' buses.
        Worlds are to be found simply in the twisted tree-rings of Guatemalan names, if
        an Octavio Paz or Miguel Ángel Asturias--or an Ed Jajko of WAIS--can be found to
        explain the code.

        JE comments:  Gary Moore originally titled this post "Snap Crackle Cac Pop Pablo"--nobody in WAISworld sends more creative or original subject lines!  So why do I always change them for posting?  I assume it's the searchability factor.  Or am I simply boring?  Gary, what do you think?

        For non-US WAISers:  "Snap Crackle Pop" is the ancient slogan (at least since 1939) for Rice Krispies cereal.  A Mayan creation?  Ehem, with no small amount of smugness, I must put RKs in the Michigan column (Kellogg Company, Battle Creek).

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        • Post Unpublished - please check back later

  • Pujol, Graham Greene, and the Unassuming Vacuum-Cleaner Salesman (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/14/19 3:58 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    John Eipper asked for followup on my story (July 12) of how an unsuspecting blogger
    unknowingly outed a global mystery man, in the vein of José Ignacio Soler's engaging lead
    about the century's bigger mystery man, "Garbo," or Juan Pujol, "the man who saved the
    world" during World War II. And, just as one might expect in such matters, the follow-up
    bounces wildly askew.

    First of all, in the near view, I see no signs that the well-meaning blogger in my story ever
    went back again to anti-climactically hear more mumbling from Sabah Jerges José Daddah.
    She seemed never to guess he had once been arrested as an international people-smuggler.
    But this is not the bounce.

    That, instead, is in the peculiar title I put on the draft story when I sent it in to John,
    who logically didn't use that title on the final post--because what in the world might it mean?
    The title was: "Isn't that a vacuum cleaner, Mr. Wormold?" Say what? It has no seeming
    connection to the story at all--or to anything rational.

    But in it was a hint that I, as unknowingly as the blogger in my tale, had now stumbled onto
    a second and much broader connection. Indeed the surmise might be that in this whole genre
    of intriguing Mystery-Man illusions, all roads, so to speak, lead to Rome--or better said, all
    threads in the great mental net composed of fascinations with Spectacular Romance
    Concealed in Unassuming Everyday Life may be probing and straining toward the pure essence,
    the Archetype. And in this genre, whispering insistently but unremarked beneath our discussion,
    it comes with a name:

    Graham Greene.

    Or that is, Graham Greene, the iconic mystery and spy-thriller author of the 1950s, specializing
    in Latin American adventure, put his incredibly laser-like mind to work on refining this Mystery-Man
    genre until its spaghetti-code crazily loops together. For instance, there is the WAIS puzzlement as
    to how, in World War II, Juan Pujol, the unassuming Lisbon double-agent--the real one, not a fiction--could have so successfully fooled stellar minds in Nazi intelligence, sending them so many fake
    reports on non-existent troop movements that he camouflaged the signs of coming D-Day,
    and thus "saved the world." How could such panache come from a mere "businessman,"
    or from a dashing but disillusioned idealist? Indeed, these cliches weren't the answer, as Graham
    Greene himself wearily knew--because Greene had known Juan Pujol through Mi6 during the war.

    See what I mean about the spaghetti-code looping together? Greene seemed to pinpoint the core
    of the Mystery-Man maze in the hoary old war word "snafu"--translatable as colossally blundering
    bureaucracy--too blind to suspect a wild card. It seems that Juan Pujol was sending fake reports to
    the Nazis even before--and not just after--he was recruited by British intelligence to do the real damage.
    Whispering in his story are hints of that ancient player, the Impostor, perhaps with even a breath or two
    of the pathological liar. But, noble or not, Greene made it clear eventually that in his mind, the answer
    to this mystery-man phenomenon was in overweening bureaucratic arrogance--for over time, by stages,
    Greene is acknowledged to have transformed his Pujol experiences into his 1958 novel Our Man in Havana,
    a book so irresistible that it became a movie with Alec Guiness as the (appropriately disguised and geo-relocated)
    Pujol character. Greene called him "James Wormold."

    Mr. Wormold was a mousy, unassuming vacuum cleaner salesman who landed, in the Cold War 1950s,
    in steamy Cuba, to be drawn, like lint into the Hoover, into swashbuckling do-or-die--as he found the spy
    world demanding to take seriously his claims that a convoluted vacuum-cleaner user's manual diagram was
    in fact a secret plan of a missile base (the laser-like mind also foreshadowed the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis).
    Below is an excerpt on the evolution of Wormold/Pujol--not excerpted from some arcane secret archive,
    but one appropriately in plain sight, like the aging porch-front intriguers of Caracas or Tapachula, for this
    excerpt comes from Wikipedia:

    "Greene joined MI6 in August 1941. In London, Greene had been appointed to the subsection dealing with counter-espionage in
    the Iberian Peninsula, where he had learned about German agents in Portugal sending the Germans fictitious reports, which garnered them
    expenses and bonuses to add to their basic salary.

    "One of the agents was 'Garbo,' a Spanish double agent in Lisbon, who gave his German handlers disinformation, by pretending to control a
    ring of agents all over England. In fact, he invented armed forces movements and operations from maps, guides and standard military
    references. Garbo was the main inspiration for Wormold, the protagonist of Our Man In Havana.

    "Remembering the German agents in Portugal, Greene wrote the first version of the story in 1946, as an outline for a film script, with the story
    set in Estonia in 1938. The film was never made, and Greene soon realised that Havana, which he had visited several times in the early
    1950s, would be a much better setting, with the absurdities of the Cold War being more appropriate for a comedy."

    So, saludos to all the special vacuum cleaner salesmen of the world, amid that sneaking suspicion that,
    if we wish hard enough, we might be them.


    JE comments:  Gary Moore had included a cryptic question in his original post, "which Hoover is that"?  We often confuse J. Edgar with Herbert, but don't forget that our British friends also use hoovering as a verb.  (I just learned that the vacuum cleaner, like so many icons of modernity, was invented in Ohio.)

    So Pujol transcends "mere" espionage and reaches into the realm of the literary.  Has there ever been a more fascinating unassuming fellow?

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    • A Graham Greene Reference (Edward Jajko, USA 07/16/19 3:49 AM)
      Further to the little dangling thread about Graham Greene (who was far more than a writer of mysteries, books which he called "entertainments," and more a writer on Africa than Latin America):

      In episode 4, "Deguello," of season 6 of the excellent British TV series Endeavour, there is an inside joke. Inspector Fred Thursday and DS E. Morse are interviewing a prima donna Oxford don who is a possible suspect in the murder of--shudder--an Oxford librarian. Thursday asks the don about the book he had called for from the Phi, or restricted, collection, Memoirs of a Voluptuary. The don explains that it is a classic of Edwardian erotica and is much studied. Thursday responds that he wouldn't know; "I'm a Holly Martins man myself." Chortle, chortle.

      JE comments:  Holly Martins is the protagonist of Greene's The Third Man.  Like Evelyn and Shirley, we don't come across too many male Hollys these days.

      Ed, I am chortling!  Tell us about Oxford's "Phi."  Does it contain erotica only, or are rare/controversial books included as well?

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