In January of 2011, I was sent to Beijing, China by the United States Government and the NSA as a private contractor to do a review of one of Microsoft’s darling medical Research Project Groups in an effort to find information about their recently lost Program Manager.
A man by the name of R John Murphy.
And yes, I was in the same class as Edward Snowden at Fort Meade, serving the Government from 2003 until my ‘retirement’ in 2011..
Now going back to R. John Murphy – When I say lost.
I mean LOST in a very literal sense.
They’d quite literally LOST their Program Manager.
This American man who had returned to the states to go back to Seattle, Washington for the Christmas holiday left Beijing but (and I emphasize this) NEVER showed up in Seattle.
His luggage arrived at it’s destination.
But he never arrived to claim it himself.
Surveillance records in Beijing saw him check in and board his flight.
This included video feeds.
For international flights with domestic legs in the United States, you are required to ‘walk;’ your luggage through customs and show your identification and claim checks proving your luggage is indeed yours.
On all the pulled historical surveillance camera records from United States based flights, not only are there NO RECORDINGS of him checking his luggage through, but there’s also no video record of him deboarding the international flight to begin with.
And here’s the kicker:
HIS LUGGAGE MADE IT TO its destination in Seattle, with a domestic leg transition in San Francisco.
Flight attendants interviewed indicated his seat was vacant for the entire flight.
So here I am – embroiled in an honest to goodness X-Files mystery.
I was THRILLED at the opportunity!
And I was asked to go to China to answer the simple question:
What happened to R. John Murphy?
On accepting the assignment, I was contacted by a source at Microsoft.
I was required to go through their preferred vendor to get my Visa stamps.
I LOATHE working with companies who establish preferred vendor relationships.
But then again. I like very spicy Thai Food.
So I figure a company is entitled to work with ‘personal’ preferences too.
So I respected their relationship.
So I sent my passport to CIBT for Microsoft’s preferred Visa handling services.
And as luck would have it, Microsoft AND CIBT had BOTH screwed up, and had sent my passport with the Visa to an old address they had on their files from previous dealing I’d had with them.
So not only did they FEDEX my package to the wrong location, they FEDEXED it there in a horrible snowstorm which shut down FEDEX’s route altogether.
This delayed receipt of my passport and I almost missed my flight out.
Thankfully, the day of departure – 3 days late I might add – the passport arrived.
In hindsight. I thank Microsoft for the insistence on my need to respect this relationship.
Now on arrival in Beijing, China, the taxi driver was driving down the freeway at about 70 miles per hour – and he missed my exit.
*Zoom* he whizzes by.
I look at my map. I look at the street name.
I tap the driver ‘That was my street’.
He got the point, despite not speaking my language.
Now in America, if this were to happen to me as I was driving, I used to say ‘Oh shit’ or ‘Fuck me’ a couple dozen times and then I would proceed to the next exit and then flip a bitch (do a u turn) – the net result being – I’d arrive a little later and maybe a bit more frustrated at missing my turnoff the first time.
What happened next after notifying the driver……
“Dad,” I said, as I was calling him to let him know I’d arrived in Beijing, ” the taxi driver just missed his exit. And. Oh. Wait. Yes. We’re backing up in the middle of the freeway and he’s acting like he didn’t miss it, and now.. wait. (a car’s horn whizzes by) yes.. we’re turning down the offramp he missed the first time.”
I remember my dad asking: “Aren’t you worried.?
I responded with, “Why worry, he seems to think he knows what he’s doing.”
Had I known what I was to find out later, I might have worried.
And being honest, I am glad I didn’t know.
When I arrived at my hotel. My smart phone had turned itself on in my bag and was downloading something.
I checked the volume of data received.
It had a HUGE amount of data which it had started downloading the moment I’d arrived.
International surcharges are horrible.
This wasn’t a good start.
I turned the phone off and put it on the shelf in the hotel room and went to sleep.
The next day, I woke up and the cell phone was back on and downloading.
I didn’t know these damn things could turn themselves on.
I removed the battery.
From there – I went to Microsoft’s Research and Development campus.
I was being positioned as a replacement Program Manager for the man they’d lost.
Which meant I had to be delicate about why I was there.
I couldn’t outright tell them this was under investigation at Bill Gates’s request, and that I was working with the NSA.
That would look VERY bad politically for the United States government, to send an operative to mainland China for official business without their government’s explicit consent.
But time was of the essence with this, and as such – the project was deemed EXTREMELY critical.
Prior to arriving, I had learned the project was a Three Dimensional Smart Phone based application created for reviewing CAT and MRI medical scans.
The politically stated goal was to ‘assist’ (note the air quotes around assist) the less developed and more rural communities in China to the benefits of modern – westernized – medicine.
But the truth was – that BOTH Microsoft AND the US Government were playing the money game and were more interested in generating ‘customers’ of westernized medicine practices than they were respecting the local culture.
I’d gone to school at Thunderbird for my MBA – a highly recognized and respectful of foreign culture MBA program – a mantra I believed in – and it was the United State’s government creeping culture of disrespect for other cultures in the pursuit of profit which was among the reasons I was getting disenchanted with my former employer.
This was, after all, a VERY lucrative project for EVERY leader involved, both foreign and domestic.
So needless to say, this required extreme delicacy.
So when I arrived at Microsoft R&D’s campus in Beijing, I had a typewritten agenda created for me (on official Microsoft letterhead) which had me ‘interview’ every manager and a few critical direct reports.
I remember it being pretty easy to find out about the project itself. It was nothing really cutting edge, at all.
But what was odd was – everyone on board felt like it was truly cutting edge stuff.
I was.. .
The more I learned about the project, the more I thought it to be really rather boring.
The corporate world seems to be a good 40 years behind entertainment technology.
This was absolute evidence of this.
So as I discussed the environment with one of the very attractive Chinese girls who had a ‘planned’ lunch with me, I couldn’t help but ask her:
“Why aren’t you collaborating with Microsoft Games? They’ve done so much work with Virtual Reality and lifelike three dimensional games, it just doesn’t make sense you wouldn’t leverage this corporate relationship.”
Her answer floored me:
“Microsoft does games?,” she said.
She genuinely had no clue about Microsoft’s burgeoning Games Division.
I made a mental note. And looked at the menu one last time – and couldn’t help but notice for the first time the Mandarin Characters running vertically, much like the movie “The Matrix” depicts characters.
I found myself asking: Does she see the world the same way I do? At all?
Or does she see characters floating like I saw in the movie the Matrix (below)?
Now I was attracted to this woman, which made it especially difficult to be ‘all business’ and I couldn’t tell if she was flirting or not – when she asked me what i was going to do that evening – Chinese women can be SO difficult to read!
For me, I can generally get a ‘better read’ of people on physical contact.
I suppose that’s why I love sex so much.
So I asked to ‘see her hands’, playing it off like I was trying to guess her age.
She was suspicious, so that reaction spoke volumes as to her intention – but I didn’t know if that was simply a cultural difference or a lack of interest difference, or something else, so I pushed forward and asked to touch her hands.
A static electric ‘shock’ surprised us both.
But it was about then I absolutely KNEW.
Not only did she see the world for these characters. But there was something IN ME that I wasn’t aware of myself.
Now prior to this point, I had never had ‘waking visions’ before.
With the exception of a few OBEs.
But with this – I had an immediate vision where she was telling people – in a language that didn’t even sound like Mandarin – and a language that I certainly didn’t understand – and somehow I knew she was telling them how important it was that I was not to be harmed.
She pulled her hands away – as if she knew I was seeing something she did not want me to..
But in that moment something weird was exchanged.
I also knew she was much older than appearances led me to believe.
MUCH older than the 26 or so that her exterior might tell me.
I also knew I was not going to get laid that night…
What’s a horny guy to do?
That afternoon as I interviewed (with) the Quality Manager from Thailand – he was a definite freak – and extremely insistent on that I should know HIS craft should I take the position of Program Manager., quizzing me about HIS job. I thought this was a bit funny and ironic. If he only knew I was interviewing him.
It was weird.
I remember thinking. Sorry bub, this would be your job, and while I will be managing your ass, I have just enough knowledge to know WHAT you should be doing, from there – that lets me establish a trust knowing what you should be doing and what’s not working well and what is to know when you are or are not doing your job.
I disregarded this as a collective difference in the way Chinese think versus an American thought process.
Had I actually considered the position, there’s one thing the Chinese would have to get used to with my leadership style, and that is an American is not an I in the collective we, but instead an I that leads the collective ‘we’ works WITH a collective we or is a PART of the collective we when necessary.
Not to say I can’t function IN a collective society, I am after all an ‘I’ in the collective ‘we’ of American.
I don’t think he understood the difference though.
In any case. I found more questions than answers after lunch.
But what seemed.. MOST ODD was – This position… this role.. dealt with the locals. Local businessmen, local relationships, local politicians, and local culture – where this role it seemed FAR more important to understand and work within these relationships than it would be a manager. After all, this was a multinational operation, particularly with the manager being responsible for public affairs with the Mandarin speaking local executives and politicians.
And they were insistent on hiring ONLY foreigners – particularly Americans for the role.
It made no logical sense at the time.
But it was Microsoft after all. So from that perspective, it made a tiny bit of sense.
That night, I got back to my hotel room, and wanted to play a game on my smart phone, but as I plugged the battery back in, it started downloading again but kept dying, with limited phone battery available, even plugged in it kept resetting itself.
I went through all the options on the connections – and disabling EVERYTHING it could use to connect.
And then after a bit with the phone charged up – I took off to get a bite to eat.
Here’s me in a busy marketplace in Beijing that evening.
I had decent thai food. I was limited with my per-diem, so I had to find a cheap place to eat.
And I had been craving spicy.
I know, I know. I go all the way to China to have Thai food.
Get over it.
The next day, I woke up, and my phone had reconnected itself.
It had resumed downloading.
The amount of data was enormous.
I turned off the phone and took out the battery.
I was taken on an ‘executive tour’ of the city that day, looking at housing in the local area should I be offered AND accept the position, it was ‘the norm’ to send candidates out to look for housing, and I was getting ‘the grand tour’.
Now the centralized housing all had ‘air cleaning’ units inside the houses.
The air quality of Beijing is THAT bad!
And I kept thinking. There’s just NO Way I would ever take a job like this, even if I was desperate.
Now Beijing had some master planned communities built specifically for expats like myself.
And what was weird was – these communities seemed like ghost towns.
An ENTIRE city with skyrises that were 30 stories tall where we were the only car driving down the road.
It was bizarre
And in this strange setting. They somehow felt it was justified to charge $1200 for a small one bedroom place.
I kept asking the real estate lady:
“Do these master planners know anything about supply and demand? You can’t arbitrarily charge something no one will pay and expect to fill the property with people. I’d never live in a place like this where there’s no one around, not without some tangible benefit to me – reduced cost housing for instance?”
She laughed and shrugged it off.
I didn’t get it. These communities which were two to five years old – literally hundreds of buildings each capable of housing 1000 people each – were largely vacant – at most their occupancy was maybe 2%.
“I’m serious. You reduce your cost to increase demand and create your community. Then, when your community is established and reduces your supply, then and only then do you you raise your rate because the demand for community is just as important if not moreso than the simple demand for housing.”
I could plainly see that comment had hit home.
“We thought there’d be more Westerners coming to Beijing. We misplanned.”
It was just as much a cultural lesson for me as it was a lesson for China about how western society functioned..
On returning to the states, I had come to conclude I had no definitive explanation for what happened to the Program Manager had disappeared.
After the trip, I couldn’t help but think – that was just an odd way to send me to investigate to begin with.
But the investigation methods had provided some very weird ‘evidence’.
So when I returned to Phoenix (where I was living at the time), I sat down to write a report with a glass of wine.
I hate reports. But when I provide them. I’m usually pretty thorough.
If I’m not doing jack shit. I don’t mince words. I’ve been known to put things like “Watched Paint Dry for hours on end” or “Sat in the lunchroom and bullshit with friends” when I was exceedingly bored or just didnt have enough work to keep me busy.
This coming from the same guy who as a kid had to write out hall passes in high school so I could go to the restroom, where I learned early on the teacher never looked at what I’d wrote. So I would write down “This pass authorizes Brian Scott Gregory to wander the halls aimlessly”, where I’d disappear for the full class period.
No questions were ever asked.
In this report, it was like my typical report – where I was documenting times, locations, people I interacted with, and provided a general synopsis of what was said – something that bothered some of my handlers who wanted a transcript, which my memory ain’t built for – but as they learned sometimes a general idea of what’s happened with context is far more valuable than specific words when you don’t have a recording of the situation, context and emotion involved.
AS I got started, I wanted a pinpoint map location.
So I popped up Google, and did a search and was a bit.. Surprised…
As I did my search I found TWO Research and Development locations in Beijing.
NOT ONE OF THEM was at the location I had gone to.
I remembered the surrounding area because I’d arrived early and walked around the facility before it had opened and was looking for a place to have coffee.
By about this time I had been learning to doubt my own recollection of events and locations less and less,
But I was feeling lazy that night and didn’t feel like digging through my bags to get the itinerary which contained the precise address I reported to.
So I proceeded with the report and sipped another glass of wine.
It was about then I received a call from Julie – my contact at Microsoft.
“Just for your information. Microsoft Beijing called – and they said they would not be following through with a job offer and will be proceeding with other candidates. That’s not typical for you from what I understand. What did you say to them, you never get turned down?”
I laughed, and said “I wouldn’t have wanted the job anyways. You couldn’t have paid me enough to take that gig. Maybe it’s as simple as that. “
She seemed incredulous, as if unable to comprehend why someone would not take a job at Microsoft.
Her reaction answered that question in itself.
“They call themselves Microsoftees,” Almost like religiously devout fanatics, I couldn’t help but think.
“Julie, While I have you on the phone, could you provide me the address of the Beijing Facility, I need to put it down on my expense report.”
She gave me the address: “No 5 Dan Ling St. Haidan District, Beijing 100080 PRC”
I thanked her and hung up the phone.
I popped it up on Google, boom, it’s right where I’d expect it to be…
Here’s the map:
That was weird. I brought up Microsoft’s R&D Web Site here.
And then I tried Bing.
And… Well.. I will let the ‘area’ of the map and the street map overlay speak for itself.
Not only is there no such location. But look at Haidilian Rd and Bing’s ‘street view’ overlay.
Now just prior to going to Asia I had printed out a map doing a Google search of Microsoft R&D in Beijing.
There’d only been one facility when I had left, I know, I would had to have consulted my written material to determine which location to go to, I wouldn’t make that mistake and show up at the wrong office.
So I had CLEAR evidence that something weird was going on.
Now my employer was expecting a report back from me about WHY the Program Manager had disappeared.
Now they were only asking for my opinion, and understood conclusive evidence was not going to come from this investigation, and accordingly they were NOT looking for a ‘no idea’ response.
You know everything I do.
Now answer the question:
What, in your opinion, happened to R John Murphy given ONLY my experiences and information?
– Provide a two (2) paragraph explanation of what you think happened to and with him.
– Provide at least three (3) REPUTABLE SCIENTIFIC laws or theories which support your explanation.