Book Review: A Man Beyond his Mission
Posted on: 04/25/2020 07:19 PM

by John Young

This book is real. By that, I mean that the author is who he says he is, and the events recounted really happened.


This review has been a long time coming, but it required some rumination because the book in question is far from ordinary.

Mitchell Henderson's "A Man Beyond His Mission: An Insider's Secret History of the Decay of American Society, Military and Law Enforcement" is a thought provoking book that, like its author, goes beyond its stated mission. Looking just at the title, you'd expect the book to offer an insider's perspective on the decay of society and important institutions. And your expectation would be correct. But the book goes far beyond that in other important ways.

The central narrative of "A Man Beyond His Mission" is the author's role in taking down the infamous Cali Cartel.

The Background and Reality
For those unfamiliar, the Cali Cartel at one time controlled 90% of the world's cocaine, and encompassed a worldwide network of mercenaries, intelligence assets and business enterprises. As a multi-billion dollar enterprise, the Cali Cartel had numerous paid-off cops all over the world in its network, within national governments and at the local levels. They also maintained their own radio system as well as the ability to eavesdrop on all telephone calls (including those of the U.S. Embassy) in Colombia. Nearly every taxi driver in the country was beholden to the cartel, serving as a source of intelligence. Much of their data was encrypted so thoroughly that, even long after their demise, it remains secure. Thus their tentacles likely reached even more deeply than we will ever know.

The cartel's primary source of discipline lay in hiring people whose families were close at hand, so the families' safety could be used as leverage to assure loyalty. Even with this, it was not unusual for the cartel to kill members who made errors in judgment that might expose them. Particularly if you were an outsider without accessible family, your dealings with the cartel had to walk a tightrope because even the slightest hint of an error could result in your death.

The Havamal says that no man is so good as to be free of evil, nor so evil as to be free of good. Though the cartel was a criminal enterprise whose wealth was built on the back of human suffering, in many respects they served as "good neighbors" in Colombia, which gained them a certain amount of support and respect from the local population.

For example, after a family member of one of the leaders was kidnapped, they brought in mercenaries and organized efforts to wipe out the common practice of kidnappings that were undertaken by various communist groups in Colombia. (In many cases, outside contractors fighting these communist kidnappers were unaware they were actually working for the cartel.) Likewise, the cartel "cleaned up the streets" of Cali by working with locals to identify street criminals of various sorts, along with prostitutes, homosexuals and street urchins, who were then murdered and thrown into a local river. This reached such a level that the river became known as "the river of death." But for someone unfamiliar with the brutality behind the scenes that made it possible, Cali looked idyllic.

Even so, their efforts against communist insurgents -- who had particularly terrorized the ruling class of Colombia through kidnappings and murders -- gained them the tacit but unstated support of the most powerful people in the country, even if not on the payroll.

All of these factors combined to make any effort to bring down the cartel seemingly impossible, and most certainly fraught with peril. In fact, the author -- already well educated -- had to abandon his old life and credentials and assume a new identity, starting over from a GED after the mission. And even after that, he had to deal repeatedly with Cali agents within U.S. law enforcement seeking him out to enable his assassination.

Although this book makes some passing mention of the danger of the mission, I am highlighting all of the above both as background and to make clear what his area of operations was really like. Although he would disagree with me, I feel he has downplayed his own courage and resourcefulness. Even decades later, having resumed his real name and written this book, he has done so at personal risk. Because of his work, a lot of evil was taken out of this world, and for that he is to be appreciated.


This book is real. By that, I mean that the author is who he says he is, and the events recounted really happened. Everything in this book checks out. Furthermore, I spent a couple of years among the upper class in Colombia just prior to the events he recounts, and the details he provides about how common things work there (such as the fact you drive into a guarded basement garage before ascending to an actual residence) are too mundane to find on Wikipedia and would never be known to someone who did not experience them first-hand.

In addition, I have the honor of having met Mitch personally, consider him a friend, and we've had a number of interesting conversations about all sorts of things. Not only is he the real deal, but he's a very intelligent and exceptionally educated man of an unusually high character that is hard to find today. So you can trust that this book, as extraordinary as it is, is true.

The Narrative
Like many great books, and it is a technique that is hard to pull off but he does it well, this book starts in the middle of the story and then goes back to explain how the author wound up in such a situation in the first place.

In order to infiltrate an organization like the Cali Cartel, you need a combination of skills and certain underlying attitudes that are rare. So it was important to establish the origination of those skill and attitudes, which the author does through the first 280 pages of the book.

These first four chapters move from childhood and "troubled youth" through military and law enforcement careers and education, and these are far from boring! Along with explaining the unique circumstances that gave rise to his attitudes, these chapters likewise detail his commitment to "straighten up and fly right," and how his relationship with God affected his choices.

Although this part of the book could certainly be read as a biography, I think that would miss its most valuable aspect: condensed wisdom.

There is so much practical wisdom in these chapters that if I could only recommend that an 18 year old read one book before embarking upon adulthood, this is the book I would recommend. The author has a keen eye for human psychology and motivations, from which he explains what will happen in a variety of circumstances, and why. Sometimes these are things we suppress in our consideration because we don't want to believe them, but he makes them real and also summarizes what you need to know.

As one example, recounting an episode of partying in his youth, he describes a classmate as having apparently overdosed. Did they call an ambulance? The cops? Take him to the hospital? No. They dumped what they believed to be their classmate's corpse into a soybean field and walked away. Thankfully, in that case, the young man revived on his own, but that doesn't change the fact that when you are engaged in illegal activities, if things go wrong, you shouldn't expect your "friends" to endanger themselves to help you.

Many years ago, after the Craigslist killings, I wrote a series of articles here that were based on my interviews with six "high priced escorts." One thing I reported was that these women hold their customers in such contempt, that if a man ever understood what these women really felt, he would never pay them a dime. The author likewise reports his experience with street prostitution while working as a vice cop, and it turns out that the dollar amount may differ, but the attitudes remain the same. More importantly, though, he describes the benefit derived simply from treating other people as human beings, and the profound difference this makes. He also describes how to fit in and be invisible, and how many can't do this because their ego gets in the way.

Although these lessons come from numerous circumstances described, including circumstances that recount the corruption of cops and more, they are just as valuable to everyday life. A great example is his description of how typical cops actually think, and the way you should interact with them to prevent escalation.

Had he written these lessons as maxims, perhaps a person could skim them and set them aside. But they are instead delivered as a powerful aspect of real life events with real human consequences that make the lessons tangible, and make them stick in your head.

So the first half of this book is a powerful and sometimes poignant story that contains condensed wisdom everyone should know. From the perspective of the broader narrative of the book, it also explains why he had the right skills and attitudes to play an instrumental role in taking down the Cali Cartel. Pay close attention, in these first four chapters, to the law enforcement relationships, because just like the skills, they play a critical role in the second half of the book.

The End
The second half of this book is something I don't want to spoil for you. Along with lessons in comportment, situational awareness and some ideas in passing on tradecraft, it also gives you a flavor of just how deeply the tentacles of the Cali Cartel of yesterday reached into all levels of our law enforcement. Knowing that corrupt people are just waiting for the next cartel to come along, it should be understood that the destruction of the Cali cartel did not turn dishonest people into honest ones.

The narrative in the second half of the book, which again I don't want to ruin for you, reads like what a James Bond movie must be like -- from James Bond's perspective, and without either cool gadgets or backup. The prior relationships that made the operation possible, the considerations, all of the side-deals that were going on, and a great deal of step-by-step are provided. Parts of the narrative, with explanation, come straight from real-life transcripts that were entered into the court record.

Just like the first half of the book, the second half is packed with wisdom you can use in everyday life to avoid problems, make better choices, protect yourself, and protect those you love.

The author is a very opinionated man, and he has every right to be so -- especially since he and I happen to agree. I won't lie -- if you are already disgusted with journalists and corruption, this book will do nothing to dispel the bad opinions you hold. It will only reinforce them with specific evidence. If you happen to agree that the Second Amendment should be upheld, he will give plenty of intellectual ammunition for it. He doesn't hold back, he doesn't pull punches and he takes a baseball bat to sacred cows as he points unerringly toward truth.

I can, and do, recommend this book without reservation for anyone interested in learning the nuts and bolt of how many parts of our system really work, rather than the idealized versions from civics class. It is a ripping adventure tale, a set of moral lessons and an expose on corruption all rolled into one.

If you haven't already bought it, you need to. You won't regret it.

Note: Mitch Henderson is hereby given license to re-use this book review in any way he believes will promote awareness of this book.




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