A story that I have been working on for some time is being published this Sunday in the Washington Post magazine. “The Princess of Somalia” is a long feature with a great photo spread. If you live in the Beltway area, be sure to have a look.
The piece, which is unlike anything I have ever done, has been posted online today. I’ve been following this story since 2009, which is when I first met Michele Ballarin, who presented herself as someone who could tame Somali pirates and warlords and rebuild a broken country. She seemed to have the ear of Somali politicians and clan leaders; she also had a dubious background that didn’t take long to uncover. But the revolving door of associates she had in the U.S. military and intelligence community proved fascinating, so I followed that trail for a while, until it led me into a hall of mirrors.
Ballarin is such a colorful character that she was bound to pop up on the radar of other journalists. A reporter for Voice of America sandbagged her in 2010, and Mark Mazzetti, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the New York Times, uncovered enough juicy tidbits for a chapter on her in his recent book: Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.
I knew I had the backstory (and much more) on Ballarin, so I gnashed my teeth when those pieces came out. But I kept digging. Every time I was ready to put the shovel down, something new would turn up that made me think there was more to be found. I still think that’s the case.
You’ll certainly get a flavor of all this from my Washington Post magazine story. But there’s too much good stuff that didn’t make it in there that I can’t let fall by the wayside. The story has to be told in full. So for the next week, check back here twice a day (morning and evening). In this post, I’ve provided links to my story and others that should be enough to digest for now. What follows in the days ahead I think you’ll find equally interesting.