A LiteratEye Extra: The Mystery of the Missing Fake Author

Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

A LiteratEye Extra

Editor’s Note: W.J. Elvin III’s LiteratEye column about literary hoaxes is featured here, and only here, every Friday.

News Analysis: Who Wrote the Real Stuff in a Fake Book By a Fake Author Now Presumed Dead?
by W.J. Elvin III

[Editor’s note: See bottom of post for an update on this story]

Philip SessaregoPhilip Sessarego may actually be dead this time. But before confirming that a decomposing body found in a garage in Antwerp, Belgium, is indeed that of the author of Jihad!, a book about secret commando operations in Afghanistan, detectives want to see the results of DNA testing.

The test results are vital because Sessarego, who wrote the now-discredited best seller under the name Tom Carew, has previously been reported dead. He was subsequently discovered in hiding in Belgium under the name Philip Stevenson.

It has been seven years since the BBC, in a confrontation that turned violent, challenged Sessarego’s claims about participation in clandestine SAS operations. The author punched a cameraman, made threats and ran away. The SAS could be compared to the U.S. Army’s Green Berets, though to suggest that in either sector would likely get one flattened like roadkill.

For that matter, it is the pride and anger of those who actually served in the SAS operations Sessarego wrote about that may have spelled his doom, according some who knew him. Sessarego had many enemies including specially trained warrior-types who resented his cashing in on false claims about the SAS.

What has puzzled knowledgeable observers is the accuracy of his depictions of those secret Afghan operations. Much has been made of the “uncanny” way in which Sessarego described situations and events that he couldn’t have known about.

The rogue author could not fairly be called a “fantasist,” as the press is prone to do. He had considerable military and mercenary experience and probably ran a big-budget clandestine operation for British intelligence.

But Jihad! seems the work of an insider in covert ops in Afghanistan at the time when the mujihaddin were battling the Russians. Actually, the answer seems quite simple and shouldn’t surprise anyone. Sessarego didn’t write the accurate parts; they were written by a former SAS operative, someone who knows his stuff.

That would be Adrian Weale.

No, I don’t have proof, but I can add two plus two without getting lost in the process. It’s no big secret that Weale was Sessarego’s ghostwriter, and I can tell you from personal experience that quite often a ghostwriter’s job involves much more than putting a manuscript in publishable order. In some cases, a ghostwriter essentially writes the book that has someone else’s name on it, using notes and interviews provided the “author.”

Sessarego got a six-figure advance for Jihad! If not consumed in the course of the wild sort of life he enjoyed, that could fund a fair amount of knowledgeable assistance.

Without having Sessarego’s original manuscript to compare with the final product, the truth of the matter lies with Weale. I have sent a question to his agent with the request that it be forwarded; I am not holding my breath in anticipation of an illuminating reply. [UPDATE, February 24, 2009: See Adrian Weale’s response below]

Weale, now making frequent appearances in the press as a journalist and historian and on television as a military and counter-terrorism expert, is a former SAS operative who held a variety of intelligence posts around the world. His own books (such as “Secret Warfare,” on British special operations forces, and “The Real SAS,” among several in a similar vein) have at times ruffled feathers in the British military and intelligence establishments; he was booted from the Special Forces Club for revealing what critics considered too much about the SAS. His name comes up in controversies about reports of assassinations, dirty wars, illegal activities and botched operations. He is acknowledged singularly in the introduction to “The SAS Training Manual” by Chris McNab. And he is a first-rate researcher whose works on military history are used as source material by other authors.

Interestingly, Weale was among those instrumental in making the public aware of problems with Tom Abraham’s “The Cage,” a book about Abraham’s alleged captivity by the Vietcong. The point of all this being that if you wanted to fact-check and make right a book featuring early clandestine operations in the Afghan war, Weale would be the man for the job. It would be like hiring Emiril to ghost your cookbook; how could you go wrong?

Sessarego, 55, whose body was found in early November, had been living in the garage under survivalist conditions. It is thought his body had been there since summer. Belgian police have said they believe he was murdered, but more recently propose that fumes from a little gas stove or heater killed him.

There will be those who will never buy the accident theory, among them some trained to make “accidents” happen. How would Sessarego’s enemies have tracked him to Antwerp? Again, the answer could be quite simple. There may have been no “tracking,” just a simple crossing of paths. Among its reputations, Antwerp is known as a recruitment center for private military companies and other mercenary projects.

We should know the official verdict any day now. As for the rest of the story? Perhaps it will be told around warriors’ campfires in Valhalla, but Sessarego’s fate may assure that it will never be told here on earth.

Background for this analysis came from The Daily Mail (UK), TimesOnline (UK), The (London) Independent, and other sources.

UPDATE, February 24, 2009: W.J. Elvin III received the following note from Adrian Weale c/o The Art of the Prank:

Sadly, there’s no big mystery to Phil Sessarego’s story. � When I was introduced to him, it was under the name ‘Phil Stevenson’. � He had a real British passport in that name which he showed me; of course, it didn’t reflect the fact that he had changed his � name by deed poll. I showed pictures of him to several former SAS members but none could recall his real name and all remembered him being in and around � 22 SAS in the early 70s. � I didn’t find out who he actually was until shortly before he was exposed by BBC Newsnight.

Phil had already written a very detailed manuscript which I rewrote. Doubtless, I used my own knowledge of the ‘secret world’ to bolster it but the story was essentially his and, I still believe, was largely accurate. � I’ve met several credible � people who came across Phil in Afghanistan or Pakistan at that time. � He certainly lied about his SAS connections but everything else is more blurred.

Best wishes,

Adrian Weale

Related article:

  • The fantasy life and lonely death of the SAS veteran who never was, Guardian.co.uk, January 24, 2009.

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