Peter Moore: IT consultant, Iraq hostage - Part Two
Xboxes, the Simpsons, freedom, and dealing with HR
Life after captivity
Reg Free at last. How did you take it?
PM I always thought that if I got released, I'd make this huge profound statement that would be on the front page of all the papers – but there was nothing. I couldn't really believe it, and just wanted to be on my own for a while. The only place I could think of was the toilet, so I asked him where it was.
He looked a little surprised but directed me so I went in, locked the door, put my hands on the wall and started banging my head gently on the wall. I knew I just had to get a grip and get with it. I washed my face with water and looked up and the entire bathroom wall was covered with mirrors and I just remember looking at the reflection and thinking, "You've done it, you've made it out, you've beaten the odds." Then I started crying.
After I'd composed myself a bit I stepped out of the bathroom and there were tons of people there. To be honest, I was completely numbed by it all. I'd been moved around so much, it just felt like I'd been moved to a new location with new guards.
Reg So what happened next?
Well they fed me down at the staff canteen. I don't remember what. There was a report in the British press that I'd asked for a full Christmas dinner, but that's not true. One thing I had been really craving when I was being held was garlic bread, and I did gorge myself on that when I got the chance.
I saw an American army psychiatrist there at the embassy for a check-up, and then there was a British naval doctor who went over me and declared I was mentally fine. As far as I was concerned there was nothing more that could be done in that respect.
Then I got a full debrief. It was a bit James Bond: I got debriefed by the CIA, MI6, the Foreign Office, and the Metropolitan Police were also there. In the latter case, the Met had the contract to train the police officers. So the people who took me hostage had been trained by them. I said to the Met guy, "You trained the guys that took me hostage!"
Reg So why had you been released?
PM Basically MI6 had negotiated a deal where I would be exchanged for the leader of the militia.
It's difficult for me to justify it because for me personally the exchange was great. But someone like me for a militia leader? That's not good. Two dead bodies were exchanged for the militia's second-in-command and another body bought 100 more militia out. If I'd have been in charge, there's no way I would have released him for an IT guy.
Reg How long before you left the country?
PM Not long. An American military helicopter flew me to the airport, and at that point I was expected to get hit by a militia rocket attack. At Baghdad airport they transferred me to a private government jet and flew me to Jordan. It wasn't until we landed in Jordan that I felt I was safe and out of the militia's hands.
Once we got there they put me on a private medical plane back to the UK, and we arrived at RAF Brize Norton. I got into an unmarked police car and it took me to a government safe house where my step-parents were. We hadn't seen each other in years, since before the abduction, so we had an awful lot to catch up on. They were used to me being away, but it was great to see them again.
Reg Did you get straight back to work?
PM When I was at the embassy a local representative from Deloitte came to see me and tell me that BearingPoint had gone bankrupt and they now ran my division.
But the company had been paying my salary for me while I'd been held. But oddly I also got regraded, I got pay increments and even promotions. I got holiday pay, and with the promotion I got more of that – very strange. I went in as a junior IT consultant and by the time I was released I was something like senior regional executive. In all I made a little under $250,000.
When I got released, Deloitte gave me a laptop and a working ID. So I logged in to the intranet and a couple of days later I got an email from the audit department. It said that I'd been randomly selected for an audit check because I hadn't filed a time sheet for two-and-a-half years.
So I rang the audit department and told them I'd been taken hostage. The woman at the end of the phone laughed and then said, "OK, what's the real reason?" I insisted this really was the case and there was a long pause before a man came on the phone who knew who I was, and said he'd sort it out.
The company carried on paying me up until about May and then said: "Well, what do you want to do, work for us or what?" They then offered me a job, but the position was in Afghanistan as they felt with my skills I'd be good working out there.
I said my skills would be better used in Washington DC briefing the people who were going to Afghanistan. They didn't fancy that so I said thanks but no thanks and left the company, and then headed off back to Guyana where it was nice and warm and found myself a job. I still had a bank account there and knew I could get a job and somewhere to live.
Reg So what kind of job did you get?
PM Well, I spent all of last year working in Guyana developing a land-management database using SQL Server 2008.
With that version of the software we could store data in geometry and geology for land shapes in GIS systems. So now you could go into the database and sort out the shape of a bit of land on the screen in an electronic map, and it would tell you all the parameters; before you couldn't do that without some sort of sophisticated middleware getting used.
After I finished with that in December I left and came to America and bought a motorbike for this road trip. I'll be here until February and then I've got to go back to the UK because my passport is about to expire. Then I'll look around for another job. I want to stay in IT, and as long as I keep my skills sharp I know I'll be fine.
People have said to me I should try and make money out of the whole hostage thing. To be honest I haven't a clue how to do that. It's been suggested I write a book, and after the Reddit conversation I'm coming around to the idea. I was really surprised by the enthusiastic response to my story, I thought most people would think, "What a dick." The thousands of questions were a bit overwhelming but really gratifying.
Reg Now that you've had time to reflect, what do you think about your captors?
PM When you think about it, the conditions I was kept in were harsher than those of prisoners held by the US and coalition forces, but the principle is the same. We'd been taken and were being held without rights or visitation.
And that's the same as what happened in Guantanamo and Iraq for loads of people. If you are going to imprison people, let them have representation, and if they're guilty then charge them through the court system.
Reg Has it changed you significantly?
PM Mentally I have bad moments occasionally when I feel unsettled, but that's receding, so no serious psychological damage. But the whole experience has changed my outlook somewhat. I used to be a real workaholic, going at it every minute. Now I work, but enjoy my time off – and thus the road trip.
Reg What did you notice that was odd after so long out of circulation?
PM The biggest difference I noticed in London was everyone walking around talking to themselves on these Bluetooth headsets. Bluetooth had been around before I was taken, but it had really kicked in while I was away and it was very odd hearing everyone.
But the biggest technological change I missed was touchscreens. I remember touchscreens from 10-15 years ago but it was always terrible – you had to put an overlay on a PC monitor and it was just rubbish. Now Apple and others have really done a good job of it.
I think in the long term we're seeing the death of the laptop as we know it. Something like my iPad will have stonking amounts of storage, and a super-slick interface with a keyboard will replace the laptop, although they'll be around in the short term.
Reg And as for you, sticking with databases and developing countries?
PM For the time being yes, although I don't know if I'll stay with it forever. While I'm working in developing countries, then the database is king.
Ultimately that's how countries start to computerize, by transferring their paper-based systems into a digital format. Basically it's all about governance, streamlining systems. Most of these places have had the same paper-based systems since independence, and they need to get these systems in order.
You're also usually starting something entirely from scratch, which has its own appeal. You'll get to a site, clear out an office, and put in desks, a generator for air conditioning units, and then expand it out as you needed. Then you create an IT team from scratch and train them to take the process forward themselves.
How long I stay working in developing countries is perhaps a bit more questionable. I'm not sure I'm ready to come back to the UK quite yet – it's still very cold and wet. I'm looking at other jobs now. There's a couple in Croatia that look interesting, a couple in Africa, and one in the Caribbean. You never know, I could get a job as a technical consultant on Borderlands.
One of the things people get wrong it that they assume in a third-world country there's no technology around at all. I know you can go a couple of hundred miles down the Amazon and you'll come across small villages that have their own solar-powered internet café there.
Reg Would you still recommend an IT career abroad for others considering the move?
PM I'd definitely recommend it, if you go in with the right mindset. You're never going to make tons of money out of working in developing countries; you're in for a disappointment if you expect that. If you're after the dosh go to London, New York, San Francisco, or a big city.
You have to go into developing markets with the motivation that you're trying to help the country, improve things, and pass on your skills to make them a little bit better. A big part of this is to train IT people to take over your job – which is the goal at the end of the day.
So head to a Western city if you want to get rich, but if you want an interesting and varied job with lots of travel, then it's definitely the way to go. ®