top of page

Guantanamo Glen

David McVey teaches Communication at New College Lanarkshire.  He has published over 100 short stories and a great deal of non-fiction that focuses on history and the outdoors. He enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, watching telly, and supporting his home-town football team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC.

It was a sleepy day in the Edinburgh HQ of Security Scotland. Since the high-alert operation to prevent disruption at the Salmond funeral, things had been peaceful. No Unionist terrorists were stalking the streets, there were no reports of counter-intelligence activities by the English or the Russians or the Americans. I was catching up on paperwork, running a virus scan and slowly surrounding a coronation chicken baguette. It was lunchtime, the quietest part of a quiet day.


Outside, Edinburgh was being spring-cleaned by a lively April easterly; litter was being flushed along the Royal Mile, wheelie bins were being knocked over in Leith Walk and tourists were clinging for their lives to the parapet of the North Bridge. Frequent heavy showers stung like wet gravel and pedestrians hurrying across Princes Street to take shelter in Jenners were tripping on the rails of the abandoned tram system and measuring their length on the pitted tarmac. All this I had to guess for my office had no windows and in any case the soulless slab of the SecuScot building (we didn’t use a two-letter acronym for the obvious reason) was some way north of the city centre.


I shredded another file and then looked up suddenly as a colleague careered in the door. ‘Chief wants a word,’ he said.


‘He could always phone me,’ I growled, ‘I’m not on another planet. People just think I am because I’m in an office with no windows that no one can find.’


‘It’s urgent. It’s another runner – two runners – from Guantanamo Glen.’


I raised my eyes to the heavens, but to no avail for clearly the Lord felt I was in need of trial and testing for the improving and purification of my soul. Americans! What’s the point of them?


‘OK, I’m coming.’ I chewed the last bite of my baguette and exhaled gentle fruity curry breath into the dimly-lit office. Then I wearily set off for the higher-status parts of the building.


The Chief occupied the kind of office you’d expect of a major security figure; he sat in a luxury swivel leather job behind a big table you could play five-a-sides on. There was a big map of Scotland on one wall, a map of the world on another and between them a smoked glass window looked into a roomful of spoddy types staring blankly into flickering PC screens.  He had the slightly portly sweatiness of a senior salesman in an electrical store or perhaps of a sports presenter on breakfast TV. Scotland’s security depended on him.


‘Ah, McLean, about time. Bloody Americans, eh?’


‘Bloody politicians, more like. It’s their fault we’re stuck with the Yanks.’


When Scotland had won independence from the rest of the UK, it had quickly secured American recognition, a signal that England, with its eye on North Sea Oil, should back off. The price of this support had been the secession of a lozenge of wild country around Cape Wrath. Scottish ministers had asked what they wanted it for, but the Americans didn’t say; they had stuck to some formula like ‘a base for combined operations within the international arena’. Say what you like about the Americans, nobody is better at taking a long time to say absolutely nothing with a perfectly straight face.


A genuine military base was set up at Cape Wrath, but more than that went on. Alleged terrorist suspects, people flown in for more rugged interrogation than the Yanks could get away with on homeland soil; any poor soul they’d picked up, unable to speak English, in any country they’d chosen to invade, was now flown to this wild, beautiful corner of Scotland.


The American enclave was delineated by several layers of barbed wire; a hideous, sprawling compound had been built for the detainees along with barracks, a mall for the troops’ R and R, an airfield and a harbour.  What was officially named Camp Epsilon Europe was, of course, widely known as Guantanamo Glen.  The Scottish Government politely tried not to notice what was happening there, but the press, politicians trying to make a name for themselves and a smelly rabble of protesters in natural fibres who camped outside the perimeter fences kept the place in the spotlight. Every now and then the Government had to take notice; when the Americans shot down a Scottish Air Force Harrier that was returning to Leuchars, say, when US helicopters crashed on a herd of sheep, when there were oil spillages from US Navy vessels, or when detainees legged it.


For despite the helicopters, the tool-toting grunts, the miles and miles of barbed wire and the half-circle moat of some of the wildest coastal waters in Europe, detainees did leg it, sometimes managing to melt away forever. Perhaps it was the location that made the guards listless and careless - cold, wet and gale-battered in winter, warm, wet and alive with biting insects in summer. The aim of most troops stationed there was to spend as much time as possible in their burger-scented mall and as little as possible guarding the detainees, and survive long enough to get home.


‘So, are these two dangerous?’


‘Neither of them are on our radar. They’re likely to be harmless enough, going by the usual profile of their detainees.’


‘Do you think they’ll ever manage to catch, bang up and torture a genuine bad guy?’


The boss gave a non-committal smile. ‘It seems likely that the two men were helped through the wire at night, probably by the protestors.’


‘And what am I supposed to do?’


‘Oh, make a show of activity. Keep the Americans sweet. Goodness knows what we could do with them if we caught them. With any luck they’ve already reached the continent, or England at least, and are no longer our problem.’


A Scottish Air Force helicopter dropped me at Epsilon – or, rather, took me to a remote location on the Scottish side, where an unsmiling American crew in one of theirs picked me up. Scottish choppers are forbidden in Camp Epsilon Europe airspace. In a matter of dehumanising minutes, I was seated on one side of a desk facing a red-faced, shaven-headed US Army colonel in a camouflage baseball cap. He introduced himself as Colonel Chefeld but didn’t offer to shake hands, so I didn’t tell him my name.


‘More escapees, colonel? We’re not impressed, you know.’


‘This is a helluva country you got here,’ he said, ‘gales, rain, midges, horseflies, more rain, hell, you know why we don’t chase down the detainees when they’ve escaped? Figure they deserve it, that’s why. That’s a joke, by the way.’


And a really rubbish one, I thought.


‘So, who are they?’


He sighed.  ‘Americans, both of them, male, Caucasian, converts to Islam.’


He handed me two photographs with names and details clipped to them; both showed long-haired, bearded, dark-haired men in their late twenties. I slipped the stuff into my briefcase before he could tell me to hand it back.


‘So, what are they supposed to have done? Are they dangerous, do you think?’


‘Me? Hell, I expect they done nothing except maybe be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just mind the shop – other guys catch them, other guys bring them in, other guys question them, other guys take them away or charge them or whatever.’


‘Have they been questioned yet?’


‘Hell, no. They’ve only been here a year. They got picked up in a raid in NYC some place. That’s really all I know.’


‘How did they get out?’


‘There’s a bit of the perimeter where fences keep coming down – bogs and gales - and the protester guys, they help them along. They probably got out that way, and maybe they had help waiting on the outside.’


I spoke to some of the guards about the escapees, and gained a picture of two devout young Moslem converts who were understandably whiny and complaining about being locked up for no apparent reason.


I was helicoptered out to a pre-arranged meeting place in the middle of a moor edged by pine forests, where I was picked up by a local police chief. We drove to a police station in a small town on the North Sea coast of Sutherland where he gave me his perspective over a bucket-sized mug of industrial-strength tea.


‘Greatest thing that’s ever happened to us, the Yanks coming. Detainees absconding all the time, soldiers, airmen breaking out and going on the bender, plane crashes, oil spills. This was a boring rural job until they came along.’


‘So, what about these two absconders?’


‘They got clean away, as far as we can make out. It took so long for the Yanks to realise they’d gone that there wasn’t much we could do; they could have been anywhere by then. If they had any help on the inside, we’ll never find out about it. I expect they were helped by protestors, or people posing as protestors.’


Later I was driven to a soulless chain hotel in Inverness. I showered and descended for dinner, which I took at a lonely table in a dining room full of sales reps and office parties. A nice waitress took pity on me, clearly identifying me as a lonely Billy No-mates. When I was finishing off with a coffee and a Glenlivet, she brought me a message.


‘Gentleman in the main lounge would like a word, sir.’


I tipped her, threw the remains of the malt down my neck, and carried my coffee out to the lounge. I stopped right at the point where the reception tiles gave way to the lounge carpeting. Hawley, of English Intelligence (their equivalent of SecuScot), grinned from the depths of a squashy leather sofa. I resumed my slow approach and said, in a low tone, ‘I’ve been trying to get sense out of the Americans, I’m two stone overweight and have 13 years to pay on my mortgage. So don’t annoy me.’


Hawley and I went way back. He knew from mutual former colleagues about the stink I had raised when the security services had split into Scottish and English portions, my complaints about the drop in grade and salary, my banishment to a windowless room, and most hurtful of all, the loss of my photocopier to an EI outpost in Gloucester.


‘I know where the two Guantanamo Glen escapees are.’




‘Oh, I can’t actually tell you. We helped to free them, you see. We had a couple of our people in the protest camp.’


I forgot that I was in a public place and flew off the handle in the way for which I was famous, in both SecuScot and EI circles. ‘You placed operatives on Scottish soil and organised an escape from US territory? You’re coming in, you smarmy English bastard, I’ve had enough of you, I’ll have you for this, this will mean a major diplomatic...’


‘Oh, calm down, McLean.’  Hawley’s words didn’t help my mood, but I did suddenly realise that I was drawing rather more attention than I ought to the activities of what were supposed to be covert organisations. I shut up, waved an apologetic hand to the guests who were staring at me, and sat down opposite Hawley. I deposited my cup and saucer on the coffee table; in the heat of my anger most of the coffee had spilled.


‘I had an interesting job the other week.’ said Hawley. ‘I was called in to Human Resources, to investigate the activities of one of their staff.’


‘Wow, exciting, they’ll have you checking up on the canteen takings, next. I’m wondering why this is relevant to your compromising of Scottish sovereignty.’


‘Amazingly, I came across some stuff about you. At the time of the split, you seem to have applied to join EI.’


‘It was the only way to keep my grade and salary...’


‘I just fear that, if you interfere in any way with English attempts to find out more about what the Americans are doing on our territory...’


‘Our territory.’


‘Yes,’ he laughed, ‘I suppose so. Your pathetic little country’s territory. Anyway, suppose your colleagues discovered that the scourge of the English, the proudly nationalistic McLean of SecuScot, actually applied to join the national intelligence agency of Merrie England. And was rejected.’


I drummed my fingers on the arm of the sofa. ‘What story do I tell my people?’


‘Oh, just tell them that the clueless Americans lost two detainees but don’t know how they escaped, whether they were helped, or where they are. Case closed. In due course, if we get anything useful from the two guys, we’ll share it with SecuScot. And we’ll say that the guys approached us, of course. We didn’t spring them. Oh, no.’


‘What about the papers and files with my application to EI on them?’


He pushed a little pile of paper towards me. ‘I’ve erased all the computer files. These are the only surviving paper copies.’


I grabbed the paperwork. ‘I suppose you’ll be getting the early London train back tomorrow morning?’




‘So am I, as far as Edinburgh. You can buy me breakfast. I’m having the full Scottish.’


Often, intelligence work is like that. Deals are struck behind closed doors (or in hotel lounges) and there’s a bit of extortion and bribery and blackmail. In this case, Hawley and his boys did share the information they got. I got to leak some of the grislier details of what was happening in Epsilon to the Scottish press. Privately, it was SecuScot policy to keep the heat on our own Government; we didn’t like this awkward boil on Scotland’s backside and so we tried to keep it in the public eye.


I still had no photocopier and no windows but at least I could forget about Guantanamo Glen until the next helicopter crash or friendly fire outrage. And I had more paperwork to shred.

David McVey

bottom of page