Game Over: Russian Spies Have Co-opted Our Reflective PT Belts

Humor
US Army photo by Sgt. Neil Gussman

As Vladimir Putin continues his meteoric ascent from lowly KGB desk jockey to giant axe-wielding democracy-defiler, many of us may find ourselves wondering whether the people we know and love are secretly playing for Team Russia. For example, my colleague Patrick Baker. He’s got unusually small hands and shifty eyes. And he’s never not in the bathroom. There simply isn’t enough room in the large intestine for all the potty breaks that guy purports to take. (FYI Pat: the Febreeze isn’t in there for decoration.)


Sometimes the clues are more obvious, like a badly glued-on fake mustache or a yo-yo buzzsaw. And then there’s the curious case of Maria Butina, the comely 29-year-old Second Amendment advocate recently apprehended by the FBI on charges of being a Russian spy, who’s flipped the script completely with her benevolent red hair and safety-first approach to espionage.

Butina’s safety orientation was on full display when she showed up to a National Rifle Association convention several years ago wearing, yes, you guessed it: a motherfucking reflective PT belt.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in 2014.

According to U.S. military lore, when worn properly around the waist or diagonally across the chest, the reflective (or glow) belt creates a magic force field against bullets, bombs, and the prying eyes of enemy operatives. Somehow that life-saving technology ended up in the hands of the Russians, who now seem to be using it against us in their ongoing campaign for global domination.

Fake news? If only we were so lucky.

In 2014, Butina arrived at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis dressed to impress in a slim-fitting floral jumpsuit and dashing pearl necklace. Butina now stands accused of conspiring against the U.S. government on behalf of Moscow; she allegedly tried to broker a meeting between Papa Putin and then-candidate Donald Trump, and also, according to federal prosecutors, once offered sex to an unidentified American political operative in exchange for “a position within a special interest organization.”

In Indy, she had a lot of schmoozing to do. But of course, she also had to make it out alive. Reflective belts come in all different colors. There are red ones, green ones, white ones, and, no kidding, even pink ones. They all signify the same thing: a warrior’s spirit. They also say: Look out! Don’t run over me with your car.

Butina opted for canary yellow, presumably to compliment the daffodils on her jumpsuit. The belt appears around Butina’s waist in a photograph she took at the NRA convention with Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania. Santorum, my friend, you got flimflammed. Take a closer look:

A reflective PT belt adorns the waist of accused Russian spy Maria Butina.

Don’t see it? Great. That means you’re one of the good guys.

A U.S. Soldier assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) runs for cover during a live fire exercise at the 7th Army Training Command, Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. (U.S. Army/Gertrud Zach)

A memo circulating over the weekend warning of a "possible imminent attack" against U.S. soldiers in Germany was investigated by Army officials, who found there to not be a serious threat after all.

Read More

The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.

Read More
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart meets with members of Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM), a coalition of veteran and military service organizations, Jan. 17 on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy of TEAM)

Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.

"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."

Read More
A demonstrator stands outside a security zone before a pro-gun rally, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Thousands of pro-gun supporters are expected at the rally to oppose gun control legislation like universal background checks that are being pushed by the newly elected Democratic legislature. (Associated Press/Julio Cortez)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of Angry Staff Officer

This morning, the Virginia state capitol in Richmond saw dozens of armed men gathering to demonstrate their support for the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution – the right to bear arms. These men were not merely bearing arms, however; they were fully accoutered in the trappings of what one would call a paramilitary group: helmets, vests, ammunition pouches, camouflage clothing, and other "tactical" necessities, the majority of which are neither tactical nor necessary. Their weapons, too, are bedecked with all sorts of accessories, and are also in the paramilitary lane. Rather than carry rifles or shotguns that one would use for hunting, they instead carry semi-automatic "military grade" weapons, to merely prove that they can.

This is not an uncommon sight in America. Nor has it ever been. Armed groups of angry men have a long and uncomfortable history in the United States. On very rare occasions, these irregulars have done some good against corrupt, power-hungry, and abusive county governments. For the most part, however, they bode no good.

Read More
(U.S. Marine Corps)

How We Found Out explores recent reporting from Task & Purpose, answering questions about how we sourced our stories, what challenges we faced, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at how we cover issues impacting the military and veterans community.

Following a string of news reports on private Facebook group called Marines United, where current and former Marines shared nude photos of their fellow service members, the Corps launched an internal investigation to determine if the incident was indicative of a larger problem facing the military's smallest branch.

In December 2019, Task & Purpose published a feature story written by our editor in chief, Paul Szoldra, which drew from the internal review. In the article, Szoldra detailed the findings of that investigation, which included first-hand accounts from male and female Marines.

Task & Purpose spoke with Szoldra to discuss how he got his hands on the investigation, how he made sense of the more than 100 pages of anecdotes and personal testimony, and asked what, if anything, the Marine Corps may do to correct the problem.

This is the fourth installment in the recurring column How We Found Out.

Read More