Reporters on the Job

CRIME-SCENE JOURNALISM: For the past 10 months, Nicholas Blanford has been closely following today's story about the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers (page 7). But it was the initial investigation three days after the kidnapping that was most memorable for him. "When I examined the site itself, I came across all sorts of equipment and evidence left behind by the Hizbullah kidnap squad that allowed me to piece together what had happened," he says. Nick found a table, about 100 yards from a gate and out of sight of Israeli troops on the other side of the border fence, with an electric detonator sitting on top alongside a telephone. There was a wire leading from the detonator toward the gate, he says.

"The wire was cut where the bombs exploded - you could see the blackened and crushed rock where the charge had been hidden," he says. There were also numerous hair-thin wires draped over the site. They were the guidance wires for anti-tank missiles that Hizbullah fired across the fence during the abduction. "I followed them in one direction and found eight Soviet Sagger missile launchers hidden away among some rocks, untouched and unseen since the previous Saturday. It was like being a forensic detective, and fascinating to uncover all this evidence. Even the Hizbullah post had been left as it was, with clothing, food, and a radio set lying around."

A PERSONAL CAVIAR BAN: Fred Weir has lived in Moscow for 15 years and is married to a Russian. "Black caviar has been a feature of our family's big occasions for as long as I can remember," he says. In Soviet times, it was one of the few luxuries an average person could afford. The state shops would stock it around holidays like New Year's, Women's Day, Revolution Day. "A 100-gram jar of black caviar cost 10 rubles (when the average family income was 150 rubles), which most anyone could afford."

In recent years, Fred's wife has been buying caviar from "Misha," who gets his supplies on the black market from Caspian poachers (this page). Misha calls every few weeks to cite the latest prices and inform her when he is receiving "good quality" produce.

"For my last birthday, she bought a kilo of fresh black caviar from Misha. It cost about $80. We and about 20 guests polished it off. I'm sorry to say that no one in the mixed company of Russians and foreigners brought up the fate of the sturgeon," says Fred. "After researching this story, I'll never buy black-market caviar again. And I don't suppose I'll ever be able to afford the legal produce, since its price will go through the roof when this ban takes effect. So, no more caviar."

- David Clark Scott

World Editor

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