We met at a local restaurant, and as he downed one Diet Coke after another, Bannon, sharply dressed in a black suit, balding, and a little soft around the middle, told me his tale of international intrigue. Folks sitting nearby exchanged surprised looks and craned their necks to listen as Bannon related story after story of riots, prisons, assassinations, lost loves, torture and child pornographers. This is his version of events.
Bannon was born in Spokane, WA, and from an early age was involved in The Church of Latter Day Saints. It was through his involvement with the church that Bannon traveled to South Korea to do missionary work.
After he arrived in South Korea, Bannon was caught up in Korea's deadly Kwangju student riots in 1981. "The riots were very violent, and some 2,500 people were killed before American troops and the Republic of Korea took the city back," Bannon says.
While helping treat some of the wounded at a Korean school, Bannon was attacked by a rioter, who stabbed him in the back with a long knife. Using his martial arts training, Bannon snapped his attacker's neck, killing him instantly. Bannon, badly wounded in the fight, spent nearly a month recuperating in the Chonju Presbyterian Hospital. When it came time for Bannon to return to missionary life, he says his experiences during the riots left him confused.
"I had to deal with the fact that here I am at 18, and I've taken someone else's life," he says. "I had all these conflicting emotions that were playing havoc with me."
Bannon began to pull away from the mission life, and fell in with a group of smugglers. He was dealing with mostly innocuous contraband -- liquor, magazines, candy -- and it was a quick and easy way to make some money. But his stint in smuggling soon brought him into contact with some criminals who tried to rip him off. A fight ensued, and Bannon was thrown into Korea's infamous Taejon Prison, "home" to many political prisoners.
A few months into his sentence, Bannon was prematurely and mysteriously released. Waiting outside the prison for him was Commissaire Jacques Defferre of Interpol's national headquarters in Lyon, France. Defferre had heard about Bannon's bravery during the Kwangju riots, and thought he might prove useful. "The way Defferre laid it out to me was that he needed a snitch, and I was going to be it or I could go back to jail," Bannon says. "He knew I had connections as a smuggler, and he wanted me to use those connections to get him information."
Thus, says Bannon, began his career with Interpol. He was given a "legend" --essentially an in-depth cover identity -- and started working as a low-level informant. "They set me up in this apartment; I had a salary; I was traveling to France, and I was 19! I thought it was the coolest thing in the world."
Bannon soon proved himself as intelligent, capable and a quick learner. His martial arts skills and fluency in Korean and Japanese also made him valuable. Interpol began assigning him to more sensitive cases.