Authors: Ignatius, David
W. W. NORTON & COMPANY
NEW YORK LONDON
It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.
—FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY,CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Graham Weber first encountered James Morris at Caesar’s Palace Hotel in Las Vegas. Weber was watching the controlled chaos of the Palace casino just beyond the lobby. This was the gambling proletariat: The heavy hitters were deeper in the hotel at the Forum casino or in private rooms. Weber studied the people at the tables with the curiosity of a successful businessman who didn’t like to gamble except on a sure thing. A younger man approached Weber from behind, tapped him on the shoulder, showed him his government identification and offered to carry his bag.
Weber was just under six feet, wearing an azure-blue sports jacket over a pair of tan slacks. He had the blond hair, ruddy cheeks and good health of a man who in his youth might have been a high school football quarterback, or an assistant golf pro. His eyes were an aqua blue that seemed to sparkle from reflected light in the same way as water in the sunlight. Weber was in fact a businessman in the communications industry, closing in on his first $500 million, when he met Morris. He had come to town to give a speech on Internet privacy to a convention of computer hackers.
“I’d turn off your cell phones, sir,” said Morris. “Take the batteries out, too, if you want to be safe.” He had led Weber out of the crowded din of the casino, back toward the fountain by the reception desk, whose perpetual cascade covered their conversation.
Morris was tall and thin, with close-cut brown hair and a pair of glasses that floated on his long nose in a way that resembled the cartoon character Michael Doonesbury. He was wearing a black T-shirt that readAREA 51 WAITING AREA, under a gray linen jacket. He worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, as director of its Information Operations Center. He had been assigned by his bosses to escort Weber, who served as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
“Why turn off the phones?” asked Weber. “I need to communicate with my office while I’m here.”
“Because they’ll get pounded,” said Morris. “This is a convention of hackers. These people come here to steal stuff. Take a look.”
Morris gestured to the crowd swirling through the lobby, and it was true, they didn’t look like the normal Vegas visitors. Many were wearing cargo shorts and T-shirts; some had Mohawk haircuts; others had gelled their hair to the stiffness of porcupine quills. They were cut and pierced and tattooed across every inch of flesh.
“I have a BlackBerry and an iPhone,” Weber protested, “straight to AT&T and Verizon. The messages are encrypted. The phones are password-protected.”
“They’re wide open, Mr. Weber. People have set up bogus Wi-Fi and cellular access points all over Las Vegas this week. Your phone may think it’s connecting with Verizon, but it could be a spoof. And on the passwords and encryption, I’m sorry, but forget it.”
Weber looked at his earnest, bespectacled guide and nodded assent. He opened the back of his BlackBerry and withdrew the battery. He looked quizzically at the iPhone with its nonremovable power source. Morris reached into his pack and handed him a small black bag with a Velcro top.
“Put the iPhone in this,” Morris said. “It’s a signal-blocking pouch. It prevents your phone from talking to any friendly or unfriendly networks.”
“Handy,” said Weber appreciatively. He inserted his phone in the pouch.
“You want to know how vulnerable you are, Mr. Weber? I’ll show you later at the Rio. What you see there will frighten you, I promise.”
“That’s why I came,” said Weber.
An hour later, after Weber had unpacked his bag and made some business calls on the hotel phone back home to Seattle, the two men were in a taxi taking the short ride from Caesar’s across I-15 to the Rio, which was hosting the main events of the convention. Morris led the way. He’d changed into a black hoodie. On the way in, he got nods from occasional passersby. Weber wondered whether these were other intelligence officers trolling for talent, or agents inside the hacker world, or perhaps just kindred spirits.
They stopped to register at a VIP booth just outside the main convention area. Weber felt uncomfortable, watching the Mohawks and bullet heads walk past. Their T-shirts advertised their passion for undoing the ordered world:HACKITO ERGO SUM, read one.HACK THE CLOUD, boasted another.CARNAL KNOWLEDGE OF DEATH, warned a third.
A convention organizer handed Weber his entry badge. It was an odd-shaped device, with plastic representations of Egyptian gods and mummies below an electronic pod with a circuit board packed with chips and transmitters. There was space for three AAA electric batteries on the back. Weber began to insert the batteries he had been given as part of his registration kit.
“Don’t turn it on,” said Morris. “It’s a mini-computer that will connect to the mesh network. It can track wherever you go here. It may have a camera and microphone. Leave it off. You’re a speaker. You don’t need the badge turned on. I’ll get you through if there’s any hassle.”
Weber put the odd-shaped device, unwired, around his neck and passed through the entry portal, to respectful nods from the gatekeepers toward his guide.
“I take it you’ve been here before,” Weber said, joining the stream of the crowd entering the convention space.
“I’ve been coming to DEF CON for ten years,” said Morris, leaning toward Weber and speaking quietly. “It’s my favorite honeypot.”
“You recruit here?” asked Weber.
“I’ve hired some of my best people off the floor.” He pointed to an overweight, pimple-faced young man in baggy cargo shorts and sandals, and a Goth girl shrouded in black who was sucking on a lollypop. “These people may not look like much, but when they write code, it’s poetry.”
Weber nodded to Morris as if to say, I get it.This was why he had accepted the invitation to speak at the hacker convention. As a member of the Intelligence Advisory Board, he wanted to see the future of intelligence. He had asked the board’s director if the intelligence community could suggest a smart young tech specialist who knew the scene. They had assigned him James Morris, who had already earned a reputation at the CIA’s Information Operations Center for his technical prowess.
“Come on, sir, I want to show you something scary,” said Morris, leading the older man down a long, black-walled corridor to a crowded area at the center of the convention space. They moved through a knot of people who had dressed as if for a Halloween party; eventually they came upon a jumbo screen framed by cardboard cartoon cutouts of sheep standing in trench coats and sunglasses. On the screen was a scroll of names and numbers.
“What the hell is this?” asked Weber.
“It’s called the Wall of Sheep.” Morris pointed to the information scrolling above them in a continuous thread. “Those are the log-in names and passwords of people whose communications are being intercepted, right now, in real time.”
Weber shook his head. His hand went to the cell phones in his pocket.
“It’s that easy?” he asked.
“This is slow. You should see what I can do with my machines at the agency.”
Morris guided Weber through some of the other exhibits. They wandered into an area called Lockpick Village, which was devoted to cracking physical locks on doors, windows, safes and anything else that could be “locked.” They strolled past booths where vendors offered specialized computer gear, cheap circuit boards, T-shirts, beer. In another room, teams were arrayed at different tables playing a specialized version of Capture the Flag, in which they competed to break into each other’s servers and protect their own from attack.
Morris handed Weber a program listing the lectures going on in various rooms. It was a school for mischief: Hacking Bluetooth connections on phones. Hacking RFID tags on cargo containers. Building your own drone. Controlling automobiles remotely through their electronic systems. Hacking routers. Installing backdoors in hardware and software. Breaking the “secure” architecture of cloud computing. Manipulating unrandom “random-number” generators and unreliable computer clocks. Breaking wireless encryption keys. The list of lecture sessions went on for pages.
“This is dangerous stuff,” said Weber. “Can anyone attend this convention?”
“Look around. You’ll see Chinese, Russians, Germans, Israelis. Basically, they let you in if you pay the cash registration fee. There’s no point in trying to keep people out physically. They’d just get the information on the Net. This way, at least we know who’s here.”
“And they’re all trying to get inside our pants?”
“Yes, sir. And vice versa, in theory.”
Weber nodded. It was indeed the ultimate honey trap. “Is the agency keeping up with this?” he asked.
“Sort of,” said Morris. “The agency moves like an elephant.”
“What about Jankowski? He’s the director. He should be all over this crowd.”
Morris pulled Weber aside and spoke in his ear.
“Director Jankowski is just trying to keep his head above water. The FBI is looking at his bank accounts.”
Weber pulled back in surprise. “How do you know about that?”
“I just know,” said Morris. “People say Jankowski won’t last.”
It was true, what Morris had said. The Intelligence Advisory Board had been briefed on the preliminary investigation several weeks before. It was one of the most closely held secrets in the government, and here was Morris whispering it in his ear.
“The agency needs a new director, sir,” Morris said quietly. “Everyone knows that.”
Weber was silent for a moment. He felt like he was getting pitched, which made him uneasy, but he liked the younger man’s intelligence and intensity.
“The CIA needs a lot more than a new boss,” said Weber. “It needs to enter the twenty-first century. Listen to my speech this afternoon, if you want to know what I think.”
Morris nodded. “I reserved a front-row seat.”
They wandered for another half hour, looking at exhibits, and then it was time for Weber to go to the Green Room and get ready for his talk. Morris left him at the door and proposed that they meet up afterward and see more of DEF CON.
Weber delivered his speech in a theater that sat several hundred. It was packed with young people, row after row of black T-shirts and hoodies. He took off his Italian sports jacket before he began speaking and rolled up his shirtsleeves. His corporate communications staff had written a speech titled “Stakeholders in Internet Freedom,” with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation, but Weber junked it. Instead, he gave what he liked to call his “American dream” speech about how security and liberty could coexist. He had delivered versions of it before, for different audiences, but never one quite like this.
The room quieted. Weber hadn’t been sure what to expect. He had visions of a mosh pit at a Megadeth concert. But they were hushed and respectful.
Weber used his own company as a case study. When he began twenty-five years ago, he reminded the kids in the audience, the Internet browser didn’t exist and most of what people describe as IT hadn’t been invented yet. But it was obvious that people were going to communicate more, and that the government would make a mistake only if it tried to limit or control communications . . . or spy on what people were saying to each other. But thank goodness, the government had been smart back then. It had let technology morph and multiply in a million ways that nobody could have predicted. Weber had expanded his business by doing the obvious, no-brain thing, which was to build some of the pipe through which the communications would travel, whatever they might be—buy spectrum and bandwidth, and let other people decide how to fill it.
And then the government got stupid, after September 11, 2001, Weber said. Intelligence officials got nervous and decided that the open information space was dangerous and needed to be controlled. It wasn’t the government’s fault; the whole country was frightened. But in its ferocious self-protection, it had built a surveillance colossus that struggled just to keep track of the dangerous people. The surveillance was too big and bureaucratic. And it began to eat up the free space that the new technology had created.
The audience was listening, even the geekiest kids with the spikiest hair. Weber could tell because they had stopped looking at their devices and were watching him.
“I didn’t like what was happening,” Weber said. And then he told the story that most of them knew, which was the reason, really, why they had come to hear him—about how he had protested the government’s surveillance orders, at first in secret, and then in litigation that made its way through the courts, and then by working with members of Congress and finally by refusing outright to comply with what his lawyers told him were illegal orders and daring the government to shut his company down, all while he was a member of the Intelligence Advisory Board. He said they could fire him from that position, too, in addition to closing his business, but he wouldn’t quit voluntarily. In the end, they didn’t do either.
Weber looked at James Morris as he began the last part of his speech, about intelligence. He saw that the young man was smiling and nodding. There was a sparkle in his eyes, and his mouth was open slightly. It was a look you sometimes see in a church when believers are moved, or at a concert when listeners get lost in the flow of the notes.
“I have tried to help my country in every lawful way I could,” Weber said. “I have tried to help the CIA, NSA and FBI do their jobs. I have served on one of the most sensitive oversight boards in the government. I will keep those secrets, and I would say yes tomorrow if someone asked me to help with proper activities. But I will not do things that are unconstitutional. I can’t run my business in a country that controls information. I’d rather shut it down. As you know if you’ve been reading the news, we’re winning that fight. And I think that now, maybe, people are realizing that security and liberty aren’t at war with each other . . . because in America, you can’t have one without the other.”
The DEF CON audience loved the speech. People stood and clapped so loudly that it embarrassed Weber. When he was finished, a man in a suit came up to him from the wings and presented his card. He said he worked for Timothy O’Keefe, the national security adviser. He said Weber had given a great speech that put into words what the president believed. He asked if he could share a video of the speech with his colleagues at the White House, and Weber said of course, it was for anyone who wanted to listen. The man asked if perhaps Weber might be willing to join O’Keefe for lunch sometime soon to discuss how the administration might chart a new path in intelligence.
Weber was flattered. But he was a businessman, not a politician. He always worried when people were too friendly. That meant that they would come looking for something down the line.
Morris was waiting outside the Green Room. He stood unobtrusively apart from the crowd that had gathered to congratulate Weber, or give him business cards, or otherwise ingratiate themselves. It was only when Weber was finally alone that the younger man approached him.
“That was a hell of a speech,” said Morris.
“People at your agency wouldn’t like it. They’d feel threatened.”
Morris smiled, an inward, almost coy look of someone who had a new secret.
“Too bad for them,” he said. “Let me show you what the hackers are up to.”
They walked the halls for several more hours, meeting people, drinking beer and talking about technology. As the evening progressed, they moved deeper into the convention space. Eventually they came to a large hall in the back, where they heard hundreds of people shouting, “Don’t fuck it up!”
Weber was curious; he moved toward the hall and in through the door. A packed house of very drunk-looking people was screaming at contestants on stage, who were trying to answer geeky questions about computer hacking and technology. Some of the contestants had their shirts off, men and a few women, bare skin. Out in the audience, people were bouncing a huge rubber ball from aisle to aisle, shouting and chugging down more beer, while onstage a woman in a black bra and garter belt was vamping around the contestants.
“What’s this all about?” asked Weber, wide-eyed as he watched the fracas.
“It’s Hacker Jeopardy,” explained Morris. “It features free beer and a woman named Miss Kitty with a big paddle. It’s humiliate or be humiliated.”
“That’s the hacker ethos, I take it,” said Weber. “Humiliate or be humiliated.”
“Yes, sir.” Morris nodded. “I won this game three years running. Now they won’t let me play.”
Another hour of wandering, and Weber had seen enough. He bought dinner for Morris and himself at Nobu, back at Caesar’s Palace. The young man was talking faster now, pumped by all that he had seen, and Weber couldn’t track everything he was saying.
“Do they let you do your thing at the agency?” Weber asked as he was paying the bill. He was relaxed after his speech, enjoying his day of slumming in the hacker world.
“Not really. They’re scared of me. What I do is subversive, by definition. It doesn’t have boundaries. It cuts across directorates. They don’t like that.”
“But that’s what the CIA is for, right?” said Weber. “It’s their job to be in the space that other people can’t get to. If you can knock on the front door, then send the State Department.”
“Yes, sir. But these people are scared of the future. They aren’t sure how to live in an open world. For most of them, the clock is still stuck at 1989. For some of them, it’s still 1945. Their big event every year is the OSS Dinner. I mean, that’s sad. They act like it’s still a social club.”
Weber listened to what the young man said. It worried him. Despite his private battles with the government over the past few years, he wanted a strong intelligence agency.
“How does it get fixed?” he asked.
“Honestly? People could start by doing what you said today, trying to think about what a modern American intelligence agency would look like. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the CIA operates like a second-rate copy of MI6. We’re un-American.”
Weber looked at his watch. This last comment made him nervous. He had let Morris get tipsy, and now he was going too far.
“I should crash,” he said. “I have an early flight back to Seattle tomorrow. This was an eye-opener. I’m grateful to whoever made the arrangements.”
“Thank my deputy, Dr. Ariel Weiss. She’s the person in my geek shop who gets things done.”
“Well, tell Dr. Weiss that she’s a superstar.”
Morris nodded, but he wasn’t quite ready to let Weber go.
“You know what?” he said, leaning toward Weber, his eyes swimming behind those thick glasses. “I hate working for stupid people. It offends me. That’s why we need a new director.”
Morris reached his hand into the pocket of his hoodie and then extended it and shook Weber’s hand. In his palm was the medallion of the Information Operations Center, with the center’s name along the lower circumference and “Central Intelligence Agency” around the top. On the face of the coin was a blue bald eagle atop a globe formed of zeroes and ones. Above the eagle’s head were the words “Stealth,” “Knowledge” and “Innovation,” above them a large silver key.
Morris let the coin slip from his palm into Weber’s as they shook hands.
Weber took the gift. He studied Morris, reticent and opaque as he withdrew his hand and retreated back behind his black-framed spectacles. Weber’s eyes fell to the coin, gleaming gold, silver and blue, topped by that big, mysterious key. It was the first moment in which he thought seriously about the possibility of running the CIA, and the idea grew to become a passion in the months ahead—until one October morning, fifteen months later, it became a fact.
James Morris spent one more day in Las Vegas. He wanted to see an old friend from Stanford named Ramona Kyle. She was speaking at DEF CON, too, on civil liberties and the Internet. Morris sat in the audience for her talk. She spoke so fast, the other panelists had trouble keeping up with her. She was a wiry, intense woman, a passionate intelligence packed into a tiny frame. Her hair was tumbling red curls, like Orphan Annie.
When it came time for questions, several attendees with neat haircuts asked about investments. She was something of a cult figure in the venture capital world. She had joined a fund out of Stanford, and discovered start-ups in Budapest, Mumbai, São Paolo, Santiago—all the places, she liked to say, that produced chess champions and didn’t have their own investment banks yet. Sometimes she created the companies on her own, bringing people together in a coffee shop in Rio or a bar in Dubai. Eventually she started her own venture fund, and the money flowed so fast she stopped counting it—and started thinking about more serious things.
Kyle had a knack for making money, and people wanted to know her secrets even at this hacker’s conference. But she waved off business questions. They bored her. She wanted to talk about the surveillance state, the threat to liberties, the new information order of the world.
A questioner asked her if it was true what was rumored in the chat rooms, that she was the biggest secret funder of WikiLeaks.
“Are you a cop?” responded Kyle. “Next question.”
When the panel was over, she handed out cards with the name of an organization she had recently founded, called Too Many Secrets. It took its name from the rearranged anagram of “Setec Astronomy,” which was a puzzle at the denouement of the classic hacker movieSneakers.The organization didn’t have a phone number or email address, but if Kyle met someone interesting, she wrote down her contact information in a tiny, precise hand.
Ramona Kyle didn’t go out of her way for most people, but Morris was an exception. For years after they graduated she had stayed in touch, mostly at meetings for high-tech eccentrics. She had messaged him a few weeks before the Las Vegas gathering, suggesting that they meet for drinks after her talk. She proposed a bar called Peppermill in the north strip of Las Vegas, a seedy cowboy-hooker part of town where nobody would recognize either of them.
The place was nearly empty. In the center of the bar was a fire pit surrounded by unoccupied pink couches. Kyle was sitting in a dark corner in the back drinking pomegranate juice, no ice. She looked like a homeless girl: tiny body, rag-doll clothes, red hair still wet from a shower after the speech.
Morris sat down next to her on the banquette. At Stanford, he had momentarily wanted to sleep with Ramona Kyle, back when she was anorexic and pure brain energy. Now that she was healthier, she wasn’t quite as sexy. As he moved closer to her, she disappeared deeper into the shadows of the booth.
“Did you take precautions?” she asked.
“Of course. I took two cabs and a bus.”
“They are out of control,” she said. “You have to be careful.”
“Stop worrying,” said Morris. “I’m here.”
Graham Weber’s new colleaguesthought that he was joking when he said at his first staff meeting that he wanted to remove the statue of William J. Donovan from the lobby. The old-timers, who weren’t really that old but were cynical bastards nonetheless, assumed that he wouldn’t actually do it. Donovan was the company founder, for heaven’s sake. The statue of him, square-legged with one hand resting on his belt, handsome as a bronze god, ready to win World War II all by himself, had been in the lobby since Allen Dulles built the damn building. You couldn’t just get rid of it.
But the new director was serious. He said the agency had to join the twenty-first century, and that change began with symbols. The senior staff who were assembled in the seventh-floor conference room rolled their eyes, but nobody said anything. They figured they would give the new man enough rope to hang himself. Somebody leaked the story to theWashington Postthe next day, which seemed to amuse the director and also reinforced his judgment about how messed up the place was. To everyone’s amazement, he went ahead and removed the iconic figure of “Wild Bill” from its place by the left front door. An announcement said the statue was being removed temporarily for cleaning, but the days passed, and the spot where the pedestal had stood remained a discolored piece of empty floor.
The Central Intelligence Agency behaves in some ways like a prep school. Senior staff members made up nicknames for Weber behind his back that first week, as if he were a new teacher, such as Webfoot, Web-head and, for good measure, Moneybags. Men and women joined in the hazing; it was an equal-opportunity workplace when it came to malcontents. The director didn’t appear to care. His actual childhood nickname had been Rocky, but nobody had called him that in years. He thought about bringing it back. The more the old boys and girls tried to rough him up, the more confident he became about his mission to fix what he had called, at that first meeting with his staff, the most disoriented agency in the government. Nobody disagreed with that, by the way. How could they? It was true.
Weber was described in newspaper profiles as a “change agent,” which was what thoughtful people (meaning a half dozen leading newspaper columnists) thought the agency needed. The CIA was battered and bruised. It needed new blood, and Weber seemed like a man who might be able to turn things around. He had made his name in business by buying a mediocre communications company and leveraging it to purchase broadband spectrum that nobody else wanted. He had gotten rich, like so many thousands of others, but what made him different was that he had stood up to the government when it mattered. People in the intelligence community had trusted him, so when he said no about surveillance policy, it changed people’s minds.
He looked too healthy to be CIA director: He had that sandy blond hair, prominent chin and cheekbones and those ice-blue eyes. It was a boyish face, with strands of hair that flopped across the forehead, and cheeks that colored easily when he blushed or had too much to drink, but he didn’t do either very often. You might have taken him for a Scandinavian, maybe a Swede, who grew up in North Dakota: He had that solid, contained look of the northern plains that doesn’t give anything away. He was actually German-Irish, from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, originally. He had migrated from there into the borderless land of ambition and money and had lived mostly on airplanes. And now he worked in Langley, Virginia, though some of the corridor gossips predicted he wouldn’t last very long.
The president had announced that he was appointing Graham Weber because he wanted to rebuild the CIA. The previous director, Ted Jankowski, had been fired because of a scandal that appeared to involve kickbacks from agency contractors and foreign operations. People said “appeared to involve” because the Jankowski case was still before a grand jury then and nobody had been indicted yet. But even by CIA standards, it was a big mess. Congress was screaming for a new director who could root out the corruption, and they wanted an outsider. Over the past year, Weber had been making speeches about intelligence policy and showing up at the White House for briefings. When the president appointed a commission to study surveillance policy, Weber was on it. By the time Jankowski resigned, he had become the front-runner for the position.
The vetting process took a month of annoying forms and questions. Weber agreed to sell all his company stock; it looked like a market top to him, anyway, and he set up a “blind trust” for the proceeds, as dictated by the ethics police. It embarrassed him, to see how rich he was. The only thing that seemed to agitate the vetters was his divorce from his wife, nearly five years before. They wanted a guilty party, a “story” that would explain why a seemingly happy marriage to a beautiful woman had self-destructed. He referred the White House inquisitors to the court papers in Seattle, knowing that they didn’t answer the question, and he left blank their written request for additional information. It wasn’t their business, or anyone’s, to know that his wife left him for another man, whether to pull Weber’s attention away from devotion to his business or because of love, he never knew. The world had assumed that it was his fault; that was the only gift Weber could give his wife at the end of their shared failure, to take the blame. He had tried to date in the five years since, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Isn’t there anything more?” asked the personnel lawyer. He looked disappointed when Weber shook his head and said firmly: “No.”
“That place is like a haunted house,” the president told Weber in their last conversation before the appointment was announced. “Somebody needs to clean out the ghosts. Can you do that? Can you fix it?”
Weber was flushed by the challenge; it was provocation to a man like him to attempt the impossible. His children were grown and his house in Seattle was empty most of the time. He had time on his hands, and like many people who have succeeded in business, he wanted to be famous for something other than making money. So with the impulsive hunger and self-confidence of a businessman who had only known success, he agreed to take the job running what the president, in a final, sorrowful comment, described as the “ghost hotel.”
The old-timers warned Weber that the agency truly was in bad shape. The foreign wars of the previous decade in Iraq and Afghanistan had gone badly, demoralizing even the nominally successful covert-action side of the agency. The CIA had been asked to do things that previous generations of officers had been accused of but had only imagined, like torturing people for information or conducting systematic assassination campaigns. It would have been bad enough if this Murder, Inc., era had been successful; but aside from getting Osama bin Laden, the main accomplishment had been to create hundreds of millions of new enemies for the United States. The world was newly angry at America, and also contemptuous of its power, which was a bad combination.
Now, in retreat, the CIA needed permission for everything. That was what surprised Graham Weber most in his first days. He was used to the executive authority that comes with running a big company, the license to take risks that is part of creative management. But he was now in a very different place. The modern CIA worked more for Congress than for the president. Out of curiosity, Weber asked at his first covert-action briefing whether the agency had penetrated the networks of anonymous leakers who were stealing warehouses full of America’s most classified secrets and publishing them to the world. He was told no, it was too risky for the agency. If the CIA tried to penetrate WikiLeaks, that fact might . . . leak.
Defeated countries are sullen beasts, and America had suffered a kind of defeat. It was like after Vietnam—the country wanted to pull up the covers and watch television—but the CIA couldn’t do that, or, at least, it wasn’t supposed to. It had a network of officers around the world who were paid to steal secrets. Even the agency’s young guns knew this was a time to play it safe, find a lily pad where they could watch and wait. And then along came Graham Weber.
It took Graham Webermost of the first week to get settled. He had to learn how to use the classified computer system, meet the staff, pay courtesy calls on members of Congress and generally ingratiate himself to a Washington that knew little about him. At the office that first week, Weber made a practice of not wearing a tie. That was how executives had dressed at his company and at most of the other successful communications and technology businesses he knew, but it shook up the CIA workforce, as Weber had intended. After a few days, other men started going tieless to ingratiate themselves to the boss. On Thursday Weber wore a tie, just to confuse them.
He bought an apartment at the Watergate because he liked the view of the Potomac. He hired an interior decorator, who gave it the lifeless perfection favored by the trade. It was much more space than he needed; he was divorced and didn’t like to entertain. His two children stayed overnight after his swearing-in ceremony, and they told him he had a cool view, but they went back to school in New Hampshire the next day. The Office of Security insisted on renting an apartment down the hall, to install the director’s secure communications and provide a place for his security detail to nap. What Weber liked best was the long balcony that wrapped the living and dining rooms and looked out over the river. But his security chief warned him against sitting there unless he had a guard with him, so he rarely used it. Late at night, he would put a chair by the window and watch the dark flow of the water.
On Friday of his first week, Weber wanted to see his new workplace in Langley at first light, before any of his minions and courtiers were assembled. He arrived at the office at five-thirty a.m. when it was dead empty, to see the sun rise over his new domain. The low-slung concrete of the Old Headquarters Building was a lowering gray in the predawn, a few lights visible on the bottom floors but the top of the building empty and waiting. What would Weber do, now that he was responsible for managing this lumpy pudding of secrecy and bureaucracy? He didn’t know.
Weber was accompanied that morning by the security detail that was an inescapable feature of his new life. The head of the detail was a Filipino-American named Jack Fong, built like a human refrigerator, a lifer from the Office of Security. Fong escorted him that morning to the director’s private elevator entrance in the garage. It was so quiet in the cab that Weber could hear the tick of his watch. He turned to Fong. Like everyone else in those first days, the security chief was solicitous.
“You want anything, sir?” Fong meant coffee, or pastries, or a bottle of water. But Weber, lost in a reverie, answered with what was really on his mind.
“Maybe I should just blow this place up. Turn it into a theme park and start somewhere else. What do you think of that, Chief?”
The security man, thick-necked and credulous, looked startled. Directors didn’t make jokes. There was a bare shadow of a smile on Weber’s face, but all the security man saw were the aqua-blue eyes.
“Theme park. Yes, sir. Definitely.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
Weber sat down at the big desk on the seventh floor and gazed out the shatterproof windows across the treetops to the east, where the first volt of morning was a trace on the horizon. He switched off the lights. The walls were bare and newly painted, stripped of any mark of Jankowski, who had resigned two months before. Now it was his office. The first light flickered across the wall like the lantern beam of an intruder.
Weber studied the desk. It was a massive pediment of oak that might have been requisitioned from Wild Bill’s law offices at Donovan, Leisure. There were a few stains on the top, where someone had placed mugs of hot coffee or tea. The side drawers were locked but the middle one was loose. With all the commotion of those first days, Weber hadn’t thought to open it. He pulled out the wooden drawer, expecting to find it as empty as the rest of the office.
At the very back of the drawer he found a sealed envelope with his name on the front. He tore open the sealing flap and removed a crisp sheet of paper. It was freshly typed. He read the words carefully:
A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.
—Marcus Tullius Cicero
Weber turned over the page, feeling a momentary chill, as if a draft of cold wind had just blown through the room. What was he supposed to make of this Roman admonition—and, more to the point, who had surreptitiously placed it in his desk drawer for him to find in his first days at work?
The place was truly haunted, he thought to himself: so many ghosts; so many myths and legends riddling the walls. Not a theme park, but a horror show.
Weber read the message one more time and put it back in the desk. His first wisp of anxiety had given way to curiosity, suffused with anger. Was this a real warning or a general proverb about loyalty? Was Weber meant to be the traitor? Or was it was some sort of practical joke, played on every newly minted director to rattle his nerves?
Weber had thought a good deal about traitors already. He’d had multiple security briefings that first week. This was the post-Snowden era. Finding potential leakers was the first order of business. The workforce was suspect. The decade of war had produced a reaction—an invisible army of whistleblowers and self-appointed do-gooders. The result, as any newspaper reader could see, was that America’s intelligence agencies could no longer keep secrets. Security briefers assured the new director it couldn’t happen again; CIA employees were watched and assessed, under surveillance every time they logged onto a computer or made a phone call or ordered a pizza.
Weber asked if all this internal surveillance was legal, and he was told, of course it was; employees signed away any right to privacy when they joined the agency.
Weber mused about this “Wiki” enemy that fought with the zeroes and ones of computer code. They were (or could be) anywhere. The result inside government was a new Red Scare. Where people in the 1950s had whispered the name “Rosenberg,” now it was “Snowden,” or “Manning.” Somehow the intelligence community would have to learn how to live with fewer secrets; that was the new way of the world. But Weber was careful about expressing such skeptical views to his staff. These people had been traumatized. Their world had been turned upside down.
Weber tried to get to work, but the words echoed in his mind: “The traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys . . . in the very halls of government itself.” Somebody was messing with his head, trying to knock him off balance. It had to be that.
Graham Weber greeted the secretaries, Marie and Diana, when they arrived at 7:55. They looked mildly embarrassed that the boss was already at work. But they had been through multiple directors and they knew that nobody lasts forever in the big office on the seventh floor, no matter how early they get to work. The “girls,” as they had been known until not very long ago, were part of the CIA’s invisible army of support staff who typed the cables and hid the secrets and cleaned up after those more exalted on the organization chart.
Weber was in shirtsleeves, tieless, two buttons unstuck. He shook Marie’s hand, and then Diana’s, still feeling like a visitor a week in.
“Good morning, ladies,” he said. “I let myself in.”
“You can start whenever you like, Mr. Weber,” said Marie, the older of the two, who was now working for her fifth director. “We come in at eight.”
“Marie, a word,” he said, motioning for the senior woman.
Marie was a blonde in her late fifties, smart and tough enough to run the place herself, people imagined, except for the fact that she’d never gone beyond junior college. She was the CIA’s version of a senior noncommissioned officer. She had long ago dumped her first husband, an alcoholic case officer, and had given up on finding a second one. Diana, a much younger African-American woman, retreated to her desk. She was married to a senior officer in Support; they were planning to retire in another year and come back as contractors with green badges.
“In my office,” said Weber, nodding toward the big room.
Marie followed him in, switching on the fluorescent lights as she entered. He closed the door.
“I want to ask you something,” he said. “Privately, please.”
“Everything is private with me, Mr. Weber. I work for one director at a time.”
“Who has access to my office? Besides you and Diana, I mean.”
Marie thought a moment. He wouldn’t be asking if there wasn’t a problem.
“The Office of Security,” she said. “They swept it last week, one last time, to make sure.”
“And who conducted the sweep?”
She looked genuinely embarrassed not to know the answer.
“I’m not sure. We have to scoot when they make their rounds.”
“And remind me, Marie, who does the Office of Security report to?”
She looked at him quizzically, as if it were a trick question.
“They report to you, of course, as of last Monday.”
“Right. But before this week?”
“Well, technically, the top of the chain would have been the acting director, Mr. Pingray. But as I think you know, he recused himself on most management issues, owing to his close relationship to Mr. Jankowski. He’s trying to do the right thing, Mr. Pingray.”
“Got it. So who did the Office of Security really report to, then, before Monday morning, if not Mr. Pingray?”
Her mouth wrinkled at the edges while she thought about that one.
“I suppose they reported to the director of National Intelligence, Mr. Hoffman. He’s your boss, on paper, so he must be everyone’s, ultimately.”
Weber thought a moment. Could he ask Cyril Hoffman, the man who was responsible for oversight of sixteen intelligence agencies, whether he had been sending secret messages? No, of course he couldn’t. He thought of asking the bright young computer maven he had met a year before in Las Vegas, James Morris, but that wasn’t appropriate.
“Thank you, Marie,” he said.
She headed for the door and then stopped and turned back toward him.
“Mr. Director,” she said. “I just want to say, we’re all very glad that you’re here. People want you to succeed. They think you can fix things.”
Weber laughed, not happily.
“That’s what the president said. He also told me this place was like a haunted house. Do you think that’s true, Marie?”
She nodded, with what Weber thought was a look of institutional pride.
Weber went to the window and looked at the cars of the early arrivals beginning to fill the parking spaces in the agency’s Candy Land collection of color-coded lots. It was interesting how many agency officers drove foreign cars. You wouldn’t find that at an Air Force base, or a Navy yard. The CIA didn’t know whether it wanted to be a blue state or a red state. That was part of its problem.
Weber returned to the desk, which was a toasty brown in the spreading light. How was he going to get this place working again, really? Atop his desk was a notepad crowned with the agency seal and its pugnacious eagle. He took out a pen and wrote down phrases that came to him, and then crumpled the sheet: A week at the CIA and he was thinking in Power-Point. He was about to throw the note in the burn bag when it occurred to him that someone might find it and read it, so he put in his pocket.
Far from Washington,a young man skittered toward the U.S. Consulate in Hamburg like a shorebird blown by the North Sea wind. He was dressed in low-slung jeans and a zip-up gray hoodie, his hands thrust deep in his pockets. His eyes were dark-rimmed with fatigue, and he was shivering in the cold October breeze that raked the inland lake along the Alsterufer. At the gate, the guard stopped the visitor, but he showed his Swiss passport and said he had an urgent appointment.
Inside the guardhouse, the Marine told the youth to lower his hood so that his face was visible. The top of his head was thin stubble, like a layer of soot. In his right ear were three metal studs. Tattooed on his neck were a dotted line and the Russian words,. His passport identified him as Rudolf Biel. The guard wanted to send him away, but the young man said slowly and emphatically that he needed to talk to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
“I have a message for Graham Weber, CIA director, no one else but him.”
He was a mess. His eyes were bulging and red-veined. His pallid skin was dotted with acne scars, as if he had lived his entire life in a cave. He spoke English with a German accent. His passport said he was from Zurich.
“Do you have an appointment with Mr. Weber?” asked the Marine guard behind the glass. It was a dumb question, but the Marine was confused. He had never seen a walk-in, twenty-five years after the Cold War.
“I must see him, the new CIA director. Mr. Clean. He will want to talk to me, sir, believe me.”
The Marine behind the glass shook his head. He thought for a moment and then handed the man a form with an email address and phone number and told him to make an appointment. But this only made the visitor more agitated and insistent.
“Listen to me: This is a big secret. Email is not safe. I want a face-to-face meeting only, with Mr. Weber.” He pointed his finger as he spoke, to emphasize his point. “No Internet. No electronic message. Otherwise, I am finished.” He said these last words in deadly earnest.
The Marine pointed to the Russian words tattooed on the man’s neck. At least he could start with that.
“What does that mean, in English?”
“It says, ‘Cut here.’” The Swiss youth gave a cockeyed grin and then glowered at the guard. “I mean it,” he said. “I am a dead man if you don’t let me in.”
The guard stared at him a moment longer and then nodded. He told the man to wait outside while he called the regional security officer. He didn’t want to be blamed for letting in the scruffy young man or keeping him out.
The Swiss boy stood shuffling outside, hands stuffed into the pockets of his sweatshirt. The visitor glanced every few seconds over his shoulder, down the Alsterufer toward the bridge on Kennedybrücke, a long block away. A passerby glanced at him and made a distasteful face when he saw the shaved head and scruffy clothes. This was Hamburg’s fanciest neighborhood. What was this clod of dirt doing here?
The visitor stuck his hands deeper against the wind. The waters of the Alster were like corrugated tin. The sun had vanished behind thick clouds, shadowing the lakeside walk in the flat gray of late afternoon. To the south were the towers of old Hamburg, to the west the great docks and freight yards along the Elbe River, and, beyond that, the North Sea and escape.
The regional security officer arrived at the guardhouse, carrying the red binder with the code phrases. He looked at the young man’s passport and summoned him back inside the security hut. He’d been working at the State Department for nearly thirty years, long enough to remember what a defector was.
“Mr. Weber doesn’t work here,” said the security officer. “He works in Washington. Why do you want to see him?”
“I have special information. It is too dangerous to tell anyone else. I know a very big secret.” The Swiss boy stared the State Department functionary dead in the eyes. His hands were open before him, as if he were holding an invisible gift that he wanted to present.
The officer nodded. There was something about the young man’s intensity that made him believable. He looked in his red folder and dialed the number of one of the nominal political officers, K. J. Sandoval.
“Mr. Bolt is here. He says he has a package for Mr. Green.”
There was a long pause. The CIA officer inside had forgotten the walk-in procedures, too, and she needed to look at her own cheat sheet.
“Is this a joke?” she muttered into the phone while searching. “The Cold War is over.”
“No, ma’am.” His voice was clipped. “No joke.”
“Okay. Sorry.” A few more seconds passed, until she found her script. “Did Mr. Bolt say what was in the package?”
“Nope. Just says it’s important.”
There was another pause, as she looked in the list of code phrases for what she wanted to ask. It wasn’t there.
“Is he a nut?”
The security officer studied the man standing on the other side of the glass barrier. He had unzipped his hoodie, revealing a dirty black T-shirt with the faded inscriptionDEF CON XXand a skull and crossbones. On his wrist was a bracelet with metal studs. He was a normal adult’s bad dream, yet his eyes—as fearful and strung out as they were—were alive with intelligence.
“It’s hard to say what he is,” answered the security officer. “He looks like a punk, basically. He’s standing here. Check him out yourself on the closed circuit. It’s your call. I can send him packing if you want.”
She studied the grainy camera image. He looked like a loser, but she was a new base chief, and she’d never had a walk-in. And she was bored with the ever-repeating loop of the European economic crisis. It was the only topic on which anyone in Washington ever queried the consulate or Embassy Berlin these days. It would be a pleasure to think about something different.
“What the hell?” she said. “Bring him up. I’ll be in Conference Room A.”
K. J. Sandoval waswaiting behind a polished teak table when the walk-in arrived upstairs, gangly and frightened, escorted by the security officer. The “K” stood for “Kitten,” her given name. The base chief was a handsome Latina woman in her late thirties, lips freshly glossed, appropriate black suit. She was nearly ten years into her career as a CIA officer, in that awkward period between just getting started and waiting it out until retirement. She knew how to be patient: She was the oldest daughter of a Mexican immigrant from Monterrey who had joined the Marine Corps and risen to gunnery sergeant, E-7, before retiring to Tucson. Her mother had been a waitress until she got her high school equivalency certificate; now she worked for an insurance company. Sandoval had made her way in the agency by hard work and a friendly smile but she was stuck.
Rudolf Biel was buried in the hood of his sweatshirt when he entered the room, but he lowered it when he saw Sandoval. He looked even less healthy close up than he had on camera. Under the fluorescent light of the conference room, his pale, blemished skin had the mottled look of an albino lizard.
“I’m Helen Sturdevant,” she said, giving him a card with her alias name and a phone number and email. He rolled his eyes and made a slight jerk of his head, as if to say,Right!She motioned for him to sit down and took a chair opposite. She looked at his passport.
“You’re from Zurich, right? What do you do there?”
“I am a hacker. Okay?Hakzor.Sometimes Zurich, sometimes Berlin, sometimes Saint Petersburg. If you knew, well, you would know.”
“Do you want to talk German?Ich spreche Deutsch.”
“I like English.Hakzor spreche English.”
“What do you hack?”
“Everything. With banks, I am the best. I am Swiss, what else? I am expert in ACH hack. Automated Clearing House. You know what that is?”
“Too complicated. No time.”
“I have plenty of time.”
“No, you don’t, lady. You have a problem, and no time.”
She looked at the passport again, and then at his face. He was smart, whoever he was.
“You said you wanted to meet Mr. Weber, our new director.”
He nodded. “Yes, only Graham Weber. He needs me. It is worse than he thinks at CIA. I can help.”
Sandoval suppressed a smile. Who did this kid think he was, marching into the consulate and demanding to see the director? He looked to be stoned, from the redness of his eyes. Download him and get rid of him.
“What you ask is not possible. Mr. Weber is in Washington. I’m his personal representative here in Hamburg. You can give me your message, and then I’ll tell Mr. Weber. How’s that?”
He shook his head. Under the stubble of hair, you could see the bones of his skull. It wasn’t just that he was unshaven; he was dirty. He pointed a long finger at Sandoval.
“Excuse me, miss, you don’t have time to be wasting it. They are coming for you.”
“Who is coming for us?”
“That’s what I must tell Mr. Weber. How will you deliver my message? If it is in person, this is okay. Otherwise, no deal.”
She studied him. He was cocky, for a beat-up kid in a smelly T-shirt, demanding to talk to a new CIA director who had been in the job less than a week. He must think he had something important; either that or he was tripping. She wanted to throw him out, but she had already messaged Headquarters about the meeting.
“What does it say on your T-shirt?” she said, playing for time while she thought about what to do.
“‘DEF CON.’ It’s where hackers go to show off.”
“Sorry, never heard of it. Where is it?”
“Las Vegas.” He smiled. “One of my friends gave it to me.”
Sandoval nodded, though what he said didn’t make sense: Why would a hacker go to a convention in Las Vegas? She looked at her watch; it was still morning in Washington. She had never handled a walk-in before, but she knew she needed to establish some kind of control and figure out what intelligence, if any, this dirty weirdo possessed.
“Look, Mr. Biel, let’s get serious, okay? Otherwise we’ll never trust each other. So I’ll explain it to you. First, I’ll send Mr. Weber a message, maybe later if he’s interested I’ll talk to him by phone. And then, maybe, if he’s really interested, we can both talk to him in person. But to get started, I have to know why you’re here. What’s this message that’s so special that it has to be delivered to Mr. Weber? You tell me that, and then we’ll see what we can do.”
He put his stubbly head in his hands, scratching the tiny hairs as if he could help the brain inside to think. He looked up and leaned toward her, so the tattoo on his neck was in front of her face.
“You do not understand.”
“No, I don’t. That’s why I want you to explain it to me.”
“You see my tattoo?” He pulled back the sweatshirt so she could see the dotted lines on his neck. “It means, ‘Cut here.’ The people who wrote that on me, they will do it, yes, in a minute, and nobody will know. That’s why I communicate in person. No email. No message. Direct.”
She reached out and tried to take his hand. Empathy, rapport: That had worked with a young woman from the Iranian Embassy in Madrid. But this one was too skittish; he pulled his hand back.
“Why is it so dangerous, Mr. Biel? You have to help me out. Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
He closed his eyes. He thought a long moment. Fifteen seconds, maybe twenty, a time that feels like forever when you’re waiting for an answer. Then he spoke, slowly, knowing the weight of his words.
“People are inside your system. Your messages can be read. They are not secret. That is what I need to tell Mr. Weber.”
Kitten Sandoval sat back in her chair. Now he had her attention.
“What do you mean, they’re not secret? I assure you, Mr. Biel, our communications are very secure. The most secure in the world.”
Now there was a trace of a smile on his lips. He had power.
“That is what you think. But you are wrong. You have been hacked. Your messages can be read. People are coming at you. They are planning something. That is what I know, which I must tell to Mr. Weber.”
“But why to him? He’s only been on the job a few days.”
“They are afraid of him. Weber is the clean one. Not scared of anybody. That is why they are rushing. That is why I had to come now.”
“We have a secure website, Mr. Biel. You can send him a message that way.”
“Poof! Not so secure. I looked at it. Secure Socket Layer. What a joke! For my friends, it is an open book.”
“How do you know all this? You must tell me that, or I won’t believe you.”
He pointed a finger to his head, as if to the brain inside.
“Hey, are you stupid? I know it because I am a hacker man. I know the ones who have stolen the key. ‘Swiss Maggot,’ you know that name? That is me.”
He wrote it down in Leet, the hacker-beloved mix of letters and symbols:5W155 ma99O7.
“Sorry, that’s a new one for me.”
“Okay, ‘Friends of Cerberus,’ you know who they are? You need to make this connection. I tell you. How about ‘the Exchange’? Eh?”
“No. What are ‘Friends of Cerberus’?” You’ve got me there. And I don’t know any ‘Exchange.’ Help me out.”
He threw up his hands and sat up tall in his chair, his spindly, half-shaved body like a giant bug. He glowered at her.
“You don’t know anything. That’s why I need to talk to Graham Weber. He will understand why these people are, what is it you say? Your ‘worst nightmare.’”
“I don’t have nightmares, Mr. Biel. Now calm down and explain: Why are you coming to us now with this information about our communications? Do you want money?”
“No!” he scoffed. “I could make more than you as a simple carder stealing your Visa shit, believe me.”
“Then what do you want?”
He gripped the table, as if holding on for life. “I want protection. I want to get out. I need to escape.”
“Do you have anything you can show me? So that I will know that what you say is real?”
He closed his eyes for a moment, pallid lids folding onto the gray pouches below.
“Bona fides.” He took a piece of paper out of his pocket. It was folded and creased, and discolored from the grime of his jeans. He handed it to her.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“This is a list of your agency officers in Germany and Switzerland. You look at this, then tell me what you think.”
She opened the piece of paper and scanned the list. Midway through the list she found her own name. Her face lost color. The carefully painted nails fluttered slightly at the edges of the paper. She put it down and looked him in the face.
“This is impossible,” she said.
“No, it is real, Miss Sturdevant. You are inside us and we are inside you.”
“Do you know how this is done? How this information was obtained?”
“Of course I do know. That is why I am here. It is because I know this secret that my life is in danger.”
“Why is your life in danger, Mr. Biel?”
“They think I have gone soft on them. So they try to kill me, already, in Saint Petersburg a week ago. That is why I come to you. Otherwise, I am a dead man. Maybe now you see?”
“Yes, now I see.”
“Okay, Miss Sturdevant. Even though I know you are really named Kitten Sandoval. What kind of a name is that? You sound like a stripper, but I know you work for CIA.”
She asked if she could make a call to Headquarters, but he said no, he didn’t trust any message, he needed an answer now. So she had to improvise. She said she would give him five thousand dollars immediately. She would contact Graham Weber’s office directly after their meeting, speaking only to his confidential assistant, not sending any message that could be intercepted. She would request an immediate exfiltration for Rudolf Biel and secure transportation to Washington, where he could tell his story and be paid.
“How much?” he demanded. “I cannot hack ‘black hat’ after this, too dangerous, so I need ‘white hat’ money.” He was bolder, now that he knew that his information had value.
“I can’t make that decision. But we will pay you enough that you won’t have to worry about money. You explain how our computer systems have been compromised, walk us through it and tell us about this attack that’s coming, and we’ll make you a consultant and you’ll never have to work for anyone again.”
“Okay, I stay here at American Consulate on Alsterufer until you get answer.”
“I’m sorry, that’s not possible. No visitor is allowed to remain overnight on the compound, ever. But we will put you in a safe house here in Hamburg, with food and beer and everything you need, and then when it’s time, we’ll come get you. How’s that?”
He shook his head.
“You did not understand me. Your safe house is not safe. They can find them. I can’t stay there.”
“Are you kidding? How can they know the location of our safe houses? Even I don’t know where all of them are. You’ll be okay there. Trust me.”
“What does that mean?”
“Get the fuck out.” He ran the words together in his German-accented English.
She was about to laugh despite herself, but the young man was already moving. He rose from the chair across from her and put his hand on his sunken chest, against the DEF CON logo.
“I will take care of myself. I come back in three days, on Monday morning, after the weekend. I will come at ten a.m. Tell your people to let me in right away, no waiting, no chances. If you are not ready to take me in then, forget it. I go away forever, and your systems can all be hacked and all your information out on the street, what do I care?”
“Can we give you a phone, so we can contact you?”
“No. I told you, they can read it. They can track the GPS. Safer to be a lone dog, with no electronic signals coming off me.”
“I’d be happier if we were protecting you.”
He laughed, in his fashion, a choked, mirthless little cough.
“Who do you kid, Miss Sandoval? You cannot protect yourself.”
He wanted to leave right away. She offered to transport him anywhere he wanted to go in Hamburg, in a secure vehicle without diplomatic tags. She offered a bodyguard to accompany at a distance, or watchers to see if anyone was following him, but he refused all that. Finally, she said she would send him out of the consulate compound through a tunnel with a hidden exit.
This last proposal he accepted. He took the money from her, and signed a receipt, though he wrote with such a scrawl it was impossible to read. Sandoval asked for an Internet address, a phone number, anything, but he refused. She thought of putting a GPS tracker on him, but the trackers were locked up in the storeroom.
Accompanied now by several security men, they walked down several flights of stairs and into a passageway that led to a tunnel under the back of the consulate property.
As Biel’s spindly body moved the last few yards up the tunnel incline toward the exit door, Sandoval had a tightness in her stomach. She wanted to call him back and tell him to stop, that it was too dangerous to leave, that she would find some way to let him stay at the consulate, regardless of what the rules said. But the lead security officer was already opening the door, and the Swiss had pulled up his hood to hide himself.
“Wait,” she said. But the Swiss boy was up the ladder and through the hatch and out onto the Warburgstrasse, which ran behind the consulate. She waved goodbye to him, but he didn’t look back.
Ramona Kyle didn’t visitWashington very often. It made her feel ill, physically, to be there: cramps in her stomach and sometimes a migraine that didn’t ease until she had left the city. Washington represented everything that she thought was wrong about where America had headed over the decades she had been alive. Each year, it became more remote and arrogant. Its rituals and institutions were for show. Members of Congress pretended to oversee the executive branch; the courts performed the rites of judicial review; presidents reported each January about how they had enlarged life, liberty and happiness. It was like a victory parade in a people’s democratic republic. Any connection with reality was disappearing. The truth was that America was losing touch more every year with the values the founders had cherished.
The last time Kyle had come to Washington she had visited the Jefferson Memorial in the late afternoon and sat on its steps and wept. The tears had come again each time she looked up at the walls of the rotunda and saw the libertarian president’s words chiseled in the stone. Finally one of the guards got nervous about the presence of this sobbing woman and asked her to leave.
Kyle needed to see people who worked in Washington, but she wasn’t ready to infect herself with a visit to D.C. So she asked a few essential contacts to come to her, taking appropriate precautions. She set herself up in the town of Frederick, about an hour northwest of the capital. Her personal assistant found a boutique inn outside Frederick and made a reservation in her own name, to shield Kyle’s privacy. It was a weekend hideaway where the bedrooms were named after fictional couples. Kyle chose the bedroom named for Nick and Nora Charles, not because she was expecting any romantic visitors—she didn’tdothat—but out of respect for the author, Dashiell Hammett, who had refused to testify against his Communist friends and colleagues during the McCarthy era.
Kyle met her visitors away from the hotel, in spots that ringed the town. Her first caller was the staff director of Too Many Secrets, though he didn’t carry that title because the organization didn’t officially have any staff, much less a director. What it had was money from Kyle’s substantial personal fortune to give away to groups and people fighting for what Kyle, in her speeches and op-ed pieces, called “Open America.”
She reviewed the anti-secrecy agenda with her Washington man in a pavilion decked with red, white and blue bunting in Shafer Park in Boonsboro. Next to the pavilion was a towering American flag, and beyond that a baseball diamond where kids were noisily playing ball. The diminutive woman sat under the shade of the gazebo and discussed with her lieutenant how to keep up the flow of funds for legal defenses of people who had been charged with leaking government information. She scanned the half dozen accounts she used to send money to people on the front lines against secrecy, “our heroes,” she liked to say, though she was careful even with this closest assistant not to identify who they were.
The second caller was the legislative assistant of one of the senators who represented her home state of California and now served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Ramona Kyle had been a generous contributor to his campaigns, and she asked for little in return, other than that her favorite senator monitor abuses by intelligence agencies. She never requested classified information, but she always seemed to know what was on the committee’s agenda, which made it easier for her to press her points. The aide explained that the senator would soon be introducing a new bill to restrict funding for the National Security Agency. That pleased Kyle, even though she knew it was for show, and that the senator, like most influential members of Congress, only pretended to oppose what she regarded as illegal surveillance.
Late that afternoon, Ramona Kyle met her old Stanford classmate James Morris. She had messaged him through an email account they had shared since graduate school. She proposed that they rendezvous at the Antietam National Battlefield, a few miles south of where she was staying. It was an anonymous enough destination, the sort any tourist would visit. Morris drove his Prius up I-270 from his apartment in Dupont Circle, and Kyle took a taxi from her inn in Boonsboro.
They met on the walkway that skirted the battlefield monuments. Morris was wearing a cardigan sweater and jeans, and his favorite pair of hiking boots. His hair was blowing in the afternoon breeze, and he looked almost handsome. Kyle appeared half his size, cloaked in a bulky wool turtleneck that obscured the shape of her body. Her frizzy red hair was tied back in a ponytail, and she was wearing a cap with the wordsASTON VILLA, which was the name of her favorite soccer team, a sport she followed passionately.
It was flat ground, fields and orchards framed by the Blue Ridge in the distance, a natural arena in which two armies might collide. The humble white brick church around which the battle had been fought stood just beyond them on a rise. Kyle was wearing dark glasses and scarcely looked up from the walkway.
They immediately fell into intense conversation, as if they were taking up the thread of a dialogue that had been momentarily interrupted. They walked close together, the spindly man occasionally bumping into the tiny woman, each of them stopping suddenly to make a particular point. Ramona Kyle famously had no friends at Stanford save one, James Morris, and she seemed to shed her shyness and disdain for people when he was present. She was the only child of a brilliant, reclusive composer, and she treated Morris much as if he were the brother she didn’t have. Morris, who also lived in a world where he had few close friends or intellectual equals, reciprocated the intimacy. He called her “K” and she called him “Jimmy,” names they used with no one else.
“How do you survive it?” Kyle said after they had been talking for a time about Morris’s life in Washington. By “it” she meant all the aspects of government that she found repellent.
“I multitask,” he answered. “The right hand doesn’t talk to the left hand, but the juggler never drops the ball.”
“You scare me,” she said. “You’re such a good . . . spy.”
They walked on toward the obelisks and pillars that marked the battle that had been fought on this ground on September 17, 1862. Ramona had seemed oblivious of the surroundings, but now she spoke up.
“Do you know how many people died here, Jimmy? It was twenty-three thousand, counting both sides. That’s the most people that were killed in one day in any battle, ever, anywhere.”
She took his hand and pulled him to a stop.
“Close your eyes and you can see the bodies. They’re heaped up, one on top of the other. They’re pleading for water. They want someone to come and shoot them dead, it hurts so much. That’s what war is. Don’t forget that.”
“I don’t,” said Morris.
Kyle still had her eyes closed, smelling death in her nostrils. She took off her dark glasses and looked him full in the face.
“Listen to me, Jimmy: It was five days after Antietam when Lincoln issued the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Do you know why? I think it’s because it had tomeansomething, all this suffering. There was no turning back. It’s the same for you. You can’t stop now.”
Her voice fell. She took his hand.
“Did you bring me anything?”
“Yes,” he said. He took a thumb drive out of the pocket of his jeans and, in one invisible motion, put it in her open palm, which closed around it. She thrust the hand into her own pocket under the bulky sweater.
“There’s someone I want you to meet,” she said. “He can tell you the real story, the secret history.”
“Of what, K?”
“Of the CIA. He’s a historian. He used to work at the agency, retired now. He was a friend of my father’s. It will rock you, what he says. His name is Arthur Peabody. I’ll have someone send you his number.”
“Not now,” said Morris, shaking his head. “In a week or two. It’s too busy now. I have a new boss. The place is vibrating.”
“Is Weber for real?” asked Kyle. “If he’s serious, they’ll destroy him.”
“I don’t know,” answered Morris. “I guess we’ll find out.”
They walked a little longer, but it was getting dark. She nudged him back toward the parking lot and told him to get home before it was too late. “You’re a shit driver,” she said. “They shouldn’t let you have a car.”
She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss.
Kyle called the Boonsboro taxi to come pick her up. She ate dinner alone, as she did most meals. The only decent restaurant in town was a steak house. She was a vegetarian, but they let her make a meal of grilled mushrooms and steamed broccoli.
The next morning Kyle met a fourth visitor. This one was more careful about the rendezvous even than she was. He took a bus to Frederick, then a taxi to Boonsboro, then walked the three miles northeast to Greenbrier State Park, an isolated pocket of woods that was empty even on a good day. He was of medium height, solidly built, his features obscured by a cap and sunglasses. Someone who knew him would have noticed that his well-cut hair was concealed by a shaggy wig. He spoke to others only when he had to, in language-school English that was nearly flawless, so that you barely heard the foreign accent. He called himself “Roger,” in this identity.
The man waited under a wooden shelter as the low October sun cast its beam on the water. The morning was still, almost windless. He didn’t turn when the taxi crested the access road from Route 40 and turned into the parking lot to deposit a passenger. A woman emerged from the backseat and, as the car revved back toward the highway, she strolled toward the lake, taking the long way toward the pavilion to make sure the park was empty.
Kyle sat down on the park bench across from the visitor.
“We only have fifteen minutes,” she said. She leaned toward him across the picnic table and spoke so quietly that even someone sitting at the next bench could not have heard what she said.
K. J. Sandoval’s messagearrived at Headquarters late Friday morning, Washington time. She sent it in her pseudonym, which wasn’t Kitten or even Helen, but “Mildred G. Mansfield.” It was transmitted on the “restricted handling” channel, personal for the director. In cablese, she described the Swiss walk-in (REF A) to the Hamburg consulate (LOC B); she summarized his claim that the agency’s internal communications had been compromised, including true names of officers of an organization she referenced only by cryptonym.
She sent Rudolf Biel’s true name and the location where he had appeared in separate cables for security. She described his warning that agency systems were insecure, and his supporting evidence in the list of officers’ names in Germany and Switzerland. She noted his references to Friends of Cerberus and the Exchange, but left out his self-description as “Swiss Maggot.” She asked that any traces on him be run off-line. She concluded by saying that he had refused to stay in an agency residence, believing that it was unsafe, and that he would return to the consulate on Monday morning.
The message was restrained and professional, but it rang alarm bells. It was routed to Graham Weber through the Europe Division, to which Sandoval reported, with a copy to the director’s chief of staff, Sandra Bock. When the message landed on the seventh floor, Weber was at lunch on Capitol Hill visiting the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. The communications clerk made sure the chief of staff was notified that the director had an RH message in his queue.
Bock knew the information was urgent as soon as she read it. The worst calamity for an intelligence agency is a penetration agent or a code break, and this hinted at both. She cabled the base in Hamburg and told Sandoval to stay put, pending instructions. Bock was not an excitable person. She was a twenty-year CIA veteran who had risen in the organization through brute competence, starting as a Near East South Asia analyst, then moving to Science and Technology, then serving as station chief in Tunis and finally running the Support directorate. She was a sturdy woman, big all over and allergic to dieting. She dressed in black pants suits every day, as if she were wearing a uniform.
Bock considered alerting the director while he was at lunch. But she decided it would be unsettling for him and might only make the members of Congress ask questions. She checked to see if the head of the Office of Security was in the building, but he was traveling. As a backup, she checked the Information Operations Center, which was located in an office block a few miles away. The director, James Morris, was at lunch, so she left a message asking him to call as soon as he returned.
Finally, she called Weber’s security detail and asked the chief to alert her when the boss was leaving the Capitol on his way back to Langley. She was waiting in his outer office when he returned.
Weber was removing the necktie he had worn for his luncheon at the Capitol when he walked in the door. His cheeks were red. At the congressmen’s insistence, he’d had a glass of wine at lunch. He was hurrying. His face said,Don’t bother me.
“What’s up?” he asked Bock, barely looking at her. He wanted her answer to be nothing, so that he could get to work on the pile of paper in his in-box. Listening to the congressmen lecture him about how to run the agency had put him in a bad mood. But she was such a large presence he couldn’t very well walk around her.
“I think you need to take a look at this, Mr. Director,” she said. “It arrived while you were at lunch.” She handed him the cable, clad in a red folder, and followed him into his interior office.
Weber sat down at his big desk and studied the cable and attachments. When he finished, he looked up at her, focusing those marble-blue eyes. He trusted Bock, a tough woman manager who didn’t know how to cut corners. He was sensible enough, in his first week, to take her advice before issuing any orders.
“What the hell does this mean?” he asked.
He motioned for Bock to sit down, but she remained standing.
“We don’t know. But we have to assume that it could be bad.”
“I thought CIA communications were unbreakable. That’s what people have been telling me all week.”
“Nothing is unbreakable, sir. Our systems are supposed to be secure, unless someone is inside the gap.”
CIA systems, in theory, were protected by what was known as an “air gap,” which meant that they were entirely separate, electronically, from the Internet or any other nonsecure computing systems.
Weber thought a moment. There wasn’t passion or anxiety on his face, just the cold calculation of options and possibilities.
“Could this be some kind of provocation from another service?” he asked.
“Maybe,” answered Bock. “Most of our people are declared to the Germans and Swiss. Someone could get those officers’ names through liaison. But I don’t understand how this walk-in would have that information from any normal channel.”
“Why did she let him leave the consulate?”
“She thought she had no choice.”
“Mistake,” said Weber. “There’s always a choice.”
The director thought some more. He put a finger to his lip and traced its outline while his chief of staff waited like a big black crow across from his desk.
“Who’s the best person to manage this? You know the staff. I don’t. Who’s the right one? Start with the case officer. Who’s she?”
“I pulled her file,” said Bock. “Her name is K. J. Sandoval. The ‘K’ is for Kitten, and don’t ask me because I don’t know. She’s a hard worker, good fitness reports, GS-13 but will probably never make supergrade. She has a few recruitments, but nothing spectacular. I’m told EUR gave her the base in Hamburg as a reward for not making trouble.”
“She sounds like mediocrity, squared.”
“I can’t disagree with that, Director.”
“Who else? The Clandestine Service is just sitting around waiting for me to make a mistake. Who’s a superstar over there?”
“The NCS doesn’t do superstars anymore. Operations officers decided that sticking their necks out was dangerous to their health. I’d suggest you ask Mr. Beasley, for starters.”
“Black Jack Beasley is a card counter,” said Weber. “That’s what everyone says. He’ll always stand on seventeen.”
Earl Beasley was the first African-American to head the National Clandestine Service. His nickname “Black Jack” came not from his skin color, but because in his younger days he had hustled every casino from Las Vegas to Atlantic City. He was a math prodigy who had dropped out of Princeton to play cards. His secret advantage had been racism. People just couldn’t imagine back then that a black man could actually keep track of all the numbers. Later, before joining the agency, Beasley had a brief but very lucrative stint as a trader for an investment bank. He was a risk-taker, which Weber liked, but he had become a creature of the CIA culture.
“Who else can we bring in? I want someone who’s smart enough to see around corners. This walk-in is a serious hacker, from what Sandoval says in her cable. What about the young guy who runs Information Ops? I met him last year. He seemed smart as hell.”
“James Morris,” she said, taking a step toward his desk. “He’s the director of the Information Operations Center. The book on him is that he’s a computer genius. He used to be a mathematician, then some kind of hacker. He’s spooky smart, that’s what everyone says.”
Weber’s eyes narrowed. It was part of his character, as a smart man himself, to believe that other smart people could solve problems. He’d been known at his company for picking the brightest kids and giving them lots of responsibility. That was part of his management style, hiring the special while bypassing the ordinary.
“I liked this kid when I met him,” said Weber. “He’s hard to read, but he knows a lot. Get him over here.”
“I called him while you were on the Hill. He was at lunch, but I left an urgent message.”
“Find him. I want to talk with him as soon as I can this afternoon. I have to meet with employees at four. After that let’s have a senior staff meeting at five with Beasley and the general counsel and the DDI and whoever else should be on the card, plus Morris. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, Mr. Director, I’ll let you know when Morris is on his way.” She spoke crisply, without a trace of emotion on her face. That was the problem with Bock. She was so immune to charm and manipulation that she didn’t give any clues what she was thinking beneath the surface.
“And call the base chief in Hamburg. Tell her you’ve briefed me, and to sit tight while we figure out what to do.”
Marie knocked on the director’s door just after three and said that Mr. Morris had arrived. Weber had a sense of anticipation, the way he used to feel before launching a new business deal.
James Morris hadn’t changed from what Weber remembered. He was tall and thin. The glasses were tinted now, and he was wearing a plain black T-shirt and a black linen jacket. He didn’t look like anyone else that Weber had met in his first week at the CIA.
“What do you know?” asked Weber. It was his habitual, informal greeting. He took Morris’s hand. “Good to see you again.”
“You got the big office,” said Morris, trying to reciprocate the informality. “Quieter than Caesar’s Palace.”
“Not anymore,” said Weber.
Weber motioned for Morris to take a seat on the couch, while he settled into the big easy chair. Weber’s office was still undecorated except for a large map of the world and a photograph of the president. What drew the eye was the outdoors, glimpsed through the glass windows. With the trees nearly stripped of their leaves in mid-October, it was a scene painted with a palette of reddish brown, rather than green.
“What have you been doing the past year?” said Weber.
“Working hard, trying some new things, but spinning my wheels a lot of the time. People have been, you know, distracted with the Jankowski thing.”
“That’s why I’m here,” said Weber. “To push ‘restart.’ Tell me about yourself. The details you weren’t supposed to tell me before.”
Morris offered a shy half smile. He had a sparkle in his eye, a glitter. Weber had seen it before with very smart people. They were plugged into an energy that wasn’t on the normal grid.
“I’m the agency computer guy. That’s what you heard, I’m sure. And it’s basically true. I was a math major at Stanford, then I spent a couple of years in China working for Microsoft, then went to Carnegie Mellon to do my doctorate in electrical engineering but instead got recruited by Clowns in Action.”
“Clowns in Action?”
“Sorry, Mr. Director, inside joke. I apologize.”
“Don’t. I may use it myself. So keep going. What did you do when you got to the agency?”
“I did Operations. They wanted to send me to S and T, but I could have stayed at CMU if I’d wanted to be an engineer. It turned out that I was good at recruiting systems administrators. We spoke the same language. The Clandestine Service sent me to Paris and Hong Kong. Then they brought me home for a while, and then I worked at the White House on the national security staff for two years. Then they brought me back to run Information Operations. That’s me.”
“I already know you won Hacker Jeopardy three years in a row.”
“I didn’t tell you my screen name was ‘Pownzor.’ That’s still my nickname at the Information Operations Center. The new kids think it’s cool.”
“What does it mean, ‘Pownzor’?”
“It means, ‘I own you.’ On the Net, people say you ‘pown’ someone when you take down his system, and the guy who does it is the pownzor.”
Weber was nodding, liking what he heard. Those cold blue eyes were appraising Morris.
“Impressive,” said Weber. “And are you still a hacker?”
Morris smiled that wary, coy smile again. “What’s the right answer?” he asked.
“There isn’t one.”
“Then, yes, of course I’m still a hacker. I work for the CIA, for god’s sake. That’s the biggest hack in the world, right? We own everyone.”
“I lied,” said Weber. “There was a right answer.”
The young man smiled, just an instant. He was losing his shyness. He looked the director in the eye.
“You did something brave this week, Mr. Director.”
“What’s that? Showing up?”
“You removed the statue of ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan. He represents some serious agency juju, all the way back to our godparents in London. Some people aren’t going to like that.”
“Hell, that’s just an old piece of sculpture. I’ll put it back in a year or two. This place just needs some new faces, a little airing out.”
“It’s more than that. It’s cutting the cord. It’s a declaration of independence. It’s—” The young man was going to go on, but he stopped suddenly, as if he were about to utter something dangerous, and closed his mouth.
The director got up and called to Marie for some coffee, and in an instant she carried in a tray of beverages, hot and cold, accompanied by cookies and finger sandwiches. Weber poured himself a cup of coffee. As he stirred the grains of sweetener into the black liquid, he made up his mind.
“So I have a problem,” said the director. “And I’ve decided that it’s about to become your problem.”
Weber waited for Morris to say something, but he didn’t, so the director continued. He handed Morris a copy of the cable that had been sent a few hours before from Germany.
“We had a walk-in at our base in Hamburg today. A young man asked to meet with me personally, but the base chief said that was impossible. He was a kid, a hacker from Zurich. He claimed to have urgent information.”
“What did he want to tell you?” Morris leaned forward intently and adjusted his glasses.
“He said we had been hacked. Someone had gotten inside our systems. I don’t know all the details yet, but he had a list of names of our officers in Switzerland and Germany that my chief of staff Sandra Bock says was legit.”
Morris nodded. He didn’t speak for a long moment, and then he turned to the director and said, “Of course.”
“What does that mean?” asked Weber.
“Of course I’ll help, if you want me to.”
Weber sat back in his chair, off balance. He wasn’t used to someone accepting an assignment he hadn’t formally made yet. But he liked the young man’s enthusiasm and spontaneity.
“Good. I want fresh eyes on this. I want you to be aggressive, but not stupid. This building would love to see me declare a three-alarm fire and lock all the doors and windows so that nothing will change, ever.”
Morris blinked. He looked down at the cable, then back at the director. “Where is the walk-in now?” he asked.
“We don’t know. He wouldn’t go to one of our safe houses. He said we were penetrated and that we couldn’t protect him.”
“I’ll try to find him, Mr. Director. Bring him out. It’s dangerous for him to be alone.”
“How are you going to locate someone who disappeared?”
“That’s my job, to be inside these networks.”
“I thought the hacker underground was off-limits. People have been telling me that all week.”
Morris’s voice fell to a lower register.
“We have some special operations. They’re run outside the building so we don’t have to clear them with intelligence committees. I have a few platforms and nonofficial cover slots. Ask Mr. Hoffman. He approved it.”
Weber nodded. A week into the job, and the secrets were beginning to come out of hiding.
“Is this kosher? I want you to be aggressive, but legal. This place doesn’t need more scandals.”
“It’s what it is, sir. Like most things around here. I just don’t want you to get blindsided.”
Weber took the cable in his hand and searched for the name of walk-in.
“Have you ever heard of this Swiss kid, Rudolf Biel?”
“No, sir. But I think I know the organization he’s telling us about. They spin around a German hacker group. They have Russian connections, too. We’ve been pinging them for a while.”
Weber drummed his fingers on the table. Morris took a set of jade worry beads from his pocket and then thought better of it and put them back in his pocket.
Weber broke the silence.
“Walk me through it: We need to get him out, but carefully, or his organization will know we’re on to them.”
“Correct, sir. They will take appropriate precautions.”
“But we can’t just throw him back. He’s a dead man if we do that. So what do you recommend to the new director?”
Morris disappeared behind those glasses for a moment as he pondered the problem. Then he began talking quickly, in a light, staccato voice, almost a patter.
“So . . . maybe we arrange his exfiltration so it looks like he’s dead. We prepare something: a car crash or a boat sinking or a drug overdose. We dummy up the paper for the Germans so they confirm he’s dead, and meanwhile we get him out on the sly. Then we watch his friends to see if they swallow the lie.”
“That works,” said Weber. “I like you. You’re ready to roll the dice. Let’s get you some help.”
Weber punched the intercom for Marie. “Get me Beasley,” he said.
Morris shook his head and mouthed the word,No.
“Hold that,” said Weber into the phone. He turned to Morris.
“Don’t you need Beasley? He’s the head of the Clandestine Service. How are you going to run your exfiltration without him?”
“This should be an IOC case. Beasley would do it old-style, break a lot of furniture.”
“But he runs operations.”
Morris answered with the assertive tone of a man who wanted to build a new franchise.
“We know the hacker underground, Mr. Director. We aren’t afraid of it. Hell, sir, we are it. We have a new capability: I call it our ‘special access unit.’ We have some ex-military people who help us out. We can use them.”
“Christ, how did you get all that? It’s not on any budget I’ve seen.”
“It was part of the same authority that gave us the IOC platforms overseas. Right before Director Jankowski left. It was a package. Everyone signed off on it.”
The director leaned back and ran his fingers through his blond hair and then patted it in place. He wanted to trust the young computer wizard, but this was his first week on the job.
“I wish we had more time.”
Morris’s tone was calmer now, more reassuring.
“I can do it, Mr. Director. It’s on me, if something goes wrong. My resignation will be on your desk.”
Weber laughed at the false bravado.
“Oh, come on, Morris. Don’t overdo it. I’ll tell Sandra Bock to prepare the paperwork. Just don’t screw it up.”
Morris offered a thin smile. “Thanks, Mr. Director.” He flipped a half salute. “How soon should I get started?”
“Fly to Germany tomorrow. Meet the base chief. Her name is Sandoval. Help her out.”
Morris adjusted his glasses. The stubble on his face looked darker, as the afternoon light deepened.
“Who’s running the case, me or her?”
“You are. Find him, if you can. And work up your plan for getting him out and debriefing him.”
“And you’re okay that Mr. Beasley will be unhappy with this. The Hamburg base chief reports to him.”
“That’s my problem. I’m the director. Be back here at five for a staff meeting. Beasley will be here, along with the other ‘clowns.’ I’ll tell everyone this is the way I want to run it. You can explain your plan.”
Morris looked at the director curiously. He was a controlled, restrained man, but there was a flicker in one eye, almost a tremor.
“This will rock the boat, Mr. Director. People won’t be pleased.”
“Good. I get paid to take risks. You’re my first one at the agency. So like I said, don’t screw up.”
Morris smiled. The momentary tremor had vanished. He gave the director a thumbs-up, and then shook his hand.
“You need to own this, Pownzor,” said the director. “I mean it.”
Morris nodded gravely. Then the shy smile returned as he walked out the door.
Marie knocked on GrahamWeber’s door again a little before four and said they were ready for him downstairs in the bubble. He had scheduled the first of a series of “town hall meetings” with the CIA workforce. He’d held similar sessions for years at his company, open and relaxed, and it had always been part of his management style. The deputy director, Peter Pingray, had offered to introduce him onstage, as a way to help Weber get settled, but Weber had declined. Pingray was an emblem of a past that Weber wanted to eradicate. Sandra Bock, his chief of staff, escorted him to the private elevator and rode down with him to the terrace just to the left of the main lobby. As they descended, Weber thought about the confluence of events that day: the note in his drawer; the visitor in Hamburg. He had modeled what he wanted to do at the CIA, but he couldn’t control what his economist friends liked to call the “exogenous” variables.
“What are you going to say?” asked Bock.
“Nothing they’ll like very much,” Weber answered with a wink. “But at least I’ll scare them a little.”
Weber heard a smattering of applause when he stepped into the lobby; it got louder at first, and then quieter, and then stopped altogether. People really didn’t know what to expect. They were curious, nervous, pissed off, but mostly they wanted to get a glimpse of the man.
The new director walked across the marble floor, past where the Donovan statue used to be. The crowd parted to allow him to exit the front door. People were standing on the statue of Nathan Hale, just to the left outside, to get a better view. Weber continued past the statue to the door of the round-domed auditorium. He hadn’t fully realized how needy the place was until he saw all those wary, expectant looks.
It was hot inside the bubble, with so many people. Weber was already tieless, but he took off his jacket when he got to the podium and laid it over a chair. He had the easy, boyish smile he adopted in public. A soft face had always been a useful mask for him.
Weber looked around the room. They were so young, the people in the audience. What was he going to tell them? Not the same old shibboleths about intelligence that they’d been hearing for decades. He wasn’t one of the old boys; they weren’t his lies to tell and he had no reason not to be honest.
Weber put up his hands for people to stop clapping, but they didn’t, so he just started speaking. “Stop, please, and sit down, or I’ll think you’re all just trying to suck up and will lose respect for everyone in this room.”
He meant it as a joke, sort of. It got people to take their seats. Nobody in the CIA wanted to look like an ass-kisser, though the place was as filled with them as any bureaucracy, maybe more so.
“I asked to meet with you at the end of my first week as director, before I forgot why I took the job. This is the real version of what I think, before it gets rubbed down. So take notes, if you like. Tell your retiree friends to call theWashington Post. And I know who you leakers are, by the way, especially you, Jim.”
He pointed to Jim Duncan, the Africa Division chief in the Clandestine Service, who was a notorious gossip, according to his chief of staff, Bock. That drew laughter from people who knew Duncan, and even those who didn’t, it was so unexpected to call him out that way. Agency employees were terrible gossips, especially when they didn’t like a new director. They would eviscerate their bosses, leak by leak, and they had already started on Weber.
“Let me begin by stating frankly what everyone in this room knows. There is something seriously wrong at the CIA. Our former director is under criminal investigation. Many agency employees have testified before the grand jury. Even our lawyers are hiring lawyers. Morale is awful. I’m told that operations in some parts of the world have essentially stopped. The only thing that’s keeping us alive, people tell me, is our Information Operations, but that’s not much help to the rest of the building.
“And the president has asked me to fix it. I want to start by telling you what I told the president. I’m not sure I can.”
There were a few groans in the audience. People looked puzzled. They were accustomed to upbeat rhetoric from new directors, wrapped with a lame joke or two, but not to getting hit with a two-by-four.
“You all know that I got the job by saying no to the intelligence community. That’s a strange credential, I realize, and a lot of you probably are suspicious about it. But the president decided he liked what I said, and when I told him that I thought the CIA was stuck in the past, he liked that, too. So as uncomfortable as many of you may be with an outsider as director, I have to say: Get over it, please. I got the job, and I have orders from the president to make changes. If you think you can work with me, great. If not, there are a lot of wonderful places to work outside the CIA and you may want to look around.”
That brought a general murmuring. These were government workers. The very idea they might lose their jobs was heresy. Weber raised his hand for silence.
“A lot of you will say it’s not your fault. And yes, it’s true that the agency gets mistreated in Washington. The only thing liberals and conservatives agree on these days is that they don’t like the CIA. But that’s part of the agency’s job, isn’t it, to take shots from politicians? If people just had nice things to say, they could say them to the State Department or the Pentagon. Am I right? I think so.”
Where was he going with this? From the nervous silence, it was obvious that people didn’t know.
“No, the CIA’s problem isn’t the undeserved blame. It’s the deserved blame. From what I have seen and heard, too much of the work product is mediocre. Too little real intelligence work gets done, because people are so busy trying to protect the past and avoid getting hit by the congressional investigation. It’s like working at a company that’s losing money. It’s no fun. Under previous management, it appears that people were so contemptuous of the organization they were actually ripping it off. That’s how bad it’s gotten. People have been looting their own workplace.”
A few people began to applaud, not sure what else to do, and then they stopped. He waited and let the silence build until it was embarrassing and people were fidgeting in their seats, which was exactly what he wanted.
“The president told me that we have a morale problem, and that I should fix it. But with all due respect to anyone in the audience from the White House, that is inaccurate. The CIA has a performance problem. The bad morale is a symptom. The disease is something else. And from what people tell me, it has been going on for a long time.
“Now the question is, why does the CIA have a performance problem? Why is it that so many of the things the agency does turn out badly? Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria. How can you do better for policy makers—but forget about them, for the moment—do better for yourselves?”
“Kill more bad guys,” said a voice in the back.
“Oh, very good,” answered Weber, without missing a beat. “Let’s turn the agency into a force of paramilitary killers, full-time. Give up on spying and just shoot people, twenty-four/seven. Sorry, friends, but that’s part of the problem. This is an intelligence agency, not Murder, Incorporated. We’re supposed to gather the secret information that can protect the country; we’re not operating a shooting gallery.”
“What’s your answer, Mr. Director?” asked Pingray in the front row. “How do you propose to get the agency back on track? That’s what everyone would like to hear.”
Pingray was a tidy man; short, bald, round-faced. He asked the question sincerely, with the voice of someone who knew how many obstacles Weber would encounter, even if the new director didn’t. But Weber didn’t really hear him. He jumped on the question.
“The answer is the same as in any failing organization. Find out what’s wrong. Then promote the good people who can fix it and fire the bad ones who can’t. What’s the point of taking the job, otherwise? Not just me as director, but all of you: Why work for this unpopular, low-pay organization—except to do great work, and be respected for it?
“At the risk of sounding immodest, let me tell you all something: I know how to fix organizations that are broken. I’ve been doing it all my life. But it’s like a twelve-step process. You have to want to get better. You have to admit to yourself that if you don’t change, you’re going to end up dead. For the CIA, the past is an addiction. You’re going to have to quit.
“So that’s the end of my little pep talk. But you’ll be hearing more from me, I promise. And please, no applause or I’ll know you didn’t hear anything I just said. Now, any questions?”
The air had been sucked out of the room. Nobody spoke, or even moved for a moment.
“Nobody?” He looked around the auditorium. “When you kick an old dog, at least you get a few growls. Come on, people.”
There were a few hands. Employees asked predictable questions about pay freezes and furloughs and benefits changes, all of which Weber said could be better answered by HR. Someone asked him his views on “targeted killing,” which was a euphemism for drones. He said it was too early for him to know what he thought; ask in another month. One person praised him for speaking so frankly, to tepid applause. Nobody was ready to call him on the heart of what he’d said about performance, because most of them knew it was true. They were working for a failing enterprise; he said he was going to turn it around. They had to hope he pulled it off, even the ones who resented him.
As Weber made his way out of the bubble, there was stone-cold silence like the quiet after a funeral, and then a low hum when he was out the door and everyone was murmuring, asking whether he meant it, if this was for real, if the agency was actually going to have a director who would kick ass in a way that no current employee could remember.
Weber walked back across the marble floor of the lobby. The CIA had been built in the brutalist modern style of the 1960s that eschewed ornamentation. There were no murals or paintings; only the stars in the wall to mark the agency officers who had died on duty, and the empty space where the Donovan statue had stood.
As Weber walked past the security gate where employees badged in each morning, his eyes focused on a sign beside the guard desk. It listed all the incongruous things that were forbidden inside the building:EXPLOSIVES AND INCENDIARY DEVICES, ANIMALS OTHER THAN GUIDE DOGS, SOLICITING AND DISTRIBUTING HANDBILLS, DISTURBANCES, GAMBLING. He’d seen this warning sign every day that week as he moved about the building. He turned to the bulky, assuring form of Bock, who was walking next to him.
“That sign is ridiculous,” said Weber.
“Say what, sir?”
“‘Gambling’ and ‘creating disturbances’? I thought that was what intelligence officers did for a living. And ‘distributing handbills’? Is that really a problem here? When was the last time someone gave you a handbill, Sandra? It makes us look asinine, to have a moronic sign like that where visitors can see it.”
“You’re in a pissy mood, sir.” It was the first time Bock had been even modestly disrespectful.
“Maybe, but I’m right about that sign. It’s silly. Get rid of it.”
And the sign was gone the next day.
The senior staff gatheredin the conference room across from the director’s office as five o’clock approached. People were trying not to talk about the director’s speech, but the mood was stiff and awkward, and they swiveled in their chairs or poured themselves glasses of water. The room was antiseptic and impersonal as only a government meeting room can be: a big table with a glass top; overstuffed leather chairs; television monitors for the now-inevitable video-teleconferencing hookups. Weber was a few minutes late, and people were looking at their watches when Sandra Bock arrived and said the director wanted everyone to gather instead across the hall.
The director’s office wasn’t big enough for the group, really. People had to sit three on a sofa and perch on the arms of chairs. But Weber liked it better this way, crowded and informal. He pulled up one of the chairs next to his big oak desk and parked himself in the arc of the circle. He still looked too young for the job: lean, fit, still some of his West Coast tan and that blond-haired baby face, peculiar for a middle-aged man.
He panned the group: At the center was Beasley, the chief of the Clandestine Service, resplendent in one of his tailor-made English suits and a Turnbull & Asser shirt with blue stripes and a pure white collar that set off his handsome brown face. Beasley looked at the new director and shook his head.
“Hell of a speech in the bubble just now, Mr. Director. Pow! Knocked me out. It made me want to commit suicide, actually, but that’s my problem, right?”
“Right,” said Weber.
Next to Beasley was Ruth Savin, the general counsel. She was a handsome woman, with jet-black hair and dark Mediterranean features that made her stand out among the Mormons, Catholics and fading WASPs who still, somehow, seemed to think of the agency as their place. She had come to the agency ten years before after a stint as staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and had shaped the legal framework of every piece of secret business since her arrival.
The heads of other directorates filled up the seats: Loomis Braden, the top analyst, who was deputy director for intelligence and known to all as “the DDI”; Marcia Klein, who ran Support; Tom Avery, who headed Science and Technology. These were the people who once upon a time would have been known as barons, but now were more like caretakers.
Standing just outside the inner circle was the tall, ascetic figure of James Morris, the head of Information Operations. His casual dress, T-shirt and linen jacket signaled that he was different in age, temperament and so many other qualities. He had one hand behind his back; hidden from view, he was turning a quarter over his fingers, the way a magician will sometimes do.
As Weber was about to start the meeting, the door opened and in walked a large man, dressed in a three-piece pin-striped suit with a gold watch chain across the vest. He was carrying in his hand a brown fedora, which he had worn outdoors. On his arm was an umbrella. He was round-faced, hair trimmed to a short buzz; he had a habit, even entering a room unannounced, of looking over the tops of his glasses, so that his eyebrows seemed perpetually raised in a quizzical look.
“Hello, Cyril,” said Weber. “Glad you could make it.”
“Howdy do,” said Cyril Hoffman genially, with a flourish of his hat. People made way for him on the large sofa. Hoffman fluffed his ample coat jacket out behind him as he sat down, like a concert pianist in tails taking his seat at the piano.
At the last minute, Weber had decided to invite Hoffman, the director of National Intelligence. It was partly an instinct for self-protection that he wanted Hoffman with him inside the tent as he faced his first real problem. But he also respected Hoffman’s judgment. The DNI had been around the intelligence community for his entire adult life. He was the closest thing the country had to a permanent undersecretary for intelligence. There were very few secrets that he didn’t know, and few messes that he hadn’t helped clean up.
Weber cleared his throat. He was nervous, for just an instant.
“We have a problem,” he began “It just arrived today. Some of you have seen the cable traffic, but for those who haven’t, let me explain what happened. Today in Hamburg, Germany, a young man walked into our consulate and asked to see me personally, the new director. He told the base chief that we have a security breach. He’s a ‘hacker,’ or claims to be, so he didn’t put it that way. He said we have been hacked. He said the names of our personnel have been compromised in Germany and Switzerland, and he had a list to prove it. He wouldn’t stay in one of our safe houses, as the base chief proposed, because he said our information wasn’t secure.”
Weber looked to Bock, who was standing motionless like an iron pillar.
“Is that more or less it, for the basics, Sandra?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered.
“After considering this matter, I have decided to send James Morris, the head of Information Operations, to Hamburg to assist the base chief in the debriefing and exfiltration.”
Every eye in the room turned toward the casually dressed young man standing beyond the couches. He had drawn some resentment over the past several years from colleagues for pushing his authority. Now he was being given what amounted to a battlefield promotion by the new director.
“Big responsibility,” said Weber. “Unconventional decision, I guess. But my instinct is that the person who deals with hacker penetration of the agency needs to be able to swim in that sea, and the person here who fits that description is James Morris. Earl Beasley has generously agreed to help Morris work out the details. Thanks for that, Earl.”
“I just work here,” said Beasley slowly. “I do what the boss says.”
Beasley let the words hang in the air, an implied rebuke, and then softened. “It’s not crazy. The IOC should be more involved in operations. We’ve been saying that for years. Well, shit, now we gonna do it.”
Weber nodded his thanks. Beasley was a good politician, whatever else he might be. On the couch, Cyril Hoffman watched Beasley with what seemed a look of sly amusement. Evidently he doubted that the chief of the Clandestine Service had spoken in complete sincerity.
Weber turned to Morris.
“So, James, why don’t you explain to the group what you plan to do.”
“Nobody calls me James, Mr. Director. Everyone in my office calls me Pownzor. Even people on the seventh floor do, too.”
“I’ll stick with James,” said Weber. “Explain the drill.”
Morris adjusted his glasses and took a step toward the center of the circle. For an awkward man, a “nerd,” in common parlance, he also had a presence and a sense of theater.
“So the good news about hackers is that they can be hacked. Based on what the walk-in told the base chief in Hamburg this morning, we have a pretty good idea of who he is and the circles he runs in. He’s connected to a group of hackers with roots in Russia who started with credit-card scams a decade ago, stealing people’s data and buying expensive stuff they could fence in a hurry. They graduated to much bigger frauds; they extort banks, gambling sites, anything that loses money fast if it goes off-line. But they’re not just scammers anymore. It’s a movement.”
“Meaning what?” asked Beasley. He didn’t believe in movements.
Morris’s eyes were gleaming behind the frames of his glasses. This was the part he understood best.
“They are motivated. They hate authority. To be specific, they hate us, the CIA.”
“Everybody hates the CIA,” said Beasley. “What else is new?”
Morris continued with his narrative, ignoring Beasley and looking at Weber.
“I’m flying to Germany tomorrow. The director is lending me his plane. I’ll be working with the base chief. The walk-in is supposed to be back at the consulate Monday morning, but we’ll try to find him before then. Once we get him, we’ll bring him out. I’d like to make his exfiltration look like he died: in a car accident, that’s the easiest. We don’t want these people to know that one of their kids has flipped and come over to us.”
“You know what I think?” muttered Beasley, his voice dropping an octave to a menacing low bass. “I think we should fuck . . . them . . . up.”
Beasley was a Princeton man, out of a prep school before that, but he knew how to sound street-tough.
Morris adjusted his glasses. He was at pains to correct Beasley.
“These hackers may look funny, with their tattoos and spike hair, but they are serious people. They have weapons. They fight back. That’s why we need to download this man as quickly as we can. Then, well, then you can slit their throats if you like. But I suggest it would be wiser to get inside their computer networks.”
People nodded. Nobody in the room had ever heard Morris talk about slitting throats, or imagined that he was a man who thought in those terms, but he was playing the role the director had given him.
“Why would hackers go after the CIA?” asked Ruth Savin. “Isn’t that a reach?” The general counsel hadn’t spoken until now. She was the watcher and note-taker at meetings like this, and she enjoyed asking uncomfortable questions.
Weber looked at Morris, who remained silent. He didn’t respond to questions if he didn’t have an answer.
“Are they working for another government?” pressed Savin.
Weber looked again to his Information Operations chief, but the tall young man was impassive.
“I don’t think we know,” said Weber. “That’s why we’ve got to get this walk-in out of Germany and hear what he has to say.”
“We need to be careful about how we try to penetrate these groups,” said Savin. “Beasley has been ordered to stay away from WikiLeaks and their friends. There is a huge flap potential if anything surfaces.”
“I’ll be careful,” said Morris. “But we need to develop sources.”
Heads nodded in agreement, even Beasley’s.
There was a rustling sound, as Cyril Hoffman moved about on the couch. Hoffman hadn’t said a word until now. He had sat quietly on the couch with his hands clasped together, listening to the discussion. He was a large man, and the folds of his voluminous jacket covered him like a cape.
“May I?” Hoffman asked, looking to Weber.
“Please. I want to know what you think about all this.”
“I feel badly for you, Graham,” Hoffman began. “What a welcoming present. I am reminded of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: a crescendo right at the beginning, with the whole orchestra racing along behind. Yet all anyone remembers is those first few notes.”
“I’m not much on classical music,” said Weber.
“No one is perfect, Mr. Director. Now, you asked me what I think about this Hamburg business, so I’ll tell you. To quote the indispensable Talleyrand, ‘One can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it.’”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you have to respond, but carefully. This is either a big problem that threatens the agency’s communications, or a small problem created by a young man in Germany with fanciful ideas. But unfortunately, you don’t know which yet. So you have to protect against the worst without damaging yourself in the process.”
“Forgive the mundane. But what would Talleyrand say about operational security?”
“Treat this as a code break. Change encryption keys. Sweep the facilities in Germany and Switzerland. Do a damage assessment on the officers’ names that have been revealed. Who have they recruited? What operations have been compromised? Beasley can do all that for you. Damage control is one of his specialties.”
Hoffman looked at Beasley, with whom he had been doing business for nearly two decades. Beasley nodded.
“Okay,” said Weber. “What else?”
“I am intrigued by your plan to give principal responsibility to our young colleague, Mr. Pownzor. That’s unusual.” Hoffman looked toward Morris indulgently.
“Meaning that you think it’s a mistake?” asked the director.
“Not necessarily. It sends a message: You’re the change agent! So here’s a bit of change, right off the bat: entrusting a sensitive problem to a young man who has the ‘right stuff.’ It tells the workforce that you are the new man; you mean what you say. Bravo to that!”
Hoffman clapped his hands, barely audibly, pat-pat-pat.
“Thank you,” said Weber, knowing that the director of intelligence had just given him the authority and opportunity to destroy himself.
Cyril Hoffman was an unlikely intelligence czar. He was an eccentric, theatrical personality—rumored to be gay, but such a Protean character that any such effort at categorization was misplaced. He was a student of Philip Glass operas and the history of Italian city-states; he was an amateur poet and cellist; he was a man of parts. This improbable figure had survived at the agency, and indeed had eventually been promoted to director of National Intelligence, because he understood the nature of power in a secret bureaucracy. Nearly everyone in the U.S. government owed him a favor. Abroad, he had his own back channels with the heads of a dozen foreign spy services. Above all, Hoffman understood that the eleventh commandment for spies was, in the words of Lord Palmerston: “Do not get caught.”
Weber took up the rope of command that Hoffman had handed him. He asked Beasley to summarize the damage-control measures he would take in EUR Division, and he asked Morris to go over one more time what they knew about the walk-in and the milieu from which he had emerged.
“Any other items of business?” asked Weber when these recitations were finished. “It’s my first Friday afternoon, so let’s clear the decks.”
“I have some operational approvals that need your sign-off,” said Beasley. “The Special Activities Review Committee sent five tasking orders to the general counsel’s office. Ruth has cleared them all. They’re all Internet-related. We can do that now or save it for another time.”
“Go ahead. Empty the in-box. What have you got?”
Beasley took five slim red folders from Savin and handed them to the director. The pure white cuff of his London shirt extended from his blue suit.
“As I said, it’s five items. Two are about facilitating cover, two are about case officer movements, one is a general authority.”
“Do they involve U.S. corporations?” asked Weber. He was used to being on the receiving end of operations like this.
“Yes, sir,” said Beasley. “For the cover integration, we need to massage some social networking sites and search engines to backstop the legends. We’re doing the work overseas, so it’s under existing authorities and approvals.”
Beasley was talking fast. Weber interrupted. This was his meeting, and he wanted to run it.
“Is that right?” Weber asked Savin. “Is this all legal?”
“Yes, sir. It accords with our existing identities-protection program, and with Executive Order 12333, as amended.”
“Are the companies witting?”
“Not in every case,” she answered.
“Which means what?”
“Which means that some of the general counsels’ offices have personnel who have served in government and hold the necessary clearances and are familiar with our procedures.”
“Do they tell their bosses?”
“Where appropriate. In many cases, the CEOs have been briefed extensively, and so they are witting, yes. I know you remember that from your former life.”
“That’s why it makes me nervous,” said Weber. “So you talk to friendly CEOs, and in other cases, not so much.”
“But it’s overseas, so it doesn’t really matter, because under Title Fifty we can do whatever we want,” said the director as if reading a legal primer.
“Pretty much,” chimed in Beasley, a twinkle in his eye.
“Let’s give this one a closer look,” said Weber. “I’ll sit down with Ruth and go over the rules.”
People looked at each other. Directors didn’t question operational approvals that had been okayed by the general counsel.
“Let’s move on,” said Weber. “What about the movements of case officers? What’s that?”
“Two requests,” said Beasley. “Change retinal-scan database in Dubai for a traveling officer who has already transited that point under a different identity, and alter a fingerprint database in Russia, same reason.”
“What if we get busted?”
“We won’t,” said a voice from the back. It was Morris, who was still standing just back from the couch. “Our tradecraft is well developed. Our alteration software erases its tracks as it changes the data. We are invisible, in and out.”
Morris seemed to light up when he talked about technical issues. It was part of his uncanny, almost spooky self-confidence.
Weber held up the last red file marked Information Operations and Global Financial Market Integrity.
“This looks dubious,” said the director. “What is it, Earl?”
“Ask Morris,” said Beasley. “This one will go through his shop.”
Morris looked at the floor awkwardly.
“To be clear: This was not my idea, but it will use IOC resources. Basically, it’s a general authority for collection of economic intelligence via the Internet.”
“Why are we doing that? I thought we left that sort of thing to the French and Chinese.”
“The markets are . . . nervous,” said Morris. “Everyone is looking over their shoulders. So . . . inevitably, people are hacking other people’s databases and market platforms. They’re installing beacons; getting ready to change zeroes and ones, if they ever need to.”
“Why is that inevitable?”
Morris peered back at the director from behind those black glasses. He was trying to read his new boss.
“Because, Mr. Director, if people can play games with any system, they will. It’s a sport for younger people. They like to attack systems just to show how stupid other people are. Director Jankowski thought we needed to be prepared.”
“He’s gone now,” said Weber. “What about us? Are we altering other people’s data? Are we penetrating their ‘databases and market platforms’?”
Ruth Savin, the general counsel, answered before anyone else could speak.
“We do not collect intelligence on behalf of American companies,” she said.
“Is that a formal prohibition?” asked Weber.
The room was silent. Most eyes turned to the senior official present, Cyril Hoffman.
“Is this the time for a full review?” sighed Hoffman. He was looking at his watch. “This is a story for another day, surely. Mr. Morris needs to get working so he can catch his plane tomorrow.”
Savin took the cue from the DNI. She reached toward the director to take back the five red folders, but Weber held them close.
“I want to check the small print,” said Weber.
“Of course, sir. We’ll set up a time in the reading room.”
“But suppose I want to read them now.”
“The practice has always been to return operational files at the end of the meeting. These files are subject to the special controls for the Special Activities Review Committee. Would you like to change those procedures, Director?”
Weber looked at Hoffman, whose mouth was turned down at the corners in something approaching a scowl.
“Leave the procedures unchanged,” said the director. “I’ll schedule a time to come read.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said.
“And I’ll want to read into the back files, too, to review information operations that were approved previously and are on the books.”
Savin looked to Hoffman, who was stone-faced. Their silence peeved Weber.
“Hey, folks, let’s be clear. I’m not going to stay in a job if I can’t read the files. Not a chance. I’ll call the president. He can find someone else.”
Hoffman puckered his lips. He didn’t like public displays, and he didn’t like it when officials who had been in their jobs for one week threatened to quit. But little showed on that round, genial face.
“Of course that can be managed,” he said calmly, measuring each word. “Ruth, make whatever arrangements are necessary to read the director in.”
Hoffman gave a little bow toward Graham Weber. There was bland look on his face, a mask of cordiality.
“And again, welcome, Mr. Director,” he said, extending his hand. “You have taken on a very big job. I don’t want to see you fail.”
It was an expression of confidence, if you parsed the words, but Weber sensed that he was perilously close to making an enemy. He clasped Hoffman’s elbow as people were heading toward the door.
“Thank you,” said Weber.
“Perhaps I might stay for a few private words,” said Hoffman as the last of the other visitors left the room. He walked to the door and closed it.
The two men took seats opposite each other. They formed a contrasting portrait: one man large and ceremonious, the other compact and informal. But it was also a juxtaposition of two generations and cultures: an older one rooted in a past that, whatever its recent difficulties, had the weight and momentum of history; the other proposing an uncertain future with both opportunities and dislocations.
Hoffman spoke first. He was more intimate in private, no longer playing a role.
“You really must be careful, you know,” said Hoffman. “We all understand that the world has to change. I supported the president’s decision to bring you in, because I know we need a fresh start. But if you pull too hard on the thread, you will soon find that you don’t have any sweater left.”
Weber nodded. He needed Hoffman’s help but wasn’t sure how to get it without compromising his own goals.
“I don’t want to scare people, Cyril, especially not you. But if you don’t frighten people a little in the beginning, they won’t take you seriously. You have to send things back at first, and tell people they can do better. Otherwise you’re stuck.”
“Yes, yes.” Hoffman smiled. “I know that’s what they teach at the Harvard Business School. But this is different. You are now responsible for the security of your country. The world is a very dangerous place these days, and, thanks to our leaker friends, the NSA and CIA have lost their ability to monitor some of the truly menacing people. That’s not government propaganda, it’s a simple fact. The leakers have taken our most precious secrets and exposed them to the whole world. The programs that have been revealed cost many billions of dollars. People gave their lives to protect those secrets, and now they are being published in the newspapers willy-nilly.”
“You probably blame me for opening the floodgate,” said Weber. “Most of my new colleagues do. But you have to understand: I’m trying to make the country stronger, not weaker.”
“Of course you are. And nobody blames you for anything. But you must consider what it would be like if the country were attacked again, and make sure that you would be comfortable with your actions. That’s all.”
Hoffman stood. He had given his speech, and it was time to go. But Weber had one more question.
“Am I doing the right thing sending Morris to Germany?” he asked.
“Probably. Morris is a useful young man. We gave him some special authority this past year, and he has been quite creative with it. But be careful with Morris. He is not of your generation, let alone mine. We may not entirely understand him.”
Hoffman extended his hand once more. Weber clasped it.
“Thanks for helping,” said Weber.
“I’m not helping! I am merely observing. If you ever truly need my help, it is certainly available. But that would be most unfortunate, because it would mean that you had failed.”
Hoffman turned and let himself out the door. Weber returned to his desk. Night had fallen, in the time since he had begun his senior staff meeting. The parking lots were emptying out, and the lights were twinkling across the river from the civilian world that agency employees liked to describe collectively as “downtown.”
In Hamburg, Sandoval waited at the consulate for an answer until it was nearly midnight in Germany and quitting time at Headquarters. She ate potato chips and drank diet sodas from the vending machine and tried to get ready to handle all the questions from the seventh floor about her first big case. In a nervous binge, she finished three packs of chips. At midnight when there was still no reply, she ordered a pizza from the local Joey’s.
Sandoval received an answer from Washington just before two a.m. Saturday, Hamburg time. The message informed her that the case would be handled by James Morris, the head of the Information Operations Center, who would be arriving in Germany on Sunday morning.
“Those bastards,” Sandoval muttered to herself when she read the message. Headquarters had decided the Latina girl couldn’t handle it, so they were sending in an Anglo male branch chief. A decade’s worth of CIA self-doubt suffused her: She was just window dressing for the promotion boards and diversity reviews, given assignments but not trusted.
Sandoval brooded for a few minutes, and then called the Ops Center on the secure phone and asked to be connected with James Morris in Information Operations. The line was dead for perhaps a minute, and then Morris came on the line, his voice flat.
“This is Morris,” he said.
“You’re taking my case away,” said Sandoval coldly.
“No theatrics, please. This is business.”
“Excuse me? I’m not being theatrical, I’m being angry. This is my walk-in and my case. Why am I being relieved?”
“Sorry about that. No offense meant. But this is an IOC case now, restricted handling. It involves some issues outside your lane.”
“My message was for the director personally,” she said icily. “How did it end up in your hands?”
“Because the director gave it to me.”
“What if I protest? Complain to my division chief. This is obvious sexism. Girl gets case, boy takes over case. That’s bullshit.”
“Take it to whoever you want. You’ll lose. I’m bringing him out of Germany in the director’s G-5. That’s orders. If it seems unfair, you can complain to the inspector general. Be my guest. I arrive Sunday morning. But please: I’m not your enemy.”
James Morris was aloner when it came to operations. Perhaps it was all those years as a young man closeted alone with a computer, spinning his threads of code out into the world. It was a solitary pursuit, and one that led a person to live inside himself. Morris managed the operational details using a tablet computer the techs had rigged for him that synched every sixty seconds with the agency’s system. Because he was so fast with his fingers and could type almost as quickly as he could think, he was constantly sending out tasking orders, directives and updates to his staff at the IOC’s headquarters. He kept his operational traffic overseas in separate compartments to which he had special access, so it was difficult for anyone else to keep up with him.
That was the secret of the power Morris had assembled in the Information Operations Center: He could do things that others simply couldn’t match, or even imagine, and he had pushed operations into areas that previously had been empty space, using broad authorities that were in the shadowy space between the CIA and NSA.
When Morris left the director’s office late that afternoon, he began assembling the team he would need in Hamburg. He didn’t ask for help from Beasley or the EUR Division. The planning went late into Friday night and resumed early Saturday morning. It didn’t occur to him to review his plans with Sandoval, the case officer in Hamburg who had met with Rudolf Biel when he walked in the door of the consulate. She worked for Beasley. She wasn’t his problem.
Morris lived on Cap’n Crunch cereal when he was on the road. He ate it with milk, with water, plain, in preformed wafers like granola bars. Partly it was because he liked the taste, and partly it was in homage to the hacker cult of Cap’n Crunch; in the early days, hackers had used the free whistles inside each box, which sounded at a frequency of 2,600 herz, to spoof telephone switches and make free calls. He knocked back a box of the cereal while flying Saturday night on the director’s G-5, washing it down with a cocktail of bourbon and diet ginger ale.
The escape plan Morris had devised was a conjuring trick. When the Swiss youth arrived at the consulate Monday morning, Morris and his techs would fit him with a disguise that changed his hair color and clothing—and then move him from the consulate to a holding area near the airport, north of the city, where the plane would be waiting. A paramilitary officer on loan to Morris, head shaved and dressed up in a disguise to resemble Biel, would rent a car using his name and driver’s license. On the E22 motorway near the Dutch border, the car would have a fiery flameout that destroyed the vehicle and everything in it. Doctored bits of Biel’s DNA would be left in the vehicle for the police to find: hair, fingernails, skin, just enough to allow identification.
James Morris showed up at the consulate in Hamburg Sunday, as promised. He was gaunt from too little sleep and he had an overcaffeinated glint in his eye. To Sandoval, who was several years older, the wonder boy looked like someone who should be carrying a skateboard. He set up shop in her office, and installed two techs he had brought along from Langley in the communications room next door.
Morris disappeared in the late afternoon Sunday for a meeting outside the consulate. He didn’t inform anyone who he was seeing. But his little team from Langley guessed that he was trying to locate Biel using electronic magic that he couldn’t share with others.
Sandoval protested her displacement to the consul general. He told her to take the empty office of the economic officer, who was home on leave. He’d gotten a call from Washington requesting full cooperation.
Sandoval assented, but demanded permission to be present with Morris when the walk-in returned on Monday. Otherwise, she said, she would file a grievance with the ambassador in Berlin and the CIA inspector general. The consul general assured her that nobody in the “country team” wanted that.
Morris was there waiting early Monday morning. He looked edgy from the moment he walked into the building. He studied the closed-circuit cameras that monitored the sidewalk along the Alsterufer; occasionally he peered out the window, as if he could summon Biel by staring long enough in the right place.
“I’m nervous,” he muttered several times as the ten o’clock scheduled arrival time passed, audibly enough that Sandoval heard him in the communications room next door. “Why is he late?”
At eleven, Morris sent out a team of his people, cut to him from the Global Response Staff, to begin looking for Biel in the Rotherbaum neighborhood surrounding the consulate. By early afternoon, the dragnet was widened to the city as a whole.
Morris pulled Sandoval aside as his concern mounted.
“Do the Russians have a consulate here?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “But the Russians are all over everywhere.”
“I know,” said Morris. He walked away shaking his head. Sandoval worried that she had done something new to offend him.
Weber checked in twice Monday on the secure line to ask whether the defector had arrived, and Morris assured the director each time that it was just a hitch, Biel would show up soon. He said he had his watchers monitoring digital and wireless signals from anyone associated with Biel’s underground life.
Morris quizzed Sandoval, pressing for more details about Biel that might hint where he might be. He watched the video of her interview with the Swiss fugitive twice, start to finish, looking for clues. He removed the CD from the surveillance monitor when he was done and told Sandoval he was taking it back to Headquarters for analysis.
“Where is that little fucker?” said Morris loudly, his voice echoing down the hall, just before five when it was time for the consulate to close its gates. He asked the Marine guard to stay on duty for another hour.
When the consulate closed its doors at six, there was still no sign of him.
Morris received a call that night on a cell phone whose number he had given to only one person. The caller was a member of the operations group Morris called his “special access unit.” The unit’s expenses and personnel were not on the CIA budget. Its operations were coordinated by a special NSA base in Denver, which ran interagency signals intelligence at the request of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The unit had access to signals that were not officially collected, such as those involving underground hacking groups. In the case of the young man from Switzerland, Rudolf Biel, the special unit had been receiving and analyzing his messages for more than a month, along with those of a few others in the circle of activists within which he moved. The chatter in the last few days had been about a new source for the network, someone recruited by an American civil liberties group, who had access toeverything.
“We can’t find him,” said the caller. His voice was agitated.
“Where the hell is he?” demanded Morris. “He’s going to get smoked.”
“We don’t know. We’ve pulsed everyone we can, but we’re not getting anything back. They’re all dead circuits.”
“Keep trying,” said Morris. “My ass is on the line.”
“I’m hot. People are going to have my coordinates soon.”
“Then don’t call me again on this number. Don’t call me on any number. Do what Denver tells you to do. Everyone gets one chance to screw up. You just used up yours. Don’t do it again.”
Morris and his security team brought in the Germans the next day, as discreetly as they could. He had Sandoval contact the local Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the unlikely name of the local version of the FBI. They were given a photograph of Biel and asked to check whether he had used any transport nodes out of the city—air, train, bus, motorway—they could monitor. Later in the day, the LfV distributed the photograph to the Hamburg police and the neighboring states of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. But after twenty-four more hours of looking, none of these agencies had turned up any trace of young Herr Biel.
Morris was reluctant for many hours to admit to others that there was a problem, but he finally ordered a search—first the old city near the consulate, then Hamburg proper, then the suburbs—until finally, by late Tuesday, he had drawn in the German police in three states.
“You should eat something,” Sandoval urged the hollow-eyed Information chief on Tuesday. He had gone through his store of Cap’n Crunch and was living on caffeine, in various forms, and granola bars. Sandoval had forgiven Morris by then for poaching on her case; she didn’t want to have him collapse in her midst. She offered to cook him a proper meal at her apartment, a steak and baked potato, but he shook his head.
“I think he’s gone,” Morris told Weber on the secure phone Tuesday evening.
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?” asked the director.
“I think he’s dead. Someone got to him. They realized he had come in to us, so they took him out.” Morris made the sound of a pistol shot on the phone. “It’s my fault. I should have found him in time.”
“I’m bringing in Beasley and the Clandestine Service,” said Weber. “I should have done that from the beginning. This is crazy.”
“No, Director, please,” Morris implored. “Give me two more days to work this. Let me use the assets I have in place. If Beasley’s people come in now they’ll just make things worse, believe me. This is my mess. Let me clean it up.”
Weber paused, trying to take in the intensity and insistence of the young man to whom he had given so much responsibility. He wanted to trust Morris, and in that way confirm that his own judgment had been right.
“Explain to me. How will Beasley make things worse?”
“We have contacts inside these groups. They could get compromised. We have ongoing technical operations. They could get blown. We have our own liaison relationships with foreign services. We need soft hands right now, Director.”
“Soft hands? We aren’t running a beauty salon. Beasley called me an hour ago. He told me that in this business, when they shove you, you shove back. That’s the rule.”
“Beasley isn’t Superman, Mr. Director. We have operations working. People could get burned. And who knows? Biel may have been a plant, trying to draw us off base. The world is full of smart kids who hate the CIA. We don’t know who’s involved.”
Morris’s voice had a new tone of concern and intensity. Weber heard it, and wanted to understand.
“Okay. So, what if another service was involved?”
Morris went dead silent for a moment.
“What do you mean?” he asked evenly.
“What if another service wanted to protect someone they have inside the agency, a penetration that Biel was about to blow, and they took him out?”
“Worst case,” said Morris quietly. “That’s why I’m asking for a couple more days before you bring in the big dogs. Please trust me.”
“Goddamn it. I’m out on a limb. Trust comes with an obligation. You know what that is?”
“You told me already: Don’t screw up.”
“Correct. Find him. And if it goes bad, it’s on you.”
“I know that. You have to understand, Mr. Director, these people operate under Rule Five of the Internet.”
“That means absolutely nothing to me, sorry.”
“Rule Five says that Anonymous never forgives. It means that hackers can be deadly.”
“Look, Morris, I don’t care about these screwballs except that we stop them from harming the agency. That’s my only job now. I have just one question for you. Do you have what it takes to get this done?”
Morris’s voice was firm and unambiguous.
“Yes, sir, absolutely.”
Morris disappeared from the consulate Tuesday. He didn’t say where he was, and Sandoval in Hamburg and the station chief in Berlin didn’t ask. It was easy for Morris to travel light: He ran agents as if they were part of a virtual “second life.” He had only a few officers, but they all had nonofficial cover, with commercial platforms that allowed them to move anywhere. Back home at the IOC, he had people tracking networks and monitoring beacons from machines around the world. He was listening for electronic chatter, and what the underground world was saying about Biel. The only traces he picked up were conspiracy talk about the CIA. Morris’s conclusion was that nobody knew anything real about where Biel was or why he had disappeared.
Morris left the mundane management of the IOC to his deputy, Dr. Ariel Weiss. She was as geeky as he was, but less of a lone wolf. She acted as the HR buffer for him, soothing bruised egos, negotiating hiring, transfer and severance packages, and meeting with other U.S. and foreign government officials whom Morris found tedious. He liked to say that she was Sheryl Sandberg to his Mark Zuckerberg, but that flattered him and, if anything, undervalued her. Weiss was a superb operative in her own right. It was just that she didn’t get much chance to demonstrate it, with her boss always disappearing into some cave or another.
By Thursday, Morris messaged Weber from somewhere—the operations center thought the message had originated in Berlin—that he had done everything he could and would be coming home soon. He thanked Weber for his trust, pushing that button one more time.
Biel’s body washed ashore on Friday near where the Elbe meets the North Sea. He had been shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
The body was found near a nature preserve called Nordkehdingen. This was farmland, and the corpse might have stayed on the sand for a week, but it was seen by a fisherman who was bringing his boat back from the North Sea and happened to glimpse something on the bank of the big river. The nearest police station was a little outpost in Balje, a few kilometers away, but they sent in a second unit from the town of Cadenberge, and then a whole squad from Hamburg who turned the windswept little beach into a crime scene.
The body was so cold and battered from the sea that the German police said they couldn’t be sure when Biel had died. It could have been the previous weekend, just after he’d visited the consulate, or later. The Germans traced the bullets to a gun that Interpol had registered as having been used by a Russian mobster based in Romania. That pulled all the chains: The German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, known as the BfV, and its foreign intelligence counterpart, the unpronounceableBundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, reported a few hours later that the man who owned the gun had worked with the Russian hacker underground, which communicated through a website called mazafaka.ru, whose anonymous leadership was known as “the Root.” The group had morphed into other, nastier splinter groups.
Morris came along with Sandoval to the briefing with the BfV and the BND. It was held in a gleaming new building near the city center that housed the Hamburg State Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Morris sat stone-faced through the German account, occasionally asking Sandoval to translate a forensic term that wasn’t familiar. He didn’t ask questions or offer comments, and didn’t betray any emotion whatsoever inside the government office.
It was only when they were outside that Sandoval saw that Morris’s eyes were lit with a pale fire she had not seen before. He was shaking his head back and forth, as if he couldn’t believe the chain of consequences that had formed in his mind. The worst thing in life is when someone is searching for the explanation of why something bad has happened, and they realize that for reasons they could not have imagined,theymay be the cause. There was something of that stunned revelation in Morris’s face.
Sandoval didn’t talk to him about the case until they were back at the consulate in a SCIF, as the secret world described the omnipresent space known as a “secure compartmented information facility.”
“Who got him?” asked Sandoval.
“The bad guys knew something,” he answered slowly. “They smelled a rat. They took him out before we could rescue him.”
“This is my fault,” Sandoval muttered, half to herself. She had been brooding since Friday night about her decision not to override the rule about letting people stay overnight inside the compound. She had caught the CIA disease of being overly cautious.
“No,” said Morris, shaking his head. “You’re wrong. There was nothing you could have done.”
“Was he right? Are they reading our traffic?” she asked.
“I can’t talk about that,” said Morris, still visibly shaken. “We’ll follow up aggressively. That’s all I can say.”
When they got back to the consulate, Morris called Weber to give him a report. When Morris finished with the details, he paused, cleared his throat and then spoke dully as if reading from a script.
“I am offering you my resignation, as of today,” said Morris.
Weber didn’t answer, so Morris repeated himself.
“I broke your trust. I let you down. So I am offering to resign.” He paused a moment, and then started again. “I am resigning . . . effective as soon as you name my successor.”
Weber still didn’t answer. He was pondering.
“I need to think about it,” said Weber eventually. “I stuck my neck out for you.”
“Yes, sir.” Morris’s voice was thin and brittle, like a bowstring that had been stretched too tight.
“We talked about how another service might be involved. What about the Russians?”
Morris didn’t answer for a moment. The silence was oppressive.
“I don’t know,” said Morris. “I just . . . don’t know.”
“You sound exhausted. You need some rest. It’s terrible to lose someone like this. Come home. We’ll talk about it next week.”
“This case is just beginning. I need people who know what they’re doing. Does that still include you?”
“Yes, sir, if you want me.” Morris cleared his throat. “I’m just getting started.”
“So am I,” said the director. “Don’t write the resignation letter. Let me think about it.”
Morris left Hamburg immediately. The G-5 had already flown home without him, so he had to fly commercial. He tried to sleep on the plane, but his head was spinning.
When Morris arrived back in Washington, he took a taxi to the outskirts of his neighborhood. He went to a pay phone on Fourteenth Street and called the most private number he had for his closest friend in the world, Ramona Kyle. He didn’t know where in the world she was, and he knew that it was risky to call, but he needed to talk.
She didn’t answer, and he didn’t leave a message. She called the pay phone a minute later from a second number. Morris answered on the first ring.
“Something bad happened,” he said.
“There’s a leak inside the agency, to some very dangerous people. Am I the leak?”
“Don’t ask me that.”
“I need to know.”
“No, you don’t. Get off the phone. This is bigger than you. You can’t stop now. Go see that man I told you about, Peabody, the historian. He knows things. Don’t be frightened. This is what you’ve wanted. Don’t stop, now that it’s really happening. You can’t turn back. You have to go forward.”
“I need to see you.”
“That’s impossible. No more calls. I won’t answer. Hang up the phone and go home now. You have a chance to make a difference in the world, forever. I believe in you.”
The line went dead. Morris hung up the phone. Everything she had said was true. He had no choice. He thought of a fragment from a W. H. Auden poem that Ramona Kyle liked to read aloud to him when they hid in her dorm room at Stanford and pretended the world had disappeared. “Yesterday all the past . . .”
Morris walked away from the phone kiosk and wandered down P Street until he came to Dupont Circle. Two African-American men were playing speed chess at a stone table in the middle of the plaza, beside the fountain. They were astonishingly good, brilliant men, obviously, yet they were dressed in ragged clothes and appeared to be homeless. Something was wrong in the order of things. Morris watched them for a while, moving their pieces, bam-bam-bam, feeling a strengthening resolve, and then walked home to his apartment.
Graham Weber’s chief of staff,Sandra Bock, lingered in his office after he’d heard the final dismal news from Germany. She knew that he was upset, but he wasn’t a man who invited intimacy or sought consolation. She decided to offer him some unsolicited and anonymous advice. She left on his desk a copy of a book cable that had been sent to all stations and bases ten years before. It had been written by the operations chief in Baghdad for case officers who were deployed to combat zones. It was brief, and to the point:
Three Rules for When You Are Under Fire:
1) Always have a plan for what to do if something bad happens.
2) Always be the first to move; don’t wait until the situation is clear, because by then it may be too late.
3) Keep moving until you find cover or you’re out of the fire zone.
Weber didn’t say anything to Bock, but he must have known the message came from her because she promptly received a brief, handwritten note on a stiff crème-colored card with the director’s initials that read,Thank you. Graham.
The director needed a walk to clear his head. Jack Fong, the bearish chief of his security detail, insisted on following behind. That seemed silly to Weber, given that he would remain within the protected compound of agency Headquarters, but he was already getting worn down by procedures. It was harder to fix the big problems, he had discovered, when you were nettled with so many little ones.
Weber took a long circumnavigation of the building, turning left out the front door and then left again in a wide arc that skirted the Green lot, the Brown lot, the Purple lot, the Black lot, the Tan lot and the Yellow lot. This color-coded, enforced cheerfulness was characteristic of the agency’s bureaucracy, in its attempt to pretend that this was just like any other workplace. The agency’s bureaucracy tried so hard to be normal, which was the one goal it could not possibly achieve.
While his black SUV followed thirty yards behind, Weber hummed a hymn he remembered from his days as an altar boy at St. Aloysius Parish on Mount Troy Road in Pittsburgh. He was brooding all the while, wondering whom to consult and what to say.
Weber wished he had a board of directors. He had been reporting to boards for the whole of his business career. When something bad happened, or trouble seemed to be lurking around the next corner, he had learned that it was wise to ask board members for counsel. That made it harder for them to blame you later if things went wrong, and sometimes you got some good advice. But Weber didn’t have a board. He served at the pleasure of the president, and the president wasn’t seeing much of anyone outside the White House these days. He was traveling and giving speeches, lost in the misty uplands of his second term. Weber wasn’t sure where else to turn.
When Weber got back to his office, he placed a call to Cyril Hoffman, the director of National Intelligence. Hoffman was technically Weber’s boss, but more than that, he was a seasoned bureaucrat who had seen his share of catastrophes over the years. Weber asked if he could stop by the DNI’s office at Liberty Crossing, a few miles away. The response was theatrical, as always; Hoffman invoked Jesus, Mary and Joseph in one sentence, but he agreed to the visit.
The black Escalade was waiting in the basement garage next to the director’s elevator. Weber got in the backseat and closed his eyes while Oscar, his driver, got the all-clear from the garage-door guard. The big SUV rolled out of the concrete bunker toward Route 123, and then motored the few miles west to the anodyne office complex that housed the DNI and his staff. This ODNI entourage had grown in the dark of secrecy like a vast field of mushrooms sprouting in a cave, and now numbered more than a thousand.
Weber’s trip had been organized in such a hurry that nobody had precleared his arrival, so he went in the front door, through the metal detectors and past the chubby security guards, like any other visitor.
When Weber arrived upstairs at Hoffman’s office, he could hear the low hum of what sounded like cello music. Entering the room, he realized that he was listening to one of the Bach cello suites. It was an incongruous match of sight and sound. The office was appointed in the government’s preferred sunny, cheerless décor, with navy blue carpeting, polished cherrywood tables and maroon leather furniture that was so new and shiny it seemed closer to plastic than any natural substance.
Behind the desk at the far side of the room loomed the fastidious, ample form of Cyril Hoffman. He was dressed in a brown suit today, as ever the gold chain across his waist, its bright links marking his girth. He ambled slowly toward Weber, his feet splayed outward slightly in a way that made his whole body seem to list slightly, left and right, as he took each step. He extended his hand toward Weber.
Hoffman’s secretary and chief of staff were hovering at the door.
“A well-timed visit,” said Hoffman. “Everyone, leave now, please, chop-chop.” He shooed away his two aides, who retreated backward as if leaving a royal personage. Hoffman winked at his visitor.
“The exercise of power is operatic, don’t you think? There are so many supernumeraries and props. It’s just so . . . overdone. Would you like an espresso? I make it myself. I have my own machine.”
Hoffman pointed to a large appliance along the wall, the sort of espresso machine you might find in a café in Paris. It had large handles and spouts and stainless steel fixtures.
“The security people insisted on taking it apart before they let me bring it up to the office. They thought it might be dangerous. How could that be? You put in beans and water, and out comes coffee. Quite good coffee, too, I would say. Would you like a cup?”
“No, thanks,” said Weber. “Maybe some water.”
“Water, of course. Important to hydrate. Still or sparkling?” He spoke in a patter, as if he were talking to himself.
“Still,” said Weber, taking a seat on one of the maroon leather couches.
“Yes, still, certainly. What was I thinking?”
Hoffman poured from a bottle of Italian mineral water; on the label were testimonials from various Roman medical specialists. He handed the glass to Weber with a proprietary nod of the head.
“So what brings you barreling over here, barely two weeks into the job, to see your Uncle Cyril? It can’t be that you’ve encountered a problem. You are the future of intelligence. The president told me so himself, just a few days ago.”
There was a note of sarcasm in Hoffman’s voice. He was a generous man, but he liked dealing with people on his own terms, and Weber didn’t owe him anything.
“I need advice,” said Weber.
Hoffman leaned forward, so that his belly, neatly wrapped in the brown pin-striped vest, seemed to be resting on the edge of the coffee table.
“I am all ears,” he said.
“Hamburg went south. You probably heard.”
“Indeed. I’m sorry for that young Swiss fellow. Should have taken our advice and stayed in a safe house.”
“I’m wondering whether to fire James Morris. He offered me his resignation today. I told him I wanted to check with a few people.”
Hoffman struck his palm against his forehead.
“Good god, man. This isn’t Japan. People don’t have to fall on their swords when something goes wrong. It wasn’t Morris’s fault, was it?”
“Not really. As you said, the walk-in should have stayed where we could protect him. But it happened on Morris’s watch. He’s supposed to know these hacker groups, supposed to be inside them, he claims. So it’s partly on him. I’ve been saying since I got here that the agency needs more accountability. Well, here’s my chance to show it.”
“A word to the wise—three words, actually: Don’t do it.”
“I thought you’d say that. But isn’t that the problem with the government? Nobody ever gets fired when something goes wrong. The agency has no gag reflex. It will swallow anything. I want to change that.”
“Starting with Morris?”
Hoffman looked over the top of his glasses, eyebrows bristling.
“Don’t do it,” he repeated. “Young Mr. Morris may be an odd duck. But he is also well connected.”
“The White House likes him. Timothy O’Keefe, the national security adviser, most especially. He thinks Morris is the new generation. He gives a great briefing, as you might expect. I’m told that when he holds forth in the Situation Room about cyber matters, you could hear a pin drop.”
“Morris briefs the president?”
“Sometimes. He’s quite the eager beaver: apple polisher, crowd-pleaser, all that.”
“He seems shy.”
“He’s a mysterious chap, this Morris. A Protean character. They tell me he’s a reader, and a brooder, always roaming in the archives looking for this and that. He has some peculiar notions. A tad conspiratorial, or so they say.”
“My spies. They’re everywhere.”
Hoffman chuckled at this notion that he maintained his own private network of information, though Weber was sure it was true.
“One more suggestion,” continued Hoffman. “Go see O’Keefe before you do anything. Make sure he’s on board. Morris has been running some sensitive operations. They’re not all on Ruth Savin’s official books. Ask Beasley about them. You will be, what should I say? Amused. He’s quite a creative fellow, young Morris, no matter how many threads he occasionally drops.”
Weber was pleased, inwardly, to hear this testimonial to Morris’s ingenuity and political clout. It affirmed his initial instinct in giving him responsibility, even if things hadn’t worked out as planned.
“I’ll see O’Keefe,” said Weber. “And I have one more request. What should I do to protect our communications systems from whatever is coming at us? I don’t want to panic people at the agency, but we need an independent scrub. Since you oversee the NSA, I thought maybe they could help us.”
“Do you want the correct answer or the real answer?”
“The real answer, obviously.”
“The correct answer is yes, of course, we can call in the NSA and sweep up everything in sight. Panic the children and small animals. The real answer is no. Be careful. Do this discreetly until you know what it is.”
Weber nodded. This was all new to him, but he understood immediately that Hoffman was right.
“How should I proceed?”
“Do what I advised last week. Sweep this and that. Concentrate on the known leaks from Germany and Switzerland. Don’t sit on the bayonet. I will lend you a technical team from my staff, on condition that they report back to me, each step of the way, what they’re finding. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like good advice, actually. I appreciate the help.”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” said Hoffman merrily. “Want a last bit of counsel?”
“Of course. I need all I can get.”
“The thing that you have to remember about this job is that you are not just a manager, but also a magician. And as any professional magician will tell you, every magic trick has three parts: what people see; what they remember; and what they tell others about what they saw. You want the audience to swear the body disappeared, or the rabbit jumped out of the hat. But they will say so only because, at the critical moment, you made them look somewhere else.”
“I’ll think about that, Cyril. I’ll remember it, even better. But to me, you sound like a good manager.”
“Ah, excellent,” said Hoffman, smiling. “That means you did not see the trick.”
Weber bade the DNI goodbye, grateful for his advice, but not at all sure whether he was dealing with an ally or an adversary. When Weber left the office, Hoffman turned up the cello music again.
Graham Weber had visitedthe White House over the years as a business leader. He had even been to a state dinner once for the president of China, when the entire house had been decorated in a phantasm of American hospitality, but he had never felt comfortable in the place. This time, he felt he had no choice. He was an employee. He had Marie call the office of Timothy O’Keefe to make an appointment as Cyril Hoffman had advised. The national security adviser suggested that he stop by the next afternoon, around six p.m., when the other business of the day was done. O’Keefe seemed to be expecting Weber’s call, but that wasn’t a surprise. Hoffman would have given him a preview.
O’Keefe was waiting in the national security adviser’s office at the north end of the West Wing. The walls smelled of fresh paint, a creamy off-white; O’Keefe had the painters in every few months, just after the security team. He had the proper décor for a senior national security official: a chunk of the Berlin Wall; a page from Osama bin Laden’s personal diary; a Frederic Remington sculpture of a cowboy atop a bucking horse; and finally, several nautical paintings of American warships under sail.
O’Keefe welcomed Weber, but just as they were about to sit down the phone rang. It was the president, and O’Keefe scurried off to the Oval Office while Weber waited in the narrow hall next to the stairs that led down to the Situation Room. The national security adviser returned perhaps three minutes later, looking flushed as he bustled back into his chamber. He was a fussy man, and he was obviously in a bad mood.
“What was that about?” asked Weber, taking a seat across from O’Keefe at a small wooden conference table.
“The markets,” muttered O’Keefe, rolling his eyes. “The president keeps getting calls from overseas. He is . . . worried. There’s a witching hour this week, all the central bank notes roll over; much whining from our British friends, as usual.” He didn’t elaborate, and Weber didn’t ask.
O’Keefe was waiting impatiently for the visitor to state his business, so Weber plunged ahead.
“I’m sorry to bother you.” Weber could see that his host was stressed.
“That’s my job, to be bothered, so that the president isn’t. What is it?”
“Cyril Hoffman told me to come see you. He probably explained what it’s about. I have a young man working for me named James Morris. I gather he used to work at the White House, and that people here think highly of him. Hoffman said I shouldn’t do anything without talking to you, so here I am.”
O’Keefe looked away, toward the window and the front lawn of the White House. This was his palace and his prison. He turned back to Weber.
“Clever boy, Morris. He’s a bit dark sometimes, moody. Handle with care.”
“He just offered me his resignation. He made a mistake on a very important case. I’m wondering whether it’s best for the agency if I let him go.”
O’Keefe’s face was like a white balloon, with a thin moustache above the lip that looked like it might have been drawn with a pencil. He took off his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped the lenses with the end of his tie while he pondered the move that would be most useful to him and the president. Weber was bringing him a problem that he didn’t need, at the end of a busy day.
“Well, my friend, it didn’t take you long to get in trouble, did it?” His voice sounded grouchy, like someone who hadn’t had enough sleep.
“I’m sorry, Tim. I promised you a new beginning out there, but it’s a moving target.”
“And now you want my permission to fire someone important, two weeks into the job.”
“I want to do the right thing. The agency feels like a company in Chapter Eleven. Someone has to say no.”
“You prize your independence, from everything I hear. You don’t take orders from anyone. That’s your style, right?”
“I guess so,” answered Weber. He was trying to remain genial.
“But the reality, my friend, is that you arenotindependent. You work for the president; which, as a practical matter, means that you work for me.”
Weber raised his hand.
“Sorry, Tim, I didn’t come here to pick a fight. I wanted your counsel. I know I work for the president. I follow his orders, so long as they’re legal and proper. If I decide I can’t follow an order, I quit and you find someone else. Simple.”
“I must say, you have an annoying habit of threatening to resign, for someone who just got his job. Hoffman tells me you did it a week ago. Please don’t do it again.”
Weber held silent. This was not a playground argument. He was in the White House. He served at the president’s pleasure. He waited for O’Keefe to continue.
“What you need to understand,” said the national security adviser, “is that there is a political side to everything. If Morris resigned from the CIA, it would become public, inevitably. And then people would ask why he resigned. And then some people might realize that an agent he had traveled to meet had ended updead, and the president hadn’t done anything about it. And then all of this would bemyproblem.”
“I wouldn’t announce it,” responded Weber. “I think Morris is under cover, so the newspapers couldn’t report his name, legally. He runs the Information Operations Center, which is a part of the agency that we don’t talk about. So maybe it would stay secret. But what difference does that make? If we need to replace him, we should do it.”
O’Keefe raised a finger.
“Please! Of course it would become public. What century do you think this is? The Senate and House Intelligence Committees would hear about it before the day was out, and they’d call you and me both, asking why they weren’t consulted. And then they’d want to know what Morris was doing in—where was he?”
O’Keefe was getting flushed again. He couldn’t help himself.
“Hamburg,” answered Weber.
“Yes, the committees would ask what he was doing in Hamburg. Who got killed there, and was he really trying to defect, for god’s sake? And for that matter, what was Morris doing in general? What were these Information Operations of his that the White House had not thought necessary to disclose? Sorry, Senator, sorry, Congresswoman. I guess we should have briefed you about those, now that it’s all blown up. Oops.”
O’Keefe continued, wagging his finger now, trying to stay cool but not succeeding.
“And then there would be a staff investigation, and then a closed hearing, and then a newspaper leak, and then a public statement, and then, well, fuck, just shoot the pooch. And it wouldn’t be your problem, Weber, oh, no, you just took the job. Your friends in the press would spin you as the hero, no doubt. No, it would be my problem.”
Weber tried to interject. He wasn’t forcing Morris out. He was just seeking advice. But O’Keefe was intent on delivering his message.
“Andthenit would be the president’s problem. Some jackass would shout out a question during a photo opportunity with the visiting president of, I don’t know, Ecuador, and the president would have to deal with it. It would be another sign of the White House’s inability to address disarray and illegality at the CIA, while you, no doubt, would maneuver your way out of it, leaking to your friends that this was about accountability and good management, while we took the shit. Is that a good idea? you ask me. No, thank you.”
O’Keefe’s face, the torrent released, returned to that placid tapioca.
“I’m not trying to maneuver out of anything,” said Weber in a low voice. “That’s not my style.”
“What a relief,” answered O’Keefe.
There was silence as the two men glowered at each other.
“Shit does not flow uphill, Graham.”
“It does at the CIA,” said Weber.
“That’s your problem. And one more thing: We’re not entirely defenseless here. If we got wind that you were spinning a version of a Morris firing that made you look good, at our expense, we would have to respond.”
“And how would you respond?” Weber enunciated each word.
“We would tell the truth. We would remind people that this happened during your short watch as director, and that you were asking a subordinate to take the fall.”
“Stop threatening me, Tim. I don’t want to fire Morris. I want advice.”
“Okay, here’s my advice. This isn’t about Morris. He may be as weird and geeky as they come, but he’s not the issue. Think about appearances. Don’t make trouble for the president. Manage the CIA, but don’t drop a bomb on it.”
Weber nodded. He got it. He didn’t want to be the shortest-serving CIA director in history.
“Okay, Morris stays. The fact is, I need him. If what he’s told me is true, our problems are just beginning.”
“No.Yourproblems may be. Not my problems. Not the president’s. Are we clear on that?” Even his thin moustache seemed to bristle.
“We’re clear,” said Weber. “I’ll do the right thing.”
“I’m sure you will. And if you should by mistake do the wrong thing, well, you have been warned.”
Weber’s personal life intruded in a way that that was oddly comforting late that afternoon when he returned from the White House. He received a call from the headmaster of the prep school that his sons were attending in New Hampshire. That had been his ex-wife’s idea; she thought it would be better if they had “their own place” after she remarried, even if it was an austere institution that celebrated athletics and admission to Ivy League schools above lesser matters. Weber went along; he’d had the boys most of each summer since the divorce, though he suspected that it would be different this year, and every year he remained at the CIA.
The headmaster apologized for disrupting the “director,” as he called him throughout the conversation. It didn’t seem appropriate to leave a message with Marie, he said. He explained that Weber’s older son, David, was “acting out.” When queried, the headmaster advised that the boy had been reported smoking weed at an off-campus party, and had been drunk to boot. It was his son’s senior year; final college recommendation letters were being prepared. This wasserious, in other words.
Weber said he would be in New Hampshire that evening; travel was a bit uncertain, he said; he didn’t know whether his security men would let him take the last commercial shuttle to Boston, but one way or another he would get there that night.
David was waiting. He was taller than his dad, nearly six feet two inches, and fit from football. When he saw his father walking toward him, the boy burst into tears.
They spent the night at a motel in Concord. The boy was eating himself alive with the stress and loneliness of adolescence. The headmaster seemed to have done his best to convince him that there would be national security consequences for his having smoked pot. Weber laughed and told his son stories about his own mistakes when he was growing up. Weber said he couldn’t care less where his son went to college, which made the boy cry again.
“It’s hard being a kid, isn’t it?” Weber said as they parted the next morning. His son nodded. “Try not to make mistakes, but I’ll love you anyway.” The boy extended his hand to say goodbye, but Weber hugged him and didn’t let go.
James Morris kept anapartment in Dupont Circle, in a building that had resisted the gentrification that had turned much of the neighborhood into a hipper extension of Georgetown. He had the top floor of a row house, with a little roof garden from which he could see parts of the Washington skyline between the chimneys and façades of neighboring buildings. He liked to visit his roof when he was feeling wired, as a way of calming himself. One of the complications of working for the CIA was that you had to be careful about taking drugs or seeing a psychiatrist if you were feeling out of sorts. But Morris had always managed to keep himself together enough to avoid attracting notice. That was part of how he lived. Every intelligence officer had a secret life; Morris’s was just a little more secret than most.
Morris had learned to master the polygraph along the way, as well as his emotions. These “lie detector” sessions were meant to frighten people, but they were easy enough to finesse. Morris had smoothly handled his last polygraph six months before: Ramona Kyle had been his best friend since college. He had mentioned her in his first interview with the agency, and several times since. His visits with her didn’t register stress. There were other questions that would be harder now, but his next polygraph probably wouldn’t come until the following year, and by then he expected that he would be gone from the agency.
When Morris returned from Germany, he remained closeted in his apartment for a day. He felt secure inside. The windows were barred and the door was triple-locked. He had motion detectors and thermal monitors to make sure that he wasn’t disturbed. And he had his computers. He could use these to roam and maneuver, without having to worry that his keystrokes would be monitored and analyzed by a hidden “threat analysis” system of the sort that ran on agency machines. Pownzor wanted his own life. He didn’t want to be powned, especially by his workplace.
Morris was having trouble sleeping those first nights back, so he would bring a blanket up to the roof along with a mug of Chinese herbal tea, and let his mind race until it began to exhaust itself. He would stare at the stars, or sometimes imagine them through the clouds, until his eyelids became heavy. What kept Morris awake so late was the burden of his mission. Governments wanted to control the free space of the Internet; hackers wanted to keep it free. It was Morris’s destiny to be the man—no, the circuit—in the middle. He knew why people hated the agency as an instrument of repression: They were his people. That was why he could be on both sides, and neither.
The plans and patterns would flash through his mind like bright lights, laser beams of thought, and he would follow the tracers until his eyes were heavy and the light gun in his head stopped firing. In the early morning, two or three, or sometimes not until dawn, he would pick himself up off the mat atop his roof, shivering in his wrap of blankets, and take himself downstairs to his bed.
The second day Morris was back in Washington, he contacted Arthur Peabody, the man Ramona Kyle had recommended. The contact numbers had arrived by mail, in an unmarked envelope. Ten minutes’ research revealed that Peabody had retired a decade before as the agency’s chief historian. Morris called and introduced himself as an agency employee who wanted to know more about CIA history, and Peabody immediately said, “Oh, yes,” as if he had been expecting the call. He invited Morris to come visit that afternoon around cocktail time.
Peabody was a widower who lived alone in a genteel suburb known as Spring Valley, in the far northwest corner of the city. This was a neighborhood that had been built for the gentry back in the 1940s and ’50s when Washington was still a segregated town. The homes were mostly brick, with big lawns, front and back, and servants’ rooms inside to keep a cook or housemaid. From the street, it might have been Richmond or Atlanta, big old houses, screened porches, pools and fountains out back. The houses didn’t glisten like the modern ones out in Potomac or McLean. The brick pathways up to the front door were often cracked with age, and the cracks were filled with old green moss. It was the sort of place where wellborn CIA officers had moved when they were young men, and a few of them, such as Arthur Peabody, were still hanging on.
Morris climbed the red walkway and rang the doorbell. It was old, like everything about the house. The bell stuck in the “on” position, bringing an annoying, repetitiveding-dongthat only ended when Arthur Peabody opened the door. He stuck his long, thin arm around the corner and fiddled with the button until it stopped.
“This damned thing,” grumbled Peabody. “No wonder nobody comes to visit.”
Peabody was a relic of the WASP ascendency, a gaunt body, slightly stooped; a long aquiline nose; a high austere forehead, and a face specked with age spots and small scars from surgeries to remove cancerous spots from too much sun on the boat in Maine.
Morris followed the old man through the doorway. The entry hall was dark and musty. To the right was a forbidding study, lined with dark wood shelves that couldn’t contain all the volumes. They were stacked two deep on the lower shelves, some books horizontal or upside down. A few of the shelves had just given way, so that books were heaped on top of each other. To the left was an old parlor, whose wallpaper was meant to be gay but was yellowing and peeling with age. Peabody led the way back through a dark dining room to an area that seemed the only place in the house that got any light. This was a breakfast room, facing the back lawn, where an old-fashioned sprinkler was cascading a jet of water.
“Sit down, James,” said Peabody. “Can I get you a beverage?”
“Tea, please,” said the guest. He looked restrained and studious this afternoon, like a young man visiting his grandfather. The only signs of stress were the deep circles under the eyes, and the inflamed look of the eyes themselves, on red alert.
Peabody padded off to get the tea. He was wearing a worn tweed jacket purchased long ago at J. Press in New Haven, tan chino slacks, baggy at the knees, and lace-up oxfords, one of which was untied. Tortoiseshell reading glasses were low on his nose,
Morris examined the morning newspaper still on the breakfast table, and a copy of theAmerican Historical Reviewon a sideboard. The journal was open to an article: “Sudden Nationhood: Microdynamics of Intercommunal Relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina after World War II.” Morris perused it for a few moments and then tossed it aside.
Peabody returned a minute later bearing a silver platter with a teapot and two cups, along with a plate of Walkers English shortbread cookies. The young man helped himself to a cup of tea and one of the sweet biscuits.
“I’m just back from Germany,” said Morris. His eyes were fixed on the middle distance, somewhere between the window and the trees beyond. “I’ll be heading back overseas soon.”
“That’s nice,” said Peabody. “I’m sure I shouldn’t ask what you were doing.”
“Let’s say I’m opening the curtain on a new play.”
Peabody lifted his brows, as if to say:Aha!Morris’s comment had reminded him of something apposite.
“Open the curtain! I must warn you, Mr. Morris, that this conveys a metaphorical illusion of control.”
Morris propped his glasses on the bridge of his nose and leaned toward the old man.
“How so, Mr. Peabody? I’m not tracking.”
“The play ‘unfoldsinevitablyonce the curtain is raised.’ I quote Count Metternich in a passage cited by, forgive me, my former doctoral supervisor, Dr. Henry A., you know the rest. Metternich’s point was that the play isalready scripted. Therefore, and I quote, ‘The essence of the problem . . . lies inwhether the curtain is to be raised at all.’ That’s the thing: You didn’t have to raise the curtain, James, but you did, and now everything unfolds as scripted.”
“Scripted by whom?”
“I don’t know,” answered Peabody. “I’m an Episcopalian.”
This was nonsense talk, but Morris wanted an answer. His eyes, ringed as they were with fatigue, were alive.
“Seriously, I wonder sometimes who writes the script, not in general, but at the agency. I’m told you know the real story. The ‘secret history,’ that’s what a friend said. And I’d like to know the truth. That’s why I’m here.”
Peabody’s eyes widened. A thin smile crossed his lips. It was as if he had been waiting for someone like Morris to walk into his lair.
“Ramona said I’d like you, and I do, already.”
Morris winced a moment at the mention of her name. It was the biggest secret he knew.
“Roger that. I need to understand the agency; not the ‘what,’ but the ‘why.’”
“Oh, yes, I can tell you a bit; quite a lot, actually. But it will surprise you, if you’ve never heard it. It will make you question the institution where you are employed.”
“I’ve been asking questions since the day I walked in the door. I want answers.”
Peabody chortled. His visitor was so eager.
“Well, now, let me get some books, so I can confide these mysteries properly.”
Peabody retreated to his study and returned with several volumes whose pages had been marked with yellow stickers. One fat book, nearly six hundred pages, had the bland titleDonovan and the CIA. A slimmer volume was calledWild Bill and Intrepid. They were both written by one Thomas F. Troy.
“Not exactly bedtime reading,” said Peabody. “But in their way, they are page-turners. Mr. Troy was my colleague at the agency, if you’re wondering. The big book was compiled originally as a secret agency study, but it was declassified some years ago. Troy wrote the second book after he retired. For reasons you will soon understand, the agency has not called attention to them.”
“What’s controversial? If they’re unclassified histories, why would anyone care?”
“Because, my young friend, they suggest to the careful reader that the CIA may have been created by another intelligence service, namely the Secret Intelligence Service of Great Britain, aka MI6.”
Morris sat back in his chair. He hadn’t known what to expect from Peabody, but certainly not this.
“That’s pretty rad,” he said.
“Indeed. What I am going to explain is the origin of the species, as it were.”
Peabody opened the fat book to page 417 and pushed it across the table to Morris.
“Here,” he said. “Read this.”
It was a letter, dated April 26, 1941, from William J. Donovan to Frank Knox, secretary of the navy and one of the closest confidants of President Franklin Roosevelt.
“Read it, aloud, please.”
Morris studied the first few lines of the letter and then began:
Following your suggestion I am telling you briefly of the instrumentalities through which the British Government gathers its information in foreign countries.
I think it should be read with these considerations in mind. Intelligence operations should not be controlled by party exigencies. It is one of the most vital means of national defense. As such it should be headed by someone appointed by the President directly responsible to him and to no one else. It should have a fund solely for the purpose of foreign investigation and the expenditures should be secret and made solely at the discretion of the President . . .
Peabody took back the book.
“You understand the implications, I trust. It is more than seven months before Pearl Harbor. FDR’s man has asked Donovan to research how the Brits run their intelligence service, and Donovan is reporting back the British system so the Americans can . . . well, let’s just say it . . . copy it.
“But that’s not the official version, mind you,” Peabody continued. “The cover story is that Donovan created the CIA in a sort of clandestine version of the immaculate birth. Allen Dulles described the CIA as, and I quote, ‘Bill Donovan’s dream.’”
“But the official version is a lie,” broke in Morris.
“Indeed. When there was discussion of making the full details public in the 1980s, the CIA’s inspector general, Lyman Kirkpatrick, argued it would be ‘extremely questionable’ and ‘shocking indeed.’ Here, again, I am indebted to the scholarship of my friend Troy.”
“You’re saying the Brits wrote the operating system. We would say in geek-speak that they owned the firmware.”
“In any speak. It was a controlled operation.”
Peabody turned the pages until he found another yellow marker.
“I’ll show you another little something. It is a memorandum dated June 27, 1941. The subject is the proper organization of the Office of the Coordinator of Information, which was the predecessor of the Office of Strategic Services.
Peabody opened the marked passage for Morris to see.
“Note the author, please. Commander Ian Fleming, the man who wrote the James Bond novels. As you can see, he goes through the whole order of battle: headquarters; chief of staff, country sections; liaison officers. It’s all there, on the SIS model. Our friend Troy found a note from him talking about ‘my memorandum to Bill about how to create an American Secret Service’ and calling it ‘the cornerstone of the future OSS.’
“And there’s more, my friend. The Brits were quite pleased with themselves, as well you might imagine. Churchill’s office was licking its chops, as if the kingly lion had devoured the innocent and bewildered lamb.”
Peabody took the smaller volume,Wild Bill and Intrepid, and leafed through the pages until he found the passage he wanted.
“Here’s what Churchill himself knew, in black and white, according to his personal office. It is a letter dated September 18, 1941, written by Sir Desmond Morton in the PM’s office to Colonel E. I. Stark. Perhaps you would read it to me.”
Peabody nodded. Morris adjusted his glasses and began reading the words on the page:
Another most secret fact of which the Prime Minister is aware . . . is that to all intents and purposes U.S. Security is being run for them at the President’s request by the British. A British officer sits in Washington with Edgar Hoover and General Bill Donovan for this purpose and reports to the President. It is of course essential that fact should not be known in view of the furious uproar it would cause if known to the Isolationists.
“There it is,” said Peabody. “Can it be any clearer? They’re the hidden hand. Of course they own the CIA. They created it! Read the history, Mr. Morris. It’s all there.”
Morris looked left and right, as if he feared someone were listening. But it was just the two of them. Two agency hands, having a conversation.
“Why are you telling me this?” asked Morris.
“Because you need to know, first of all. You need to understand why our agency has been such a menace in American life. I searched for the answer my whole career, but it’s so obvious, once you grasp it. The CIA is aforeign implant. It was created in secret byanother government. It is acovert action. That is a puzzle it took me years to solve and I want you to understand. We all do.”
“Who is ‘we’?” asked Morris quietly.
“Like-minded individuals. American patriots. People who believe in liberty. You know one of them, our dear Ramona. But there are many more, unseen. And we are all looking to you, sir.”
“Why me? I’m the computer guy.”
“Because you candosomething about it. You can break free of the monstrous secret history that I have narrated. You have the access, and the power. You can strike a blow that nobody else can. This is your moment, if you have the mettle to grasp it.”
Morris stood as if to go. But Peabody fixed him with his cunning eyes and shook his head. Morris knew in that instant that it was true, what Ramona Kyle had said. He had to keep going. It was impossible to turn back once he had started down this road. Morris sat back down in his chair across from his host.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked.
Peabody nodded. The thin smile returned.
“Have you ever heard of the Bank for International Settlements?” he asked.
“I know a little,” answered Morris. “It’s in Switzerland, in Basel, right? It’s sort of a central bank for central banks.”
“All correct,” said Peabody. “But in a deeper sense, it is one of the cornerstones of the Anglo-American plan for the postwar world. It is a surprising fact, perhaps, that FDR wanted to kill the BIS in 1944, because it had done some rather unpleasant business with the Nazis. But the British wouldn’t hear of it. Theyinsisted.This was to be a symbol of the post-imperial order, the Anglo-American condominium which would control the world of finance, by managing the accounts of every central bank. And so it sits in Basel, a quiet, unobtrusive but unshakable symbol of the permanent order of things.”
“And what do you want me to do about the BIS?”
Peabody smiled again, more broadly this time, a grin that stretched nearly ear to ear. He spoke with a vulgarity that was unlikely for his age, but underlined his patrician rebellion.
“We want you to take it down, my boy. We want you to hack it up the ass until its electronic eyes turn brown.”
Morris returned to work at the Information Operations Center the next morning. He’d had a fitful sleep, but drove out early to suburban Virginia in his Prius. He buried himself in his vaultlike office at the far end of the operations room, as he always did when he was in Washington. Ariel Weiss stopped by for a brief chat, to go over pending personnel decisions.
In the afternoon, Morris visited Headquarters, at the director’s request. It would be the first time he had talked in person with Graham Weber since he’d returned from Germany. Morris was dressed a bit more traditionally than usual, in a collared shirt and a blue blazer. With the addition of a tie, he would have looked like an associate professor of computer science going to meet with the dean. Morris was nervous, wondering if the director was going to fire him. That would complicate things.
Weber greeted Morris in the sitting room of his private dining room, under a portrait of the implacable Richard Helms, whose profile made him look like the last of the Caesars. Tea and cookies, which seemed the essential nourishment of the intelligence service, were promptly delivered.
“You look tired,” said Weber.
“I’ve been working too hard,” said Morris. “Too much stress on this German thing. But I’ve got some leave coming. Maybe I’ll take a week. First, I’ve got some work overseas.”
“You’re no use to anyone if you get exhausted.”
“Yes, sir.” Morris adjusted his glasses.
“I’ve been thinking about what happened in Hamburg,” said Weber. “And I’ve been talking to some people around town.”
“I appreciate that you offered your resignation, but I’m not going to accept it. The death of that boy wasn’t your fault, and I need you for what’s ahead. You’re the only one who really understands these systems. The others pretend to, but they don’t.”
Morris blinked. He swallowed hard.
“Thank you, sir.”
Weber put up his hand.
“Don’t thank me yet. The hard part is just beginning. Have you come up with anything?”
“I just see ripples in the water, so far. We’re working some new penetrations of the hacker networks. We’re trolling the groups where Biel was active.”
“You’re doing this under your ‘special authority,’ I take it.”
“Yes, sir. It’s the joint program I told you about. I have some new . . . ideas. Things I’m experimenting with.”
“Will they get me in trouble?”
Morris laughed. His eyes were pinpricks.
“Heck, no, sir. They’re in a good cause. Down with the old, in with the new. That’s your mantra, isn’t it, Mr. Director?”
Weber studied the young man. He prized himself on his judgment, on his willingness to take the right risks, to do the unconventional thing when it was necessary. That had led him to James Morris, and now he was doubling down on the bet he had made. As a businessman, he knew he should lay off some of that risk, but it was harder in government.
“I can count on you, right? I need strong hearts.”
Morris gazed back at him. His head was motionless, but at the last moment before he spoke, there was the slightest tremor.
“Yes, sir. I’m good as gold. We’re going to go to the center of this thing and take it down.”
Weber smiled. Morris’s handshake was firm, too tight a squeeze perhaps, but a show of strength. The director said something genial as he walked Morris to the door. On his way back to his desk, Weber felt oddly not quite as reassured as he had hoped by the conversation. Morris was just fatigued, he told himself. Even computer geniuses had their off days.
From the window ofRamona Kyle’s cabin, she could see the old mining town sewn like a cross-stitch into the valley below. The trees on her hillside were shimmering golden red, the leaves swirling down Highway 110 toward the north end of town. In every direction were the jagged teeth of the San Juan Mountains, guarding the western gate of the Rockies. Kyle’s cabin was up near the tree line, amid the gray rock that reached almost to the October sky. Nobody with any sense lived here. The highway north from Durango had already been closed once by early snow. In a few weeks, this place would be perfect desolation, populated only by recluses and daredevils.
She was an elfin figure, sitting in a wing chair by the big window, her red hair gathered in a frizzy pony tail, a magazine across her lap. This was her hiding place, an address no one knew, on a county road that even the locals rarely visited. At the San Juan County Courthouse on Greene Street, a few miles below, a deed was registered for the cabin, but it wasn’t in her name or traceable to anything she owned. The same was true with her satellite Internet connection, which was her only requirement here, other than the space and silence. Here she could be no one and nowhere.
She thought about James Morris. He was someone and everywhere, enfolded in a world she despised. She had launched him, but she suspected that he was as oblivious of his ultimate purpose as a spinning metal bullet of its target. He took his actions without understanding their consequences. He was innocent, in that way, precious and alone. She wanted to protect him.
A burning log crackled in the fireplace behind her. Kyle rose from her chair and put more wood on the grate, poking at the embers until the flame rose nearly to the damper. Above the fireplace was a Renaissance painting she had bought from a dealer in Florence a year ago, after she had sold her interest in an Italian startup. It was a minor work, from the school of a second-rank painter in Padua, but it appealed to Kyle. It showed the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, the man tied to a tree and pierced with arrows. There was in the martyr’s eyes a look of helpless surrender, almost quizzical, not joy but submission. After she bought the painting, she had researched Sebastian’s improbable life. His Roman friends were butchered gruesomely, one by one: Zoe, hung by her heels over a fire until she choked; Tranquilinus, stoned to death; Castulus, racked and buried alive; Tiburtus, beheaded. Sebastian refused to flee. A quiver of arrows pierced every limb, but even then he didn’t die. He confronted the emperor and spoke out in his agony, taunting Diocletian for his cowardly murder of the Christians, until he was finally beaten into death and silence.
Kyle returned to her chair. The sun had broken through the lowering afternoon sky, illuminating the whole of the town. The outcroppings of Kendall Peak, which rose from the high valley, were bathed in white sunlight, while the dells and crevices fell into a deep shadow of silver black. It would be snowing again soon over Coal Pass and Mola Pass, perhaps closing the two-lane road into Silverton once more. Kyle felt selfish. A person could live and die here with the dignity of a wild animal. She was letting James Morris do the dirty business; requiring it of him, in truth.
Kyle had given up on half-measures. She had concluded over the last several years that America could not change course. The forces of oppression had captured the state so completely that they were the state. The people were the subjects of a tyrannical power that couldn’t be reformed or appeased or changed, but only destroyed.
The clouds were darkening over the San Juan range. The sunlight had vanished as quickly as it had come. She picked up the magazine she had been reading. It wasSpectrum, the journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. The cover story she had been reading was titled, “Would You Shoot Your Neighbor’s Drone?” That was what the world was coming to. Even the geeks were becoming fascists. Kyle put the magazine aside and closed her eyes.
There had been a moment when she had allowed herself to hope. It was a few months ago, when the White House had first floated the name of Graham Weber as the president’s choice as the new director of the scandal-plagued Central Intelligence Agency. Weber had a reputation as a skeptic, a man who was connected to the intelligence Leviathan but also critical of it. He had refused to carry out the demand of a National Security Letter that had been delivered to his company by the FBI; Kyle knew the story. Weber claimed that the order was unconstitutional, and he had gotten away with it. James Morris even knew the new director; he had been Weber’s guide at a hackers convention a year before, and Morris had wanted to please him, as he did everyone. Kyle had seen it as an opening—a chink in the armor through which she could insert the explosive powder of change. She was pitiless that way; if James Morris or anyone else thought he had a friend inside the heart of the beast, he was a fool.
All that afternoon Kyle ruminated, until the sun set and the sky fell to a last rosy pink in the west above Anvil Mountain. Kyle wondered if there was a last chance that she had missed, a way to subvert the structure without so much collateral damage. Was there a way to communicate to Graham Weber, the CIA director, that he had a choice? The message he needed to hear was that he could still be the man who said no; he could join in the subversion and dismantlement of an unjust system. He had only just entered the gates of the castle; he didn’t have to take the side of the defenders. He could be a liberator.
How could she tell Weber that he might still escape the holocaust of surveillance and deception and lies? If the director of the National Security Agency had been given warning that he could dismantle the programs that Edward Snowden later would reveal to the press—terminate them on his own, without the chaotic damage of disclosure—would he have seized the opportunity? If people were given the clear choice to do the right thing, would they take it? Kyle didn’t know. Graham Weber was heading toward a catastrophic conclusion, even if he couldn’t see it. One person had already died to protect the secret of James Morris’s identity, but there would be more. Would Weber see the escape hatch from history?
Kyle thought of what she would say to the CIA director, if she were to communicate anonymously with him. She went to her bookshelf on the other side of the fireplace and took down a volume of British philosophy that she sometimes read to gather her thoughts. She leafed past John Locke and David Hume, until she found the essayOn Liberty, by John Stuart Mill. It was dark in the room, except for the flicker of the fire. She turned on the table lamp beside her chair and curled up in its creamy light with the book. It was the comfort of truth.
What was the region of liberty? Mill asked. It was “liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological.” It required “liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”
Liberty could not be divided against itself, or rationed or temporized. “No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified.” And then Mill’s concluding injunction: “A State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes—will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.” There it was. Could anything be more clearly stated? She would present Graham Weber, this man she had never met but imagined was in some part of himself a kindred spirit, a last opportunity to escape smallness and corruption and un-freedom.
Kyle went to her desk at the back of the cabin, placing a few more logs on the fire as she went. A wolf was howling in the woods below her cabin, a fierce lone cry. She opened her computer and waited for it to come alive, and then she began typing, checking references in her files, and working the text back and forth until it was as concise and direct as she could make it.
Dear Mr. Weber:
I write you this message so that you may save yourself and the Central Intelligence Agency from destruction. You have taken control of a lawless organization that asserts the right to corrupt and destroy others around the world in secrecy. These covert powers are based on the flimsiest legal claims, which themselves violate the U.S. Constitution. You know this, because you yourself refused to obey orders that you knew to be illegal, when you were a private citizen. As a demonstration of my seriousness and bona fides, I cite for you the number of the National Security Letter to which you refused compliance. It was File Number NH-43907, issued subject to Title 18 United States Code, Section 2709. I believe your records will verify the accuracy of this information.
Take the opportunity now to be a leader, in the true and moral sense, by halting the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency that violate the laws of every other nation and treat global citizens as objects for external control by the United States, rather than subjective human beings with their own consciousness and rights and freedoms. Liberty is not divisible, Mr. Weber. It must be for everyone, or it is for no one.
I send you this message as a warning and an opportunity. If you do not reverse course, the process that is now underway will bring down your house around you. The liberating actions of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden were only a beginning. A global political awakening is taking place in every nation. If the security services are under attack in other countries—China, Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Britain—do you imagine that the United States can resist? The army is at your gates, even though you don’t see it. The Central Intelligence Agency will not survive this challenge. You must decide which side you are on, that of liberty or oppression. The hours left for you to make this choice are ticking away.
Remember the words: “Arise ye prisoners of starvation; Arise ye wretched of the earth. For justice thunders condemnation: A better world’s in birth. No more tradition’s chains shall bind us. Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall; the earth shall rise on new foundations: We have been naught, we shall be all.”
I await some public acknowledgment by you that you intend to make the necessary reforms. If not, there will be consequences.
Ramona Kyle printed out the message, then copied it, then photographed the copy and printed out the picture. She placed the sheet in a sealed envelope marked “Graham Weber, Personal,” and put that, in turn, in a larger manila envelope marked “David Weber,” which she sent by commercial courier to an associate in California who handled confidential financial business for her. At her instruction, he sent the package through several cutouts to the address of a preparatory school in New Hampshire, where it was delivered by a United Parcel Service messenger to the mailbox of David Weber, a senior at the school.
When the young man saw the letter inside marked for Graham Weber, he immediately called his father in Washington. A government official arrived that afternoon and collected the letter, unopened, and carried it to CIA headquarters in Washington, where it was delivered, still unopened, to the agency’s director.
Graham Weber read the peculiar text through twice. His first thought was that it was a hoax of some kind, perhaps a scheme hatched by one of his son’s fellow students, or more likely, a screwball teacher at the school who was playing out some revolutionary fantasy. But as he read it the second time, the proof of bona fides seemed more difficult to refute. He consulted his own files, and saw that the “file number” that had been referenced, “NH-43907,” was accurate. The letter had been sent by the New Haven division of the FBI to a Connecticut subsidiary of his communications company, demanding production of all subscriber information pertaining to a particular IP address. To Weber’s knowledge, that information had never been made public.
What if the letter was in earnest? What if someone was, indeed, warning Weber to follow through on his hopes and dreams of reforming the conduct of intelligence activities—or face the consequences? Weber wanted to dismiss the entirety of the message, but he knew that one of its arguments was true. Liberty is not divisible. It is not a halfway condition. It either exists or it doesn’t. He knew that another assertion was largely true, as well: The CIA did assert a right to violate the laws of all other nations. That, in essence, was its job description.
Weber laid down the letter. He called the personal number of Ruth Savin, the CIA’s general counsel, and asked her to come to his office immediately. He said he had received a letter that she needed to read, as soon as possible. She arrived in the director’s suite ten minutes later.
“This is crap,” said Savin when she had finished reading the letter. “Don’t worry about it.”
She was holding the sheet of paper in blue plastic gloves that she had brought with her, to avoid marking it with fingerprints. She gingerly took the paper and placed it in a translucent plastic envelope, which she marked at the top with the date and time, and then initialed and laid aside. She was flushed, from the urgent summons and the rapid trip to the director’s office. The color in her cheeks complemented the lustrous black of her hair and the rust red of the tweed jacket she was wearing over her black dress.
“That’s it?” asked Weber. “No further comments?”
“It’s well-written crap. I like where it quotes the Internationale at the end. That’s a nice touch.”
“Does that mean the author is a Russian? Or some kind of communist?”
“Maybe. Or perhaps the author wants us to think that. It’s impossible to know, Mr. Director. How did it get to you, anyway?”
Weber sighed and shook his head. He hated the fact that this breach had come through his family. It made him feel that his boys were exposed.
“It was sent to my oldest son at school, delivered this morning by a UPS courier as part of his regular run. The Office of Security has already checked on the delivery. They say the sender’s address in Boston is fake. They’re pulling the video recording from the location where it was sent, but they don’t think they’ll get anything useful.”
Savin looked at the letter through the plastic envelope.
“The reference number of the National Security Letter, is that accurate?”
“Yup,” said Weber. “Precisely right. I checked. How did they get that, anyway? It’s supposed to be secret.”
“Nothing is secret, really, Mr. Director. It could have come from an employee of your old company. It could have been obtained by one of the privacy groups that has been snooping around for details of these NSLs for years. It could even have come from some disgruntled person at the FBI. There’s no way to know. But that doesn’t prove anything to me, the fact that somebody got the reference number. That’s just bravado. Hacker street cred. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.”
“You wouldn’t? It seems pretty real to me. Someone is warning me that our systems are going to be attacked, just the way the NSA’s were by Snowden. They’re telling me to make changes at the agency to avoid the damage. Shouldn’t I take that seriously?”
Savin studied him: His hair was slightly disheveled; his sleeves were half rolled up his forearms; his open-neck shirt had popped an extra button. He had never looked younger and less like the director of an intelligence agency. He was an outsider, and for the moment he seemed to want to hold on to that status.
“Frankly, no, you should ignore it,” she said. “We’ll look into all the forensics. The Office of Security will help the FBI try to figure out who sent it. We should probably send a protection detail to your kids’ school in Concord, discreetly, at least for a few weeks.”
“Okay,” said Weber, rolling his hand impatiently. “But what about the content?”
“Honestly, sir, stuff like this arrives in the mail room every day. The whole world thinks the CIA is a bunch of lying criminal bastards, and that we should repent now because it’s our last chance. That’s the elevator music around here. Usually this stuff gets intercepted by someone else and the director never sees it. This one just got through the net. But it’s still crap.”
“What if it’s true?” asked Weber.
“Meaning what, sir?”
“Don’t I have a responsibility to make sure the agency’s activities are legal and ethical? I got this job because I made a commitment to the president that I would make changes at the agency and bring it into the twenty-first century. I need to follow through on that.”
“Of course, Mr. Director: You do that every day. But can I give you some honest advice as your lawyer?”
“I hate lawyers,” muttered Weber. “But yes, certainly I want your advice.”
“Your job isn’t to protect civil liberties. The president has an Attorney General for that, and the constitution provides for a Congress to pass laws and a Supreme Court to interpret them. Your job is to protect the national security. You have unique powers, working with the president. It’s true, what the writer of this letter says. You do have the authority to violate the laws of other countries, under the National Security Act and Executive Order 12333. That’s what the CIA does. If you don’t put that responsibility first, then you’re not doing your job. You have to protect the agency and its people. They’re your tools. Sir. With all due respect.”
“Including James Morris.”
“Yes, Mr. Director. Unless he’s done something wrong. You’re the commander of this organization. He’s one of your troops.”
Weber looked out the window. He wasn’t sure that he had ever felt the burden of responsibility in quite this way. People often talked in the abstract about the difficulty of striking a balance between liberty and security—but now it was like a knot in his stomach. He could quit. Or he could try to grope his way toward running the agency in a way that met his ethical standards, knowing that if he stayed, the second priority of protecting security would inevitably take precedence over the first, no matter what his conscience said.
“What do you want me to do?” asked Savin.
“Call the Office of Security,” said Weber. “Tell them to handle it. Get someone in Concord, but keep them out of sight. I don’t want to embarrass my boys.”
“And the warnings in the letter?”
“I’ll assume they’re crap, as you said. I have no other choice, really.”
Savin picked up the letter from the director’s desk and took it with her as she left the office. Weber sat alone. He put his head in his hands, and then let it fall to the desk, where he rested for several minutes, not exactly praying, because he wasn’t a religious man, but reflecting on his mission and asking for help. When he rose and called to Marie for the next appointment, he was in some subtle respects a different man than before.
Edward Junot was ashort compact man with a shaved head and a stubbly beard. He arrived in Berlin dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans and a black leather jacket, scuffed at the sleeves and elbows from years of use. The T-shirt readRED BULLon the front, and from his eyes, one might guess that he had been speeding for many hours on that drink or some other stimulant. He checked into the Hansel Inn near Nollendorfplatz, a hotel that was so gay-friendly that the manager posted a note saying that it was hetero-friendly.
Before he left to go out, Junot put a stud in his left ear and two in his right. He checked the recording device sewn into the fabric of his leather jacket to make sure it was set at zero, and packed a thumb drive and two cell phones in his pocket.
Junot had been a deep-cover intelligence officer for nearly two years. He had been recruited out of the military, where he had worked as a warrant officer for the Army doing “information operations” in Afghanistan, as they politely put it. His job was to hack enemy websites and, as ordered, attack them—shut them down, insert false information, or insert malware that would track other users. He was so good at that work that he came to the attention of the Kabul station, and he was offered a fast track into the CIA’s military transition program.
The CIA recruiter had shown Junot a brochure that said he could make $136,000 annually as a data scientist, just using his computer skills. That was almost as much as Blackwater was paying, with less apparent risk, so he said yes. They sent him home for training—not to Washington but to a facility near Denver that handled interagency officers under nonofficial cover. Six months after that, he first met James Morris, who managed to get him transferred to what he called the “special access unit,” which was, and was not, part of the Information Operations Center. From that point, Junot had disappeared into Morris’s twilight army.
Junot dressed himself for the Berlin night. He put on his scruffiest black leather boots and a belt with a silver buckle that displayed the skull and crossbones, which he had bought that afternoon in the Hackescher Market in Mitte, where he had been conducting preliminary surveillance. The belt buckle gleamed menacingly, but it was hidden by the black T-shirt hanging loosely over it. For the first time in a while, Junot tucked in his shirt. He was believable as a bad-boy hacker because he was one. Junot liked breaking into computers, making trouble and having rough sex with men or women, he didn’t care which so long as he was “top.”
The last thing he packed was a paperback copy of theIlluminatus! Trilogy, a science fiction series published forty years before that had developed a cult following among German hackers.
Junot left the hotel at eleven p.m., when the Berlin night scene was just finding its legs. He took the tramway from Nollendorfplatz several stations, changed to the underground, rode north a few stations and then changed to another tram that took him to his destination back at Hackescher. Junot descended from the elevated train to the street. It was a pleasant late fall evening, the district crammed with Berliners and foreigners who, to watch them filling the bars, seemed determined to end the evening fall-down drunk.
Junot had a beer in a bar near the market and then made his way east to Morgenthaler Street. At Number 19, he entered an archway into a courtyard that housed a techno bar that was a favorite haunt of Germans who fancied themselves the hacker elite.
People in studs and leathers stood outside the entrance, smoking dope. Inside, the DJ was pumping out repetitive percussion, not at full volume yet because it was only eleven, but flexing his muscles. Junot entered the club and walked to the bar, a dimly lit place with wrought-iron fixtures and an illuminated panel under the rail, crossed with lacy ironwork like a nineteenth-century Art Deco lampshade that gave the bar a look somewhere between Bohemia and Belgravia.
Junot took a stool at a small wooden table and ordered a tequila, and then another. In his line of work, he had learned, intoxication was a kind of cover.
Just before midnight, a man in his late twenties, about Junot’s age, entered the bar area. He was tall and slender, with long black hair that fell to his shoulders. He was wearing a black jacket that, despite its tight cut, seemed to hang from his slight body. He was a handsome man, and he caught the eye of the crowd near the bar, men and women both. He was carrying in his hand a copy ofThe Eye in the Pyramid, the first volume of theIlluminatus! Trilogy.
Junot slid his book forward on the wooden bar table like a calling card.
“Are you a Discordian, my friend?” said Junot, gesturing toward the book the long-haired visitor was carrying.
The other man nodded. “I am Hagbard Celine himself.”
This peculiar exchange of phrases was a recognition code. It would have sounded like gibberish to someone at a nearby table, but the references were unmistakable for anyone who was part of the Illuminatus cult.
Junot and his boss, James Morris, had done their homework: The three novels involved, among their many plots and subplots, the adventures of the Discordians and their hero, Hagbard—who piloted a gold submarine and was an avatar of the true Illuminati who believed in perfect freedom. It was a cult book thanks to a German hacker named Karl Koch, who got caught in the 1980s selling secrets from U.S. military computers and died in a supposed suicide.
Junot ordered a beer for the German and another tequila for himself, with a beer chaser.
“So how’s it hanging, Hagbard?”
“It’s hanging just fine, mister, what is your name?”
“I don’t have a name,” said Junot. “Sometimes people call me ‘Axel.’ On-screen I’m ‘Dirtbug,’ or ‘Snakehead,’ or ‘Gurulgmaster.’ Take your pick.”
“I’ll call you ‘John Dillinger,’ maybe.” That was the name of another fictional character in the bizarre Illuminatus saga.
“Yeah, that fits. Except my dick is bigger.” Junot’s voice had the rough edge of someone who was well on the way to being hammered.
“Ho-ho,” said the German. He rolled his eyes.
It was nearing midnight and the music was getting louder. The DJ had turned up the bass so that the whole room seemed to vibrate with the music.
“You want to dance?” asked the German.
“No. Gets in the way of my drinking. You go ahead. I’ll watch.”
The German melded into the crowd of men and women on the floor, losing himself in the layers of sound. Two men tried to dance with him, as did one woman, but he ignored them all. He came back to the table twenty minutes later, trailed by a woman who wanted to buy him a drink. His face was flushed; his long hair was glistening with beads of sweat.
“Let’s go outside,” said the German. “Too hot and noisy here. I’ll come back and dance more later.”
“Whatever you say, Hagbard.” This was proving easier than Junot had expected.
When they were out in Morgenthaler Street, the night air was beginning to bite. There was a café just down the street, quiet and nearly empty.
“You look cold,” said Junot. He pointed to the café door just ahead. “In here.”
The American led the way to a quiet table in the back. He brought back two cups of black coffee from the bar.
“So, Mr. Hagbard Celine, they say you can get me inside. That’s why I’m here. Not to fuck you, although I can do that, too.”
“Ugh,” said the German. “Please. And what are you talking about, ‘inside’? I don’t know anything about you, except that we read the same books.”
“Don’t mess with me, Hagbard. I promise you that’s a mistake. The people who arranged this meeting say you are connected with ‘the friends.’ That’s why I’m here. I always want to make friends. Either that, or I make enemies.”
“The friends of what? And listen: I am not afraid of you, Mr. John Dillinger, whoever you are, whose balls are the size of a hazelnut, I am sure.”
The German stuck his chin up.
Junot rubbed the rough stubble of his beard, as if contemplating whether to do something—throw a punch, or perhaps take out a pistol. He was coiled tight, capable of sudden, impulsive action. He squinted at the German, and folded his hands down on the table.
“I must be hard of hearing, because I missed what you just said. So I’m going to ask you again, in a nice, how’s-your-mom, American way, whether you know any of the Friends of Cerberus. Because the people who arranged this meeting told me that you did. And they would be unhappy if it turned out that they were wrong and looked stupid, making me look stupid, too.”
The young man swallowed hard. He stared at the table and sipped at his coffee. His false courage was gone.
“Yeah, I know someone. We call him Malchik. I don’t know what his real name is.”
“Is he the real deal?”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand real deal. He does not deal drugs.”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant is he connected to Cerberus. The real Cerberus, or what’s left of it, after all the CIA losers and BND assholes have been chucked out. Because we are looking for serious people only.”
“I can connect you to Malchik. He is serious. Too serious for me. I will give you an address.”
“No way. I want a face-to-face introduction. You come with me. That way, it’s your bad if something happens.”
The German was scared. He was in a public place, and he could see that the American was half drunk, so for a moment he considered bolting for the door. But what would he do then, and where would he run if the American and his friends came after him?
“What do I get, if I help you?
“Just what you were promised: The cocaine charge will disappear. You’ll get your job back at Siemens. Everybody will be happy. I have powerful friends, believe me.”
The young man stared at him. His hands were trembling. He had fallen into something he didn’t understand, and it was about to eat him up.
“Who are you, Mr. Axel?” he asked. “How did you find me? Are you in the Mafia?”
“Don’t ask, Hagbard. Let’s just say the ghosts sent me.”
From the ashen look on the German’s face, it seemed almost that he believed he was in the power of real ghosts, come to life.
“I want to meet Malchik tomorrow,” said Junot. “Bring him to C-Base at eighteen hundred. Tell him he’ll be meeting a friend of a friend. Can you do that for me? Bring him to C-Base?”
“How do you know about C-Base?”
Junot wagged his finger.
“You forget, Hagbard, I am connected. That’s why it’s dangerous to make me angry. I’ll see you at eighteen hundred with Malchik. You don’t get a second chance. Now get the hell out of here, unless you’ve decided you want to blow me in the bathroom.”
The German stood, pale as a bedsheet, and backed toward the door. When he reached the street, he broke into a run, and didn’t stop until he reached the Alexanderplatz, a half mile away.
C-Base was ground zero for the Berlin hacker culture. It was located on Rungestrasse in the Mitte district, in an old warehouse that backed onto the Spree River. Just across the river was the old East German television tower, known as the Fernsehturm, topped with a round silver sphere that made it look like the entire structure had landed from outer space. When the Wall came down and Berlin’s fledgling hackers wanted a place to gather, they had seized the warehouse and pretended that they were restoring a spaceship that had landed on that spot 3.5 million years ago. It was the sort of innocent Trekkie fantasy that hackers cherished back in the nineties, before they found the dark side. C-Base had survived ever since as a kind of hackers’ club.
Junot set himself up that afternoon in a bar on Rungestrasse and waited for his prey to arrive. It was a dead-end street, so he could monitor traffic easily through the window. He ordered a beer, but nursed it.
Germans wandered up and down the street, but Junot saw nothing of interest until just before six p.m., when a tall man on a motorcycle rumbled slowly down the street; in the jump seat behind was the slender man Junot had called Hagbard. The man parked the big Kawasaki and removed his helmet. His hair was tied in a ponytail and he was wearing biker leathers, top and bottom. His eyes were covered by Ray-Bans. He walked into a courtyard markedNO. 20, and entered a door at the back, with Hagbard trailing behind.
Junot waited ten minutes for them to get fidgety, and then walked to the entrance. He looked as fearsome as ever, with his bald head and sawed-off shotgun of a body. He knocked on the entry. The door cracked open; inside was a sign that readNO ALIENS.
“I’m expected,” said Junot.
The doorkeeper grunted assent. He led Junot through a makeshift replica of an air lock, with colored lights blinking, and metal knobs and buttons. At the other end of this passageway stood the tall man in leather, flanked by Hagbard.
“Cute,” said Junot, gesturing to the light show of the make-believe spaceship entryway.
“Fuck off,” said the tall man. He was embarrassed by the kiddie show.
“You must be Mr. Malchik,” said Junot. The big man nodded.
Junot proffered his hand, but it wasn’t taken.
“I’m Axel,” said the American. “Is there somewhere we can talk?”
“There’s a bar, but some people in there I don’t know. We go downstairs.”
The big man turned to Hagbard.
“Go check. If there’s anybody in the library, kick them out.”
“Follow me,” said Malchik. He led Junot past an old Atari game and a stack of discarded twenty-year-old computer hardware. Ahead was a screen topped by a sign that readBIOMETRIC RECOGNITION MACHINE. Junot shook his head.
“What is this shit?
“It doesn’t work,” said Malchik. “Come on.”
The big man descended a winding metal staircase to the basement. In the first room, mannequins were seated in the stripped-down metal frames of old airplane seats. Nearby, another mannequin, dressed in a fur hat, was installed at an old sewing machine.
They ducked into a smaller room, deep in the basement. Against one wall was a bookshelf, crammed with two kinds of literature: science fiction novels and fat, oversized computer science manuals. Above the shelf, as decoration, was a row of white porcelain urinals that had been nailed to the wall. In the corner of the room were two dilapidated chairs, each losing its stuffing.
“Come, sit,” said Malchik, pointing to one of the chairs. He turned to Hagbard, who was hovering anxiously outside the room.
“Get lost,” Malchik said to the German youth. He closed the door, took a seat in the other chair and turned to Junot.
“So talk,” said the big man. “What do you want?”
“First, I bring you greetings from a mutual friend. I think you know him as Hubert. He arranged for me to come.”
“Yeah, I know Hubert. We do some work together. So what? Why you call this meeting?”
“We need some help. You’re the only person we know who can deliver.”
“Help with what?”
“Zero-day exploits. We’re buying.”
Malchik laughed. Zero-day exploits, so named because they targeted software flaws that were unknown to the vendor until the first day they were used, were hackers’ gold.
“Everyone is buying. You know what someone paid in Thailand last week? Five hundred thousand dollars. For one zero-day exploit.”
“We can pay more, on a steady basis. You have the network that can produce. We have the clients. And we’re in a hurry.”
“What network?” snorted Malchik. “You mean Cerberus? The smart boys of Cerberus Computing Club? Well, I’ll tell you something. They are too clean to work for you, whoever you are. They are pure white, those boys. They think Snowden still works for the NSA. They want to mess with government, business, Mafias, anyone who has money. They hack for freedom. Free porn, free sex, free money. I don’t know. But they will just laugh if you talk to them. Whoever you are, if you have money, you are the enemy.”
“But I’m not going to talk to them, Malchik. You are. They know you. Maybe they’re scared of you, maybe they don’t like you, maybe they think you want money to pay for pretty women and big motorcycles. But you’re one of them. You can get what I need.”
The big man shook his head, but he was thinking, calculating in his mind.
“How much?” he said.
“We give you ten million for a steady flow of zero-day exploits. What we want especially are UNIX exploits, or any exploits that will get us into financial databases. Oracle, Unisys, McAfee, RSA, anything you’ve got. We want random number generators that aren’t random. We want to be able to manipulate big databases. You listening?”
“Yeah. I am listening.”
“Well, start taking notes, brother.”
“I got a good memory.”
“Okay, we want networking software that we can beacon. We want anything that’s already beaconing inside banks or financial exchanges. We want anything that will get us into SWIFT, even an old zero-day in SWIFT that we can recode. We are especially interested in large international transfers involving central banks. You still tracking this?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Malchik. “You got a heavy shopping list, my friend. What you going to do? Break into the Federal Reserve?”
“Something like that. Now here’s what wedon’twant: No botnets. We don’t give a shit about denial-of-service attacks. No carder bullshit for identity theft. We’ll leave that to all your weenie friends in Moscow and Kiev. No code-breaking, password-cracking, none of that. We’re fine in that department. We want to get inside large financial institutions. And we need people who can hack in German.”
“You pretty big guy,” said Malchik.
“Yes, I am. And I want this shit as soon as possible. Day before yesterday.”
“Fifty million,” said Malchik. “I am not like most hackers. I have expensive tastes.” He was smiling, revealing a grille of gold inserts.
“Fuck you. We need to steal the money first. Twenty million.”
“Thirty. Not less. I want a G-5, just like in the videos.”
“Twenty-five. Money sent to Liechtenstein, Cayman Islands, Nauru, wherever the fuck you want. Not more. Do the deal now, or I walk away.”
Junot stuck out his hand.
“Twenty-five million for six months,” answered Malchik. “If you like my shit, you’ll pay me more. If you don’t, okay, bye-bye.”
Malchik thrust his hand forward. Both arms from the wrist up seemed to be wrapped in tattoos.
“Deal,” said Junot. “We pay in installments. One-third, one-third, one-third, starting tomorrow.”
Junot wrote down a Web address with an “onion” in the suffix, which marked it as an account that could only be accessed through an anonymizer known as the “Onion Router.” He handed the TOR address to Malchik. The talk back in Denver was that NSA had cracked TOR, but NSA was so swamped with data already, the analysts would never find his tracks.
“Send me the coordinates of where you want the money. And we need to set up how you’re going to send your exploits and malware. The Internet Relay Chat boards are all being watched, by everybody. Your techs need to talk to my techs.”
“No problem. I send you secure address.”
“Roxxor,” said Junot, using a hacker expression of pleasure.
“Whatever,” said Malchik.
Junot looked away for a moment, to ponder something. His eyes turned to the titles on the bookshelf. They were a compendium of the innocent anarchy of the early Web:The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Hobbit books, Robert Heinlein translated into a half dozen languages, a whole row of Philip K. Dick’s works in different editions. It was obvious that Malchik had a foot in both worlds, white and black.
“Now that we’re business partners, I have one more problem, Mr. Malchik,” he said. “I’m wondering if you’ve heard what happened to a Swiss boy. He worked with some people in the underground. His name was Rudolf Biel.”
“I heard about him. He’s dead. End of story.”
“Yes, but do you know why he was killed?”
Junot was probing, wanting to sample the street whispers, trying to discern who knew what, and how much they would say.
“Maybe I hear some rumors, sure.”
“Like he knew too much about something.”
“What something? Come on, Malchik, you don’t seem like the shy type.”
“You pay for what I know?”
“But I already agreed to pay. You mean pay more?”
“Of course. This is a new thing, so it cost you new money.”
Junot wanted information. He nodded.
“What have you got?”
“So here is a hint. We do a lot of business, you understand? We can hack anything we want. It’s true. You know this much or you wouldn’t come looking for Malchik. Sometimes we even hack governments: the big spies. The ones with three initials. They play us, we play them. Nobody believe it, but this is so. Hubert knows. We have some help, maybe. Who knows why? But yeah, we are inside everything.”
“And the Swiss who got killed, Biel, did he know about these code breaks?”
“Who says code breaks? You. Not me. Biel just knew that people were inside these systems. He even had some proofs that he took with him. Some lists, I don’t know. People in the underground say so many secrets coming out of America now, unbelievable. Somebody inside is talking. That’s what people say. So this Biel got stupid. He went to the Americans. Someone got nervous. Now he’s dead. Like I said, end of story.”
“You know who killed him? What do you hear on the street when you’re out on your big Kawasaki?”
“Come on! You crazy? I don’t hear anything. If I do know, then somebody kill me. Fuck off, man. Really.”
Junot stepped back. His reconnaissance was done. Malchik either didn’t know or wouldn’t talk, so it was Junot’s turn to plant some information.
“Okay, so I’ll tell you what I heard. Big secret, but I want you to know. How about that? It was the Russian hoods. They killed Biel because he was a rat. He was telling the Americans that there were leaks. He was sharing Mafia secrets. So they drilled him.”
“That’s pretty interesting, Mr. Axel, but you know what? I don’t give a shit. We are good hackers. We break into anything. That’s what we do. Haxxor forever! But we are not killers. NSA and CIA do that, but not us. If Russian hackers start killing people like Biel, they are just another Mafia.”
“My point, precisely,” said Junot.
“My friend, you are barking up the wrong pole. We hack to destroy governments. This is so. We work with the Mafias sometimes, yes, it is true. I myself am sometimes one of the hard men, and some of the weak boys in Cerberus, maybe they think I am Mafia, but they are wrong. So you tell Hubert that, yes, it’s true we were not happy when Mr. Rudolf Biel decided he want a vacation in America, okay, but we did not pull nobody’s trigger. I don’t know who did this hit. Nobody does.”
Junot rose. He almost had a smile, though it was hard to tell. His face wasn’t built for that.
“I don’t think that was worth any extra money, do you?” said Junot.
“I tell you nothing so you pay me nothing. Okay. Fair deal.”
“I’ll tell Hubert,” he said. “It’s good to be in business. You give us what we want, and you will be a very rich man. Run your network so we can get inside a very big bank, and believe me, twenty-five million is just the beginning.”
“Okay. It is a deal, then. I tell you tomorrow where to send money. When the first third arrives, let’s say nine million, then we start sending you the zero-day exploits. We got a lot of inventory, believe me. These Cerberus guys are the best hacks in the world.”
“One-third is eight-point-three million, and it will be there as soon as you give me the delivery address. And Malchik, you know the first rule of my business?”
Malchik cocked his head. “What’s that?” But he knew. He’d seenFight Cluba dozen times.
“First rule is, don’t tell anyone about my business.”
“That’s second rule, too, I bet. Okay, I got it.”
Junot walked back up the circular metal stairway and through the pretend air lock to the door. Malchik followed behind. Everyone else in the place had scattered. The toy lights were still blinking in the imaginary entryway.
“Let’s do this,” said Junot. He punched the big man’s fist with his own. “And remember what I told you: The Russian Mafia killed that Swiss boy.”
Junot walked out into gray glow of early evening. Just over the wall, the waters of the Spree were splashing against the embankment, and a U-Bahn train was clicking toward Yannowitz Bridge Station. The needle of the television tower, once the jewel of the GDR, was twinkling in the East like a monument to a lost civilization.
Ed Junot tried tolook respectable for his trip to Switzerland. He took out his earrings, placed a knit cap over his big bald head and substituted a pair of loafers for his studded black boots; he wore a blue blazer over a white button-down shirt. The costume couldn’t change the hard set of his jaw, or the hooded eyes, but it softened the effect. He bought a first-class train ticket for Basel at the gleaming glass-and-steel train station in the Schoeneberg district of Berlin. Waiting for the train to leave, he bought some Mentos candy to suck on, and copy ofHello!magazine in German so he could look at the pictures and not appear to be American. It was a long ride, more than seven hours, and he quickly fell asleep. He was awakened in the middle of the trip when someone poked him in the ribs and said, “Das Schnarchen!” which he realized must be a reference to his snoring. He muttered, “Fuck off,” and went back to sleep.
The train arrived in the late afternoon at the Badischer Bahnhof on the German side of the city, north of the Rhine. Junot walked through passport control into Switzerland and took a taxi to the Basel Hilton, south of the river. He requested a room overlooking the Nauenstrasse. The clerk at the front desk said that most guests preferred to be on the other side of the hotel, away from the road, but Junot said he didn’t mind the sound of traffic.
Junot took his bag up to the room and opened the curtains. On the far side of the street, just across from Junot’s room, was the nipped, conical shape of the Bank for International Settlements tower, stacked on its foundation like a twenty-story beehive. He unpacked his suitcase and put his meager wardrobe in the closet, and then turned off the lights.
From the bottom of the case, Junot removed a Zeiss spotting scope that he had encased in bubble wrap. He mounted it on a small tripod and placed it atop the desk that faced the window. The lens of the scope was powerful enough that he could read the time on the wall clocks in the offices across the way, and see the expressions on the faces of the bankers who remained in their offices.
Junot opened his computer bag and retrieved a memo from James Morris that he had printed before leaving on the trip. It had the photo, office number, email address and phone numbers of a man named Ernst Lewin, who worked in the tower across the road. His office was on the eighteenth floor, in a room that faced the Nauenstrasse.
Junot focused the scope tighter. He checked the photograph, and then studied the man across the way through the viewer to make sure they were the same. His target, Ernst Lewin, was a tall, thin man, balding, with a prominent nose and black glasses. Lewin was the chief information officer and systems administrator of the Bank for International Settlements. He had “root” access to all of the bank’s systems.
From the computer bag, Junot now took a small device that included a focused laser beam transmitter, along with a receiver to capture the returning signal and an interferometer that could convert these signals into sound, and a pair of earphones. This assembly comprised a laser microphone that could hear through distant windows by reading the vibrations caused by the pressure of sound waves against the glass pane. He focused the device on the window of Ernst Lewin until he heard through his earphones the voice of the man calling his wife to say that he would be home soon for dinner.
Junot put the spotting scope and the laser microphone in the closet of his room. He affixed a jam lock to the closet door so that his tools were safe. The tension in his body eased. He was hungry after the long trip and ordered a club sandwich from room service. The sandwich had chicken salad, mixed with mayonnaise, which he disliked, instead of the grilled chicken he had wanted, and the fries were soggy. He ate half the sandwich and put the tray in the hallway.
Junot was restless: After waiting a few minutes to digest the foul meal, he went down to the hotel “fitness room” to work out. The gym had a set of free weights, but they only went up to fifteen kilograms. A woman was using them when he arrived. Junot noisily did push-ups and crunches next to her until she left. The weights were so light that Junot flung them back on the rack. Everything was pissing him off. He went upstairs and showered, and thought about sex while he lathered himself.
He knew he shouldn’t go out, but the room felt claustrophobic. He put on a black T-shirt, this one bearing the name of a band called Slipknot, and put the studs back in his ears. He went downstairs and asked a handsome young bellman where to go in town for music. The young man recommended a club across the river, located in an old military barracks. Junot cruised for a while, looking for someone interesting and submissive, but the music was insipid, just east of ABBA, and his black mood returned. Just before midnight he went back to the hotel and jerked off.
The next morning Junot got up early. He ordered breakfast from room service, and when he had eaten and bathed, he hung theDO NOT DISTURBsign from his doorknob and went to the closet to retrieve his surveillance tools. He placed the spotter and the laser microphone side by side. He focused them on the eighteenth-floor window he had identified the night before, and settled in to wait for Ernst Lewin to arrive for work.
It was 7:30 a.m. when Junot began his watch. An hour later, he heard through his earphones the sound of a door clicking open and then closing shut, and then he saw through the eyepiece the face of Lewin as he took off his jacket, hung it neatly in the closet and settled down at his desk to work.
Junot recorded useful notes through the morning. Lewin’s secretary buzzed him at 9:20 to announce Bridget Saundermann had arrived for her 9:30 appointment. Junot made a call to BIS and asked for Miss Saundermann, and was transferred to the office of the deputy information officer. Evidently she worked with other IT staffers at the second BIS office, a round white stone building at the Aeschenplatz, several hundred yards down the street from the Hilton.
Saundermann entered the room at 9:25 and gave her boss a report on a new trading management system that was being put into beta testing in the trading room. She mentioned several employees who were working on the project, the software vendor who was supplying it, and the bugs that had been found in the networking software that connected the new platform to other parts of the bank’s system. They talked about the pressure caused by the recent downturn in Asian financial markets.
Just before 11:00, Junot heard what he had been waiting for. Lewin called someone to confirm his luncheon appointment at 1:00 that afternoon at Maison Verte. Lewin asked for the man by name, Aldo Heubner, and said that it was Mr. Lewin calling. Heubner came on the phone and said that lunch was indeed on as planned, and that he had already booked the table. They spoke in English; that was their shared language, evidently. Junot made notes.
Junot waited a few minutes and then called the restaurant and made a lunch reservation for himself at 12:30. He asked for a table overlooking the river, figuring that Lewin and Heubner would want the same. The maître d’hôtel said he would do his best.
Junot went to his computer and found an Aldo Heubner who worked as a vice president for information systems at a big pharmaceutical company that was headquartered in Basel. So they were fellow IT managers, and social friends, to boot.
Junot listened to a bit more of Lewin’s morning routine and made a few more notes, but at 11:45 he changed into his white shirt and blazer and knotted a striped silk tie. He went to his computer bag and removed a final piece of gear he had brought along. It was a miniature shotgun microphone designed to look like a ballpoint pen, with a tiny earpiece to monitor conversations up to fifty feet away. Junot put the pen mike in his breast pocket, checked his tie and headed out the door just before noon.
The restaurant was a mile north of the hotel, on the banks of the Rhine, in the city’s grandest old hotel. The main dining room was small and elegant, with crystal chandeliers suspended from the high ceiling, crisp white tablecloths and deep red plush chairs. The room was perfect for surveillance: good acoustics, low ambient noise, tables well separated but none beyond range.
Junot was one of the first to arrive for lunch and only one table was taken in the main room overlooking the river. He put twenty Swiss francs in his palm as he shook the maître d’s hand and reminded him of his request to be seated in the main room. Junot was shown to a table in the middle of the room, set back from the windows that overlooked the Rhine, but close enough. He had brought a book to read, along with a notebook in which to scribble what he overheard. He put the earpiece in his right ear, away from the door, and studied the menu.
Junot was ordering his meal when Lewin arrived; he was taller and more gaunt than he had appeared through the scope. With him was a shorter man with curly hair and a loud voice, who had to be Aldo Heubner. Junot watched them take their seats by the window, perhaps thirty feet away and in direct line-of-sight range.
He told the waiter, hovering so attentively, that he would have the lobster medallions to start, and then the pigeon breast with Tasmanian pepper, and then cheese, and then a champagne parfait for dessert. He removed the pen microphone from his breast pocket and placed it on the table, under a newspaper he had brought along.
Lewin and Heubner talked with the pleasure of two friends meeting in a fine restaurant. They discussed a mutual friend: Roger Friedman, who worked for UBS; they made plans to see Benjamin Britten’sWar Requiemoratorio with their wives the following week; Lewin’s wife was named Rachel and Heubner’s wife was called Angelique; they discussed Christmas holiday plans, and the annual dilemma of whether to go skiing in the Alps or fly to the sun in the Caribbean.
Junot feasted on his meal while he listened to the conversation and made occasional notes. The sound quality was nearly as good as if the two were sitting at Junot’s table. They weren’t wildly indiscreet, but they laid open their personal lives in the way that friends do during a social encounter.
Lewin and Heubner ate their entrée and main course as they talked, but they skipped cheese and dessert. They had to get back to work. They left promptly at 2:30, as Junot was beginning his champagne parfait. He ate the raspberries but left the rest. He had already eaten enough for a week. He put his tiny shotgun microphone back in his pocket and gently removed the earpiece, palming it so that even a waiter standing over him wouldn’t have seen a thing.
Junot paid the bill. It came to over three hundred francs. He thought how pissed off his Denver handlers would be when the expense account came in. Junot looked at the waiter again as he walked out, thinking how he would like to jump him in the men’s room.
The rest was rote work, once Junot had acquired the raw material through “social engineering.” When he got back to his room at the Hilton, Junot put the surveillance gear back into his suitcase and set up his laptop computer. Morris had loaded him up like a “script kiddie”—with ready-made hacking tools that he could use once he had set his target and payload. He worked carefully, making sure each step had been completed correctly before he executed anything.
The first step was to steal Aldo Heubner’s email address. Junot explored the Internet site of the pharmaceutical company where Heubner worked until he had figured out the basic format for employee email addresses. When Junot had assembled what looked like the right configuration for Heubner, he tested it by using the “email dossier” at a site called centralops.net and found that it was indeed a valid address. He sent Heubner a dummy message at that address, just to make sure. Heubner didn’t answer, but the message didn’t bounce back.
Now Junot constructed the bait on his digital hook: It was a spoofed message for Ernst Lewin that appeared to be coming from Aldo Heubner’s email account, with his normal address visible as the sender. The subject line wasThanks for lunch. Below the subject line, the message read:
Enjoyed our meal at Maison Verte today. Angelique and I will buy tickets for the Britten oratorio for you and Rachel. And holidays? What about this place at Pointe Milou in St. Barts? Expensive, but let me know what you think. Aldo.
Below the fictitious Heubner’s farewell, there was a live link for a resort called the Hotel Francois in St. Barts. Anyone clicking it would see a dreamy picture of a cabana and blue water, with a menu across the top including “Rooms and Suites,” “Bar and Restaurant,” “Spa,” “Rates, “Services” and “Contact.” It would be rude for Lewin not to click on the link, since his friend Huebner had asked for feedback.
The St. Barts resort page was the hook. Encoded with that Web page, so that it would be activated in Lewin’s computer as soon as he clicked on the link, was a piece of malware that was a zero-day exploit of the Windows operating system used by the bank’s internal computer network.
James Morris had entrusted the zero-day to Junot for this operation. It used a gap in the BIS operating system that would allow installation of malware that would mirror Lewin’s account. Once the malware had installed itself, Morris could monitor every keystroke made on Lewin’s machine and capture his “root” account passwords that controlled the entire system. Using this root access, Morris could create backdoors and move through the network to discover the usernames and passwords of other “root” administrators. With a few lateral moves, he could alter databases, steal and corrupt data files, create phony accounts and server files and conceal himself by deleting any evidence of the original penetration.
Junot sent the spoofed email message to Ernst Lewin. A few minutes later, to cover his tracks, he sent a message to Heubner from a mock-up of Lewin’s address. The subject line readChristmas holidays. Below that, the message advised:Caribbean is too expensive. Let’s talk next week at War Requiem about alternatives. Ernst.If the subject came up, each man would think the other had misunderstood.
Now Junot waited. Forty minutes later he had a text message on his cell phone from a number that James Morris sometimes used. The message read simply:We’re inside.At a computer terminal on another continent, Morris had registered the beacon confirming that Ernst Lewin had opened the link and installed the custom malware without realizing it. Morris was now able to feed other malware through a backdoor that the initial exploit had opened, and create multiple backdoors to make sure he could remain in Lewin’s root account even if the initial penetration was detected later. He could now dump account names, crack passwords and roam through the secret activities of the bank at will.
Why hack the Bank for International Settlements, the clearinghouse for central banks? Junot asked himself that question, though he didn’t dare to pose it to his boss. But had he done so, he would have received a simple, if cryptic, answer: Because it’s a symbol of everything that has gone wrong since 1945.
Graham Weber paid anunannounced visit the next morning to the Information Operations Center. He suspected that James Morris had already left town, but he wanted to see the place and meet Morris’s deputy, Ariel Weiss, whom Sandra Bock had recommended as a talent worth cultivating. The IOC was located a few miles from Headquarters, in one of those featureless modern office buildings that populate Northern Virginia. It was hidden away from the main highway, in a low-rise shorn of any corporate or other identification. Leafy shrubbery masked the thick electric fencing; a curved driveway hid the guard station that blocked the entrance to the building.
Weber hadn’t told anyone he was coming, so the guard was flummoxed when he saw Weber’s Escalade and chase car. Jack Fong spoke with the site security chief, and then the two-car motorcade rolled past the lowered steel barrier and into the complex. A few senior officers of the division were gathered in the downstairs lobby when Weber entered the building. They had tumbled out of their offices when the guard announced that the director was on the premises.
It was an odd group, thought Weber as he scanned the bodies that were assembling. They looked barely out of college, most of them, wearing T-shirts and jeans, running shoes or sandals. The best and brightest in the Internet age were not also the best-kempt. They looked unhealthy, to a man or woman: too fat, or too thin; faces puffy or sallow, and not a one of them seemed to have had any exercise in the last month.
“Is James Morris around?” Weber asked the first person who approached him, who identified himself as the IOC’s deputy chief for administration.
The administrative officer was a beady-eyed young man in his early thirties, one shirttail exposed. He said he wasn’t sure whether Mr. Morris was in or out. He explained that for security reasons Morris never told people where he was.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Weber. “Call his office.”
Morris’s personal secretary advised that he was out of the city, on an extended operational trip that he had logged with the deputy director for Science and Technology, to whom he reported.
“I’d like to see Dr. Weiss, then,” said Weber. “She’s in, right?”
“For sure,” said the admin officer, tucking in his shirt as he led the director down the hall to the deputy chief’s office. On one wall were posters for Kiss and Megadeth. On another was a banner promotingStar Wars: Episode VII. The corridor opened up on a main operations room with several dozen cubicles, each framed with multiple computer screens.
“Green badge?” asked a startled little man with a long beard who nearly bumped into Weber just as he turned the corner into the main work area. He assumed a contractor had entered the building.
“It’s the director,” said the admin officer. “Mr. Weber.”
“Oops,” said the gnomish little man. He bowed as if to a royal visitor, and then scurried on.
Weber surveyed the place. It was a strange lair; the room was windowless, to prevent any possibility of remote monitoring. People were dressed informally: there wasn’t a necktie or skirt in sight; many wore T-shirts, more than a few in hacker black. Dominating the far wall was the center’s crest, with its bald eagle atop the globe of zeroes and ones, its bolt of red digital lightning and its mission statement:STEALTH, KNOWLEDGE, INNOVATION, and its mysterious key, surmounting the emblem.
Was this the new face of the agency? Weber wanted it to be so: No more martinis; better to encourage beer pong after work, for in the twenty-first century, the important targets weren’t the heads of intelligence services but their systems administrators—geeky kids like these, who had access to real secrets. This collection of oddballs might be the only way to go after them.
Weber strolled among the cubicles. People were writing code, near as he could tell, bouncing threads of symbols back and forth between the screens on their desks. As he neared the middle of the room, he saw the open door of a glass-walled room. This must be Ariel Weiss’s office.
A woman in skinny black jeans and a crisp white shirt walked toward Weber. She was wearing black boots with noticeable heels; her long black hair was tied in a ponytail. She was the only healthy-looking person Weber had seen in the place so far.
She had something more complicated than just pretty in her face; there were layers of beauty, qualities that in another woman might be discordant, but that she held together in a deceptively casual package. Weber wondered at first if she was really the deputy commander of the hacker squad. She didn’t look weird or damaged enough.
“Dr. Weiss?” asked Weber, extending his hand as he approached her glass-walled space.
“I’m Ariel,” she said. She gestured to the group arrayed around her in their cubicles.
“This is the war room. I can show you around. If we’d known you were coming, we could have put on something special.”
Weber shook his head. He was tieless; his jacket was draped over his shoulder and his blue eyes were sparkling. Others might have called him a youthful director, but in this setting, he felt old.
“Another time for the demo,” he said. “Right now I want to talk to you.”
She motioned him toward her office but he shook his head.
“Let’s go back to Headquarters. It’s quieter there.”
Weiss retrieved her purse from her office and a white cashmere scarf that set off her dark hair. They drove away in his black SUV; she waved goodbye to the administrator, who looked worried that Weiss was leaving the office on an unplanned and unexplained outing.
When Weber got out at the seventh floor, accompanied by the sleek visitor, the security officers milling around the kiosk by the elevator suddenly came to attention. Weber shook his head; he still didn’t understand why so many people were necessary for security in a controlled environment. He led Weiss through the anteroom, with its multiple secretaries, into his inner office. The room seemed too big and formal for the kind of conversation he wanted to have.
“Let’s go to my dining room,” said Weber. “It’s much prettier, and just as private.” He led her through the sitting room, past the lordly portrait of Helms and into his sunny hideaway in the northeast corner of the building. He told a steward to bring coffee and then leave them alone.
“You really should be talking to Mr. Morris,” protested Weiss as she sat down. “He’s the one who knows what’s going on in IOC. I just keep the wires from getting tangled.”
“Nonsense,” said Weber. “You know everything. That’s what I hear. And I talk to Morris plenty. What I need now are some answers.”
“Look, Mr. Director, I’m Pownzor’s deputy, but there’s a big residual that he keeps in his head. Some questions I can’t answer.”
Weber poured her some coffee and offered her a chocolate chip cookie.
“Tell me about yourself,” said Weber. “We’ll get to IOC operations later. You’re a woman hacker, right? I thought they mainly came in the male variety.”
“We’re as rare as rocking horse shit, sir. But we exist.”
Weber laughed at the vulgarity.
“That’s a new one. So how did you learn the trade, if that’s the right way to put it?”
“Simple. I was smarter than the boys. I grew up in Providence, where my mom ran a neighborhood grocery store. I liked to raise hell. So . . . that became hacking.”
“I’m a Pittsburgh boy, myself. But I liked to raise hell, too. So do my children, unfortunately.”
Weber was relaxing. He didn’t often talk about himself.
“Providence is a tough town,” he continued. “Mobbed up, people always say. How did a tech genius come out of there?”
“I was the smart kind and also the tough kid. I was good at math, which everyone thought was freaky for a girl, but I also ran track. My senior year, I made money as a waitress in a bar. When I got into MIT, I found out that the way to be a popular kid, if you weren’t a preppy, was to be a prankster. At MIT in the 1990s, the best pranks were computer hacks. Still true, I guess.”
“What did you do, steal stuff, or what?”
“Have you ever heard of Jack Florey?”
“No. Who’s he?”
“Jack Florey was the imaginary name MIT kids used for our pranks. It started freshman year, with this sort of hacker orientation tour, they called it the Orange Tour, organized by people who all said their names were Jack Florey. They took me along, even though I was a girl. We snuck into steam tunnels in the basement and secret passageways under the dome. We went spelunking inside the building walls, silly things like that. My year, ‘Jack Florey’ hijacked a campus police car, took it apart and reassembled it on top of one of the buildings.”
“It sounds like perfect training for being a CIA officer.”
Weiss beamed her radiant smile.
“It was, actually! It was like the ops course. Freshman year we turned the MIT dome into R2-D2. A few years later they put a Red Sox logo up there, and then a pirate flag. The idea was that it was good to challenge authority. Computer hacking was just part of that culture. We would break into systems just to show that we could do it. A good hack became known as a ‘Jack.’ It was a way of being cool, if you were a geek.”
“So how did you get from there to working for the, uh, man?”
“You really want to know?”
“When I was finishing my doctorate, I decided to become a ‘white hat’ because I was so scared of what the ‘black hats’ could do, including me. I got so good at hacking that it frightened me, to be honest.”
“What do you mean?”
“The first time I got ‘root’ on a major airline system, it freaked me out. I found my credit card number on the system. I found all the flights I had taken. I found the routings, and the schedule changes, and the maintenance records. And I realized, if I can do this, any smart geek can. And pretty soon they’re going to crack the air-traffic control network and be able to make airplanes fall out of the sky. It was like looking in the mirror and seeing a devil face.”
“How did you find your way to the agency?”
“They found me. They’re good at that. They go trawling where they know hackers are going to be, at IEEE conventions and hacker meetings. They anonymously sponsor hacking contests and then hire the winners. They find the chat rooms where we hang out online. Pownzor is a genius at that. You should ask him. He was part of the group that pitched me.”
“What was the pitch?”
“It was, like, if you want to do cool stuff, and break into whatever system you want, anywhere, and use the best hardware ever made, and get paid for it—oh, yeah, and go after bad guys, too—then come see us. He made it sound like the coolest, most badass job on the planet. I had my doctorate. I didn’t want to teach. So here I am.”
Weber looked at her skeptically, as if this couldn’t be the entire story.
“And that was it?” he asked. “Girl meets agency. Girl likes agency. And they all lived happily ever after?”
She cocked her head. Her boss was asking her to be honest, so she complied.
“I like secrets,” she said. “I’m good at finding them out, and I’m good at keeping them. The older I get, the less interested I am in people. They’re unreliable. I likethings. That’s why I’m an engineer and not a humanities major, I guess. The happy ending doesn’t do much for me.”
She was talking fast, the way smart people do, and she was rocking forward as she spoke. When she came to the end of her little story, she looked up at him curiously.
“You’re not going to fire me, are you? Because there’s a rumor going around that heads are going to roll in the IOC because of some screwup overseas. I thought that was why you wanted to see me.”
“Not at all. But I’m curious. Where did you hear about this supposed purge?”
“Pownzor told me there was trouble after he got back from Europe. He wouldn’t tell me what he was doing there. He just said that something bad happened and he was getting blamed.”
“He didn’t tell you where he’d been?”
“No. That’s our deal. I make the Information Ops Center work—keep the war room stocked with Doritos and Diet Coke—while he runs off and does his operations. Sometimes he tells me what he’s doing, sometimes not. When he left on this Europe trip he didn’t say anything, except that he had to go. A week later he was back, looking like shit, talking about how he was going to get fired. Then he took off again yesterday. He runs the world out of the pockets of his cargo pants, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“I don’t really know Morris, but yes, I’m getting that impression.”
Weber studied her. She was at once entirely casual and perfectly poised. He thought of himself at her age, fifteen years ago, when he had begun to realize he was really good at running companies and making money. Even on his best days, he hadn’t been as focused as Ariel Weiss. He wanted to take her into his confidence; in truth, as isolated as he was, he needed an ally.
“I’m worried about Morris,” he said. “He looked exhausted the last time I saw him.”
“He is exhausted, Mr. Director. Too much has come down on his head recently. I’m worried that he’s drowning.”
“I’ve given him a lot responsibility. I hope he can handle it.”
“Pownzor is tough. He gets it done. Maybe it’s good for him to get away. He relaxes when he’s out of the office. He likes being on his own.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“Why? What did he do?”
“A case went bad. He took control of it, and then it blew up. He offered his resignation, but I told him no, he’s still my guy. But he seemed rattled after that, spun up about something. I’m wondering if you noticed anything.”
“Pownzor is always a little strange, Mr. Director. That comes with the territory. When you’re as smart as he is, you sometimes don’t fit.”
“But he’s okay? Nothing that I should worry about?”
“I can’t answer that, Mr. Director. You have to worry about everything. The one thing I’ve learned at the agency is that we’re all just people, with a lot of issues sometimes.”
“Does Morris have issues?”
Weiss opened her hands, palms up. “You’re asking me questions I can’t answer—probably shouldn’t answer. I work for Pownzor. He’s my boss. It’s not my job to spy on him. Was it his fault, that the case went bad?”
“I don’t know yet. But it was on his watch. That’s why he offered his resignation. If something goes bad and you’re in charge, then you take the fall. People don’t get fired enough at the agency. That’s why it’s mediocre.”
“I’m not mediocre.”
“I didn’t mean you. I meant the organization.”
“But, Mr. Director, Iamthe organization, at least the younger part of it. Who do you think is out there? It’s people like me. Do you want us to take risks?”
“Of course I do. I want you to take more risks, all of you, a lot more. I want this place to be more aggressive and kick ass.”
“Do you want an honest answer, Mr. Director?”
“Yes, damn it. And stop calling me Mr. Director. I keep looking over my shoulder for someone else. Just tell me the truth, and don’t worry about it.”
“Okay. Then don’t hassle Pownzor anymore.”
“Because he’s a risk-taker, and everybody knows it. And if people start second-guessing him, then all the people my age are going to say,Uh-oh. Button up. Slow-roll it or you may get in trouble. The director doesn’t like mistakes. People will go back to the formula for making supergrade.”
“What’s the formula?”
“If you run lots of operations, you’re taking a big career risk; if you run a few operations, it’s low-risk; if you run no operations at all, then there’s no risk whatsoever of a CEI.”
“Correct. People are going to say that Pownzor was too aggressive, and that’s why he got dinged.”
“The slow-roll is the opposite of what I want.”
“Then let Pownzor do his thing. He’s probably harmless.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. But we’ll be watching now.”
Weber stood up from the lacquered table and walked to the window. All the spaces in the neat rows in the parking areas were filled, as far as he could see. It was a tidy bureaucracy that he ran, but not a very good one. He turned back to Weiss.
“I’m worried about Morris,” the director repeated. “I can’t shake it. I put a lot of trust in him, but I just wonder . . .”
Weber came back to the table and sat down across from her. She stared at him, not sure what to say. He thought it through one more time, nodded to himself and then spoke to her.
“Will you work for me?”
“I already do. You’re the director. Everyone works for you.”
“I mean something different. Will you stay in your job, as deputy chief of Information Ops, but also report to me, and sometimes take assignments from me? And not tell Morris, no matter what.”
“Be your agent, in other words, inside the IOC? That’s what this would be.”
“Yes, basically, that’s right.”
“Wow. That’s . . . unusual. Is it legal?”
“Of course it is. I run the organization. If I say I want something, pursuant to the powers the president has given me, then it’s legal.”
“What happens if Pownzor finds out? He would destroy me.”
“I’ll take care of you. As you said, I’m the director. I run the place.”
She looked him in the eye, studying his handsome, boyish face, trying to make up her mind.
“I mean it,” she said. “He would destroy me. I don’t just mean move me out of my job. He would wipe me out. Ruin my name and future. He may act like a punk, but he has a lot of friends.”
“You have to trust me, Ariel, or don’t do it. It’s my job to fix what’s wrong at the agency, but I need help. You told me you were a risk-taker, so now’s the time to go all in. Otherwise, I won’t believe all that tough-girl stuff.”
“Unfair,” she said, smiling. But there was a calculating look in her eye, too.
“What’s in it for me?” she asked. “Other than helping you, that is.”
“What do you want?” asked Weber. He hadn’t expected such a transactional response.
“I’d love to run the IOC someday. Maybe move up to the seventh floor when there’s an opening for a deputy or counselor. I’m a good manager.”
“You’re ambitious,” said Weber.
“Of course I am. Princes don’t rescue fair damsels for nothing anymore, and vice versa.”
“No promises. But you’d be the obvious candidate to succeed Morris, unless I need you elsewhere in senior management.”
“Acceptable,” she said.
“I’ll take that as yes, which is the right choice. For a minute there, I was worried you were just another young careerist.”
“I am that, too.” She folded her arms across her chest.
“Okay, hotshot, here’s your first tasking: I want you to get inside Morris’s head: Find out what he does when he’s off on operations. There’s nothing inappropriate about that. You’re his deputy, you’re supposed to know what he’s doing. You said you like secrets. Okay, time to find out some new ones. Are you comfortable with that?”
“Sure. Like you said, it’s my job. But I’m a Company girl, just so you know.”
“Good. I’m a Company man now, too. So starting today, I want you to know everything about your boss. Pull his files, rumble his email, anything you can access. If you need help—technical stuff, whatever—just tell me. If you run into walls you can’t get through, tell me that, too.”
“IOC is all walls. Pownzor has compartments inside his compartments. Nobody sees the big picture except him.”
“Well, that’s about to change. Gather up the records of Morris’s operations over the last two years, all the ones you can find. Look at the operational pattern, and then see what’s missing. That will help you know where to look for networks that are off the books.”
“Who should I say is requesting all this information?” she asked, arching her eyebrows.
Weber laughed and put his big hand on her shoulder.
“Tell them it’s Jack Florey.”
She laughed, too. He had been listening to her college stories, after all.
“How should we communicate? If Pownzor is as wired as you think, I need to be careful.”
Weber thought a moment. “Back in a minute,” he said.
Weber exited his dining room and went back into his office. Weiss stared out the window, thinking of all the CIA directors who had sat here since the 1960s, and the nightmares they had struggled through. Some had been lucky and solved their problems cleanly; most had not. This was the house of broken dreams and ambitions.
Weber returned thirty seconds later with two Nokia cell phones, manufactured circa 2005, and a package containing a string of SIM cards, numbered one through ten.
“This is a clean phone,” he said, handing her one of the Nokias. “Every time I call you, toss the SIM card and move to the next one. I have a list of the numbers. I’ll have the same rig.” He held up the second phone. “Here’s my number and a list of the SIM cards I’ll be using. Don’t let go of these. Sleep with them under your pillow.”
He handed her two pieces of paper with the various numbers. She was biting her lip. She closed her eyes for a moment, as if to block a thought.
“Is this hack going to work?” asked Weber. “You’re the expert.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “Sometimes at MIT we would talk about ‘can’t happen’ mistakes, which were conditions that theoretically were impossible but had appeared in the system anyway. Like when a file size comes up as negative.”
“And what’s the outcome, when you get one of these ‘can’t happen’ events?”
“Usually it’s a fatal error and the system crashes.”
Weber nodded, shook her hand and let her out the door. The secretaries, Marie and Diana, exchanged glances as they watched her go.
K. J. Sandoval, theHamburg base chief, was still upset about the way her case had been taken away from her by a male superior from another division, and then blown, with no consequences for anyone, near as she could tell. It wasn’t fair. Her father had always counseled her with the bromide that in dealing with the Anglo power structure, don’t get mad, get even. So after a few days’ reflection, she consulted a former Justice Department lawyer in Washington who still had a high-security clearance and specialized in workplace-discrimination cases for people in the intelligence community. The lawyer wasn’t sure that Sandoval had a case, but she agreed to write a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity office, laying out the basics of the complaint, without the highly classified details. The EEO office had a counseling and investigation staff, she said, that tried to resolve cases quickly and quietly.
The key paragraph of the letter read as follows:
Ms. Sandoval has been informed that a matter involving a developmental asset she initially handled was assigned to the Information Operations Center, working with a special compartmented task force. Because she was not asked to join the task force, despite her experience with the case as a designated officer of the National Clandestine Service, Ms. Sandoval believes that she has suffered from unfair and discriminatory action. Ms. Sandoval speaks Level 3 German, and has good liaison contacts in Hamburg and elsewhere in Germany. As her attorney, I request that she be included immediately in the IOC/NCS joint task force. Otherwise, I will make a formal complaint to the Official of Equal Employment Opportunity and request a full fact-finding investigation and resolution.
Agency officials, who had become highly skilled at ass-covering and legal self-protection, recognized immediately that the letter had what they called “flap potential.” A copy was sent by the senior EEO compliance officer to the general counsel’s office, where it was bumped up to the boss, Ruth Savin. She knew that Graham Weber had made a personal decision to assign the Hamburg case to James Morris, which meant that he would personally be involved in any investigation and arbitration. So Savin made an appointment to see him that afternoon.
“Pain in the neck,” said Savin as she handed a copy of the attorney’s letter to Graham Weber. A career in the federal government had taught her to regard discrimination claims from civil-service employees in much the same way Supreme Court justices view habeas corpus petitions from condemned prisoners, as a tedious waste of time.
Savin waited opposite Weber while he read the letter. An unlikely smile came over his face. He was looking for new allies, and he saw a chance to recruit another.
“Let’s do what she wants,” he said. “Have her call me. I’ll assign her to work on the case personally, directly for me.”
Savin frowned. Her usual legal advice to senior officials was that they keep their distance from prospective plaintiffs, rather than embrace them.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Cases like this can bite you.”
“I need help. She wants to be useful. Sounds like a match to me. Let’s call her.”
“Why not? Let’s see what she can dig up. If she gets anything, we can bring her back here. Meet her away from Headquarters.”
“Are you going to tell Morris?”
“No. That’s the point. I want someone working this who isnotMorris.”
“You’re the boss,” she said. Those words were frequently uttered by general counsels, in and out of government, but rarely with equanimity.
Weber had Savin wait with him while Marie dialed Sandoval’s secure cell phone in Germany. He wanted a witness. The phone rang. It was after ten p.m. in Germany. Eventually a half-sleepy voice answered, in English.
“This is Haven J. Pullman,” said Weber, using the agency pseudonym that he used in correspondence.
There was a pause on the other end, while Sandoval ran through her mental Rolodex of names, cryptonyms and pseudonyms. When she realized who it was, a note of surprise and worry came into her voice.
“How can I help you, sir? Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem. I just read your lawyer’s letter to the EEO office. The general counsel showed it to me. I think you’re right. I want you to be involved more in this case.”
“Yes. We need to do more. But I don’t want to put you on the special task force that was assigned to pursue it.”
“Why not? I’m well qualified.” There was a bite in her response, as she sensed she was getting passed over once again.
“I want you to work directly for me. I’d like a second set of eyes looking at this case. Use your own sources, and follow your own leads. Report to me directly. That’s the deal. Don’t tell COS Berlin and don’t tell EUR Division. This is a private reporting line. Can you do that?”
“Yes, Director,” she said, a slight quaver of awe. “Are you sure this is okay, you know, bureaucratically?”
Weber looked at Savin. He smiled.
“The general counsel is with me, and she says it’s fine. Isn’t that right, Ruth?”
Savin winced, but she didn’t say anything.
“What do you want me to look for?” asked Sandoval.
“The obvious questions: I want to know what happened to your guy. And I want to know whether he was telling the truth when he said we had a problem.”
“That means I have to get inside the hacker underground,” said Sandoval gravely.
“Yes, if possible. Did this Swiss boy give you any leads to work on when you debriefed him?”
“Nothing very good. He talked about the Friends of Cerberus, and the Exchange. I have no idea what they are.”
“Find out. Get me some answers. If you have anything good, then get on a plane and fly to Washington. Come right away, no waiting or hand-wringing. Just do it.”
“Don’t disappoint me. I want a report in a week, and I want to see you right away if you’ve got something I need to hear.”
“What if I get in trouble?”
“Don’t. But if something happens, I have your back.”
Sandoval was silent for a moment as she considered this profession of loyalty from her supreme leader.
“Hay mástiempo que vida.That’s something my dad used to tell us.”
“What does it mean?” asked Weber.
“‘Life is short. Seize the moment.’”
“Smart man. Do what he says. Goodbye.”
Weber hung up. Savin looked at him dubiously, but that didn’t matter. Now the director had his second back-channel ally—a Spanish-proverb-quoting, semisuccessful, modestly pissed-off, midcareer Mexican-American case officer with a chip on her shoulder and a name that sounded like a hooker’s. Perfect.
Kitten Sandoval stayed up much of the night worrying about how to perform the assignment the director had given her. It is often a fact that when we obtain the prize we have been seeking, it feels like a burden. But when she awoke after a few hours’ sleep, it was a sunny morning. She pulled the drapes so she could look out over the botanical gardens through the window of her flat. The morning sun was glinting off the artificial lake. Beyond were the pavilions of the Japanese tea gardens, and the orderly grid of plants and pathways of this very German park.
Sandoval made herself a cup of coffee, ate half a sweet bun and threw the rest away so she wouldn’t be tempted. When it was nine, she telephoned her most useful friend in Hamburg. His name was Walter Kreiser, the former head of Germany’s concatenatedBundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, the federal intelligence service.
Sandoval was direct. She asked Kreiser if they could meet for a conversation that very day. He suggested lunch at Die Bank, his favorite brasserie in Neustadt, housed behind the grand façade of a nineteenth-century finance house. But Sandoval said no, this was better discussed in a private place; she asked if she might perhaps come visit him at his apartment in Uhlenhorst, across the lake from the consulate. Kreiser suggested she come at eleven for coffee.
Kreiser was waiting in his apartment, an austere modern German structure of blocks and rectangles, all in white. He was a widower, but his housekeeper kept the place tidy and had set out flowers on the table; she brought a coffee service on a silver platter soon after Sandoval arrived, and then disappeared.
He was a gentle-looking, white-haired man in his early sixties who wore wire-rimmed glasses, a white button-down shirt and rep tie; his every aspect was neat and unobtrusive. He was a product of the early Cold War school of German intelligence officers who had been trained by the British and believed, with their mentors, that intelligence officers should to the extent possible be invisible.
“What a nice surprise,” he said, pouring the coffee from the silver pot. “I hope it is nothing bad that brings you to see an old man on a sunny morning.”
“I need your help,” she said.
He took her hand. He was flattered, but he was not an idiot.
“Don’t be silly. The U.S. government wants something. I understand.”
Kreiser had taken an interest in Sandoval when she first arrived in Hamburg, not just because she was young and attractive, but because he was unabashedly pro-American and could see that this new arrival needed a mentor who understood Germany. They took to having coffee, and then an occasional dinner. She dressed up when she went to see him and took his arm when they went for a stroll. He reciprocated in his way, buying her presents and taking her to favorite haunts in the old city, telling things about the German scene that she could not otherwise have learned. He liked calling her by her forename.
“So tell me how I can help, my dear Kitten.”
“We lost someone, Walter,” she replied.
“So I’ve heard, my dear. I was going to call you, but you saved me the effort. How can I be of help?”
“I don’t know. That’s the problem. I don’t understand what went wrong. The young man who was killed was in my office a few days before he died. He wanted to help us.”
“Yes. I heard that, too. You mobilized half of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein trying to find him. You Americans do not move quietly.”
“But we didn’t find anything except a dead body, and a bullet.”
“The BfV and the BND are telling the old boys that it was a Russian Mafia hit. They traced the gun, so they are saying, with much congratulating of themselves. Isn’t that right?”
“Probably. I don’t know, to be honest. That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I don’t understand where this man was coming from. He was frightened, I can tell you that. He was shaking when he talked to me, but I don’t know why.”
Kreiser knew Hamburg. He had started his career there and risen to become Hamburg’s chief of police before moving to Munich and then Berlin to run the national spy agency. He’d had a good run at the BND, making many friends and few enemies. When he retired, he had come back home to Hamburg, and after so many years of liaison with the CIA, he wanted to keep his hand in, which Langley was only too happy to facilitate. Sandoval had in fact been sent to brief him, which was how they had first met.
“I thought this was being handled by someone else: your Internet specialists. That’s what the BND chief told me,” he said.
“It is, officially. My visit to you is unofficial. I just want some ground truth about where this Swiss boy was coming from. We need to understand if we are vulnerable.”
Kreiser laughed. The smile transformed his face, from its severe and somber lines to something more supple and playful.
“That’s a good one, Kitten. You want the old man to help you understand hackers. I am flattered, but I think you need a younger adviser.”
Sandoval was too upset to be coy. Kreiser was her best shot, and she didn’t want to blow her chance with the director.
“Help me, Walter. You must have contacts in that underground. Certainly your old service does. Germany has more good hackers than anywhere in Europe. Find me someone to talk to, so I won’t feel so stupid. Just give me a start.”
Kreiser’s smile had vanished. His blue eyes narrowed as he reviewed names and cases in his mind.
“These people don’t like to talk, you know, especially to your government. They hate the CIA. They live to make difficulty for you.”
“Then I’ll be someone else, a businesswoman or a professor. Just find me someone who knows this world.”
He took her hand.
“They pushed you aside, I gather.”
“Yes, and I didn’t like it. This is a second chance.”
“Braves mädchen,” said Kreiser.
He rose from the couch and walked to his computer notepad, where he kept his addresses. He scanned it, found what he was looking for and returned.
“I think maybe I have the right person for you. But you will have to be very careful. This one is marked ‘Vorsicht!Handle with care.’ He’s a German boy, not a boy now, almost thirty. His name is Grulig. He was very helpful to me once, just before I left Berlin. But he’s confused. Sometimes I think he has seen a ghost.”
Sandoval sat back with a start.
“The Swiss boy had that same look, like he was spooked. What’s going on with these people?”
“I cannot say, Miss Kitten.” Kreiser poured his guest more coffee.
“This boy can help you,” he continued. “But you’ll have to go to Berlin. That’s where he is. And he’ll never meet you in a public place. I’ll have to find something else.”
Sandoval folded her hands. She was getting to the hard part.
“Don’t tell the BND, Walter. Promise me. Keep it off the books. And don’t tell anyone at the agency. I’m freelancing. This could get me fired.”
He reached out again and placed his big hand over hers.
“My dear, this is a very hot wire that you have touched. If you hold it too tight, you will get burned. You must see where it goes, where it originates, where the power comes from. With that I cannot help you. But I will show you how to start.”
Sandoval wanted to be professional. But she could not resist giving the old man a kiss on the cheek.
Ms. Kitten Sandoval waitedin an austere conference room in a slate-gray office block at the eastern end of the Unter den Linden. The building housed a foundation run by a German finance company for which Walter Kreiser did occasional consulting work. Out the window was the sublime beauty of the Brandenburg Gate, with its Grecian columns topped by the monumental chariot and its four horses hurtling forward through light and dark.
Sandoval was dressed in a black pants suit, carrying a notebook marked “Scylla Security Solutions,” which was the name of a proprietary company whose records listed her as a systems analyst. She was wearing glasses and an auburn wig, and at a quick glance she would not be recognized as the woman who worked in the American Consulate in Hamburg. Her papers said she was “Valerie Tennant.” She took sips from a glass of mineral water and eventually refilled it from the bottle.
She glanced at her watch. He was late. Walter Kreiser had given her the name of a young man named Stefan Grulig and promised to send him with an escort. Germans were never late. Perhaps Grulig had panicked and refused to come.
Ten more minutes passed, and then there was a knock and the door opened to reveal a young man in a peacoat, wearing a fuzzy turtleneck. His brown hair was dirty, swept back from his face in the manner of the German actor Klaus Kinski. He looked to be in his late twenties, overweight, baggy-eyed, wondering from the look on his face what he was doing in this gleaming building on the Pariser Platz. Behind him was a thinner man, short hair, ear studs for show, but obviously Kreiser’s man, who had been sent along as minder.
“I’m Valerie Tennant,” said Sandoval, thrusting a hand toward the young man in the turtleneck. “You must be Mr. Grulig.”
The German stood there awkwardly, not sure whether to advance or retreat. Sandoval walked toward him, arm still extended.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. She gestured toward the table where she had been sitting. “Please have a seat.”
Grulig walked uneasily toward the table. His minder stood by the door. Grulig spoke fluent English, the product of a lifetime on the Internet, but the minder spoke to him in German, saying he would wait downstairs.
“Ich werde jetzt gehen, Stefan, Sie sprechen zu lassen. Ich werde im Erdgeschoss, wenn Sie etwas brauchen. Ich erwarte Sie in über, was, eine Stunde?”
Grulig looked uncomfortable at the thought that his companion was leaving him alone with this strange woman. He shook his head at the mention of an hour with her.
The minder shrugged.
“Whatever,” he said in English, and then retreated out the door.
Grulig sat down uneasily at the table across from Sandoval. She put a business card before him. He studied it, but didn’t pick it up.
“I work for a computer security firm called Scylla Security Solutions,” she said. “We do penetration testing, security consulting, custom software patches. One of our German clients has a problem, and we were told you were the best. We can pay you very well.”
Grulig gave a little snort at the notion that she would pay him for his artistry.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “If I wanted to be paid for what I know, I could make more in a week than your company earns in a year.”
“Perhaps,” she said, “but we make more money than you might think. You may not have heard much about us, but we are very successful.”
He snorted again. She obviously didn’t really understand who he was or what he did.
“If I wanted to sell a zero-day exploit, you know how much I could get? A million dollars, maybe more if it’s an iPhone exploit. Do I sell it? No. Why not?”
He studied her, through eyes that were black beads of alienation.
“Because I don’t take a shit on the church floor, that’s why, and the Internet is my church.”
“Wow. Okay, got it. But can I tell you my client’s problem? You can decide if you want to help later, when I’m done.”
“I don’t want to help,” he answered flatly. “I am here only because my friend Henning, who is downstairs, asked me as a special favor. And I owe him so many things. But I can tell you now, your problem is not my problem.”
Sandoval nodded in agreement, and then went ahead with her pitch anyway, as if she hadn’t heard a word.
“My client’s problem is that there is a hacker underground in Russia that is hiring people as mercenaries.”
Grulig stuck out his tongue.
“Duh,” he said. “Everyone knows that.”
“Yes, but these mercenaries have gotten so good that my client thinks they can penetrate any network. Even the networks of governments.”
He eyed her warily. He had a soft face, now that he was close. He was frightened. That was the look in his eye. Not arrogance, but fear.
“Which government are you talking about?”
She paused as she weighed her answer. He was ready to bolt. She might only have a few more minutes with him. There was no reason not to say it.
“The United States.”
He bit his lip, and then rapped the table with his knuckles.
“I knew it.”
He pointed to her “Scylla” notebook.
“You work for one of the agencies.”
She stared him dead in the eye. There was no answering this question, ever. She pressed ahead.
“My client is interested in an organization called Friends of Cerberus, and another one called the Exchange. You must know about them, or you can help me find out. That’s why I wanted to see you.”
Grulig swept his stringy hair back from his face. His hands seemed to tremble for a moment. His face, pallid from days and nights staring at computer screens, seemed to have lost any color it had.
“Lady, whoever you are, you are going to get yourself killed, and me, too. These are names that don’t exist.”
“Yes, but they do. We heard them. And do you know who we heard them from?
Grulig didn’t answer, but his eyes showed that he was interested. Scared, yes, but also unable to resist listening to what this American woman was saying.
Sandoval fixed him in the eye again. She could be tough and unyielding in dealing with sources. That was her gift: She looked soft, but she wasn’t.
“I’ll tell you, Stefan. We heard those names from a Swiss named Rudolf Biel. Do you know who he is?”
“Poor kid,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s what I think. And I’d like to do something about the people who thought he was so disposable.”
Grulig shook his head. But he was in her space now. He could have gotten up and walked away five minutes ago, but not any longer.
“So let me ask you again, Stefan. Can you help me understand this Exchange and the Friends of Cerberus?”
“Who am I talking to?” asked Grulig. There was a slight tremor in his voice. It was as if he had been pulled toward a precipice and forced to look over the edge.
“Just me. I’m an American. That’s enough. Nobody from my country knows I’m here. Nobody knows I’m meeting with you, except the man who set it up with your friend Henning, and I’m not telling you who that is. I know this is dangerous. That’s why I haven’t told any of the people I work with. I just need to know what thefuckis going on.”
Her profanity seemed to startle him. It was incongruous. He looked at the door. He looked out the window at the Brandenburg Gate, lighter than air for all its immensity, the stone glowing in the morning light. He looked at her and then began to speak, his voice shaky at first, but then steadying.
“You must be very stupid, or very smart, I can’t tell which,” he said.
“I’m just ordinary, but I’m worried, and I need help.”
“Me, too,” he answered.
“That’s a start. Tell me about Cerberus and the Exchange.”
Grulig shook his head at the mention of these names again.
“You don’t understand anything, do you?”
“Probably not. So help me out.”
“You think this hacker underground is a bunch of criminals. Sleazy guys from Sochi and Kiev who are selling shit and killing people who get in their way. Right?”
“Yes. I guess so. That’s true, isn’t it?”
“Of course it’s true. But who do you think are the buyers in this market? Do you think it’s some kind of hacker godfather, who buys up all the exploits and sells them in a thieves’ den?”
“I don’t know. Tell me. Who are the buyers?”
“The buyers aregovernments. Good governments and bad governments. Sometimes the buyers are companies, so they can fix the vulnerabilities. But more often they are governments that want to use them to get inside networks and systems.”
“The U.S. government is a buyer?”
He snorted again, and then laughed out loud.
“Youarestupid. Of course the U.S. government is a buyer, when it needs to be. But really, that is not the point.”
“No? What’s the point, then?”
“The point is that the buyers and sellers are inside each other. It’s not enough to buy exploits. The governments want to buy the people who create them. There are no more black hats and white hats. It’s all the same hat. They’re all working together.”
“What’s the Exchange?”
“A name for something that doesn’t have a name.”
“It’s a market. The boys who pretend to take these systems down are also the ones who help build them back up. They are all traders in the same market. The people who are doing the defense are also doing the offense. You see what I mean? Sometimes they want to give this show a name, so they call it the Exchange, or they call it Carderplanet, or Stuxnet, or Flame. I don’t care. They are shitting in my church, all of them. They shit on the altar. I hate them. Do you hear me? I hate them.”
She wanted to hug the German, with his fuzzy turtleneck sweater and his dirty hair. Yes, she was beginning to understand.
“It’s not enough to hate them,” she said. “You have to stop them.”
“I cannot. You cannot. They are destroying cyberspace, but it’s worse than that. People talk as if ‘cyber’ were a separate electronic space, but information is the air we breathe. How can they buy and sell the air, these bastards? They are destroying life and freedom. I cannot bear it.”
He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. There were no tears, only the sniffling and a nervous cough.
“Who are the Friends of Cerberus?”
“They are liars. Cerberus has no friends.”
“Okay, then, what is Cerberus?”
“Cerberus is the dog that guards the gates of hell. Everyone knows that.”
“No, really, do you know anything about it? Please.”
He smiled, almost sweetly.
“Well, I helped to build it, I should know. Cerberus is the Cerberus Computing Club, here in Berlin, in every German city and town, all over Europe, even in America. It is the home of people who love the Internet, and hate boundaries, and love freedom—and will take action, yes, truly, take action to prevent people from harming our blessed chaos. The Internet took power away from governments and companies, you see, and now these bosses want it back.”
“Can I meet Cerberus?”
He laughed, merrily now.
“No. And yes. Who do you think you are talking to?”
“A part of it. But Cerberus is everywhere. I told you before. How can you meet the air? You breathe it. It’s free.”
“I need to ask again. It’s important. Who are the Friends of Cerberus?”
“They are false friends. It can only be a trick. I have heard the name, but never from someone I trusted. Most of what you hear about Cerberus from the outside is false. Your information is probably a lie, too, I think. But honestly, I don’t know.”
The sky over Berlin was darkening as the weather changed. A shadow fell across the conference room in the gleaming building on Pariser Platz. The change of light seemed to alter Grulig’s mood. He looked at his watch. The nervous look returned to his face. His eyes darted back and forth, as if he felt claustrophobic in the room. She was losing him.
She fixed him in the eye again. She took his hand, but he pulled it away.
“Who killed Rudolf Biel?” she asked. “I need to know. Was it this Exchange Mafia? Or someone else?”
He stood up, shaking his head.
“You, lady, are so crazy and stupid. Didn’t you understand anything I said? It is all the same. There isn’t a team called Exchange that is fighting a team called, I don’t know, USA, or China, or Russian Mafia. When you pull it apart, it’s all one team. How can I say who killed him? Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter. It’s what I told you: There are no black hats and white hats. There are only golden hats, the ones with the money.”
“So they can read America’s messages, the secret ones from the agencies? I need to know.”
“Some messages, maybe. But I am telling you, it is Laocoön: You cannot tell apart the body of the serpent and the arms of the man. The agencies are hungry for exploits, to do their own dirty work. They get inside every system there is, and we never know why. One day they are in Iran, another day in Switzerland, a third day in China. Is there a goal, or is there only this dirty game? I do not know. But it is dangerous.”
Grulig moved toward the door. Sandoval reached out and held his arm, but he pulled away.
“Stay,” she said. “Let me help you.”
He shook his head, the matted hair falling across his eyes.
“No.” He walked toward the door. “Do not come with me. Do not follow me. Do not ever contact me again. You got this Swiss boy killed, this Biel. That’s what I think. And you will get me killed, too, so goodbye. I never met you. I never talked to you. I will never see you again.”
“Please wait. I need help.” She almost shouted the words.
“You need to think about what I said, lady. That is all the help from me there is. No more, after that. If you try to come after me, it will be a mistake. I do not make threats. I don’t believe in threats, or war, or violence, or flags. But I promise you that if you try to contact me again, or reveal my identity to anyone, I will know. And you will pay a very big price.”
With that, he was gone, out the door. Sandoval thought of following him, thought even of making a crash call to Berlin Station in the U.S. Embassy, two hundred yards away on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate. But she had given her word to Grulig that she would protect his anonymity. And there was something else: She had been instructed not to talk to anyone else in the agency except the man at the top.
The consul general inHamburg was a middle-aged man, never married, and he didn’t like talking about personal matters when he could avoid it. Kitten Sandoval told him the next morning, when she was back from Berlin, that she had a personal medical issue, “women’s plumbing,” and needed to fly home to see her Washington doctor. He didn’t ask any questions. She didn’t contact Berlin Station or EUR Division back at Langley, not wanting to be caught later in a lie.
Sandoval caught an early connector flight from Tegel to Munich and flew home to Dulles on Lufthansa. She bought the economy ticket in her true name, and booked herself a room at the Crystal City Marriott. Before she left, she sent an encrypted message to the director’s pseudonym account, saying that she would be in Washington that night. She asked him to suggest a location for a secure meeting.
Sandoval watched movies all the way home. She half paid attention as her mind wandered over the events of the past few days. She was in what her father liked to call “las profundidades del océano.” The deep ocean. The gravity of what she had done made her nervous, but it was also what she had wanted for years: a chance to make a difference, with everyone watching, to be the heroine of the play.
Sandoval had progressed in her career by taking little risks, measured ones. She had come to the CIA by way of Arizona State University, in the usual sort of quiet referral: She had been nearing completion of her master’s in global legal studies, hoping to work for the FBI or the DEA, when her dean summoned her one day and said the CIA recruiter was coming to town. He said Sandoval had the right skills: She was bright, conscientious, spoke fluent Spanish as a second-generation immigrant. Her Mexican-born father was a naturalized citizen and Marine Corps veteran who took her to the firing range each weekend. She knew her way around guns, and she had an easy way with people.
The CIA had a lily-white reputation, but Sandoval knew that if they were sending recruiters to ASU, they wanted to give at least the appearance of change. Sandoval went off to the interview, and the first surprise was that the CIA recruiter was a Hispanic woman herself, who had served abroad and seemed to embody the slogan on her promotional brochure about how the National Clandestine Service was “the Ultimate International Career.”
In the days after the interview, Sandoval could imagine herself being that woman, having that career and being a soldier like her father, but different. With the encouragement of her dean, she applied to the agency and eventually became a career trainee, on her way to the Clandestine Service. She did a first tour in Managua, where she hadn’t liked her boss, and after that an awkward stint with L.A. Division in Washington. She switched to EUR, first in Madrid and then, after six months of German language training, to Hamburg. She had never stepped outside the boundaries in all that time, or felt she needed to.
The events that had begun with the Swiss walk-in, Rudolf Biel, were different. Sandoval had started coloring outside the lines: It was free-form, and although she had recently found a seeming ally in Weber, she knew he wouldn’t be able to protect her if things went wrong. He was new and inexperienced; she knew more about the CIA than he did.
A message was waiting on Sandoval’s phone when the plane landed at Dulles. The director proposed a meeting at seven-thirty the next morning, and gave the address of Stormhaven Casualty, an insurance office in the flat suburb of Fairlington in Alexandria. Sandoval checked into the Marriott and lay awake in bed for several hours, her mind a white buzz. She took an Ambien and slept a few hours, then awoke a little after four a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. After she had showered, she put on too much makeup, but that was better than too much fatigue.
Sandoval took a taxi to the address in Alexandria the next morning. She arrived at seven-fifteen, but it took twenty minutes for them to clear her downstairs, so she arrived in the secure second-floor reception area late and embarrassed.
Weber had his feet up on the coffee table of the windowless room they had prepared for the conversation. He popped up from the couch and shook her hand. Sandoval had never met him before. He looked like one of the fraternity boys at ASU, too young for the job.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Mr. Director,” she said.
“¿Qué húbole, güey?” said Weber.
“Do you speak Spanish?” she asked enthusiastically.
He shook his head.
“The chief of my security detail told me how to say, ‘What’s up, dude?’ Want some coffee?”
She nodded yes, and an aide brought in a huge platter of muffins, donuts, pastries, cookies and fruit, along with a giant coffee urn. The word had gotten around that the director liked snacks. It was enough to feed the EUR Division. Sandoval took some fruit and a cookie.
“Thanks for coming,” said Weber. “You’re sticking your neck out.”
“Yes, sir, I am.” She looked away.
“Well, it feels good, doesn’t it?”
“I hope so, Mr. Director. I’m a little nervous.” She took a drink from the water glass before her.
“Is your name really ‘Kitten’?” asked Weber. “That’s different.”
“I’ve taken a lot of grief about it, but that’s what my parents named me.” Her hand was shaking and she spilled a little of her coffee.
“Sorry. I am so nervous.”
“Take it slow,” said Weber. “I have all morning, and this isn’t a promotion board.”
She adjusted her skirt, took a bite of a grape and then put the plate aside.
“Let’s start at the beginning,” said Weber. “Tell me about the walk-in, this kid Biel. You’re the only one who met him. What was he like?”
“He was frightened, Mr. Director. When he came in off the street, he mentioned two things, specifically, that he wanted to warn you about, face-to-face. He made a point about that.”
“Why me? What did he think I could do for him? I had only been director for a week. I was barely on the job yet.”
“Maybe that’s why he wanted you. He said people were preparing something. I guess he thought you were outside a system he thought had been penetrated.”
“But there was nothing in your first cable about a penetration of the agency.”
“I was being careful. But when I think back, that’s what he was telling me. He knew people had hacked our communications systems. They were inside. That’s why he wouldn’t stay in one of our safe houses. He thought the information would leak. That’s why he wanted to talk to you directly. You weren’t contaminated. He’d read about you. He knew you were the new guy.”
“What do you think he would have told me, if we’d ever gotten to a meeting?”
“His secrets, I guess. Who the penetration was; how the communications systems had been compromised; what they were planning; why the rush. Whatever he knew, he wanted to tell you. That was his protection: You would take care of the people who were threatening him.”
“But I didn’t. I picked a ‘specialist’ to handle it. Another hacker. I thought that was the right thing to do.”
Weber took a long drink of his coffee.
“Poor Biel.” His voice was a bitter sigh. “I let him down.”
Sandoval was startled. She hadn’t expected her boss to have taken it personally.
“It was my fault, Mr. Director. Not yours. I should never have let him leave the compound. And then, when Mr. Morris came, I felt a little . . . I don’t know . . . intimidated. At first he thought he could find Biel. Then Mr. Morris kept disappearing.”
“Where did Morris go?”
“He never said. I thought he had special sources, private operations he couldn’t tell me about. He made me feel . . . dumb. Then he got, like, depressed.”
She was getting upset again, short of breath.
“Eat some more fruit,” said Weber. “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”
She took some more grapes, and ate a half dozen, while Weber called for a Diet Coke, bringing forth another huge platter, with cold drinks and finger sandwiches.
“Jesus, no wonder we’re having budget problems,” said Weber, looking at the array of food. “So tell me why you came today, all of a sudden. Why the crash meeting?”
Sandoval took a deep breath.
“Okay, so to prove his bona fides to me the Swiss boy mentioned the two names I told you about: the Exchange and Friends of Cerberus. I wanted to know more about them, but Morris waved me off, said it wasn’t my case. So I didn’t do anything until you called me and asked me to help.”
“Right. So what did you do?”
“I went to a German friend, Walter Kreiser, who used to run the BND. I asked him to find me someone in the underground. I hope that’s okay.”
“That was smart. Did Kreiser come up with anything?”
“Yes, indirectly. Through a cutout, he introduced me to a young German hacker, very smart, who traveled in these same circles. His name is Stefan Grulig.”
“Did this Grulig know about these hackers, whatever, the Exchange and Friends of Cerberus?”
Sandoval gave him a look somewhere between yes and no.
“That’s the strange thing. He said the Exchange and Friends of Cerberus weren’t real organizations, they were just names people gave to the underground. He claimed they weren’t really criminal groups attacking governments. They were all part of a market, and governments were their customers. He made it sound like they were all in it together. And I thought maybe that’s what Biel was trying to tell us. ‘We’re inside you because weareyou.’ I know that must sound crazy.”
Weber shook his head.
“It doesn’t sound crazy. What else did he say?”
“He said the U.S. government was hungry for the malware that the hackers in Cerberus Computing Club could produce. Those were the ‘friends’ Biel was talking about. They wanted to get inside everyone’s systems. Grulig didn’t say why. He made it sound like our Internet people were no better than hackers. Worse, really. We pay really big bribes, we say in Spanish, ‘cañonazo,’ to get this information.”
“That’s what Morris does,” Weber mused, barely mouthing the words. “He buys malware. But why?”
The director took another sip of his Diet Coke as he thought about the pieces of the puzzle.
“Did your source know anything about why Biel was killed?”
“That was the creepiest part. I asked if it was the Russian Mafia and Grulig just laughed, like I didn’t understand anything: He said the Russian hacker Mafia and the U.S. government looked like enemies, but really they were the same team. That’s when I began to worry.”
“Me, too,” said the director under his breath, barely audible.
“Is this dangerous, Mr. Weber?”
Weber looked away from her. Lying had become his profession, but he still wasn’t very good at it.
“I don’t know what this is yet. I’ll give you an answer when I find out.”
“I’m not backing down.”
“Good. I want you back in Germany tomorrow. I don’t want anyone to think we know a thing. You have anything else for Mr. Director?”
“Can I ask you something off-line? You don’t have to answer.”
“Sure. This whole conversation is off-line.”
“Was Biel right?” she asked. “Do we have a mole?”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Maybe it’s more like a worm. A piece of code, or a person, it does the same thing. It eats us from inside. Maybe it’s someone like Snowden, who thinks he’s a hero. I honestly can’t say yet. But I’m looking.”
“How will you kill the worm?”
The director didn’t answer at first, because he didn’t know.
“Carefully,” he said after a moment. “We need to know how the worm got there. Who helps him? Are there more worms? I don’t want to pull out a piece of the worm and leave the rest in there.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Director.”
It wasn’t an apology, but an expression of sadness for the weight that this new arrival at the CIA, in his job for less than a month, was now carrying on his shoulders.
Weber told Kitten Sandoval to return to Hamburg and go about her business. He wrote down the password for an email address that he had used to communicate with a confidential business associate in his previous life. He told Sandoval to check that address twice a day and look at anything that had been saved as a draft message, and to respond by leaving another draft. It was a simple trick, but it worked.
Sandoval left in a Red Top taxi that she hailed on the street outside the big sign that readSTORMHAVEN.
As Weber was departing Fairlington with his security detail, he asked Oscar the driver to stop at a 7-Eleven on Seminary Road. When a member of the detail tried to follow him in, he told the man to chill out, he needed to use the men’s room. He went into the dirty bathroom, locked the door of the stall and pulled out his Nokia. He dialed the number of the identical phone he had given to Ariel Weiss.
“It’s Wall-E,” he said.
“Hi,” Weiss answered. “What’s up?”
“I just heard a story that made my hair turn white.”
“I think your hair is already turning white.”
“I’m serious. The walk-in was right. Hackers are inside our system. They brag about it. We can’t leave any electronic footprints, if we can help it.”
“What does that mean?”
“Sorry. ‘Read the fucking manual.’ As in, ‘obviously.’”
Weber smiled. In this anesthetized organization, he felt lucky to have found a live body. He had a plan, and he needed help.
“Did they teach old-fashioned tradecraft when you were at the Farm? The old Moscow rules, ‘denied area’ procedures?”
“Yes, of course. Dead drops and brush passes. They said we wouldn’t need to use them. Our ciphers and crypts were all unbreakable. But I remember.”
“I’m out of my league here, obviously, but that’s how I want to run this. I’m going to set up a drop we can use on North Glebe Road. I play golf at a country club in the neighborhood, so I can go there without being noticed. There’s an underpass that leads to a parking lot. Look for a loose stone at the end of the underpass, on the west side. That’s where we’ll leave messages. We can use the Nokias, too, but sparingly. Otherwise it’s too obvious that it’s a closed loop. There’s no GPS transmitter on the handset I gave you, but don’t use it near your house. You have a house, right?”
“An apartment. I’m single.”
“Me, too. That’s lucky, because for the next while, you and I are going to be joined at the hip. We are going to live an analog lifestyle. Is there some geeky expression for that?”
“We call it ‘deceased.’”
Behind Weber, there was a loud knock. Someone was pounding on the door of the 7-Eleven bathroom.
“I gotta go,” he said, ending the call without waiting for her answer.
Weber removed the SIM card and stowed his cell phone. He flushed the SIM down the toilet and washed his hands, and then walked back to his black caravan, which had been waiting patiently for Mr. Director to finish in the bathroom.
When he got back to the office, Weber asked Sandra Bock to summon James Morris back from wherever he was overseas. He told Bock to deliver the message through the Information Operations Center and also through Beasley’s retinue at the National Clandestine Service. The flash messages went out; station chiefs in Europe and Asia were asked to make discreet inquiries about the possible whereabouts of the IOC chief. But the aggressive messaging yielded nothing but silence.
Late that day, Bock got a call from a man who said he worked for Mr. Hoffman in the DNI’s office. He said that James Morris was on assignment for a joint task force that was run through the NSA. He understood that an effort had been made to contact Mr. Morris, but he couldn’t be reached, for the time being. He asked Bock to apologize to Director Weber.
When the conversation ended, Bock phoned the operations room and asked them to see if they could trace the last call. The watch officer said it had come from a number that had been assigned to a freight forwarding company in Denver that had gone out of business.
Bock told her boss what she had learned. He deliberated calling Cyril Hoffman to ask for more information and decided against it. He doubted that Hoffman would tell him the truth.
Graham Weber had alwayshad a civilian’s restrained view about leaks of classified information. He knew how difficult the disclosures made life for the intelligence professionals who were supposed to keep the secrets. But he was never sure that they damaged the nation in the way that the secret-keepers asserted. He’d fought that battle as a businessman when he threatened to close his business if it were forced to keep quiet about actions by the FBI and NSA that he thought were unconstitutional, and he had won that fight, and briefly become a champion for the libertarians. But now he saw the problem from other side of table, and he was frank enough to admit that it looked different.
The leak that rattled Weber most in his first weeks was the disclosure by the British newspaper theIndependentof a new American program for collecting economic intelligence via the Internet. According to the London newspaper, the CIA had just approved a new program for using automated systems to monitor and analyze new inventions, patents, securities-trading algorithms and foreign-currency movements via Internet data that was available on financial-market platforms such as Bloomberg and Reuters, and in specialized scientific and professional journals. The story said the program had been approved by the new CIA director, Graham Weber, in the first week of his arrival. The inference was that Weber’s talk of reform was hypocritical, and that he had in fact approved a significant new extension of CIA economic-monitoring capability.
When he read the story, Weber felt queasy and thought for a moment that he would be physically sick. The leak was disclosing a program he had in fact approved at the end of his first week on the job. It was a new initiative being managed by James Morris and the Information Operations Center, under authorities approved by the agency’s most secret panel, known as the Special Activities Review Committee. What frightened Weber was the possibility that the leak had come from one of the people in the small group that had been sitting in his office that first Friday afternoon when he approved the plan.
Ruth Savin called soon after Weber was given a summary of theIndependentstory. The general counsel arrived in his office thirty minutes later and proposed that the inspector general’s office immediately begin an investigation, and that they start now with their referral to the Justice Department requesting a criminal investigation.
“How long will all this take?” asked Weber.
“A month to gear up, six weeks at the outside,” answered Savin.
“Jesus, that’s forever. We have information spilling out of this building into the news media and it takes that long even to start hunting for who leaked it.”
“Welcome to the real world, Mr. Director. Leak investigations are sensitive. The president doesn’t want to look like he’s beating up on the press. He’s taken a lot of grief for that already. You can call Mr. O’Keefe and ask him to approve a quicker referral, but I think he’ll say no.”
“That’s okay,” said Weber glumly. “I guess on this stuff, where you stand depends on where you sit.”
Savin looked at her boss. Already, his ruddy Seattle complexion was turning that pale color that comes from early mornings and late nights and a life spent indoors.
“You want to hear a joke?” she said. “Maybe it will cheer you up.”
Weber nodded. He wasn’t really in the mood for laughing, but Savin seemed determined.
“Okay, You’re at a Jewish wedding . . . how can you tell if it’s Orthodox, Reform or Liberal?”
“I give up. How?”
“In an Orthodox wedding, the bride’s mother is pregnant. In a Conservative wedding, the bride is pregnant. In a Reform wedding, the rabbi is pregnant. See, that’s funny, and you aren’t even Jewish.”
Weber was chuckling, despite himself.
“You’re good,” he told his general counsel. “Now go start the leak investigation.”
The next day, Marie stuck her head in the door and said that Mr. O’Keefe was calling from the White House. Weber’s first thought was that they had decided for real to fire him. But when the national security adviser got on the line, he was polite, solicitous, even. The British foreign secretary and the chancellor of the Exchequer were coming to Washington for a hastily arranged visit. They would be at the White House the next afternoon at two, and the president wanted his new CIA director there. O’Keefe suggested that Weber bring along an analyst to talk about the global economy. The president would be most grateful.
“Let me be honest, Tim,” said Weber. “From what I’ve seen so far, we don’t have very good economic intelligence. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you or the president. You’d be better off inviting someone from Goldman Sachs.”
“Bring someone anyway,” said O’Keefe. “It will make the president feel better.”
Weber got a call just before he left for the White House the next day from the British Embassy. They patched through a man who introduced himself as Sir John Strachan. He identified himself as the director of the Secret Intelligence Service, modestly, as if Weber might not have known that. He had come over on short notice that morning with the foreign secretary and chancellor, Strachan said, and he was hoping there would be time for a proper chitchat, maybe a “walk in the woods.” He made that last proposal sotto voce, as if the two of them were doing something very private.
Weber suggested a venue where they would be able to do just that, and asked his chief of staff, Sandra Bock, to make some hasty arrangements for late that afternoon at the newly useful golf club in Arlington.
Weber brought along to the White House Loomis Braden, the deputy director for intelligence, and Sandra Bock, who knew something about everything. They joined him in the black battlewagon as it made its way down the George Washington Parkway to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.
The meeting began at two in the Roosevelt Room on the main floor of the West Wing. O’Keefe had assembled the core national security team: the secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury, along with the attorney general. Aides to these luminaries took the small, straight-backed chairs along the wall, occasionally passing memos and briefing papers to the principals at the big table. The British visitors sat in the middle, across from the president, framed by the Cabinet secretaries. O’Keefe guarded the end of the table, bland and self-effacing.
The president sat at the center of the table under an oil painting of the “Rough Rider” atop his horse. He said so little in Cabinet meetings these days that people were whispering that he suffered from depression. Weber had only met him once since he’d taken the job. The chief executive preferred getting his morning intelligence briefings from O’Keefe. The vice president sat at the other end of the table from O’Keefe, chatting away volubly with his seatmates, in his own world of irrelevance.
Weber’s first thought was to sit in the outer rim, next to his aides, under a painting of a Hudson River landscape. But O’Keefe insisted he join the big table with the principals.
The agenda seemed to be mutual reassurance. It was a season when America’s superpower status was looking more dubious, and the benefits for Britain of the “special relationship” were being questioned at home. The reaffirmations on both sides were emphatic, but not quite convincing. The foreign secretary and the chancellor both wanted the president to know that even as Britain drew closer to the European Union, its relationship with the United States remained as strong as ever. The Europeans were trying to draw London into tax-equalization schemes, and trade-protectionist policies, and data-sharing regimes, and even intelligence-sharing that would undermine the Anglo-American partnership. But Her Majesty’s government would resist whatever pressure was brought to bear, they assured the president.
Behind the foreign secretary sat Strachan, the chief of the SIS. When he arrived he had nodded at Weber and offered a half smile.
The president asked each of his principals around the table to say a few words. When it was Weber’s turn, he talked about the challenge of running an intelligence service in an open society, and how much he had learned about the difficulties in his first weeks on the job. O’Keefe at the end of the table made a gesture with his hand that Weber took to mean,Cut it short, so the director pitched to Loomis Braden, who talked plausibly for five minutes about the perturbed state of global financial markets.
Then it was O’Keefe’s turn to sum up for the American side, and fifteen minutes for the chancellor and foreign secretary to give their final thoughts, and then after ninety minutes the meeting adjourned for “working groups” at several departments and agencies. As Weber listened to the discussion, he found himself wondering if the world of 1945 and its axiomatic policies had meaning any longer, outside of meetings like this.
While the Treasury secretary steered the chancellor through the West Wing lobby and out to waiting journalists’ microphones, a small group of national security officials, including Weber, passed through the far door of the lobby into a small hallway and down the narrow stairs that led to the Situation Room.
Weber took one of the black leather swivel chairs that lined the long polished wood table, six on a side. It didn’t look like a global command post: there was simple furniture, pale blue wall-to-wall carpeting that might be found in any suburban family room; some video monitors along the wall to display imagery from sensors around the world; a camera pointed at the head of the table where the president sat, for those who might be watching the meeting on video teleconference. Seats had been marked with little name cards, military-style; Weber took a seat on the far side of the table.
O’Keefe stopped by Weber’s chair.
“I’ll want you to say a little something about the economic surveillance program that was in theIndependent,” O’Keefe whispered. “The Brits are upset.”
Weber nodded. So that was the subtext.
The other principals wandered in, a few stopping off at the Navy Mess next door to get coffee or a cookie. Weber noticed that the outsized figure of Cyril Hoffman had entered the room. He was wearing his usual three-piece suit, blue this time, with notched lapels on the vest, and whatever his efforts, he was not inconspicuous. The president didn’t pretend to be running the gathering. He simply deferred to O’Keefe.
“Everyone in this room knows what makes the ‘special relationship’ special,” began the national security adviser. “It is the quality of intelligence-sharing across the Atlantic. Our two countries depend on the bonds between the CIA and SIS, the NSA and GCHQ, and the FBI and MI5. Everyone here also knows how hard these partnerships have been hit by the disclosures of the last several years. Our most secret programs have made their way into the press. That is our fault. The chief leakers have been Americans, and as we have repeatedly told our British friends at every level, we are sorry.”
There were polite murmurs of thanks and sympathy from the British side. What O’Keefe said was true: From an intelligence standpoint, the disclosures had been calamitous. NSA and GCHQ had been tapping the world’s telephone and Internet traffic pretty much at will for the past decade, thanks to programs with code names such as BULLRUN, TEMPORA and STORMBREW that had been among the world’s most closely guarded secrets, until one day they weren’t. The agencies had officially adopted the ostrich approach on both sides of the Atlantic, insisting that the information was still classified even though it was public knowledge.
“We want to assure our British friends that we will do everything possible to operate in this new space,” said O’Keefe. He tapped one end of his pencil moustache as if to make sure that it was still firmly in place.
“Hear hear,” said Anthony Fair, his British counterpart from 10 Downing Street. He offered the appropriate assurances about how America could always count on British support, and vice versa, he hoped.
O’Keefe turned to a Navy officer in his dress blues, seated several seats away.
“We’d like Admiral Schumer to give you an update on how the NSA is managing SIGINT operations in the new environment, we hope with continuing British cooperation.”
Admiral Lloyd Schumer spent ten minutes reviewing the National Security Agency’s efforts to maintain what he kept describing as “lawful activities.” He didn’t use the code names or offer the wiring-diagram details for this audience. He spoke with a military man’s restrained, eyes-forward manner. You wouldn’t have known, as he reviewed the collection and cryptological capabilities, that he was, in effect, handling shards of glass from a broken window.
O’Keefe then asked Amy Martin, the deputy attorney general, to brief the British on the current review of legal authorities for surveillance and intelligence collection under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended. She was crisp and concise, and uninformative. You would have had no idea from her presentation that many of the activities she described were in a kind of legal limbo, pending review by courts, legal advisers and general counsels across the U.S. government. A British legal adviser responded by describing a similar state of uncertainty there, as politicians and Whitehall mandarins tried to decide what the new rules of the game would be.
Finally, O’Keefe turned to Weber, whom he described as “our new colleague.”
“I have asked Mr. Weber to say a few words about the program that was revealed in theIndependent, which I gather came as something of a surprise to you.”
Weber didn’t talk long. He told them that the agency was continuing its long-standing practice of collecting intelligence through “open source” information on the Internet and some proprietary data it obtained through other means. That was what Ruth Savin had told him to say.
“Although we are collecting economic information, I want to stress that it is not being shared with American companies.”
“We thought you didn’t do that sort of thing, old boy,” said Fair, with icy precision. “We expect that from the French and the Israelis and the Chinese, but not from our American cousins.”
“We haven’t changed,” answered Weber. The British listened impassively, knowing that the gist of theIndependent’s story was that the American approach had in fact changed, in the scope of collection if not necessarily in the recipients of the information.
“Business is your world, eh?” pressed Fair. “You’re coming straight out of the corporate technology side; unusual for a CIA director. So perhaps you can see why we were concerned that this initiative seemed to be one of your, what shall I say, early priorities. First week, I believe.”
Weber nodded. He should stop now, before he got in any deeper trouble, but he wanted these people to understand him.
“You should know this program was handed to me when I arrived. Rest assured: I came to the agency to make good changes, not bad ones.”
“Well, we’re pleased to hear that,” said Fair.
The talk moved on. The British still seemed anxious about something. Weber couldn’t put his finger on it. The military men discussed new overhead surveillance architecture, whose fruits would be shared with the Brits, and forward defense against cyber-enemies. It was a bloodless conversation until John Strachan spoke up.
“Here’s the thing,” began the MI6 chief. “We are facing an intelligence threat now that is unprecedented, really. These leakers and whistleblowers would be easier to control if they were paid agents of foreign intelligence services, but unfortunately, for the most part, they are not. That does not, however, make them any less dangerous to our common enterprise.”
Hoffman had been doodling before, but now he spoke up.
“I assure you that we share your concern, John. These liberty addicts are driving us crazy. Timothy has already apologized that we let several of them wander into the sanctum sanctorum. But what do we do about it? How do we pursue an adversary that is, as it proclaims, anonymous and self-perpetuating?”
“We penetrate them,” continued Strachan quietly. “Get inside these hacker cults and turn them upside down.”
“A lovely thought,” said Hoffman. “But I’m afraid that Mr. O’Keefe and his lawyers have concluded that would be illegal.”
“Pity,” said Strachan.
“Isn’t it,” said Hoffman with a pursed smile.
Weber was silent. This wasn’t his world yet, really. But he knew from what Sandra Bock had told him that Hoffman was attempting to do precisely what he had told the British, in this large gathering, could not be done.
As he was leaving the meeting, Weber stopped by to introduce himself properly to Strachan and hand him an index card with the address for their private rendezvous later that afternoon.
John Strachan out ofthe office was like a summer drink, a Pimm’s Cup, say, or a good gin and tonic with a slice of cucumber: pleasant to taste, but with a bite, too. He was a thin man, light on his feet, dressed in suits that could only be made to measure. He’d spent a career overseas for the Secret Intelligence Service, mostly in Africa and South Asia, and he had the facility for languages that seems to come naturally in the British service as part of its postcolonial lineage. When Strachan made an observation about the growth of Baloch nationalism in Quetta, or Tamil unrest in Andhra Pradesh, you could be fairly sure that he had seen it with his own eyes, and perhaps conversed about it with a principal agent in his native language.
Strachan had asked for a walk in the woods, and that was precisely what he got. Sandra Bock had called the club steward in Arlington to say that Mr. Weber wanted to take a stroll around five, hopefully after the last foursome had finished for the day but when there was still enough light to see. The steward wanted to be helpful. The CIA was nearby; he didn’t inquire further about the purpose of the meeting.
Strachan rolled up to the white-pillared clubhouse on Glebe Road in an embassy sedan and was met by a member of Weber’s protection detail. The director was around the other side on the back porch, sitting in a white Adirondack chair and admiring the view. Immediately below was the eighteenth green, with its approach flanked by two other fairways, left and right. In the distance was the Gothic bulk of the National Cathedral, and to the east, downriver, was the obelisk of the Washington monument, slender as a candlestick in the distance. The light was fading; the last foursome had finished and made its way into the clubhouse.
“Jolly nice spot,” said Strachan, approaching his host. He was dressed in brown oxfords with thick rubber soles, a chesterfield coat with a velvet collar, and was a carrying a walking stick.
“Let’s take that walk,” said Weber, bounding up from his chair. He was dressed in the style that is usually called “business casual.”
The director skirted the eighteenth green, circumambulating a large bunker, and headed down the hill into the fairway, toward a topiary hedge three hundred yards away that spelled out the initials of the club’s name. Jack Fong and the security detail had gone ahead, and agents were installed in the woods or by the water hazards; a lone bodyguard trailed behind.
“I’ll come right to the point,” said Strachan when they were a hundred yards from the clubhouse. “We’re nervous about something.”
“Why? Your delegation was smothered in kisses all afternoon. America loves you. People even apologized.”
“That was quite a show, and you’re right, it was tickety-boo. No. I’m thinking about something rather more private. Perhaps we should walk on a bit, eh?”
They were approaching a small pond at the turn of the dogleg on the long eighteenth fairway. Geese were floating silently in the thin light of late afternoon. At the approach of the two men, the birds took wing, beating their way off the surface of the pond and toward the setting sun over the crest of the hill. Except for a brace of security men thirty yards off, they were quite alone.
“What’s worrying you, John? I’m the new boy, but I’ll try to help however I can.”
“No polite way to say it: We’re worried that you have a leak.”
Weber laughed. He didn’t mean to, but it just came out.
“I’m sorry, but everybody has a leak! It’s a condition of life nowa-days. I’ve even noticed some SIS material showing up in the press, if I’m not mistaken. I promise you, I take it seriously. Please don’t think that because I’m an outsider I don’t value secrecy.”
“I know that, of course I do. And I’m not talking about Snowden and his progeny. We’ll survive all that. It’s just that we hear this chatter. From what we gather, you’re rooting around for some sort of penetration of the agency, electronic or otherwise, we don’t know. But it makes us nervous.”
“That’s our business, John. But why should it worry you? We’re on it; we’ll handle it.”
“Well, that’s just the thing. It worries us, either way. If you have a problem, then we have a problem, because we’re joined all over, really; the blood-brain barrier is dissolved with us. But if youdon’thave a problem, then we want you to stop rumbling around. It frightens your foreign chums.”
There was a somber set to his jaw, but a twinkle in his eye, too.
“I’m not sure I follow you, John. There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Of course there is. Always, forever, must be. And you doubtless want me to divulge it.”
“I’m no spy. But I never had a business partner in my life I didn’t trust.”
Strachan nodded. That was the thing about Weber. He might not know much about intelligence, but he was demonstrably a man who understood how the world worked, and had created tens of billions of dollars in value for people in the process.
“So I will be blunt,” said Strachan. “You have a young chap who is your chief boffin, Internet wizard. His name is Morris. Brilliant fellow, everyone says. From what we hear, he’s the one you’ve set out as cat among the pigeons. Trying to find where your leak might be. But the problem is, he also makes us nervous.”