"Meaning you guys thought that Id lie to cover my ass?"
Wallers reply was quiet, chilling. "Once assessments are made that an individual is not one hundred percent trustworthy, contrary assumptions are made, at least provisionally. You detest it, and I detest it, but thats the brutal fact of an intelligence bureaucracy. Particularly one as reclusivemaybe paranoid is the more accurate word hereas we are."
Paranoid. In fact, Bryson had learned long ago that to Waller and his colleagues at the Directorate, it was an article of faith that the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and even the National Security Agency were riddled with moles, hamstrung by regulation, and mired in an arms race of disinformation with their hostile counterparts abroad. Waller liked to call these, the agencies whose existence was emblazoned on Congressional appropriations bills and organization charts, the "woolly mammoths." In his earliest days with the Directorate, Bryson had innocently asked whether some measure of cooperation with the other agencies didnt make sense. Waller had laughed. "You mean, let the woolly mammoths know we exist? Why not just send a press release to Pravda?" But the crisis of American intelligence, in Wallers view, went far beyond the problems of penetration. Counterintelligence was the true wilderness of mirrors. "You lie to your enemy, and then you spy on them," Waller had once pointed out, "and what you learn is the lie. Only now, somehow, the lie has become true, because its been recategorized as intelligence. Its like an Easter-egg hunt. How many careers have been madeon either sideby people who have painstakingly unearthed eggs that their colleagues have just as painstakingly buried? Colorful, beautifully painted Easter eggsbut fakes nonetheless."
The two had sat talking through the night in the below-ground library underneath the K Street headquarters, a chamber furnished with seventeenth- century Kurdish rugs on the floor, old British oil paintings of the hunt, of loyal dogs grasping fowl in their pedigreed mouths.
"You see the genius of it?" Waller had gone on. "Every CIA adventure, botched or otherwise, will eventually come under public scrutiny. Not so for us, simply because we're on nobodys radar." Bryson still remembered the soft rattle of ice cubes in the heavy crystal glass as Waller took a sip of the barrel-proof bourbon he favored.
"But operating off the grid, practically like outlaws,cant exactly be the most practical way to do business," Bryson had protested. "For one thing,theres the matter of resources."
"Granted, we dont have the resources, but then we dont have the bureaucracy, either, the constraints. All in all, its a positive advantage, given our particular purview. Our record is proof of it. When you work in ad hoc fashion with groups around the world, when you dont shy from extremely aggressive interventions, then all you need is a very small number of highly trained operatives. You take advantage of on-the-ground forces. You succeed by directing events, coordinating the desired outcomes. You dont need the vast overheads of the spy bureaucracies. All you really need is brains."
"And blood," said Bryson, who had already seen his share of it by then. "Blood."
Waller had shrugged. "That great monster Joseph Stalin once put it quite aptly: you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs." He spoke about the American century, about the burdens of empire. About imperial Britain in the nineteenth century, when Parliament would debate for six months about whether to send an expeditionary force to rescue a general who had been under siege for two years. Waller and his colleagues at the Directorate believed in liberal democracy, fervently and unequivocallybut they also knew that to secure its future, you couldn't play, as Waller liked to say, by Queensbury rules. If your enemies operated by low cunning, youd better summon up some good old low cunning of your own. "Were the necessary evil," Waller had told him. "But dont ever get cockythe noun is evil.Were extra-legal. Unsupervised, unregulated. Sometimes I dont even feel safe knowing that we're around."There was another soft rattle of ice cubes as he drained the last drops of bourbon from the glass.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...