In total secrecy, the NRO built and maintained an astonishing arsenal of cutting-edge spy technologies---worldwide electronic intercepts, spy satellites, silent embedded relay chips in telecomm products, even a global naval-recon network known as Classic Wizard a secret web of 1456 hydrophones mounted on seafloors around the world, capable of monitoring ship movement anywhere on the globe.
NRO technologies not only helped the U.S. win military conflicts, but they provided an endless stream of peacetime data to agencies like the CIA, NSA, and Department of Defense, helping them thwart terrorism, locate crimes against the environment, and give policy-makers the data needed to make informed decisions on an enormous array of topics.
Rachel worked here as a "gister." Gisting, or data-reduction, required analyzing complex reports and distilling their essence or "gist" into concise, single-page briefs. Rachel had proven herself a natural. All those years of cutting through my father's bullshit, she thought.
Rachel now held the NRO's premiere gisting post---Intelligence Liaison to the White House. She was responsible for sifting through the NRO's daily intelligence reports, deciding which stories were relevant to the President, distilling those reports into single page briefs, and then forwarding the synopsized material to the President's National Security Advisor. In NRO-speak, Rachel Sexton "manufactured finished product and serviced the customer."
Although the job was difficult and required long hours, the position was a badge of honor for her a way to assert her independence from her father. Senator Sexton had offered countless times to support Rachel if she would quit the post, but Rachel had no intention of becoming financially beholden to a man like Sedgewick Sexton. Her mother was testimony to what could happen when a man like that held too many cards.
The sound of Rachel's pager echoed in the marble hall.
Again? She didn't even bother to check the message.
Wondering what the hell was going on, she boarded the elevator, skipped her own floor, and went straight to the top.
To call the NRO Director a plain man was in itself an overstatement. NRO Director William Pickering was diminutive, with pale skin, a forgettable face, a bald head, and hazel eyes, which despite having gazed upon the country's deepest secrets, appeared as two shallow pools. Nonetheless, to those who worked under him, Pickering towered. His subdued personality and unadorned philosophies were legendary at the NRO. The man's quiet diligence, combined with his wardrobe of plain black suits, had earned him the nickname The Quaker. A brilliant strategist and the model of efficiency, The Quaker ran his world with an unrivaled clarity. His mantra: Find the truth. Act on it.
When Rachel arrived in the director's office, he was on the phone. Rachel was always surprised by the sight of him; William Pickering looked nothing like a man who wielded power enough to wake the President at any hour.
Pickering hung up and waved her in. "Agent Sexton, have a seat." His voice had a lucid rawness to it.
"Thank you, sir." Rachel sat.
Despite most people's discomfort around William Pickering's blunt demeanor, Rachel had always liked the man. He was the exact antithesis of her father physically unimposing, anything but charismatic, and he did his duty with a selfless patriotism, shunning the spotlight her father loved so much.
Pickering removed his glasses and gazed at her. "Agent Sexton, the President called me about a half hour ago. In direct reference to you."
Rachel shifted in her seat. Pickering was known for getting to the point. One hell of an opening, she thought. "Not a problem with one of my gists, I hope."
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