Excerpt from The Company by Robert Littell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Company

A Novel of The CIA

by Robert Littell

The Company
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 800 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 894 pages

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They came to the rendezvous marked as

O X X
X X O
O X O

in the tic-tac-toe code from opposite directions and met just off the Mall between 9th and 10th Streets under the statue of Robert F. Kennedy. "There were people in the Company who broke out Champagne and celebrated when he was gunned down," SASHA recalled, gazing up at Bobby, who had been assassinated by a Palestinian in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel just after winning the 1968 California Democratic Presidential primary.

"You knew him, didn't you?" Eugene asked.

The two men turned their backs on the statue and on the woman who was setting out the skeletons of fish on newspaper for the wild cats in the neighborhood, and strolled down 10th street toward the Mall. "I don't think anybody knew him," SASHA said. "He seemed to step into different roles at different periods of his life. First he was Black Robert, Jack Kennedy's hatchet man. When JFK was assassinated he became the mournful patriarch of the Kennedy clan. When he finally threw his hat into the ring and ran for President, he turned into an ardent defender of the underprivileged."

"From Black Robert to Saint Bobby," Eugene said.

SASHA eyed his cutout. "What's your secret, Eugene? You don't seem to grow older."

"It's the adrenalin that runs through your veins when you live the way we do," Eugene joked. "Every morning I wonder if I'll sleep in my bed that night or on a bunk in a cell."

"As long as we're vigilant, as long as our tradecraft is meticulous, we'll be fine," SASHA assured him. "What Starik has to tell me must be pretty important for you take the trouble—"

"You mean the risk."

SASHA smiled faintly. "—for you to take the risk of personally meeting me."

"It is." Eugene had deciphered the document he'd retrieved from SILKWORM one seven, and then spent a long time trying to figure out how to come at the subject with SASHA. "It's about your recent replies to Starik's query of September twenty-second—you left messages in dead drops at the end of September and the first week of October. Comrade Chairman Andropov is absolutely positive that he has analyzed the situation correctly. He was furious when Starik passed on your reports—he even went so far as to suggest that you had been turned by the CIA and were feeding Moscow Centre disinformation. That was the only explanation he could see for your failing to confirm that ABLE ARCHER 83 is covering an American first strike."

SASHA burst out, "We're really in hot water if Andropov has become the Centre's senior intelligence analyst."

"Don't get angry with me. I'm just the messenger. Look, Comrade Andropov is convinced the Americans are planning a preemptive first strike. With final preparations for KHOLSTOMER being put in place, it's only natural that Andropov and Starik want to pin down the date of the American attack—"

SASHA stopped in his tracks. "There is no American preemptive strike in the works," he insisted. "The whole idea is pure nonsense. The reason I can't come up with the date is because there is none. If there were a preemptive strike on the drawing boards I'd know about it. Andropov is an alarmist."

"Starik is only suggesting that you are too categoric. He asks if it isn't possible for you to report that you are unaware of any plans for a preemptive strike, as opposed to saying there are no such plans. After all, the Pentagon could be planning a strike and keeping the CIA in the dark—"

SASHA resumed walking. "Look, it's simply not possible. The Russians have a mobile second-strike capacity on board railroad flatcars—twelve trains, each with four ICBMs, each ICBM with eight to twelve warheads, shuttling around the three hundred thousand miles of tracks. Without real-time satellite intelligence, the Pentagon couldn't hope to knock these out in a first strike. And the CIA provides the guys who interpret the satellite photographs." SASHA shook his head in frustration. "We have a representative on the committee that selects targets and updates the target list. We keep track of Soviet missile readiness; we estimate how many warheads they could launch at any given moment. Nobody has shown any out-of-the-ordinary interest in these estimates."

Excerpted From The Company: A Novel of the CIA, starting at page 716 (hardback) by Robert Littell by permission of The Overlook Press, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © April 2002, Robert Littell. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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