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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An overweight man trotting along with two dogs on long leashes overtook them and then passed them. Eugene kept an eye on the occasional car whizzing down Pennsylvania Avenue behind them. "I don't know what to tell you," he finally said. "Starik obviously doesn't want you to make up stories to please the General Secretary. On the other hand, you could make his life easier—"

"Do you realize what you're saying, Eugene? Jesus, we've come a long way together. And you're out here asking me to cook the intelligence estimates I send back."

"Starik is asking you to be a bit more discreet when you file reports."

"In another life," SASHA remarked, "I'm going to write a book about spying—I'm going to tell the fiction writers what it's really all about. In theory, you and I and the rezidentura have enormous advantages in spying against the Principal Adversary—Western societies, their governments, even their intelligence agencies are more open than ours and easier to penetrate. But in practice, we have enormous disadvantages that even James Angleton, in his heyday, wasn't aware of. Our leaders act as their own intelligence analysts. And our agents in the field are afraid to tell their handlers anything that contradicts the preconceptions of the leaders; even if we tell the handlers, they certainly won't put their careers on the line by passing it up the chain of command. Stalin was positive the West was trying to promote a war between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany, and any information that contradicted that—including half a hundred reports that Hitler was planning to attack Russia—was simply buried. Only reports that appeared to confirm Stalin's suspicions were passed on to him. At one point the Centre even concluded that Kim Philby had been turned because he failed to find evidence that Britain was plotting to turn Hitler against Stalin. Our problem is structural—the intelligence that gets passed up tends to reinforce misconceptions instead of correcting them."

"So what do I tell Starik?" Eugene asked.

"Tell him the truth. Tell him there isn't a shred of evidence to support the General Secretary's belief that America is planning a preemptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union."

"If Andropov believes that, there's a good chance he may cancel KHOLSTOMER."

"Would that be such a bad thing?" SASHA demanded. "If KHOLSTOMER succeeds hundreds of millions of ordinary people are going to lose their life's savings." After a while SASHA said, "A long time ago you told me what Starik said to you the day he recruited you. You remember?"

Eugene nodded. "I could never forget. He said we were going to promote the genius and generosity of the human spirit. It's what keeps me going."

SASHA stopped in his tracks again and turned to face his comrade in the struggle against imperialism and capitalism. "So tell me, Eugene: what does KHOLSTOMER have to do with promoting the genius and generosity of the human spirit?"

Eugene was silent for a moment. "I'll pass on to Starik what you said—ABLE ARCHER 83 is not masking an American preemptive strike."

SASHA shivered in his overcoat and pulled the collar up around his neck. "It's damn cold out tonight," he said.

"It is, isn't it?" Eugene agreed. "What about KHOLSTOMER? You're still supposed to monitor the Federal Reserve preparations to protect the dollar. What do we do about that?"

"We think about it."

Eugene smiled at his friend. "All right. We'll think about it."

 

 

Tessa was incoherent with excitement so Vanessa did most of the talking. Tessa's unit supervisor, a saturnine counterintelligence veteran appropriately named Moody, listened with beady concentration as she led him through the solution. It had been a matter, she explained impatiently, of plying back and forth between the lottery numbers, various telephone numbers and the serial number on a ten-dollar bill. Tessa could tell Mr. Moody was perplexed. If you start with the area code 202, she said, and subtract that number from the lottery number broadcast with the first Lewis Carroll quotation on April 5, 1951, you break out a ten-dollar bill serial number that begins with a three and a zero. You see?

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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