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
    Mar 2003, 894 pages

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I'm not sure, Moody admitted, but Vanessa, caught up in her own story, plunged on. Using a three and a zero, I was also able to break out the 202 area code from the other twenty-three lottery numbers broadcast by Radio Moscow after an Alice or Looking Glass quotation. There was no way under the sun this could be an accident.

So far, so good, Moody—one of the last holdovers from the Angleton era—muttered, but it was evident from the squint of his eyes that he was struggling to keep up with the twins.

Okay, Vanessa said. In 1950 the US Treasury printed up $67,593,240 worth of ten-dollar bills with serial numbers that started with a three and a zero, followed by an eight and a nine.

Moody jotted a three and a zero and an eight and a nine on a yellow pad.

Vanessa said, Subtracting the 3089 from that first lottery number gave us a telephone number that began with 202 601, which was a common Washington phone number in the early 1950s.

Tessa said, At which point we checked out the 9,999 possible phone numbers that went with the 202 601.

What were you looking for? Moody wanted to know. He was still mystified.

Don't you see it? Vanessa asked. If Tessa's right, if the quotations from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass alerted the Soviet agent to copy off the lottery number, and if the lottery number was a coded telephone number, the fact that they were changing it all the time meant that the cutout was moving all the time.

Moody had to concede that that made sense; when the agent being contacted was important enough, counterintelligence knew of instances where KGB tradecraft required cutouts to relocate after each contact.

So, Vanessa continued, what we were looking for was someone whose phone number began with 202 601, and who moved out soon after April 5th, 1951.

Tessa said, It took us days to find anyone who even knew that old telephone records existed. We eventually found them buried in dusty boxes in a dusty basement. It turns out there were one hundred and twenty-seven phones that started with the number 202 601 that were taken out of service in the week following April 5th, 1951.

After that it was child's play, Vanessa said. We subtracted each of the hundred and twenty-seven phone numbers from that first lottery number, which gave us a hundred and twenty-seven possible eight-digit serial numbers for the Soviet agent's ten-dollar bill. Then we went to the second time the Moscow quiz program used a Lewis Carroll quote, and subtracted each of the hundred and twenty-seven possible serial numbers from it, giving us a hundred and twenty-seven new phone numbers. Then we waltzed back to the phone records and traced one of these phone numbers to an apartment rented by the same person who had been on the first 202 601 list.

Tessa came around the desk and crouched next to the unit supervisor's wooden swivel chair. The serial number on the agent's ten-dollar bill is 30892006, Mr. Moody. Five days after Radio Moscow broadcast the second coded lottery number, which is to say five days after the Soviet agent in America phoned that number, this person relocated again.

Vanessa said, We tested the serial number on all the lottery numbers broadcast by Radio Moscow when an Alice or a Looking Glass quote turned up in the quiz. Every time we subtracted the eight-digit serial number from the winning lottery number, it led to a Washington-area phone number in an apartment rented by the same woman. In every case the woman relocated within a week or so of the Moscow Radio broadcast.

So the cutout's a woman! Moody exclaimed.

A Polish woman by the name of—Tessa retrieved an index card from the pocket of her jacket—Aida Tannenbaum. We got our hands on her naturalization papers. She is an Auschwitz survivor, a Jewish refugee from Poland who emigrated to America after World War II and became an American citizen in 1951. She was born in 1914, which makes her sixty-nine years old. She never seems to have held a job and it's not clear where she gets money to pay the rent.

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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