Archive for January 24th, 2011

I once had a co-worker who was a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard and whose ex-husband worked for the CIA.

She had lived with him in places like Ethiopia and Australia, which may sound glamorous, but it wasn’t.  Like most CIA employees he had a non-spying job, in his case as an analyst.  He was also diagnosed as a narcissist, which meant he was no picnic to live with, so she left him.

She couldn’t tell me much about his work.  One thing she did reveal was that “You’d be surprised who works for the CIA” in a lot of these foreign places.

I was reminded of her remark when I read an article this last weekend in the New York Times: “Former Spy With Agenda Operates a Private C.I.A.”

Imagine having your own CIA.  Hell, imagine having enough MONEY AND RESOURCES, which this guy obviously does, to run a serious “network of spies” from “poolside at his home near San Diego.”  Sounds like a sure-fire set-up for a thriller novel or movie or even an entire TV series, doesn’t it?  The kind that plebs like us ridicule as too outlandish to be real.

How little we know about the murky world of true power.

Anyway, it seems this 78-year-old ex-CIA bigwig is, among other things, fielding private operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan and had sold the info gathered to our military.  He’s a gung-ho advocate of American interventionism anywhere we please and “a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.”

You know, we novelists would have trouble making up this stuff.

On a more personal level, what stood out for me was the description of how the guy became head of the CIA’s Latin America division in 1981 and “helped to run the Reagan administration’s covert wars against Marxist guerrillas in Central America during the 1980s.”  What the article doesn’t say is that the U.S. taxpayer paid out billions of dollars in that “covert war” which was ultimately an abject failure and resulted in horrific massacres of civilians, among other crimes.

I wrote about one such massacre in The Compass Master.  In my novel, two of the bad guys had been U.S. soldiers sent to train local military monsters in El Salvador.  An important scene is a flashback to that massacre, which explains why one of the bad guys is now mentally fragile, despite his super-macho exterior – an unstable bomb about to go off around my present-day characters.

So you can see why this article about an ex-CIA privateer resonated with me.  When I wrote The Compass Master, I tried to ground my Da Vinci Code type story (religious artifacts, a complex tale that goes back centuries) in some hard-core reality in order to give it more believability.  Besides, I reasoned, why invent fictional details when reality can be a fantastic source?

I had no idea how right I was.  Still, for all my fact-gathering, even I couldn’t come up with the storyline of My Own Private CIA is Messing with the War in Afghanistan.

Maybe one of you would like to tackle it.  Good luck if you do.  Won’t be easy, but it could be a hell of a novel.