BOOKS
03/10/2011 11:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Keith Thomson's 'Twice a Spy'

Early this year, former CIA director Porter Goss read the novel "Twice a Spy" in manuscript form and wondered how a Huffington Post columnist knew so much. Some of the "insider information" in question is in the chapter excerpted here, which takes place in the CIA Paris station within the US Embassy. Goss wrote the publisher, Doubleday, asking whether author Keith Thomson had worked for the agency, in which case the manuscript would be subject to approval by the CIA's Publications Review Board. Once assured that the only time Thomson had ever been in the CIA was for a reception, Mr. Goss supplied the following quote, which appears on the book jacket:

“An ingenious plot supported by 'insider tradecraft' material.”—Porter J. Goss, former director of the CIA

Excerpt from Chapter Eight of Keith Thomson's "Twice A Spy", content courtesy of Doubleday:

They called him Fat Elvis because there had been so many unsubstantiated sightings of him. And because he was overweight, or at least believed to be. He was also thought to be Algerian, and to have done a brisk illegal munitions trade in France during the past year. As far as anyone in the CIA Paris station knew, his name was Ali Abdullah. The closest any of them had come to seeing him was the soft-focus headshot on the most wanted lists.

Yet terrorists had no trouble finding him. According to numerous accounts, he’d sold a group of Moroccan agitators the mass of penthrite they used to turn a waiter and a family of five into ashes at a Parisian bistro last summer.

“He’s schtupping our nanny,” Jerry Hill said. They were in the small, bulletproof conference room at the U.S. Embassy in Paris that the CIA used to interview walk-ins.

“That would be great,” said Bill Stanley, favoring his prematurely arthritic right hip as he lowered himself into a chair on the other side of the table. “I’m speaking from the point of view of national security, of course, not your nanny.”

“Hey, if she’s collateral in terminating that prick, it’d be no huge loss.”

If Stanley had first heard Hill over the phone, he would have taken the voice for that of an elderly woman. In fact the walk-in was a fifty-five-year-old Californian with the hollow eyes and gaunt frame of a refugee camper. He wore a linen blazer over a tennis shirt and a pair of sweatpants. His hair, too blond for a man of fifty—or a boy of fifteen, for that matter—stood on end as if he’d just stuck one of his fingers into an electrical socket.

Ninety-eight percent of walk-ins were either nutjobs or knew nothing of value to the agency. Based on Hill’s appearance, the marines stationed at the embassy’s Avenue Gabriel entrance would have ordinarily bet their paychecks that he belonged in both categories. His physique was attributable to a rigorous Pilates regime, however, and his blond hair stood on end thanks to a stylist and a hair products conglomerate in which he owned a controlling interest. And the marines knew this not from any database but from Entertainment Tonight. Who hadn’t watched either the live television broadcast or the subsequent viral YouTube footage of Hill stabbing the air with his Best Director Oscar while delivering his expletive-laden I-told-you-so speech to a list of detractors dating back to junior high?

Stanley pulled his chair closer to the table. “The marine guards said you have photographic evidence?”

“We’ve got a place down in Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat,” Hill said, almost in apology. He glanced around the room, probably just realizing that other people were watching. “There’s kind of a security camera out in the pool house, in Missy’s bedroom.”

“Ali Abdullah allowed himself to get caught on a home security camera?” Stanley thought the arms dealer would sooner be susceptible to the gift of a giant wooden horse.

“You’re CIA, right?” Hill likely sought assurance that the prospect of capturing Abdullah negated the illegal electronic eavesdropping that had occasioned it.

“State Department,” Stanley half lied. Officially he was a first assistant secretary. He was also one of the twelve Counterterrorism Branch operations officers in the CIA’s Paris station.

Hill smirked. He wasn’t fooled. In any case, someone of his means and reach could get the lowdown on Stanley with relative ease. The old joke was true: Anyone wanting to know who at an embassy works for the CIA just has to look in the parking garage after five o’clock. The cars still there don’t belong to the diplomats.

“On the nanny’s desk, which she doesn’t use, along with a bunch of pens and tape and stuff like that, there’s a stapler—and who ever uses a stapler anymore?” the filmmaker said. “It’s really there to conceal a video camera that records up to seventy-two hours of footage—not broadcast quality, but good enough for…” He reddened.

“Good enough for evidence?” Stanley had no interest in busting a Digital Age peeping Tom.

“Yeah.” Hill perked up. “Around midnight the last few nights, he’s come onto our property by the stairs up from the beach. He throws pebbles at her bedroom window, like a teenager. She lets him in, they have their token drink, then things get rated X.”

“How can I see the video?” Stanley asked and just as soon realized he’d better amend the question to forestall the laughter of the marines watching through the two-way mirror. He had a collegial rapport with them, born of a mutual love of football and the fact that he’d started at tailback for Stanford. Still, they’d never let him live this down. “To know if it’s Abdullah, I mean.”

“Are the guys watching through the mirror going to shoot me if I reach into my pocket?” Hill asked.

“It depends what’s in the pocket.”

“My cell. I downloaded a couple of video files from the stapler.”

Stanley nodded and Hill fished the phone from his sweatpants. A few thumbstrokes later, the tiny computer was playing astonishingly clear and vibrant footage of the nanny and her scruffy middle-aged guest. In each other’s embrace, they tumbled onto a four-poster bed.

Incredible luck, thought Stanley, that the owner of the staplercam in Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat happened to be American. And on top of that, an expert with cameras. Half a dozen analysts as well as a team of techs with facial recognition software would weigh in shortly, but Stanley was certain from first glance: They’d found Fat Elvis.

It was a simple matter now to speed-dial the requisite players at the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur, or DCRI—essentially the French FBI—then go grab Abdullah. But first Stanley needed a CIA green light. This was the most difficult step in any operation. Coming to terms with that had been the greatest challenge in his professional career.

Seated in his spacious office in the embassy’s B Section annex, which had been built in the thirties with a nod to ancient Athens, he generated both an intel report and an operational proposal for his branch chief. Once the branch chief affixed his digital signature, the documents would be forwarded to the station chief, a bright and talented man, who, like many of his peers, suffered from Umpire Syndrome—the umpire who makes the right call goes unnoticed whereas the umpire who blows a call draws the crowd’s attention. The CIA’s turf system burdened station chiefs with steep penalties for failure and relatively little reward for success, making them risk-averse.

Stanley suspected his station chief would elect to hand the ball off to the French. Still there was a chance that Stanley’s proposed plan would fly. The French were notorious fumblers, and the station chief stood to get the blame if they screwed up the Abdullah op. So he might come on board. If so, he would have to cable headquarters for further authorizations.

Stanley dispatched a flash precedence cable to him, then sat back and reflected on how much easier his target had it. Weapons salesmen and terrorists didn’t have to check in with their own bureaucrats in each country. In Europe, such criminals barely needed to slow down as they crossed international borders. CIA officers could follow only with a ream of permissions.

For years the system had riled Stanley. But his piss and vinegar dwindled in direct proportion to his remaining service time. He’d leaped last year at the Paris hitch, not because of the city’s aesthetic appeal—he ate most of his dinners at one of the better McDonald’s knockoffs—but because of the ease of the job. Not only was France an ally, but it had a free press that did a better job providing intel than most intelligence services could. There had been more targets in Detroit, Michigan, his first posting, because of the city’s large immigrant community.

Back then, driven by unadulterated love for his country, the magna cum laude Stanford grad had turned down jobs that would have paid him more as a rookie than he could ever earn in a year in the CIA unless he was named director. Having now served for twenty-seven years, he had just three to go before he could retire with full benefits. Accordingly, like management, the last thing he wanted was a flap.

His thoughts were interrupted by the fusion of electronic beeps that signified the arrival of a cable.

He input his pass code and clicked open the dispatch. It had been just seven minutes since he’d sent his request. It was doubtful that anyone would have had time to type anything more than “NO.” Instead he read:

PERMISSION FOR COVERT ACTION IN CONJUCTION WITH DCRI AND DCSE: GRANTED. OBJECTIVE: CAPTURE THEN RECRUIT TARGET TO GATHER INTEL ON TARGET’S CLIENTS.