Six Days of the Condor, p.1James Grady
Six Days of the Condor
Open Road Integrated Media ebook
For a lot of people, including the folks,
Shirley, who helped,
and Rick, who suffered through it
EVENTS described in this novel are fictitious, at least to the author’s best knowledge. Whether these events might take place is another question, for the structure and operations of the intelligence community are based on fact. Malcolm’s branch of the CIA and the 54/12 Group do indeed exist, though perhaps no longer under the designations given to them here.
For the factual background to this story, the author is indebted to the following sources: Jack Anderson, “Washington Merry-Go-Round” (various dates); Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972); Andrew Tully, CIA: The Inside Story (1962); David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Invisible Government (1964) and The Espionage Establishment (1967).
In 1975, generals in the KGB—the former Soviet Union’s chief spy and secret police agency—got their hands on a copy of a new Robert Redford movie called Three Days of the Condor.
In that movie—produced by Dino De Laurentiis, directed by Sidney Pollack, also starring stunning Faye Dunaway, Academy Award-winner Cliff Robertson, international icon Max von Sydow, and heartthrob Tina Chen—screenwriters Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and David Rayfiel adapted a slim first novel by a totally unknown, then-twenty-four-year-old Montanan into a ticking-clock cinematic masterpiece of political intrigue, conscience, and consequence propelled by Redford’s character of a bookish intelligence analyst who comes back from lunch to the New York office of his obscure secret CIA research department and finds all his co-workers murdered.
Redford’s movie CIA codename was Condor.
As Redford/Condor insists to the Faye Dunaway character he kidnaps:
“Listen, I work for the CIA. I’m not a spy. I just read books. We read everything published in the world, and we … we feed the plots—dirty tricks, codes—into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, I look for new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals … I … I … Who’d invent a job like that?”
An exposé published in 2008 by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Pete Earley—a story sanctioned by America’s FBI and CIA—revealed that the movie stunned the KGB generals and convinced them they had fallen behind their CIA foes in what had to be a critical espionage endeavor: the work they saw Redford/Condor doing in the movie.
So—according to former Washington Post reporter Earley in Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War—the KGB created their own top secret unit dedicated to the kind of analytical work they’d seen Redford/Condor perform.
As in the movie and the novel from which it was drawn, the KGB headquartered their new secret division in a quiet neighborhood—Flotskaya Street in Moscow, not a street in the movie’s New York or the novel’s Washington, D.C. Soviet spymasters created a false cover identity for their spy section, and even—as in the movie and novel—stuck a phony brass plaque by its front door proclaiming that place to be the headquarters for the “All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Systems Analysis”—a nonsense name instead of the real title of the “Scientific Research Institute of Intelligence Problems of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB”—known by its Russian initials of NIIRP.
Both the movie and the novel projected Condor’s secret department as a small bureaucratic entity with fewer employees than the fingers of your two hands.
The KGB’s Condor-inspired NIIRP employed 2,000 Soviet citizens.
Doing a job “invented” by a twenty-three-year-old Montana wannabe novelist.
Picture a snow-dusted January, 2008 night inside D.C.’s Beltway.
Call it 10:00 p.m.
Our dog Jack and not-quite-sixty me are shuffling downhill back toward my middle-class suburban home when through the dark night, I hear my wife Bonnie Goldstein calling my name and: “You’ve got a phone call!”
That phone call came from Jeff Stein, an old friend, a former U.S. Army wartime covert Intelligence Operative—a true undercover spy—but then a respected international journalist for Congressional Quarterly covering all things espionage. Jeff had gotten his hands on an advance copy of Earley’s book, barely contained his excitement as he told me about Condor and the KGB, and asked author-of-the-novel me for my reaction.
I was blown away.
And by the time our interview was over, what kept running through my head was a rock ’n’ roll lyric from The Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”
Now, thanks to Otto Penzler and The Mysterious Press, I get to share that trip and the novel that triggered it with you.
Call this my confession.
And as noted by crime author Mark Terry in his 2010 essay about Condor for Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, master novelist John le Carré says: “If you write one book that, for whatever reason, becomes iconic, it’s an extraordinary blessing.”
So call me Mr. Blessed and come back with me on that long strange trip to its beginning in Washington, D.C.’s blustery January of 1971.
I was a senior from the University of Montana, a Sears Congressional Journalism Intern, one of twenty Woodstock (generation) warriors brought from America’s hinterland colleges to Washington, there to work on Congressional staffs and be night-schooled by a scrappy, street-stalking genre of journalists called investigative reporters. I lived on A Street, Southeast, six blocks from the white-icing Capitol dome that looked even grander than on my high school civics textbook. I rented a third-floor garret in a massive row house. A seldom-seen man rented the other unit on my floor. We shared a bathroom. At night, through the thin walls, I heard him coughing and wheezing. I showered standing on my tiptoes and tried to touch nothing that might have brushed him.
Every weekday, I brushed my recently barbered, conservatively short for the era hair, put on my new and only suit with one of three garish, hand-wide ties, struggled into a box-shaped tan overcoat, and walked through residential streets to my wondrous internship on the staff of Montana’s cantankerous but brilliant populist Senator Lee Metcalf—who, according to the internship directors, I’d been “matched with” even though unlike any other intern, he represented my home state.
And every workday, I walked past a flat-fronted, white stucco townhouse set back from the corner of A and Fourth Street, Southeast. A short, black-iron fence marked the border between the public sidewalk and that building’s domain. Shades obscured the windows. A bronze plaque by the solid door proclaimed the building as the headquarters of the eminently respectable American Historical Association.
But I never saw anyone go in or out of that building.
Fiction creates alternative realities.
And most fiction is born from a what-if question.
Two history-altering what-if questions hit me as I studied that townhouse:
What if it’s a CIA front?
What if I came back to work from lunch and everybody in my office was dead?
Questions anyone would imagine—right?
Especially considering those times.
The Cold War ruled. Ghosts of JFK, RFK, MLK, and Lee Harvey Oswald haunted America. Dr. Strangelove and his arsenals of doomsday atomic weapons tick-tocked toward imminent and seemingly inevitable launch. The Soviet Union sprawled as an evil gulag wasteland behind an Iron Curtain, while Communist China coiled like an invisible dragon behind a Bamboo Curtain. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI knew everything about everybody … and might use it against them. Hitler might not be hiding in Paraguay, but former Nazis w
Only the crazy weren’t paranoid.
You never knew where “they’d” strike, who they’d kill, or, for certain, why.
My what-if fantasy about a covert CIA office on Capitol Hill was not without foundation in reality. In those days, a flat-faced, gray concrete building with an always-lowered garage door and a windowless, locked, unlabeled entrance crouched on Pennsylvania Avenue amidst restaurants, bookstores, and bars just three blocks from the Capitol and the House of Representatives’s office buildings. Hill staffers shared the common knowledge “secret” that the building belonged to the FBI. If you had enough official clout to ask J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau, you were told that this Capitol Hill office was one of their translation centers.
Sure, but what do they really do? wondered many of us.
Within pistol range of that secretive FBI fortress sat the propaganda-distributing, storefront townhouse headquarters for the Liberty Lobby, a political sect too whacky and extreme to be casually categorized as “right wing,” a group that in coming years would with impunity advertise and sell illegal drugs through the mail—Laetrile, a compound its proponents claim cures cancer, and the core of the drug regimen that the great actor Steve McQueen decamped to Mexico to use in the days before cancer killed him.
Two-plus years after being scarred by the MLK assassination riots, this was the Capitol Hill neighborhood where Condor’s what-if questions were born.
The last lecturer to my 1971 class of Congressional interns was Les Whitten, a novelist, a translator of French poetry, and partner to Jack Anderson, whose syndicated investigative reporting column ran in almost a thousand newspapers delivered to the doorsteps of about twenty million Americans from sea to shining sea. Unbeknownst to them, Jack and Les were under extensive illegal surveillance by the CIA. Les was the epitome of a muckraker—a term of honor. Neither of us imagined that four years later, after Condor, we would be reporting colleagues working together for Anderson’s column. That night in 1971, I was only a college kid.
A kid who was on his way home for spring break after the conclusion of this wondrously lucky three-month Senate internship. I stayed late after class that night to persuade Les to tell me the “great story” about the CIA he’d told the class that he would break the next week when I was back home in Shelby, Montana, where there was no daily newspaper for me to read the column.
Allen Ginsburg is the Beat poet. By 1971, as America rolled toward a narcotics nightmare none of us could imagine, he’d seen the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, dragging themselves through America’s streets in search of an angry fix. The horrors of heroin screamed too loudly for the man inside the poet to ignore. Cherubic, bald, bearded, homosexual, mantra-chanting Ginsberg, hated by legions of conservative upholders of law and order, did what few of his critics would ever dare to do: Ginsberg declared a personal war on heroin. And he backed his rhetoric with action. His crusade was investigatory as well as proselytory. Les’s upcoming “great story” concerned Ginsberg’s investigations into the CIA’s allies in our Southeast Asian shooting war and their ties to the heroin business.
As Les stood in the nighttime halls of a Congressional office building and whispered his news to me, I felt my world tremble.
But I was just a college kid from Montana, a few weeks shy of my twenty-second birthday, headed home to my frontier tough, “gothic” (my wife’s brilliant characterization) and “noir” (my post-9/11 insight) hometown of Shelby sixty miles east of the Rocky Mountains, thirty miles south of Canada, and a million miles from the kind of “real world” I’d barely glimpsed in my three-month internship in Washington, D.C.
My grandfather had been a cowboy and card shark for saloons, my grandmother was a polio-crippled midwife who’d seen eight of her own children survive, including my mother and her four sisters who all lived in our hometown and who helped raise me like a pack of fun-loving coyotes. My Sicilian uncle had a still-unclear-to-me management role in our local red stucco two-story brothel that was protected by the cops and county health officials, a … confusing civic attitude toward law and morality that also manifested in our frontier doctor/former mayor performing sometimes-botched illegal abortions in his office above Main Street. Judging from the doctor’s steady stream of out-of-town patients, everyone west of the Mississippi River knew that particular secret.
You know the kid I was.
Coke bottle-thick, unfit-for-military-service eyeglasses. Off in the clouds. Mouthy. Nowhere near as smart as I or most of the town thought, surprising everyone when despite my brilliant four-years-older sister, I barely cracked the top third of my high school graduating class of eighty-seven. On the third string of the football team only because there was no fourth string. Obsessed by, unworthy of, and unsuccessful with every teenage girl. An uncool member of Teenage Republicans. The son of good, loving, respectable, middle-class parents who did their best and believed in the post-World War II American Dream. My workaholic father managed movie theaters, which meant I grew up seeing thousands of Grade B movies. My mother was a county librarian, which meant I didn’t need to worry about how long I kept the thousands of crime and adventure novels I devoured. I’d worked since grade school: theater ticket taker, motion-picture projectionist, janitor, hay bale bucker, rock picker, tractor jockey, gravedigger. I lucked out and put myself through my state university shoveling for the city road crew.
When I went to the University of Montana, I was so naïve I thought that the journalism department that gave me a small work-study scholarship included my passion: writing fiction.
I’d started spinning fictional tales literally before I could write, dictating stories to my patient mother (she threw them away). By my high school graduation, I’d written my senior class play and was sending out the first of hundreds of short stories to be rejected by crime, mystery, science fiction, and mainstream magazines. I was seven weeks into my university studies before I realized that the journalism major I’d chosen did not cover fiction. But (eventually) I witnessed Seymour Hersh change our world for the better with his journalistic exposé on the My Lai massacre and the journalism department gave me access to scholarships the fiction writing department couldn’t—though that department did have professors named James Lee Burke, James Crumley, and Richard Hugo, the poet and the only one of that illustrious American literary trio whose classes I took. Yeah, dumb me. One scholarship was the Sears Congressional Internship for investigative reporting that took me to that garret near a phony-looking townhouse in Washington, D.C.
Beyond that internship, the University of Montana’s School of Journalism gave me no-nonsense training in the fundamentals of clear writing. My exacting reporting and editing teacher, Robert McGiffert, was so good that his summer job was editing for the Washington Post.
I shed more of my self-deluded and small-town naïveté at the university in Missoula. Let my
But when I came back from my D.C. internship to graduate from the university, I had no idea how to make my dreams work. All I wanted to do—well, not all—was write fiction. I’d ditched my parents’ and high school teachers’ plans for me to become a lawyer, even though I’d once imagined litigating bad guys into prison, innocent people to freedom, and constitutional challenges to democratic safety during the day so I could afford to eat and rise before dawn or stay up at night to write fiction. In the autumn of 1971, I began an “independent undergraduate studies” fifth year to give me what I thought was a necessary legitimizing academic umbrella to write fiction …
… only to be saved—dazzled, actually—by another dose of great luck.
Montana was rewriting its outdated, robber baron-bred state constitution—Dashiell Hammett set his great first novel of crime and political corruption, Red Harvest, in the old constitution’s Montana. The meager staff of the new constitutional effort needed an emergency replacement who could write fast and had a résumé involving government and politics (say, working for a U.S. Senator). A friend plucked me out of my campus wanderings for that job, where I got to see how wonderfully democracy works when ordinary citizens rise to their best and refuse to work behind closed doors.
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