June 28, 2004


Uncertainty About Interrogation Rules Seen as Slowing the Hunt for Information on Terrorists: Confusion about the legal limits of interrogation has begun
to slow government efforts to obtain information from suspected terrorists, officials said. (DAVID JOHNSTON, 6/28/04, NY Times)

Some intelligence officials involved in the C.I.A.'s interrogation program have told colleagues that they are bitter because their superiors, in the months after the September 2001 attacks, had assured them that aggressive interrogation techniques were necessary and legal.

Other intelligence officials have expressed a sense of resignation, saying they had a feeling that, from the early days in the war on terror, aggressive steps taken in an effort to protect the country from another attack would lead to criticism and internal investigations.

In his epic spy thriller, The Last Supper, one of Charles McCarry's characters complains about the restrictions being placed on the intelligence services during the Church era and about the media's genuine hatred of those trying to protect the country (admittedly incompetently): "Patriotism is the new pornography."

Considering the fetish they've made of Abu Ghraib they've truly combined the two.

He Has Seen The Future: It's in His Work: Charles McCarry's novels keep coming true. And his new book is about the end of the world. (BRIAN CARNEY, June 11, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

Charles McCarry's latest novel, "Old Boys," starts with the revelation that Jesus Christ may have been an unwitting agent in a Roman covert-action operation gone wrong. If this seems far-fetched, please pause to consider Mr. McCarry's record.

In 1979 he wrote a book, "The Better Angels," about an Arab princeling, made rich by oil, who decides to wage a terrorist war on America and Israel. His weapon of choice: passenger jetliners, blown up in flight over major metropolitan centers.

His 1995 novel, Shelley's Heart, describes the events surrounding the presidential election that would take place five years later. In Mr. McCarry's fictional world, the 2000 elections result in a Senate that is split 50-50 and a disputed outcome that hangs on a few thousand votes in a single state. An impeachment also figures in the tale. The state in question is Illinois, not Florida, but this bit of literary license can be forgiven, considering Illinois' long tradition of voter fraud. The title of the book, by the way, derives from the name of a fictional secret society at Yale that is central to the events surrounding Mr. McCarry's fictional anticipation of the 2000 election--a hint, perhaps, of the all-Skull-&-Bones contest looming in 2004. [...]

Charles McCarry, in a word, is a novelist with an uncanny imagination, and a compelling one, even if his work is less known than it should be. His masterpiece, The Last Supper, is a Cold War tale that ranks with the best of John le Carré--but without the moral cynicism. Now 70, Mr. McCarry knows spies, having worked for the CIA 40 years ago. The chief protagonist in most of his books, Paul Christopher, does not carry a gun or play card games with supercriminals in casinos. Instead he does what most real spooks do. He tries to gather information, make contacts and influence events, and occasionally to suborn those who work for the other side.

Were Mr. McCarry not conservative, his cycle of novels would have earned him comparisons to Anthony Trollope by now. Critics often complain that there are too few great novels of Washington and no great American novels--which is bunk anyway--but here's a living writer in the midst of a series of books that fill both bills. Shelley's Heart is especially good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 28, 2004 10:48 AM

I think we need to "take out" McCarry since it is obvious he is the brains of the Bin Laden group.

Posted by: h-man at June 28, 2004 12:07 PM

Remember the "Six Phases of a U.S. Government Sponsored Covert Action": enthusiasm, disillusionment, panic, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent, and praise and honor for the nonparticipants. With Abu Ghraib, we're now in the last phases. Soon we'll be in Phase 7: remorse that we can no longer motivate anyone to engage in covert interrogation.

Posted by: pj at June 28, 2004 12:20 PM

I've cited the Better Angels and it's prescience before; it seems the future he predicted of a
downgraded intelligence service (the Outfit) due
to congressional assault and presidential inertia;
seems very likely. Whether a more limber successor
like the FIS; will arise is another question. It
used to be that Hitchens would be the model for
the evil reporter Patrick Graham; now the cast
includes Blumenthal, Pilger, Cockburn, Pilger
et al. In addition, our current chief executive
has received the opprobium though unlikely in
the case of Mallory

Posted by: narciso at June 28, 2004 9:05 PM

I had never heard of McCarry, and just read 'The Last Supper' on the strength of the Journal review.

The story has a real sweep. I wish that his characters were a little closer to 3-dimensional, but the plot is the thing. And the clear-eyed cynicism.

Posted by: old maltese at June 29, 2004 4:07 PM