Thursday, December 27, 2007
Chapter 3 of Room 59: The Powers That Be
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Our preview of Room 59: The Powers That Be finishes up today with chapter three. The prologue, chapter one and chapter two are featured below in previous posts.
Showered and dressed, with her still damp hair brushed away from her face, Kate had just swallowed the last bite of her toasted bagel when what she liked to call her “analyst alarm” went off—that feeling in the back of her head that something wasn’t right.
Why would the agency call a full meeting just to discuss a possible compromised turncoat? she wondered. Something bigger’s in the wind. Opening her notebook computer, Kate assessed the file Judy had sent and scanned the contents quickly. The summary title told her everything she needed to know.
“Evaluate Potential of Cuban Exiles Raising PMC Forces for Force Insertion into Homeland.”
Kate skimmed the report, whistling at what she read. Now, this definitely calls for our intervention, she con-cluded. She checked the clock in the corner of her monitor. Ten minutes until the meeting. Calculating the time differ-ence, she placed an overseas call that was answered on the
“Good morning, Kate.”
She smiled at hearing the polite tone, with just a hint of a German accent coloring the man’s words. “Keeping Eastern Europe quiet for us, Jonas?” she said.
“Other than your country and Russia still squawking about planting antimissile systems along the bear’s border, everyone’s either concerned with their own problems or keeping an eye on the Southeast. I gather this isn’t a social call, however.”
Kate had liked Colonel Jonas Schrader, their Eastern European section head, from the moment she had met him. A fit, no-nonsense, career law-enforcement man, he had made his mark with GSG-9, the antiterrorist arm of the German Bundespolizei, or Federal Border Guard. He had retired several years earlier, but his stellar career had brought him to the attention of Room 59’s spymasters. He was an invaluable resource in keeping an eye on all things east of the Rhine, particularly when Russia had started flexing its new energy-backed might.
Unlike Jake, who could often be blunt to the point of rude-ness, Jonas retained that European sense of pragmatic calm every time she’d seen him, although she had no doubt he could take care of himself when the time came for deeds instead of words. And, as always, he had gotten right to the point.
“I know this might not be your normal field of expertise, but have you heard anything about exiles making a move on Paradise—whispers of European or other PMCs involved, anything like that?”
She didn’t get the reaction she had hoped for—there was an indrawn hiss of breath, then Jonas’s calm voice returned. “I haven’t thought of Paradise in a long time. Officially, I’ve never even been there. I would have thought Denny would be your go-to man for this.”
“I figured your background would give you more exper-tise, given your former company’s interest in antiterror op-erations.” Kate checked her watch. Eight minutes left.
“Since the Bay of Pigs failure, there have been militant or-ganizations, such as Alpha 66 and Assault Brigade 2506, that have advocated a violent overthrow of the government. But there hasn’t been anything large scale other than the attacks by the now disbanded Omega 7 group in the late 1970s. Over the past three decades there have been small-scale events, the occasional bomb threat or kidnapping, but nothing indicating a bigger operation lately. There are always rumblings of vary-ing degrees, but as far as I know, there hasn’t been any real movement on a grand scale, just guerrilla operations, small hit-and-run and sabotage missions. I take it things have changed?”
“Apparently, since I’m heading to the conference room to discuss that very possibility. I’ll probably be convening a meeting of the department heads afterward, so don’t go anywhere. In fact—” she tapped a few keys on her computer “—I’m making the file available to all department heads now. Take a look while I’m getting approval, and if you’d care to draw up some plans, I’d appreciate whatever input you can provide.”
“Kate—” Jonas paused, as if he was thinking about what to say, which she found odd. The ex-commando was never at a loss for words. “As I’ve said, I was never officially there. But if something is happening, I’d like to be involved.”
“No offense, Jonas, but I thought you were retired. And besides, isn’t Paradise a bit far from your normal field of operations?”
He chuckled, a warm sound through the phone. “Kate, what the world doesn’t know about some countries’ special-forces missions could fill a hundred books, and still not tell everything. Besides, do you remember how we got that par-ticular asset in Cuba? He was on a training junket in Spain when our man made contact. As the agent in charge, I was closer than you might think. Just keep it in mind, if you would.”
“Of course, Jonas. I’ll be in touch afterward. Goodbye.”
Kate broke the connection and paced, pondering the con-versation. Jonas had probably already been to Cuba, as GSG-9 had operated around the world, and he’d also been involved in some kind of elite search-and-recovery team inside the organization. Although she knew he kept himself very fit, and could probably still handle himself in most sit-uations, he wasn’t an operative in his prime, either. Still…he would be an excellent lead for the operation, particularly if an extraction was needed. Marcus could be the operating pointman, with Jonas gathering intel in the Cuban popula-tion in Miami. He could serve as backup if needed.
Kate sat in her desk chair again, mulling over the sketchy plan. It was a risk—typically, Room 59 missions were car-ried out as clandestinely as possible, using local resources as available. Sending not one, but two officers with direct agency ties into an area could prove extremely hazardous if the mission failed. Kate imagined the look on Judy’s face when she gave her the news, as well as the one on the British woman’s face if it all went wrong. I’ll just play this by ear and see what comes of it, she decided.
Slipping on the viewscreen glasses again, Kate scrolled through her options until the conference room was high-lighted. Activating the connection with a blink, the pro-jected computer desktop faded away, replaced by a comfortably appointed meeting room, with nine leather chairs arrayed around a hardwood conference table. Judy was already there, nodding curtly as Kate established her presence through the virtual private network that let her meet with the heads of the International Intelligence Agency, the overseers of Room 59.
Even though she had been the director for more than a year, Kate always felt a thrill whenever she came before the IIA board. Every time a mission was approved, she knew this was why fate or circumstance or maybe even her own dogged persistence had placed her here—to cut through the red tape of partisan opinions and complacency and do what needed to be done.
After the 9/11 disaster, governments around the world had tightened their intelligence and security protocols in many different ways. Some, like America’s white elephant, the Department of Homeland Security, were in vain, public attempts to show that the wounded superpower was actually doing something in response to the blood that had been shed with the fall of the Twin Towers. It didn’t take long, however, for the organization to become just as compart-mentalized, overgrown and slow to act as the rest of the in-telligence community. The bickering and partisanship began all over again, only with a brand-new participant scrabbling for its slice of the budget pie and squabbling over duties and powers, instead of doing the job it had been created for— protecting the nation from all threats, foreign and domestic.
Kate had often thought that if the President had really wanted to utilize his post 9/11 goodwill effectively, he’d have summoned all the heads of Washington’s alphabet soup—CIA, FBI, NSA, DOD, DIA, Joint Chiefs and all the rest—together in a room, locked the door and placed armed guards in front of it. He’d tell them they were staying there until they came up with a comprehensive plan to im-prove intelligence gathering and sharing among all of their agencies, both at home and abroad. Of course, that would have required independent thought and a will to actually get something done on Capitol Hill, Kate thought. Instead poli-ticians did the next-best thing in their minds—spent billions of dollars on a very public but useless solution that couldn’t even help its own citizens in a time of national emergency, like a hurricane striking the Gulf Coast.
Fortunately, a group of like-minded individuals from around the world saw the need for an organization that could accomplish what the Homeland Security was supposed to do, only on a global scale. They also recognized that, despite the tremendous cost, they had been given the perfect oppor-tunity to create such an agency. Room 59 was the result of that consensus. It was a completely decentralized agency with the power and ability to go wherever it was needed and do whatever was necessary to defuse, derail or otherwise prevent a potential or growing threat from becoming a full-blown crisis situation. Operating with the secret mandate of the United Nations, and the unofficial approval of every major espionage agency around the world, Room 59 han-dled the blackest of black operations, and viewed its op-erations with an eye toward protecting the world and its population, not simply one country, region or continent.
Naturally, this required a special kind of intelligence of-ficer to execute the wide-ranging and hazardous missions assigned to Room 59 operatives. Having the absolute au-thority to go anywhere, any time, and take any measures necessary to accomplish a mission could corrupt the noblest of motives. Kate was determined to ensure that didn’t hap-pen. The one adage that stuck in her mind was a well-known.
“Who watches the watchers?”
From her first day, she had assumed that mantle, and while she would take whatever measures necessary to pro-tect both her operatives and the agency, she also knew that there had to be safeguards in place to ensure that the board or a department head didn’t take on a personal vendetta or crusade.
That, she thought, is what Judy doesn’t understand about my position. Judy was the operational liaison. She moder-ated between the spymasters and the operatives in the field, but felt more of a kinship with the department heads and other personnel—hence her thinly veiled view of Kate as a detached, bureaucratic middle manager. Kate, on the other hand, had to balance mission information, parameters and necessities with the desired goals and oversee operations with a minimum of overt agency involvement while giving the operative the best chance of coming back alive.
But, as Room 59 had been designed to operate indepen-dently of all known governing bodies, that also meant that there was no one to call for help when a mission went bad. If an operative was caught or killed while on a mission, Kate was supposed to walk away. That had taken some getting used to. She had a mind-set like many military special-forces units—never leave a person behind. However, she also knew that sacrifices were sometimes required to protect the whole, and had reconciled that part of the job as a nec-essary evil paired with the opportunity to accomplish so much more.
Like we’re about to do right now, she thought as the leaders of the IIA convened in the virtual conference room. Unlike Kate and Judy, the ranking members were not vis-ible. Instead, computer-generated avatars in the form of nine black silhouettes represented each member of the board. A small national flag floated above each dark form, representing the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Israel, India, Russia, Japan and China. Neither Kate nor Judy knew who made up the IIA board, and Kate, at least, preferred it that way—if she was ever captured and interrogated, no matter how remote the possibility, she couldn’t reveal their identities.
The IIA board approved every mission undertaken by Room 59. Potential operations could be brought up by Kate or other division heads, or by individual members of the board, but in the end, the board voted on each mission, its members presenting various pro and con arguments until a three-quarters vote, either yes or no, was achieved. Even then, the Room 59 heads themselves had the power to veto a mission, but that was rarely exercised, and Kate had never used it during her tenure.
The flags glowed when the person they represented spoke, and the shadow below the Stars and Stripes began the meeting. “All members of the International Intelligence Agency board are present. This meeting is now in session.”
Every board member’s voice was unaccented, gender neutral and electronically modulated to prevent recogni-tion. As she looked around the table, Kate wondered about these anonymous people who put their personal or political loyalties aside to look at doing what was best for the world in general, and what they brought to the table in terms of knowledge or ability. All the members present had shown a remarkable ability to look at the big picture, and not just at a single region or nation. They were the global policemen of the new century, and they did their job very well. And Kate was determined to do her job equally as well—or better.
The Russian flag flashed. “This discussion is in reference to the potential situation in the Third World country, Cuba. Recent intelligence has suggested that there is a growing movement by exiled hard-liners hiring foreign private military contractors to launch an incursion to overthrow the current Communist dictatorship and install a more democratic gov-ernment.”
Although Judy had referred to Cuba in code across un-secured lines, in the conference room there was no way the conversation could be spied on, as some of the best hackers and electronic security personnel in the world had pro-grammed pieces—with none of them ever knowing the en-tire project they were creating—of the electronic suite and the secure countermeasures that enabled all of them to meet in perfect seclusion.
The silhouette under the Union Jack responded. “Al-though on the surface this could be viewed as the fastest way to introduce change, since the human rights abuses that occur in this country have been numerous over the decades, recently reports indicate that with the current leadership in declining physical health, and the infrastruc-ture in growing disrepair, the population is taking steps to establish a more representative government model. A military incursion now could provoke a response by Cuba’s armed forces, which are on high alert. The resulting power struggle could create a civil war that could further destabi-lize the nation.”
The U.S. flag picked up the narrative. “Recent explora-tion of Cuba’s coastal waters for oil reserves has drawn at-tention from nations around the world, particularly those in the Western Hemisphere. Some refining is already happen-ing, and if more resources are found there, the nation’s standing will increase dramatically. Certain interests in world government have expressed their desire to slowly re-lax embargoes and open trade relations with Cuba again.”
Kate pursed her lips but refrained from commenting. The more things change, the more they stay the same, she thought. Everything—security, freedom, basic human rights—still followed the money.
“The IIA has determined that it is in Cuba’s best inter-ests to assist the peaceful transition to a democratic govern-ment, and therefore to investigate and prevent any possible threats to that ongoing process.”
The U.S. flag continued. “In our ongoing investigation, we had established contact with a military asset inside the country. Our most recent report indicates that contact with this asset was recently lost. Is that correct?”
Kate cleared her throat. “At this time, there has been no verified contact with our asset in-country for the past three days. We are trying to ascertain whether he has been discov-ered by the government, or has been captured or eliminated by other factions within the country.”
India’s flag glowed. “If the threat is coming from an external source, isn’t the asset less important than verifying that a party is indeed planning to launch an incursion?”
Judy intervened. “The asset has been a valuable source of information regarding current events, including the gov-ernment reaction to what is happening. If he has been com-promised, while there is nothing to connect him with us, a valuable source of information will have been lost. And if he reveals surveillance activities under interrogation, the military could be activated again, creating potential blow-back onto the civilian population.”
The golden stars on China’s flag twinkled as its represen-tative addressed the group. “Also, is there the possibility that this asset was a triple agent, and has simply returned to the fold?”
“A hazard of our business,” the voice under the Russian flag said, drawing murmurs of assent from the rest.
The Union Jack shone. “Kate, your thoughts?”
Kate leaned forward and made sure to look at each country’s silhouette as she replied. “The proposed mission would consist of two parts—locating the elements behind the possible buildup of a paramilitary force and preventing them from launching such a mission, and also the insertion of an op-erative into Cuba to ascertain whether the asset has been com-promised, determine whether an extraction or termination is necessary and learn whether a faction on the island is involved in his unknown status, as well. If there is an internal aspect, and it isn’t stopped, it could foment more resistance at a later date, further hampering the progress toward democracy.”
The board members all seemed to concur with her rea-soning. The Israeli flag glowed. “What external assets do we have that can be utilized?”
Whenever possible, Room 59 tried to use third parties to accomplish a mission goal—whether the person or group being used knew what their true goal was or not. Some of their best missions had been accomplished with no one knowing that Room 59 had been involved in the first place. Sometimes, however, the most effective way of handling a task was with their own people.
Kate placed her hands on the desk and rolled the dice. “Given the sensitive nature of the insertion, we suggest using one of our own operatives, since it would be not only time-consuming to bring in an outside element, but the chance of them being an informer or double agent would be high. As for the mainland operation, I think we should assign a lead operative to this, as well, someone who hasn’t been on that scene and can go undercover and extract the necessary in-formation. I already have some of our department heads working on likely candidates who could provide support for such an operation, as well as possible access venues to make initial contact.” She saw Judy’s eyebrows rise at this, but the British woman said nothing. I’m sure I’ll hear about that later, Kate thought.
“Are there any other questions?” The U.S. representative asked, but no one spoke. “I propose that we move to vote on the mission.”
Usually, the missions were prepared in a way that almost ensured acceptance, although there were times when the dis-cussion ranged from polite to heated over whether Room 59 should get involved. Kate knew that the American represen-tative had brought up business interest in Cuba as a tacit way of acknowledging that other factors were at play here. She was interested in seeing how the Chinese and Russian mem-bers would reply, since Cuba had been establishing relations with both countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the post–Cold War chill of the 1990s. Ultimately, the board was supposed to take a world-view of the missions that they put forward or accepted, but Kate also knew that personal or national politics could undermine even the best intentions.
For the vote, all the representatives would signal their po-sition by activating one of two lights above their flag— green indicated approval, red indicated disapproval. Abstention wasn’t allowed—a representative could be for or against an action without explaining why, but there was no sitting on the sidelines.
This time, the outcome wasn’t in doubt. All of the board members flashed green.
Apparently no one wants another potential civil war break-ing out—at least, not in such a high-profile area, Kate mused.
“The board votes unanimous approval of this mission.” The lights disappeared and the U.S. flag glowed one last time. “Kate, Judy, good luck.”
Room 59: The Powers That Be will be in bookstores January 8th, 2008.
at 6:51 PM