Tuesday, October 11, 2011

THE OLD SPY (free sample)


Sunday, December 21, 1997

"Hello," I said a bit breathlessly after racing from the bathtub, dripping all over the floor.

"Knightsbridge station. Phone bank. Thirty minutes. Take the tube." The line went dead. The voice could have been male or female. The accent was thick. Possibly eastern European. Possibly Middle Eastern.

I had been in London for a week, researching a scholarly paper about the history of the news department at the BBC. I was using the Christmas break at Leesburg State College, where I was the Jean Scrimshaw Tankardly Professor of Media, to conduct the research. My area of academic emphasis was on media history and politics. My London project was funded by the Jean Scrimshaw Tankardly Institute, a Washington-based think tank involved in a series of eclectic scholarly undertakings that allowed the Institute to send people all over the world. All of that is true.

The truth was also my cover. My assignment was to make covert contact with a U.S. intelligence asset who had let it be known that he or she had critical and time-sensitive information to deliver. The asset had a company contact but all interchange had been exclusively through a dead-drop. The asset told the agency handler through a coded message that he or she would only meet face-to-face with somebody in a senior position that his or her sources could not possibly know. The conditions set out by the asset made me a logical candidate for the meeting. The Tankardly Institute, you see, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Central Intelligence Agency.

I dressed quickly in slacks and a sweater and pulled on my well-worn anorak to ward off the persistent drizzle that beset the city. It was typical winter weather. I left my utilitarian accommodations. While the mailbox was unmarked and the rent was paid by the Tankardly Institute, it was, in fact, a CIA safe-house – a furnished flat in a modest, red brick building on Hogarth Road, swept regularly for electronic eavesdropping devices and watched constantly by agency operatives. I paused for a moment to let my eyes become accustomed to the darkness. I descended six steps and turned left. My destination, following instructions to take the subway, was the Earls Court Underground, less than a block away, but I started in the opposite direction, toward Cromwell Road, stopping once, pretending to check my pockets and glance behind me to ascertain that I wasn’t being watched.

I was looking for people who suddenly emerged from parked cars or from nearby buildings. I reversed my direction and headed back toward Earls Court Road. I heard a car start behind me and quickly turned right on the narrow footpath called Hogarth Place and then walked briskly down Kenway Road, across the main thoroughfare, Earls Court Road, to the tube station. I had no time for much more sophisticated tradecraft. I was pretty sure my tail was clean as I entered the station and bought a ticket. I double-checked once more before taking the elevator down to the Piccadilly Line. I walked from the lift onto the Heathrow-bound platform, pausing a moment and doubling back again to the Cockfosters-bound side as the next train pulled in and the doors whooshed open.

The early-Sunday evening train was crowded. I stood at the rear of the car as it made the two stops before Knightsbridge. I stepped onto the platform and was swept with the crowd to the escalator up to the turnstiles and ticket booths, which occupied a small lobby about twenty steps below street level. I walked casually to the bank of public phones to the right of a kiosk that sold candy, gum and newspapers. I checked my watch. Twenty-six minutes had elapsed since the telephone call to the safe-house.

I strolled to the map of the neighborhood on the tiled wall near the ticket booths, trying to look like a tourist. A besotted old woman with plump cheeks about three shades too red was sitting on the marble floor carrying on an animated conversation with her poodle. The dog did not respond which did not seem to matter to the woman.

I lingered about two minutes and turned back to the phones. Two twenty-somethings of indeterminate gender – decked in leather, festooned with multiple piercings, and both sporting spiky purple Mohawks – were alternately cursing and cajoling somebody at the other end of one public phone. One phone bore a British Telecom sticker declaring it "out of order." There were two others.

I didn’t like the game. Using a public phone in a public place to call out was occasionally acceptable; receiving a call on a public phone in a public place was always risky. It was an amateur ploy. Too much chance to be observed. Too much chance to be ambushed. Too much could go wrong. Too dangerous. It was not sound operational practice to have an operative stand around waiting for a public phone to ring. Answering it made you stand out like a mariachi band in church. I tried not to look as uncomfortable as I felt. The out-of-order phone rang. The code and counter-code had been established before I left Washington and transmitted to the asset by way of the usual dead-drop. I lifted the receiver. "Yes."

"Is your mother with you?" It was the same heavily accented voice that had instructed me a half hour before.

"No. She’s back at the hotel," I said signaling that as far as I could tell I was not followed and everything was clear at my end. Had I said any other words, it would have been a signal that I was compromised or had grown a tail and another pre-arranged contact would have to be made. There was a brief silence as if the person at the other end was uncertain. The two punks staggered noisily away and up the steps to the street.

"Ten minutes before noon. Kew Gardens. Walk toward the pagoda." The line went dead.

"No problem," I said to nobody. I replaced the receiver and glanced quickly around. The station was mostly empty. The man in the kiosk was reading a tabloid newspaper and looking bored. Two London Underground security officers were talking about their Christmas plans. The old woman was still telling her life story to the patient poodle. A couple who looked like American tourists, complete with cam-corder, fanny packs and city map, were grappling with the automatic ticket machine.

I went up the steps to Sloan Street, turned left and walked around the tube station onto Brompton Road. Harrods, which is lit up every night, was especially twinkly just a few days before Christmas, despite the mist and chill breeze. Other shops were decorated with Christmas trees and Christmas lights. I strolled past the display windows of the famous store. They were bedecked with seasonal exhibits aimed at luring the wealthy, or those who pretended to be, in to spend some of their pounds. I continued for two more blocks, taking a left onto Beauchamp Place and making my way to an old familiar Irish pub in the middle of the block across from a trendy Italian restaurant with a rank of limos parked in front. It felt as if it might snow any moment. I hung my anorak on a wall peg and took a stool at the end of the bar near the front window, ordered a double Paddy and halfheartedly eavesdropped on two exceedingly gay young men from Harrods complain about their mutual boss. The whiskey tasted very good.

"He’s just such a nasty bitch," lisped one a little too loudly. He was sipping what was obviously not his first, or even his second, glass of Chablis. "There was simply no need for him to change my schedule at the last second without even asking. I hope the rude old queen rots in hell."

The other made sympathetic noises and ran his hand over his closely cropped hair. "He’s obviously on some kind of power trip."

Two middle-aged American couples came in and plopped themselves at a table by the fireplace, complaining too loudly about the weather. Two rich, pudgy college-age women were giggling riotously and sipping beer at the bar two stools down from the gay guys. One other older man was at the far end of the bar from me.

I surveyed the street. The mist had turned into a more steady rain whipped by sporadic gusts of wind, which streaked the window. The place was starting to fill. A group of shoppers with Harrods bags came in, followed by three young men in jeans and heavy sweaters.

I ordered another double Paddy. "Lots of ice, please."

"You’ve been in here before," said the bartender. "American?"

"It’s that obvious?"

"It’s the ice. Americans love their ice. Touring?"

"On business," I said.

"What kind of business are you in, if I might ask?"

"I’m a college professor. I’m over doing some academic research."

"Terrible time of year to come," he said gesturing toward the window. "Always rotten weather around Christmas. You should come over in October or April."

"I’d love to. I didn’t have much choice. I had to come when my school had its break between semesters."

"I see," he said turning to the gay guys who each ordered another glass of wine.

I sipped another Irish whiskey and chatted a bit more with the bartender. It turned out he had attended George Washington University for a year. I asked why he was tending bar.

"Chaps with philosophy degrees are about as much in demand as shepherds and blacksmiths," he said. "I’m working on an MBA now, so I can make some proper quid. The London School of Economics ought to set me up pretty well, but I can’t afford my tuition and to let my flat without doing this in the evenings."

I leisurely finished my drink and decided to brave the weather and walk back up to Brompton Road and on a few blocks more to a favorite little French bistro for dinner. The rain had subsided again to mist by the time I left the pub, but the night had become colder and the gusts of wind seemed to blow right through my anorak.

Stepping from the chilly, damp street, the bistro’s amalgam of intriguing smells – a bouquet of coffee, chocolate, garlic, roasted chicken and tobacco – welcomed me. It was noisy and crowded with Sunday diners. The maitre d’ pulled a Gallic frown when I apologized that I had not booked a table. He looked around and grudgingly acknowledged that a table for one would be clearing momentarily if I’d care to wait. His haughty demeanor as much as declared that he understood that poor rustic Americans are too gauche to know enough to reserve in advance. He turned prissily on his heels and stepped off to fawn obsequiously over a table of apparent regulars. Enough time with the riffraff.

The waiters and waitresses – in black slacks, white shirts, and long white aprons that stopped mid-shin – made their way efficiently among the jammed tables serving up generous portions of boudin blanc, saumon fume, cassoulet, ragout du lapin, steak and pom frittes, and pot au feau. The crowd was mostly middle-aged and well heeled. Tweed was the dress code for men and women.

The officious little maitre d’ returned to me after about five minutes and showed me to a minuscule round table in a corner not far from the kitchen doors. He presented the menu and wished me an insincere and perfunctory "Bon appetit" without ever making eye contact.

My waitress was Dutch and charming, more than compensating for the carefully cultivated Parisian rudeness of the maitre d’. I ordered a half bottle of a modest Chateauneuf de Pape while I studied the menu, settling on a salad of mache, haricot vert and smokey diced bacon, to be followed by a hearty braised lamb shank on a bed of lentils. I declined dessert, but savored an espresso and an Armanac to conclude my meal. An hour and twenty minutes later I was back in the mist heading toward the South Kensington tube station and my home away from home. The dreary flat reminded me of a budget hotel in a third world country.

The time was two hours later in Israel and I looked forward to telephoning my wife, Hannah, when I got back to the safe-house. She used my absence as an excuse to get out of Northern Virginia in winter and visit her sister in Haifa. Norah and her husband, Mordecai Levin, were both on the faculty at the University of Haifa. Dinners there tended to run late into the evening so I decided to wait until a little before ten, London time, midnight in Israel, to call.

The London subway’s Piccadilly Line was largely deserted as I boarded a train for the short ride back to Earls Court. The cold seemed to envelope me as I walked the short distance from the station to the flat. There were a few muffled noises of television and the odors of other people’s dinners as I let myself in to the vestibule and down the dimly lit hallway. I had kept a light on in the small sitting room when I left and had placed a tell-tale in the door, a small piece of paper wedged between the door and the jamb that would fall to the floor if anyone had entered the place during my absence. It remained where I’d put it.

I hung my damp anorak over the back of the desk chair to dry and clicked on the television. It was tuned to Sky News, Britain’s answer to CNN. The reporter was standing in front of an all-too-familiar scene of flashing emergency lights, bustling police and ambulance activity, a night-lit tableau of some kind of disaster. The superimposed graphic beneath the TV reporter read: "Haifa, Israel." I just stood there watching, numbed at first and then panicked by what I was hearing.

A bomb hidden in a trash can exploded adjacent to a crowded ocean-side sidewalk cafĂ© about two hours earlier. It had been a large device of explosives and shrapnel (mostly nails) designed to create the largest measure of human misery possible. At least a dozen people were known dead, twenty-five were hospitalized, many in critical or grave condition. A radical Islamic fundamentalist group with ties to the Hamas movement and Hezballah had claimed responsibility. The reporter’s voice and the grim pictures became a blur. My mind raced. My hand shook uncontrollably as I reached for the phone.

What was happening to me? I tried to steady myself. My breathing was shallow. A wave of nausea swept over me. I could feel myself perspiring, though the room was not particularly warm. When I had been shot at, when I was in serious physical danger, when it appeared my own life was about to be snuffed out by the agents of an enemy intelligence service, I had been surprisingly calm. Part of it was training; part of it was professionalism. Now my concerns were not for myself. My training did not prepare me for this.

From memory, I punched in the country code for Israel, the city code for Haifa, and my sister-in-law’s number. No answer. I left a message on the answering machine. I tried Mordecai’s mobile phone. Again no answer.

I stood there looking at the TV screen, not seeing, not comprehending. My instinct was to call the duty desk at the agency, but my instructions were to make no contact whatever, for any reason, until I returned to Washington to be debriefed by my case officer.

I determined that I would do what I was trained to do – wait. I would try the Israeli numbers every hour until someone answered. I would calm myself. Sky News repeated the story over and over, every half hour. At midnight, the number of dead was revised upward. Another victim died around 1:30am.

It was not until 5 in the morning, Israeli time, that Mordecai answered. His voice was thick and gravelly. "I was about to ring you," he said. "I just got in." There was a pause, a sob. "She’s dead. Hannah’s dead. Dear God, there was nothing to do."

I was incapable of saying anything. My worst fears had been confirmed in two words. "What about Norah?" I asked after what felt like a long time.

"Badly wounded. We don’t know. The doctor said the next twenty-four hours are critical."

"What about you?"

A pause. "I was in the loo. We’d just ordered a second cup of coffee and I went inside the cafe to the fucking toilet." Mordecai Levin uttered an animal-like noise and broke down into inconsolable weeping.

My world had collapsed, imploded. I was numb. I was bereft. I was angry and sad and cold and completely empty. My outrage and fury would come later. I wanted tears, but they would not flow. I wanted to scream, but my voice would not work. I wanted to do something violent, but all I was capable of was sitting and hurting. My wife, my lover, my friend, my alter-ego, my golf partner, my life partner, my everything – gone in a flash of madness.

By nine o’clock in the morning grim reality had enveloped me. I had no choice. It was time to move. I showered and put on fresh clothes and forced myself to drink a cup of bad instant coffee. I was unutterably sad and totally devoid of physical feeling. It was all I could do to make myself do what I was trained to do. The sky was slate gray and gloomy as I stepped onto Hogarth Road. It was dry, but there was a brisk chill wind blowing. I allowed my training to take over and engaged automatically in the standard counter-surveillance measures all operatives working alone were trained for.

I looked both ways and saw nothing unusual. I surveyed the parked cars and the windows of the three and four story buildings that lined the street, checking for watchers. I saw none. I walked to the end of the block looking carefully among the trees in the small park across the street, turned right on Earls Court Road and paused in front of several shops and restaurants using the reflections in the windows to check behind me. I crossed the street and strolled down Trebovir Road, turned left onto Warwick Road and stepped into the red telephone booth outside the subway entrance, pretending to make a call. I saw nothing unusual.

I walked casually into the Earls Court Underground using the Warwick Road entrance, descended the stairs to the District and Circle Line platforms, and took the escalator down to the Piccadilly Line tracks. I boarded the next train to Green Park, where I changed to the Victoria Line and rode one stop to Victoria Station. I went upstairs and circled around the cavernous old main terminal. I spotted no tail and doubled back down the steps that led to the District Line, boarding the next train. I got off that train at Stamford Brook and stood on the platform until the few other people who got off there with me left. I was alone at eleven in the morning. It fit my mood. I was willing myself to maintain the tradecraft protocols of my professional training, but the depth of my loss, of my grief, wrapped around me like the wind. No amount of professionalism could diminish the crushing feeling. I was exhausted but not tired. My eyes felt as if I’d been in a sandstorm.

I sensed motion and turned. A young woman with green hair, a safety pin through her cheek and clunky black combat-style boots passed behind me and waited about 20 yards from me. She sneered at me as if I were emitting a noxious odor. A old man in a black woolen coat, walking with a cane, limped onto the platform just as the train was pulling in. I took a seat in the nearly-empty lead car and proceeded to Kew Station. I strolled around the small commercial area near the station entrance for several minutes, doubling back on myself twice, and eventually, when I was as satisfied as I could be that I was not being watched or followed, strolled through the pleasant residential neighborhood toward the famed botanical gardens.

At 11:50am, I bought a ticket and entered the huge expanse of trees and shrubs and white steel and glass Victorian-style greenhouses and conservatories. As instructed I strolled to the pathway that led to the Japanese pagoda. The rendezvous plan was more professional than the previous night’s phone contact. I had been warned that the asset I was to meet was an amateur with only rudimentary training in field operations. There was virtually nobody there on that cold Monday morning except a man who was approaching me from the opposite direction. He stopped a few feet in front of me.

"Excuse me," he said. It was the same voice that spoke to me over the phone the previous evening. "Can you tell me where the restaurant is?" Again, it was a prearranged code.

"I can’t, I’m afraid. I’m just a tourist," I said giving the response that told him I was not being followed.

He motioned with his head for me to walk with him. He struck me as an amateur with a certain aptitude for the business. I glanced around to see if there were any vantage points from which someone might try to eavesdrop on our conversation with one or more parabolic microphones. I had to trust that this man was not wired, that he was not a double-agent and that I was not being set up. I removed a small Panasonic radio from my pocket and turned it to a rock station, loud enough that it would thwart anybody trying to overhear us. It was a primitive technique, but quite effective in counteracting all but the most sophisticated audio filtering equipment. The vast openness of the botanical garden made anything more than rudimentary eavesdropping unlikely, though not impossible. Paranoia is a part of the business.

"I’m Fawad," he said, not extending a hand. He looked me up and down.

"I’m Sam," I said, picking the first name that came to mind. We walked several paces. My contact was thin, wiry and about four inches shorter than me. I stand a shade over six feet tall. My contact wore dark-rimmed glasses and a dark blue cap with a white Nike swoosh on it. "So. You wanted a high level meeting?"

"How high up are you?" Fawad asked bluntly.

"High enough that what you have to say will reach the most senior people in our government. How good is what you have to tell me?"

"Good. Very good." Fawad had dark olive skin and black penetrating eyes behind his spectacles. He studied the pathway in front of us. "In the middle of May, your President – Mister Bill Clinton – is going to Berlin to commemorate the anniversary of the Berlin airlift."

I did not react, but I was surprised that he had access to information that was a closely guarded secret within the United States government. I knew that was not public information. It had not even been divulged to the White House junior staff or the press corps yet. In fact at that point it was known only by a few select people in the U.S. and German government strictly on a need to know basis.

"Somebody is going to kill him." Fawad’s accent was becoming easier for me to understand. It struck me that Fawad could adjust his accent and grammar at his convenience.

"Okay. You’ve got my attention," I said.

For the next thirty-five minutes, we walked the footpaths of the Kew Botanical Garden and he revealed a complicated plan to assassinate President Clinton and more. The plan involved several assassins, all willing to die in the process, who would position themselves in places where Mr. Clinton would be most exposed. They would conceal explosives under their clothing and detonate the bombs when they were proximate to the president. I recognized this tactic as an ominous turn in the logistics of international terrorists and sought clarification.

"These assassins are true believers. They believe that Islam demands they wage a jihad against the United States, Israel and any of their allies. They believe that their deaths will admit them immediately to heaven," he said.

The operation, he went on, was the brainchild of a radical Islamic fundamentalist, reputed to be from a wealthy Saudi family, who had put together a network of Muslim militants to wage a holy war – jihad – against the infidel, which he defined as basically anybody who wasn’t Muslim, particularly the Jews. Fawad said he was told the organization was based in Afghanistan, the welcome guest of that country’s fundamentalist Islamic government known as the Taliban. What he described was a highly organized and well-funded enterprise well beyond the organizational and operational scope of most terrorist groups of the time. He said his sources called the Saudi Sheikh Osama.

"The organization has cells and sleeper agents and sympathizers in many countries."

"Such as?"

"Germany. France. Italy. Canada. The United States. Here in Britain. The Philippines. Indonesia."

Fawad explained that it was a separate and distinct group from any of the major terrorist or militant groups in Europe, Asia or the Middle East, but he said it has contact with all of them. He said it was not unheard of for the Afghan-based group to subcontract with other organizations with regard to logistics, intelligence, transportation and communication.

"Some people say they all coordinate. I don’t know. Many of my contacts say this is the most sophisticated such organization in the world," he said flatly. "It has what the other groups do not. It has organization, a sophisticated command and control structure, and much, much money."

He said he did not have exact details about its methods of operation, but he indicated that it was highly compartmentalized for security reasons. "Some cells deal with weapons. Some with laundering and filtering money. Some with communication. Some with operational logistics. There is even an intelligence apparatus that has penetrated such things as airport security in several American and European cities. It has operatives who can hack into various government and private computer systems."

He said he had heard that the organization had deeply buried sleeper cells and agents including several in the United States who had obtained student visas and vanished into the country, obtaining new identities along the way. "There is a great complacency on the part of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service about the abilities of these people. And there is a great sense of false security among the people of the United States. I am told that Sheikh Osama believes that this will help make his efforts successful. Along with his belief that the United States government does not believe that there is any threat directly to the mainland and people of the United States."

Fawad told me he did not know the name of the organization, itself, and had heard it called several things. "I have heard talk of a man they call Ayman the doctor, a physician from Egypt, and Mullah Omar. I am led to believe that they are close associates or even the next in command to Sheikh Osama," he said.

"How have you come by all of this?" I asked. I had not been briefed on my contact’s background before my assignment.

He explained that he knew some people while he was growing up in Lebanon who wanted to destroy the United States. "Everyone wanted to destroy Israel, of course, but few were so bold as to think they could attack America." He got contact names before he migrated to Europe and ultimately to England, and was instructed about where to find friendly places and friendly people who spoke his language and understood his culture. Fawad said he moved to London as a teenager and lived in a Muslim neighborhood, praying at a Mosque where some of the faithful ultimately became radicalized and joined up with the Sheikh’s organization. "It is not hard to find angry Muslims," he said. "All you have to do is look at Israel killing Palestinians and the US and Britain condoning it."

"Were you one of the angry Muslims?" I asked.

"Of course."

"Why didn’t you join the Sheikh?"

"Beirut was called the Paris of the Middle East. Where I grew up in Beirut was the worst of the worst. My family was dirt poor. When I got to London I knew I never wanted to go back to that."

He had gotten a job as a delivery driver for an appliance dealer, he explained. He liked the regular income. He liked being able to afford a decent flat. He said he had heard things over a period of years in the Islamic community that he knew would be of interest to British or American officials. In short, he thought there might be some money to be made by selling what he knew. He said he had a chance encounter with an American woman who claimed to be the wife of a U.S. business executive based in London. "After we talked while I was delivering a new fridge to her flat, she told me she might be able to arrange some money in exchange for certain kinds of information, things I knew." He said they arranged what was to look like a chance meeting a few days later.

"And so it began?"

He nodded. "I was to encounter her by accident at a precise time on Oxford Street in front of Marks and Spencers. She slipped me a piece of paper with instructions on it and a note that said to memorize it and burn the paper."

"Your contact?"

He nodded again.

"How did it work?"

He described a simple, but anonymous, dead-drop system through which he would make contact or through which his handler would contact him. Most of his information had been low-level intelligence. "I never let the contact know what I looked like," he said.

"Do you know your contact?"


In the male-dominated world of Islamic fundamentalism, it apparently never occurred to him that the wife of the US businessman was, in fact, a company operative. Fawad explained that in this case he had asked for a face-to-face meeting with somebody in a senior position because of the nature of what he had to offer. He also said he was concerned about his personal safety in using the dead-drop with his unknown handler. "This is very dangerous. These people have eyes everywhere."

"And, I presume, you believe this will warrant a larger payment than you have gotten previously?"

"Of course, my friend," he said coldly. "I am hardly doing this out of a love for the United States." His accent had almost disappeared.

"How long has it taken you to compile all of this?"

"There has been much discussion in the last several months before and after prayers, in the coffee houses, on the streets, in the shops," said Fawad. "More than the usual amount of talk. It’s all gotten very busy. It’s usually a little bit here and a little bit there and I may have enough to tell my contact. But this seems to have become a priority. I first heard about the plan to kill Mr. Clinton in early September from the brother of one believer who went off to join the Sheikh. Over the next several days that story came up from other people. I knew this would be of interest and of value?"

He cast me a sly look.

"That was when I let it be known that I had something big which would require different arrangements than usual."

"Well, you have earned a suitable reward," I said, which caused a thin smile to form on Fawad’s lips.

I had been given two luggage locker keys before I left Washington, which opened compartments at two different British Rail stations. The key with the higher number etched on it opened a locker at Victoria Station which contained a packet with more money than the other. I had been instructed that I was to make a determination regarding the value of the information provided and present the appropriate key. I handed Fawad the key and said, "Victoria."

He licked his lips, looked around nervously and put the key in his pocket.

"Obviously if you hear anything more about this operation or about this organization, we’ll want to know. Use your usual contact methods and don’t reference this conversation."

"We will see," Fawad said neutrally. He turned and walked away toward the gardens’ main exit. He did not look back.

I walked to the coffee shop in the middle of the garden. I again glanced around to see that there was no unusual activity. There was still nobody in the garden, save for an occasional worker. I drank a cup of bad coffee and let fifteen minutes pass. The clouds had thickened. So had my personal depression. I returned to the safe-house and packed my things.

The next day, I flew home to bury my wife and be debriefed about my conversation with Fawad.

I learned that on Christmas day, Fawad’s body was found floating in the Thames near Greenwich. His throat had been cut. On May 14, 1998, President Bill Clinton made the first visit by a U.S. President to Berlin after the wall came down. It was uneventful.

THE OLD SPY (summary)

            Professor MacKenzie Roberts thought he had retired from the CIA to teach at a small college in Killarney, Ireland. That was not to be the case. A local murder turns out to be the lynchpin that reveals an intricate terrorist plot against London. The terrorists are an unlikely consortium of groups including the Real IRA and an al-Qaeda offshoot. The weapon is potentially more deadly than 9-11.

            Dragged out of retirement Roberts finds himself in the middle of the plot, which leads him on a breakneck journey of intrigue, torture, deception and betrayal, and which ultimately almost costs him his life. The characters include the bitter and crippled head of the Real IRA, al-Qaeda sleeper agents, the last survivor of Japan’s Aum Hayashi, an Irish journalist with close ties to a secret intelligence operation and a beautiful former student who once tried to seduce Roberts for a grade. This fast-paced page-turner could have come out of today’s news.

            The complete book is available at Amazon’s Kindle Store for 99 cents.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Rob Armstrong, internationally known and award winning journalist, author and educator, has crafted a sensational new novel, THE OLD SPY, a page-turner ripped from today’s headlines. It’s the story of a retired CIA agent who becomes embroiled in a complicated international terrorist plot involving the Real IRA and an offshoot of al-Qaeda.  

Armstrong spent nearly 25 years with CBS News and nearly 32 years as a broadcast journalist. His career began in Denver in 1967. He was hired by CBS News in 1974. He joined the faculty of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, in September 1998, and was Retired Professional in Residence, in Flagler’s Communication Department until he retired from teaching in 2011.

          Armstrong left CBS News in April, 1998, after nearly a quarter century as an on-air radio and television correspondent. He spent the last decade of his career as the network’s Senior Radio Correspondent in Washington, covering Congress, the White House and national politics. His assignments with CBS took him all over Europe, the Caribbean, 39 countries in all, and to 48 states to cover some of the biggest stories of the last quarter century.

          He reported on four presidential election campaigns as well as nine presidential nominating conventions. Armstrong reported the resignation of House Speaker Jim Wright, the political rise of Newt Gingrich, the tumultuous confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and the presidential runs of Gary Hart, Ross Perot and Jesse Jackson.

          His stories included the “troubles” in Ireland and the peace processes in the Middle East. He reported on international summitry in Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome and Moscow. He was there when Britain’s Prince Charles married Princess Diana, when Pope John Paul II toured the United States, when Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House South Lawn, and when Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to walk through Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate after the Wall came down; he covered pro-independence demonstrations in Kiev, Ukraine; he witnessed the thirtieth anniversary of Castro’s revolution in Havana. Armstrong has covered hurricanes (including Andrew, Diana, Elaina, and Floyd), tornadoes, floods and the San Francisco-Oakland earthquake.

          For nearly a decade, he anchored a weekly network radio broadcast, Capital Ideas, on which he interviewed politicians, authors, diplomats and world leaders, including Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, John McCain, Albert Gore, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Newt Gingrich, Thomas Foley, Czech President Vaclav Havel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, and authors Tom Clancy and Eudora Welty. .

          Aside from THE OLD SPY, Armstrong is the author of seven other books including two college level journalism textbooks, both published by Blackwell – COVERING GOVERNMENT and COVERING POLITICS. The third edition of his popular travel guide, GOLFING IN IRELAND, was published by Pelican Publishing Company in 2007.

          In addition to his textbooks and golf books, Armstrong has written extensively about food, travel and journalism. He contributed to the book THE AMERICAN INDIAN AND THE MEDIA published in 1991 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. His work has appeared in The Denver Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The American Review of Journalism, Florida Golf News and Washington Golf Monthly.

          During the summer of 2004, he was a delegate to the prestigious Oxford Round Table, at Oxford University.

          Armstrong was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1949 and moved with his family to Denver, Colorado, in 1956. He graduated from the University of Denver with a BA in history in 1972 and attended the University of Denver College of Law until he joined CBS News in 1974.

          He is an avid golfer and an accomplished cook. He and his wife, Barbara, divide their time between St. Augustine and Charlottesville, Virginia.