talonkarrde: (color)
I remember seeing Langley for the first time — the OHB and the NHB, Kryptos, the Museum.

You've heard of Kryptos, I'm sure, but it's even more magnificent in person, a living testament to the fact that there would always be codes that we were unable to crack, always challenges to overcome. He explained to us the process to find the sculptor — Jim Sanborn — to create the work, and how three of the four panels had been solved in the years that the sculpture had been revealed, but the fourth panel eluded us — and the world — to this day.

And then we visited the Museum — or as it's officially known, the National History Collection — and we were treated to a walkthrough of the history of the agency. A lot of the stuff — microfilm, hollow coins, a working Enigma machine — we had read about through our research of the Agency, but there was one item that we hadn't known about, an item that we all stopped in front of for a long couple of minutes: Osama Bin Laden's AK-47.

It was a reminder of the work that we could do, and we all felt it. Of course, there weren't daring raids on 'high value targets' every year — and even if there were, fresh recruits weren't going to be the ones going on them; that was a job for the Special Activities Division Special Operations Group. Statistically, our class wasn't ever going to contribute anything to the museum.

But it didn't mean that we couldn't play a part, getting the information, vetting it, passing it on to the right people. Being in the room when the shots were called, even. Answering questions from the Commander-in-Chief.

Oh, what it was to be bright-eyed and young.


It wasn't until the sixth that I realized what a joke it all was. Before then, I always had the burning desire to prove myself, you know? You want to hone your talents, recruit one more agent, have one more piece of information to send to headquarters, knowing that it'll help State with their negotiations the next day, knowing that it makes a difference for the good ol' U. S. of A.

But somewhere down the line, it changed.

Shit, if I'm being honest with myself, I know the exact stop where I got off.

You know, I remember all the missions I've been on, both under diplomatic cover and non-official cover — the latter one's the dangerous one, where they shoot you, usually after torture, and Uncle Sam denies your existence. But the reality of the situation is that most of the Agency's actions are mundane and ritualistic — boring, almost.

But there was a case where I was working in a foreign country — Asia, but you'll understand if I'm not more specific — and I was being a good case officer, angling for a promotion, working four or five people from an opposing embassy. It's not that difficult, really; there's a playbook, and you follow the playbook, meet with them on alternate nights at social locations, always have a pretense for the meeting, you set up dead drops and emergency contact lines for when things get hot, and—

And none of this matters. Sorry, I still have lecturing habits from my time training.

What happened was that I had an agent who had some really good information. It was big — something more than just what the opposing ambassador wanted to trade, or was willing to concede in a trade. It was a new stance from a frenemy relating to national security, as soon as it got out, the agent was going to need to be hustled the hell out, because the government would instantly come down on him like a sack of bricks. They never did take traitors well.

We have a process for this type of information, too — we set up an exit, get the guy and his family out, and everyone goes home happy.

This time, though, we got the information, and it was a veritable gold mine: it was a new tact that the country was going to take with our allies to apply some pressure on us, and a new couple of agents they were going to try and seed one of our three-letter-agencies with. Every bit checked out when we cross-referenced our own records for entries and applications. Everything looked good.

And then we burned the informer, at the last second.

Instead of taking him in, the brass told us that they wouldn't ever stop hunting him, and our agents would suffer retribution for it. Better to let him — a foreign national — die, they said, than have our own agents possibly pay for it.

So they hung him out to dry, and the last time I saw him, he was being bundled into a windowless van, with the stock of a rifle striking the back of his skull out as we drove away. We could've saved him — we could've warned him, at least, but instead, we did nothing. I followed orders. I did nothing.

I found out shortly that his family didn't make it — they were shot at the dining room table, execution style.

But him? He's still alive, somewhere, living in a very small jail cell, all because he trusted a country that was about truth, justice, and the American way.


That was the end of my fieldwork career.

I put in for a transfer back to the States the next week, and there were so many paperwork positions to fill that there was only the obligatory protest from the station chief before I got shipped back to a comfortable office in Foggy Bottom, helping State with their agricultural position questions. High tension and high impact stuff, naturally.

After a few years, a teaching position opened at Langley, training the new recruits on fieldwork. I wanted to get back into it, and so I applied; it certainly helped that I was bored out of my mind writing dispatches to political-favor ambassadors about how Spain wasn't going to lower the tariff on American corn. I got the teaching position, apparently due to a good word from my former boss, and ended up spending sixth months with every new class that came in.

At first, I wanted to tell them, insidiously, perhaps even traitorously, how terrible the Agency was: how we didn't keep our promises, how there was politics at every level, how we compromised and used individuals. I was curious how long it was going to take the Agency to fire me.

But seeing the first class come in — seeing their bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eagerness at helping the country that they all grew up in and loved — well, I saw a lot of myself from a decade ago in them. They were willing to do things for the service, because their country needed them, and in a lot of ways, they were what we were defending. They each had different stories of how they had come to understand that, yes, America is flawed, but even flawed it was better than so many of the other countries out there that actively hated America, that wanted to kill Americans for sport or for pride.

And they were right. Their country did need them, and these young men and women were sometimes going to be the only line of defense between our enemies and our civilians, sleeping safe in their beds every night. So they changed my mind, and I taught them to the best of my abilities.

But I never forgot about the man that we burned — that America burned, that the Agency burned, and that I burned.

Every class, around the end of our time together, asks me what the worst thing that I saw in the field was. They've gotten some experience that this point, but they don't really know what it's like — and won't, until they go into the field themselves. And there are more than enough stories to choose from, more than enough comfortable lies that would settle their consciences.

But I've never been here to settle their consciences; I'm here to train them to be the best in the world at what they do.

So I say that the worst thing that I've seen is turning my back on a man that believed that America was the best country in the world, that it would save him and his family when he took a grave personal risk, when he went against his home country. I tell them that the worst night I've ever had is the night we failed him. That the worst thing to do is to break a promise.

And I think they appreciate that in a career of telling lies, this is an absolute truth.


Mar. 25th, 2013 07:08 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
She hears footsteps coming closer and quickly leaps over the edge, catching the railing with one hand to avoid plummeting down the fifty-foot fall into the atrium. She lets go as soon as her momentum is halted, falling for a second before grasping the edge of the walkway, now almost hidden from sight, with only her fingertips barely showing. Black gloves on a black floor, though, means that she's almost certain she'll pass unnoticed.

Still, as the footsteps come closer, every click of the guards' boots on the tile makes her nervous, wondering if by chance the guard will see her and sound the alarm. Click... click... click... until finally, the sounds pass her and start receding to her left.

She grunts softly as she pulls himself up from the straight-arm dangle she's been in, feeling a light sheen of sweat over her forehead, under the mask. Just something to keep the operation fun, she thinks, and continues heading to the right, out of the main lobby.

Eventually, after six more guards and two infrared cameras that she's careful to stay out of the way of, she gets to the target — the ambassador's office. It's not an easy job, but for her, it's not too difficult: the small desert country simply doesn't have the security systems in place to match the training that she's had.

And so, with no alarms raised and nothing out of the ordinary on any of the monitors some diplomatic security guard was sure to be monitoring, Agent Poulson slips into the ambassador's office. She pauses for a moment to slip on infrared goggles, peering about, and then heads for the desk — after checking the corners, of course.

The papers are there, locked in a drawer that takes her all of ten seconds to crack. She's good, of course, and smiles as the prize comes into view.

And then she blinks, hard, as the lights turn on and blind her through the night-vision goggles, her instincts screaming as she drops into a crouch behind the heavy mahogany desk, gun out before the papers even hit the floor.

"Relax, Miss Poulson. If we wanted to do something with you, you'd already be incapacitated," a voice says. It's not one that she recognizes, but she categorizes it for future reference: normal inflections, no accent, baritone, likely middle aged.

She also doesn't move.

"That being said, I'd also appreciate if we had this conversation face to face," the man says, almost warmly, without any hint of a threat in his voice.

And yet, she knows the implication, the 'or else', and slowly rises, not yet turning to face him.

"Ah, do you not want to look at me? I promise I'm not ugly," he says, laughing, and she can feel the smugness in his voice, the cat who has caught a particularly deft mouse. "Or is it that without seeing my face, you think I'm more willing to let you go alive?"

"I'm not a fan of unannounced meetings," she responds, looking out the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in front of her and thinking furiously. Not a sheer drop, but rather a sloped roof...

"Ah, yes, I'm sure the CIA has your schedule incredibly regimented. Nothing ever unannounced, if my sources inform me correctly — no meetings, no assignments that aren't given in advance. Even the —" he pauses, searching for a word, "- 'blip', shall we say, in China; that was planned too, wasn't it? Though your jobs in Kabul and Panama City and Havana and St. Petersburg have all been stellar, of course."

She keeps completely still but can't help blinking in surprise, glad she's not facing him now. No one was supposed to know about the failed mission in China; much less all of her other operational assignments. But China, especially; that one that had been long planned and was certain, according to all the operations vets, to succeed. Just an easy-in, easy-out. Until it went sour sixteen different ways and ended up with three agents dead, only one who got out, and no intel at all to show for it.

She feels the man behind her nodding, reading the small, uncontrollable tension in her fists, and tenses even more. She resists acting, though — he was still giving her information about his sources, and she was still alive.

"The longer I talk, the more I reveal, don't I? I must stop talking, then, of course. I'll just leave you with this one thought, then, and one suggestion, if that's alright, Agent Poulson."

She waits, but he doesn't say anything else, and eventually, she reluctantly gives a small nod, her escape plan coming together. The window was going to be her chance, and she needed to cover two meters in a second, with the bullets started flying towards her. Crashing through would hurt, but if she spared three shots back and two forward, it would weaken the structure, and...

"We didn't kill you today, though we could've. We didn't torture you for information either, though my bosses will be quite angry with me when I tell them that. I may even suffer for it — not that you care, I'm sure."

"But simply think about it. We had one of the best agents the Agency could throw at us, caught her neatly and deftly, and yet we let her — we let you — get away. Why would we do that?"

Why indeed, she thinks for a moment, and then slowly shifts her weight forward, just a touch, getting ready to spring through the glass.

"Take the documents with you. But before you hand them over to Uncle Sam, to your handlers, to good ol' Langley, just take a quick glance through them, and see what they reveal. Of course you'll think we edited them, that they're trash and not to be trusted — but they're not. I'm sure you have the skills to do the research — discreetly — to see that I'm speaking the truth."

"So read them, Agent Poulson, and then ask yourself if you're fighting for the right side."

The smile, again, a smugness tangible in the air, and she crouches right as he finishes, drops and rolls and shoots forward twice, grabbing the papers with her empty hand, and then springs forward, feeling more bullets fly around her, and charges through the now shattering glass.

The alarms are ringing, and she's falling, but the slope is gentle and the night is dark. When the security guards burst onto the roof less than a minute later, they see only the shards of broken glass.

She's gone, and so are the documents.


Somewhere else, a man, also dressed in all black, smiles.


A/N: I love spy stories, immensely, and I felt like this topic was an excellent chance to write (part of) one. When I say spy stories, though, I don't mean the James Bond type, which is about shooting and sex more than spying; but instead something closer to Argo or Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy. As such, I tried to lay out a situation where the agent is caught and a gamble from someone who dances this dance misinformation and lies, and wraps it up in a poisonous conversation. Of course the information has been tampered with, but that's the beauty (and uncertainty) of it: if the enemy has agents on the inside, he can edit records to make it seem like the information is not manipulated, and possibly corrupt her to the point where she defects, and starts supporting his side. This is what I find deeply interesting about spying; it's much more a chess game than a shooting match.

Oh, and Agent Poulson is a bit of a shoutout to Agent Phil Coulson, for those comic fans out there :).
talonkarrde: (Default)
I had been watching the target for weeks now, watching as he stole and lied and charmed his way through the nights, and I was reasonably sure that I knew his path, style, and dealings. Tonight was my chance to put what I knew to the test.

I’d been following him almost every night, the same repetition of events with only backdrops changing. Last week, it was a high-profile dinner, a late-night soiree, and then the afterparty at a producer’s mansion every single day. Last week was New York, the week before that Paris, and I had seen more people on the Fortune 100 and Who’s Who of Hollywood than I ever thought I’d meet. But it was worth the time; I had stayed anonymous and figured out the alpha and omega of his modus operandi, and fuck, he was slick.

Slick enough that he never made a bet he couldn’t win, slick enough that even if you hated his fucking guts, you had to give him credit for pulling off things you could never pull off. Maybe if our positions were different, I would’ve appreciated him more, but I’ve never been in the business of giving people credit.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t much in the business of righting wrongs either, but ask any one of us and you’ll hear of a case we’ve taken outside of our normal affairs. It’s not about money, or righting wrongs, or anything as obnoxious as what someone considers legal; for me, it was getting a chance to go up against Goliath — and more than that, knowing I would win.

How often do you get to bring down a giant?

Tonight’s party was at the Burj Al Arab. Yes, that one, where Federer and Agassi played on the helipad a thousand feet above Dubai, the five star hotel that’s shaped like a sail. Twenty third floor, suite of a well known actor, known for a few indie films he did in his younger years and his strong male leads that tend to sweep women off their feet. Happily married now — or at least, that’s what the papers say. This party would give them something to think about, if only they could get in.

Here the target comes, striding through the room like he owns it, and I know, know, he’s looking for the next target. The next conquest, a word he’s used once or twice while joking with the guys, but the word isn’t a throwaway phrase for him. I watch as his eyes slide down necklines and around hips, and finally settle on a friend of mine. It surprises me; I thought he’d go for one of the bigger names. She doesn’t notice him, unfortunately, and he’s forced to walk over to her and slip into the conversation, which he does, smooth as butter, bringing out laughs from the two ladies she’s with.

If only we had got to him first, I think. Then maybe he’d be my partner instead of my target, and we’d be somewhere else. Kabul, maybe, or Beirut, or—

I watch as he casually touches her arm and asks if she wants another drink, and I have to marvel, even if it’s just for a second. Honeypot, I almost whisper, and I wonder if she’ll fall for it. She smiles, that small purse of the lips and crinkle of the eyes, the half-blush, and I can see him adjusting, changing his tone, altering himself to suit her, to win her. There’s no dallying around when he gets the drinks, just a quick order and he’s making a beeline back for her, and she’s gotten rid of the others.

She asks him for a toast, and I can’t help but wonder what he’ll come up with and sidle a bit closer.

Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love. If you must steal, steal away from bad company. If you must cheat, cheat death. And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away.

Of course. A natural. And I watch her eyes soften, as she smiles and whispers into his ear, and I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I don’t need to. He chuckles quietly, letting his hand smoothly rest on the small of her back, and as they talk, you could be forgiven for thinking that they had known each other all their lives. 

She says something else, a few minutes later, and you can see it on his face and leans in to kiss the corner of her mouth before he leaves and she turns to find her friends, tell them where she's going, no doubt.

It's a few minutes after that, after I'm sure he’s waiting for her in a suite somewhere, that's when she comes over to me, my friend, my colleague, my black widow, and she pouts ever so prettily, and says, “Do you think we have him?”

Whether he’s an actor, a professional con-man, or whatever else, he can’t hold a candle to the training she has. We’ll know all about him soon enough, and our work here is just about finished. All I can say is this:

“Don’t have too much fun, Delilah.”
talonkarrde: (Default)
The memories come in flashes as I choke and gasp, inhaling water in a desperate attempt to get at some air. It has to end sooner or later, sooner or later, I just need to hold out—

I remember the monotone humming of the ventilation as I got off the elevator, turning to give a short salute to Tom for getting me in. A janitor spot had opened a week ago at the building and he was hired, just in time to get keys for tonight's snatch-and-grab.

The water finally stops and I try to stop the vomit reflex, try to breathe through the damp cloth in the few seconds before they turn the hose back on. Hyperventilation to maximize my oxygen supply like we're taught, before the water starts again—

I remember the slight scent of her perfume as I slipped into her office, looking for the papers. We knew that the contact's information was delivered that afternoon right before she left, late enough that she didn't have time to respond to it. The director approved the mission instantly; this guy must have been pretty high up on the HVT list, I think, as I start ruffling through her desk.

A few seconds into it, my body reaches the breaking point. I need to breathe, I need to breathe, and I lose control and inhale. Only water comes, though, flooding into my lungs, and I drown, fading—

I remember the sound of footsteps in the doorway, just as I find the piece of paper that I'm looking for. Anyone at three a.m. is a problem, but the footsteps, and then the pause outside the door — it means the mission's compromised. It means I'm fucked, I think, just as the doors burst open and the flashbang blinds me.


I wake up with my head pounding, and what feels like blood flowing down my right cheek. And then someone slams my left cheek with something metallic — brass knuckles, maybe — and I start dripping blood down both sides of my face. I groan, opening my eyes, squinting in the harsh light; no reason to play dead when they were this intent on waking me up.

It takes me a second to remember my training, but I try and take everything in. A cell - no, an interrogation room. Metal table, metal chair I'm cuffed to, a one-way window, nothing else. No sounds from the outside — someplace isolated, for sure. And finally, my interrogator and an 'enforcer', neither one someone I've ever seen before.

Without preamble, I start speaking, tell them everything I know.

First principle: if captured, tell everything you know and trust in the system not to have given you any critical information. I talk to them for ten minutes, looking between the two men, telling them of the mission, how I got in, what I was looking for, how we had been collecting the information before the assignment. It's detailed, it's specific on a few things I'm sure they haven't heard before... and it's nothing the others will use again, now that I've been taken. And in the meantime, I memorize the scar on his neck, the stubble on his chin, the tilt of his nose, and everything else that will be useful if I ever get out.

It's ten minutes that I don't get beaten, if nothing else, and in a situation like this, that's probably the last mercy I'll get.

At the end of it, though, he simply looks at me with those eyes, knits his eyebrows together, and asks me if that's all I know.

I say yes, of course, which he expects.

And he snaps his fingers, which I expect, and the enforcer shatters my nose.
talonkarrde: (Default)
This was a world of microphones and pinhole cameras, dead drops and double intelligence. It was a world and a time where a single person behind enemy lines could be worth more than five battalions in front of it, where one intercepted dispatch could save thousands of lives.  It was the world of Sidney Reilly and William Stephenson — the world that James Bond would have thrived in.

But it was also a world where both sides were more than eager to get information from the other and would pay handsomely for it; it was also the world of moles and double-agents, where even the most trusted agents could be working for the enemy, where betrayal was significantly more common than loyalty to one's nation.

Jack Abbott was a thirty-one year old British scholar of German literature that had been a friend of the Viscountess Astor; he had gone to Germany in 1933 on her recommendation, to 'see how the Germans were rebuilding', as she put it. It was only later that he learned that the Viscountess and her friends — the Cliveden set, as they become later known — wanted to keep friendly relations with Nazi Germany, and intended to use him to communicate to the leadership — Hitler, Hess, Goering, and the others.

It was an experience that he cooperated with, at first; it filled him with a sense of importance when he met these powerful leaders at state dinners. It perhaps helped that he fit the Aryan ideal, with his wavy blonde hair and sky blue eyes, his non-threatening manner but close ties to British leadership, they spoke to him of their designs to bring a new age about, one where the two great nations of Britain and Germany could together exert influence over — not 'rule', of course — their neighbors.

One day, he met a William de Ropp, another British national, at a private dinner with the Führer. It was a short dinner, and few words passed between them, but there were few enough British in Berlin that Abbott invited him over the next day for tea. As they chatted, he felt that de Ropp was appraising him — and indeed, at the end of the afternoon, de Ropp mentioned something about serving the British Empire, and that someone would be in contact. Abbott was pleased — it was a chance to serve his country, but more importantly, to earn honor and fame.

Someone did contact him the next day, a man who called by phone and identified himself as codename 'Intrepid'. That was the beginning of Abbott's training. The next weeks were a whirlwind of activity as various MI6 agents stepped in to teach Abbott the basics of spycraft — the art of covert exchanges, of where the points in Berlin were that he could drop information to make sure it got back to the Home Office, of the bugs that he could use. Above all, though, they taught him one lesson — make sure he stayed connected with those that he needed to, and when in doubt, risk nothing. Risk nothing, they said, because it could be his life on the line. But all he remembered were the ways to hide cameras in regular objects, the ways to use the exciting secret code to transmit information he found.

His objectives came in, two months later — stay close to Hess and Goering, and Hitler if he could, and continually promise that  the British were interested in peace, and that they were just waiting for a sign from the Germans. As he was doing that, use the system of dead drops to alert the Allies of any significant military movement. It seemed fairly simple, as the leadership still hosted soirées and public gatherings, which Abbott was invited to and always attended.. but the intelligence was slim.

Two months of training didn't make a regular civilian a spy, and Abbott didn't realize that much of a mole's job was simply to wait until an opportunity fell into his lap. As the weeks passed and he heard of German victory after victory, he fought to contain his impatience, his dreams of being a hero slipping away, and started asking about how the military was doing — subtlety, of course. At least, it was subtle to him.

He opened his mail several days later and found a letter which said that the Germans would be moving towards the Maginot Line with fifty tanks, and that they would be striking from Alsace. It was signed 'a supporter of the allies', and Abbott believed his break had finally come, that his time to shine was then. That afternoon, he set off directly towards his closest dead drop location, and passed the message on — except that he felt it would be better if he embellished a bit, to make sure that the Germans would be crushed and that he would get credit for it. So he put that there would be 100 tanks, imagining the honors he would be given for his services as the Allies swiftly crushed the German incursion into France and Germany surrendered the next day. Abbott would be made a Lord — or perhaps even given some land in Germany to watch over. It would be perfect.


A week later, the Germans overran Belgium and crossed into France, and the tanks never materialized at the Alsace section of the Maginot Line. Abbott didn't have too much time to ponder this, though, because he was met by Hitler at his door, who had taken time out of his schedule for a personal house call.

His last words to Jack Abbott were, "We almost missed the fact that you were the mole because you had exaggerated so much, my friend."
talonkarrde: (Default)
The first sensation was the slight give of packed dirt. They roused him as they had every morning, and he had learned quickly to struggle to his feet after the first kick. He made his way across the room, arms blindly stretched out in front of him until he touched the rough concrete blocks. It was protocol, he had learned, for them to run a rake through the dirt floor it to see if he had been digging any holes – and by the second day, he had stopped trying.

A sharply barked command and he was dragged into the corridor, where the warm soft dirt became cold unyielding metal. He counted the steps – thirteen paces and a right to the corrugated stairs. Twenty steps making two full rotations and an exit to the right. Thirty-two more before the left to the final destination.

Then linoleum - more than three pints of his blood, teeth, fingernails, and handfuls of hair had been spread across it; he figured the janitor had gathered up more of him than he had left. He was pushed into the chair his body had become rather intimate with over the course of the last week.

The smell of lilacs and peach meant that she had come in. Somehow, she smelled like that no matter what she did to him, no matter how much of his blood was on her.

“Hey, babe.” He smiled tiredly.

“You have been quite uncooperative, Jake.” Dulcet tones, as always. Even when she was ‘working’ him. Especially then.

“Sorry, honey, you know me…” He stopped smiling, knowing what was coming next. The only question was where the blow would land.

“I have learned many things about you, indeed, but our time here is over. Stand up, turn around, and walk. You may remove the tape after fifty paces, I trust you will count them very carefully; you should be able to imagine the consequences if you do not. Do not look back.”

He sat there for a moment, incredulous, but he realized that there was no choice to be made. All things considered, he would rather walk than be dragged. He stood up slowly, ignoring the pain, and turned around, first shuffling, then walking away from her.

Ten steps, then twenty.

Forty-one, forty-two, and he felt something foreign – air brushing past his face. A breeze, carrying the scent of something other than recycled machine air, carrying the scent of nature.

Fifty steps and he stopped, expectant…but nothing happened. He reached up with a trembling hand and, in one quick motion, ripped the tape off, taking most of his eyelashes with it. The pain would have been considerable, once.

In front of him was a rickety wooden suspension bridge, extending into the mist. He took a step forward, feeling the smooth wood plank under his feet sway slightly, and then took another, and another, walking into the mist, not looking back, never looking back. He reached the lowest point of the bridge – and started speeding up, a flicker of hope lighting within him and driving him forward.

They were standing on the opposite bank, only ten paces more, when he heard the snap of the bridge being cut behind him.


talonkarrde: (Default)

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