Paul Hood was concerned, confused, and tired. Bob Herbert had just spoken with Stephen Viens of the National Reconnaissance Office. Viens was working late to catch up on paperwork that had collected during his absence. While Viens was there, an NRO satellite had recorded an explosion in the Caspian Sea. He had called Herbert, who wanted to know if anything unusual had happened in the region. Then Herbert called Paul Hood.
“According to our files, the coordinates of the explosion match those of Iran’s Majidi-2 oil rig,” Herbert said.
“Could it have been an accident?” Hood asked.
“We’re checking that now,” Herbert said.
“We’ve got some faint radio signals coming from the rig, which means there may be survivors.”
“A lot of those rigs have automatic beacons to signal rescue craft in the area,” Herbert said.
“That may be what we’re hearing. The audio keeps breaking up, so we can’t tell if it’s a recording.”
“Understood,” Hood said.
“Bob, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Fenwick goes to the Iranian mission, and then an Iranian rig is attacked.”
“I know,” Herbert said.
“I tried to call him, but there was no answer. I’m wondering if the NSA knew about this attack, and Fenwick took intelligence to the mission in New York.”
“If Fenwick had intel, wouldn’t Iran have tried to prevent the attack?” Hood asked.
“Not necessarily,” Herbert told Hood.
“Teheran has been itching for a reason to establish a stronger military presence in the Caspian Sea. An attack by Azerbaijan could give them that reason. It’s no different than historians who say that Franklin Roosevelt allowed Pearl Harbor to be attacked so we’d have a reason to get into World War Two.”
“But then why all the deception with the president?” Hood asked.
“Plausible deniability?” Herbert replied.
“The president has been getting misinformation.”
“Yes, but Jack Fenwick would not undertake something of this magnitude on his own,” Hood said.
“Why not?” Herbert asked.
“Oilie North ran an uberoperation during Iran-Contra–”
“A military officer might have the balls for that but not Jack Fenwick,” Hood said.
“I had a look at his dossier. The guy is Mr. Support Systems. He’s instituted backup systems for backup systems at the NSA. Got congress to jack up the budget fifteen percent for next year. The CIA only got an eight percent bump and we got six.”
“Yeah,” Hood said.
“And he just doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy to take this kind of chance. Not without backup.”
“So?” Herbert said.
“Maybe he’s got it.” Shit, Hood thought. Maybe he does.
“Think about it,” Herbert went on.
“He got double the increases everyone else got. Who has that kind of sway with congress? Not President Lawrence, that’s for sure. He’s not conservative enough for the budget group.”
“No, he’s not,” Hood agreed.
“Bob, find out if Matt can get into Fenwick’s phone records and calendar. See who he might have talked to and met with over the past few days and weeks.”
“Sure,” he said.
“But it’s going to be tough to draw any conclusions from that. The NSA head meets with practically everyone.”
“Exactly,” Hood said.
“I don’t follow.”
“If Fenwick were part of a black-ops situation, he would probably meet with his team away from the office. Maybe by seeing who he stopped meeting with, officially, we can figure out who he’s been seeing on the sly.”
“Nice one, Paul,” Herbert said.
“I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“But that isn’t what has me worried,” Hood went on. The phone beeped.
“Excuse me. Bob. Would you bring Mike up to date on this?”
“Will do,” Herbert said. Hood switched lines. Sergei Orlov was on the other end.
“Paul,” Orlov said, “good news. We have your man.”
“What do you mean you have him?” Hood asked. The Russian operative was only supposed to keep an eye on him.
“Our operative arrived in time to save him from joining his comrades,” Orlov said.
“The assassin was dispatched and left in the hospital room. Your man was taken from the hospital to another location. He is there now.”
“General, I don’t know what to say,” Hood told him.
“Thank you is good enough,” Orlov said.
“But what do we do now? Can he help us get the Harpooner?”
“I hope so,” Hood told him.
“The Harpooner must still be there. Otherwise, he would not have had to draw these people out and assassinate them. General, did you hear what happened in the Caspian?”
“Yes,” Orlov said.
“An Iranian oil rig was destroyed. The Azerbaijanis are probably going to be blamed, whether they did it or not. Do you know anything more about it?”
“Not yet,” Hood said.
“But the operative you saved might. If the Harpooner’s behind this attack, we need to know. Can you arrange for the American agent to call me here?”
“Yes,” Orlov said. Hood thanked him and said he would wait by the phone.
Orlov was correct. Suspicion would fall on Azerbaijan. They were the ones who disputed Iran’s presence in that region of the sea. They were the ones who had the most to gain. But the Harpooner had done most of his work for Middle Eastern nations. What if Azerbaijan wasn’t behind the attack? What if another nation was trying to make it seem that way?
Hood got back on the phone with Herbert. He also patched in Mike Rodgers and briefed them both. When he was finished, there was a short silence.
“Frankly, I’m stumped,” Herbert said.
“We need more intel.”
“I agree,” Hood said.
“But we may have more intel than we think.”
“What do you mean?” Herbert asked.
“I mean we’ve got the NSA working with Iran,” Hood said.
“We have a president who was kept out of the loop by the NSA. We have a terrorist who works with Iran taking out CIA agents in Azerbaijan. We have an attack on an Iranian oil installation off the coast of Azerbaijan. There’s a lot of information there. Maybe we’re not putting it together in the right way.”
“Paul, do we know who in the CIA first found out the Harpooner was in Baku?” Rodgers asked.
“No,” Hood said.
“I’ll get someone to find that out ASAP,” Herbert said. Hood and Rodgers waited while Herbert made the call. Hood sat there trying to make sense of the facts, but it still was not coming together. Concerned, confused, and tired. It was a bad combination, especially for a man in his forties. He used to be able to pull allnighters without a problem. Not anymore. Herbert got back on.
“I’ve got someone calling the director’s office. Code Red-One,” he said.
“We’ll have the information soon.” Code Red-One signified an imminent emergency to national interest. Despite the competitiveness between the agencies, CRIS were generally not denied.
“Thanks,” Hood said.
“Paul, do you know the story about the Man Who Never Was?” Rodgers asked.
“The World War Two story? I read the book in high school,” Hood said.
“He was part of the disinformation campaign during World War Two.”
“Correct,” Rodgers said.
“A British intelligence group took the body of a homeless man, created a false identity for it, and planted papers on the body that said the Allies would invade Greece, not Sicily. The body was left where the Germans would find it. This helped divert Axis forces from Sicily. I mention this because a key player in the operation was a British general named Howard Tower. He was key in the sense that he was also fed misinformation.”
“For what reason?” Hood asked.
“General Tower’s communiques were intercepted by the Germans,” Rodgers said.
“British Intelligence saw to that.”
“I’m missing something here,” Herbert said.
“Why are we talking about World War Two?”
“When Tower learned what had happened, he put a gun barrel in his ear and pulled the trigger,” Rodgers said.
“Because he was used?” Hood asked.
“No,” Rodgers said, “because he thought he’d screwed up.”
“I’m still not getting this,” Herbert admitted.
“Paul, you said the president was pretty upset when you spoke with him,” Rodgers went on.
“And when you met with the First Lady, she described a man who sounded like he was having a breakdown.”
“Right,” Hood said.
“That may not mean anything,” Herbert said.
“He’s president of the United States. The job has a way of aging people.”
“Hold on. Bob. Mike may be onto something,” Hood said. There was something gnawing at Hood’s stomach. Something that was getting worse the more he thought about it.
“The president did not look tired when I saw him. He looked disturbed.”
“I’m not surprised,” Herbert said.
“He was being kept out of the loop and made an apparent faux pas about the UN. He was embarrassed.”
“But there’s another component to this,” Hood told him.
“There’s the cumulative psychological impact of disinformation. What if plausible deniability and bureaucratic confusion aren’t the reasons the president was misled? What if there’s another reason?”