It’s time for another round of President
Barack Obama Jeb Tyler Failure Theatre, as we get another run-down of the many ways America’s gosh durn liberal President is a pansy. And once again from where I’m sitting the guy comes across as just being a bit too self-absorbed, rather than outright incompetent. As well as being insufficiently devoted to the military, his other main flaw appears to be not being racist enough for his staff’s liking:
“The man has been positively identified as Suleyman Drusovic, a Kosovar Muslim currently resident in Montreal.”
“So he’s Canadian?” wondered the president. “What would a Canadian have against an American school?”
“With all due respect, Mr. President,” said Seelye, trying to conceal his frustration, “he’s an ethnic Albanian, a Muslim, who just so happens to hold a Canadian passport at this time. He’s no more ‘Canadian’ than you are.”
To Seelye, “Canadians” were hockey players and moose hunters, Scottish Presbyterians with names like Maitland and MacGregor, not Balkan Muslims. But what did he know? The world he knew was fast receding, and whatever would replace it fast approaching.
“The world he knew” presumably being one where all nations are pure monocultures with no immigration. Which hasn’t actually ever been the case, especially not in the USA.
“Our forces around the world are on high alert, Mr. President,” Rubin said. “Keyhole birds report no significant adverse activity in NoKo, Iran, or the breakaway ’stans. We’re still watching the Columbia-Venezuela-Bolivia axis, though.”
I have trouble believing anyone actually talks like this.
While everyone else is dithering and wringing their hands General Seelye, the bold and decisive head of the NSA, springs into action, boldly and decisively declaring that no other governmental departments like the CIA should get involved. You might wonder why the NSA would be relevant in this scenario above all other arms of the American defence and intelligence apparatus, given that they deal exclusively in signals intelligence. You see, it turns out that in the world of Hostile Intent there exists a super-duper top secret agency called CSS, created by Richard Nixon as a “fourth branch” of the US military beside the Army, Navy and Marines/Air Force (you might remember the phrase “Branch 4” being used in Devlin’s absurd techno-babble from a few chapters back).
Tyler, due to his lack of attention on military matters, is only vaguely aware of what CSS does and has to have the agency’s entire history explained to him by Seelye. During this talk he insists on Senator Hartley, his friend from the Other Party, being present even though he doesn’t have the proper security clearance (Hartley has his eye on the Presidency and is implied to be preparing to stab Tyler in the back, remember).
But the traditional-minded put up the predictable bureaucratic fuss, and the CSS was quietly folded in the NSA, authorized to work with each of the individual service branches in capturing and decoding enemy SIGINT. So when, for example, a Navy submarine tapped an undersea Soviet communications cable, or one of the Air Force’s many electronic surveillance overflights picked up hostile transmissions, they were relayed to the CSS for evaluation and, if necessary, action. But the CSS chafed at being a bystander and, using the “No Such Agency” cloak of anonymity, quickly moved into the void, coordinating covert strikes on Soviet assets with the utmost plausible deniability—“accidents” were amazingly common—and establishing its own presence as a service to be reckoned with. Still, resistance from the uniformed services kept it in the shadows of its birth, where it lurked now—the incognito, but highly effective, muscle arm of the NSA.
When writers of spy fiction want to feature some super-ultra-above-top-secret agency they have a curious tendency to associate it in some way with the NSA, even though the NSA has absolutely nothing to do with sending awesome James Bond assassins to shoot people. Possibly this is because the NSA originally had an air of extreme mystique.
(If you want to know about the actual super-duper secret stuff the US government gets up to, as well as the horrendous civilian cost to those actions, check out Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which I reviewed here)
A conveniently timed news report reveals that the terrorists have shot two of their hostages- the nurse from earlier and another staff member we didn’t see get killed- which provides the kick in the pants needed for Tyler to take action. It also makes his speech writer and the only woman in the room start crying hysterically, in keeping with Walsh’s usual gender tropes.
The rest of the chapter is taken up with a long-winded explanation of how awesome Devlin is (so awesome). I just have to wonder why, exactly, Branch 4 operatives have such ludicrous levels of secrecy associated with them- the only people who even know about Devlin’s existence are the President, the Secretary of Defence and and the head of the NSA, and we’re told that if two Branch 4 agents ever learn each other’s identities, or the identities of the people in each other’s hand-picked teams, one or both of them will be killed. And yet they don’t actually seem to be doing anything inherently more shady or suspicious than the many covert branches of the US military whose actions are more or less public knowledge.
In fact, it seems as if the existence of trained assassins answerable only to three people at the very top of the hierarchy of command would be ripe for abuse. What would stop a President/Defence Secretary/NSA head cabal from conspiring to assassinate political opponents or effect world politics? Tyler’s decision to have a member of congress from the opposite party sitting in on the meeting actually seems like a pretty good idea, precisely to stop this from happening.
For the next chapter it’s time for an abrupt flashback to Devlin’s past, for no real reason. The short version: his parents were killed in a terrorist attack in Rome when he was eight and he was adopted by General Seelye, who had the medical records falsified to make it look like he died in the attack.
The long version: Devlin’s father worked for the CIA during the Cold War, bringing young Devlin all over Europe and leading to his learning a wide array of languages from a young age, as well as instilling a general, if vague familiarity with all things covert. Devlin hated his dad for never being around and put his mother on a pedestal to a degree that frankly comes across as creepy.
(Devlin’s mom is more or less the only women in the book who is portrayed as both generally competent and not evil)
No, not bang. Crack. That was the sound: crack. The sound of the world splintering.
It was a sound he had since made his friend over the intervening years, a sound that at once announced the truth—la Bocca della Verita. Once his enemy, no matter that it became the enemy he loved, the enemy he relied upon, the enemy he could not do without. The friend he could never quite trust.
Just so you know how awful the writing is.
His mother had been in denial—“No,” she was in midsentence—when Dad suddenly shoved her to the ground, knocking her on top of Devlin.
It wasn’t the first time his father had pushed his mother, not the first time he’d hit her, struck her, really, a hard blow that sent her to the floor, but it may have been the first and only time such a blow had been delivered out of love instead of anger or jealousy. Devlin himself had been on the receiving end of many such blows, but this was the first and only one that saved his life.
Okay: I am perfectly willing to concede that if someone was trying to shoot your child and spouse, shoving them out of the way such that you cause them bodily harm would be acceptable. It’s a matter of life and death, there’s no time to do anything else, fair enough.
However. Directly contrasting this with domestic abuse is super creepy and gross, as well as being entirely unnecessary.
They were lying as flat, flattened, her body over his, shielding him. “Stay down, Mama,” he begged her, but she was a brave woman, defending her young, and so she raised her head, just a little trying to see the source of danger, trying to make a plan of safety, trying to see if there was any escape from this man-made hell on earth, when something caught in the side of her head and that was that.
As we will see later in the book, defending one’s children is more or less the only scenario in which Walsh is willing to admit that women can be heroic in the same way that his male characters are shown to be.
Anyway mom and pop Devlin kick the bucket in an attack by Lebanese terrorists and Devlin becomes Patriot Batman, fueled by the memory of his parent’s deaths.
Years later, when a woman asked him how he knew Italian, he replied, “One afternoon it was raining, so I learned Italian.” There was no point in exaggerating.
He also turns into a Mary Sue of Ayn Randian proportions, learning ALL OF THE LANGUAGES, which seems to be Walsh’s preferred marker for intelligence (bad guy Emanuel Skorzeny who we met recently also knows ALL OF THE LANGUAGES).
What’s not really addressed here is the morality of General Seelye basically kidnapping Devlin in order to train him as an assassin. In order to pave over this issue Walsh doesn’t really go into whether or not young Devlin actually wanted this kind of life, or whether Seelye pushed him into it; the fact that Devlin has a natural aptitude for espionage and murder seems to settle the issue in his mind.