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The Confirmation

The Confirmation

by Thomas Powers

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A novel of high-stakes political intrigue on the shadowy side of Washington, The Confirmation sheds light on the men who run the Central Intelligence Agency, on investigative journalists, and on government officials fighting for control of the nation's secrets.

The confirmation of the seemingly spotless nominee Frank Cabot as Director of Central


A novel of high-stakes political intrigue on the shadowy side of Washington, The Confirmation sheds light on the men who run the Central Intelligence Agency, on investigative journalists, and on government officials fighting for control of the nation's secrets.

The confirmation of the seemingly spotless nominee Frank Cabot as Director of Central Intelligence is jeopardized when Brad Cameron, a young CIA officer looking for evidence of American prisoners left behind after the Vietnam war, uncovers a suppressed report — a claim by a convicted American spy that Cabot cooperated with the Russians in a shameful cover-up twenty years earlier. As Cabot attempts to clear his name, reporter George Tater digs relentlessly for the story that will revive his career and Cameron doggedly pursues the truth about what happened. The result is a full-scale Washington media circus, as a host of interested parties — the president, the press, the senators who must vote yea or nay on Cabot's nomination, and Cabot's friends and enemies — all try to conceal, expose, or spin what he did and why.

Closely paralleling these events is a different kind of conspiracy. A clandestine militia of angry Vietnam vets, convinced that officials in high places have deliberately abandoned American POWs, plot a confrontation — both clever and rash — calculated to violently disrupt Cabot's confirmation hearings.

Thomas Powers, the author of books on intelligence and covert history, writes knowingly about how the CIA and its officials operate in the world of Beltway politics. At the heart of this riveting novel is a well-kept secret that, as it emerges, reveals howdifficult it is to tell the heroes from the villains, the truth from the lies, the honorable from the self-serving. As Brad Cameron learns, in official Washington doing the right thing may prove to be more dangerous than anything he has done before.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
An "engaging and suspenseful" novel about power in Washington and how Congress, the bureaucracy, and the media grapple for advantage. While the author "knows his stuff about Beltway culture and can tell a story," the "slow plot development," and a sense of "same old, same old" kept it from higher ratings.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Powers is best known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA. A fiction debut by such a writer raises keen expectations--and they aren't disappointed. His first novel is a sterling piece of work: polished, clear, with a plot that offers genuine surprises and a journalist in a leading role who is not just the most convincing fictional New York Times reporter ever created, but possibly the only convincing one. Frank Cabot, a career CIA man, has been nominated to head the organization. Opposition to him centers on some questionable judgments in his past and what may prove to be an insurmountable blunder: Did he know of the existence of an army sergeant, a Vietnam MIA, held in a Russian prison, who might have been rescued but was instead left to die? Did Cabot suggest his death might be convenient? The irony is that much of this is ferreted out by young Brad Cameron, a CIA novice who's courting Cabot's niece, and who is helped by a wonderfully conceived elderly backroom agency veteran who is a Holocaust survivor. George Tater of the Times is also in on the hunt, which becomes embroiled in both Washington and international politics involving Israel and KGB survivors in contemporary Russia. Real-life characters like jailed CIA spy Aldrich Ames and former President Carter are convincingly incorporated into the action, which winds up in a cliff-hanger Senate hearing. One of Powers's great virtues as a novelist, apart from his subtle and far-reaching knowledge of how government agencies work, is the moral ambiguity he brings to his characters. Each of them is sympathetic but flawed, lending the drama an unusual edge. Government thrillers don't come much better than this. (June) FYI: Powers is also a cofounder of Vermont's Steerforth Press. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal - Library Journal
Powers, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author (The Man Who Kept the Secrets), uses his extensive knowledge of the inner workings of Washington politics in this first novel about the confirmation of a new CIA director. Frank Cabot, a career CIA analyst and the president s nominee, seems a natural choice, with every chance for a smooth confirmation. In Washington, however, things can unravel quickly, and Frank s path is soon strewn with obstacles. His wife s alcohol use causes a traffic accident; a young, idealistic CIA aide trips over a long-held CIA secret that threatens Frank s Senate support; a dogged journalist is hot on this trail; and two angry Vietnam veterans are bent on assassination. The action moves from Washington to Israel and back, with vivid depictions of a Laotian POW camp and a Russian prison. Most impressively, Powers gives each character sufficient definition and background to make them all, in some respects, sympathetic. This thrilling read is also an informative jaunt through the corridors of power. Recommended for all public libraries. Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel from the Pulitzer-winning journalist (Heisenberg's War, 1993, etc.) examines one of his areas of expertise—the CIA—in a tale of integrity at odds with entrenched bureaucracy, with the fate of a long-missing Vietnam POW hanging in the balance. Integrity walks the earth inside the Beltway in the form of Brad Cameron, junior CIA officer charged with finding whatever there's left to find regarding American POWs and MIAs. Just as his boss and mentor, Frank Cabot, is tapped to head the Company after having served as acting director, Brad finds a tantalizing reference to a GI being held in a remote Soviet prison in the late '70s—more than 20 years earlier. His efforts to find out more set off security alarms all over CIA headquarters, and Brad is promptly reassigned. Undeterred, however, he takes an unauthorized trip to Israel, tracks down the man who originally reported the GI, then returns to Washington and makes another unsettling discovery: his mentor Brad Cameron was the very man sent to the Soviet Union to investigate, though he never made an official report himself. Meanwhile, Cabot's confirmation is drawing fire, thanks to the sleuthing of a hard-hitting New York Times reporter who's closing in on the long-held secrets Brad is uncovering, and questions of espionage involving Cabot are raised when the name of Aldrich Ames enters the mix. It then begins to seem that the Carter White House may have requested that the GI be killed rather than admit it made a mistake—and, as if all this weren't enough, two disgruntled vets begin stalking both Cabot and his main supporter in the Senate, with terminal intentions. Astoundinglydetailedwith regard to behind-the-scenes Washington, both in the halls of Congress and at CIA headquarters, but, as may seem clear enough, a tad far-fetched and overwrought.

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From Chapter One

Brad liked Cabot's way of talking, his modesty. But the truth was he'd been talking to the White House for weeks; it was a done deal, yet he told no one. Not even his wife had known ten days ago. Now Brad's life was about to change, and he didn't need a wise if exotic bird like Hugh Diamond to explain why. It was all right there on the front page of the morning's Washington Post, face out in the newspaper vending machines Brad passed every block or two on his way down Nineteenth through the freezing slush toward the Mall. Two columns, off-lead, befitting big news in a company town:

The light changed and Brad Cameron jogged across the street toward the Mall, head down against the wet snow. By now it was seven or a little later. Brad ran every morning, summer and winter, sun or rain, no matter how cold it got and, more to the point, no matter how hot. Brad's third summer in Washington was coming up; he hated the 100-degree days with a humidity reading one point short of being underwater. Brad was a true child of New England; what he loved were winters on snowshoes and summers in the cool pine forests of Maine. These Washington summers gave him serious pause. But whatever the weather he ran eight-minute miles till his body glowed pink and his yellow hair lay flat with sweat. He'd been running since he was sent off to boarding school in midterm when he was ten years old. Running gave him a feeling of peace.

Franklin S. Cabot. Years passed before most young new intelligence officers had a word alone with the man running the CIA. Some never did. Brad saw himevery week or so to report the status of news -- usually none -- about members of the U.S. military services carried for thirty years on the Pentagon's official roster of those reported Missing in Action in Vietnam. Frank Cabot was very, very attentive to this subject, and it hadn't taken Brad long to understand why -- MIAs were the passion of the chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence.

Cabot had been friendly even before Jenny came into Brad's life. He had none of the bluff swagger of some officers in the upper ranks of the CIA who were plainly anticipating greater things. His businesslike manner did not change during the weeks while the naming of the new Director of Central Intelligence had been the principal smoke-break and lunchtime game at the Agency, ever since Patrick Delaney had announced on New Year's Day that he was resigning as DCI to spend more time with his family. He was running the outfit one week, gone the next. The rumor was he rubbed the president the wrong way. But even after Cabot was named acting director, no one called him a front-runner. Too quiet, too professional, too identified with the Cold War, too . . . pick your reason. Perhaps it was his calm style; he didn't seem ready to die or kill for the job.

Over lunch in the cafeteria, or on the second floor where Brad had a windowless cubicle in the East Asia Division, or down in Records in the sub-basement where Brad spent two or three afternoons a week reading MIA files at one of the big oak tables, or in the halls and on the way out to one of the far parking lots, the names were floated and then picked apart. In the bowels of the Agency many believed that the natural and logical choice for Director of Central Intelligence was Joe Flint, Deputy Director for Operations, venerable old boy, once the fair-haired protege of the legendary Allen Dulles. The fair hair was thin now, but Flint had the respect of the professionals. In addition, he had done at least one important favor for every president since John F. Kennedy. They loved him on the Hill, they hated him at Harvard, he had never been caught in a lie, it was widely accepted in Washington that among many other exploits he had personally recruited the secretary of a member of the old Soviet Politburo in 1979, and he had no enemies at the Pentagon. Flint had earned his shot at the job.

But Joe Flint had at least one blot in his copybook. A dozen years back he had informed an unmarried but pregnant case officer working for him in the Tel Aviv station that he was going to ship her home unless she got an abortion. God knows what was going through his mind. She got a lawyer, and the CIA's general counsel unwisely asked this lawyer for a couple of days to consider their offer to settle.

The next day The Washington Post ran a front-page story by Faith Osborne reporting the awful facts. Osborne had a way with stories about the treatment of women by men in Washington. First she reported the crime. Then she reported the inadequate and self-serving official response to the crime. Then she reported the spreading national indignation of politically active organizations at attempts to cover up the crime. Faith Osborne kept Joe Flint's name on the front page for a week, and despite Flint's eventual apology -- and a cash settlement sufficient to send the infant to the private school, college, and law school of his choice -- it was considered something of a miracle, much later, when Flint was appointed the Agency's Deputy Director for Operations and actually assumed the post.

"But that was all years ago," said Brad at lunch one day with Hugh. Brad had seen Flint only once, in the auditorium, at a memorial service for a recently deceased old boy. Flint was just about the last of his generation -- he had joined up during the Korean War -- but there was no stoop to his shoulders, no slack to his chin or gut. Sitting in the second row of the Bubble, exchanging an occasional word with Deputy Director for Intelligence Frank Cabot, next to him, a rival of many years' standing, Flint looked weathered but vigorous. Everything was still new to Brad at the time; he gawked when he saw these legends in the flesh.

Flint had risen in his turn and spoke of the deceased briefly but with feeling as a man you could trust with your life; he knew, he had done it.

"Few people recognized him in the halls," said Flint. "Fewer knew his role in creating this agency. Running a secret intelligence organization requires silence while other men are giving press conferences. You young men and women out there -- we were like you once, fresh out of college, full of ambition and love of country, ready to lay down our lives. Some of us did; you've all seen their names and stars in the main hall. But trust me, the time will come when it will seem easier to die than to hold your tongue."

Flint made a strong impression. He seemed like the sort of man Brad's father had known in the Agency just after the Korean War. Some flap ended his dad's career: Brad's mother was vague; his uncle Max said the simple answer was Joe McCarthy. That was as close as Brad could get. After leaving the Agency, Brad's father went to law school, married late, and died at sixty when Brad was only ten. But Uncle Max often said how much his father's Agency years meant to him. He invited Brad home often for weekends during the bleak boarding-school years and helped him get into college. It was Uncle Max who introduced him, one memorable night at the St. Botolph Club, to the correct method for making a martini and brought him as a teenager to Washington to meet some of his father's old Agency friends. In the absence of Brad's mother, whose chief talent was for marrying rich husbands, Uncle Max had exerted a powerful influence on Brad's life.

"Flint will never be DCI," said Hugh Diamond. "Faith Osborne isn't the only one with a long memory in this town. That kid is probably a cute little tyke with freckles by now and you can bet the rent money that Faith knows exactly where to find him. Trust me. Flint's days are numbered. The new DCI is going to want his own DDO."

Hugh had taken Brad under his wing soon after his first day on the job, explained the world to him, warned him where the footing was treacherous. He'd been around forever, knew everybody, broke the rules when they gave him trouble. "I'm going to tell you the secret of intelligence forecasting," he said, one day early on. "The bad news is always true. When you know that, you know the worst."

Diamond wrote off all the obvious candidates for DCI with precision. "Who's left?" asked Brad.

"Who's left!" exclaimed Hugh. "The phone lines are humming with candidates calling the president's friends right this minute, and the friends of his friends, and the guys who only went to kindergarten with the friends of his friends. Many roads lead to the seventh floor: guys who used to sell rockets to Uncle Sam, guys who won hearts and minds in Vietnam, guys who made a hundred million bucks in the computer business, guys who run study groups on nonproliferation for the Council on Foreign Relations, guys who spotted Anderson in the primaries. . . ."

In six weeks of talk Brad heard Cabot's name seriously argued only once. "Cabot's a decent guy," said a reports writer visiting from Russia. "They trust him on the Hill, Hawkins loves him, he actually knows something about computers, he's never been trashed by the Post or the Times -- what's wrong with Cabot?"

"For one thing," said Hugh, "Cabot was a life member of the Don't-Trust-the-Russians Club."

"Nobody around here got that right."

"He's too careful, too bland, too smooth."

"From what I see," said the reports writer, "around here smooth is good."

"All right," said Hugh, "make your best case."

"I met Cabot once," said the reports writer. "He was kicking tires in the Moscow station. He had a free night, and we played chess. I'll tell you something about Cabot. He thinks three moves ahead."

"Who won?" asked Diamond.

"The next DCI," said the reports writer.

Meet the Author

Thomas Powers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose most recent book, Heisenberg's War: The Secret History of the German Bomb, was published simultaneously in four countries -- the United States, Germany, France, and Britain -- where it received wide notice and sparked continuing controversy. He has written frequently about intelligence organizations since the publication of The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (1979). His other books include Thinking About the Next War; The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People; and Diana: The Making of a Terrorist. He lives in Vermont with his wife. This is his first novel.

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