Middle East expert MacKinnon (Morning Spy, Evening Spy) puts a fresh twist on the stolen suitcase-nuke plot in this smart thriller. Rick Behringer runs Global Reach Technologies, a company that designs communications systems, but his real job is as a contractor to the CIA. Rick specializes in what is known as "foreign matériel acquisition," which means he buys weapons illegally from other countries and passes them along to the CIA. The money is good, and Rick has a strong sense of patriotism, but mostly he likes the adrenaline high that comes with this outsourced spy work. When Rick comes across a Pakistani, Ahmed Sajid (aka "the Engineer"), who's attempting to acquire nuclear material from a Russian gangster to build an atomic weapon for terrorist purposes, Rick's CIA handlers push him to investigate. Soon Rick finds himself in serious trouble. This fine espionage procedural should please spy and adventure fans alike. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Contractorby Colin MacKinnon
Rick Behringer is an outside contractor working for the Central Intelligence Agency. He owns a small company that, in the light of day, provides communications security for government offices, including the CIA. In the shadows, though, Rick’s a spy. He runs overseas agents for the CIA and, through his firm, buys foreign-military technology that the Agency
Rick Behringer is an outside contractor working for the Central Intelligence Agency. He owns a small company that, in the light of day, provides communications security for government offices, including the CIA. In the shadows, though, Rick’s a spy. He runs overseas agents for the CIA and, through his firm, buys foreign-military technology that the Agency wants to inspect but can’t be seen purchasing.
The divorced father of two little girls, Rick carries on a cold war with his ex, Liz, and a hot romance with his sexy girlfriend, Frannie. He still broods over the mysterious death of his father, a high-level CIA officer during the Vietnam War, who committed suicide when Rick was thirteen.
Through contacts in what he calls the “Black World,” Rick hears of a mysterious Pakistani Islamist, a rogue nuclear physicist who is trying to acquire highly enriched uranium in order to construct an “Islamic bomb”—a scheme that is all too credible. In tracking him down, Rick encounters a host of characters, some willing to help, many more willing to take his life. And in the explosive conclusion, he struggles in a deadly game of wits with Russian gangsters and the terrorist who is plotting nuclear mass murder in America.
In The Contractor, Colin MacKinnon once again shows his rare ability to turn real-world fact into riveting spy fiction. The Contractor could happen . . . could be happening now.
“[A] fast-moving, nail-biting thriller.” —Tucson Citizen
“A grabby and gutsy thriller . . . with in-depth characters and finely tooled writing.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A truly compelling contemporary spy thriller.” —Booklist
Praise for Morning Spy, Evening Spy
“MacKinnon . . . shows great insight into the inner workings of U.S. intelligence. His clipped prose style, descriptive discipline, and tone-perfect dialogue elevate this thriller above the pack.” —Publishers Weekly
“This CIA procedural . . . pays off in a gut punch of an ending.” —Booklist.
“A richly drawn, splendidly written novel. . . . If you’re a thriller reader, snatch this one up. It’s the best of the year, by far.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“MacKinnon has a quiet, spare style and a knack for nailing down just the right details. . . . A nicely written thriller.” —Kirkus Reviews
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By Colin MacKinnon
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Colin MacKinnon
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"YA'LL DON'T watch the Sooners' games," Ray says, "but Ah see every one Ah can. Buddy Ambruster, you shoulda seen 'im last Saturday. Intercepted a pass — this was the Texas game, man — intercepted a pass on the thirty-yard line, ran seventy for a TD. Man, he's good."
Ray and I are having a late-afternoon drink in a café on a hilltop in Athens, a city he visits from time to time. Ray's real name is Raza Malik, but he likes to be called Ray. He's an electrical engineer with a degree from Oklahoma, where he picked up a half-Oklahoma accent and a love for American football. He is a civilian purchasing engineer with the Pakistan Military Communications Committee.
Ray's just slid a DVD in a white paper jacket across the table to me. The DVD contains the system designs for a fiber optics network PAMAC is installing. The project is called Ghazal Haft — Gazelle Seven. We think Gazelle Seven will link countrywide Pakistani military nuclear facilities with one another and with a command post near Islamabad.
We worry about Pakistan. The Pak military has at least seventy nuclear weapons. If the government falls and the military turns on itself, who will control those weapons? And the scientists who built them: What of them? Are any of them renegades? Islamists? Would any want to take what they know and build a bomb on their own? There's been talk of that.
Our ally Pakistan could be our worst nuclear nightmare.
I take the DVD and slip it into my pocket. With what we learn from this glittery little piece of plastic, we will be able to spook the Pakistani commo system. We will listen in on their conversations. We will, if the mood strikes us, take the system down, invade their country, and, if we can, seize those weapons.
The DVD is pure gold.
Ray and I share the fiction that I am an American telecoms consultant helping a small Danish company sell phone equipment internationally. Story is, my Danish client — a firm called Dansk Telefonik — manufactures fiber-optic cable and switching devices, and wants inside information on the Pakistani market, including the military, the better to write bids with. So, for a monetary consideration paid in cash, Ray supplies me with the skinny.
That's the fiction. In fact, Dansk Telefonik doesn't exist, though it has a street address in Copenhagen and a working telephone number in that city. The address is that of a friendly law firm. The phone number is backstopped to the American embassy, where a young woman pretending to be a Dansk Telefonik receptionist will answer it. To Ray, I am known as Doug Lawson. My name is Rick Behringer.
In all this, only the DVD is real.
Ray and I have come up here separately and are sitting outside the restaurant on a terrace paved with white tiles. I see Ray every couple of months somewhere in Europe, usually at various places here in Athens. When he wants a meeting Ray signals with e-mails to me. They come in from Islamabad, from Dubai in the Persian Gulf, or sometimes from Frankfurt, a city Ray seems to pass through frequently. Ray likes to sign them "Grant." I have no idea why.
Ray's forty maybe. He's short and chunky and has thick black hair he combs straight up and back. He's got a short, well-trimmed beard. He's wearing an expensive-looking yellow shirt that has a silky buffed sheen. Around his neck he's sporting a gold chain and a gold religious medal. Ray's clothing makes you think he's well off, which is the point.
As the sun goes down, Ray and I talk a little football and watch the city change color from white to rose peach. It's a bright autumn afternoon and the sky is blue and cloudless. Look down, though, and you see a gritty, yellow smog hanging over the city. I tell Ray the Parthenon, off to our west, is burning away from the acids in the air. Too many cars in a closed place, I say.
"Yeah, like Karachi. Very bad, very ugly. When you fly into the city you can look down and see it. Ah go to the north in the winter to ski. In Swat. That's a province up there. The air is very good in Swat, very fresh. Fun place to be in the winter."
The mountains Ray talks about are blue-gray, and year-round they are capped with snow. When I was a child my father once took our family on a vacation in those mountains, but I don't tell Ray this. We don't get into much about me.
Ray's shown me a picture of his wife and children, a son and a daughter, the three of them sitting on a sofa, smiling. The children are very pretty. His wife, who is wearing no veil, not even a headscarf, has a darkly beautiful face, classic Pakistani. Ray says she works in a bank.
"Kids," he says. "You have kids?" Ray and I have met numerous times, ostensibly socializing, but he has never asked this before.
"Ah. They're the joy of life. Really. You live for yourself, but you really live for them. You start thinking that everything you do, you do for them. That isn't true, of course, but you start to think that. My son Ikram is such a clever boy. He's ten years old. He plays chess. He's very good. He is champion in his school. But I think Noosheen is smarter. She's eight years old. Very good in school."
Ray's conversing easily this afternoon, as he always does, but he's edgy. He fidgets with a pack of Winstons and keeps looking over to where the café opens onto the terrace. I don't blame him. Supplying us this information is hugely risky. If Pakistani security people learn what Ray's been up to, he's a dead man.
To get us this stuff I'm pretty sure Ray has hacked a password somehow and — I'm just guessing — has used a computer not his own, maybe one he's not authorized to use. He's told me before that PAMAC security people have been around, have been more active maybe than usual in his section. He can't tell. He says they're smart. He's afraid they suspect something's amiss, that information's been accessed by someone not supposed to have it.
I'm pretty sure, one way or another, he's coming to the end of the road with us.
I slide a small package over to Ray. It contains $5,000 in cash, part payment for the DVD. He will get another $20,000 when our tech people confirm the value of the DVD's contents. Ray nods and smiles.
"You know, on this"— he eyes my pocket with the DVD in it —"there's more stuff. There's commercial information. Buyers, sellers.
Things like that." He looks at me significantly.
I've thrown in a little extra, he's saying, more than you asked for. You owe me, he's saying.
"Okay, Ray, that's great. I'll let them know."
"And about the green cards?"
Ray's wife and children all have passports and exit permits. Ray wants American immigrant visas for all of them leading to American green cards, then citizenship. He says he wants to leave Pakistan and never go back.
"I'll tell them, Ray."
Ray nods a few times, then smiles and says, "Well, slowly, slowly ..." — a phrase he uses with me when he's about to leave. "Ah'll see you, Doug," he says, "bye-bye," and departs nonchalantly with the package under his arm.
Later, on the network of paths that lead down from the café I deliver the DVD to a young man in a beige poplin suit. He is from the American embassy. He slips away into the dusk without saying a word.
On my slow and roundabout way back to my hotel I am followed. I think there are two of them, a shabbily-dressed young man carrying a blue daypack and a chic young woman, a brunette with long, straight crimson-streaked hair and lots of bracelets. As I pass through the turmoil of cars and buses at Omonia Square, through the shoppers, metro passengers, hookers, street peddlers, and out-of-work Albanians, Serbs, and North Africans, I notice the pair. They've been moving together, though they seem not to know each other. They stay with me.
I'm not sure I am being tailed, you just can't know with these things, and if these two are taking an interest in me, I can't know why. Ray, of course. But I've worked Athens a lot, done some black — very black — phone work here, and governmental interest in my doings in this city wouldn't surprise me. I doubt the people who set up the tail know a thing about Ray.
On St. Constantine I catch a cab west, then change to another on Achilles Boulevard, and head south. I've ditched them, I think.
If I haven't been imagining them.
* * *
My daughters call me Telephone Man — good enough name, I suppose. I own a company, a real one, called Global Reach Technologies, which I started fifteen years back and which has done pretty well. Global Reach is based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. We design and install communications systems for small businesses and government offices. And not just in the U.S. We've done a lot of work overseas, with firms in Athens, Amman, Dubai, Islamabad. We're also an Internet service provider. I've got a few full-time employees, but mostly I use a bunch of freelancers and outside experts. Depends on the job.
The name Global Reach I invented on a summer evening sitting in a lawn chair on the still warm concrete patio of the house I shared with my wife of the time. I was buzzed on scotch, which made the choice of name seem particularly apt, but even in the sober morning of the day after, the name — Global Reach Technologies — sounded good. I didn't want the name to say too much or get too specific; you couldn't tell how the company would grow, what undreamed directions it might take. And I didn't want it to say too little, either — my vision was all the wide world. Global Reach — just right. And as Duke Ellington said, "If it sounds good, it is good." He was talking about music, of course.
In time, and simply in the nature of things, Global Reach got into more secret work for our clients — detecting taps and other kinds of eavesdropping, setting up encryption for them, training them in security techniques, defending against hacks.
Then we got into the really secret work.
I am a contractor to the Central Intelligence Agency, one of their outside consultants. As I do with private businesses, I help design and secure their communications systems. I'm what's known as a "green badger," from the color of the ID badge the Agency has given me, a green and white plastic card, adorned with my name and Agency number, my photo, a washed-out looking identigram based on that same photo, and an impressive line of bar code that signifies I'm employed by the Agency as an outside hire. The regular Agency troops, the employees, carry blue and white badges.
I'm also — by mere chance — in what the Agency calls the "foreign matériel acquisition" trade. The phrase, like a lot of Agency terminology, doesn't quite say it. What I do is buy other countries' weapons — radar, rockets, commo systems, whatever — buy them from whoever will sell them to me and turn them over for inspection to CIA, DIA, and other U.S. intelligence agencies. I make use of funny banks and strange airlines. I work through middlemen in the arms trade — Russians, Brits, Israelis, most of them — and through officers on the take from various militaries around the world.
Over the years I have brought in a variety of toys for our spook engineers — a new Chinese shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile with its technical manuals; a Swedish mobile radio system used by the Iranian army and Pasdaran; a complete North Korean short-range surface-to-surface missile, also with technical manuals, this last a major coup.
Global Reach isn't the only company in the FMA trade. There must be six or seven others in town, most of them quiet little firms like us, with opaque company names and small staffs, situated, like us, in out-of-the-way little office parks in northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs.
I got into the business a few years after starting up Global Reach. A man named Hawk Stedman called me about "doing some government work." Stedman — he wanted people to call him "Hawk" because he thought it sounded better than Hawthorne, his given name — pitched me over diet Cokes in a cluttered Agency suite (lots of filing cabinets and file boxes, too many chairs for the rooms) in a federally leased high-rise in Tysons Corners, Virginia, a few miles out Dolley Madison from CIA. The suite looked over the Tysons traffic mess and the distant green hills of northern Virginia.
"You're established," Hawk said. "Have been for three or four years now. You've got a track record. Global Reach does real jobs for real clients, has real employees. People can look you up in Dun & Bradstreet. You've got a legitimate Web site.
"We need some help. There's a company we want to deal with. It's a Lebanese firm, works out of Cyprus, in Larnaca. Town on the south coast. They buy and sell telecoms equipment. We want Global Reach to put in an order for a phone system through them. It's Russian-built. We'll give you the all the details on it, no problem. Just buy the system in your company's name and turn it over to us.
"You'll have to go to Larnaca in person — can't do this over the phone. We know the company CEO, he's trusted. Okay guy. You'll have to prove who you are and show bona fides. When that's all done, just shake hands and pay him. We'll reimburse for time, trouble, and expenses plus ten percent. That's all. Easy to do. I can't tell you much more than this. But I can tell you that if you do this, you'll be doing your country a great favor. I mean that."
I was no stranger to the Agency. My father, Walter Behringer, had been a high-level CIA officer before his death. A lot of Agency people knew me or knew who I was. (In fact, I did my first work for the Agency the summer between junior and senior year in high school. I was what they called a "records analyst" — that is, I helped decide where classified documents should be filed and carried them to the appropriate clerk.) That I was Walt Behringer's son is probably why Stedman called me. They'd checked me out beforehand. They always do.
Two days after Stedman made the offer, I signed a formal agreement and other papers — among them, my will — in that same cluttered suite in Tysons and became a player in our government's FMA trade. Stedman had an attorney from the Office of the General Counsel there to oversee the deal.
For its Non-Official Cover officers — its NOCs — the Agency makes up whole identities and furnishes them with props for their act, down to their pocket litter. Agency NOCs run bogus companies, like Dansk Telefonik, with arranged addresses and phony letterhead stationery. And like Dansk Telefonik, these phony companies often have working telephones that are backstopped somewhere, usually to Langley, sometimes to a foreign station.
But these days the Agency also has real companies out working for it — companies like mine, Global Reach. A kind of privatization, I suppose. The Agency likes energy companies, international law firms, banks with overseas branches — firms whose execs and employees travel around asking questions.
Business travel, when you think about it, is not just like spying, it is spying. On the road you meet your counterparts at conferences, or in clients' offices, or maybe the American embassy if you're visiting the commercial and econ officers or the mil attachés. And you trade gossip. If you're in sales to governments, you want to know who's who at your target ministry. You want to know the structure of the ministry, the ministry's budgeting, the personnel, who's at the ministries buying what. You also wantto know about your competition: what they're offering, what they're charging. So you ask. And you become known as a person who goes around asking questions. Perfect cover for a spy.
The Lebanese company was called Cedar Telecoms, the Russian company, Golorg. The phone system — I found this out years later — was identical to a special network secretly ordered from Golorg by the government of Libya for its chief foreign intelligence organization. The network had an ingenious encryption-decryption capability the Russians had designed. CIA and NSA wanted to have a look at it.
Golorg had skirted international sanctions — you couldn't legitimately sell much of anything technical to the Libyans back then — by going through Cedar Telecoms in Cyprus, which happily supplied Golorg with a fake end-user certificate stating the system was going to a Lebanese government agency. Golorg wasn't averse to selling the identical system to — well, to whoever. Neither was Cedar Telecoms.
Shortly after I sign that contract at Tysons, I fly into Larnaca. Tourist city: seafront, palm trees, Brits, Germans, noise. I meet the CEO of Cedar Telecoms, a chubby little man with sloping eyes named Fuad al-Khazen in an office owned by something called Eastern Trading Establishment. Cedar Telecoms, al-Khazen says, has no offices of its own in Cyprus, and the Eastern Trading premises are on loan. Eastern Trading occupies space on the second story of a dusty, paper-strewn commercial arcade south of the marina, near the bus station. We meet at night because al-Khazen wants it that way. Stores in the passage — Syrios Camera, an art-supply shop, a jewelers, a barbershop — are shut, steel gratings pulled down over their windows and secured to the pavement with huge locks. The arcade is deserted.
Excerpted from The Contractor by Colin MacKinnon. Copyright © 2009 Colin MacKinnon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Colin MacKinnon is former chief editor of Middle East Executive Reports. He is the author of the well-received novels Finding Hoseyn and Morning Spy, Evening Spy. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with his wife, Diane.
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