Frederick Harrison Novels


A Course To Stay 

a novel by Frederick Harrison

Copyright 2008 by Frederick Harrison




As one acerbic columnist in the Post put it:  “It is obvious that Washington is in the grip of a malaise.   What is not clear is whether the illness is an aftereffect of the recent attempted terrorist attack in New York City or of the dizzying spin put on the significance of that event by the Tucker Administration.”    

Several weeks had passed since a terrorist plot to kill thousands of people aboard a packed ferry in New York harbor had been thwarted.    After a day of confusion and hesitation, the White House proclaimed the episode a great victory.    Not only were the terrorists prevented from achieving their objective but the mastermind of the operation, one John Balthazar, had been trapped and killed by the combined effort of the CIA, FBI, and NYPD.   This was enough to save the jobs of CIA Director Admiral Philip Bergen and FBI Director Donald McGinnis.   

            The official after-action report did not, however, reach the same conclusion as the Administration’s spinmeisters.    The document itself was classified and weighted down with so many handling and access restrictions that there was more red print on the cover than black.    Nevertheless, the thrust of it had quickly leaked to the New York press: there had been no recognized warning of a terrorist operation in preparation, and when such indications seemingly appeared, they proved to be false leads to innocent people.   As a number of those involved later admitted privately, the good guys had lucked out.

            “Was this an intelligence failure, Admiral?”  Senator Michael Peck wanted to know.   Peck was the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and had taken advantage of his seniority to schedule the first round of hearings on lessons learned in New York.   Admiral Bergen was his star witness because the President had fired Albert Bierschmidt, the Director of National Intelligence, after the New York attack.   Peck could have called the latter to testify, but having been released from the bonds of office under a largely undeserved cloud, there could be no predicting what Bierschmidt might say just to spite the White House.

            Bergen was not happy.   This was not his fight, and he resented having to be an apologist for the White House.   “I don’t mean to be pedantic, Senator,” he responded, “but most often it’s the people who fail rather than the intelligence.    It is highly unlikely that available information pertaining to any given issue or threat will be totally unambiguous and fully instructive.    Recognizing and dealing effectively with uncertainties and ambiguities is what enables the avoidance of intelligence failures, and that can be done only by people: those who develop the intelligence, as well as those who use it to support operational countermeasures.”  

            As Bergen spoke, there seemed to be a collective intake of breath in the room.    Since 9/11, the term “intelligence failure” had become a commonly used catch-phrase employed both as accusation and rationalization: a short hand way of saying that, if only the significance of these dots had been made apparent, we  would have connected them, and wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.

            “People fail for many reasons,” he continued, “ many of which simply reflect the fact that they are human.   We tend to interpret new information in the light of what we already know, what we value, and what we fear.    Accepting warnings of the unexpected is very difficult, particularly for those bearing the responsibility for acting on them.    Deputy Mayor Caplin in New York, however, took timely action to deal with the extreme ambiguity of his available intelligence.   He hedged the lack of clear evidence of an impending attack by bringing in the helicopter gunships that ultimately saved the day.”

            “There are those who might argue that Caplin was simply covering his rear end.   But, who are we to criticize that?” Senator Mayhew observed, to nervous laughter.

            “Are you telling us, Admiral, that intelligence failures are nobody’s fault?” Senator Henry Bartlett interjected angrily.

            “Not at all, Senator,” Bergen replied.   “What I am saying is that, if we are   to improve the performance of our intelligence services, we need to focus first on the people and organizations involved and how they interoperate.    When we speak of ‘connecting the dots,’ I believe that we may be paying too much attention to the dots and not enough to the connecting part.”

            There was a moment of silence, after which every senator in the room signaled for the floor.   But, the Chairman wished to move on.

            “What you’ve just said, Admiral, should itself be the subject of hearings.   But we have two more issues we’d like your comment on.   The first has to do with Anwar al-Ghabrizi, until recently the icon of international terrorism, currently being held by us in Virginia.   Does he have any intelligence value?   What do we plan to do with him?”

            “Al-Ghabrizi’s situation has changed, with respect to his potential value,” the CIA Director responded.   “As you know, we determined after his capture that he had been deliberately betrayed to us.   There is accumulating evidence that he is no longer the dominant leader we thought him to be.    If that finally is confirmed, his value to us would be substantially reduced.    Our people are talking with him on a continuing basis.  He has shed some light on his own situation, but has yet to provide anything useful regarding his successors or other terrorists.”

            “Thank you, Admiral.   The other question is related, and pertains to the circumstances of al-Ghabrizi’s capture.   We have been told that the people who let us know where to find him did so to focus our attention on a change they would like us to make in the way we’re pursuing the war on terrorism.    Since this is not a closed session, I won’t be more specific.    But, can you give us an indication of where we stand on that?”

            Bergen hesitated for a moment.  “Actually, there isn’t much I can tell you, Senator.    Proposals have been made to us that would require significant alterations of policy and tactics.   Such matters take time to resolve, but they are being worked on.”

            Hannah Crossman, Bergen’s aide, could tell that the Admiral had reached the limit of his patience.    It would be a loud ride back to Headquarters.



Captain Ibrahim Khan of the Pakistani Security Police was having lunch with CIA’s Karachi station chief, whose cover name was Jed.    Khan had led the raiding party that arrested al-Ghabrizi, who had subsequently been turned over to the Americans.   Since then, he and Jed had met periodically in obscure places, principally for Khan to pass on information and messages his sponsors wished the U.S. Government to have.    It was not entirely clear to Jed and his superiors in Washington for whom Khan was working, but it was apparent that he was much better connected than the ordinary precinct commander.   The Captain told Jed that he was the agent of an informal consortium of men in positions of wealth and power in the Muslim world whose interests and safety were being increasingly endangered by the growth of Islamic extremism.   These men saw an ally in the West, the goals and objectives of which were congruent to theirs with respect to the threat from the fundamentalist jihad.   There was, however, a growing problem.

As Khan explained it, the manner in which the US Government was pursuing its Global War on Terror was playing into the hands of extremists by allowing them to characterize it to the Muslim masses as a general crusade against Islam.   His sponsors wanted the US and its allies to stop treating Anwar al-Ghabrizi and others like him as symbols of a vast Islamic threat to democracy and the American way-of-life.    Doing that, they claimed, only inflated the terrorists’ view of their power and importance and, more significantly, increased the number of their followers.   Khan’s sponsors’ decision to engineer al-Ghabrizi’s arrest and transfer into US custody was to be regarded as an offering and a plea.   In return for al-Ghabrizi’s removal from the scene, they fervently hoped the White House would agree not to reinvent him.  

 “It has been almost a month,” the Captain was saying, “but we have received no indication that your government is sensitive to our request that it change its approach to dealing with our extremists.   You are sure that your leaders are aware of our views?”

Jed was quick to reassure him.   “I speak with my boss by telephone frequently; he’s a Deputy Director, and briefs Admiral Bergen every day.   He told me that the Admiral relayed your sponsors’ views and desires to the senior leadership at the White House, and has raised the matter several times since then.”

“So, why then have we not heard anything?” Khan asked.

“I don’t really know,” Jed replied, “but my guess is that they’re still digesting the New York business and trying to figure out how to move forward.   Even though the attack didn’t succeed, it came so close to doing so that it still has everyone shaken up.    The White House is looking forward to the coming election, and can’t be happy with what it sees, given that the President has taken a lot of credit for protecting the country from terrorism.   I suspect your proposal will be a hard sell.”

Khan was obviously frustrated.  “We cannot continue this way much longer.   A number of my sponsors have been sufficiently weakened in their countries that their ability to maintain themselves may be in doubt.   Should any one of their governments fall and be replaced by an extremist-dominated regime, it would greatly increase the pressure on the others, and my sponsors, in self-defense, may be required to shift their support to the fundamentalists to show loyalty to their cause.”  He spoke slowly and carefully, as though trying to insure that his message reached across the world clearly and intact.

“You will recall the infamous domino theory,” he concluded.   “Well, it is alive and well, and at work in the Muslim world.”

A Course To Stay
Paperback - 273 Pages -  $12.95



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