Frederick Harrison Novels



November Station

a novel by Frederick Harrison

Copyright 2015 by Frederick Harrison


            “Do you recall that book by James Lipton, the one in which he tells you what to call the multiple of something, like a gaggle of geese or a pride of lions?” Philip Bergen asked his assembled colleagues.

            “I believe it’s called an Exaltation of Larks,” Hannah Crossman responded.   “Some of the others I recall are a leap of leopards and a parliament of owls.”

            “Well, I’ve got a new one for him: a surfeit of drones.   I’ve come to absolutely despise the word ‘drone,’” Bergen declared with uncharacteristic vehemence.    The retired Admiral, National Security Advisor to President Mason Kitteridge, stood up and began to pace the room, stopping to refill his glass from a bottle of single malt scotch pulled from a desk drawer.    His companions, Director of National Intelligence James Detwiler, CIA Director Sam Glover, and Detwiler’s principal assistant Hannah Crossman, nodded sadly in agreement.   They were in Bergen’s White House office at the end of a long and extremely frustrating day of seemingly endless meetings at which the Intelligence Community had been the target of vehement and repetitious criticism actually being directed at the President.   The single focal point of ire was the drone, formally known by the more dignified name unmanned air vehicle or UAV, myriad examples of which were appearing on the international and domestic scenes to bedevil just about everyone in Washington hoping to focus attention on mundane but more cogent domestic issues like the federal deficit.

            “Who went to the House Intelligence Committee hearing?” Bergen asked.

            “It wasn’t our turn to testify,” Detwiler responded, “so I sent Hannah to show the flag while I was across the way playing nice with Senator Crabtree and his crew.”    The three seniors turned to look at Hannah Crossman, who officially was James Detwiler’s personal aide, but in practice worked for all three men, assuring that each was aware of what the others were doing, and that what they needed to do got done.    She had started six years earlier as Philip Bergen’s gatekeeper when he was CIA Director, an assignment given her—along with a promotion in grade—as a respite from consecutive undercover postings overseas as a member of the Agency’s Clandestine Service.     When the Admiral was appointed Director of National Intelligence, Hannah Crossman, now recognized to be a reliable extension of Bergen and his office, went along.    But when President Kitteridge later transferred him to the White House, she elected to remain behind to work for his successor, James Detwiler, a career FBI executive whom Bergen had brought into CIA to improve cooperation among intelligence and law enforcement agencies.    The Triple Threat, as the trio was known irreverently (and covertly) within the Intelligence Community, was completed by Sam Glover, a career CIA clandestine operations officer, brought back by Bergen after he had retired to protest politicization of CIA operations by Kitteridge’s predecessor.    Hannah and Glover were old friends;  he was her boss while she labored through foreign assignments, both dangerous and tedious, at times hidden from head to toe in the formless garb demanded by fundamentalist Islam.

            “Representative Jones was in usual rare form on his favorite subject: the evilness of drones,” Hannah reported.     “He’s not been able to get by the image of handsome, well-groomed young people seated comfortably at consoles, fifteen or twenty minutes from where they live, guiding a missile attack on hapless civilians in some shabby mountain village six thousand miles away.”

            “It is a difficult concept to get your mind around,” Detwiler acknowledged, “particularly if you remember the way wars used to be fought.”

            “And now,” Sam Glover added, “we’re encountering drones everywhere, with no great restriction yet on who can fly them and where.    For a few hundred dollars, you can buy one at your local hobby shop and fly it around the neighborhood, using your cell phone as a controller.   Eventually, they will be monitoring rush hour traffic, maintaining neighborhood security, detecting illegal parking, and, perhaps crashing into one another as they pass over your house.”

            “But the truly scary aspect of the public’s reaction to our drone operations,” Bergen insisted, “is that it is becoming a moral abstraction.   It’s not the aircraft themselves, the electronics, or even the missiles they fire that’s creating the biggest buzz, but rather the idea that someone a long distance away can find you, watch what you do, then kill you with the touch of a button.    I found it fascinating to watch the focus of national debate jump quickly and seamlessly from the killing of an American traitor in Yemen to whether or not the President has the right to order the killing, by drone, of an American citizen on U.S. soil, as though one was the logical forerunner of the other.”

            “In point of fact, however, we are likely to see Americans killed by fire from a UAV in the United States sooner or later,” James Detwiler predicted, “although not by Presidential order.    UAVs are already finding their way into the inventories of domestic law enforcement agencies, and rightly so.   Eventually, there will come a situation in which a bad guy or bunch of them, armed to the teeth, are barricaded in a position that can’t be successfully attacked without seriously risking good guys’ lives.    It will be an analog to the situations we face in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, but it won’t be the President giving the order to shoot, but rather a governor, police chief or on-scene commander.   It never ceases to amaze me how no serious subject can be debated here in Washington without bringing in politics and ideology.”

            “Makes life interesting for journalists and book writers,” Glover opined dryly.

            “Maybe so,” Bergen acknowledged, “but if we end up with serious restrictions on our ability to operationally employ UAVs, we’ll have lost the use of one of the most effective weapons systems available for fighting the kind of war we’ve been involved in since 9/11.    Now, even the United Nations is investigating the morality of using drones to kill people.    I don’t want to even think about how the White House would react to condemnation by the UN.”

            Sam Glover laughed harshly.   “Before dealing with that one, we’ll need to figure out what we’re going to do about Molly Cooper.”

            “Who?” barked Bergen and Detwiler simultaneously.    Glover waved a sheet of paper pulled from his jacket pocket.

            “This note was handed to me as I left to come down here.   It’s from Dennis McGinnis.”   McGinnis was Director of the FBI.

            James Detwiler looked over to Hannah Crossman, who nodded and told him:   “We got the note also.   I haven’t had the opportunity to give it to you.    The Bureau wants our help again.”

            “Who is Molly Cooper, and why is she aggravating Dennis McGinnis?”

            Glover continued:  “Molly Cooper is a woman who has apparently declared her intention to go to Somalia, Yemen or wherever to establish herself as a shield for local insurgent leaders against attack by our Predator drones.    She’s making an appeal through social media for expense money and for others to join her.”

             “As though we don’t already have enough problems, ” Bergen moaned.  

            “The FBI tells us,” Hannah explained, “that Molly’s now located here in the Washington area, and has a history of being arrested for chaining herself to other peoples’ doors and fences.   Her plan of action is really quite simple and could, it seems to me, be very effective.   Cooper plans to establish highly visible and well-advertised residences wherever extremist leaders have their headquarters, the proximity of the two being sufficiently close as to ensure that a drone-launched missile would certainly destroy both.   She and her associates would scrupulously avoid any contact with the extremists, so that they could not be charged with aiding or consorting.    Presumably, the bad guys would be smart enough to appreciate the benefit to them, and tacitly cooperate.”

            “The rationale for all this,” Detwiler concluded, “being the belief that we would be forbidden to risk killing or injuring non-combatant civilians, particularly ones who were maintaining a daily blog on their websites viewed by millions around the world.   What do you think?”

            “I’m afraid you’re right on,” Sam Glover responded.  “I would be very interested in knowing what the President thinks,” he added, looking at the   Admiral.

            “I intend to brief him first thing in the morning,” Bergen informed them.

“This business will be all over the media before we know it.   I would lay big odds that the reason McGinnis sent this note was to put us, rather than the Bureau, in the position of opening this can of worms in front of the President.   Our Molly is still here in the United States and, as far as we know, has done nothing yet outside the country.   So, this is a domestic law enforcement issue, not a foreign intelligence matter, to the extent it’s yet anything at all.”

            “I don’t blame Dennis for trying to dump it off on us, if he can.   Nothing good is going to come of this,” James Detwiler remarked sympathetically.   “I would do it, if I were still with the Bureau.”   He turned to Hannah Crossman.

            “We need to get out in front of this one, Hannah.   Let’s give Dennis the meeting he’s asking for.    Before you go to the President with this, Phil, we should determine what we’ll recommend to him after he says: What the fuck?”

            The FBI was eager, so the meeting took place late the next day, Director McGinnis himself opening the discussion:

            “Given the heat the Administration is already taking about its drone employment policy, adding Molly Cooper and her cohort to the fray could cause things to spiral out of control, maybe even force Kitteridge to tighten UAV rules of engagement to our operational disadvantage.”    The others nodded.

            “It would be a damned shame,” Bergen agreed.

            “Tell us more about this Molly Cooper, Dennis,” James Detwiler requested.   McGinnis turned to Rachel Perron, a supervisory special agent from the Bureau’s Washington Field Office who had accompanied him.

            “Miss Cooper was born and grew up in a small town in Kansas.   She bailed out for the big city after high school, initially to New York, where she went to the City College while supporting herself through a series of part-time jobs, sometimes two or three at a time.    With her college degree, she was able to get better jobs, but never seemed to settle down in a particular profession, perhaps because of her active involvement in a number of social and political protest organizations.   She spent a lot of her time on New York City streets and in the parks demonstrating for or against one thing or another, ending up on more than one occasion a temporary guest of the NYPD.   Miss Cooper is currently in her early thirties and, when she works at it, quite presentable.”

            “When did she move to Washington and why?” Sam Glover asked.

            “Almost six months ago.   It was the drone business that brought her.   She had been devoting most of her attention to protesting the financial crisis, spending many days occupying a park in Lower Manhattan.   A lot of that time must have been spent reading up on current affairs, because she suddenly decided the real action was in Washington.”

            “Where is she living down here?  What does she do for money?”

            “Ms. Cooper is very bright and, as I’ve said, can make herself quite presentable.   She quickly got a job here with a think tank that focuses on the issues in which she’s interested and allows her the leeway to make a pain-in-the-ass of herself in her free time.   The pay is not great, but enough to where she’s not living in a shelter or under a bridge.”

            “Do we know how she anticipates being able to fund this grand scheme we’re so worried about?” Admiral Bergen asked.

            “Availability of the Internet has given rise to something called crowd sourcing, a practice that’s been helped immeasurably by the advent of social media.    It’s very simple:  you make a case on line for what it is you’re trying to do and ask people to help you do it.    Sympathetic readers then send you money, using their credit cards and established on-line payment facilities.   Individual contributions are generally small, but there can be many thousands of them.    Ms. Cooper and her friends have set up a website called Say No to Drones on which they are making their pitch for support.   As a matter of fact, the first we learned of what she’s up to came from monitoring that website.”

            “You’re telling us she lays out on a website her plans for protecting extremist murderers from our UAV attacks?” James Detwiler asked incredulously.

            “Not at all.   There is actually nothing specific stated as to how they propose to go about their mission, only that the challenge is obviously international in scope, and will require action outside the United States, all of which will be expensive and require very generous contributions.”

            “What’s been the response thus far?” Glover asked.

            “Well, the campaign has been going only for a couple of weeks, but it seems apparent they will get as much money as they need.    The website is being accessed from all over the world and contributions are coming from everywhere.   Most, as expected, are of the five and ten dollar variety, but there have been a handful in the thousand and five thousand dollar range.   You won’t be surprised to learn that almost all big donations come from the Middle East or Central Asia, their specific sources untraceable.   Our suspicions as to who the contributors are will be obvious to you.”

            “Isn’t there something that can be done to stop them?” Bergen asked, knowing the answer.    FBI Director McGinnis responded.

            “Phil, I’m not sure that even what we’re doing just to monitor the traffic going to and from the website is entirely legal.   There is nothing being done or talked about on the site that is overtly illegal.   What I’ve told you about Cooper’s plans and intentions comes from a cooperating human source we think is reliable.   Nothing has appeared on the website that, in the view of our lawyers, goes beyond constitutionally protected free speech and opinion.    All of their rants are anti-drone, never pro extremist.”

            “So, what’s your plan?”

            “Not much, I’m afraid,” the FBI Director admitted.   “We’ll keep watching them, from both outside and inside, until they break the law.   Then, we’ll grab ‘em.   Problem is that, by the time that happens, Ms. Cooper and her friends can have caused a lot of damage.”

            “You don’t think, do you, they could force the President to abandon our UAV strategy?” James Detwiler asked, turning to stare at Philip Bergen.   The Admiral shook his head, but slowly.

            “I wouldn’t think so, particularly now that he’s in his second term and doesn’t have to worry about reelection.    But, these days, you never know.   The spotlight is on the Congress, which is where the funding comes from.   The Members are all over the place on the subject of drones.   Some know what they’re talking about, others don’t.”

            “But that’s not the real threat here,” the FBI Director interrupted.    “Cooper and her people, we’re told, are looking to establish highly visible sanctuaries from drone attack in the heart of terrorist country.   They plan to set up as many of them as the money and people they get will support.   Their key premise is that we will not attack a target where Americans, particularly non-combatants, are known to be located.”

            “I would bet they’re right,” Sam Glover responded.   “It will be interesting to see how the American people will react to that?”

            “At the moment,” Admiral Bergen volunteered in a worried voice, “I’m more interested in how President Kitteridge will react.   The last thing he needs to do is get caught in the middle of a shouting match between moralists and pragmatists about how America is supposed to behave in world affairs.”

            “So, what do we do now, if anything?” James Detwiler asked.  

            “Actually, that’s why I asked for this meeting,” Dennis McGinnis responded.   “It would likely come to nothing, but I propose your Ms. Crossman meet with this Molly Cooper.   She may be unlikely to change her mind about anything, but Hannah can at least make her aware of the implications and prospective consequences of what she and her people are planning to do.   We might also pick up some useful intelligence about where and when they plan to act.”

            Hannah, who had been studiously staying out of the way while her bosses wrestled with the intractable, felt all eyes flash in her direction.    Well, she thought, it’s not like they want me to parachute into darkest Afghanistan.   Cooper is living in Arlington, just down the road.

            “How would we arrange such a get-together?” Detwiler asked.

            “Completely openly and straightforwardly,” McGinnis replied.  “One of the principal reasons for having Ms. Crossman do it, rather than one of my people, is that Cooper will know that, unlike the FBI, the CIA has no domestic mission or authority.   That should reduce the level of tension surrounding the meeting and make Cooper more likely to show up, if only out of curiosity.   Everything needs to be completely overt:  Ms. Crossman’s identity should be completely known to them, and she will need to explain in advance why we are asking for the meeting and what we want to talk about.    If she wishes, Cooper can choose the time and place.”

            “What do you think, Hannah?” James Detwiler asked his principal assistant.

            “I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle a situation in which the other side knows who I really am, and I’m not talking with them through a slit in my veil,” she responded.

            A moment of silence was followed by general, highly relieved, laughter.    When it was over, Admiral Bergen added a serious note:

            “Should this meeting come to pass, we need to assume it will become known to the media, hopefully long after the fact.   The less they learn about it, the more it will be open to speculation and distortion as to what occurred and the motivation of the participants.   It is critical we do nothing that could be construed to support a conclusion that a group of idealistic, young students was being dragooned by a bunch of cynical Government spooks.   

            “I don’t plan to tell the President of this initiative until after it’s over, so that he can legitimately deny knowing of it, in the event it blows up in our faces.   Since I am officially only an advisor, it’s not in my power to authorize the meeting, so the responsibility falls to the Directors of National Intelligence and the CIA.   I assume you gentlemen will have no problem with that.”

            He fixed his stare on Detwiler and Glover.   They, in turn, fixed theirs on Hannah Crossman.


“My name is Hannah Crossman.   Is this Ms. Molly Cooper?”

            “Who gave you this unlisted number?”

            “It was the FBI, actually.”    Long silence.

            “Are you with the FBI?”

            “No.  I’m with the CIA.”    Even longer silence.

            “What do you want?”

            “I would like to get together with you for an informal chat, completely unofficial, and at your choice of time and place.”

            “Why would I want to talk with the CIA?  We’re having enough trouble with the FBI.   Are you guys also following us around?”

            “Not to my knowledge, Ms. Cooper.   The CIA has no operational jurisdiction within the United States.   But we do have a lot of experience overseas, and I would like to share some of that with you.”

            “Why would you want to do that?”

            “Because our most important responsibility overseas is furthering America’s interests, which includes safeguarding her citizens.   Quite frankly, Ms. Cooper, we are interested in keeping you and your friends from possibly having your asses shot off.”

            They met in a crowded restaurant in a suburban Virginia shopping mall chosen by Molly Cooper, as she later told Hannah, because its extreme public exposure substantially reduced her fear of waking up the next morning in a cell at Guantanamo Bay.   Molly was accompanied by two young men who turned out to be lawyers rather than bodyguards.   Hannah had difficulty picking Cooper out of the midday crowd, and was forced to rely on a discreet pointer from the FBI trailer hovering in the background at Director McGinnis’s insistence.

            “I agreed to this meeting as much to see what you looked like as from interest in what you might have to say,” Cooper began.   “I’ve never seen a CIA agent in person before, let alone a woman agent.   Actually, you look a lot like me, only better looking and more expensively dressed.   Our tastes in clothing appear similar, and we both are apparently drawn to unusual occupations.”  

Hannah had to agree.   She had been unable to pick out her luncheon companion from among the crowd in the restaurant because she didn’t look like Hannah had anticipated people would look who were planning to do the kinds of things of which the FBI was suspecting Molly Cooper.   Actually, other than both being tall, Hannah Crossman and Molly Cooper did not look at all alike.   Reflecting her Lebanese heritage, Hannah was dark-eyed with auburn hair and skin that implied an active life outdoors she never actually had the time or inclination to enjoy.   Cooper, on the other hand, was indifferently blonde.    But she had large blue eyes framed by dark lashes and a dazzling smile that made disinterest virtually impossible.

            The two men with Molly Cooper were Ryan Greenburg and Andrew Obermeyer, members of her protest organization, Say No to Drones, which at the moment claimed 34,593 adherents according to the frequently changing counter on its website.   Almost every one of that number had made a monetary contribution to the cause of prohibiting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct lethal attacks on human beings anywhere on Earth.    Greenburg and Obermeyer were principals of an organization called Lawyers Against Outrage that was providing free legal services to Molly Cooper as part of its mission.    They were professionally attired in dark suits, conservative ties and matching attaché cases.

            “You gentlemen look like you’re prepared to deal with almost anything the Government might throw at you,” Hannah noted with a slightly mischievous smile.   “Are you planning to go abroad with Ms. Cooper to man the safe havens she’s planning to establish for prospective drone targets?”

            The men were shocked, and looked to Molly Cooper for an explanation.

            “How do you know what we plan to do?” she almost shouted at Hannah.  “We haven’t put that out on our website yet.”

            “We are, after all, the CIA,” Hannah replied reasonably, with a straight face.    Cooper and her friends looked around apprehensively, but no one else in the room appeared interested in them.

            “Molly hasn’t told us about that yet,” Obermeyer admitted.

            “You are laughing at me, Ms. Crossman,” Molly Cooper noted, strangely without anger.

            “Actually, I’m not,” Hannah replied.   “I don’t find the actions you’re contemplating to be in the least amusing, nor do a lot of people in a position to make the lives of you and your associates extremely difficult.    My principal reason for asking to meet with you is that my bosses want to make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into.   Another reason, I admit, was the reciprocal of yours: I too was curious to see what you look and act like.”

            “Well, what do you think?”

            “I’m afraid you’re going to turn out to be too much like me.”

            They laughed, in spite of themselves, to the dismay of Greenburg and Obermeyer, and met again three days later, this time without lawyers and FBI shadow.   It was a Saturday, and Spring (for a change) had arrived in Washington just in time for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.    The event is a really big deal in the Nation’s Capital, unofficially marking the beginning of the tourist season.   It is also a metaphor for the city’s preoccupation with the often dysfunctional affairs of government, not only Federal, but also those of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia which come together at the Potomac River.    The festival occurs every year, and attracts tens of thousands to the area near the river and tidal basin covered with flowering cherry trees, descendants of those given to the nation by Japan in 1912.   Preparations and expenditures needed to accommodate the visitors, and to sell them stuff, represent a major investment by both government and commerce.   The cherry blossoms, however, do as they please: blooming, fading, delaying to the dictates of Mother Nature rather than the National Park Service.  The one saving grace is that, when there aren’t many blossoms to be seen, it is generally also too cold and windy to be wandering around by the river.

            This year, however, an unusually cold winter had broken just before the festival, and was followed by an equally unusual warm spell, which brought the blossoms to peak right on schedule.   So, Hannah and Molly Cooper were able to wander companionably in comfort, troubled only by the occasional careening stroller pushed by a frenzied toddler who had momentarily escaped its parents’ watchful gaze.

            “I still can’t believe we’re getting all this attention from the FBI and CIA when we haven’t done anything yet,” Molly Cooper exclaimed.   “What is it you do at the CIA, Hannah?”

            “At the moment, I’m working as an assistant to James Detwiler, the Director of National Intelligence.”

            “What do you do for him?”

            “A bit of this and that.”    Molly smiled at the non-answer she had anticipated.

            “Does Mr. Detwiler know you’re spending time and effort chasing after me and my friends?”

            “It was actually his suggestion.   He thought you would rather meet with me than the FBI.”

            “Well, the prospect of the FBI certainly scared the you-know-what out of Greenburg and Obermeyer.   My choice would be no meeting at all.   I resent like hell the Government pushing me around and telling me what I can and cannot do—and not just the Feds.    The cops in New York were forever harassing us, not only when we were demonstrating in the streets, but also tapping our phones and following us around.”

            “They must have held a big celebration when you moved to Washington.”

            Molly Cooper smiled and flicked off a cherry blossom petal that had settled on Hannah’s shoulder.

            “Yeah, well I guess the cops down here, not to mention the FBI, are waiting breathlessly to find out what we plan to do.   Up in New York, we had basically just the NYPD.   Down here, in addition to the Metropolitan Police and the Park Police, every Government department seems to have its own police force.”

            “We don’t want you to feel like you haven’t gotten our attention, Molly.   There are a lot of places to hold a demonstration here in Washington, depending on the points you’re trying to make.   You can do it outside the White House, and bring the Secret Service into the mix or on Capitol Hill and involve the Capitol Police.   There’s The Pentagon just across the river and, if you can muster a really big turnout, the National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial at one end, the Capitol at the other, and the Washington Monument in the middle.   Have you thought about which venue would be most appropriate to a complaint against drones?”

            Cooper laughed.   “You are just trying to worm information out of me.   We haven’t decided anything yet.   But, you know very well the location of a demonstration is far less important than the size of the turnout.   If you don’t get what the public believes is an impressive number of people showing up, your cause will be hurt and whatever carrying on is done considered a sign of desperation.   Suppose we decided to rally on the National Mall and only thirty-five people showed up.   How would that look on the six o’clock news?    The truth is, Hannah, I don’t yet know how strong our cause is or—to be honest—whether or not we have a cause at all.”

            “Well, I hope you decide that you don’t,” Hannah urged forthrightly.   “It would save us all a lot of trouble and, perhaps, your freedom.   I’ve seen the FBI’s background assessment of you: it says you’re not an inveterate troublemaker or extremist.   As a matter of fact, the profilers who have evaluated what they know about you profess to be mystified why you act the way you do.”

            “I don’t know myself sometimes,” Molly Cooper confessed.   “But, if the Government is that scared of me, I’d better start thinking about it.”


November Station

Paperback - 409 Pages - $14.50





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