CIA Novel Brings Sun Tzu Philosophy to Modern War

Article excerpt


"All warfare," the Chinese philosopher and tactician Sun Tzu wrote almost 3,000 years ago, "is based on de

ception." History's greatest warriors understood this simple yet profound exhortation to think outside the box.

Odysseus, who breached Troy's walls by constructing a huge hollow wooden horse, certainly personified the rare breed of outside-the-siege-tower thinkers. During World War II, a Royal British Navy lawyer named Ewen Edward Montagu pushed the Sun Tzu envelope when he mounted a clever sleight-of-hand operation to convince Germany the Allies were planning to invade the Balkans in 1943 (in fact the target was Sicily). Montagu's Operation Mincemeat was later chronicled in the book and Clifton Webb movie "The Man Who Never Was."

More recently, legendary CIA operations officer Duane "Dewey" Clarridge ran an ambitious deception that provoked psychotic paranoia in terrorist Abu Nidal's mind, causing him to destroy his own organization. "On a single night in November of 1987, approximately 170 [of his own people] were tied up and blindfolded, machine-gunned, and pushed into a trench prepared for the occasion. Another 160 were killed in Libya shortly thereafter," Mr. Clarridge writes in the 1997 autobiography "A Spy for All Seasons."

Lately, however, deception operations seem to have fallen out of favor. Whether this vacuum is due to the tsunami of risk aversion that swept over the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1990s (detritus from which still unfortunately clutters headquarters today), the culture of political correctness that eschews the sorts of amoral operations that might offend self-righteous congressional Democrats or the fact that it has become virtually impossible to keep a secret in Washington anymore, is unclear.

The bottom line, however, is simple and unsettling. For reasons unfathomable to a large segment of our most seasoned intelligence professionals both active and retired, we have abandoned a valuable weapon in our arsenal. This deplorable situation is the jumping-off point for David Ignatius' complex, intricate, Byzantine CIA novel "Body of Lies."

The novel recounts the story of Roger Ferris, an aggressive young case officer who volunteers for Iraq. Unlike most of his colleagues, who hunker down in the Green Zone and play video games, Ferris is committed to the Agency's old values: spotting, assessing, developing and recruiting agents to penetrate al Qaeda in Iraq's networks and provide the irreplaceable human-based intelligence that is so lacking these days.

"Your job is to feed the machine," CIA's Near East Division Chief and Ferris' boss Ed Hoffman tells the younger man. "You're perfect for the job, you poor bastard."

Mr. Ignatius explains: "It was true. Ferris spoke Level Four Arabic; he had dark hair and complexion that would allow him to pass as an Arab in his robes and keffiyeh, and he had that essential hunger, which he thought he could satisfy by taking risks." In Iraq, working out beyond the wire, Ferris is gravely wounded during a botched operation in which he loses a pair of his agents.

But it is not for naught: He comes away having caught a faint whiff of a new al Qaeda network that is planning a series of devastating bombings in Western Europe. The net is headed by a shadowy figure named Suleiman.

After a convalescence at Walter Reed, Ferris is given a new assignment: deputy chief of station in Amman, Jordan. There, he will liaise with Hani Salaam, the sophisticated, urbane, ruthless head of Jordan's intelligence service who is known as Pasha Hani. After Ferris' initial Jordanian-based ops to penetrate Suleiman's network fail - incurring the wrath of Hani - the American comes up with a risky but brilliant idea. Taking a page from the Brits' Operation Mincemeat and another from Mr. Clarridge's Psy Op playbook, Ferris conceives a scenario to draw Suleiman out of the shadows. …