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Red Rabbit



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“Sucker bet,” the Deputy Director (Operations) snorted.

“At Snyder’s,” the Deputy Director (Intelligence) goaded further. It was the favorite steak house for both executives, located just across the Key Bridge in Georgetown.

Judge Arthur Moore, the Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI, watched the exchange with amusement. Greer knew how to twist Ritter’s tail, and somehow Bob never quite figured out how to defend against it. Maybe it was Greer’s down-east accent. Texans like Bob Ritter (and Arthur Moore himself) deemed themselves superior to anyone who talked through his nose, certainly over a deck of playing cards or around a bottle of bourbon whiskey. The Judge figured he was above such things, though they were fun to watch.

“Okay, dinner at Snyder’s.” Ritter extended his hand. And it was time for the DCI to resume control of the meeting.

“Now that we’ve settled that one, gentlemen, the President wants me to tell him what’s going to happen in Poland.”

Ritter didn’t leap at that. He had a good Station Chief in Warsaw, but the guy only had three proper field officers in his department, and one of them was a rookie. They did, however, have one very good source agent-in-place inside the Warsaw government’s political hierarchy, and several good ones in their military.

“Arthur, they don’t know. They’re dancing around this Solidarity thing on a day-to-day basis,” the DDO told the others. “And the music keeps changing on them.”

“It’s going to come down to what Moscow tells them to do, Arthur,” Greer agreed. “And Moscow doesn’t know either.”

Moore took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah. They don’t know what to do when someone openly defies them. Joe Stalin would have shot everyone in sight, but the current bunch doesn’t have the gumption to do that, thank the Good Lord for that.”

“Collegial rule brings out the coward in everyone, and Brezhnev just doesn’t have the ability to lead. From what I hear, they have to walk him to the men’s room.” It was a slight exaggeration, but it appealed to Ritter that Soviet leadership was softening.

“What’s CARDINAL telling us?” Moore referred to the Agency’s premiere agent-in-place in the Kremlin, the personal assistant to Defense Minister Dmitriy Fedorovich Ustinov. His name was Mikhail Semyonovich Filitov, but to all but a bare handful of active CIA personnel, he was simply CARDINAL.

“He says that Ustinov despairs of anything useful coming out of the Politburo until they do have a leader who can actually lead. Leonid is slowing down. Everybody knows it, even the man on the street. You can’t camouflage a TV picture, can you?”

“How long do you suppose he has left?”

A collection of shrugs, then Greer took the question: “The doctors I’ve talked to say he could drop over tomorrow, or he could dote along for another couple of years. They say they see mild Alzheimer’s, but only mild. His general condition is progressive cardiovascular myopathy, they think, probably exacerbated by incipient alcoholism.”

“They all have that problem,” Ritter observed. “CARDINAL confirms the heart problem, by the way, along with the vodka.”

“And the liver is important, and his is probably suboptimum,” Greer went on, with a gross understatement. Then Moore finished the thought.

“But you can’t tell a Russian to stop drinking any more than you can tell a grizzly bear not to shit in the woods. You know, if anything ever brings these guys down, it will be their inability to handle the orderly transition of power.”

“Well, gee, Your Honor.” Bob Ritter looked up with a wicked grin. “I guess they just don’t have enough lawyers. Maybe we could ship them a hundred thousand of ours.”

“They’re not that stupid. Better we shoot a few Poseidon missiles at them. Less net damage to their society,” the DDI said.

“Why do people disparage my honorable profession?” Moore asked the ceiling. “If anybody saves their system, it will have to be a lawyer, gentlemen.”

“You think so, Arthur?” Greer asked.

“You can’t have a rational society without the rule of law, and you can’t have the rule of law without lawyers to administer it.” Moore was the former Chief Judge of the Texas State Court of Appeals. “They don’t have those rules yet, not when the Politburo can reach out and execute anyone they don’t like without a semblance of an appeals process. It must be like living in hell. You can’t depend on anything. It’s like Rome under Caligula-if he got a notion, that notion had the force of law. Hell, though, even Rome had some laws the emperors had to abide by. Not our Russian friends.” The others couldn’t really appreciate how horrid a concept that was to their Director. He’d once been the finest trial lawyer in a state noted for the quality of its legal community, and then a learned judge on a bench replete with thoughtful, fair men. Most Americans were as accustomed to the rule of law as to the ninety feet between bases on a baseball diamond. For Ritter and Greer, it was more important that, before his legal career, Arthur Moore had been a superior field spook. “So, what the hell do I tell the President?”

“The truth, Arthur,” Greer suggested. “We don’t know because they don’t know.”

That was the only truthful and rational thing he could say, of course, but: “Damn it, Jim, they pay us to know!”

“It comes down to how threatened the Russians feel. Poland is just a cat’s paw for them, a vassal state that jumps when they say ‘jump,’ ” Greer said. “The Russians can control what their own people see on TV and in Pravda-”

“But they can’t control the rumors that come across the border,” said Ritter. “And the stories their soldiers tell when they come home from service there-and in Germany, and in Czechoslovakia, and in Hungary, and what they hear on Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.” CIA controlled the first of those outlets directly, and, while the other was theoretically almost independent, that was a fiction nobody believed. Ritter himself had a great deal of input on both propaganda arms of the American government. The Russians understood and respected good agitprop.

“How squeezed do you suppose they feel?” Moore wondered aloud.

“Just two or three years ago, they thought they were on the crest of the wave,” Greer announced. “Our economy was in the toilet with inflation and we had gas lines, the Iran mess. They’d just got Nicaragua to drop into their lap. Our national morale was bad, and. .”

“Well, that’s changing, thank God,” Moore went on for him. “Full reversal?” he asked. It was too much to hope for, but at heart Arthur Moore was an optimist-otherwise, how could he be DCI?

“We’re heading that way, Arthur,” Ritter said. “They’re slow to catch on. They are not the most agile of thinkers. That’s their greatest weakness. The top dogs are wedded to their ideology to the point that they can’t see around it. You know, we can hurt these bastards-hurt ’em bad-if we can analyze their weaknesses thoroughly and come up with a way to exploit them.”

“You really think so, Bob?” the DDI asked.

“I don’t think it-I damned well know it!” the DDO shot back. “They are vulnerable, and best of all, they don’t yet know that they are vulnerable. It’s time to do something. We’ve got a President now who’ll back our play if we can come up with something good enough for him to invest his political capital. Congress is so afraid of him, they won’t stand in the way.”

“Robert,” the DCI said, “it sounds to me like you’ve got something rattling up your sleeve.”

Ritter thought for a few seconds before going on. “Yes, Arthur, I do. I’ve been thinking about this since they brought me in from the field eleven years ago. I haven’t written a single word of it down.” He didn’t have to explain why. Congress could subpoena any piece of paper in the building-well, almost any piece-but not something carried only in a man’s mind. But perhaps this was the time to set it down. “What is the Soviets’ fondest wish?”

“To bring us down,” Moore answered. That didn’t exactly require a Nobel-class intellect.

“Okay, what is our fondest wish?”

Greer took that one. “We aren’t allowed to think in those terms. We want to find a modus vivendi with them.” That was what The New York Times said, anyway, and wasn’t that the voice of the nation? “Okay, Bob. Spit it out.”

“How do we attack them?” Ritter asked. “And by that I mean nail the bastards right where they live, hurt them-”

“Bring them down?” Moore asked.

“Why the hell not?” Ritter demanded.

“Is it possible?” the DCI asked, interested that Ritter was thinking along such lines.

“Well, Arthur, if they can aim that big a gun at us, why can’t we do it to them?” Ritter had the bit in his teeth now. “They send money into political groups in our country to try and make it hard on our political process. They have antinuclear demonstrations all across Europe, calling to eliminate our Theater Nuclear Weapons while they rebuild theirs. We can’t even leak what we know about that to the media-”

“And if we did, the media wouldn’t print it,” Moore observed. After all, the media didn’t like nuclear weapons either, though it was willing to tolerate Soviet weapons because they, for one reason or another, were not destabilizing. What Ritter really wanted to do, he feared, was to see if the Soviets had influence on the American mass media. But even if it did, such an investigation would bear only poisoned fruit. The media held on to their vision of its integrity and balance as a miser held his hoard. But they knew without having the evidence that KGB did have some power over the American media, because it was so easy to establish and exercise. Flatter them, let them in on supposed secrets, and then become a trusted source. But did the Soviets know how dangerous a game that could be? The American news media did have a few core beliefs, and tampering with them was like tinkering with a live bomb. One wrong move could be expensive. No one in this Seventh-Floor office was under much illusion about the genius of the Russian intelligence service. It had skilled people, certainly, and trained them thoroughly and well, but KGB also had its weaknesses. Like the society it served, KGB applied a political template to reality, and largely ignored the information that didn’t match up with the holes. And so, after months, even years, of painstaking planning and preparation, they often had operations go bad because one of their officers had decided that life in the land of the enemy wasn’t quite so bad as it was portrayed. The cure for a lie was always the truth. It just had a way of smacking you in the face, and the smarter you were, the worse it hurt.

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