Category Archive 'Charles McCarry'

01 Mar 2019

Charles McCarry, 14 June 1930 — 26 February 2019

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WaPo obituary:

Charles McCarry spent almost 10 years in the CIA as an undercover officer, operating alone as he roamed throughout Africa, Europe and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. He never carried a gun. He didn’t kill anyone.

He was in the agency when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. He was in and out of Vietnam. He was at an airport in Congo in 1963, when a Belgian priest told him about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He always went by an assumed name and never lived in the same countries in which he worked.

After he resigned from the CIA to become a writer, Mr. McCarry used many of those elements in the novel that many consider his masterpiece, “The Tears of Autumn.” But when he turned in his manuscript, it was initially rejected by his publisher.

“Where’s the car chase? Where’s the torture scene? Where’s the sex? Where’s the good Russian?” the publisher demanded, as Mr. McCarry recalled in a 1988 essay for The Washington Post. “Do you call this a thriller?”

The publisher gave Mr. McCarry a best-selling novel to study. A month later, Mr. McCarry submitted his manuscript again — without so much as changing a comma. This time, it was accepted.

“I can only write what I know,” he noted.

Since it came out in 1974, “The Tears of Autumn” has sold millions of copies and has been hailed as a classic of espionage fiction. In his 13 novels, Mr. McCarry created dense, fast-moving plots of international intrigue populated by complex, troubled characters — male and female — seeking to find order and purpose in their lives.

“There is simply no other way to say it,” Otto Penzler, a leading expert on crime and espionage fiction, wrote in the New York Sun in 2004. “Just the straightforward, inarguable truth: Charles McCarry is the greatest espionage writer that America has ever produced.”

Mr. McCarry, whose novels about spycraft and politics were deeply admired if not always well known, died Feb. 26 at a hospital in Fairfax County, Va. He was 88.

He had complications from a cerebral hemorrhage sustained in a fall, said a son, Caleb McCarry.

No blockbuster movies have been based on Mr. McCarry’s books, his photograph seldom appeared on his dust jackets, and he didn’t go on book tours or appear on television. “They only want to ask me about my life in the CIA,” he told The Post in 1988, “and I can’t talk about that.”

Yet his novels were written with such a deft, knowing touch that he often invited favorable comparisons to another spy-turned-author. “Mr. McCarry is the American le Carré,” Penzler wrote, “equaling him stylistically but surpassing his English counterpart in terms of intellectual depth and moral clarity.”

RTWT

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Some quotations:

“Papa likes to know what a man is going to say to him before he starts to talk,” Cathy told Christopher. “If there’s no horse in the first sentence, he knows he’s in the wrong company.”

–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 65.

——–

The male parent seldom spoke. On first meeting he had established that he and Christopher had been in the same regiment of Marines in different wars and in the same house at Harvard; he had never asked Christopher another question. “He knows everything about you, knowing those two things, that he needs to know,” Cathy said.

–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 103.

——–

“I come from the most anti-American country on earth.”

“Canada? Ah, no, America is the most anti-American country on earth. When you speak of public opinion, young man, you speak of the opinions of the intellectuals because they are the only ones who publish and broadcast. The masses are dumb. Intellectuals always hate their own country, but the United States has produced an intelligentsia which is positively bloodthirsty.”

–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 127.

——–

“In Spain the Germans tested aerial bombing tactics; the Soviets, propaganda. You see who won in the end. In 1945 there was no Luftwaffe. No one has yet found a way to shoot down the illusions of the Left.”

–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 139.

——–

“This woman had the greatest private collection in Spain, portraits of her ancestors,” Rodegas said. “She was asked by a journalist if she was not filled with awe, to possess the works of all those dead geniuses. ‘Awe?’ she replied, ‘Genius? Goya, Velázquez, Rembrandt, were simply the people my family hired before the invention of photography.’”

–The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 250.

11 May 2010

Osama, Falconry, and the Iran Refuge Theory, Part 1

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Not Osama

Falconing is a favorite sport in the Islamic world, and the most prized game of Middle Eastern falconers is the Houbara Bustard, Chlamydotis undulata, a large type of landfowl of the bustard family, which confusingly shares features with gallinacious birds (pheasants, partridges, chickens, turkeys), wading birds (plovers), and struthious birds (cassowaries and ostriches). The Houbara has a special claim to the affection of Arab hunters because its meat is believed to have aphrodisaical properties.

Houbara Hawking in connection with Islamic terrorist plots was the central theme of Charles McCarry’s sensational 2004 spy thriller (presumably wrapping up his Paul Christopher series) Old Boys.

A 2010 documentary, Feathered Cocaine, by Icelandic directors: Thorkell Hardarson and Örn Marino Arnarson recently opened at the Tribeca Film Festival and other venues in New York.

New York Times Artsbeat coverage

Feathered Cocaine website

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The documentary prompted this story by Fox News:

[Osama bin Ladin] wakes each morning in a comfortable bed inside a guarded compound north of Tehran. He is surrounded by his wife and a few children. He keeps a low profile, is allowed limited travel and, in exchange for silence, is given a comfortable life under the protection of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The idea that Bin Laden is in Iran got a strong boost recently with the premiere of a documentary called “Feathered Cocaine.” In it, Alan Parrot, the film’s subject and one of the world’s foremost falconers, makes a case that Bin Laden, an avid falcon hunter, has been living comfortably in Iran since at least 2003 and continues to pursue the sport relatively freely. He is relaxed, healthy and, according to the film, very comfortable.

To make his case, Parrot, president of the Union for the Conservation of Raptors, took two Icelandic filmmakers, Om Marino Arnarson and Thorkell S. Hardarson, into the secretive world of falconers. It’s a world in which some birds can sell for over $1 million, and in which the elite of the Middle East conduct business in luxurious desert camps where money, politics and terror intermingle.

Parrot, who was once the chief falconer for the Shah of Iran and who has worked for the royal families of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, still has extensive contacts in Iran and the falcon world. One of those contacts, described as a warlord from the north of Iran and disguised in a balaclava, reveals in the film that he has met Bin Laden six times on hunting trips inside Iran since March 2003. He says the Al Qaeda leader is relaxed and healthy and so comfortable that “he travels with only four bodyguards.”

Their last confirmed meeting was in 2008, Parrot says. “There may have been more since then, but I haven’t talked to my source since we left Iran,” he said.

Parrot told FOX news.com that the extraordinary disclosure by the warlord, who supplies the falcon camps Bin Laden visits on hunting forays, was not done out of altruism. “One of my men saved his life and this was the repayment,” he said. “He was asked to talk. He wasn’t happy about it.”

To prove his case, Parrot said he managed to get the telemetry setting for the falcons Bin Laden was flying, and he provided them to the U.S. Government. “They could locate him to a one-square-mile area using those unique signals”’ he said. He says the government never contacted him to follow up.

Maj. Sean Turner, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. Military would not comment on the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

Parrot’s story is supported in the documentary by former CIA agent Robert Baer, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East and of how the CIA is managed. Baer, the onetime Middle East operative on whom the movie Syriana is based, explains that while he was in the CIA, he used satellites to watch the camps and they proved to be one of the key ways Al Qaeda was funded. He underscored how important falconry is to the vastly wealthy, and how Parrot’s position gave him a unique lens on that world.

Parrot’s disclosures add another piece to a jigsaw puzzle that for years has fed suspicion that Bin Laden is living in Iran. Among the other clues are:

Iran accepted 35 Al Qaeda leaders after the fall of the Taliban, despite the schism between Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots and the Shiite regime in Iran.

In February 2009 the U.S. Treasury placed sanctions on several high-ranking Al Qaeda operatives working out of Iran and helping run the terror network.

In 2004 author Richard Miniter, in his book “Shadow War,” wrote that two former Iranian Intelligence agents told him they had seen Bin Laden in Iran in 2003.

In June 2003 the respected Italian newspaper Corre de la Sierra,quoting intelligence reports, reported that Bin Laden was in Iran and preparing new terror attacks.

Some analysts believe the reason Bin Laden switched from video to audiocassettes for his announcements was that he couldn’t find a place in Iran that matched the terrain of northern Pakistan.

In December 2009 it was widely reported that one of Bin Laden’s wives, six of his children and 11 grandchildren were living in a compound in Tehran. The living situation was made public after one of the daughters escaped the compound and sought asylum in the Saudi Embassy. It is in this compound, Parrot says, that Bin Laden has found sanctuary.

Parrot said Bin Laden was renowned as an avid falconer who captured most of the falcons around Kandahar to raise funds to support his terror efforts. Each spring wealthy Arabs from the Gulf would fill military cargo planes full of specially equipped Toyota Land Cruisers and other equipment and fly to the falcon camps in Afghanistan. “Usama would arrive and presented the falcons as gifts,” Parrot said. “In return, the wealthy princes would leave the cars and equipment with him when they left, giving Al Qaeda a considerable material advantage over others, including the Taliban.”

Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism expert at the White House through two administrations, has admitted in interviews and before the 9/11 Commission that on one of the three occasions the United States was able to place Bin Laden, he was in a falcon camp set up by falcon hunters from Dubai. The CIA requested a cruise missile strike against Bin Laden. Clarke said he stopped the government from firing at the camp because “it didn’t look like an Al Qaeda camp.”

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Intriguing, isn’t it? But very knowledgeable falconers are skeptical, see my next posting.

2:08 video of Gyrfalcon on Houbara Bustard

11 Dec 2007

Time to Abolish the CIA

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Christopher Hitchens says it’s time to abolish the CIA, because someone destroyed videotapes which could be used by the Agency’s adversaries to attack it.

He has the right idea, but he has the wrong reasons. The chap who destroyed those tapes did exactly the right thing.

Ex-Spook Charles McCarry identifies why the CIA needs to be abolished far more accurately in in his 1992 espionage thriller Second Sight.

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A description of the Agency’s earlier days:

The Outfit had no headquarters. Its employees, whose numbers cost, and true identities were kept secret from everyone except the O.G. (“the Old Gentleman,” the head of the Outfit), were scattered around Washington in gimcrack temporary government buildings left over the First World War, or in offices with the names of fictitious organizations painted on the doors, or in private houses in discreet residential neighborhoods. This milieu, in which daring undertakings were planned and spacious ideas were discussed in mean little rooms by ardently ambitious men who were mostly very young, preserved a wartime atmosphere long after WWII was over. This was exactly what the O.G. wanted.

“Nooks and crannies, visibility zero — that’s the ticket,” he said. “The day we move into a big beautiful building with landscaped grounds and start hanging portraits of our fiunders is the day we begin to die.”

The sentence that Patchen murmured to the O.G. over their inedible dinner at the Club was this: “If (Patchen were captured and fully debriefed by the enemy), we could start all over again.”

But, more recently:

There was no need for him to explain his idea. The O.G. grasped its perfection and simplicity as soon as the words were spoken. If Patchen’s memory were emptied by the enemy like
those of the others who had been kidnapped, the Outfit could not continue to exist. There could be no going back to what had existed before; something new would have to be created to take the Outfit’s place — something that would recapture the energy, the patriotism, the audacity, the sheer fun of the Outfit in its youth.

Both Patchen and the O.G. had believed for a long time that a way must be found for American espionage to start over again. The Cold War was over. Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism (always, as the O.G. liked to say, “a lie wrapped in a sham surrounded by a delusion”) had collapsed under the weight of its own pathology. The old secret alliances against the Russian Communists, built up over half a century by the O.G. and Patchen and their operatives, had outlived their usefulness. A new world was in the making. A new intelligence service was required to study it, to discover America’s real enemies and to help her real friends.

The Outfit in its present form could not do the job. Its methods were outdated, its purposes irrelevant. Its best people, the brilliant, intrepid eccentrics recruited by the O.G. were gone, having grown old in the service or having been driven out of it by wave after wave of exposés in the press, investigations in Congress, reforms by the Executive Branch, and mutilating internal reorganizations imposed from above. The combined effect of all these assaults had been to render it almost incapable of operating as a secret intelligence service. Its agents in the field could no longer behave as spies must behave — with duplicity, ruthlessness, cold logic,and unquestioning devotion to their cause (that is to say, like idealists) — without fearing that they might be called home, frog-marched through the media, and indicted on felony charges.

This state of affairs was a triumph for the Outfit’s foes, foreign and domestic. Some of the Outfit’s own former officials had gone so far as to testify before Congress or talk to the press about “legalizing” the Outfit’s activities. This was an absurd notion on the face of it — the very purpose of a secret intelligence service is to carry out illegal actions with the unacknowledged blessing of its government — but it was eagerly taken up by good-hearted, patriotic people as well as by others,… who instinctively loved their country’s enemies better than they loved their country. Little by little, the Outfit had been robbed of its reputation and its élan, and of all but a few of the tools it needed to carry out its mission.

13 Mar 2007

Sound Familiar?

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Charles McCarry, in his currently out-of-print 1991 thriller Second Sight describes the Washington ritual of trial by media.

In Late Twentieth Century Washington,.. a certain politicized segment of the news media exercised many of the functions belonging to the secret police in totalitarian countries. They maintained hidden networks of informers, carried out clandestine investigations, conducted interrogations on the basis of accusations made by anonymous witnesses and agents provocateurs, and staged dramatic show trials in which the guilt of the accused was assumed and no effective defense allowed. They had far greater powers of investigation than the government. The authority of the state to persecute the individual was defined and limited by the Constitution, whereas the media were restrained by nothing more than the rules of theater. Because their targets were usually thought by the best people to deserve the punishment they might otherwise have eluded, the media had no worry about the quality of its evidence; journalists were not concerned with truth in any case, only with “accuracy.” That consisted of verifying the existence of their sources and confirming that they had actually spoken the words quoted, or something close to those words; nothing beyond that was required. If one person denounced another, even if anonymously, that was reason enough to publish the charge. There was no requirement to question the evidence or the accuser’s motives, or even to identify the accuser; in fact the accuser usually spoke on the understanding that his anonymity would be preserved under all circumstances. Verdicts of “innocent” based on these rules of evidence were almost unknown. The sentence was degradation, shame, exile, and, usually a lifetime of impoverishment resulting from the attempt to pay lawyers’ fees incurred in the vain hope of self-defense. Conviction in the media was sometimes followed by conviction in the courts, but the punishment handed down by judges, a mere prison sentence or fine or condemnation to a stated number of hours of good works among the underclass, was regarded as the lesser penalty.”

14 May 2006

Quotations From a Novel by Charles McCarry

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“Papa likes to know what a man is going to say to him before he starts to talk,” Cathy told Christopher. “If there’s no horse in the first sentence, he knows he’s in the wrong company.”
The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 65.

———————————

The male parent seldom spoke. On first meeting he had established that he and Christopher had been in the same regiment of Marines in different wars and in the same house at Harvard; he had never asked Christopher another question. “He knows everything about you, knowing those two things, that he needs to know,” Cathy said.

The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 103.

———————————

“I come from the most anti-American country on earth.”

“Canada? Ah, no, America is the most anti-American country on earth. When you speak of public opinion, young man, you speak of the opinions of the intellectuals because they are the only ones who publish and broadcast. The masses are dumb. Intellectuals always hate their own country, but the United States has produced an intelligentsia which is positively bloodthirsty.”
The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 127.

———————————

In Spain the Germans tested aerial bombing tactics; the Soviets, propaganda. You see who won in the end. In 1945 there was no Luftwaffe. No one has yet found a way to shoot down the illusions of the Left.”
The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 139.

———————————

“This woman had the greatest private collection in Spain, portraits of her ancestors,” Rodegas said. “She was asked by a journalist if shec was not filled with awe, to possess the works of all those dead geniuses. ‘Awe?’ she replied, ‘Genius? Goya, Velázquez, Rembrandt, were simply the people my family hired before the invention of photography.’”
The Secret Lovers, 1977, p. 250.


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