Sunday, 18 March 2018

Not Quite Book Review Corner: Directorate S, Steve Coll (Night's Black Agents, Dracula Dossier)

When I read Fyodr Dostoevski's The Idiot, I became convinced that a character I'd met in the early chapters must have died, and I hadn't noticed. There was so much going on. No doubt there'd been a paragraph that said she'd caught the sniffles, drowned, or been eaten by hamsters, and I'd missed it. Steve Coll's Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the second time I've had that idiotic feeling.

The damn thing feels ten times longer than it is. That's not a complaint - it kept me absorbed from start to finish. Directorate S is a successor to Coll's Pulitzer Prize winner, Ghost Wars, which tells the CIA/Afghanistan story from the Soviet invasion in 1979 to September 11, 2001. In Ghost Wars Coll shows how CIA intelligence failures helped create the extremists that brought the Twin Towers down. Directorate S shows how a continued pattern of misunderstanding, political folly and wastage led to the bloody mess that is Afghanistan today. Coll won a Pulitzer for Ghost Wars; he's probably going to be a contender for a second one with Directorate S. 

It's just so sad. If Coll chewed off his fingers and howled at the moon every other page it would have felt appropriate, but he tackles the subject with remarkable restraint. It feels even more awful as a result, and makes the reader wonder what future horrors lie in store. If CIA support for the mujahedeen in the 1970s and 80s fostered the world in which planes flew into the Twin Towers, what fresh atrocity will be spawned by this nightmare? 

Steve Coll, for those who don't know him, is a journalist of long standing who got his start at California Magazine. He went on to the Washington Post in 1985, and stayed there until 2004 before moving on to the New Yorker. Currently he writes on national security and foreign intelligence issues, and has eight non-fiction books to his credit as well as many articles. 

If you have any interest in modern history, intelligence issues, or the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, this is the book to read. So long as you can stomach a bellyful of tragedy, that is. 

If you're a Night's Black Agents Director or have any interest in the Dracula Dossier, this should be on your shelf. Edom raises up Dracula specifically to combat Al-Qaeda, after all; the Director should know what Dracula's up against. 

Just one story seed, taken from ch 35 Coups d'Etat:

Edom discovers, thanks to a leak, that discontented Pakistani naval officers are planning to seize a frigate. Armed with Land Attack Cruise Missiles with a potential nuclear payload, this rogue frigate could do tremendous damage if the attempt is successful. Edom doesn't know how many people are involved, but it does know that one of the naval cadets is due to attend a training course at HMNB Portsmouth in a week's time. Edom will use its vampire to control this cadet and persuade him to tell all he knows.

If the characters are Edom, then the Agents are given operational authority: find out who's involved, and when the attack is to take place. They can't let Pakistan know what's going on, because they can't be sure whether elements within Pakistani intelligence are involved in the operation. If they succeed, a potential nuclear disaster is averted. Of course, the vampire under their control is a disaster waiting to happen ...

If the characters are freelancers, then they're alerted or brought in when Edom's initial attempts raise red flags at Portsmouth. Its vampire managed to get away for a short time, and created some spawn before its recapture. Its Pakistani target is also Renfielded, and now the naval officer serves three masters - Pakistan, Al-Qaeda, and Dracula. Would Dracula like a frigate armed with nuclear weapons?   

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

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