Time was when espionage thrillers featured agents furtively meeting with sources in the dark of night in alleys in Berlin. But that was before computers changed everything, as readers of David Ignatius' "The Director" will learn.
The director of the title is Graham Weber, newly appointed to replace the scandal-tarred chief of the Central Intelligence Agency. Weber has barely taken office when a CIA outpost in Germany reports that a young Swiss man has shown up to report that the CIA has been hacked. Before Graham can learn the details, the Swiss man turns up dead — and the clock starts ticking on a complicated but clever plot.
Author Ignatius writes a well-respected op-ed column for The Washington Post and is familiar with the ways of that city. Most of his characters in "The Director" are Washington movers and shakers — not just the CIA chief but also the Director of National Intelligence, the chief of the National Security Agency, the president's national security adviser and others of that ilk.
The polite and proper CIA chief gets an eye-opening tour of his own Information Operations Center — the hacking hub, as it were. "People were dressed informally; there wasn't a necktie or skirt in sight; many wore T-shirts, more than a few in hacker black." That sets Weber to musing. "Was this the new face of the agency? Weber wanted it to be so: No more martinis; better to encourage beer pong after work, for in the twenty-first century, the important targets weren't the heads of intelligence but their systems administrators — geeky kids like these, who had access to real secrets. This collection of oddballs might be the only way to go after them."
But as the book wears on, Weber begins to have self-doubts: "He had wanted to manage a creative, dynamic organization like a business, and what he had encountered instead was a Rubik's Cube of interlocking conspiracy."
So read this Rubik's Cube of a book for a sense of where espionage seems to be headed. And look for author Ignatius' little gems, like the name that the Director of National Intelligence bestows on his Potomac sailboat:
Harry Levins of Manchester retired in 2007 as senior writer of the Post-Dispatch.
A novel by David Ignatius
Published by Norton, 380 pages, $26.95