SADDAM SHAME by Jay D. Homnick (Fessay #5)
The chief called me on the interoffice line, “Come on upstairs, POTUS is having hot flashes.” POTUS, in C.I.A. shorthand, being President Of The United States.
It’s never good for the chief to get nervous, so I was up in a blink to hold his hand. POTUS was looking for ammo to give to Powell to take up to Annan. They wanted old Kofi to get out of the way so they could take Saddam down once and forever. If they didn’t get him soon, he would kick the bucket and Uday and Qusay would catch it. Then we’d have two monsters for the price of one.
“Harlan,” he says to me. “We need Sahara on this. I want you to get on a plane and bring me back some red meat from your boy. Humint, Harlan, humint.” Humint is Agency shorthand for human intelligence, real people, old-fashioned spies who penetrate to the very heart of the enemy, who risk all for the sake of a far-off free nation that is but a dream. They live in fear and privation without the comfort of camaraderie and season tickets for the Redskins.
Sahara was short for Madda Sahara, my prize agent, an intrepid warrior circulating within the inner circle of Saddam Hussein. My name for him was a play on the famous spy Mata Hari, with a desert theme - plus the name Saddam written backwards at the beginning. That’s what I told the suits, anyway. Personally I rigged it that way because phonetically it reads like ‘mad as a hatter’. Many of the Agency’s reports on Saddam were based on the platinum humint of Sahara.
I assured him that Sahara would dig deep into his treasures if I went to hold his hand. To meet in Iraq itself was too scary but a meeting in Jordan was possible, since his position in Saddam’s government allowed him to fly frequently to Jordan on official matters. The chief reminded me to use the Frederickson passport from the Bahamas, and he signed off on a boatload of cash in the Bahamas bank.
The way that works is that I have a separate identity named Frederickson who is theoretically a citizen of the Bahamas. I fly from here to Freeport using an American passport, pick up the operational fund in the bank there and then buy tickets for the Middle East as Frederickson who is a fashion photographer based out of the Bahamas. Sahara is a joint venture between us and M.I. 6 and my partner in managing him is the lovely Sandra Kendrick, once Miss London (and still upset about losing Miss England to a Pakistani immigrant), who travels as an international fashion model and is a very effective spook.
The Sahara management was based on the idea that she and I fly to the Middle East periodically for fashion shoots that involve desert scenes and the like. This time, after my powwow with the chief, I got on the phone to M.I. 6 and went through the usual ridiculous rigmarole of getting routed through every pompous little Oxford geek until I finally got through to my lady.
“Howdy, pahdner,” she says, with a thick Texas drawl. She can do about twenty accents and each one is to die for.
“It’s POTUS,” I said. “He wants to float us.” That was a code between us. It meant that they wanted us to travel. The extra joke in there comes from the fact that CIA parlance for the wife of POTUS is FLOTUS, First Lady Of the United States.
“Trying to bag Big Daddy?” That was her way of asking if they were looking to topple Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
“The mother of all bags,” I said, which was my way of saying yes, alluding to Saddam’s statement before the 1991 Gulf War that it would be the mother of all wars.
The next day I was on the plane. Nice smooth landing in Freeport as Mr. Gibbs. Went straight to the bank, picked up my cash. I looked into the safe deposit box at the Frederickson passport, almost took it like a good boy, but I resisted the urge. Why bother? From there to the hotel, where I took a sweet suite for Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs.
Those two weeks were the best ever. As far as our bosses were concerned we were in Jordan debriefing Sahara, that brilliant agent whom we had developed ourselves. Of course we had no need to actually go, because we had recruited Sahara from our own imaginations.
The day before we had to head back we were lying on the beach and Sandra said, “So what are we putting in the report? What goodies does Saddam have now?” She stood up and put her hand on her hip in finest Miss London form.
“Biological,” I said. “He has potent biological weapons.”