Truth Mirrors Fiction In Pakistan's 'Bloodmoney' In his new novel, foreign affairs journalist David Ignatius describes America's covert operations on Pakistani soil. It's a topic that has come under much scrutiny in the weeks since al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert operation in Abbottabad.
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Truth Mirrors Fiction In Pakistan's 'Bloodmoney'

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Truth Mirrors Fiction In Pakistan's 'Bloodmoney'

Truth Mirrors Fiction In Pakistan's 'Bloodmoney'

Truth Mirrors Fiction In Pakistan's 'Bloodmoney'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

On May 2, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. The covert operation was carried out by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives. The incident called attention to America's covert activities in Pakistan, a subject that David Ignatius tackled in his novel, Bloodmoney. Anjum Naveed/AP hide caption

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Anjum Naveed/AP

On May 2, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. The covert operation was carried out by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives. The incident called attention to America's covert activities in Pakistan, a subject that David Ignatius tackled in his novel, Bloodmoney.

Anjum Naveed/AP

"Americans did not like lying to others," David Ignatius writes in Bloodmoney. "It made them uncomfortable. Their specialty was lying to themselves."

Lying — to everyone, really — is the theme of his new espionage novel, set in present-day Pakistan. In the book, a Pakistani official asks whether Americans are conducting covert operations on Pakistani soil. And, as truth is so often stranger than fiction, it's a subject that has come under much scrutiny in the weeks since al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

"When I wrote the book, I knew that there were unauthorized, undisclosed CIA operations in Pakistan," Ignatius tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep. "Anybody who spends any time covering this beat as I do finds that out."

Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage by David Ignatius.

Ignatius — who is a foreign affairs journalist — became curious about how one would go about conducting such a covert operation from the U.S. The more he thought about it, he says, the more it seemed like a metaphor for the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan: "Each of us sneaking up on the other. [The U.S.] not trusting the Pakistanis, they not trusting us. Each ... having good reason for the mistrust."

Ordinarily, American operatives in Pakistan would collaborate with the local intelligence agency, because in theory, Pakistan is an ally. But in the novel — and in real life — if it appears that the local intelligence agency won't cooperate, American operatives will simply fly under the radar.

Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
By David Ignatius
Hardcover, 372 pages
W. W. Norton & Company
List Price: $29.95

Read An Excerpt

"You have the distinction between the declared officers — who typically operate out of a CIA station in an embassy, who are either openly declared to the host service or easily discoverable. Then you have other people, who are under much deeper cover, who typically operate with commercial platforms," Ignatius explains.

In Bloodmoney, Ignatius imagines that the CIA, unable to carry out clandestine operations around the globe, creates a whole new secret wing — hiding behind a Los Angeles entertainment front called "Hit Parade." The name of the novel refers to compensation paid to a victim's family to settle the score for a death.

Ignatius says the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis — who was arrested and released after a payment of blood money — eerily paralleled some of the plotlines of his book. In January, Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis on the street in Lahore. He said he acted in self-defense. "Here's this real-life CIA contractor," Ignatius says, "who is arrested by the Pakistanis, who it turns out is part of a whole capability not known to the American public [and] not known previously to Pakistan. At the end of the day, he's released through a payment of blood money."

David Ignatius is a foreign affairs journalist and the author of Agents of Innocence, Body of Lies and The Increment. He lives in Washington, D.C. W.W. Norton & Company hide caption

toggle caption
W.W. Norton & Company

David Ignatius is a foreign affairs journalist and the author of Agents of Innocence, Body of Lies and The Increment. He lives in Washington, D.C.

W.W. Norton & Company

In recent months, Ignatius and others have used the phrase "double game" to describe what they say Pakistan is doing — working simultaneously with the U.S. and with militants. Ignatius has suggested that "double game" may be too simple a phrase.

"The [Pakistani] ISI [or Inter-Services Intelligence] is always playing both sides of the fence," Ignatius says, partnering with the United States while also pursuing its own interests. "It's always hedging its bets a little bit. ... It's not really very different from the way the United States behaves. We conduct joint operations with the ISI but there's a lot that we don't tell them" — or don't tell them until it's too late. Take, for example, the policy of concurrent notification, he says. "Concurrent meaning after the missile has been fired, and the target has been incinerated on the ground," Ignatius says, "we're telling [Pakistan] what we just did."

It sounds dysfunctional, but given the fraught and complex relationship between the two nations, Ignatius says, the system is actually working the way it was designed to work.

"Intelligence services exist to do things that are illegal abroad: They exist to tell lies," he says. "The CIA has ... the authority to conduct operations that the government will then deny ever took place."

It's a given that the intelligence services of the U.S. and Pakistan will lie to one another, Ignatius says, but they both need each other, too. The great challenge now, he believes, is finding a way to bring the Taliban to the table, now that bin Laden has been killed.

"The Taliban is as tired of this fight as anybody," Ignatius says. "Osama bin Laden, who symbolized the need to resist, is gone. There is an open pathway. You can see it right in front of you. You just have to find it, and then find a way to go down it."

Excerpt: 'Bloodmoney: A Novel Of Espionage'

Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage by David Ignatius.
Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
By David Ignatius
Hardcover, 372 pages
W. W. Norton & Company
List Price: $29.95


In the softening light of another afternoon, nearly two years later, the facade of the Inter-Services Intelligence headquarters looked almost welcoming. It was an anonymous gray stucco building in the Aabpara neighborhood of the capital, set back from the Kashmir Highway. The only distinctive feature was a ribbon of black stone that wrapped around the front, making it look as tidy as a gift box. Although the building was unmarked, the ISI's presence in the neighborhood was hardly a secret. Pakistanis in other branches of the military referred to its operatives as "the boys from Aabpara," as if they were a neighborhood gang to whom special respect must be paid. Ordinary Pakistanis made it a rule not to speak about the ISI at all.

Inside this house of secrets, facing onto an enclosed garden, was the office of the director general, who in recent years had been a soft-spoken man named Mohammed Malik. On his shoulders, he wore the crossed swords-and-crescent insignia of a lieutenant general. His authority didn't come from his rank in the army, but from his control of information. It was almost always the case that General Malik knew more than the people around him, but he made it a rule never to flaunt what he knew, or to disclose how he had obtained it. That would be insecure and, worse, impolite.

General Malik was not an imposing man, at least in the way of a military officer. He was trim, with a neat mustache, and he was careful about what he ate and drank, almost to the point of fastidiousness. He had soft hands, and a reticent manner. It was easy to forget that he was in fact a professional liar, who told the entire truth only to his commander, the chief of army staff.

On this particular spring afternoon, General Malik had a concern that he wasn't sure how to address. The brigadier who represented his service in Karachi had called to alert him to a potential problem. Now, there were large and small problems in Pakistan, but the very biggest ones were often connected to the words "United States of America." For it was said, not without reason, that Pakistan's life was bounded by the three A's — Allah, Army and America. And in the brigadier's news from Karachi, all three were tied up in one.

It was part of General Malik's aura among his colleagues at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi that he knew how to handle the Americans. This was based partly on the fact that he had spent a year at the Army War College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. And if you knew Kansas, people said, well, then, you knew the real America. Malik had actually disliked Kansas, and the only part of America that he had truly loved was the Rockies, where the thin air and the steep peaks reminded him of his ancestral home in the mountains of Kashmir. But he knew how to sham, in the way that is an art form for the people of South Asia, and so he had pretended for years to have a special fondness for Americans from the heartland.

In that spirit of sincere and also false bonhomie, the director general placed a call to Homer Barkin, the chief of the CIA station at the ever-expanding American Embassy in Islamabad. Their regular liaison meeting was scheduled for later in the week, but General Malik asked if his American partner might stop by that afternoon, perhaps right away, if it was convenient. He didn't explain why, for he had found that it is always a good rule to say less than you mean, particularly when you are dealing with Americans, who do the opposite.

"My friend Homer," said General Malik in greeting the chief of
station when he arrived in Aabpara forty-five minutes later. He usually addressed him that way, and the American responded by calling him "my friend Mohammed," or sometimes, when he wanted something, just "my friend Mo." General Malik found that especially grating, but he never said anything. He clasped his visitor's hand in the firm way that Americans liked.

Barkin did not look well. His face was doughy, and he looked bulky in his suit jacket, like a sausage ready to burst its casing. General Malik knew why: Homer Barkin had been drinking, and the reason was that he had legal problems back home. He was one of the many CIA officers who had been caught in the boomerang effect of the "war on terror." It was said that he had "crossed the line" in a previous job by being overzealous in targeting the enemy.

Looking at Homer Barkin, his eyes dark from the sleeplessness of depression, his collar button straining against the flesh of his neck, it seemed unlikely that he had ever been capable of zealotry in any form. But this was the "after" picture; he would not have been made station chief in Islamabad if there had not been a "before."

"My dear friend Homer," the Pakistani continued, "I hope you will not mind me saying so, but you are looking a little tired. You must be working too hard."

"You don't know the half of it, believe me," said the CIA officer.

"No, indeed, I do not. Or even the quarter of it. And I am sorry for it, whatever it may be. But I hope that you will take care of yourself in these treacherous times. You are a guest in our house. You are precious to us."

"Appreciate it." Barkin's eyes were flat and his demeanor was impassive. He was not a man who was easily flattered or cajoled. "What's up, General?"

"Let me put it to you, sir: We have had many successes together in recent years, have we not? You could almost say that we are partners. Am I right? And so we like to think that there is a bit of trust between us, even though we are a poor and weak country compared to the United States. We have our pride, you see."

"I never forget that, Mohammed, not for one day."

"Well, then, I have a question for you. Normally, I would not trouble you in the late afternoon with such a detail, but this one is rather important. I hope you will forgive the imposition, and apologize to Mrs. Barkin for delaying your return home this evening."

"Mrs. Barkin lives in Washington, General. I don't know if I can give you an answer, but I won't tell you a lie."

General Malik smiled. Americans did not like lying to others. It made them uncomfortable. Their specialty was lying to themselves.

"Well, now, sir. Here it is: Are you running operations in Pakistan outside of your normal organization? Forgive me for being so blunt, but that is what I must ask."

Barkin cocked his head, as if he had ear trouble and wanted to make sure he'd heard it right. He might be old, but he wasn't stupid.

"Sorry, I didn't quite hear that, General. What do you mean?"

The Pakistani sat back in his chair. He put his hands together and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he spoke again, louder this time.

"Let me state the question as clearly as I can, sir: Is the United States sending intelligence officers into Pakistan outside the normal CIA cover channels? Is your agency doing it? Or is some other agency doing it? That is what I want to know: Are you running a new game against us? You see, we think that we know you well, but we hear rumblings of something that we do not know. And let us be honest: No ones likes to be surprised."

Barkin's mouth puckered as if he had just eaten something bad.

"Shit, Mohammed. You know I can't answer a question like that. I mean, hell, we run all sorts of operations, declared and undeclared, just like you do. We have agency employees at the embassy who conduct liaison with your service, and you know their names. But if I told you that we had no other presence in Pakistan, and no nonofficial officers, you know I'd be lying. But that's business, right? We don't look up your skirt, and we don't expect you to start looking up ours."

The American gave him a wink, as if they were two old poker players who knew the casino rules. But the Pakistani was not in a mood for professional courtesy.

"I am talking about something different, Homer. I know all about your NOCs. I could name a dozen for you. I know all about your 'forward-deployed military assets.' Perhaps I even know the names of your contractors, including the ones who work for other agencies, which you, my dear friend, are not supposed to know about. But this is different."

"Hey, Mohammed, I'm just a farm boy from Pennsylvania. I'm not getting it. You better tell me what you mean, straight up."

The Pakistani general sighed. He did not like to be so direct. It was awkward. But he had no choice.

"We have picked up signs of a new capability, Homer, with new missions. I cannot be more specific. But we see something coming toward us that we do not like. And I want you to know that. For, you know, we must protect ourselves."

Barkin shook his head again. He moistened his lips, as if to prepare the way for what he was about to say.

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about. We don't have any new capabilities. Not that I know about. Hell, we can't even manage the old ones we've got. You're barking up the wrong tree here, pal."

"I could call Cyril Hoffman at Headquarters and complain that you are an obstructionist and should come home. He would not be amused."

"Call whoever you like, Mohammed. I am telling you the truth."

General Malik studied his visitor, trying to decide whether he was believable. A ruined man is harder to read than a fresh, eager one. His lies could be tucked into the bags under his eyes, or hidden in the folds of flesh below his chin. It was hard to know, but if the general had been forced to make a wager, he would have bet that the American was telling the truth. Whatever was going on, he probably didn't know about it.

The Pakistani changed the subject. The ISI had gathered new evidence of Indian funding for the nationalist movement in Baluchistan. This was a most serious matter. General Malik would be sending a report, for transmittal to Langley. And he was very sorry, the new American requests for visas could not be approved at present. The two men talked for thirty minutes about such details, never returning to the subject that had vexed General Malik.

When the meeting was done, Homer Barkin shook the ISI chief's hand, not quite so heartily as before, and lumbered away. He was at the door when the general put his hand on the station chief's shoulder. Malik spoke quietly in parting, without his usual bob and weave.

"Be careful, my friend," said the Pakistani. "If you stick your fingers in new places, they may get cut off."

"Too late for that, Mohammed," said Barkin. "Whatever this is about, it's already done and gone. And it's not going to be my problem, anyway. It belongs to you, and somebody back home I don't even know."

The general had a walled garden next to his office, with a few square feet of well-tended grass, as green as a cricket pitch, and an honor guard of rosebushes that were soft pastels in the last light of the afternoon. When General Malik had a puzzle to solve, he liked to sit here alone, in a wooden Adirondack chair that he had bought years ago in the United States.

Malik entered his garden now, and installed himself in what he liked to call his thinking chair. He lit up a cigarette, one of the few indulgences he permitted himself. A steward emerged, clad in white gloves and military livery, and asked if he wanted anything to eat or drink, but the general shooed him away.

What were the Americans doing? It was hardly the first time General Malik had asked himself that question over the years, and there were other puzzles marked usa that he was trying to work out. But this time it had a special edge: The Americans were changing the rules of the game. They must think they were being clever in Washington, but they were walking into terrain where nobody could help them — not the general, not his agents, not their clandestine contacts. The Americans would blame Pakistan for their troubles, and in particular the general's own service, but they were the mischief-makers. They would get caught, and it would be their fault.

The general had a rule in life: Do not interrupt someone when he is making a mistake. Let others make their moves first, so that you can react and turn them to advantage. The general had his contacts; he would watch and wait. To say that the Pakistani was playing a double game did not do him justice; his strategy was far more complicated than that.

From Bloodmoney: A Novel Of Espionage by David Ignatius. Copyright 2011 David Ignatius. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company.