“THE SUPREME ART OF WAR IS TO SUBDUE THE ENEMY WITHOUT FIGHTING.” ~ SUN TZU
Fear, failure, and the fear of failure turned enemies into friends like nothing else in the convoluted world of intelligence and spying. This is no doubt the reason FBI representatives had been summoned to the Russian Embassy in Washington following Lana Michaels’ death.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs reeled after a reported "heated discussion" with the U.S. Secretary of State; she promised harsh and swift diplomatic sanctions following the successive wave of embarrassing Russian intelligence blunders that resulted in FBI and Secret Service agent arrests. The tense political situation had outraged the Russians’ now tight-lipped government contacts in Washington and New York, drying up critical sources of American intel. The stone silence threatened to paralyze the SVR's intelligence collection across the United States unless they quelled America’s fury. Thus, the come-to-Jesus meeting called by the SVR Resident was inevitable and necessary.
FBI Special Agent J.J. McCall marveled at the embassy's ornate grand lobby. Rich white and dark European marbles accented by cardinal red carpet runners, stately winding staircase crowned in gold, and paintings of lush landscapes brightening the halls and sitting areas, J.J. placed it among the most beautiful embassies she'd visited. The sight was impressive and a stark reminder of the country's willingness to spare no expense when it came to putting up deceiving fronts and paying American traitors.
"We'll need a dump truck for the bullshit about to be heaped on us today," J.J. whispered to her co-case agent, Tony Donato. As the lead case agent behind the ruckus, she'd been ordered to attend the meeting, listen, and respond to nothing.
"Shhh," Tony whispered in reply. "The walls have ears."
Resident Andrei Komarov, the Russian equivalent to the CIA Station Chief in Moscow, led J.J., Tony, and Assistant Director of Counterintelligence John Nixon through the hallowed embassy halls until they reached a well-appointed conference room. It contained mahogany-paneled walls, large, open armchairs, and an oversized table large enough to seat Komarov's ego and attitude, both massive in her past experience.
The group, all dressed in their services' uniforms—pin-sharp, woolen suits in late-fall hues concealed under beige all-weather overcoats—was met by the only other declared SVR officer in the Russian Embassy, Security Officer Aleksey Dmitriyev.
Jolted by his presence, J.J. avoided his gaze, kept their handshake and greeting brief. The last time they met, he was not working for her. Now, he was—and the only other person in the group aware of his status was Tony. Butterflies rolled in her stomach as everyone took their seats, and the meeting began. She forced a poker expression and prepared herself for the barrage of lies.
Komarov settled in at the head of the table, his face reddened and contorted. It was as if every word he was about to speak, no doubt carefully selected by the Foreign Minister, would sear his throat and exit his lips like sharpened razors carving him from the inside.
"We've all met before and are quite familiar with one another," Komarov began, shooting a slicing glare through J.J. "So, I'll feel free to dispense with the pleasantries. We all understand why we are here today." Her aggressive targeting of SVR officers for recruitment was legendary...or infamous, depending on which side of the table you sat. She suppressed the awe she felt. The personification of the Russian James Bond in looks and dress, he was devoid of any semblance of an accent.
J.J., Tony, and Nixon exchanged strained glances before she took a deep breath to brace herself. Komarov was about to progress through the four steps of surviving a massive operational failure.
Step 1: Admit nothing.
"There has been a spate of unfortunate and seemingly unfounded reports regarding the activities of our foreign intelligence service inside the United States," he began.
Her birthright, her gift, the ability to detect lies, sent the sensation of an army of crawling ants through her fingertips and up the length of both arms. She clenched her teeth and prepared for Step 2: Deny Everything.
"We have no information to substantiate the many reports circulating in the media nor can we speak to the involvement of any of our staff. However, I can assure you that if such activity occurred it was orchestrated by rogue officers conducting unsanctioned operations. If ever discovered, they will be dealt with accordingly. This brings me to my next point..."
As the lies continued, the annoying sensations intensified. The itch stretched through her back and up into her neck. She shifted in her seat and tensed her body to suppress it.
A moment of relief would come with Step 3: Demand Proof.
"If your Secretary of State persists in her current path and continues to threaten sanctions against our diplomatic corps, we must require access to the evidence used to justify these unfounded accusations against our government or we will be forced to reciprocate and target the American in Moscow."
They always demanded proof because they knew the FBI couldn't provide the most critical elements, at least not so early in the investigations. Such provisions risked revealing FBI sources and methods, potentially compromising the Russian Embassy recruit sitting across the table from J.J. It would also expose the FBI's knowledge of the listening device found in the White House Situation Room, an announcement the President had postponed for reasons unbeknownst to her.
Nixon cleared his throat. "It's forthcoming," are the only two words he offered, which was two too many in J.J.'s estimation. He said, "Continue with your little speech, please," in his typical condescending way.
From the pinched expression on Komarov's face, he took the comment in the spirit in which it was intended, just as J.J. would've. This certainly contributed to Step 4: Make counter-accusations.
"And if your government should bring forth any evidence against the Service, we may be required to present our own proof that these arrests are merely a provocation to discredit Russia and increase hostilities within the international community given U.S. opposition to our security operations in the Ukraine."
Bullshit. But J.J. gave credit where it was due—the guy was good.
"We're not here to debate the validity of your political and military agenda," Nixon replied. "The FBI's primary concern is securing the homeland from terrorists and spies. So, if we could cut to the chase, why have you requested our presence here today?"
J.J.'s eyebrow arched. She'd never known Nixon to be a man with backbone. He usually preyed on the weak rather stand up to the strong.
"Ahhh, yes," Komarov said, relaxing his tone and posture, he leaned his back against the chair. "We brought you here to extend an olive branch, if you will. I've been asked to assure you that the Service is not controlling any operations targeting citizens inside the United States. Negotiations regarding the specifics of the new plans are underway within our executive channels and will demonstrate our proposed new era of cooperation. We would like to collaborate on issues, such as terrorism, which would be mutually beneficial to both our countries."
By now, the itching sensation had permeated J.J.'s entire being. If the human body contained over a billion nerves, every one of hers had been stimulated in the worst way. She clenched her legs together and strained not to dissolve into a scratching frenzy.
But, finally, the truth had been revealed. The Russians wanted to purchase conciliation with terrorism intelligence. J.J. felt relieved. With FBI Director Russell Freeman at the helm, U.S. national security could never be bought at so cheap a price.
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