I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my newest novel, Secretocracy. It’s based on a series of events I lived through during the Reagan administration. As a young and promising NSA employee, I was assigned to a two-year tour at the national Intelligence Staff as a budgeteer to broaden my understanding of the government’s intelligence apparatus. I refused to approve for submission to Congress a proposal that would have funded a clearly illegal operation. I can’t discuss what the operation was—it was highly classified then and presumably still is. I’ve never seen any public disclosure of it. The administration severely punished me for my refusal.
Secretocracy is set during the Trump administration. A senior intelligence budgeteer, Gene Westmoreland, rejects an administration budget item to fund clandestine nuclear missile sites world-wide on the grounds that the operation is illegal and in violation of U.S. treaties. The Trump administration attacks him. Gene is accused of debauchery, stripped of his security clearances, and sent to a warehouse in Anacostia to await dismissal from the government service.
The title, Secretocracy, comes from a description of the administration by Gene’s boss. He depicts the administration’s methodology for controlling all aspects of government: placing the president’s men in key positions throughout the bureaucracy, using the withdrawal of security clearances as a method of castigating the administration’s critics, and forcing resignations to avoid legal problems with dismissing public servants.
I’m using my thirty-five-year history working for the U.S. government as an intelligence operative to imagine ways that the current administration is sabotaging the intelligence community. We know that the president and his immediate subordinates are attacking intelligence agencies, but since nearly all of the intelligence community’s work is classified, none of the moves and counter-moves show up in the news. Maybe someday, when the full story is declassified, we’ll find out the details. Meanwhile, I’m inventing what I think is possible.
Yesterday, one of those invented events turned out to be reality: the president is threatening to withdraw the security clearances of those who criticize him.