Drawn to enlist in that struggle for an amalgam of reasons—patriotism, certainly, but also the thrill of danger, the sense of being a part of history—the four would also ultimately come to view their roles in the Cold War very differently. Two would leave the CIA in despair, stricken by the moral compromises they had been asked to make, or by their role in causing the deaths of others. Another, battling mental illness and haunted by a Cold War calamity he had tried to avert, would end up taking his own life. The fourth would make a kind of Faustian bargain, embracing governmental policies he knew to be futile in order to maintain his seat at the decision-making table, only to become a scapegoat when those policies failed.
This book is the chronicle of those four men. In its own way, it is also the chronicle of the greater tragedy in which they participated, of how at the very dawn of the American Century, the United States managed to snatch moral defeat from the jaws of sure victory, and be forever tarnished.
THIS SAD AND BREATHLESS MOMENT
Now, at this sad and breathless moment, we are plunged
in the hunger and distress which are the aftermath of
our stupendous struggle.
—Winston Churchill, March 5, 1946
As Frank Wisner watched from a dark corner of the nightclub, the diverted stage spotlight swept over the crowd until it found the man who had just stepped through the entranceway. He was in his mid-forties, bespectacled and wore a well-tailored suit. He was also clearly well known at the Park Hotel for, along with drawing the spotlight, his arrival caused the nightclub band to slide into a different jazzy number.
I'm involved in a dangerous game,
Every other day I change my name,
The face is different, but the body's the same,
Boo boo, baby, I'm a spy!
Wisner felt a growing irritation, directed less at the song than at the man being serenaded. His name was Lanning "Packy" Macfarland, and he was, in fact, a spy, the head of the Istanbul branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's wartime intelligence agency. He was also the man that Frank Wisner, a fellow OSS officer, had made the 1,400-mile overland journey from Cairo to meet.
You have heard of Mata Hari,
We did business cash and carry,
Papa caught us and we had to marry,
Boo boo, baby, I'm a spy!
"Boo Boo, Baby, I'm a Spy" was a popular ditty in Istanbul in the spring of 1944, and with no group more so than the habitués of the Park Hotel bar. Located near the sprawling German consulate in neutral Turkey's largest city, the bar was the favored watering hole for officials of the Abwehr, the Nazi military intelligence agency. Naturally, that status also made it a destination spot for all the other spies circulating through wartime Istanbul, along with the assorted lowlifes—con men and arms merchants, prostitutes and pimps—inevitably drawn to such an underworld. Wisner had arrived early for his rendezvous with Macfarland and situated himself in a dark corner of the bar so as to avoid notice, a pointless precaution judging by the extravagant welcome given the American spy chief.
Now, as a lad, I'm not so bad,
In fact, I'm a darn good lover.
But look, my sweet, let's be discreet,
And do this undercover.
In Macfarland's defense, he may have simply accepted as absurd any notion that his Axis counterparts didn't know exactly who he was; as author Barry Rubin notes, World War II-era Istanbul practically survived on espionage: "Would-be spies for rent strolled up and down Istiklal Boulevard and around Taksim Square with its neo-baroque monument to the republic. They lounged in Istanbul's bars, dining places, nightclubs, and dance halls.... The music from the cafes and the bells of the crowded trolleys played accompaniment as men weaved through the streets trying to follow or evade each other."
I'm so cocky, I could swagger.
The things I know would make you stagger.
I'm ten percent cloak and ninety percent dagger,
Boo boo, baby, I'm a spy!
Certainly, Macfarland's own OSS colleagues had been little help in maintaining his cover as a banker with the U.S. government's Lend-Lease program, the wartime structure that funneled American weapons and matériel to its allies. Soon after setting up shop in the Istanbul Lend-Lease office, the frustrated spymaster had fired off a despairing cable to OSS Cairo: "Please, please, please! Instruct everyone to leave out any reference whatsoever to Office of Strategic Services in addressing envelopes. Today there came two more that bear this inscription."
The element of farce aside, the mission of the OSS in wartime Istanbul was deadly serious—so deadly serious, in fact, that by the time of Wisner's arrival in the city, Packy Macfarland had managed to compromise a whole series of intelligence missions and may have been instrumental in prolonging the course of World War II. Indeed, so calamitous was the workings of his Operation Dogwood, a spy network that extended throughout Eastern Europe but which had been thoroughly infiltrated by Nazi agents, that many details of the story still remain classified. What is known is that by the late spring of 1944, OSS leadership in Washington had become so alarmed by the dire news coming out of Istanbul on Dogwood that they scrambled to find an operative close at hand who might be brought in to stanch the bleeding. The man they chose was a thirty-four-year-old naval officer attached to OSS Cairo, Frank Gardiner Wisner.
It was a call Wisner had been awaiting ever since joining the military three years earlier. In that time, his lot had been to look over legal briefs and shuffle paper, to sit in a back-base office and collate the fieldwork of others. Now, by being dispatched to Istanbul, he was finally going into the field with the opportunity to accomplish something tangible, and he set to the housecleaning mission in Istanbul with a zeal. OSS higher-ups swiftly took note of the contrast between their two men in Turkey; just days after his arrival, Wisner was made head of the Secret Intelligence branch of OSS Istanbul, then shortly after named chief of the entire mission, with Macfarland bundled off to a posting in Yugoslavia where he could do little harm. At long last, Frank Wisner had arrived. The inauspicious trappings of his meeting with Macfarland at the Park Hotel notwithstanding, he was now on his way to becoming one of the most important and powerful figures of the American intelligence community in the twentieth century.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Birdway: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think by Jennifer Ackerman.