New York Times best-selling author David Baldacci has an inside track to the world of intelligence gathering. Like Robert Ludlum before him, Baldacci has sources who share the details and dangers of espionage.
Baldacci’s new book, “The Sixth Man,” set for release on Tuesday, deals with the concept that there are too many agencies processing intelligence. In the book, one of Baldacci’s main characters is Edgar Roy, a super-intelligent man who can process and analyze millions of pieces of data.
The author recently talked to me from his office just outside Washington, D.C. This is the second part of our interview.
News-Telegram: Where did you get the idea for a character like Edgar Roy and the E-program he uses to analyze intelligence?
David Baldacci: A while back The Washington Post did a long, multi-part series on top secret America where they talked about how outsourced American intelligence has become. There are thousands of companies who do the work, with hundreds of thousands of people.
There’s too much information out there.
There’s a part in the book – this is a true part – there are by law a half a dozen super users designated by the government. They have to go in and be shown everything. These guys are not intellectually extraordinary. They look at all this stuff. After eight hours, they walk out [and think] what the hell did I just see?
N-T: A case of too much information?
DB: Exactly. That really makes us weaker, not stronger. We’ll never see it coming because one person doesn’t know everything. They’re not putting all the pieces together.
Like 9/11. If one guy had known these guys were in Florida learning how to fly a plane, just not land it. You need someone with extraordinary intelligence. Like Edgar Roy and the E-program where they bring in exceptionally gifted people. They’re puzzle solvers. They can look at mountains of information. One brain. Not a thousand. One brain looking at everything and trying to make sense of the puzzle. Then I added Edgar Roy and the E-program to complicate it.
N-T: Why don’t we have that kind of agency now?
DB: People love their fiefdoms here [in D.C.]. They don’t want to cooperate. They don’t want to share.
N-T: Robert Ludlum, who practically invented the political thriller genre, always claimed he put his kids through college from money he earned as the voice of the Tidy Bowl man. Good try, but I think everyone knew he had (1) either been involved in the world of espionage or (2) knew someone deep inside who spilled all the beans. What’s your story? Who talks to you?
DB: [Laughs] The people who talk to me, I think, see the same problems I see. They really care about their country and they are patriotic. They see that when people are just swamped with stuff, they’re just going through the motions and that makes us weaker as a country. A book like this might makes people sit up and think this model needs to change.
There are way, way too many cooks in the kitchen and nobody’s reading the recipes. If you don’t read your recipes, you may not be getting for dinner what you really want.
N-T: Are these people still going to talk to you after “The Sixth Man” is released?
DB: Some of them, probably not. [Laughs]
N-T: Are the people who do this for a living as ruthless as the characters in your books?
DB: I don’t fault those people as much because that’s what they’re trained to do. They’ve had the humanness trained out of them.
They are an implement and a tool. They’re part of a hierarchy. Orders given must be obeyed or the system doesn’t work. It’s almost like being in the Army. If you’re told to do something, you do it because if you don’t do it, no matter what it is, then there are going to be repercussions for you.
It’s a very dirty business. Like war.
All sides play dirty. All sides switch. Your ally today is your enemy tomorrow. You really can’t trust anyone, particularly the people out in the field.
N-T: How does the government find people to do the job?
DB: They vet these people incredibly well so they get the types that can survive. The ones who are really good, survive. The ones who aren’t really good at it, don’t.
N-T: Do they get to retire?
DB: [Laughs] Sometimes. Sometimes not.
You’d be surprised who were in the intelligence field for their whole careers. You would never know they were. They’re grandfathers and grandmothers now. Not even their kids really knew what they did – all they knew was “My mom worked for the state department.”
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