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Authors: Olen Steinhauer

Tags: #Milo Weaver

An American Spy (8 page)

BOOK: An American Spy
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Sun Bingjun was already seated in a chair on the left side, which was a surprise. A known drunk, the frail, thin old man was usually late to meetings, if he attended at all. Zhu approached, and they shook hands. “How was Shanghai?” Sun Bingjun asked, red-faced and baffled-looking.

“I can’t keep anything a secret, can I?”

Sun Bingjun smiled. Looking at him, it was easy to forget he was a lieutenant general, a decorated veteran of Vietnam, and a Hero of the Cultural Revolution. Years and vice had undermined him, but his illustrious history, as well as a brief but successful tenure as the minister of state security, protected him and his current position in the Politburo from most attacks.

“Shanghai was a place to clear my head.”

“That should be useful today.”

“Absolutely.”

Zhu bowed his head and retreated to the right side, settling in the center seat. Shen An-ling took a wooden chair behind him and began rummaging through his bag.

The Supervision and Liaison Committee had been formed in 1992 as an offshoot of the Central Committee’s Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, whose six members had felt overburdened by the scope of overseeing the entire spectrum of Chinese law enforcement. So they created a separate committee, with a membership of twenty-six, to deal primarily with interministry conflicts, which had ballooned during the nineties. This year’s secretary was a Central Committee hotshot named Yang Xiaoming, from Sichuan, who was usually more interested in his oil concerns than in attending committee meetings. It was his deputy secretary from the Ministry of Public Security, Wu Liang, who shouldered most of his responsibilities. Though he had been invited many times to face the committee’s questions, Xin Zhu had never been invited to become a member.

Yang Qing-Nian, the youngest of this committee’s members, strolled in with tall, white-haired Wu Liang, who was the same age as Xin Zhu. Both came over and offered hands, and Zhu was surprised to find no hint of gloating in Wu Liang’s behavior. Wu Liang had worked hard to set up this morning’s meeting and keep its agenda secret, but by his demeanor, it could have been a gathering to discuss traffic lamps in Lhasa.

“How is Sung Hui?” Wu Liang asked.

“She’s very fine.”

“I’m glad to hear that. A lovely woman.”

“And Chu Liawa?”

Wu Liang’s wife was older than both of them, a storybook rearguard tigress, or so the rumors suggested. She had pushed her husband up through the ranks, angling him against foes in Yunnan, then in Nanning, and finally in Beijing, where over the last decade he had risen to the top of the food chain while insufferable absolutists like Xin Zhu remained in their dusty outlying offices, collecting intelligence but little else. “Very healthy,” Wu Liang said finally, and from his lips, it sounded like a threat. Yang Qing-Nian said nothing; he didn’t have to. His face took care of the gloating his sage was too cultured to show.

Feng Yi came in next, shaking hands with everyone, beginning with Wu Liang and ending with Xin Zhu, following the correct sequence from political superior to inferior. Unlike the others, he was purely political, having gained entrance into the Central Committee by flattery and knowing how to keep his mouth shut, avoiding committed opinions at all costs. Recently, he’d been handed a ranking position in the Guoanbu’s Second Bureau, but he still remained the most reserved during discussions of any importance.

Zhang Guo, on the other hand, shook hands with no one. He came in clutching a file to his chest, like a schoolgirl, settled into a free chair, and started unpacking his cigarettes. He looked more tired than the others, or perhaps it was anxiety. When the waiter came around, delivering tea, Zhang Guo’s cup shivered to his lips. His eyes were bloodshot, unlike when they’d met on Friday, and Zhu decided that it had nothing to do with what was occurring at this moment; Zhang Guo was learning how a young mistress, particularly the well-known Chi Shanshan, could wear out a man of his age. He was, Zhu suspected, entertaining second thoughts.

For whatever reason, Wu Liang had not asked them to meet in their usual building, but had reserved this spare Central Committee space, and as the meeting was informal only these five members of the committee arrived. Zhu had no idea how many had been invited, but he doubted that Yang Xiaoming, the committee’s absent head, even knew it was occurring. If he’d been informed, though, the disasters in Sichuan, his old stomping grounds, would have kept him far away.

Once the waiters had left and the guard closed the doors, Wu Liang stood wearily and placed a digital audio recorder in the center of the floor, equidistant from all the participants. “Just in case,” he said to everyone as he returned to his chair.

“In case of what?” asked Zhu.

“In case of disputes later on,” Wu Liang informed him. “None of us are young men—except, perhaps, Yang Qing-Nian,” he said with a smile. “I’d hate to run a security apparatus based on our memories.”

“Perfect reasoning,” Zhu admitted. “And I’d like to thank the committee for inviting me here this morning. I consider it an honor.”

“Bullshit,” said Yang Qing-Nian. “I suggest we skip the formalities. Can we agree to that?”

“Yang Qing-Nian speaks with the voice of youth,” Wu Liang said with a calmness that proved they’d planned that outburst. “I’m agreeable to dispensing with formalities, as this meeting is intended to be unofficial . . . exploratory in nature. However, I do not want to steer this particular boat. Are there opinions?”

“Were the better rooms occupied?” That was Sun Bingjun, chewing at the corner of his mouth.

Wu Liang blinked at him. “Yes, Comrade Lieutenant General. It’s a busy time, and my request was last-minute.”

Sun Bingjun set down his teacup and nodded; Feng Yi said, “Dispensing with formalities is all right with me.” Zhang Guo lowered his head in agreement.

Looking across the room with raised brows, Wu Liang said, “Xin Zhu?”

Zhu said, “I always agree with the masses. Please.” Behind him, he heard Shen An-ling cough his amusement.

Wu Liang removed a sheet of paper from an open briefcase propped against his chair. “It is May 19, 2008, and . . .” He checked his watch. “Nine fourteen in the morning.” He listed the attendees, then said, “Before we start, I would like to remind everyone that, at 2:28
P
.
M
., there begins a three-minute moment of silence for the victims of the Sichuan Wenchuan earthquake.”

There was no need for Wu Liang to remind anyone of this, but with a recording device nearby, he couldn’t help himself. Feng Yi said, “Perhaps we could offer ten seconds of silence right now?”

Zhu looked at him, then at the others. He caught Sun Bingjun rolling his eyes.

Yang Qing-Nian said, “I second that motion. Vote?”

All hands, of course, went up.

Ten seconds later, Wu Liang cleared his throat. “Thank you, Feng Yi.” He lifted his notes, finally coming to the point. “We’re here to discuss recent actions made by Comrade Colonel Xin Zhu of the Sixth Bureau of the Guojia Anquan Bu. Two actions, in particular: First, there was the April 15 memo from Xin Zhu to this committee stating that intelligence from his office would no longer be shared with the Ministry of Public Security. His reasoning, as outlined in the memo, was that the ministry is no longer secure enough to contain such highly sensitive intelligence.”

Yang Qing-Nian shook his head in disgust.

“The second item,” Wu Liang went on, “which is perhaps more problematic, concerns the repercussions of Xin Zhu’s ill-advised action, in March, against a small department of the American Central Intelligence Agency. Xin Zhu has already been reprimanded for his disastrous mistake, and the fact that he still holds his position in the Sixth Bureau is, I believe, a testament to his political prowess.”

“May I speak?” Zhu asked.

“Of course, we’re avoiding formality here.”

Zhu looked at his hands resting in his lap, then at Wu Liang. “My ill-advised actions in March have been well documented by this committee. You now speak of repercussions. I wasn’t aware that any of significance had occurred.”

“Yes,” said Wu Liang. “Yang Qing-Nian, I believe you have that information?”

Yang Qing-Nian straightened in his chair, glowing with pride; he certainly did have something. “Comrades,” he licked his lips, “the Ministry of Public Security has received intelligence that a former member of the Department of Tourism—the department Xin Zhu effectively destroyed—was on Chinese soil two weeks ago. She made contact with an American consular officer, now returned to the United States, who used an intermediary to find out about Xin Zhu’s home life. Information about his wife, Sung Hui.”

The bomb had been dropped, and Xin Zhu read destruction in their faces. Sun Bingjun rubbed his weary eyes. Feng Yi turned his entire body to face Yang Qing-Nian. Zhang Guo, looking more exhausted than ever, stared hard at Zhu. That look seemed to say,
You’re on your own now
.

Wu Liang, of course, kept his composure. He and Yang Qing-Nian had been fleshing out that narrative all weekend. Had they questioned Dongfan Beisan? Did they know that Zhu had already visited him at the Blim-Blam?

Yang Qing-Nian reached into his own leather briefcase and took out a file. “The documentation is here. Though her birth name is unknown, we have two different names for this American agent. Leticia Jones is an old work name we learned from the files Xin Zhu released before he decided to close his doors to us. The passport she traveled on was Sudanese, name of Rosa Mumu. In addition to looking into Xin Zhu’s life, she met once with Abdul Khalik—someone we all know as a leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement that wishes to turn Xinjiang Province into an Islamic cesspool, beheading all Chinese citizens who reject their God.”

This new information hit Zhu in the stomach, threatening to turn to lead the breakfast of wheat noodles and pork fat that Sung Hui had lovingly cooked for him. Behind him, there was a heavy silence from Shen An-ling. He worried the young man might have fainted, but it wouldn’t do to start looking around at this moment.

Old Sun Bingjun spoke first, and slowly. “Are you telling us, Yang Qing-Nian, that, because Xin Zhu killed some of their people, the United States is now going to support the Islamization of western China?” He pressed his palms together. “There’s something highly insane about that.”

Feng Yi, the perpetual moderator, said, “I see your point, Sun Bingjun, and it makes sense. However, this is not the United States government we’re talking about. It’s the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a history of mad behavior. Further, we’re probably not even talking about the entire agency, but a single small department that could conceivably be attempting to save face.”

“A department that was disbanded after Xin Zhu’s actions,” Sun Bingjun reminded him. “It doesn’t exist anymore. It receives no funding.”

Wu Liang spoke up: “The Department of Tourism, as documented by Xin Zhu, has a tradition of finding funds through any and all means when its Langley paymasters have withheld money. Only a couple of months ago, it robbed an art gallery in Zürich to fund its nefarious actions.” He paused. “A department exists when those inside of it agree that it exists. A department that knows how to fund itself can, arguably, live forever.”

Heads turned—not to Zhu, but to Zhang Guo, who was staring at his knees. It was generally agreed that, on issues of financing, Zhang Guo was the most qualified in the room. Though he didn’t look at them, he knew what the silence meant. He lifted his shaky teacup, saying, “Wu Liang is correct. One example is a man we all know, Yevgeny Primakov of the United Nations. He has not only been able to maintain a secret intelligence section within the UN without an official budget, but he was able to create and develop it outside the knowledge of the UN Secretariat and the general public. If a man can single-handedly do that, then a handful of people can certainly maintain a department that already existed.”

Zhu stared at Zhang Guo, but his friend kept his eyes averted from everyone.

Sun Bingjun cleared his throat. “So. This Department of Tourism has resurrected itself. As an opening salvo, it is exacting revenge on Xin Zhu and, by extension, the People’s Republic. That is the present theory?”

“You tell me, Comrade Lieutenant General,” said Yang Qing-Nian. “The facts are here. One of their agents pries into Xin Zhu’s personal life, then meets with one of the Republic’s great enemies. Then leaves.”

“To where?” asked Sun Bingjun.

“To Cairo. From there we lost her.”

Zhu watched Yang Qing-Nian’s features, trying to judge if this was truth. If it was, then he was ahead of them on at least one point. Sharing the information that Leticia Jones had gone to meet with the former head of Tourism, though, would do nothing to help his case.

Sun Bingjun drank his tea, musing over the facts in front of him. He was senior only in terms of age, and despite the glories of the past much of his actual power had been washed away, not only by his drinking but also by his early opposition to Hu Jintao’s presidency, which had led him to speak too publicly during the SARS crisis of 2003. Since then, all the old veteran’s public statements had been masterful balancing acts between saying much and saying nothing. Now, though, they were behind closed doors and, remarkably, he looked sober. Sun Bingjun exhaled. “In my experience of examining the actions and motives of the Central Intelligence Agency, its reasoning is never so simple. Revenge as an end in itself is simply not part of the Americans’ thinking process. They’re not Mossad, nor are they adolescents.”

Yang Qing-Nian, the closest to an adolescent in that room, said, “Revenge is not for the sake of revenge, Sun Bingjun, but for the sake of sending a message that they will not be treated as Xin Zhu has treated them. That is one motivation. The second is timing. With the Games nearly upon us, any disruption they can provoke—be it here in Beijing or in Xinjiang—will embarrass us on the world stage. Even if they fall short, the possibilities for success are too great for them to ignore.”

“Of course you see it that way, Yang Qing-Nian,” Sun Bingjun said in his bored voice, “because you still think in terms of revenge. But if a plan like this fails, it does not simply mean that the Americans won’t disrupt our Games. It means the exposure of their plans to the world, which would damage them more deeply than anything they could do to us. Remember what happened last year? The CIA was caught funding those feral agitators in the mountains who call themselves the Youth League—a touch of irony, using our youth organization’s name. The scandal and humiliation led to the fall of one CIA director and enormous cuts in its funding. They are unlikely to start supporting Islamic terrorism now—certainly not for revenge. The risks are too great. So, if the Americans really are taking such an incredible risk, then their reasoning goes much deeper than revenge, or
sending a message
. Not even a small, self-funded department would be so short-sighted.”

BOOK: An American Spy
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