Thursday, October 16, 2014

mid-century stand-off

{book title:  Charlie Wilson's War.  subtitle:  "The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of our Times"

written by George Crile
published, Grove Press, New York, 2003}

In the movie, after the scene in Charlie Wilson's apartment, where the girl falls asleep during the telephone conversation, and the Congressman falls asleep after it, we meet CIA agent Gust Avrakotos.

-------------- [excerpt from the book]------------- Gust Avrakotos hadn't gone to Harvard.  He didn't have important relatives or fancy summer vacations.  He hadn't inherited tennis lessons, money, or classic good looks.  He was the son of Greek immigrants from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and the CIA simply didn't go to places like that to recruit its elite case officers.  Aliquippa was a steelworker's town, and for most of its early years, the Agency seemed to think its Clandestine Services should be filled with men of breeding.

That's how the British had always picked their spies....

No matter how long he served or how far he rose in the CIA, Gust Avrakotos would always feel a bit like the poor street kid...."Almost everyone was a f---ing blue blood in the CIA in 1961 when I came in," he says.  "They were just beginning to let Jews move up that year.  But there still weren't any blacks, Hispanics, or females -- just some token Greeks and Polacks."

...The CIA hadn't started opening its ranks to gifted "new" Americans like Avrakotos until 1960, and the move had had nothing to do with social justice.  There were no quotas in those days.  The fact was that these first generation types, brought up on the streets of America and speaking the languages of the Old Country, had certain strengths that the CIA had come to feel it needed.

A kind of panic about the Communist threat had been sweeping over Washington.  In every city in the 1950s air raid sirens were regularly set off.  Tens of millions of children got used to scurrying into bomb shelters or crawling under their desks as part of drills to prepare for a Soviet nuclear assault.

In every corner of the globe the dark hand of the Communists was seen to be at work.

...It was almost as if Gust Avrakotos's early life in Aliquippa had been designed to turn him into the kind of back-alley spy that Harry Truman's advisers were urging the CIA to nurture and unleash on the Communists.

The one thing no one needed to teach this man was how to "subvert and destroy" his enemies.

Aliquippa is one of those American company towns always described as a melting pot.  Immigrants from all over the world poured in here for jobs in the huge steelworks that the Jones and Laughlin company built.  But the hard people of this steel town never lost any of their ethnic pride, or their ethnic hatreds. ...

...These forays into the ethnic enclaves of western Pennsylvania and the special skills required to maneuver there were not designed to serve any particular purpose beyond moving beer and cigarettes.  Unbeknownst to Gust, they also constituted a remarkable introduction into the worlds he would later pass through for the CIA.

...The two superpowers were spending the bulk of their national budgets preparing to deliver an all-out nuclear attack within a matter of minutes. 

Over fifteen thousand nuclear warheads were aimed at each other's cities and military targets.  On the border of Western Europe stood ninety Soviet divisions. 

The United States and its NATO allies conducted constant exercises in anticipation of an all-out conventional war. 

But no one doubted that it would inevitably go nuclear if so much as a division crossed the frontier.

...With no other real outlet, the entire globe became the battleground of the spies.  There was hardly a country where the KGB and CIA were not facing off in one way or another.

------------------------- [end excerpt]


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