What to Read? The Director by David Ignatius

By District of Columbia Bar

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The following is an excerpt of a book review written in The Washington Lawyer September 2014 

A new CIA chief is recruited from the corporate world to clean up a bureaucratic mess, and he immediately becomes entangled in a scheme where he can’t tell the good guys (men and women in the agency) from the bad.

In the post-Snowden era, the new chief finds himself in an agency filled with strange characters and mysterious leakers, all with secret lives. “The worst calamity for an intelligence agency is a penetration agent or a code break,” Ignatius writes. His tale takes us to Hamburg, London, Berlin, Basel, and Cambridge, much as Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth did in their protagonists’ escapades. He introduces readers to Internet spying by and into government intelligence networks.

At times, the intrigues become confusing: “There are no more black hats and white hats. It’s all the same hat. They’re all working together.”

Ignatius’ examination of the history of international spying, particularly the US–UK post-World War II link, is interesting. He suggests that the idea that the CIA is “a sort of clandestine version of the immaculate birth” arising after the war is wrong. Characters and documents he cites indicate that our agency was created by the UK, “in geek-speak . . . they owned the firmware.” The CIA is a foreign implant, Ignatius’ hacker anti-hero argues, “a covert action,” and American pseudo-patriots are planning to expose that, if their conspiracy theory is correct.

The target is global finance. Someone, or some group, is hacking into the central bank of central banks, the Bank for International Settlements. An international financial crisis occurs, moving huge funds from rich countries to poor ones as a “moral” statement to the world from the new-age Robin Hoods. The new CIA chief has to stop it from happening, can’t do it alone, and needs to find allies.

He learns the CIA is not like the business world he knew. “[T]he reasons people were drawn into CIA careers also made them unsuitable partners, by definition: They were good liars; they knew how to conceal their feelings; they knew how to do bad things and get up the next morning and do them again . . . the CIA had its own rules.”

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, D.C., attorney, author, and literary agent whose reviews appear regularly in Washington Lawyer. Reach him at