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Running title: Gray Day – My Undercover Mission To Expose America’s First Cyber Spy

This title appeared in one of our earlier monthly non-fiction book lists that we use to determine which books we should buy for our library branches. There is a good possibility that I may have selected this book but somehow forgot about its existence … until I came across it in the stacks. And then the memory floodgates opened and I remembered salivating like a Pavlovian dog on the synopsis. I need to get out more. And since I was “jonesing” for a book to read and simply grabbed this for my literary “fix”. But enough with the drug allegories and other such bollocks and on with the bloomin review. Yeah?

I do remember when this story broke back in the early 2000s, it was quite the shitstorm. Robert Hanssen, was one of the biggest moles, in American history, who sold secrets to the Russians and compromised much of America’s tactical strategies against our enemies. On the bad side of things (yes, you are reading right) he compromised the lives of many agents and Russian defectors. Needless to say, America was tremoring for months after this broke through and for that period I was curious about this.

Eric O’Neill was an FBI “ghost”, agents capable of efficiently hunting and capturing spies and intelligence traitors. He was also newly married to Julianna, a former citizen of (then) East Germany. Something that he did not disclose to his superiors and got him sidelined for about year. Apparently, having romantic dalliances with women from former Communist countries whilst working for the US government was frowned upon … compromised security and all that good stuff. Then one day, he was suddenly enlisted on a spy hunting mission. The target, one of their own: Robert Hanssen. Robert Hanssen, at the time, was selected (also off the sidelines) to start (get this) the FBI’s first cybercrime unit. In other words this was more than the fox guarding the henhouse; he was bloody building the henhouse, too. The mission, should he choose to accept it (and thankfully did) was to work as subordinate of Hanssen and observe him. Oh right, Hanssen is also a master spy that is very elusive (for more than a decade) and this might be the Bureau’s last chance to nail his sorry ass (no pressure). And there begins the intense cat and mouse game. The problem is that as you progress throughout the book you start to question who is the real cat or mouse and yes … this perspective will change a few times during your reading. Now if you are expecting to read a boring book about some bloke observing a traitorous tosser, you are in for a shocker. Despite the knowledge of how this story ended, Gray still retains that icy grip of a thrilling, suspense-riddled spy novel (Jason Bourne be damned) that makes every page hard to resist turning and sometimes waging a battle with insignificant things like eating, sleeping or using the bathroom. There are some jaw-dropping revelations that appear in this book and it does not favour the FBI about the numerous times the Bureau may have dropped the ball that could have easily ended Hanssen’s long spree. Much earlier. Thankfully the Bureau have learned and has evolved. And as O’Neill struggles with the task on one hand and his law studies on the other, his homefront begins to take a beating. Odd hours at work, mostly due to a “broken server”, being distant in conversation and strange phone calls are putting a strain on his new marriage. He is unable to discuss his work with a woman he is terminally in love with and this begins the slow unravelling on both sides. Robert Hanssen comes off as an arrogant, covertly-cocky, know-it-all that will solicit very little or no sympathy from most readers.
Gray Day is, subtly, a tribute to the folks that work at the FBI and what they do. Yes, apparently it is more than interviewing serial killers that have a penchant for Chianti and fava beans.Most of all it gives a snapshot of the toll and the cost that many of the agents have to pay for the sake of protecting this beautiful country despite some of the bollocks, concerning their abilities, that have been floating around on the airwaves during a certain investigation that involves a certain far east country (there I said it). Jolly good show, Mr. O’Neill, and thanks for your service.

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