James Bamford Reviews Once a Spy James Bamford is the bestselling author of The Shadow Factory: The NSA From 9/11 To The Eavesdropping On America, Body Of Secrets: Anatomy Of The Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, and other books on intelligence. Read his guest review of Once a Spy:
In the National Security Agency's cipher-locked Tordella Supercomputer Building, hard drives are capable of storing upwards of a petabyte of data, equal to about 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets of top secret paper. When the time comes to destroy that information, the drive is first put in a $44,000 degausser that completely erases the magnetic memory. Then, for good measure, the drive is inserted into a $7,000 "Physical Hard Drive Destroyer" where it is bent, broken, and smashed. Although expensive, the entire operation can be accomplished in less than a minute.
Across the Potomac River at CIA headquarters, however, getting rid of information presents a far more difficult problem; the most sensitive data is stored not in hard drives, but in human brains. So what happens when one of those brains, belonging to a top agency spy, comes down with Alzheimer's?
That is the problem the agency is having with Drummond Clark in Keith Thomson's enjoyable spy novel, Once a Spy. Uncertain of what the former spy may do, the agency's only way to ensure the security of the information in Drummond's mind is to put him through their own version of the NSA's Physical Hard Drive Destroyer: bend, break, and smash him.
Caught in the middle is Drummond's gambling-addicted son, Charlie, who has always known his father not as a stealthy CIA officer, but as a down-beat, work-a-day appliance salesman. He slowly starts to see his father in a different light, however, after someone blows up his Brooklyn apartment and Drummond begins engaging in some unique tradecraft, not common to appliance tradesmen. Soon, it's not just the CIA that wants to put Drummond and Charlie in the shredder, but others, leading to an elaborate father-son escape with many false turns, unexpected detours, and the possibility of a very dead end. Once a Spy is a wild ride. --James Bamford
From Publishers Weekly
columnist Thomson's wildly original debut, a darkly satirical thriller, features an unlikely, if endearing, father-son spy duo: retired appliance salesman Drummond Clark, who at age 64 suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and Charlie Clark, a down-on-his-luck gambler who owes $23,000 to Russian loan sharks. Soon after Charlie rescues Drummond from the Brooklyn streets, where he'd been wandering, the older man's house blows up and the two barely escape with their lives. Clark and son begin an adrenaline-fueled cross-country flight in which they must evade ruthless CIA assassins long enough to understand why they're being targeted. During rare moments of lucidity, Drummond hotwires a car and effortlessly kills multiple assailants, suggesting to Charlie he was once much more than just a washing machine salesman. Poignant themes of love and redemption underpin an action-packed story line that includes exotic locales, high-tech gadgetry, and international intrigue. (Mar.)
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