Polar Bears and Spies
Dr. Aaron Goldstein had been persuaded, against his better judgment, to visit the zoo with his young niece. He stared at the monkey-eating eagle from Java. The eagle stared back. He looked as if he were considering whether Dr. Goldstein was a monkey, and, if not, whether he would have an unpleasant fishy taste. The Strategic Air Command tended to identify with the American bald eagle, but this one, bigger, darker, and more sinister, would provide an excellent emblem for an air force of the next century. Since his nine-year old niece had become involved in an elaborate conversation with a girl she had just met, Goldstein retired to a bench. There, as often, he reflected on his life and times.
There was one central disaster around which everything else revolved, his failure to get tenure in the physics department at Harvard University. The mitigating circumstances were considerable. They had hired the best five young men they could find to compete for one permanent slot. And, anyway, in a department which contained Nobel Prize winners the standards were stiffish.
The other three who weren't chosen had all taken positions at other universities. Not winning the five-way competition hadn't been held against them. But none of that had mattered to Dr. Goldstein. In the throes of something like an internal emotional revolution, he had quit the academic world on the spot.
Unfortunately, in his haste, humiliation, and fury, Goldstein forgot that what he wanted to do could only be done in the academic world. While there were some companies which sponsored a certain amount of basic research in physics, Goldstein had previously spurned any questions that didn't bear directly on the basic composition of matter and the origins of the universe. He had always hated any sort of applied science. Moreover, it would never have given him any satisfaction to have invented a process which made him a million dollars, or a hundred million for that matter. He wanted only the respect of his peers in the only world that mattered, the world of theoretical physicists.
These thoughts were interrupted when Cindy tugged abruptly at his sleeve and moved him on to another exhibit. Goldstein liked the child, and, while glad that she wasn't his, he was happy to spend a couple of afternoons a year with her
They next moved on to the monkeys. Goldstein, unlike the eagle, found them rather distasteful. But, as he remarked to Cindy, there was no accounting for tastes. She thought better of the monkeys than he did, and attempted to communicate with a young baboon. He found another bench.
The great advantage of the work at DRI was that it was something new. It didn't have the stigma of applied physics or engineering, and, since both von Neumann and Turing had concerned themselves with computers, they couldn't be written off as a waste of time and energy. And, then, there was another new element, that of power. No one who dealt with nuclear weapons and wrote reports which went to the JCS could be taken lightly. When Cindy was a little older, he'd explain it all to her.
But, still, it was all a poor substitute for the career that Goldstein should have had at Harvard. He was still extremely angry, and had a strong desire to hurt. The only trouble was that he hardly knew whom he wanted to hurt.
The polar bears were next, and Goldstein found them much more interesting. One of the great sharp-nosed dirty-white animals was standing in front of his small pool catching peanuts thrown to him by the spectators in his mouth. There was quite a crowd pressed up against the steel fence, probably because the bear had the grace of a professional outfielder as he caught the peanuts. Goldstein noticed with interest that the pool was full to the brim, and that its surface was several feet above the ground on which the spectators were standing. Sending Cindy for a bag of peanuts, he made some further calculations.
When Cindy returned with the bag, Goldstein threw a peanut over the heads of the people crowded at the fence to the bear. He reached up with his mouth and caught it easily. Goldstein threw the next one higher and deeper. Again like an outfielder, perhaps backed up to a low fence, the bear reached up and back. Just as he caught the peanut, he toppled backwards into his pool. It was a warm day, and he was probably ready for a dip in any case.
Goldstein had estimated that the bear's mass, suddenly dropped into the pool, would displace far more water than the overflow devices would be able to handle in a short time. He wasn't disappointed in the amount of water that came surging out of the pool. Better yet, it came flooding down the slope, through the fence, and into the crowd. Women screamed and children yelled as the people moved back, tripping and falling over one another.
Cindy, back far enough to avoid the miniature tidal wave, was delighted. Goldstein had once overheard her tell her mother how much fun it was to be with Uncle Aaron. He felt that, in that area, his reputation was enhanced even further.
It was a great day at DRI, the day that the interim report of Goldstein's group was mimeographed and circulated, each copy with a red TOP SECRET stamp on it. Even the people who had had a hand in writing it stopped work to read through its fifty pages.
In Complab there was almost no one except Jacky who had been closely involved in the model from the beginning, and, of course, he missed the end. There had thus been a certain amount of suspense about the results, not least on the part of Tom. Peeking ahead, he came upon one of the conclusions, hardly a surprising one. If Red struck first, anything from sixty five to ninety five per cent of Blue cities would be destroyed, depending on the assumptions made. Blue military facilities would suffer similarly, and even the naval forces at sea would suffer great losses. But, nonetheless, enough of SAC would survive to inflict great damage on the Soviet Union. Then came the surprise. It could not be guaranteed, or even reasonably assumed, that SAC would be able to inflict on the Soviet Union a degree of damage which would immobilize its economy and keep its ground forces from over-running western Europe. At the very minimum, twenty million Soviets would be killed, but, as the report said, such losses didn't constitute a different order of magnitude from those suffered in Russia in previous wars.
It sounded to Tom as if Goldstein and his colleagues thought Red could win. But there was an appendix to the report.
The appendix was based on the assumption of a Blue first strike under optimal conditions of daylight. Here, there was almost no ambiguity. Under any assumptions short of the absurd, the Soviet Union would be utterly destroyed. Indeed, its return strike would be so weak that "the attack might well never reach Blue territory at all." If it did, there was a ninety per cent probability that no more than three Blue cities or installations would be destroyed.
It was really very simple. Whoever struck first would win. But this wasn't the accepted wisdom of governing circles, not only in the United States, but in most parts of the world. The prevailing view, put forward by countless statesmen, diplomats, and editorial writers, was that both sides would lose in a nuclear exchange.
Tom got a chance to talk with Bruce later in the day, and asked him what he thought about the report. Bruce grimaced and replied,
"It has a false air of science about it. You and I know how many of the parameters depend on little more than guesswork, but you wouldn't imagine that from reading the report."
"I wonder what they'll think of it at the pentagon."
"It'll go first to the chief of staff of the army, General Maxwell Taylor. I have no idea how sophisticated he might be in areas like this, and whether he'd take it with a grain of salt."
Tom was pretty sure that Mac Hollins would know the answer to that question, but he wasn't sure what importance Hollins would himself attach to the report. It was as if Bruce were thinking along the same lines. He said, with a wry smile,
"You might take it upon yourself to educate the director concerning the problems of simulation at this stage in the development of computers, and the dangers of taking them too seriously."
Tom had realized, almost from the first page, that it could be used by both S-t-W and B-t-t-D hawks in arguments with doves. But all the investigators at DRI, and most particularly Complab, were supposed to be seekers after the truth who didn't concern themselves with the consequences. It was only with Bruce, really, that he could admit that he might like to see certain truths, if they were truths, buried in a deep hole and left there. Bruce replied, seemingly casually,
"There are always certain questions concerning the use one's work is going to be put to. If I were Goldstein, I'd worry about this report."
Tom knew Goldstein better than did Bruce, or thought he did. He didn't think that Goldstein would worry.
A few days later, Tom got a call from Charles. He wanted to meet for lunch. Tom was a bit surprised. While Charles might have been happy to have him tag along on a group outing, and even lend him a suit, Tom knew that he was too junior and too naive to be taken up as a friend and equal. Charles must have something particular that he wanted to discuss, but Tom couldn't imagine what it might be.
They met at a place in Chevy Chase, and, immediately after ordering, Charles said,
"You may not realize it, Tom, but diplomats have some tortuous ways of communicating. One person, A, may want to get a message to B, but still not want to say anything to B about it. In that case, he will go to C. If it's an extremely sensitive matter, he may not mention B to C at all, but will only hint at some information which he knows that C will recognize as being important to B. He will have so chosen C that he can assume that C will communicate it to B. Do you understand?"
"I guess so."
"Good. You're B, I'm C, and Boris is A."
"Okay. What's the message?"
"It is, of course, very vague. It's just that you're doing something, I wouldn't know what, that might cause you trouble with your own people."
Tom was actually rather shocked. He then thought of Elaine Kittredge. Had he entered on to forbidden territory with a journalist? He explained the matter to Charles. Charles replied,
"That couldn't be it. Boris may have seen you talking with this lady, but he wouldn't presume to give you advice of that kind. He might conceivably warn you off her for personal reasons, but, if so, he'd tell you himself."
"Under what circumstances would he warn me?"
"It has to be something he's learned about you from his people. And, of course, he'd be in serious trouble if they knew he'd warned you. That's why the message is so indirect. I suppose he knew I'd explain all this to you."
Tom could hardly believe that the Russian embassy had any interest in him, or that they knew of his existence. He replied,
"If the Russians know about me, it must be because Boris has told them. But then he wouldn't warn me."
"A valid argument, but the premise is wrong. They know about you, but not through Boris. There's also another conclusion that you can draw, one which I think you shouldn't pass on to your people."
Tom thought hard, and then it came to him.
"Boris is an intelligence agent disguised as a diplomat!"
"My reasons for thinking you shouldn't enlighten the CIA about Boris are two. First, you can't do it without arousing their suspicions about yourself. Second, there's a certain code of honor among people like Boris and myself, and, by implication, you as well. Where there are no pressing concerns of national security, we help each other stay out of trouble. Hence, Boris' warning to you. In return, you keep quiet your suspicions about Boris. The CIA automatically suspects all east-bloc diplomats anyway, and it makes little difference whether they know that a particular one is, or is not, an intelligence agent."
Tom was convinced, and agreed quickly. But he still had no idea what he might be doing. Charles said,
"I'll help you reason it out since you seem to be rather slow today. How would intelligence agent D operating in country E hear anything about a citizen of E?"
"I suppose by reading the reports that come across his desk."
"Just so. And who would those reports come from?"
"Other people in the embassy, or perhaps some sent out from home."
"But these reports concern a particular private citizen, not, with all due respect for yourself, a public figure."
Tom was blurrily aware that Charles pronounced "figure" as "figger," something that he associated more with hillbillies than English aristocrats, but it didn't prevent him from drawing the conclusion.
"So there'd ultimately have to be a report on that citizen from a spy in country E?"
Charles nodded and added,
"And, in this case, that spy must think that the citizen is doing something of potential usefulness to the spy's intelligence service."
There was only one possible explanation. Charles was, in fact, rather solicitous. He said,
"These things are always a shock. But you must have leeway. Boris wouldn't have said anything if he'd thought it was too late."
"Yes. Now that I know who it must be, I can imagine the reports that are going back. It wouldn't be that serious a matter. But he's right. I could be headed for trouble."
Tom had been ignoring his food all this while, and, as it was getting cold, he ate it with a rush. Charles departed soon afterward, probably realizing that he wanted a chance to be alone and think.
As Tom walked back to Complab, his first thought was one of thankfulness. He was sure that he hadn't told Elizaveta any secrets. She could only be reporting incidental information about his background, and, at most, that he seemed interested in what the Soviet leadership did when there was a nuclear alert. But that was exactly the sort of question he was supposed to be asking. Tom was beginning to suspect that a lot of things found their way back and forth between the Soviet and American intelligence services, but he wouldn't be in trouble even if Elizaveta's reports ended up on the desk of Mr. D. O. A. Desmond. On the other hand, Elizaveta might have reported that he was becoming infatuated with her. That might have been what alarmed Boris.
Tom next thought about the CIA. Some things were now clearer. All defectors were potential agents whose "defections" had been arranged, and who continued to report back. If the CIA had been suspicious about the circumstances of Elizaveta's defection, they might have discounted any information she brought with her. That lack of interest in her which A. L. Siess took for stupidity might have a basis which Seiss didn't know about.
The object then would be, not to pluck her dry, but to put her in a position in which she couldn't spy. A private school in Fairmile, Virginia would seem ideal in that respect, except that they had sent her Tom to spy on. But that was Seiss' doing, and he was evidently not being kept current. Nor, for that matter, was Colonel Smith.
Mr. Desmond would presumably be better informed, but he had delegated the selection of defectors for Tom to see to a lower level. And so, there might well be no single person in the Agency who realized that they had put a young man full of secrets in contact with an enemy agent eager to relieve him of them. Such were presumably the problems of secret organizations in which no one knows what anyone else is doing.