"Americans did not like lying to others," David Ignatius writes in Bloodmoney. "It made them uncomfortable. Their specialty was lying to themselves."
Lying — to everyone, really — is the theme of his new espionage novel, set in present-day Pakistan. In the book, a Pakistani official asks whether Americans are conducting covert operations on Pakistani soil. And, as truth is so often stranger than fiction, it's a subject that has come under much scrutiny in the weeks since al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
"When I wrote the book I knew that there were unauthorized, undisclosed CIA operations in Pakistan," Ignatius tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Anybody who spends any time covering this beat as I do finds that out."
Ignatius — who is a foreign affairs journalist — became curious about how one would go about conducting such a covert operation from the U.S. The more he thought about it, he says, the more it seemed like a metaphor for the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan: "Each of us sneaking up on the other. [The U.S.] not trusting the Pakistanis, they not trusting us. Each ... having good reason for the mistrust."
Ordinarily, American operatives in Pakistan would collaborate with the local intelligence agency, because in theory, Pakistan is an ally. But in the novel — and in real life — if it appears that the local intelligence agency won't cooperate, American operatives will simply fly under the radar.
"You have the distinction between the declared officers — who typically operate out of a CIA station in an embassy, who are either openly declared to the host service or easily discoverable. Then you have other people, who are under much deeper cover, who typically operate with commercial platforms," Ignatius explains.
In Bloodmoney, Ignatius imagines that the CIA, unable to carry out clandestine operations around the globe, creates a whole new secret wing — hiding behind a Los Angeles entertainment front called "Hit Parade." The name of the novel refers to compensation paid to a victim's family to settle the score for a death.
Ignatius says the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis — who was arrested and released after a payment of blood money — eerily paralleled some of the plotlines of his book. In January, Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis on the street in Lahore. He said he acted in self-defense. "Here's this real life CIA contractor," Ignatius says, "who is arrested by the Pakistanis, who it turns out is part of a whole capability not known to the American public [and] not known previously to Pakistan. At the end of the day, he's released through a payment of blood money."
In recent months, Ignatius and others have used the phrase "double game" to describe what they say Pakistan is doing — working simultaneously with the U.S. and with militants. Ignatius has suggested that "double game" may be too simple a phrase.
"The [Pakistani] ISI [or Inter-Services Intelligence] is always playing both sides of the fence," Ignatius says, partnering with the United States while also pursuing its own interests. "It's always hedging its bets a little bit ... it's not really very different from the way the United States behaves. We conduct joint operations with the ISI but there's a lot that we don't tell them" ... or don't tell them until it's too late. Take, for example, the policy of concurrent notification, he says. "Concurrent meaning after the missile has been fired, and the target has been incinerated on the ground," Ignatius says. "...We're telling [Pakistan] what we just did."
It sounds dysfunctional, but given the fraught and complex relationship between the two nations, Ignatius says the system is actually working the way it was designed.
"Intelligence services exist to do things that are illegal abroad: They exist to tell lies," he says. "The CIA has ... the authority to conduct operations that the government will then deny ever took place."
It's a given that the intelligence services of U.S. and Pakistan will lie to one another, Ignatius says, but they both need each other, too. The great challenge now, he believes, is finding a way to bring the Taliban to the table, now that bin Laden has been killed.
"The Taliban is as tired of this fight as anybody," Ignatius says. "Osama bin Laden, who symbolized the need to resist, is gone. There is an open pathway. You can see it right in front of you. You just have to find it, and then find a way to go down it." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.