Sometimes people ask me why I got into the world of international espionage, and I tell them the truth: For the glamor.
I like drinking Bordeaux in my steely Malaysian penthouse. I like yachting off the coast of Martinique. I like effortlessly romancing beautiful neuroscientists in golden Venetian arcades.
Does any of this sound good to you? Of course it does.
Everyone wants to be the guy in the tuxedo. Everyone wants the little walkie-talkie watch. Everyone wants to say some suave shit to the bad guy right before karate chopping him into a shark tank. But people don’t understand that this job takes a certain kind of character. It takes a special kind of constitution. You’ve gotta be a real cold motherfucker to do my job.
Anyway, I’m in the bell tower of a sun bleached Sardinian church when my little holo-watch thingy starts beeping. (This means I have a new assignment.) I press the little code in – beep boop boop beep – and one of those crazy distorted voices starts talking. It says something along the lines of:
GoOD EVeNInG aGent X YouR NExT aSsIGNMenT is tO taKe dOWn thE NatiONaL SEcuRIty AGenCy dATAbasE.
I think “Woah! The NSA huh? The nefarious government agency responsible for the massive, possibly illegal, definitely immoral spying and data collection program? That’s gonna be a hard nut to crack!” But in my heart, I know I’m going to crack it, because I’m the best goddamn secret agent there is.
So, the next thing I know I’m on a private jet to DC. I’m pulling on a black turtleneck in a 5-Star hotel. I’m scaling up the sides of the NSA headquarters with suction cup gloves. I’m cartwheeling past security guards, I’m scooting under green laser beams, I’m crawling through air ducts with a little gun.
I repel down into the corridor of the NSA mainframe. There are two armed guards at the entrance to the data center, but I karate chop them unconscious before they can even turn around. I pick the lock with one of those electric doohickeys and roll in through the door.
The room is empty.
Or at least that’s what I think. I hear a voice from behind me that says “Don’t move…”
I turn around. Slow.
The director of the NSA (Paul M. Nakasone) is standing by the door with a gun trained right on my heart. I can see the little red dot of his laser sight dancing around my chest. He says “You may be wondering why I’ve summoned you here, Agent X…”
I think “Woah! What a twist!”
He says “Indeed! Now, ask yourself, Agent X. Search your mind. Why would the director of the US government’s most insidious intelligence agency invite a spy into its most secretive corridors?”
Admittedly, that is what I’m thinking.
Then he lets the gun fall at his side. He collapses into a little folding chair near the door and lets his head drop into his hands. He runs his hands along his temples.They’re shaking. His uniform looks rumpled and his face looks tired.
“I can’t do this anymore.” he says.
He says “I hate my job. I hate directing the NSA. Everybody thinks we’re so evil. You hear what they say about us on the news. All we did was look at everyone’s phone records a couple times. All we did was comb through your browsing history once or twice. We were just trying to protect America from terrorism and now everybody hates us. Even my kids think I’m a piece of shit. They told me so.”
He started rubbing at his eyes and I could tell he was trying not to cry. He said we weren’t the only ones with secrets. We weren’t the only ones with secret pain. He said one of the things you learned when you directed the NSA was that secrets were the thing that connected us all together. Pain was the glue of the universe.
He started walking towards me with his shaking hands outstretched. He said he assigned me this mission because he knew I would understand. He knew he could open up to me. He knew that I was the kind of person that would listen to his secrets and feel his pain. He said that was all this whole “Patriot Act” thing had ever really been about.
The second he was within reach I karate chopped him right in the Adam’s Apple. He crumpled to the floor and shouted “Ow! Fuck!” through wheezing gasps.
NSA director Paul Nakasone writhed around on the floor in pain yelling “Please! Don’t leave! I need help!” but I was already front-flipping out the window, grappling into a passing helicopter, and disappearing into the thin red line of sunrise over the Fort Meade skyline.
I told you. You’ve got to be a cold motherfucker to do what I do. It’s not my job to be Paul Nakasone’s therapist. I said in the beginning: I didn’t get into this to untangle the mysteries of the human heart. I got into this to drink expensive liquor in exotic locales with beautiful women.
Fuck Paul Nakasone.
I spent the next few months on the run. Tokyo, Paris, Berlin. It was a blast. I was shacked up in a Mumbai safe house when I thwarted the first assassination attempt. Some chick dressed up like cleaning staff tried to get the jump on me, but guess what?
I went through her effects (gun, cyanide tablet, passport) and eventually found my dossier. It said I was wanted for breaking into a government compound, for the attempted theft of state secrets, for the assault of the National Security Agency director.
Blah blah blah.
I knew it was bullshit. I knew why they were after me. I knew why they wanted me dead. They wanted me dead because I kicked a man when he was down. When he was open. When he was at his most vulnerable.
And I gotta say, Paul, if you’re reading this – if you’ve decrypted my communications, if you’ve hacked all my shit – I just want you to know, I get it man.
I mean, that’s the kind of thing you just never get over, do you?