Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Overton Window: Chapter Twenty-Seven

Faction time, kids!

Fortunately, that "long story" about Kearns' career has been summarized in four short paragraphs. Whew. But, like I said, faction. So, not so whew.

Kearns "worked in the top levels of counterterrorism with a man named John O'Neill, the agent who'd been one of the most persistent voices of concern over the grave danger posed by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s."

John O'Neill is a real person. A one-time special agent and Assistant Director at the FBI. He investigated the USS Cole bombing in Yemen, among other things. According to Wikipedia:

In 1996 and 1997, O'Neill continued to warn of growing threats of terrorism, saying that modern groups are not supported by governments and that there are terrorist cells operating within the United States. He stated that veterans of the insurgency by Afghan rebels against the Soviet Union's invasion had become a major threat. Also in 1997, he moved to the FBI's New York office, where he was one of the agents in charge of counterterrorism and national security.

And as Beck puts it:

John O'Neill had seen a woeful lack of preparation for the twenty-first-century threat of stateside terrorism, and he hadn't been shy about expressing his opinions. The people upstairs, meanwhile, didn't appreciate all the vocal criticisms of the Bureau specifically and the government in general, especially coming from one of their own.

In August 2001, O'Neill left the FBI (after losing some sensitive documents and equipment) and took a job as the World Trade Center's head of security. He died on September 11.

All of which isn't really Kearns' backstory so much as it is O'Neill's. But "Stuart Kearns's FBI career had likewise been derailed by his outspokenness and his association with O'Neill, but he'd stubbornly chosen to try to ride out the storm rather than quitting." I guess that's how Kearns ended up selling a fake nuke to a bunch of would-be terrorists in Nevada.

Kearns' career never much recovered from being O'Neill's protégé:

A bureaucracy never forgets and they'd kept pushing him further and further out toward the pasture until finally, for the last several years, he'd been banished so far undercover that he sometimes wondered if anyone even remembered he was still an agent at all.

I think, though, that the reason Kearns is being pushed out is because he's not a very good agent. For example: Bailey convinces him to pull over at the Pussycat Ranch so they can have a beer.

"You've got to be kidding me," Kearns said.

"We've had a rough night, Stuart, and I'd like to have a beer."

"I've got beer at home."

"A beer in a can in a house trailer with another dude and a beer in a Nevada brothel are two totally different things, and right now I need the second one."

I guess the Pussycat Ranch reference is more faction. It's not quite as tasteless as including John O'Neill as a character, but it is still pretty bad. Of course, Kearns opts to stay outside. "Fake or not, I'm not going to leave an atomic bomb unattended in the parking lot of a roadhouse."

Okay, now, you see where this is going, right? This is what I meant about Kearns not being the best agent the FBI has in that institution's employ.

Inside, he'd barely taken a seat at the bar and placed his order when one of the more fetching young ladies of the evening caught his eye and invited herself over.

"What can I do for you?" she asked.

"That's a loaded question in a place like this, isn't it?"

She frowned a bit and looked at him a little closer. "Do I know you, mister?"

The bartender had returned with his beer, taken his twenty, and left a ten-dollar bill in its place. Danny picked up his glass and his change and took the woman's hand.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"My name's Tiffany." Her eyes lit up suddenly. "You're that guy," she whispered, "on the Internet, in that video."

"I am indeed," Danny said. He leaned in a little closer. "And Tiffany, I need for you to do me a little favor."

Kearns stays with a fake, inert, prop outside, instead of keeping an eye on his wily, doesn't-play-by-the-rules stool pigeon. Whoops, no more promotions for you, Kearns! Seriously, that's pretty damn stupid.

Also stupid: "You're that guy, on the Internet, in that video."

And more stupid:

Outside at the bar the television had been showing the news, and in the crawl along the bottom he'd seen that over the weekend the national terrorism threat level had been raised to orange, the last step before the highest. Maybe that was related to this thing with Kearns, maybe not.

Just FYI, the threat level has been at orange (high) for air travel for more than four years. It's been at yellow (elevated) for everything else for more than five. There is a whole conversation to be had about the implications of a warning system that never moves, and the implication of constant and unending fear. Or maybe the lack of fear, the lack of vigilance when everyday normal is an elevated level of threat. Whatever. That is not the conversation Beck is interested in having.

As he composed the text message to Molly Ross he began to realize how little intelligence he actually had to pass along. He knew the code name of this operation he'd become involved in; he'd seen it on the paperwork they'd made him sign upon his release from jail. He knew when it was going down, and where. And he knew something was going wrong, and that the downward slide might be just beginning.

He checked the message one last time, and hit send.

molly -
spread the word --- stay away from las vegas monday
FBI sting op --> * exigent *
be safe

Whew! Thank you Hooker With A Heart Of Gold for letting your favourite celebrity use your phone, and thank you Kearns for being such a shitty federal agent! Without your help Bailey wouldn't have got word to the patriots about Operation Exigent!

Now, what will Molly and Noah do? Oh, wait, Noah ain't doing shit, he's been kicked to the curb, proverbially speaking. You remember that old proverb about curbs and kicking and whatnot, right? Nevermind. Anyway, thing are really starting to thrill up around here. Are you excited?

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