Title:                      The Case Officer

Author:                 F. W. Rustmann, Jr.

Rustmann, F. W., Jr. The Case Officer. West Palm Beach. FL: Double Tap Books

OCLC:    837352402


·         From Somalia, to Ethiopia, to Hong Kong, to Paris, CIA case officer “Mac” MacMurphy uncovers an intricate Iranian plot to draw China into a terrorist alliance against America. But when organizational inertia within the CIA hierarchy disrupts his operational plans, he must resort to unconventional methods to achieve his goals.


·         Spy Stories

Date Posted:      December 7, 2015

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[1]

As a reader who has been devouring spy fiction for half a century, it is with great pleasure that I report that retired CIA case officer Fred Rustmann has written a novel that rings with authenticity—a story replete with field cunning and tradecraft, a devious plot that would bring a blush to the cheeks of Machiavelli, savage office politics, and several rousing sex scenes

There is also a deep moral story: the need for CIA officers to recognize that their attempts to recruit officials of the adversary can have severe consequences for the targets, ranging from wrecking careers to death.

Rustmann’s character is Barry Stephan “Mac” MacMurphy, whose early years parallel the author’s own life in some respects—a New Yorker who became a wrestler in high school, continued the sport at Oklahoma State University, and then entered the Marine Corps. And it is as a Marine captain, in charge of security of the US Embassy in Somalia, that Mac has the first brush with the pigheadedness that seems to be all too prevalent in the US government.

Although terrorists are massing for an assault on the embassy, the ambassador orders Mac (and his marines) not to fire if they attack, but to “batten down the hatches” and await action by the State Department. The CIA station chief angrily says, “We have to either . leave or defend ourselves … That mob will hack us up like animals if we stay!” The ambassador retorts, “I will not have .any shooting in this compound, no shooting, none, and that’s final.”

Mac demurs. With a sniper rifle; a sharpshooter’s eye, and the support of the COS, he goes to the roof and begins plinking the mob’s advance. A dozen or so head shots, and the mob loses courage and scatters. (The ambassador, of course, takes credit in cables to Washington with ordering the heroic defense.) The impressed station chief persuades him to join CIA.

Fluent in Chinese, .Mac desires to work in China ops. An Agency senior counsels him to take an assignment in Africa Division, where he can go after Chinese targets in Addis Ababa. The influx of Chinese officials means “the targets are ripe and the hunting is good.” Prime recruitment targets are persons working for the government’s New China News Agency (NCNA), “who have as much access to classified information as the other officials.” And their journalistic status gives them more freedom of movement … than the others.”

Mac takes the assignment. As a case officer, over several years he becomes fast friends with Huang Tsung-yao[2], ostensibly an NCNA reporter, but in fact an intelligence operative for the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Agency superiors pressure Mac to make a recruiting pitch to Huang. He declines. He realizes his friend would reject such a proposal; further, loyal officer that he is, he would report the overture to the MSS—thus fingering himself as someone the CIA considered capable of treason. Such is exactly what happens: a reluctant Mac makes the pitch, and within day·Huang is recalled to China and given meaningless work.

Segue forward a decade, when the Agency picks up hints that China and Iran are planning some sort of deal involving enormous amounts of money. And here is where Fred Rustmann draws upon his decades of experience in CIA’s clandestine service to craft a story that likely had a modified counterpart in real life.

Briefly, Huang has survived his period of disgrace and ended up in Paris, involved in the cloudy deal with Iran. Agency superiors, including the DCI and the Paris COS, press Mac to make another recruitment pitch. He resists, and comes up with a counter plan: bug Huang’s embassy office in the hope that the needed information can be gleaned from overheard conversations.

What follows is a how-to manual that shows how a case officer goes about organizing· an operation—from arranging clandestine meetings with contract assets, avoiding surveillance, and arranging an “audio penetration,” a polite euphemism for bugging an adversary.

As a reviewer, I prefer not to reveal too many details of a thriller. Permit one teaser. The Chinese embassy abutted an apartment building, and Huang’s office shared a common wall with the residence of a elderly woman and her “unmarried but not unattractive daughter,” Colette. Mac immediately thought of Francois, a playboy and a Paris station contract asset who delighted in the occasional odd job.

Mac tasks him with getting the women out of the apartment for a long weekend so that he and technicians could drill through the wall and install the bug. The suave Francois “accidentally” meets Colette in a neighborhood cafe, She shows up for their first dinner date clad in a pretty new dress, cut low to display her ample assets. In short order, both women agree to a weekend on the French Riveria [sic, Goulden obviously means “Riviera”], allowing Mac and the technical team do their bugging work. To their astonishment, what they overhear is Huang and an associate opening boxes, counting out 50 million Euros, and stashing them in a safe.

And that is all I am going to tell you. Suffice to say that The Case Officer is a book that warrants a five-cloak, five-dagger rating.

[1] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, pp. ) Joseph C. Goulden is a long-time reviewer of espionage and spy books for The Washington Times and other publications. Most of the reviews [from The Intelligencer, reproduced in this blog] appeared in prior editions of The Washington Times. Joe Goulden’s recent book is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications

[2] It is unfortunate that Goulden uses the Wade-Giles (and I suppose that Rustmann, too, probably pretty good in Chinese) instead of pinyin to spell out Chinese names. Today’s operatives would certainly use what is much more common in China.


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