The Case Officer

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.

Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century

Title:                      Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century

Author:                  Thomas G. Mahnken

Mahnken, Thomas G. (2012). Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

LOC:       2011052146

E183.8.C5 C67 2012

Date Posted:      April 4, 2013

The U.S. today faces the most complex and challenging security environment in recent memory— even as it deals with growing constraints on its ability to respond to threats. Its most consequential challenge is the rise of China, which increasingly has the capability to deny the U.S. access to areas of vital national interest and to undermine alliances that have underpinned regional stability for over half a century. Thus, the time is right for the U.S. to adopt a long-term strategy for dealing with China; one that includes but is not limited to military means, and that fully includes U.S. allies in the region.

This book uses the theory and practice of peacetime great-power strategic competition to derive recommendations for just such a strategy. After examining the theory of peacetime strategic competition, it assesses the U.S.-China military balance in depth, considers the role of America’s allies in the region, and explores strategies that the U.S could adopt to improve its strategic position relative to China over the long term.

The Private Life of Chairman Mao

Title:                      The Private Life of Chairman Mao

Author:                  Li Zhisui

Zhisui, Dr. Li (1994). The Private Life of Chairman Mao. The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician. New York: Random House

LOC:       94029970

DS778.M3 L5164 1994

Date Posted:      February 10, 2013

This book opens with one of the most hilarious opening chapters of a book that I have read. Mao has just died and in what had become a tradition for Communist regimes his body had to be preserved to be kept on display. The problem was that no one knew how to preserve bodies. Calls were made to Lenin’s Tomb and to the display in which Ho chi Minh was kept all to no avail. It appeared that Lenin’s mummification had not worked well as his nose had fallen off. A substitute nose had to be put in place. The feedback was to ring America as they were good at that sort of thing. A call to America suggested filling the blood stream with formaldehyde. There was a debate about how much to put in and it was decided to put in double the advised amount to make sure there were no mistakes. Mao after all was important and heads would roll (literally) if his body started to decompose. Huge amounts of formaldehyde were pumped into the body. Unfortunately it started to look like the Michelen Man. The assembled doctors realized that they had to do something so that they decided to massage the body to pump out the excess. The only problem was that during the massage process part of Mao’s face broke off. This had to be hurriedly repaired using wax. A general came in to look at the body and looking at the face wanted to start a murder investigation.

The other chapters can’t keep pace with this frantic opening but it is a batman’s biography of one of China’s most important leaders. The author was his doctor for most of his later years and gives an account not just of the politics of Mao but of every aspect of his life.

The author’s role was to keep Mao alive and to fend off disease. This was not easy. Mao for instance refused to clean his teeth. As a result his teeth were covered in a sort of green coating. Although Mao liked to swim and he never liked to wash. Mao was sexually predatory and large numbers of young women went through his bed. He picked up a number of sexual diseases and refused to be treated for them and thus spread them to his companions.

The book however is more interesting than a list of scandals. It describes the mechanics of power and the court that Mao ran. The author was there constantly. He was used by Mao as a source of gossip and as such perhaps learned more of his subject than most physicians. The book describes the way that Mao’s favorites would circle around him drifting in and out of favor and how they would be used by Mao so that he could remain at the centre of power.

The book is not only important as a close source about one of history’s (perhaps regrettably) towering figures but is fascinating to read. It has the grim fascination that a work of fiction can never have as you know that the events unfolded just a short time ago.

The Search for Modern China

Title:                      The Search for Modern China

Author:                   Jonathan D. Spence

Spence, Jonathan D. (1990). The Search for Modern China. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

LOC:       89009241

DS754 .S65 1990

Date Posted:      January 26, 2013

Spence argues that China’s modernization strategies can’t work unless the people are allowed to participate in political decision-making. To a degree he may be right. It is not an either/or situation since the political structure of China continually morphs before a crises that forces change actually occurs. Tiananmen was a crisis, but before the tanks rolled in the morphing was in high gear. Changes were made quietly, and the population generally pacified. I was in China during the crisis, and saw how things modified even in remote places as well as in Shanghai.

This book is, to be sure, a splendid achievement, this sweeping 1088-page epic chronicle compresses four centuries of political and social change into a sharply observant narrative. The difficulty of finding a complete, one-volume history of China is no longer a problem with publication of this work, which covers Chinese history from the 16th-century Ming Dynasty to the 1989”China Spring” demonstrations.

Spence offers contemporary perspectives on the British 19th-century drive to get the Chinese masses addicted to opium, Chiang Kai-Shek’s secret police apparatus and proto-fascist supporters, Japan’s ruthless occupation during WW II, the Mao bloodbath known as the “Cultural Revolution” and the legacy of China’s bureaucratic, authoritarian Ming and Qing dynasties

The text is written in an informative manner that will appeal to students; their lack of knowledge of Chinese history is forestalled by the comprehensive glossary that explains phrases, people, and events. To Spence’s credit (at least from my perspective) he uses Pinyin to Romanize Chinese names of people and places. The Wade –Giles system just is no longer relevant to modern China.

The Library of Congress lists a new edition of the book (2013) but I have not seen it.

Science and Technology in Post-Mao China

Title:                      Science and Technology in Post-Mao China

Author:                  Denis Fred

Simon, Denis Fred (1988) and Merle Goldman, eds. Science and Technology in Post-Mao China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

LOC:       88028456

Q127.C5 S333 1989

Date Posted:      January 23, 2013

Thanks to this original, clear, and vital collection, the place of technical and scientific issues in China today and in the near future can be understood by all. The editors of this book in the Harvard Contemporary China Series have assembled 14 essays by established, respected specialists. Despite the variety of subjects—ranging from historical precedents, through present-day domestic policy emphases, to technology transfer from abroad—masterful introductory and concluding chapters draw everything into a unified survey that will serve intermediate and advanced students and observers of contemporary Chinese developments.The essays cover an impressive range of topics.

The book offers a very valuable balance-sheet for professional analysts of China’s economic and scientific policies, and its case studies in particular may prove useful background reading for foreign businessmen dealing with corporate strategy and tactics. Since the whole economic reforms involve a fine balancing act between central planning and free market forces, between central control and the delegation and decentralization of power and authority—vital issues in developing countries of the Third and Second World—a book about the way China grapples with these problems should prove interesting also for comparative studies in modernization theory.

The studies brought together in this solid, meaty volume appear to add up to a fairly comprehensive treatment of China’s present scientific and technological condition…The book is a valuable addition to the literature relating to the relationship between science and the state, in the particular context of a centrally planned economy subjected to the rigorous primacy of political ideology.

This careful and realistic overview of China’s past and present technological state presents an even-handed, historical account of the transition from Nationalist to Communist policies toward science and scientists…Well-integrated chapters make this an informative, readable, and fascinating account of China’s love-hate relationship with technology. Anyone who wants to understand the vagaries of Chinese policy toward science and foreign influences should enjoy this book.

I used this book in a course I taught in the 1990s on S&T in China.

The White Tiger

Title:                      The White Tiger

Author:                  Robert Stuart Nathan

Nathan, Robert Stuart (1987). The White Tiger. New York: Simon and Schuster

LCCN:    87004320

PS3564.A8495 W4 1987


Date Updated:  October 8, 2015

Judging by this densely textured and exciting suspense novel, China after Mao is still a dangerous place to be, especially for those in power. I lived in China 1987-89 and can attest that nothing is what it seems to be. No one is secure in power, no matter at what level.

The book’s protagonist, Assistant Deputy Director for Public Security Lu Hong, is a high-ranking policeman of stubborn honest. He becomes suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the death of his esteemed mentor and boss, Sun Sheng, shortly before the Director of Investigations orders Hong to keep an eye on visiting American doctor (and purported spy) Peter Ostrander.

Hong investigates, unofficially and at growing personal risk, the mysterious death of his friend and mentor, while at the same time he is officially tailing a visiting American psychiatrist presumed to be a spy.

Hong’s investigations take him on a journey through the past that ends with his expose of treachery and crime among Mao’s closest associates, the “tigers” of the Revolution. The novel’s chief strengths are its intensely realistic depiction of a Beijing bureaucracy, wherein those with the strongest noses for “spiritual pollution” appear to be the most corrupt, and Hong himself, a sympathetic and credible figure caught in the toils of sordid events. Its weaknesses are a pedestrian style and characterization that, Hong aside, is somewhat lacking in depth and vibrancy

Sheng’s death inevitably ties in with the Ostrander case, as do many other people and events dating back to the early 1940s.