Untellable Tales, Chapter XXXVII
Within the soundproof walls of The Company, few arts are so useful as the ability to identify and cultivate raw talent. Never did I practice this vital bit of the craft as successfully as in the case to be discussed presently. In previous chapters, I have changed the names of various players even though all of them will be dead by the time this memoir is published fifty years hence (for details of the publication agreement, see the Introduction). Protecting sources and key assets is foundational to the success of the operations we run out of Langley. In this case, however, my intention is quite the opposite: to make known the contribution of a heretofore unsung hero, Aldous Pritzker. His name is likely unfamiliar to readers though, without doubt, he is the individual whose contribution most significantly improved global geopolitical dynamics in the first third of the twenty-first century.
Pritzker first came to my attention when I read the impressive materials he submitted in his application for an entry-level analyst position—many bright prospects enter the Agency through the Analysis Directorate, and I have made it a habit to extend my tentacles to new hires who might offer some valuable future utility. Startling in its depth and nuanced understanding was his undergraduate thesis, which unveiled the role exogenous currency manipulation played in destabilizing multiple combatant governments during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992–95).
I arranged a lunch meeting to size up the Brown-educated wunderkind, all six-feet-seven of him, skinny as a rail, nervous as a deer in hunting season. He demonstrated an almost frighteningly incisive intellect and a keen interest in anything I was willing to share with him about the Company and my experiences in the Ops Directorate. A sponge. Full of promise, lacking only polish.
Over the next seven years as Pritzker made a name for himself writing a series of analyses each more insightful than the last, distinguishing himself as a truly gifted researcher, a powerful and original thinker. An interagency loan program then took him to the State Department for a two-year hitch. State needed some new blood and his Company superiors hoped it might burnish his somewhat unkempt professional mien to be exposed to the well-dressed, well-spoken, and well-groomed careerists at State.
A year into this assignment we met in a quiet Foggy Bottom restaurant for dinner. He talked ebulliently about a plan he had been working on in his spare time, a political initiative. His modest proposal would do no less than halt and eventually reverse planetary ecological degradation and climate change. Nations would agree to pay one percent of their military budgets into a multifaceted UN-coordinated effort. The contribution would stairstep annually by one percent increments until stabilizing at 10 percent. This $300 billion generated annually would disincentivize arms and armed conflict while focusing significant funding on addressing our most pressing ecological needs.
As we enjoyed our entrees and wine, Pritzker excitedly highlighted the benefits of his program by applying it, using short- and long-term projections, to a number of currently war-torn countries.
He laid out his vision proudly, then, as it were, fell off an emotional cliff, the enthusiasm and idealism draining from his face. “Unfortunately, when I presented the plan to my immediate boss at State, halfway through my deck she had her arms folded across her chest and began shaking her head.
“She said the plan failed to offer sufficient near-term advantage to attract support from the U.S. or other G-26 countries. I tried to walk her through my Appendix B, which refutes her contention at every point, but I might as well have been talking to a brick.”
I liked him. I liked his plan. And if there is one thing I find most repellant in the quaggy environs of the Beltway, it is seeing initiative stymied by a hidebound mid-level bureaucrat. In a city full of pathological self-promoters, Pritzker was seemingly without personal ambition; still, he needed to learn to stick with an idea worth championing. I gave a little push. “Go over her head. Straight to her boss.”
“To Carter Jepperson? You’re joking?”
I regaled him with a few tales from my days in Moscow (see Chapters IV, V, and VI) to drive the point home. It wasn’t the first time I inspired action with tales of field ops derring-do.
Three weeks later he called to report on the meeting.
“Jepperson listened intently.”
“No head wagging?”
“So, emboldened by hope, I asked, ‘Can I infer from what you’ve said, that you’ll back my proposal?’
“‘Good god no,’ the great Jepperson snorted, ‘I have other dragons to slay. Your problem—you fail to recognize certain immutable facts of the known universe, certain political realities.’
“I stood there in a daze, uncertain if he’d finished his thought. Finally, I choked out, ‘Is that all?’
“He put patted my shoulder. ‘You are building an impressive body of work—aside from this folly. Let it go. Eyes on the prize. And in the best piece of advice I was ever given by a sitting Cabinet member, don’t make waves.’”
I knew from bitter experience the tone in which these soul-destroying words had been delivered—had myself been warned off several times from promising gambits by similar strings of platitudes. I tested Pritzker’s resolve. “Do you agree with Jepperson’s analysis?”
He laughed. “I concur that I’m way out on a limb at State and if I don’t want to hear the branch crack, I need to rethink my strategy.”
Something about the word strategy has always aroused in me a feeling akin to what a cheetah must feel upon spotting a Thomson’s gazelle.
“Why not go public?” I asked. “Everybody knows the perils of climate change; you’re offering a common-sense solution.”
He sipped at his wine to buy a bit of time as he considered my remark. “It would take a lot of effort to mobilize enough support to make a difference.”
“One spark ignites a forest.”
There often comes a point in a negotiation where non-Ops people ask Ops people this question. The answer might be delivered with a coy smile, maybe even a wink, but the words are always pretty much what I told Pritzker that evening. “I have my ways.”
I marshalled the needed expertise from the team that I put together during Operation Fish Net (see Chapter XXVI). Soon thereafter an anonymous version of Pritzker’s plan appeared widely on the Internet and within hours it was trending among, as I like to put it, the right people. The media couldn’t resist the intriguing mystery of the plan’s anonymity, thus hastening and broadening dissemination.
An unlikely coalition of estimable clout soon coalesced: labor, libertarians, and the Left; veterans and doves; urban, rural, Gen X, Y, and Z; scientists and social justice warriors and, of course, ecos of every stripe. The tech sector adopted and championed Pritzker’s idea as a path to their envisioned Star Trek future. Perhaps the strongest testament to the plan’s appeal was how it split the traditionally conservative senior bloc. While many of the gray cohort stuck with their dogged dedication to protecting themselves and their progeny with a strong defense, two-thirds agreed that a degraded and contaminated planet was not the inheritance they wanted to bestow.
This populist amalgam took to the streets of cities not only in America but around the world in ever larger shows of support. One can only imagine the flurry of calls among various agencies and staffers in DC, frantic not to be blindsided or left in the dust by the rapidly developing juggernaut. Pritzker found himself in constant demand, delivering scores of high-level briefings on both sides of the Potomac—seemingly no one understood the anonymous plan quite like he did.
We met in a Georgetown pub where a fifty slipped into the bartender’s hand got the television tuned into C-Span’s coverage of the Rose Garden ceremony at which the President, with the enthusiasm of John Kennedy promising to put a man on the moon, unveiled his Green Earth Doctrine, based squarely on Pritxger’s idea. The President appointed a czar to oversee the effort—Carter Jepperson, who spoke of the world-changing effort he had been entrusted to lead and vowed to do his best to guide the grand and visionary initiative.
Jepperson was smart enough to avail himself of Pritzker’s talent and immediately named him as his number two. My unassuming young friend had Jepperson’s back from that day forward, deftly guiding the plan and its czar all the way to a unanimous vote of support at the UN. Passage of this Green World Agenda was hailed widely as the tipping point in global commitment to planetary ecological protection. When the Nobel committee contemplated how to commemorate the plan, it was said that Jeppeson’s name appeared on the short list of candidates. In the end, the Peace Prize was awarded to the UN itself.
Ross West has placed fiction, essays, journalism, and poetry in publications from Orion to Journal of Recreational Linguistics. His work has been anthologized in Best Essays Northwest, Best of Dark Horse Presents and elsewhere. He served as text editor for the Atlas of Oregon and Atlas of Yellowstone.