*** The Director

Robin Hood

“Robin Hood’s Band Made Merry by Killing the King’s Deer” (photo: c1.staticflickr.com)

By David Ignatius (narrated by George Guidall). This thriller is set in the bowels of the nation’s national security apparatus, at the time a new CIA director is appointed who is not a Beltway insider, but plucked from the corporate world. The new director, Graham Weber, is pitted against the puppeteers of competing security agencies and (this is not a spoiler) a computer wizard inside the Agency who has gone rogue, James Morris.

How much readers like the book seems to depend on how excited they were by the electronic shenanigans of Morris, though there didn’t seem to be a lot new there—not for readers of Wired, anyway. Still, while Morris and his network were entertaining, the old-school-tie boys on Weber’s other flank were palpably less convincing. The women in the story fell into their respective stereotypes. A flimsy seduction scene is best ignored.

But the bigger problem—and where this book diverges from the best writing of, say, Neal Stephenson—is that, while it has the geeky stuff down, it has no social science sense. “Rob from the banks of the rich countries and give to the poor ones?” Really? Which poor countries would that be? Zimbabwe? North Korea? Myanmar? Uganda? Many of the world’s poorest countries stay that way because the leadership class steals everything they can get their hands on. Sending them “free” cash makes no sense. I didn’t want to read a lecture on political science and economics, but needed some acknowledgement that such sophisticated technologists thought deeper than a Robin Hood fantasy. Unfortunately, this gap undercuts their whole motivation for the crime.

If you can ignore that problem, and if you, like me, worry about our growing electronic vulnerabilities, you may like this book! And, you’ll notice the similarities in supposed high-mindedness between Morris and real-life cyber-spy Ed Snowden.