It’s terrifying to imagine a world in which intelligence agencies can not only collect information—the content, increasingly, of our everyday lives—but also manipulate it more easily than a fashion magazine can Photoshop away a model’s cellulite. That’s the premise, anyway, of The Director, the latest thriller from David Ignatius.
Ignatius, who has reported extensively on the CIA in his 28 years at the Washington Post, explores how, even in our Snowden-alerted society, powerful people may be working their sleight of hand with the facts. But he pushes another, grander premise that drives the plot: What if our entire espionage bureaucracy were created by a foreign government precisely as a mechanism by which to rule the US by proxy? The novel’s neophyte CIA director, Graham Weber, must confront that idea as he finds himself losing control in the face of multiple in-house mutinies. Weber, who comes from the corporate world, shares neither the history nor the assumptions of the old boys who have long held sway over the Agency and its burgeoning siblings. Can he survive? Experienced bureaucrats may have guessed the answer already. Nonetheless, nobody will fail to be entertained by Ignatius’s rigorously detailed take on the new paradigms operating in today’s intelligence community (German underground hacker culture, for instance) or time-honored ones, such as civil servants’ attempts to show up wearing just the right black suit.
This article appears in the June 2014 issue of Washingtonian.