The Last Man In Tehran
By Mark Henshaw
Touchstone Paperback, Simon & Schuster; $16
Mark Henshaw, CIA analyst and former Red Cell think tank member, made his mark with his debut novel Red Cell, and he brings those characters back for his new thriller, The Last Man In Tehran.
Agent Kara Stryker and CIA analyst Jonathan Burke try to prevent a war from breaking out between Israel and Iran as a mole threatens to tear the CIA apart.
Kara has recently been promoted to Red Cell Chief, and she has barely settled into the job when a radioactive “dirty bomb” is detonated in an Israeli port, throwing the Middle East into chaos. Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, responds with a defensive campaign of covert sabotage and assassination against Iran, whom they believe conducted the attack.
Evidence is mounting that a mole inside the CIA is helping Mossad wage its covert war, and that would be a staggering act of treason.
The FBI becomes convinced that Mossad has penetrated the CIA’s leadership, and they launch a counterintelligence investigation that threatens to cripple the Agency, and anyone who questions the official story becomes a suspect.
Kyra is determined to find the mole because she is not convinced by the FBI’s version of events, and she brings in her former mentors, now-retired Red Cell Chief Jonathan Burke and his wife, former CIA Director Kathryn Cooke, to help.
Henshaw writes of Jonathan arriving to CIA headquarters, “‘If you’re going to conscript me, the least you can do is give me my old office -‘ Jon stepped out of the elevator and stopped short when the rubber tip of his cane caught on the carpet. He had expected to see the old second floor, with its dim lights and a floor that looked as unclean as ever, as through the black and white tiles had soaked up the sins of the staff as well as the dirt on their shoes. ‘Wrong floor.’
“‘No, it’s not,’ Kyra told him. She directed him down the hall. ‘They moved us,’
“He found the door in less than a minute, marked to the side with a formal placard, the plain kind designed by some committee that considered humor a waste of the taxpayer’s dime. It had only two words in generic white letters stamped on a black background, no display of color though the name demanded it – Red Cell.
“‘Barron gave it to us as a reward.’ Kyra swiped her blue badge. ‘He thought we deserved an upgrade.’
“The lock switched open and Jon pushed the door and marched in, then stopped, suddenly unsure which way to go. The space had actual cubicles instead of the bullpen he’d set up with its half-height dividers. The maps and unframed posters he had hung on the old walls were absent, and generic art stared back at him. The place was as sterile as any other analytical office in the building. ‘He did us no favors,’ he said.
“‘He meant well,’ Kyra said.
“‘Good intentions count for nothing. It’s what you actually do that matters. I suppose we’ll manage.’ He set his cane against a desk and sat himself down in a chair. He stared at the wall, but there was nothing unusual for his mind to grab on to. He found it disturbing and turned to look out the window instead. ‘Mossad kills four Iranians in London. I’m surprised Hezbollah isn’t launching rockets into Tel Aviv by now.’
“‘Maybe our first bit of proof that Salehi was telling the truth,’ Kyra observed. ‘Iran wouldn’t have to ask Hezbollah twice to attack, and after Haifa, if one rocket came down on Tel Aviv, it would be an open war. Tehran might be giving us time to talk Israel down.’
“‘It’s a possibility,’ Jon agreed. ‘And it’s been two weeks since the bombing. If you’re Israel that’s enough time to receive stolen intel form a Langley mole and put together a covert op if you’re motivated. It would be tight, but you could do it. So our first question is how long our insider has been operating.’
“‘The timeline doesn’t rule out a mole volunteering to work for Israel because of the bombing,’ Kyra suggested. ‘Assume he makes contact in the first few days after. He has to prove he’s not a dangle, so he has to give them something serious up front, and Salehi’s name and new job title would qualify. If that’s the first thing he gave up, that would maximize the time Mossad had to put together an op and get a team in place.’
“‘That would make him an ideological mole,’ Jon thought aloud, his eyes still staring off at some distant point in space. ‘If our hypothetical turncoat wants Iran’s nuclear program destroyed, maybe he can’t access all of the intel Mossad needs, so he’s pointing them at people who can.’
“‘It might also mean our mole probably hasn’t passed much intel to Mossad yet. If he’s only been operating for a couple of weeks, they might not even have their ops plan worked out.’
“‘Good news for Barron,’ Jon replied. ‘For us, not so much. No other data to work with.’
“‘If he’s ideological, he’ll be pushing to give them a lot more intel, and soon. The ideological ones are always motivated to the point of being reckless. Penkovsky sure was. He dumped photo rolls by the dozen on his handler back in the early sixties. Scared his handlers to death,’ Kyra added. ‘Our mole might make some mistakes and give us some freebies.’
“Since when has our luck ever been that good?’ he asked.”
This story is marked by espionage, torture, kidnapping, and back-channel diplomacy, which makes it a very engrossing, gripping read.
Mark Henshaw currently works as a CIA analyst and draws from his won experiences with the CIA Red Cell, a real “devil’s advocate” analysis unit created in the wake of 9/11, on September 13, 2001, by then-CIA Director George Tenet to “tell me what no one else is telling me.”
Henshaw based a character in The Last Man In Tehran on himself. Matthew Hadfield’s failed struggle to save his infant son from leukemia and his subsequent professional struggles after his son’s death are based on Henshaw’s own experiences. Henshaw’s youngest son, Adam, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) when he was 18 months old, and the Henshaw family spent two years in hospitals as Adam underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant that ultimately saved his life.
This detailed work reads like a movie, and it is one of the most realistic books on national security you will ever read, as all the locations, institutions and historical events referenced are real.