Last Saturday my good friend Laurie Coots and I got in line for left-over tickets to a sold out session of the New Yorker Festival 2013. Every year the New Yorker Festival seems to get better. It's a marvelous three days filled with terrific session on a variety of subjects, usually led by one of the Excellent New Yorker writers. The sessions are held simultaneously at different venues throughout Manhattan and they cover subjects as diverse as those found within the covers of the magazine: a session could be a conversation with Ethan Hawke (would have loved to been at that one) to a panel discussion on President Obama's foreign policy to a session on Italian cooking to a tour of Staten Island haunts.
Laurie and I took our chances on the session entitled Spy vs Spy. And to our delight, we were handed two tickets from someone who couldn't use them. What a session!
The panel consisted of four people, each an extraordinary "get" on the New Yorker's part: One was Stella Rimington, the UK counter-intelligence expert who made a career of the spy game, starting in India where she and her husband were posted for his job in the private sector and ending with her as the first woman to lead MI5 as its Director-General. Another was Tony Mendez, now retired from his spectacular career at the CIA. Tony, a world expert in counterfeiting and disguises, is the mastermind behind the seemingly insane idea to smuggle six US diplomats from Tehran by pretending they were making a movie. That scheme, which ended successfully, was the basis for the film Argo, starring Ben Affleck. A third was Joseph Weisberg, also a CIA alum who, after leaving the spay game, created and produced the FX's spy drama "The Americans" which enters its second season next January. The fourth was Jeffrey Moss, a hacker for two decades who founded DEF CON, the largest gathering of hackers in the world. He is now the chief security officer at ICANN, a not for profit that oversees the security of the Internet system of unique identifiers, and works for the Department of Homeland Security's Advisory Council.
The group was led in conversation by David Grann, a New Yorker write who wrote the NY Times best-selling book "The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" and "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession."
OK, folks, it was a riveting conversation. These four people were amazing conversationalists and had lots of great stories. And they love to lie! or at least they got quickly used to lying. To their family, their friends, and of course to strangers. Stella Rimington told of one of her two daughters getting confused one day and asking, "Mum, who is it we are again?"
Best story of the afternoon was Jeffrey Moss who told of his spy friend who has many assignments all over the world with people who are "the bad guys." He always meets them for drinks. And he always manages to be the last to leave. He then buys the glass out of which his guest was drinking, takes it back to his hotel and using his own special kit, takes all the fingerprints off the glass. But here's the good part: he puts the fingerprints on a pair of gloves so that he then has gloves that match that person's fingerprints. Jeffrey casually noted that his friend has fingerprints gloves for every person with whom he's had drinks for the past couple of decades.
Scary. Lots to talk about. especially the lying part...