Sunday, December 9, 2012



The Carlos Contract – A Novel of International Terrorism (Macmillan, 1978)
by David Atlee Phillipss

David Atlee Phillips has long been a person of interest in the assassination of President Kennedy. Besides a number of non-fictional books, including the auto-biographical “Nightwatch – 20 Years of Peculiar Service” and a book about the murder trail of a Texas oil man, David Atlee Phillips also wrote a fictional novel, “The Carlos Contract,” about an off-the-books team assembled to get Carlos, the international terrorist.

While the book is labeled a work of fiction, Carlos is a real person, as are a number of other characters in the book, including my former college mate Glen Gebhard and a few CIA officers thinly disguised behind such nick names as “Hyphenated Jake” – aka Jack Easterline and William “Mack” McLendon. Easterline was one of the planners of the Bay of Pigs and Gordon McLendon was a Dallas radio station owner who knew Jack Ruby and was a founding member of Phillips’ Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

My college friend Glen went to Europe where his passport was stolen. It apparently ended up in the hands of the real Carlos the Jackal, so when he returned to Europe a few years later with a new passport, he was violently interrogated at a border post. Phillips uses Glen’s name as one of the aliases of Carlos, so there are some doses of reality in Phillips’ fictional work. This book also details how to set up a special operations team that can do something like locating a specific terrorist, and it should be applied as one way to discover the real killers in the assassination of President Kennedy.  

As the story goes, “Mack” McLendon is called out of retirement from a long career in the CIA to go after Carlos, so he assembles his team and, as Phillps writes:

“In addition to questioning the wisdom of involving friends, Mack questioned his own actual ability to outwit Carlos. Had his professional talents and determination atrophied? Would he be a fool to enter the arena again?”

“And, more importantly, did he still have the gift of perceiving when grandmother was on the roof?”

“Mack had once been given a memorable bit of advice by a senior CIA officer and veteran Latin American hand: ‘An important part of intelligence work is sensing, before you have hard proof, that a critical development will occur. Call it professional intuition, the conviction that a number of pieces, when eventually assembled into enough of the entire puzzle, will constitute a revelation that is vital. I always try to think of it in terms of knowing when grandmother is on the roof.’”

As a way of explanation, “the older officer then launched into a story which he identified as Brazilian folklore, a ‘Portuguese story’ somewhat on the order of yesterday’s Irish and today’s Polish jokes.”

“A Portuguese man living in Brazil, Mack’s mentor had said, received a cable from his cousin in Portugal, announcing the death of the family cat, a pet the immigrant had been especially fond of. ‘Our beloved cat,’ the message said, ‘fell from our roof to her death in the street below.’”

“The immigrant wrote to his cousin in Lisbon: ‘Do not send such a message again. I am a sensitive person; I can’t stand shocks. Should such a thing happened again consider my temperament and let me know gently, in stages. For example, you should have sent a message saying, ‘The cat went up on the roof.’ Then, a few days later another, saying, ‘The cat went to the edge of the roof.’ Then, finally, a letter with the bad news: ‘The cat fell off the roof and died.’”

“Some months later the immigrant in Brazil received another cable from his cousin. This time it read: ‘Grandmother just went up on the roof.’” 

“`So that’s what you must look for,’ Mack’s friend had told him. ‘That one new piece of information, perhaps a single line in a report, some awareness which gives you a funny feeling at the back of the neck – the suspicion which suddenly becomes a conviction that something important is in motion, that grandmother is on the roof.’”

Personally I have had a number of “Grandmother is on the roof” moments – reading news reports of the Watergate burglary, the March 12, 1981 “Castro Plot To Kill Reagan” article by R. H. Boyce, seeing the twin towers burning on 9/11 and most recently, when I read of the self-immolation of a young man in Tunisia. 

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