Sunday, June 5, 2022

Jefferson Morley's "Scorpions' Dance"

Jefferson Morley is a journalist and editor who has worked in Washington journalism for over thirty years, fifteen of which were spent as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. The author of Our Man in Mexico, a biography of the CIA’s Mexico City station chief Winston Scott, Morley has written about intelligence, military, and political subjects for Salon, The Atlantic, and The Intercept, among others. He is the editor of JFK Facts, a blog. He lives in Washington, DC.

Morley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Scorpions' Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Scorpions' Dance delivers the readers to commanding heights of American power circa 1968. The scene is a hotel suite in New York City. President-elect Richard Nixon has summoned CIA director Richard Helms for a meeting. The two men, who first meet in the opening pages of the book in 1956, have achieved their life ambitions. For two years Helms has served as chief of the powerful intelligence service with a budget in the billions and license to kill in service of American interests overseas. Nixon has been president-elect for barely ten days but he is already seizing the reins of power. On the recommendation of outgoing President Lyndon Johnson, Nixon informs Helms he is keeping him on as director. The savvy spymaster exits by a freight elevator. So this test works very well. Page 99 captures a key moment in the book. The partnership that will culminate four years later in the arrest of CIA burglars at the Watergate office complex--and the ultimate downfall of both men-- begins on this page.

But that is not all. After a subchapter heading “Honeymoon,” Page 99 goes on to tell the story of Helms’ wedding and this too is apt because future Watergate burglar Howard Hunt gives Helms a wedding present, an indicator of their longstanding friendship that will not end well. In his thank you note Helms alludes to Hunt’s spy novels. “I must confess I am awed by your ability to produce these goodies,” Helms writes, “but then I remember you have never failed to extricate your heroes from impossible situations.” Helms and wife Cynthia then fly on to Jamaica where they stay just down the road from the estate of Sir Ian Fleming, the former intelligence officer turned spy novelist and author of the James Bond books. So the browser who opens to this page will find two others key themes of the book: Helms’ largely unknown friendship with Nixon’s burglar in chief, and the way in which the fictional world of spies is woven into the real world of the secret intelligence profession.
Visit Jefferson Morley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue