ON BEING A DOUBLE AGENT
[Again this piece was a response to yet more accusations leveled in National Islamic Front newspapers at myself for being, this time, a ‘member of the CIA fraternity’. Since the newspapers seemed uncertain whether I was a KGB agent or a CIA agent I decided to make things easier for them by confessing to being a ‘double agent’!]
It was about three in the morning when the telephone rang. Perhaps the reason I did not wake up immediately was that I thought I was dreaming. My telephone had been dead for such a long time that I had notified the Telephone Corporation several times to remove it and give it a decent burial. They did not bother even to send me their condolences. My children had ripped off the telephone’s cord and used it as a skipping rope in their games.
So no one could seriously blame me for thinking that the ringing of the telephone was part of my dreams. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the cordless telephone. It was still cordless but it was deafeningly ringing. By then I was fully awake. I picked up the receiver and heard the operator’s voice saying that there was an urgent call for me from overseas.
“Will you accept a person-to-person collect call?” Again I thought I must be dreaming. Not only was my telephone working but the very idea that like any other civilized country we had caught up with a collect call system was beyond my comprehension. We do not even have public telephones. I enquired about the identity of the caller, but the operator only asked, like a taped message, if I would accept a person-to-person collect call from overseas. I must admit that my first impulse was to throw the receiver away. I was not going to start talking to strangers at three in the morning even if it meant that the life in my telephone had been miraculously resurrected.
But curiosity was getting the better of my lower instincts. Who was calling me and why? What had I got to lose? Possibly quite a number of Sudanese pounds for accepting the collect call. But these were worthless any way. There was also the enticing possibility of turning this worthless loss into a windfall if I could convince whoever was making the call to refund me in another currency. My mind quickly calculated the current foreign currency exchange rate in the black market before I told the operator to put the call through.
“This is Misha,” I heard somebody say.
“Who is Misha?” I asked.
“Listen,” said the person called Misha, “I am calling from a secure line. Is yours secure?”
“It is working and that is security enough for me,” I said, “but who are you?”
“l am speaking in my recently Americanized voice,” he said with a heavy Russian accent, “but I thought you would still recognize me, my dear Mohammadov Bashirovitch Hamiditry.”
On hearing that, I almost jumped out of bed. I pinched myself very hard and the pain confirmed I was not dreaming. But it was incredible, incredulous, mind-boggling! What was Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev calling me for in the small hours of the morning?
“Is that really you, Gorby?” I asked in a voice that was almost inaudible.
“Of course it is me,” Gorbachev replied, “and you can call me by my nickname Misha”. He paused and then asked suspiciously, “Were you expecting a call from someone else?”
“No, no, Misha,” I said hastily, “it is only that you never called me on the phone before.”
“I am using the phone,” he explained, “because a matter of the utmost urgency has cropped up.”
That set me worrying. I knew that Gorbachev did not use the word ‘urgency’ lightly.
“What is it, Misha?” I asked trying to hide the tremor in my voice.
“It concerns you, Mohamadov Bashirovitch,” he said slowly. I could feel the menace of his words sweeping through to my cordless receiver. I could not trust my voice so I kept silent.
“I have before me a very disturbing report about you,” Gorbachev said, “and it concerns an article which I read in Alwan newspaper dated the 14th of July 1988.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I was so incredulous that I was no longer frightened or even apprehensive. What on earth would make the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union read an article published in one of the organs of the National Islamic Front?
Before I could find any words to say, Gorbachev continued, “The said article describes you as one of the representatives of the ‘American Left’ and as being a ‘prominent leader of the ‘CIA fraternity’.”
On hearing these words my surprise vanished and my apprehensions rushed back with a vengeance.
”I didn’t know, Misha,” I said trying to side-track the issue, “that you read Alwan newspaper.”
“I am a regular reader of Alwan,” Gorbachev said emphatically. I could swear that there was an unmistakable note of pride in his voice. “I never miss an issue,” he added, “I read it before I even glance at Pravda.” He paused and then asked me sounding rather puzzled,”don’t you read it yourself?”
I knew I had to cover my tracks and come up with a plausible excuse. “You see, Misha,” I said truthfully, “as a matter of principle I can only afford to read the publications of the gutter press like Le Monde and … ” I was about to mention the Sudan Times but I thought better of it. I did not relish the idea of Bona Malwal throwing a libel suit at me.
“Well,” Gorbachev said, “you don’t know what you are missing. Frankly, Mohammadov Bashirovitch, I can never understand how you people could make such impressive and outstanding advances in journalism while miserably failing in everything else. 1 am amazed at the high calibre of factual, first-rate, responsible and responsive reporting of Alwan. Such fine investigative journalism is hard to come by these days. Where do you suppose they get all these official documents from?”
I didn’t answer that but I made a mental note to order an annual subscription to Alwan first thing in the morning.
“Now about this article,” I heard Gorbachev saying, ” I must say it made our KGB people very upset. Why do you think Alwan should have you mixed up with the CIA?”
I could sense trouble before I saw it coming and what he said was very big trouble indeed. I was by then sweating profusely. But my mind was racing frantically as it usually did whenever I was in a tight spot. I knew better than to make an outright denial. For one thing, the KGB must have verified the authenticity of the article. Besides, I realized that a prestigious newspaper like Alwan would never publish sensitive material of that nature unless its resourceful reporters had it double checked first.
“You know, Misha,” I said straining to recover my composure, “Alwan must have intended the article as a special favour. What better cover for me than to be associated with the CIA fraternity?”
I thought that was a neat answer. Gorbachev was silent for a while, probably assessing how neat it was.
“But, my dear Mohammadov Bashirovitch,” he said at last, “Alwan had described you many times in the past as a communist and a KGB agent. In fact it was on the strength of those reports that we recruited you after our people checked and found your name missing from our lists. Why should Alwan change its mind now and link you with the Americans?”
It was typical of Gorbachev to be inflexibly persistent and to complicate matters unnecessarily. No wonder Ronald Reagan looked as though he had aged far beyond his shining black hair after his last negotiation round with Gorbachev in the Moscow summit.
I decided to counter the tough questioning with my let-me-tell-you-something technique.
“Let me tell you something, my dear Misha.” I said with enforced cheerfulness, “the people behind Alwan are very charitable and theymust have been concernedwith my individual welfare. Itcould have come to their attentionthat I was having difficultiestrying to exchangeyour Russian Rubles in theblack market. Naturally,they would think, bless their souls, to give me access tosome U.S. Dollars.”
”Are they indeed that charitable?” Gorbachev asked. I could not tell whether he was being sarcastic or not.
“They are Heaven’s gift to the wretched of the earth,” 1 said, warming up to the subject, “why, one of them came up with an ingenious solution to our housing problems by the simple expedient of building a villa in the shanty town area. Now that they have joined the government they are working hand in hand with the Prime Minister to implement a new social contract of mandatory equality.”
“What is mandatory equality?” Gorbachev asked.
“It is the equivalent Sudanese term to your own Perestroika policy of ‘restructuring’,” I said, “only that we take it to mean ‘de-structuring’ because basically it involves the equitable distribution of suffering. That, incidentally, is why we are all drinking mud water these days. We call it the policy of abundance in scarcity.”
Gorbachev did not respond immediately and I could bet my last Ruble that he was wondering why Marx had failed to see the potential of such a dazzling idea. I could hear the faint sound of the scribbling of a pen on paper. I braced myself for a lengthy exposition of the social contract of mandatory equality about which, I must admit, I understood very little.
But Gorbachev again surprised me. “This is all very well, Mohammadov Bashirovitch” he said, “but there are still some points in the article in Alwan newspaper which need some clarification.”
I kept silent and Gorbachev continued his questioning: “What isn’t the American Left’?” he asked.
That was easy. “It is the code name for Ronald Reagan,” I answered quickly.
“One of the things that puzzled us,” Gorbachev said, “was that some of the people mentioned in Alwan as being representatives of this American Left carry the name of Bashirovitch either as a first, second, or third name. What is your explanationfor this rather curious coincidence?”
“It is easy to explain,” I replied, “the name Bashirovitch is very common around here so anyone carrying it is more likely than not to be ·endowed with communist tendencies. Failing that the person becomes eligible to be called an American leftist allied to the communists or, better still, a secularist. You simply cannot be entitled to be called a secularist unless you can definitely prove first that you are a communist.”
“This is most unfair,” Gorbachev said, “Ronnie Reagan and Maggie Thatcher are more secular than me.”
“You never know, Misha,” I said, “They may be communists without even knowing it.”
“I will check that out,” he said “and now what about this CIA fraternity? How does one become a member?”
”This is rather a tricky business, “I answered, “Because we are talking here about a very exclusive club of private bank investors who speculate in agricultural crops, hard currency and the like. Some international finance firms based in Geneva and registered in the Bahamas are known to be behind this kind of international capitalist wheeling and dealing. I presume the CIA connection refers to the Bahamas where they do a very lucrative business mixing cocaine with flour and insecticides.”
“And how did you manage to be a prominent leader of this CIA fraternity, as Alwan reported?” Gorbachev asked.
The question alarmed me and I immediately realized that I needed to maneuver carefully to avoid self-incrimination. I decided that a partial denial or at least a heavily qualified admission was the best course to follow.
“I am not even a member, Misha,” I said, “but it is true that I have put in an application with the local bank here.” I paused and then added slowly, “Now, in the light of what Alwan reported I can only assume that my application has been given the green light.”
“Isee,” Gorbachev said, and from the tone of his voice I could not determine how much he was able to see. But my explanation seemed plausible, at least to me.
Indeed, I was on the point of congratulating myself on my performance so far when Gorbachev dropped his bombshell. “So you want to be a double agent, Mohammadov Bashirovitch?” he said without betraying any emotion.
I realized at once that the crafty Russian had known all along about my dubious status. I was on very slippery ground and could already feel the icy coldness of the Siberian wilderness seeping into my bones. But I knew better than to break down at that point. Gorbachev was a practical man and he was testing my mettle. So I followed my technique of answering an unanswerable question with another question.
“Do you want me to be one, Misha?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. I knew that the final decision was his but I could prod him to make it a favourable one.
“I know the hazards of being a· double agent,” I said earnestly, “but I am prepared to take the risk, Misha.”
There was a long silence before he asked: “what guarantee can we have that as a double agent you won’t betray us to the Americans?”
“You don’t have to worry about that, Misha,” I said truthfully, “you know I hate American movies, particularly Western and gangster films. Besides, you know you can always take the Americans for a ride; they are so gullible. Do you know how many sleepless nights Ronald Reagan spent waiting for you to accept his invitation to visit Washington last year?”
There was no response from Gorbachev. I found myself shouting into the receiver:”Look Misha, if these people could believe Ollie North they would certainly believe me. I can help to get George Bush elected.”
Another tong silence. I made my last plea: “Come on, Misha, gimme a break, will you?” ·
I was about to give up all hope when I heard Gofbachev saying: “Look, Mohammadov Bashirovitch, I will have to consult the Central Committee about this but you don’t have to worry because I have decided to put in a good word for you.” He paused and added, “in the meantime please see to it that your name does not appear in Alwan as a prominent representative of the Cooperative Society of the Chinese Intelligence Service.”
I was profuse in my assurances and thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev. I put down the receiver with a huge sigh of relief. That was a close call. I made a solemn vow not to miss a single word in Alwan newspaper in the future. I looked out the window. Dawn was breaking. I felt that my spirits were rising too. But the harrowing experience with Gorbachev had left me mentally drained and physically exhausted, and I drifted into sleep. Suddenly my slumbers were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. I woke up with a start wondering who it could possibly be. Obviously Gorbachev could not have assembled all the members of the Central Committee in such a short time. But with these Russians one could never tell.
I picked the receiver and heard the operator asking if I would accept a person-to-person collect call from overseas. I told him to put the call through.
“Is that you, Mohammed?” I heard a voice saying, “I am speaking to you in my recently acquired Russian accent.” The voice was familiar and I had heard it in some of the worst B-grade western and gangster movies.
“Yes, it is me, Ronnie,” I said as my heart sank to my feet.
“Listen, I am speaking from a secure line,” said Ronald Reagan “is yours secure?”
I did not bother to answer.
“Look, Mohammed,” Reagan said, “I have before me a very disturbing CIA report about you.”
“Don’t tell me, Ronnie,” I said wearily, “you have been reading Alwan newspaper too!”
“How did you know that?” Reagan said in a surprised voice. When I did not reply he continued: “As a matter of fact it concerns an article published in Alwan on the14th of July, 1988 …”
SUDAN TIMES Sunday 31 July 1988