A former MI6 analyst finds that the American President Elect has advisors with Moscow links. The President Elect says he wants to be friends with the Kremlin, and his electoral campaign was given a boost by a disinformation and hacking campaign of his opponents HQ by no other than his new friends. It can’t be true; the stuff of fiction – intriguing then to recall that the late Ted Allbeury wrote several espionage thrillers about the manipulation of the American political system. He did so as a warning as to what could happen.
In Ted Allbeury’s 1980 novel The Twentieth Day of January he asks what if the President Elect owed his rise to power to friends, who secretly worked for a foreign belligerent government? And his policy advice came from the Kremlin? This scenario sounds outrageous and extremely far-fetched, offending perhaps on the readers’ sensitivities if it contained any kernel of truth. Although the Soviet Union did have its agents of influence on Congressional committees, moles in national agencies and ‘illegals’ operating spy networks, there primary interest was gaining access to foreign policy and national security secrets and closing the “technology gap”.
No one outside the pages of fiction has claimed that Soviet agents got anywhere close to gaining a hold on the ultimate position of power. The tenor of Allbeury’s the story depends on layers of deception. It posits first of all, a secret organisation within the grass-roots of the two political parties; based on favours it would generate sufficient goodwill for a political campaign when the time was right. What was required was a candidate that was amenable to their influence. Cleverly, he was to be neither a radical nor populist from the left, but a charismatic and obscure Republican that reached out to those who not usually vote; and secondly, someone that owes his position almost entirely to his campaign. The candidate, of course, suffers the self-delusion that he alone is in charge of the nation’s destiny and that the voters supported him.
Allbeury was himself a secret agent during and after World War II. When he became an espionage writer in the 70s he had contact with former colleagues in and close to the intelligence community – particularly those across the Atlantic. With the election of former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan as President Ted worked on several plots about the dangers of subversion of democracy. The previous President Jimmy Carter was an outsider who made much of being against the Establishment. And earlier leaders had been found guilty of misdemeanours. Allbeury felt that he would posit a story around manipulation of the leader of the free world based on what could possibly … happen. The Twentieth Day of January – a forgotten thriller might just be worth reading again!