The God’s Eye View
Audio Interview With the Author
Audio Length: 30 minutes
“When Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove was having its run, service people left the theater muttering, ‘That wasn’t a satire. That’s what they’re like.’ So it is with Eisler’s fine thriller. His power-mad loons, who pull the levers of supersecret government organizations, aren’t exaggerated for dramatic effect. We know that because Eisler has appended an eighteen-page guide to all the nasty stuff governments do in the name of national security. His achievement, though, is to make this cybersnoop world not just a backdrop but instead a vital—and wonderfully vile—character on its own.” —Booklist, starred review
Barry Eisler’s signature combination of edge-of-your seat action, exotic locations, realistic spycraft, steamy sex, and protagonists who are “the stuff great characters are made of” (Entertainment Weekly) has made him one of America’s most popular and well-respected thriller writers. His two series, the first featuring anti-hero John Rain, a half-Japanese, half-American freelance assassin specializing in “natural causes,” and the second featuring black ops soldier Ben Treven, have received rave reviews, won numerous literary awards, hit various “Best of” lists, and have been translated into nearly twenty languages to date. The Matrix star Keanu Reeves is set to produce and star in Rain, a globe-trotting television series based on Eisler’s books and being developed by HBO/Cinemax.
But what truly distinguishes Eisler—a former CIA insider—is his ability to tell high stakes stories that entertain with dazzling plots and intriguing characters and at the same time present provocative questions about the U.S. government and who the bad guys really are.
Eisler’s latest standalone novel, the political thriller THE GOD’S EYE VIEW (Thomas & Mercer; February 2, 2016; hardcover, $24.95) anticipates tomorrow’s news headlines about national surveillance with an elaborate chess game of political blackmail, terrorist provocations, and White House scheming. When NSA analyst Evelyn Gallagher discovers the existence of a covert government program code named God’s Eye and connects it with the mysterious deaths of a string of journalists and whistleblowers, she finds herself and her young son in the midst of a global war between those desperate to keep the state’s darkest secrets and those intent on revealing them.
In the accompanying Authorlink AUDIO interview Barry Eisler talks about his motivations for writing the book, how he went about developing his characters, and also about his writing and publishing journey.
“When I wrote THE GOD’S EYE VIEW, I imagined what wasn’t being reported—what even Snowden might not have been able to access,” says Eisler. “And I remembered one of the things they taught me at CIA—that sometimes it pays to cover up the commission of a serious crime by confessing to a lesser one. The programs Snowden revealed are appalling, yes, but what would be the even worse ones, the ones that would leak later, if at all?”
Read THE GOD’S EYE VIEW for its thrills, but be chilled by the knowledge that this is fiction grounded in reality—in its depiction both of current advances in surveillance technology and of the corruption, greed, and lust for power that are as old as human nature.
From the Author
” Whenever people ask me where I get ideas for my thrillers, I say: “Direct from the U.S. government.
” They laugh, but it’s true—in a time of detention (indefinite imprisonment without charge, trial, or conviction); enhanced interrogation (torture); targeted killings (extrajudicial assassinations); and, of course, the unprecedented bulk surveillance revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, third-party villains like SMERSH and SPECTRE and the rest can feel a bit beside the point. Indeed, when the NSA, in its own leaked slides, announces its determination to “Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All” and, ultimately, “Know it All,” it’s safe to say we’re living in an age of “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
“Does that claim sound extreme? Have a look at this National Reconnaissance mission patch. What is this Octopus doing to the earth?
“There are two things worth noting here. First, a giant octopus strangling, eating, and/or otherwise assaulting the earth is how our intelligence apparatus (which prefers the friendlier nomenclature “intelligence community”) perceives itself. Second, that apparatus has become so detached and unaccountable that it now believes this kind of logo will create a favorable impression among ordinary people.
“Naturally, there are dozens of other such patches from various intelligence and military organizations, many of them incorporating figures like poisonous snakes and devils and even the Grim Reaper, variously clutching, encircling, and attacking the earth. As a certified news junkie and civil liberties and anti-torture activist, I’ve long been aware of these patches, along with some of the examples of governmental overreach the patches tended to suggest. After all, New York Times journalist James Risen broke an early NSA domestic spying story all the way back in 2005. So I’d been playing around with a novel based on a top secret government surveillance program for quite a few years when the Snowden revelations shocked the world in the summer of 2013. I thought, Hmmm, powerful actors doing terrible things for reasons they believe are good—my kind of villainy!
“So I obsessed over the news articles. I imagined what wasn’t being reported—what even Snowden might not have been able to access. And I remembered one of the things they taught me at the CIA—that sometimes it pays to cover up the commission of a serious crime by confessing to a lesser one. The programs Snowden revealed were appalling, yes, but what would be the even worse ones, the ones that would leak later, if at all?
“My answer to that question—informed by the abuses of the J. Edgar Hoover years, the history of COINTELPRO, the allegations of NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, and most of all by Snowden’s revelations themselves—became the foundation for The God’s Eye View, with an all-seeing surveillance state the novel’s milieu.
In fact, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon—the circular prison in which a central watchtower would simultaneously monitor all the prisoners—became a kind of motif for the novel.
“Within that framework, characters began to evolve. I asked myself, what would you do if you were, say, Evelyn Gallagher—NSA analyst, single mother to a small deaf son, mostly intent on keeping your head down—and you discovered the existence of a program as vast as God’s Eye? And what if you were a contractor assigned to assess and eliminate Gallagher—say, Marvin Manus, a badly damaged giant of a man intent on protecting the director of the NSA and struggling with a growing attraction to the woman you’ve been tasked with killing? How much would you double down if you were, say, Theodore Anders, the director of the NSA itself, and you believed an employee had become an Insider Threat to the most far-reaching spy program in history? And how far would a mother like Evelyn go to protect her small son with the full might of the national security state arrayed against her?
” I know not all novelists are comfortable with the notion of depicting our ostensible protectors as villains. But I think that reluctance misses an important dynamic. To analogize for a moment: the body will generate a fever to destroy a pathogen. But a fever that runs too hot and too long can become more dangerous to the body than the original pathogen ever was. This is the world I believe we inhabit post 9/11—a world in which we have less to fear from non-state actors than we do from our own overreactions. After all, America is the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. It’s therefore unavoidably true that we can do far more damage to ourselves than any enemy ever could—if we lose our heads, and our values, and turn all that power on ourselves. So even beyond the inherent attractions of realism, if maximum danger means maximum thrills, in a political thriller it makes sense to depict the gravest dangers a society can face.
“In many ways, the NSA is an exemplar of America’s counterproductive autoimmune overreaction—both because its original mandate was exclusively overseas, and because the changing nature of technology has enabled the organization to spy on virtually every aspect of human behavior. It’s critical to understand that the National Surveillance State doesn’t want anyone to be able to communicate without the authorities being able to monitor that communication. Think that’s too strong a statement? If so, you’re not paying attention. There’s a reason the government names its programs Total Information Awareness and Boundless Informant and acknowledges it wants to ‘collect it all‘ and build its own ‘haystack‘ and has redefined the word ‘relevant” to mean “everything.‘ The desire to spy on everything totally and boundlessly isn’t even new; what’s changed is just that it’s become more feasible of late. You can argue that the NSA’s nomenclature isn’t (at least not yet) properly descriptive; you can’t argue that it isn’t at least aspirational.
“Ultimately, as with all my novels, what I set out to do with The God’s Eye View was to drop fictional characters into real situations, both as entertainment and also because ‘Nonfiction is fact; fiction is truth.’ In this regard, early reader reactions have been encouraging: a lot of, ‘Loved the book, and then I came to the bibliography and thought, ‘Holy smokes, this stuff is all real?’
“Yes, it is. And when a program like God’s Eye is revealed in tomorrow’s news articles and history books, remember: ‘fiction’ got there first.”
About Barry Eisler
Barry Eisler spent three years in a covert position with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center along the way. Eisler lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and, when he’s not writing novels, he works with Human Rights First against torture, including lobbying on Capitol Hill and writes for publications like Freedom of the Press Foundation and Techdirt about torture, civil liberties, and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.barryeisler.com.
(Note: Authorlink highly recommends GOD’S EYE VIEW. both for the quality of the writing and for the brutal realities Barry Eisler reveals through the thin veil of storytelling).