Sarah Winthrop looked around her office at the National Cathedral. It was small. Though a canon and thus a full member of the cathedral chapter she was not technically on staff here, given her status as a member of the Senior Intelligence Service, currently serving as National Intelligence Officer for Global Cultural Issues. But she preferred to work here, where she could be surrounded by images which reminded her of what her work was about, rather than in the drab, bureaucratic office she was forced to maintain at NIC headquarters, so as not to press too obviously her family’s aristocratic history. There she kept pictures of her family (two nieces –she was not married) and a small library of works on religion and politics. The only painting (and it was quite an indulgence) was a Rothko that had been in her family for 50 years.
Here, on the other hand, were the artifacts which marked her family as one of the leading forces in the English Reformation: first editions of the first Book of Common Prayer and of Richard Hooker’s Learned Discourse on Justification and Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, but also of John Winthrop’s Collected Works and those of Jonathan Edwards.
Sarah was related to all of them –to the Puritans on her father’s side and to the latitudinarian Anglicans on her mother’s. She was, in fact, a lineal descendant of both John Winthrop and of “the judicious Hooker” himself.
Like that of most members of the Anglo-American elite, her own outlook was –intentially– difficult to categorize. She had studied divinity at Harvard and sociology of religion at Berkeley, where she was one of Robert Bellah’s last students, writing a dissertation on Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations before the book itself was actually published. Huntington had been a friend and mentor in her undergraduate days at Harvard, but she had always sparred with him. He shared his early drafts with her while she was at Harvard Divinity School. And she wrote sharp critiques, arguing that Huntington, enchanted by Weber’s obsession with Puritanism, had failed to understand the latitudinarian Anglican contribution to the Anglo-American project, and ultimately the centrality of pluralism to the specifically American identity. But he had always assumed that after she satisfied her intense desire for Anglican orders, she would become his student in the Department of Political Science at Harvard. Then she stunned him by choosing to work with Robert Bellah on the other side of the country, eventually writing a dissertation which tried to use de Tocqueville to correct her old mentor’s Weberian “errors.” Theologically she was an Anglican with liberal and even Catholic leanings. But her soul was Calvinist, each act scrutinized for what it revealed about her character, every waking moment devoted to proving that the position of privilege she enjoyed was well used even if she could not claim it was actually well deserved. So many of her friends from grad school –many of them scholars as good or better than she was — were still in “adjunct hell,” while she sat here in her office at this great cathedral, with another just a few miles away at Foggy Bottom.
An evangelical friend once challenged Sara’s focus on effective, inner worldly action.
–God doesn’t want your resume, he had told her. He wants your heart.
Sara had considered the challenge seriously. He knew that the young man in question certainly wanted her heart and that she did not feel she could give it. But on reflection she had concluded that God was, in fact, far more interested in her resume. It had been a life defining moment for her.
The truth is that even with her doctorate from Berkeley and her family connections the best job she had been able to land after finishing was at an eastern liberal arts college. It would have been heaven for most people, but it was not what she wanted. She turned it down and, stunning her leftist friends in Berkeley, took a job with the Central Intelligence Agency –in the National Clandestine Service, nonetheless. Her family’s history of service to the State Department and her outstanding language skills had netted her fast track postings: Kunming and Llasha, Cuzco, Baghdad, Cairo, and Tehran, Sana’a, New Delhi and Moscow, and finally Rome.
After a dozen years she was exhausted and anxious to settle down and look for a partner. And her outlook had changed. She had found herself in what really was, if not a clash of civilizations, at least a war of position rather than the dialogue she had called for in her dissertation. Her reports wove thousands of individual meetings and interviews conducted by herself and the teams she led with a subtle analysis drawing on Gramsci and de Tocqueville as well as Weber, of the complex cultural factors which made Dar-al-Islam and China, and to a lesser extent India and Latin America, foundationally resistant, if not overtly hostile to democracy and pluralism. Her superiors at the CIA and the State Department (the latter had provided cover for her as a political or cultural officer) valued her insights and, when she wanted a respite from the field, offered her an appointment to the National Intelligence Council, a post more often reserved for analysts than operatives. But then she was Sarah Winthrop …
Soon she found herself mired in the internal politics around the emerging discipline of sociocultural intelligence, which was, it seemed “owned” by the Army’s Human Terrain System even if she had been doing it, and doing it better than they did, for more than a decade. Yet another war of position –this one bureaucratic— to try to bring together the diverse constituencies with an interest in this vital work, which had become her work, and create a coherent organization which could actually help the West win its civilizational struggles.
It was a struggle she thought worthwhile, but unlikely to be successful. The entrenched interests at the Army and the CIA were too powerful. NSA wouldn’t even talk to her. But then the Tien Shan manuscript appeared. Human Terrain was already involved, since it was one of their officers who had first intercepted it. So was NSA, which had resolved the initial images of mandalas into a large corpus of natural language and encrypted manuscripts. CIA was involved because they alone had the HUMINT collection capacity to match the manuscripts’ obviously wide cultural reach. Just why the President had suddenly decided to do the right thing and force fully one third of the intelligence community to play nicely in the same sandbox when previous crises of seemingly rather greater proportions had not elicited anything more than tentative moves in that direction was unclear. But this, it seemed, was Sara’s moment, and she was going to make the most of it.
The fact that she had been named to assemble and provide oversight for the first Minerva team, did not, however, mean that she would actually control it. The team would likely be the locus of an ongoing bureaucratic war of position. NSA, furthermore, had been in possession of the manuscript for days and so they were undoubtedly way ahead in the attempt to decipher it. The struggle would begin with NSA in the strongest position. What Sara could do is to use her HUMINT skills and relationships to get a head start on finding the authors who, she was convinced, were just another very ordinary religiopolitical sectarian group.
Fortunately, President Clinton had insisted that the manuscripts be shared with the various agencies which would be involved in Minerva immediately. Sara soon had in her possession an enormous collection of yantras as well as a long manuscript that included, in roughly equal measure, a long list of well known but very important philosophical and religious texts, an text encrypted in what was obviously an artificial language of some kind, and a another written in a some kind of astrological/alchemical script that she could not decipher.
Sarah looked out through the pointed arch of her Gothic window on the rainy Washington autumn day, the brilliant yellows and golds, oranges and reds of the trees, now at peak, muted by the dismal skies. Then she opened her tablet and sent off an email to the woman she had chosen to lead the first Minerva team.