The Life of a Double Agent: Kenneth Kerr
A simple meeting changes the life of one man while in college. Would you ever become a spy for the CIA? Would you change courses in college and allow yourself to leak secrets to another government? Jim Hunt is attending college and is approached by the CIA to become a secret operative. Thinking about it and analyzing the positive and negatives he decides to take the bait and work for the CIA. But, that’s just the beginning of his journey to becoming what some would say is a Double Agent. But, just whose side is he on and will he betray his country or will he become loyal to another? The Life of A Double Agent by author Kenneth Kerr brings to light many of these issues as one man places himself in a tenuous position to leak information to the Chinese but not before becoming socially involved with a young woman named Suzy. Suzy approaches him and at first he thinks she is interested him as man and finds him her type. As their relationship moves in many different directions this young oriental girl explains her real goal in hooking up with him. Hoping he will leak information about his job, his position with the CIA and specifically our programs dealing with nerve gas, agent orange, tear gas and other gases, Jim is supposed to provide just enough information that will peak the interest of the Chinese, keep them coming back for more and allow our side to know just what they are up to in order to prevent or stop what they are planning. When Suzy learns all that she was hired to learn she pawns Jim off to Connie Lee whose main job is to question him about his life, his career now that he’s in the army as a second Lieutenant, his training with Chemicals and much more. Chinese Intelligence Services is whom both Suzy and Connie work for and the interest in Agent Orange would definitely send out red flags. But, this is just the beginning as Jim learns more about his mission, his new assignment to Major Thomas and being deployed to Vietnam. With the help of his close friend in the CIA Ben Stokes, he manages to provide Connie with the information that she wants some true and some false keeping everyone happy and you might say for a time on an even keel. Throughout the novel you hear the voice of the narrator as he takes readers inside the war zone, the mind of these two Chinese agents, the movements of Jim and his men plus adding a through account of the many training programs that he attends in order to be able to fulfill his position as adjutant in his new unit. Added to his duties he was required to meet with James Lee and feed him the disinformation provided by John Adams his new contact. Telling him about his cover and convincing him that there were several embedded officers doing the same job and that his duties was to monitor the Agent Orange activities in his geographical area and to be the liaison between the Chemical Corps and the Corps of Engineers. But, Jim became restless and his tour in Vung Tau would end asking to be transferred to another unit. His next stop was Black Horse Base Camp and entering the real war in Vietnam. Doing his part he did night patrols, went into dangerous territory, aided in capturing a Vietnam officer and then found himself in the middle of a mission to stop the Chinese from killing or assassinating Bob Hope who was coming over there to entertain.
His assignments in Vietnam varied as did his locations but his deceptions remained the same. Telling the Chinese that his job with the 34th Engineer Group was a front or cover and his real mission or job with that unit was the chemical officer for the engineer group. Each mission led him to learning more about the inner workings of those involved and when the final three months of his tour came about he opted for early discharge. But, his time with the CIA was not over, other decisions had to be made and Jim Hunt’s road to success would take on an entirely different path.
Finding his way back to the states, getting several different positions with Dow Chemical we learn more about the inner workings of this type of business and how the Chinese would want to interface with him and learn more. Leaving the military and reentering the country right after the Tet Offensive, which many state was the turning point of the war, Jim embarks on his career with Dow but things are about to heat up even more. Meeting Karen, getting married and now a father did not change the dynamics of his life. Living in Hong Kong he learned a lot about the people, how Dow was run and its many branches. But, dangerous assignments were just around the corner, difficult decisions had to be made and questions of ethics came into play as Jim Hunt finds himself living on two sides of the espionage fence. Dow’s Hong Kong office was the company’s headquarters for what they referred to as the Pacific, which encompassed fourteen countries. He was the manager for all of Dow’s chemicals and plastics businesses. But, the Chinese were relentless and although one group of informants were sent back to China or arrested another operative named Tom Leung wanted more than Jim might be able to offer. The Chinese government became interested in the development of telecommunications industry in China. Specifically they wanted Intel on Dow’s product called Zetabon used in the manufacture of telecommunications cables. Able to provide product information and even a sample was just the tip of the iceberg that these people wanted from Jim. Careful salesmanship, quick planning and thinking and both sides profited when the Chinese agreed to pay for the licensing technology behind this product. But, there is much more and the next step just might get Jim thrown in prison or worse if he is not careful. The organization was called the Ministry of State Security and they wanted Jim to deliver sensitive material by carrying between countries. But, when asked to deliver a disk that would provide the Chinese with technology that should be safeguarded the elaborate plan to take this down was created. Imagine an NSA operative behind the plan because he was being blackmailed. Imagine a college professor allowing him to be lured into this because of a huge financial gain. Just what happens you won’t believe and will Jim Hunt come out without any scars? So, just how much of our author is really Jim Hunt? Kenneth Kerr was a chemist from Delaware, world traveler and volunteered in the Peace Corp in Russia. Thought to be a double agent as he states in an interview: When people heard that I’d be in Russia for the Peace Corps, some would jokingly ask if I was working for the CIA,” he said. “I guess that will all start up again with this book.”
The plot heats up as Jim changes jobs many times each with another assignment linked to the CIA or related to our energy programs. The art of negotiation is definitely highlighted within each transaction, speaking to world leaders and the diplomatic ways delicate situations are carried out and explained add credence to the plot. The author’s business experience and expertise comes through every time Jim Hunt deals with the Chinese, his own bosses and those companies that hesitate before closing a deal. Renewable Energy was the next company that he worked for and the different facets of his job lead him to a discussion with one man working for the MSS and his new role with the CIA. Interactions quite interesting, strong characters on both sides of the ocean but the final outcome still to come as Jim will learn more than just how to negotiate a business deal but dealing with a hostage situation which requires different skills and training.
Four men are kidnapped while in the Philippines checking out a specific project for their companies. When Jim received the call about the kidnapping he is sent to Manila to work with the authorities to get these men released. But, his quick thinking, his understanding of customer relations and the interaction of many different agencies plus his contacts at the CIA, just might save these four men. But, will it be enough or will Renewable Power be forced to pay the ransom? Will the men be released?
As his career with Renewable comes to a close Jim decides to volunteer in the Peace Corps. Wondering why he would make sure a move when his wife could not accompany him because of her medical condition. The red tape discussed, the procedures described and Jim and our author take readers to Russia for the last phase of his life as a duel agent. Working at the Siberian Aerospace Academy was rewarding. The staff and the other volunteers got along with Jim but what happens to change it all will definitely surprise readers. Why would they ask him to leave? What would cause him to have to change course at this time? One day he has a visa from the Peace Corps the next well you won’t get that from me. It’s top secret according to the author and you need clearance from author Kenneth Kerr to learn more and find out where Jim winds up. An ending that will definitely ask the following question: What is next for Jim Hunt? Will he ever officially retire? Just what happened in Russia and will he ever get home? This is one novel you won’t put down from start to finish. A plot filled with intrigue, suspense, and mystery and right up there with Clancy, Baldacci and Palmer.
Fran Lewis: reviewer