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The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much

On the work of Gérard de Villiers, an 83-year-old French writer whose pulpy S.A.S. books have turned out to be eerily accurate:

"The books are strange hybrids: top-selling pulp-fiction vehicles that also serve as intelligence drop boxes for spy agencies around the world. De Villiers has spent most of his life cultivating spies and diplomats, who seem to enjoy seeing themselves and their secrets transfigured into pop fiction (with their own names carefully disguised), and his books regularly contain information about terror plots, espionage and wars that has never appeared elsewhere. Other pop novelists, like John le Carré and Tom Clancy, may flavor their work with a few real-world scenarios and some spy lingo, but de Villiers’s books are ahead of the news and sometimes even ahead of events themselves. Nearly a year ago he published a novel about the threat of Islamist groups in post-revolutionary Libya that focused on jihadis in Benghazi and on the role of the C.I.A. in fighting them. The novel, 'Les Fous de Benghazi,' came out six months before the death of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and included descriptions of the C.I.A. command center in Benghazi (a closely held secret at that time), which was to become central in the controversy over Stevens’s death. Other de Villiers books have included even more striking auguries. In 1980, he wrote a novel in which militant Islamists murder the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, a year before the actual assassination took place. When I asked him about it, de Villiers responded with a Gallic shrug. 'The Israelis knew it was going to happen,' he said, 'and did nothing.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4075 words)

In Libya, the Captors Have Become the Captive

With Qaddafi's former guards now in prison, one man leads the interrogation of his brother's killer:

"Nasser called Marwan’s father and invited him to come see his son. For the last six months, the family stayed away out of fear that the thuwar would take revenge on them all. On the following Friday, eight of them showed up at the base in Tajoura. Nasser greeted them at the door and led them downstairs. 'It was a very emotional moment,' Nasser said. 'You can imagine how I felt when I saw my brother’s killer embracing his brother.' The two brothers hugged each other for a long time, sobbing, until finally Nasser pushed them apart, because he could not bear it anymore. Later, he took one of the cousins aside and asked him if he knew why Marwan was being held. The man said no. 'I told him: "Your cousin killed six very qualified people whom Libya will need, two doctors and four officers. One of them was my brother." ' The cousin listened, and then he hugged Nasser before the family left."
PUBLISHED: May 9, 2012
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8006 words)

The Surreal Ruins of Qaddafi’s Never-Never Land

Everyone in Tripoli, it seemed, had been with Qaddafi, at least for show; and now everyone was against him. But where did their loyalty end and their rebellion begin? Sometimes I wondered if the speakers themselves knew. Collectively, they offered an appealing narrative: the city had been liberated from within, not just by NATO’s relentless bombing campaign. For months, Qaddafi’s own officers and henchmen had quietly undermined his war, and ordinary citizens had slowly mustered recruits and weapons for the final battle. In some cases, with a few witnesses and a document or two, their version seemed solid enough. Others, like Mustafa Atiri, had gruesome proof of what they lived through. But many of the people I spoke with lacked those things.
PUBLISHED: Sept. 21, 2011
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7392 words)

On Libya's Revolutionary Road

For the next two hours, Qaddafi lectured the men. He warned them not to encourage the kinds of protests that had overthrown one dictator in Tunisia and would soon topple another, Hosni Mubarak, in Egypt. “Take down your Facebook pages, your demands will be met,” Qaddafi said. At times, he muttered to himself at length, leaving the lawyers baffled and embarrassed. As he listened, Saih felt his fear giving way to a deep and unexpected reassurance. It was not Qaddafi’s drugged, monotone voice that soothed him. Nor was it the Leader’s seeming desperation or his promises of reform, which Saih did not believe. Instead, it was the mere sight of him up close, an old man with a wrinkled, sagging face.
PUBLISHED: March 30, 2011
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6572 words)

Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan?

PUBLISHED: July 6, 2010
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8206 words)