- March 30, 2017
The secret is out.
Joseph Harb, Jr. can communicate with the world.
It wasn't long ago that Lakewood Ranch's Harb couldn't even communicate with his wife, Linda. Well, about his work, anyway.
A line out of his bio says Harb, who worked 39 years with the National Security Agency (NSA), "applied a wide variety of analytic and language skills and techniques to the production of high-value intelligence" and that he "managed large complex analytic organizations which produced extremely high-value political and military intelligence relating to every region of the globe and a broad variety of topics."
During a run as a bartender once I made a cocktail that turned from blue to green. Doesn't quite compare, does it?
In Harb's own words, he did work that "could change the course of history." He just couldn't tell anyone about it.
At his Edgewater community home where he has lived for 18 years, the 75-year-old Harb explained the NSA's main task as monitoring foreign communications.
"You can discover something that saves American lives," he said. "You could find a (terrorist) leader who they can take out or capture."
But when asked on the street about what he did for a living, Harb would only say, "I work for the defense department."
These days, Harb has done a complete about-face when it comes to being tight-lipped. He has become an author.
His new fiction book, Team Triad, went for sale online July 6. He bills it as a spy hunt novel "infused with the flavors of delicious food, mellow wine, foreign cultures and societies, and history."
The time is 2015 and it concerns Middle East peace hanging in the balance as the U.S. and its partners conduct negotiations with Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. The FBI creates Team Triad — using top minds from the FBI, CIA and NSA — to stop Iranian espionage in time to save the negotiations.
Heady stuff, but should the NSA be worried?
In keeping with NSA regulations, Harb packed his 389 pages and shipped them to his former headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. Although the book is, indeed, fiction, Harb wrote about real world intelligence techniques that he wasn't sure would meet with approval. His topics and themes were ripped from real headlines.
It took less than 45 days for the NSA to sift through the material and send it back. Harb picked up his mail and found the return from NSA wrapped in the kind of tape that might as well have been made of stainless steel wire. He struggled to rip the package apart.
This couldn't be good.
Inside, though, he found his material virtually untouched. He was amazed. "They approved everything," he said.
He wasn't so lucky, though, when he ran the material past Linda, who has been married to him for 51 years, and a group of his friends and former colleagues.
Linda's advice was simple. He had too many bullet lists for a nuclear spy hunt novel. Yes, she was right. He wanted to build a lot of educational reality into his fiction, and that meant more bullet lists than bullets. NSA employees, after all, don't carry guns.
"I am used to writing intelligence papers," Harb said. "Very clear, very well laid out. And I wanted to give the reader insight, so parts about intelligence and how it is collected can be boring."
His colleagues and friends were kind, but they told him his writing was "stiff." One said his writing was "sufficient."
So he took advice and added more dialogue to his story. He also made changes. More than 1,500 of them.
Although he wasn't going to make it "artificial," he was pleased with the outcome. The book, which took 10 months to complete, had more zip and it accomplished his goal to educate the public about the intelligence community. It was ready.
Now Harb, whose second retirement began in 2015 after he was called back to work due to the Sept. 11 attacks, is learning about the publishing world.
"I didn't know about publishing," Harb said. "I thought I would write it and then something would happen after that."
After self-publishing the book, he is learning the promotional aspect of being a writer. "Succeeding means this will get a lot of attention," he said.
Whether or not it succeeds, Harb is fortunate in one respect.
He can talk to his wife about it.