Use CIA Tactics to Infiltrate a Private Offshore Bank


Our target, in Andorra la Vella

Our target, in Andorra la Vella

[excerpted from 7 Grams of Lead]


Squeezed high into the eastern Pyrenees is Andorra, a country the size of New Orleans known for its skiing, shopping and offshore banks. This evening, as he had after work almost every day for the past twenty-eight years, Óscar Lasuén hefted his considerable bulk onto a barstool at the Salvia d’Or, a restaurant in Andorra’s capital city, Andorra la Vella. As usual, Lasuén ordered a Crema Catalana, no doubt the first of several, the regiment that made his return home bearable, although his interaction with his wife had dwindled to little more than her terse reporting of the leftovers he might microwave himself for dinner.

            The Salvia d’Or, built from smoke-blackened stones held in place by dark wood beams and lit only by candles, looked much the same as when it first opened in 1701. In all the years since, the tavern had probably never been graced by a young woman as beautiful as the French tourist who happened onto the stool beside Lasuén’s. Brushing snowflakes from her golden hair, she turned and asked him, in broken Catalan, if he knew anything about Andorra. Lasuén, who considered himself something of a raconteur as well as an amateur historian, told of the extraordinary soap opera that comprised the tiny nation’s seven centuries of joint rule by France and Spain. The young woman, a language student, stumbled over words here and there. Lasuén happily translated into French.

            When she inquired about the Salvia d’Or’s escudella, a traditional Catalan soup known for its pilota, a giant meatball spiced with garlic, Lasuén invited her to join him for a bowl. She hesitated in accepting, agreeing only after extracting a promise from Lasuén that they not speak a word of French.

            They dined at a cozy corner table on three scrumptious courses and too many glasses of Crema Catalana to count. Afterward, she invited him for a nightcap at her hotel, which was just down the block. He said he would love to, but he couldn’t. Perhaps, taking into account the prurient stares from the crowd of regulars who knew him, he feared repercussions. Whatever the case, it was a crying shame, thought Max Qualls, the CIA case officer feigning interest in a trinxat of bacon, cabbage and potato at a table in the opposite corner. Óscar Lasuén was the Chief Private Banking Officer at the Banca Privada d’Andorra, and he aspired to succeed the bank’s longtime chairman, his father-in-law. The woman he’d spurned was in fact French, but no tourist. She was a hooker named Dorothée, in town on business. Qualls had hired Dorothée with the objective of generating Lasuén’s willingness to do anything to prevent his father-in-law from receiving the X-rated video covertly shot in her hotel room. Qualls wouldn’t have asked Lasuén for much more than a BIC.

            Now Qualls’s colleague from Langley, Wendy Kammeyer, something of a wildcard, would have to get the BIC the hard way.

Kammeyer took the train from Barcelona to Zaragoza, where she put on a platinum blond wig, extra layers of makeup, and the sort of parka and stretch pants worn only by Olympic skiers or amateurs who never leave the lodge. The most important part of her costume would be noticed by no one, a pair of contact lenses that transformed her gray irises to a dull blue. She’d heard that the lenses cost $250,000. Each.

            In Zaragoza, using a Spanish passport and a Visa card with the name Penélope Piera, she bought a bus ticket to Andorra la Vella. During the four-hour ascent, she tried to ignore the spectacle of snow-laden peaks in order to learn the part of Piera, mistress in need of a discreet bank account for her generous cash allowance. Kammeyer had been an actress before being drawn to clandestine service by the opportunity to lose herself in roles twenty-four hours a day. The summer after graduating from Vassar, she had played Minnie Mouse aboard a Disney cruise ship. She went on to receive a decent Village Voice review for her turn as the cold and calculating Martha in an off-Broadway production of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She created a character combining elements of the two for her role this evening in Andorra la Vella.

            The six-story mirrored glass Banca Privada d’Andorra was on the corner of a dense commercial block nestled into the base of a mountain. The building reminded Kammeyer of a D-cell battery. It shone with distended reflections of the trio of Gothic buildings across the street. She entered the lobby, fifteen minutes late for her 17:00 appointment with private banking officer Xavier Belmonte. She’d let the time lapse, in keeping with her character, deliberating on the purchase of a silk scarf in one of Andorra’s incredible array of duty-free shops—the tiny country had two thousand in total, one for every four of its citizens.

            If not for the PC tower and chip-thin flat screen monitor in Belmonte’s office, Kammeyer might have believed she’d stepped through a wormhole in time to the House of Rothschild in its heyday. Dropping into the wing chair in front of the red-leather topped Louis XV desk, she said, in the Catalan of a native Barcelonan, “I totally love your décor.”

            Gracies, senyora,” Belmonte said, his reserve suggesting that he’d had nothing to do with it.

            His charcoal business suit revealed a broad-boned athlete gone soft. He had a small chin, a slit for a mouth and sunken cheeks offset by a bulbous nose. His smooth skin was either olive to begin with or had recently taken some sun. His prematurely gray hair and thick, steel-rimmed glasses would have made it hard for Kammeyer to guess his ethnicity if she hadn’t read the standard cradle-to-today dossier on the Marseille native. He switched to his mother tongue, which Kammeyer also understood, to relay her request of a café crème over the intercom.

            After inquiring about her trip up to the city and her shopping experience, Belmonte deftly segued to her banking needs, beginning by proposing she open what the bank termed an Advisory Account. “We make our skills available to any client who wishes to actively participate in the management of her assets,” he said. “Our top-rated team of advisors is at your service.” The leading alternative was the so-called Custody Account, “for clients who prefer to manage their assets directly and make their own investment decisions.”

            “I wouldn’t be too smart if I passed up the one with the top-rated advisors,” Kammeyer said—or, rather, Penélope Piera said. Wendy Kammeyer knew that ninety-nine percent of Belmonte’s clients were his clients because they wanted no noses but their own in their accounts.

            Opening the account required the digital equivalent of paperwork, which Kammeyer filled out on a tablet computer provided by Belmonte. As soon as she finished, he looked it over along with her passport. Under European Union pressure, Andorran banks had recently agreed to inspect prospective clients’ passports. A glance was the extent of their inspections, however. Belmonte only looked at Kammeyer’s passport a second time so as avoid staring when she withdrew six stuffed letter-size envelopes from the pockets inside her parka.

            She withdrew a total of €160,000 in one-hundred-euro notes from the envelopes. She was stacking the bills on Belmonte’s desk when his secretary hurriedly delivered coffee on a silver tray along with a selection of sweeteners and a perfunctory cookie, then bid him bonne soirée.

            Excellent, thought Kammeyer. The late hour of the appointment was the key to her plan. She let the coffee sit until certain she and Belmonte were alone, then she took a sip and reacted as if it contained vinegar.

            “I asked for skim milk,” she said. “I beg your pardon, but dairy fat and my skin are arch enemies.”

            “I am terribly sorry, senyora,” Belmonte said, his focus elsewhere, probably on trying to get a handle on how she could have misinterpreted café crème. “My assistant must have made an error. Would you allow me to run to the pantry?”

            Kammeyer lit up. “You don’t know what that would mean to me.”

            The moment he left, she shot a hand to her left eye and pinched out the contact lens. When his hasty steps faded down the marble corridor, she rounded his desk and placed the lens over the uppermost USB drive on his computer tower. The lens launched a six-legged spider-like robot one fiftieth the size of the head of a pin. Originally intended for the targeted delivery of medication, the nanobot had been adapted by Langley’s Toy Makers to deploy spyware. The nanobot would now invisibly penetrate the Banca Privada d’Andorra system, capturing the BIC of the institution that had wired funds to the account of gun-for-hire Ronny Brackman. The spyware would infiltrate the system at that institution when Penélope Piera decided to wire €10,000 there tomorrow.

            The nanobot needed about thirty seconds to do its job. Success and the blue iris overlay on the lens would temporarily turn green. Kammeyer watched from a squat behind the desk, lest any passers-by see her from the hall. Failure was a 1 in 25 proposition, a function of the inability of the lens to gain recognition by the USB port.

            After twenty-five seconds, the inner circle of the lens was red like a bull’s eye. Make that 1 in 25 in ideal conditions at a Langley lab, Kammeyer thought.

            She wasted no time replacing the dud with the contact lens from her right eye. Twenty seconds later, she extracted the lens from the USB port. This time the inner circle glowed a green as lovely as any she’d ever seen, just as Belmonte returned, a fresh mug of coffee in one hand, a plastic container of LLET DESNATADA—skim milk—in the other, and understandable circumspection in his eyes.

            “I lost a contact lens,” Kammeyer said. Rising, she opened her hand to display the lens. “But, don’t worry, I found it.”

[read more in 7 Grams of Lead]