The tone of the answering machine message was routine, like a reminder for a dental appointment. But there was also an undercurrent of urgency. “Please call me back,” the voice said. “It’s important.”
What worried me was who was calling: a senior attorney with the Justice Department’s secretive Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. By the time I hung up the payphone at a little coffee shop in Cambridge, Mass., and wandered back to my table, strewn with yellow legal pads and dog-eared documents, I had guessed what he was after: my copy of the Justice Department’s top-secret criminal file on the National Security Agency. Only two copies of the original were ever made. Now I had to find a way to get it out of the country—fast.
It was July 8, 1981, a broiling Wednesday in Harvard Square, and I was in a quiet corner of the Algiers Coffee House on Brattle Street. A cool, souk-like basement room, with the piney aroma of frankincense, it made for a perfect hideout to sort through documents, jot down notes, and pore over stacks of newspapers while sipping bottomless cups of Arabic coffee and espresso the color of dark chocolate.