Mary Louise Kelly spent two decades traveling the world as a reporter for NPR and BBC, covering wars, terrorism and rising nuclear powers. Now, she makes her literary debut with a political spy thriller. It’s the story of a young reporter who must match wits with spies, assassins and a terrorist sleeper cell targeting the heart of American power. Diane talks with NPR’s former intelligence correspondent about her new novel and the often precarious relationship between reporters and their sources.


  • Mary Louise Kelly Former NPR intelligence correspondent. She currently serves as a guest host for NPR’s news and talk programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She also teaches journalism and national security at Georgetown University.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from “Anonymous Sources” by Mary Louise Kelly. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Louise Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved.


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Former NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly has turned her own real-life reporting adventures into fiction. Her new spy thriller is titled "Anonymous Sources."

  • 11:07:14

    MS. DIANE REHMShe joins me in the studio to talk about the novel and the often precarious relationship between reporters and their sources. You, of course, are always a source of information on this program. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, Mary Louise, it's good to meet you.

  • 11:07:49

    MS. MARY LOUISE KELLYGood morning, glad to be here.

  • 11:07:50

    REHMGlad to have you here. Mary Louise, set this up for us. Read from the prologue to your book "Anonymous Sources."

  • 11:08:02

    KELLYWith pleasure, here we go. "If on an early summer's night you wanted to kill a man, how would you do it? Would you lay a trap? Sharpen a dagger? Uncork a poison? Personally, I've always leaned toward the dramatic, but looking back, I wonder now if the events of last summer didn't begin with a quieter sort of murder.

  • 11:08:25

    KELLYIt was the first time he'd killed. He told me that himself and while he didn't elaborate, I imagined he might have simply followed, simply walked, tracing the path behind his victim, taking care to keep his footsteps silent. And then he would have stopped, crouched, listened, an assassin waiting for his moment.

  • 11:08:47

    KELLYHe would have been nervous. He would have watched until his mark turned, until he looked away, until the light on that lovely June evening slanted just so and then his blood must have roared and his muscles tensed and he must have known now is time."

  • 11:09:04

    REHMAnd your victim, Thomas Carlyle, poor fellow...

  • 11:09:09

    KELLYPoor fellow.

  • 11:09:11

    REHM...tell us what happens to him.

  • 11:09:12

    KELLYWell, I can't tell you everything...

  • 11:09:14


  • 11:09:14

    KELLY...obviously. You'll have to -- it takes 300 pages to figure out...

  • 11:09:17

    REHMIn that first chapter...

  • 11:09:17

    KELLY...exactly what happens to him. But I can reveal that by page six, poor Thomas Carlyle had died. Tom Carlyle is a very popular, smart, lovely roar. He's recently graduated from Harvard. He's just finished a post-grad year over at Cambridge University in England.

  • 11:09:40

    KELLYHe has, for reasons that become clear over the following chapters, decided to climb up to the top of the Eliot House bell tower. This is one of Harvard's dorms. And while he's up there thinking he's alone, just having a beer, watching the boats go by, enjoying the sunset, somebody comes up behind him. There's a struggle. He is pushed. He falls from the top and falls to his death. And much of the rest of the book is spent unfolding and trying to unravel why.

  • 11:10:14

    REHMDid you ever see anyone murdered?

  • 11:10:24

    KELLYWhat an interesting question. I don't think so, no.

  • 11:10:26

    REHMDid you ever know someone who was murdered?

  • 11:10:34

    KELLYAs a reporter, I've certainly covered murders. My first reporting job was working for my hometown newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And I started out as an intern and then general assignment and was sent many times on the late night cop beat, which is what, as the intern and the rookie reporter, you get sent to cover and have seen quite a few crime scenes immediately after the fact. But no, never saw the precise moment.

  • 11:11:02

    REHMYour reporting has given way now to this fictional side of yourself. Why do you suppose that came about?

  • 11:11:15

    KELLYA couple of reasons. I mean, there was the practical fact that for years I covered the intelligence beat at NPR and then covered the Pentagon beat at NPR and loved doing that, got to do it in this decade following 9/11 and found it the most challenging, fascinating way to cover this country's foreign policy. I got to travel to amazing places and interview fascinating people, but it was not the most family-friendly gig..

  • 11:11:44


  • 11:11:44

    KELLYAnd I've two little boys...

  • 11:11:45


  • 11:11:45

    KELLY…and I kept finding myself in war zones and I kept finding myself on the receiving end of phone calls about, you know, car pools or one of them home sick and thinking, I'm in Baghdad...

  • 11:11:56


  • 11:11:56

    KELLY...and I have a four-year-old. What am I doing? So at a certain point, I started thinking, I have had the chance to have all these adventures and see some amazing places. Is there anything else that maybe I could do with that? And then that led me to, you know, I've always wanted to write a book.

  • 11:12:14

    KELLYI think I first toyed with writing something that would complement my beat a bit more directly, some super-serious investigative tome about Guantanamo or something, but started thinking, you know, I've covered the spy beat. I know these guys. I've seen them.

  • 11:12:30

    KELLYYou have some crazy experiences on that beat that don't find their way into the daily deadline reporting and thought I'm going to start going back through my reporter's notebooks and doing something with this. And then there was also the challenge. It's the wonderful thing and the challenging thing about filing a hard news beat is, for better or worse, every day you have to come up with a story...

  • 11:12:52

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:12:52

    KELLY...or most days you come up with a story. You've got to file. You've got to go with whatever you have by 4 o'clock, the time All Things Considered goes on the air. And then the next day, it's a clean slate. I've always loved that. I've loved the adrenalin and the deadline pressure. But it also, you look back and think, what did I spend the last ten years doing?

  • 11:13:09

    KELLYIt's ephemeral. It's not even like filing for a newspaper where you can kind of nail it up on a wall and there it is. And I thought -- I was drawn to the challenge of doing something that would hold my attention for more than a day, more than a week, for several years, to write a novel.

  • 11:13:24

    KELLYI figured if I'm still engaged after three years of writing this, there's a chance that the reader might still be too and that idea of being able to hold a reader, not just for a four-minute daily news piece, but for the time and investment and energy of reading a 300-page novel. Can I keep them turning the page? That sounded kind of fun so I decided to try it.

  • 11:13:42

    REHMSo how old are your children now?

  • 11:13:45

    KELLYThey are now, just finished third grade and first grade...

  • 11:13:47


  • 11:13:47

    KELLY...nine and seven, two boys.

  • 11:13:50

    REHMAnd who was caring for them while you were traveling?

  • 11:13:51

    KELLYWell, my wonderful husband and then we went through a series of, I know, as every working parent does, of different arrangements that kind of fit at different points in my career and for their ages, nannies, babysitters, au pairs. So they were never abandoned at home...

  • 11:14:09

    REHMNo, of course not.

  • 11:14:09

    KELLY...while I was off in the war zone. But as any working parent also knows, it doesn't matter where you are when you get these phone calls and you're not there. It tugs at you.

  • 11:14:19

    REHMTell me about the phone calls.

  • 11:14:23

    KELLYThere were several. There were quite a few. I remember getting car pool arrangement phone calls on the Khyber Pass, really looking around and thinking, this is surreal. I can't believe I'm worrying about who is picking up from soccer and here I am looking down, you know, onto the Plains of Afghanistan.

  • 11:14:38

    KELLYBut the straw that broke the camel's back, as it were, came. I was covering, as I say, the Pentagon beat and part of that is obviously covering the Pentagon so being here in Washington and covering the defense committees on the Hill, but also it involves traveling overseas when you cover the military.

  • 11:14:58

    KELLYYou need to see what the military is doing. And for most of the time that I was on the beat, that involved time in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries overseas. Traveling with the defense secretary when they go overseas is part of the Pentagon press pool and one day I found myself in Baghdad.

  • 11:15:19

    KELLYWe had just flown up from Southern Iraq and the city was not safe enough to have a convoy including a member of the U.S. Cabinet driving through the streets. So a bunch of Black Hawk helicopters were organized to move us from where we had just landed on the airstrip over to the next press conference.

  • 11:15:41

    KELLYAnd, you know, you're in full body armor as you move around and my cell phone vibrated. And I pushed my helmet back to answer it and this voice, sounding very far away, came through and said, hello, Mrs. Kelly. I said, yes, speak up. I can't hear you, you know, loud helicopters...

  • 11:16:01


  • 11:16:01

    KELLY...behind me. And I finally gather it's the nurse at my son's school back here in Washington saying my youngest, then four years old, was sick. Could I come and get him? And I laughed was my first reaction, thinking if you could see what I'm seeing, no, I can't come and get him. I'm traveling. I'm overseas.

  • 11:16:19

    REHMShe had no idea?

  • 11:16:19

    KELLYShe had no idea. How could she know? She's doing her job, trying to take care of the kids. So I'm trying to explain this and she cut in and interrupted and said, no, no. I don't mean bring him home. I mean, he's really, really sick. He's barely breathing. We need to get him to a doctor now or to the hospital now.

  • 11:16:38

    KELLYAnd, you know, you feel your heart skip a beat...

  • 11:16:40


  • 11:16:40

    KELLY...and I'm trying to think how to answer this and trying to think, okay, where would the babysitter be at this time of day, trying to do the time zone calculation in my head to answer her and the phone line cut out. This happens all the time, you know, when you're traveling, relying on not-so-great phone signals in Iraq.

  • 11:16:58

    KELLYAnd it took a couple of hours before I was able to get a connection again to try to work through this. And I will never forget being up there in the air in a helicopter looking down over Baghdad in my flak jacket and thinking, my son needs me and I am 6,000 miles away in Iraq and I think it's time for career plan B.

  • 11:17:20

    REHMSo how does that put you in line with or in opposition to Sheryl Sandberg's thesis of leaning in?

  • 11:17:37

    KELLYWell, I have to say, I wrote an essay that talked a little bit about that experience of how I decided to move from reporting full-time to writing a book. And I wrote it for Newsweek, The Daily Beast and they ran it with a headline that said, "Leaning Out: When the Sheryl Sandberg Approach Fails." And when I first saw that, I thought ha, if this is leaning out, it really doesn't feel like it.

  • 11:18:05

    KELLYI'm still writing all the time. I'm doing a book tour. I'm writing a second book. I feel like I'm leaning in, but it's a different type of leaning in, one in which I'm still working full-time, but I have more control over my time.

  • 11:18:19

    REHMWhich is precisely the way it ought to be, each and every woman, person has to decide for him or herself. Short break here. Do join us for Mary Louise Kelly, former national security reporter for NPR. Her new novel is called "Anonymous Sources."

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. Mary Louise Kelly is with me. She was national security reporter for NPR. Who knows, some day she may become exactly that again. Right now she's having fun writing spy novels. And this one, her fist, is called "Anonymous Sources." People have clearly already read it. Here's Marge in Keller, Texas who says, "I just finished reading "Anonymous Sources" after hearing Ms. Kelly interviewed on Weekend Edition recently. I love the book. Recommend it highly and hope there will be sequels."

  • 11:21:01

    KELLYAh-ha. Well, thank you, Marge.

  • 11:21:03

    REHMSo you've got Alexandra James as your heroin, named in part after your children.

  • 11:21:12

    KELLYNamed completely from my children.

  • 11:21:15

    REHMAlex and James.

  • 11:21:15

    KELLYNo other factor came into play. I have two boys, Alexander and James. And so obviously I like the names. That's what I named -- that's what we decided to name our kids but it was also a very conscious decision when I started writing the book. I was working full time at NPR covering a challenging beat. And I was trying to write a book. I had two little boys who were then four and six and kept me on my toes.

  • 11:21:38

    KELLYAnd so now, you have to get up at 4:00 in the morning to do this or stay up until 4:00 in the morning to write this. I was squeezing this in around the margins. And I remember thinking, I'm going to name my heroin Alexandra James so that every time when I sit down to write and, you know, curse the alarm clock for having woken me at 4:00 in the morning, I'll remember this is why I'm doing it.. I'm doing it for them.

  • 11:21:58

    REHMGood for you. What does she have in common with you?

  • 11:22:03

    KELLYAh-ha. Well, Alexandra James is a reporter. She is younger than me. She's 28 years old. She writes for a fictional newspaper, the New England Chronicle based in Boston. And she, as the book begins, covers the education beat. So she's covering all the universities in New England and then starts investigating this murder. And immediately gets drawn into this web of international intrigue and figures out that there's much more to the murder than originally meets the eye.

  • 11:22:35

    KELLYBut so she's obviously similar to me. She's a reporter. She covers a big national security story. She -- I made her younger than me and made her not originally somebody who was covering the spy beat. In part because I had had such a good time just learning how to do the intelligence beat. And I thought it would be kind of fun to follow somebody else as you try to figure that out.

  • 11:22:59

    REHMAnd, you know, it's interesting because she has this manner of sort of wheedling her way in.

  • 11:23:09


  • 11:23:09

    REHMDid you have to learn to do that?

  • 11:23:12

    KELLYWell, learning to cover the intelligence beat is like no other beat. You can cover the State Department, you can cover the Pentagon, you can cover the White House, all obviously challenging, important beats that you have to learn your way around. But you get a building pass and you can actually go to those places and go to -- they have press briefings every day. They have a directory and you can look up who has what job and here's their phone number.

  • 11:23:38

    KELLYWhen those guys travel -- I mean, as I say, when I covered the Pentagon, when the Defense Secretary travels, when the chairman of the joint chiefs travel, there's a press pool that goes with those people and reports on who they're meeting and what gets said and what deals are getting done. When you start covering the CIA, you don't get a building pass. You're not allowed to wander around lamely. They don't tell you when they go on trips. You're certainly not invited to go. There's no directory.

  • 11:24:03

    REHMAnd Alexandra was not allowed to cross the line into Harvard but she managed.

  • 11:24:10

    KELLYYeah, absolutely, absolutely. So partly it worked because having her be a rooky reporter allowed her to ask questions that a regular reader might ask. Allowed her to say, well, what's that acronym? Why should I go there?

  • 11:24:22

    REHMYeah, exactly.

  • 11:24:24

    KELLYWhich made it easier to tell the story, but it was also kind of fun just watching her -- you know, she rolls her eyes at some point when the fifth person that day says, I can't speak on the record and this is not my real name. And, you know, we're doing this interview only on condition of anonymity. And she kind of rolls her eyes and says, god this is not making me want to do the intelligence beat full time. Which I remember having that feeling a few months in thinking, why did I sign up for this?

  • 11:24:49

    REHMNow the second part of this email is that Marge says she hopes there will be sequels. Are you working on another?

  • 11:25:02

    KELLYI'm working on another book. I loved -- I remember getting advice from a friend who's a writer who's done multiple books in a series who said, look you've done half the work coming up with the characters. It takes a long time to get to know the characters well enough that you can hear them in your head. And if you've done that it does seem like, yeah it would be fund -- I liked these characters by the end. I really liked developing them.

  • 11:25:28

    KELLYSome of the ones who I did not think would start out being big characters, Lucien Sly (sp?) for example who is this British aristocrat who turns out to be perhaps a bit more than he originally seems when you first meet him. He didn't start out in my mind as a big character but he was so darn fun to write. And every time I put him in a room with somebody, sparks would fly. And so he ended up being a much bigger character.

  • 11:25:52

    KELLYAlex James was a character -- she probably started out much more like me than she ended up. You know, I was writing in my voice, the book is written in the first person, she's a reporter chasing a story. I think she started quite like me. And then as the book evolved I would -- whenever I got to a point where I was stuck writing it I would go for a jog.

  • 11:26:13

    KELLYAnd I'm told by friends who would see me as they drove past that my mouth is moving. I'm having these little, you know, imaginary conversations with myself. And they said, are you losing it? You're just talking away at yourself when I passed you, you know, running up Mass Ave. And it's me having these conversations in my head.

  • 11:26:29

    KELLYAnd that was how Alex James kind of became real to me was I'd throw her into whatever, you know, conversation picking up at the dry cleaner, whatever it was I was on the way to do and see, well how would she handle that? Would she be aggressive, would she be mild mannered? What kinds of words does she use? How does she interact with the world? And that's how I started hearing her voice in my head. So yeah, I would like to write another book with Alex James.

  • 11:26:52

    REHMWith Alex James as your lead character.

  • 11:26:55

    KELLYI would and I am about halfway through a second book that has a different main character. And I'm not going to confuse myself for the listeners, but I can't even say...

  • 11:27:03

    REHMOkay. All right. All right.

  • 11:27:06

    KELLY...character is it's also a thriller, but with a different cast of characters.

  • 11:27:09

    REHMNow, you said at the beginning that what you did in creating this novel was to go back through your own files. So what did you choose that inspired you?

  • 11:27:28

    KELLYWell, the book starts at Harvard. I was an undergrad at Harvard. I had -- my senior year, girlfriends and I had thrown a great party at the top of the Elliott House Bell Tower. And I remember thinking, it's an amazing setting and very rarely in your life do you get to go up to a place like that, even if you're a student there, and see the views. And I don't know that I could've told you 20 years ago when we were throwing parties there our senior year that I would've used it as the opening scene in a novel. But you kind of file that away.

  • 11:27:59

    KELLYAnd then I filed away -- I was also -- I did my graduate work at Emmanuel College in Cambridge, and that shows up in the book. It's a big national security story so it has to go through London. It ends up here in Washington, D.C. as many good national security stories do. Pakistan plays a big role in the book. There are characters from Pakistan and scenes set there. And I've done a fair bit of reporting from there dating back to the '90s and then traveling there as regularly as I could ever since. And so I wanted to be able to work that in as well.

  • 11:28:33

    REHMNow, moving from reporting to writing fiction, the style, to a certain extent, has to change but some of it may hang in there with you.

  • 11:28:51

    KELLYI found my background writing for broadcast for NPR was way more helpful than I would've thought. Partly that is when you're writing for radio, as you know better than most, you're trying to write in a conversational way. And so it really helped in terms of writing the dialog. I was used to writing in sentence fragments and with slight digressions because that's the way people talk.

  • 11:29:12

    REHMSure. Of course.

  • 11:29:14

    KELLYAnd you try to edit it to make it coherent when you're working in radio. You try to do the same in fiction, but that helped. The IU developed for detail as a reporter really helped. I remember one of my early readers read this -- read an early draft and then said, you should go read P.D. James. And I said, I've never actually read P.D. James. I should, I should. Why not? And she said, I'm telling you to read that not because you're writing a P.D. James style book, but because she nails her characters. She'll tell you three things about them and you will know them better than you know most characters over the course of an entire book. And it's true.

  • 11:29:52

    REHMShe's wonderful.

  • 11:29:53

    KELLYAnd so that made me really think, well what are the few details I want to tell you? I want to leave enough to the imagination that you can kind of see for -- think for yourself what you want these people to look like. But I want to tell you enough about the places I'm describing, or the characters that I'm telling you about, that they will feel real to you in the same way that they felt real to me writing them. And that's something you develop as a reporter.

  • 11:30:17

    KELLYAnd I think the last thing that just helps is, you know, when you write a good piece for broadcast, you know it when you do it. When you've written a piece where you hook the listener at the beginning and then you give them just enough information that they care, that they're interested in the story but they want to listen all the way through and see how it ends. You know, at NPR we call it the driveway moment. Keeping somebody in their car, even when they're already home because they want to hear how the story ends.

  • 11:30:43

    KELLYIt's a different skill set to do that over 300, 400 pages than over a few minutes on the radio. But that same kind of teasing people along, stay with me, stay with me. You're going to want to read the next page.

  • 11:30:51

    REHMBut you know what's wonderful about what you just talked about? You've given a brief lesson, a brief introduction to how to write a novel. So many people call in and say, well you know, I've been thinking about this book. I really want to write this -- you've just given them a first rate outline.

  • 11:31:23

    KELLYWell, and it's something I'm still learning. I mean, I've written one. I'm sure that, you know, if I'm lucky enough to write ten and be back here with you in 20 years than I will have some different insights into it. But, yeah, it's one thing to have a great story in mind, a great plot. I've been surprised by how many of the people who've read it who've written to me already have talked about it's the characters that stay in their head. And that's a different skill, you know. Really getting to know the characters.

  • 11:31:50

    KELLYAnd then the figuring out, well, where do you start in the story? Do I want to start at the beginning and just tell it sequentially through in the novel? Do I want to pick a moment in the middle and pull it out? Am I going to write this first person or third person? How much detail do you want to know? You know, if I have a scene where my heroin is interviewing somebody, do you want to know what she's wearing? Do you want to know what kind of room they're in or how she takes her coffee as she's asking him a question? And it's hard.

  • 11:32:15

    KELLYYou know it when you read a good book and the author's gotten it. But when you're writing it yourself you're thinking, I don't know how much they're going to want to know.

  • 11:32:22

    REHMWhat does Alex James look like?

  • 11:32:26

    KELLYWell, she's in her twenties. She has flaming red hair. And again, my son Alexander has flaming red hair. His father's Scottish and that whole side of the family has got the red hair genes and I kind of had that in my head. She has great legs. She runs a lot but I didn't want to make her -- she's no Angelina Jolie. She's not a kind of -- she's never going to be approached to go be a runway model.

  • 11:32:52

    REHMShe's not gorgeous. Yeah.

  • 11:32:54

    KELLYShe's a reporter and she runs around and, you know, lives in Boston and travels. And you hear enough about her that hopefully you'll be able to see her in your eyes, your heart.

  • 11:33:05

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. To Dunn, N.C., Karen, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:23

    KARENThank you so much. I listen to you every day because I work at home.

  • 11:33:25

    REHMThank you. Oh, I'm so glad. Thank you.

  • 11:33:28

    KARENYes, yes. Ms. Kelly, it's really great to actually hear you talk. I've had enough driveway moments listening to you that I can't wait to get my hands on your book.

  • 11:33:38

    KELLYOh, how fun.

  • 11:33:39

    KARENI'm all over it. I'm calling though because I wanted to tell you, I've taken two career breaks, one to look after my mother when she was ill and one fairly long one to look after my grandmother. I have her full care and on 9/11 when I was still working I called home to check on her. And she said to me -- and at this time she was 81 -- and she said, there's going to be another World War and I never thought I'd see another one. And I thought, like you did -- and granted I wasn't in a helicopter. I was in a cube at a nationally known company making big money and I thought, what the hell am I doing here?

  • 11:34:14

    REHMHum, interesting.

  • 11:34:16


  • 11:34:17

    KARENAnd I gave my notice and I quit January 1. I went back to teaching part time and we had six great years before she passed. And I wouldn't trade it. I know exactly what you mean and I am so tired of trying to explain to people that there's no career on earth that is that important. Nothing is as important as family. And the whole "Lean In" thing just drives me up the wall.

  • 11:34:43

    KELLYWell, I congratulate you on having found what sounds like the right balance for you and your family at that point. I actually have tremendous respect for Sheryl Sandberg and what she has accomplished in her career. I mean, hat's off to her. You go, girl. I think she's amazing.

  • 11:34:58


  • 11:34:59

    KELLYShe's making a choice that seems to work for her and her family at this point. And who knows if that's the choice she would've made ten years ago or may make ten years from now. And I think that's -- you know, all you can do is make the choice that's the right one for you and your family. For me, getting to write a novel has been a dream in many ways. You know, it's a dream of many reporters to write a book. To have gotten to use the experience I had as a reporter and turn that into fiction was just -- it was just a lot of fun.

  • 11:35:28

    KELLYI'm looking forward to doing it again in the next one. And I like that I can do it at times of day and that I'm also available to my family. So this is the choice that works for me now. But, as Diane says, I still get the itch to be back in the newsroom all the time. So who knows what five years may feel like the right thing to do.

  • 11:35:45

    REHMAbsolutely. Karen, thanks for your call. Mary Louise, what about the idea of deadlines that drove you while you were working for NPR, while you were working for a newspaper? Now you have to impose your own deadlines.

  • 11:36:06

    KELLYOh, I miss deadlines.

  • 11:36:08

    REHMDo you?

  • 11:36:08

    KELLYI love those deadlines. You either hate it or you love it. But the people who thrive doing, you know, the hard news beats, I think, for a big broadcast organization like NPR you have to thrive on it. And I loved that. As I say, when All Things Considered is coming up to the air or whatever newscast is coming up, you've got to go with -- just say what you know and how you know it.

  • 11:36:28

    KELLYI told myself that many, many times on deadline when you're looking at -- you've done -- you've reported all day. You have all these pieces of conflicting information. You can't figure out what the story is. You're going live in seven minutes and it's -- and your editor's saying, what's the lead? And I'm thinking, what is the lead? What is the lead?

  • 11:36:44

    REHMWhat is the lead? Oh boy, do I remember that.

  • 11:36:47

    KELLYYou know? But you go with what you've got. You tell people what you know, how you know it. And then you get up the next day and do it again. Writing a book, particularly a first book, it was not like the world was clamoring for me to write a novel. This was entirely self imposed and I had to get pretty disciplined about, you know, sitting down and forcing myself to do it and stick to a schedule. One of the revelations I had was that, as fun as it is to write a novel -- and it's fun -- it's still work. I would still probably rather be surfing and eating bonbons. But you do it, you get on with it. You write a few pages every day and somehow you end up with a book.

  • 11:37:25

    REHMMary Louise Kelly, former national security reporter for NPR. Her new first novel is title "Anonymous Sources."

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd apparently there's one question that lots of folks want to know. Mary Louise Kelly talked earlier as she was explaining her decision to leave NPR and to write her first novel, "Anonymous Sources." She said she got a call while she was in a helicopter. She got the call from Washington and she was in…

  • 11:40:37

    KELLYIn Iraq, that's right.

  • 11:40:38

    REHM…in Iraq. And here's the question from Lauren, in Orlando, Fla. Hi there. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:48

    LAURENHi. How are you doing?

  • 11:40:49

    REHMGood thanks.

  • 11:40:50

    LAURENThanks for taking my call.

  • 11:40:51


  • 11:40:51

    LAURENI'm enjoying the interview very much.

  • 11:40:54


  • 11:40:54

    LAURENAnd I'm glad that she made the career choices that worked for her family, but I have a very practical question. And I don’t mean to be impertinent, but why didn't you tell the nurse to call your husband?

  • 11:41:06

    KELLYOh, Lauren, I am so glad you asked that question because my husband gets this question all the time. And he threw his hands up in the air the other day and said, "Can you please, next time you tell that story, tell everyone that I got the next phone call when she lost you on the line." And he nipped straight over from his office, collected our son, I think took him straight to the hospital.

  • 11:41:28


  • 11:41:29

    KELLYAnd all was well and everyone was fine by the time I dialed back in. And perhaps there's a message there for working moms, too. That, you know, most problems, even problems like getting calls that your child is barely breathing, will sort themselves out without you. And maybe you can just let yourself get on with it.

  • 11:41:44

    REHMAnd make sure you've got two numbers there.

  • 11:41:47

    KELLYI would say the school nurses, in my experience, they never call the dads first, though. It's always the mom who gets the first phone call.

  • 11:41:54


  • 11:41:54

    KELLYAnd maybe that's something…

  • 11:41:55

    LAURENThat's for sure.

  • 11:41:55

    KELLY…we need to figure out.

  • 11:41:55

    REHMThanks for calling, Lauren. I want to ask you about Edward Snowden and his sort of terminal confinement there in the Moscow airport. You talk about sources in your book. And you talk about the relationship between sources and reporters. I wonder what you know and what you can say about the relationship between Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

  • 11:42:38

    KELLYIt's actually one of the more fascinating aspects of this entire saga, I think, is the fact that Edward Snowden went to The Guardian, went to the Washington Post, went to newspapers. I mean in the era of WikiLeaks, it's not a given that somebody who has information that they want to put out in the public would want to do that, and to a certain degree, surrender control of the story and how it is presented and how it's going to get filtered. We are told that still all of the documents that he shared with the Washington Post and The Guardian have not been made public because those publications made decisions, that they were getting told by the administration that this would cause serious national security problems.

  • 11:43:26

    KELLYAnd they've, so far, decided to hold them. So I find that interesting, what that relationship is, that somebody who is obviously angry at policies they're seeing in place in their workplace, works at the NSA, feels that certain things need to come to light, still goes through a very traditional, you know, going to the traditional, big newspapers, news outlets. Didn't go to a blog. Didn't go to WikiLeaks right then. Didn't just publish it himself. Decided to go through that.

  • 11:43:57

    KELLYI also -- one of the more interesting questions I got asked at a recent book event was how would my protagonist Alexander James react if Edward Snowden had come to her with this story and with these documents. And I had to think about that for a minute and then said, you know, I don't know every nuance of the conversations between the specific reporters and Snowden and what exact deals were made or things were agreed to or not agreed to, but as far as I can tell the news organizations have handled this responsibly. You know, they've had their lawyers look at it. They've given the administration a chance to respond. They have not gone public with absolutely everything they had. And there is an interesting public discussion that's been sparked by this.

  • 11:44:42

    REHMWhat about your own career? Was there ever a moment when you were concerned about the line between you as a reporter and a source you were covering?

  • 11:45:01

    KELLYSure, absolutely. And those are murky waters that you go through with your editor, sometimes with your news organization's lawyers. You know, when you have what looks like an interesting story that isn't out there yet and you feel is worth publishing or broadcasting, and the administration is pushing back and saying, please, please don't air this. It will cause damage to national security, and we can't even tell you in all the ways in which that may happen, but trust…

  • 11:45:34

    REHMDid you ever have that happen to you?

  • 11:45:35

    KELLYYes. That's happened to me. And there's a learning process, again, involved in covering the national security beat. It took me, you know, it takes a little while to realize that just because a document is classified does not mean it's necessarily accurate. Just because somebody who's telling you something has a high-level security clearance does not necessarily mean they know what they're talking about. And to really push back and ask questions about how do you know something, if somebody is telling you this, thinking through what are their motivations for telling me this? Maybe it's just, you know, pure altruism and they really want to help you get a great scoop and make sure you get your story right.

  • 11:46:22

    KELLYBut probably 99.9 percent of the time there's something more to it than that. There's a reason that somebody is telling you something and wants a story to play out at a certain time, in a particular way. And pushing back against that and trying to get as many details as you can about, you know, just telling me that this is going to harm national security isn't enough for me to sit on this. My job as a journalist is to get information out there. So you're going to have to give me more than that to have me sit on it.

  • 11:46:52

    REHMYou know, I've been watching, at a number of people's recommendations, the HBO (sic) series, "The Americans." Have you seen that?

  • 11:47:04

    KELLYI have not seen that, no.

  • 11:47:05

    REHMIt's all about two Russian nationals trained as spies here in the United States.

  • 11:47:17


  • 11:47:17

    REHMThey are as American as you or I and behave exactly that way, but there's an awful lot of national security implication with what they're doing and what's being done to them. It's on FX and it's not on HBO. I misspoke. So my question to you is, have you in your national security reporting actually followed a spy?

  • 11:47:56

    KELLYActually followed a spy? Meaning…

  • 11:47:59

    REHMFollowed the story of a spy, followed the progression of a spy and that spy's infiltration, that spy's being followed by the NSA or the FBI?

  • 11:48:21

    KELLYWell, yes. I mean when you're reporting on the intelligence agencies here, the CIA, the NSA, the military intelligence agencies you're reporting on those bureaucracies, but you're also primarily reporting on what it is they're trying to do. So you're looking at terrorism, you're looking at nuclear proliferation, you're looking at, you know, trying to get as close as they can to their sources. So, you know, in part of my reporting it's -- went to, you know, mosques in Europe, in Hamburg, for example, where the 9/11 hijackers, many of them, trained in Hamburg.

  • 11:48:58

    KELLYAnd went back to those mosques and tried to meet people and get a sense of what those communities are like now and who German intelligence is watching. You know, you go to London, you got to Brussels, you go to Pakistan, you meet the people working at the spy agencies there and try to figure out what kind of stories they're tracking and following then. Here in Washington, you're looking at, for example, people who are doing the spying for the CIA or the other intelligence agencies, who are, many of them, undercover, under different types of cover, moving in and out of the country, moving in and out of administrations and trying to stay in touch with those people and track them as they go about their jobs. But, yeah, that's who you're getting your information from.

  • 11:49:46

    REHMWhat is the most fearful situation in which you have found yourself?

  • 11:49:55

    KELLYWell, I should be upfront and say I, in part because of having two young kids, I have not faced the dangers that my colleagues who are permanently overseas and in conflict areas face. It's one thing to fly in with the Secretary of Defense on their plane and go in the motorcade and, yeah, you're in a flak jacket, but it is not anywhere near the dangers that my colleagues who are based in places in the Middle East and Arab world face on a daily basis. I have never felt threatened moving around Washington, perhaps that's naive.

  • 11:50:31

    KELLYBut in talking to other people, other reporters who cover the intelligence beat, I can't say I've ever feared that, you know, if I report something the wrong way or dig just a little bit too deep they'll come after me. And, again, maybe that's naive. We certainly know they'll come after my electronic communications. Recent events have revealed that, that phones lines and emails are not safe. I think we've known that for some time.

  • 11:50:56

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Ambrose, who's in Reston, Va. Hi there.

  • 11:51:02

    AMBROSEHi, thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:51:05


  • 11:51:05

    AMBROSEBetween 2005 and 2010 I worked at the Terrorists Screening Development Center, the top-secret office that developed the next generation of terrorist identity management systems, including software, hardware, etcetera for the Terrorist Screening Center, which is the clearing house for terrorist identity information. In 2009, I began to document and finally found an incursion into that classified network over my log on. I'm the only Mac Pro on that network. The I.T. didn't understand that device. And Apple did not publish the fact a very crucial security hole that was taken advantage of then.

  • 11:52:16

    AMBROSEThis has made -- because it attracted a very unwelcome kind of attention, this has ruined my last three years. And I don't know how to -- I mean I've tried to get the story out. I've written to all sorts of people over the internet. Actually, I was stuck in a basement last year because I had an infected total knee and so I was chained to the internet. And every communication I tried -- and I've been a writer for 25 years -- was not successful. Much of it was blocked at the network level.

  • 11:53:16

    KELLYWell, I'm sorry for your troubles. It sounds like it's been a…

  • 11:53:19

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:53:20

    KELLY…hard run for you. I’m so sorry.

  • 11:53:22

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:53:23

    KELLYLet me clarify, the organization where you were working was it part of the NCTC, the National Counter Terrorist Center? It was a government organization?

  • 11:53:32

    AMBROSEIt was a contract. The company…

  • 11:53:34


  • 11:53:37

    AMBROSE…was called The Analysis Corporation.

  • 11:53:41

    KELLYA private company?

  • 11:53:45

    AMBROSE(unintelligible) the tip-off contract, then 2001 happened and they got the Terrorist Screening Center contract.

  • 11:53:54

    KELLYI see. I see. And was this something -- did you have a security clearance when you were working on that?

  • 11:54:00

    AMBROSEI had, yes. I had to get a top-secret…

  • 11:54:02


  • 11:54:05

    AMBROSE…FBI, you know, it's a polygraph.

  • 11:54:06

    REHMSure. It sounds as though he has been involved in some very specialized work and that he's now running into great difficulty. I'm sorry for that, Ambrose. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Ocala, Fla., Kami, you're on the air.

  • 11:54:30

    KAMIGood morning, ladies.

  • 11:54:32


  • 11:54:33

    KAMIDiane, I really enjoy your mix of toughness and courtesy as an interviewer.

  • 11:54:38

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:54:39

    KAMIThank you. Ms. Kelly, you're wow. I can't wait to find your book. I would like to offer you -- I'm sure everybody does -- a story idea in the hope that you can help us.

  • 11:54:51

    REHMOkay. Kami, here's what I'm going to ask you to do. Send an email to with your idea, and we will pass that on.

  • 11:55:10

    KELLYI would love to read it. All story ideas always welcome. That would be great. Thanks, Tammy (sic) .

  • 11:55:16

    REHMNow, tell us a little about what lies ahead.

  • 11:55:21

    KELLYWell, I spent two years writing "Anonymous Sources," and then it's been another year selling it and seeing it move out into the world. That's been great fun. I got into a debate at a book talk just this past week where one of my questioners got up and started saying, I don't think your protagonist Alexander James would have reacted the way you have her react in a certain scene. She would have something totally different. And I was looking at him thinking, how would you know? I made her up. I know how she would react.

  • 11:55:50

    KELLYAnd then a minute later I thought, but how cool is that, that you think…

  • 11:55:54

    REHMHow cool is that.

  • 11:55:55

    KELLY…you know her.

  • 11:55:56


  • 11:55:56

    KELLYAnd are as invested in her as I feel I am. That's great. So it has been a phenomenal process to get to do this. I'm midway through writing a second one. I look forward to seeing that into the world. We'll see how it goes. I do still feel an itch every time a big story breaks.

  • 11:56:12


  • 11:56:12

    KELLYThis Edward Snowden NSA story…

  • 11:56:13


  • 11:56:14

    KELLY…has just gotten me climbing the walls. It's so fascinating.

  • 11:56:17


  • 11:56:18

    KELLYAll of the legal dimensions and reporting dimensions, ethical dimensions.

  • 11:56:20

    REHMWhat do you think is going to happen? He's got three offers from Latin America.

  • 11:56:26

    KELLYI know.

  • 11:56:26

    REHMHe can't stay in that terminal.

  • 11:56:29

    KELLYYeah, I mean it's gotten ludicrous, hasn't it. You know, it's two weeks now that he's been hanging out in this Moscow terminal. He's got three offers from three Latin American countries, although if I were Ed Snowden I would be worried that if I accept that a few weeks from now he'll turn up -- I hate to say it -- but in a gutter somewhere in Venezuela or something. I don't know. He's worked himself…

  • 11:56:49

    REHMBut where can he go?

  • 11:56:50

    KELLY…into quite a trap. Well, this is my unorthodoxed view, but if I were him I'd see if I could hop on a plane to Tehran. I think Iran would love to raise its finger to the U.S. and take in a fugitive that all of the United States would want to take in. And I think President Obama would think twice before sending in a Navy SEAL team after him.

  • 11:57:12

    REHMMary Louise Kelly, her new novel, her first, is titled, "Anonymous Sources." Thank you so much.

  • 11:57:24

    KELLYMy pleasure. Thanks for having me.

  • 11:57:25

    REHMGood to have you here. And thanks for listening all. I’m Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows