Crossing the Rubicon

I recently finished watching a TV series entitled “Rubicon,” that made an impression on me. It was oringally released by AMC and shown in the US in 2010 and is modelled on 1970 conspiracy films such as “Three Days of the Condor” and “All the President’s Men.” While many people might think it slow and cerebral, I found it fascinating.

The Rubicon is a river outside Rome. The armies of Rome were always kept marshalled on the other side of the Rubicon from Rome by order of the Senate for fear they might be used to usurp power from the Republic. The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” means making an irreparable decision, since once a general took his army across the Rubicon it meant that he was attacking Rome, as Julius Caesar did in 49 bce.

The series focuses on an organization with the ambigious name American Policy Institute (API) housed in an unobtrusive building in Manhattan and the lives and work of some of its employees. API is in fact a secret US Government intelligence branch whose job is to analyze information from many sources and to track enemies of the USA, particularly terrorists. When the series starts, one of the analysts named Will Travers notices the unusual fact that several major newspapers had the same clues in their crossword puzzles that day. He considers this to be a deliberate signal, but he does not know for what. He shares this information with his boss and father-in-law David, who talks to others about it without letting on that it was Will who brought this to his attention and the next day David is killed, supposedly in an accident.

Will does not consider this a coincidence. Will is promoted to David’s job and follows this clue up secretly. In doing so he reveals that there is a major manipulation of secret information going on for financial gain by a group of men who have formed a commercial consortium. Whenever there is a terrorist incident they gain financially by knowing in advance what will happen, for example if there is an attack on a gasoline refinery, the price of oil will go up, and they will gain significantly. They move from gaining from events to manipulating events.

It takes Will some time to realize that the information his group is being fed is deliberately slanted to make them come to certain conclusions, usually the wrong conclusions. In this way his group of analysts are kept busy tracking a terrorist named Khateb, who it turns out is not at all what they think he is. How Khateb and the crossword puzzle clues and the deaths and suicides of several people link together is the main thread of the story. In the last few episodes the threat of terrorism in the US becomes very real. Let’s hope the US intelligence analysts are not being manipulated for real as they are in this well constructed plot.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.