Kagnew Station, a U.S. military base set in the Horn of Africa, was tasked with handling critical radio communication between far-flung Army, Navy and Consular entities. In addition, it served as a super secret listening post staffed by personnel from the Army Security Agency, the National Security Agency, and the CIA. By the Fall of 1956, there were two thousand Americans at the base—military, civilian, and dependents—with more on the way. As a result, a major expansion of the base, and a thorough upgrade of its radio transmitting, receiving, and surveillance technology was well underway.
A little over a month earlier, on July 26, 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, upsetting well-established security interests throughout the Middle East. Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for help, giving it leverage in its attempt to secure a new strategic military presence in the area, including in the Red Sea. Worried about the vulnerability of Kagnew Station to newly emboldened Soviet intrigue, the CIA instructs Alan Harper, a young covert CIA officer, to go to Asmara, Eritrea, and assess the base’s security risk—not only from Soviet-inspired political action, but also from Soviet-engineered sabotage. Using his cover as a freelance journalist, Harper arrives ostensibly to do a newspaper article on the relocation and expansion of Kagnew Station, giving him entrée to senior military, diplomatic, and civic leaders, as well as with Eritrean students and local businessmen. The situation becomes dangerous, both to himself and to the base, once Harper learns of the presence of a four-man Soviet cell and puts it under surveillance.