True to form, the President loved nicknames. He constantly called Carter "Terrorbuster," which Carter loathed. Every time the President used that name, Carter thought of children’s shoes and that ugly dog and he cringed. But the guy was President. There was little Carter could do.
Carter did, however, love the other nickname the President had for him – “PhD sweeper”. The first time he used it Carter must have looked very quizzically at the President because the President went on to explain that most people started with a BS degree, and of course everyone knew what that stood for. Then they got an MS, which stood for “more of same.” Finally they got a PhD which stood for “piled high and deep.”
The President's work day always started with the PDB, Presidential Daily Briefing, as delivered by the National Security Advisor with mounds of input from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, head of CIA, head of FBI, and all the other "lesser" intelligence agencies. The document itself was one of the most heavily classified documents in the government and it was supposed to give the President the best and most important information on National Security for that day. It was,; however, often more an exercise in agency infighting than anything else. One had to sort through a great deal of chest-thumping, posturing and finger-pointing to get to the meat of the matter. In other words, it had a PhD all its own.
Carter's briefing of the President was not an independent briefing. Rather, Carter "sat in" on the PDB electronically. Actually, he could watch the document come together first at the various agencies and then in the NSA's office and at the same time he was able to access the raw intelligence that lead to this highly filtered, massaged, spun, and targeted document. This was the second thing Carter did every morning, after his general scan.
Then, using a special circuit he had set up in the President's office, he would watch the meeting from his own office. When the meeting was over and everybody left the room, the President would hit a few buttons on his computer, Carter’s image would appear and the President would say, "How high and deep today?"
Time in his office alone like this was rare for the President. He had long ago left specific instructions he was not to be disturbed after the PDB so he could "work off his morning bran muffin."
On this particular day, Carter told the President that the intel was good, just the usual assortment of politics mixed in, but there must have been something hesitant in his voice because as he got ready to sign off the President asked, "T-buster, what aren’t you telling me?"
Carter reflected that the President probably wanted him for this job because he was the worst liar on the planet. (And to think he wanted to be a field agent – they live lies!) He had to work very hard not to show visible signs of his distaste for that name as he responded, "It’s probably nothing, sir."
"You’re sounding like them now - that’s not what I’m paying you for."
Carter quickly told the President about his radiation finding in Mobile and what he had done about it.
"Sounds like you did good to me, so why the concern?" was the President’s response.
"Because it's too close to a large spike in communications within one of the apparent terrorist cells working in southern Asia."
"Now that," says the President, "is what I am paying you for. None of these other yahoos picked up on it. So what are you going to do?"
"Sir? We have no appreciable assets in… I just monitor and redirect…."
"There you go making me waste my money again T-buster." The President said the nickname with a certain emphasis that let Carter know...The President knew Carter found it irritating. Despite seeing through the President’s obvious motivational ploy, it worked. The fire in Carter's belly had not cooled completely, but it had definitely settled to "simmer" during these last months in the Executive Office Building. Now it was blazing.
"Sir, I may need…," but the President cut him off.
"Carter," Carter knew it was serious when the President called him by his actual name, "I'm paying you to be a sneaky bastard, and to sweep the piles. I'm paying you because you are more interested in the job than in the piles. I'm also paying you because you are one of the most highly trained sneaky bastards in the country."
That was the first reference the President had ever made to Carter's training. It dawned on Carter that the President knew a lot more about him than he had let on. Carter knew that maintaining deniability for the President was a big part of his job. Had he just been given permission to go out in the field?
"Highly trained sneaky bastard on the job – SIR!" and the connection was severed.