I was a real-life secret agent. I didn't have the hand-grenade cuff links or the poison-dart pen, but in 2004 I was recruited by the Department of Homeland Security for its Red Cell program.
As they described it - and as The Washington Post later reported - Red Cell was the government's way of trying to anticipate how terrorists would next attack the United States. To do that, the government brought together what they called "out-of-the-box thinkers."
As a novelist who writes thrillers with scenes that take place in the underground tunnel below the White House, I was somehow identified as one of those thinkers.
Sometimes I was paired with a psychologist or a philosopher. Sometimes I was contacted alone, via email, and given a target to attack.
I'm not allowed to tell you what the targets were. Or where they were. But I can say that we'd destroy major cities like my hometown, New York. In minutes. And when I went home at night, I felt horrified, because I saw how easy it was to kill us.
But what inspired me more than anything else were the other people sitting next to me in that room. Sure, there were "real" heroes, members of the FBI and CIA, who helped us with vital facts. But there were far more professors and transportation employees, musicians and software programmers - regular people whose names will never be known and whom you'll never hear about.
Let me be clear: Those unseen heroes are everywhere. And they help us every day. And the best part? It's been true throughout our history. Indeed, as I researched my newest thriller, "Inner Circle," I found that back during the Revolutionary War, a secret presidential spy ring was started by none other than George Washington.
Washington called it the Culper Ring, and it was made up of ordinary citizens who operated throughout New York and Long Island. People just like you. Throughout the war, they moved information, gathered secrets about the British and never told anyone about their existence. In fact, even George Washington didn't know all their names. But this ring of civilians was so amazing at transporting secret information for Washington, they helped win the Revolutionary War for us.
And you'll never read about them in most history books.
These days, nearly every New Yorker knows at least one unseen hero. Most of them will remain "invisible" forever. But that invisibility may just be the most beautiful part of the story.
Indeed, most people don't set out to be heroes. Most people are just living their lives - until a moment arrives, and they're called to serve.
But as I saw in the Red Cell program, that's how history always works. History is a selection process. But it doesn't just choose people and moments. History chooses all of us. Every single day.