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The AssassinsA NOVEL
By OLIVER NORTH JOE MUSSER
Broadman & Holman PublishersCopyright © 2005 Oliver L. North
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGathering Fury
Situation Room The White Housel Washington, DC Sunday, 14 October 2007 0846 Hours Local
By the time the armored Cadillac entered the Southwest Gate, West Executive Avenue was already crowded with dark blue government sedans, glistening in the crisp, clear, early autumn air. As the car stopped next to the green awning, Army Staff Sgt. John Houston, jumped from the right front seat of the vehicle, opened the heavy right rear door and stood back. Dan Powers, the grim-faced Secretary of Defense, emerged first, said, "Thank you, John," and entered the West Wing. He was followed by Gen. George Grisham, USMC, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Immediately inside the door, a cheerless Secret Service agent placed their briefcases on the conveyor of an X-ray machine, and the two men were waved through an airport-type metal detector-despite the machine's muted electronic protest prompted by the ribbons and badges on the Chairman's chest and the four stars on each epaulet.
Powers and Grisham were quickly ushered into the White House Situation Room by the Senior Watch Officer. They stepped down into the small executive conference enclosure just as the Vice President was taking his seat at the foot of the table.
"Better get a cup of coffee," said the unsmiling Vice President. "It's going to be a long morning." But before Powers and Grisham could comply, the door they had just entered slid open again as the SWO announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President."
Powers and Grisham stood when everyone else rose and the President entered the now hushed room. Powers noticed that his hair was still wet-as though he had just toweled it dry. As the President moved past him, Grisham glanced at the digital clock over the plasma screen mounted in the south wall and thought, It's only 0852 ... We're going to start eight minutes early. Good thing we were here on time. This guy could have been a Marine he's so punctual. I wonder if he's ever late ...
Without preamble, the President removed his suit coat, draped it over the back of his chair, sat down, smoothed his tie, and said, "Thank you all for coming on such short notice. It doesn't look like any of us are going to get to church this morning so let's start with a word of prayer." Turning to the young man on his immediate right, he said, "Jeb, why don't you take this one?"
"Jeb" Stuart, National Security Advisor to the most powerful man on the planet, had been up since the SWO first called him at 0415. He had hastily shaved, showered, dressed, and raced to the White House. For the past four hours he had been furiously trying to assess the magnitude of what had happened in Saudi Arabia. Right up until a few minutes before coming to the Sit Room he was still assembling information and recommendations from State, Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, FBI, DHS, and the Departments of Treasury and Energy.
The National Security Advisor hadn't thought of starting the meeting with prayer, but with all that he'd seen since 0445 that morning, it seemed particularly appropriate. He and the others bowed their heads and Stuart said, "Lord, You are our hope and salvation. Please grant us wisdom. Guide our discussion. Help us to make sound decisions ..."
As his National Security Advisor awkwardly paused, the President concluded the time of prayer with, "And God, please protect our country and keep our people safe from those who would do us harm and bring us evil ... amen."
The Chief Executive raised his head and said, "Thank you, Jeb." Then he turned to the Director of National Intelligence and said, "All right, Perry, what do we know?"
Like the others, Perry Straw, the DNI, had been up since shortly after 0400. He had sped to his office at the Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue and immediately ordered every possible collection resource pointed at Saudi Arabia. By 0530 he had directed a worldwide alert to all CIA and NSA bases and stations around the globe, called in all his deputy directors, and ordered preparation of an immediate assessment.
Straw picked up what looked to be a TV remote, pushed a button, and a map of Saudi Arabia came up on the plasma screen. As those in the room shifted in their seats, a series of red dots, more than seventy of them, appeared on the map as the DNI began his briefing. "Based on information about thirty-five minutes old, these are the places where we know some kind of violent action took place this morning. We don't have KH-13 imagery in from all of these yet, and there may be more that we don't yet know about. But what we do have looks very bad."
As the DNI spoke, a series of satellite "photos"-each with a Chyron-generated label identifying the location and time-appeared on the screen. There were more than thirty images-showing raging fires, burning oil facilities, and blown pipelines pouring oil into huge pools onto the sand.
"We don't know the full extent yet, but it appears that at about 1100 this morning Saudi time, a carefully coordinated attack was launched against the royal kingdom's entire petroleum production and distribution infrastructure," said the DNI. As the horrific scenes flashed on the screen he continued, "As best we can tell, the Abqaiq processing facility at Ghawar and the Yanbu installations have been taken out. The Qatif Junction manifolds, valves, and control center look to be wrecked. The Safaniya Offshore Pumping Station that delivers seawater to most of the Northeast Saudi nodes and controls the undersea distribution network in the northern Persian Gulf is simply gone. The only thing we can see there now is a burning oil slick."
No one said a word until the terrible "slide show" finished. When the screen went blank, the President said simply, "Casualties?"
"Not known yet," Straw replied. "Several thousand at least. Probably multiple nationalities since very few Saudis actually work in their oil industry."
"Americans?" asked the President again.
"Don't know, sir," said Straw. "The CIA's secure fiber-optic and microwave comms with their station in Riyadh went down at the same time the oil infrastructure was hit. We're back up via satellite now, but the station chief is 'flying blind' right now because all official Americans have been told to report to the embassy and he apparently can't get any of his Saudi liaison people to answer the phone."
"Any idea who did this?" asked the President.
"No, sir. We can guess, but that's all," answered the DNI. "The CIA, NSA, and FBI are all listening, but no one has yet made any announcement claiming credit. Saudi TV and radio are off the air. An Al Jazeera broadcast about an hour ago from Qatar speculated that it was the work of Al Qaeda-but they also only made mention of Ras Tanura being hit. I don't think anyone but the perpetrators really knows how widespread the attack was."
"Is it over?" asked the President. "Have any American installations been hit? How about our diplomatic, commercial, and military facilities in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar?"
This time the Secretary of State answered first. "All official Americans in Riyadh have been accounted for. As of 0800 here, no attacks have been reported on any of the 'Western Enclaves' in Saudi Arabia-but we have to assume that American citizens working at the oil sites that were hit are among the casualties.
"We've sent an emergency recall message to all our embassies in the region and told them to dust off their NEO Plans-uh-Non-combatant Evacuation Operations. It's a contingency plan used by every embassy for a safe evacuation of American citizens out of a country or region," the Secretary of State said without missing the cadence in her quick briefing. "Ambassador Kenneth Snelling in Riyadh has been trying to contact the Saudi Foreign Minister without success since noon over there. The only thing I can add to what Perry has already reported is that our embassy security chief told Ambassador Snelling that he had heard explosions in the vicinity of the king's palace and that from the roof of the embassy he can see a pall of smoke over that part of the city."
Turning to the Secretary of Defense, the President simply said, "Dan?"
At seventy, Dan Powers was the oldest one in the room and known as a man who wasted few words. He was also perceived to be closer to the President than anyone in Washington except the Vice President. Everyone knew that in the cabinet he was first among equals-and that he had the President's ear anytime he wanted it.
Unlike the rest of the principals around the table, Dan Powers had no pile of papers in front of him. Seated directly behind him, General Grisham held several folders in case they were needed, but the SecDef waved them off. Powers folded his hands in front of him and began:
"We have dismissed the possibility that this is an overt military act by any of Saudi Arabia's neighbors. We have two carrier battle groups operating in the Northern PG and neither spotted any unusual air activity prior to 1100 Saudi time or since. The USS Abraham Lincoln did report that an Iran Air civilian aircraft disappeared off radar at 1058 local and an E-2C off the Ronald Reagan lost two other 'bogeys' over northeast Saudi Arabia at about the same time."
Though briefing without the aid of notes or PowerPoint slides, the SecDef was speaking quickly. From his vantage point behind the Secretary, Grisham could see several in the room struggling to keep up in taking notes.
Powers continued, talking directly to the President: "As you know, sir, General Grisham here was CinC CENTCOM from 1998 to 2003, and he still has many close friends in the region. In the last four hours he has spoken with every military chief in the theater, and I have spoken directly with all of our senior military commanders out there. Other than two large detonations in Iraq, one on the Kirkuk-Baji pipeline and the other that shut down the Ramallah-Basra Gas-Oil Separation Plant, there have been no attacks anywhere near our troops, ships, aircraft, or installations. We've ordered a Marine Expeditionary Unit that was returning from Iraq to Camp Lejeune to divert to Qatar to beef up security for the Umm Sa'id POL storage facility."
"How much fuel do we have there?" interjected the Commander in Chief.
"We have nearly fifty million gallons of fuel stored at Umm Sa'id-about 750,000 barrels of JP-8 and 150,000 barrels of JP-5. It's the principal POL storage point for CENTCOM," explained the SecDef.
"Any indication of an attempted attack there?" asked the President, directing the question to Grisham.
"No, sir. We're putting the MEU in there as a precaution. We'll also keep their amphibious shipping there in case we need them for rescue and recovery operations-like we did with the Tsunami Aid in December '04-but we have no threat warning indicators. It's a very secure facility."
Several in the room visibly started to sigh in relief-a respite abruptly stifled by the remainder of Powers's assessment. The SecDef continued, "Even though Saudi Arabia seems to be the locus of the attacks, we have concluded that we are the principal target."
The President's brow furrowed and everyone else leaned forward as he asked, "Dan ... General Grisham ... why do you assume that?"
"Because," Powers replied, "based on what we now know-and we should expect the word from Saudi Arabia to get worse not better-this morning's attack is aimed at the heart of our economy. We have concluded that this morning's attack destroyed at least 50 and perhaps as much as 80 percent of Saudi Arabia's oil production capability and wrecked nearly all export capacity. It's possible that they will not be able to resume significant oil exports for three to five years."
The Defense Secretary's pronouncement stunned the room. In the silence, Jeb Stuart, the National Security Advisor, suddenly realized why Powers had urged him to invite Sam Browning, the Secretary of Energy, to the meeting. Stuart turned to Browning and in a voice that was suddenly hoarse said, "Sam, could that be right?" The Energy Secretary, attending his first National Security Council crisis meeting, nodded and replied, "If the attacks this morning hit all the nodes described by the DNI, it's entirely possible that Saudi production could be off-line even longer. Unfortunately there's very little in their extraction and distribution system that is common in the rest of the world. Most of the valves, fittings, manifolds, control instrumentation, even piping in the Saudi system is unique.
"Their system is their own, and most of the parts aren't interchangeable or standard. Replacing the pipelines, repairing the 'plumbing' and especially rebuilding the GOSP infrastructure is likely to take years."
"I want to get back to the intelligence and what options we need to consider, but first-what's your best guess as to what this is going to do to the price of oil, Sam?" the President asked his Energy Secretary.
Browning thumbed through the stack of paper in front of him and replied, "Hard to tell how high it's going to go. I don't want to step on the toes of Commerce or Treasury, but an hour ago oil futures on the international commodities markets were already at sixty-five U.S. dollars per barrel and headed higher. My guess is that it could break a hundred dollars, maybe even one-fifty by this time tomorrow when our exchanges open."
"Frank," said the President, turning to his Treasury Secretary, "what's going to happen when the markets open tomorrow?"
Frank Kilgannon had made Wall Street his life. He knew "the street" as well as anyone, and everyone in the room respected his opinion on matters of finance-personal and national. He got right to the point: "This could be even worse than 9/11. The market is going to go into a tailspin. And it's not just the NYSE, NASDAQ, AMEX, and the Commodity Exchanges. I think we'll see every exchange in the world take a big hit. We probably ought to call for our exchanges not to open tomorrow-perhaps take a bank holiday, like after 9/11-just to keep the bottom from failing out. Of course we can't keep 'em closed forever. How bad it gets and how long it stays bad is going to depend a lot on what we say and do. I recommend a three-day 'holiday' to let the panic subside."
When the Treasury Secretary finished his blunt assessment, the President said, "Do it, Sam. Get the appropriate Emergency Executive Order out of the Presidential Emergency Action Documents that Jeb keeps locked up down here somewhere and bring it by the Oval Office this afternoon." He then turned back to his Energy Secretary and asked, "Is there any thing we can do short-term to replace the Saudi production? Winter is coming on and people need to heat their homes and businesses."
Once again Sam Browning delved into his stack of paper, grasped a sheet, and held it in front of his corpulent stomach as he began to speak. "We currently have about 900 million barrels in the SPR ... the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We're currently using about twelve to fifteen million barrels a day just for American autos and trucks. At current consumption rates our reserves would only last sixty days. We're maxed out in Texas, Oklahoma: the Gulf, and the North Slope-although at higher prices per barrel, producers will be able to squeeze more out of low yield wells-maybe 5 percent of what we got from the Saudis. Too bad Congress killed ANWR. If it was on-line it could replace about 20 percent of what we just lost."
Browning fumbled through a few more pages and then added, "At the higher price, Mexico will be able to crank up some low-production wells and get us another 5 percent ... the Brits, Dutch, and Norway-another 5 percent from the North Sea; the Russian Caspian and Siberian fields maybe another 5 percent or so."
Excerpted from The Assassins by OLIVER NORTH JOE MUSSER Copyright © 2005 by Oliver L. North. Excerpted by permission.
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