The New York Times
Blackby Christopher Whitcomb
A fifteen-year member of the FBI who received its coveted Medal of Bravery, former agent Christopher Whitcomb electrified readers with his breathtaking memoir, Cold Zero. Now his remarkable past and hard-edged prose illuminate his highly acclaimed first thriller... Selected for the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team, Special Agent Jeremy Waller is about to fight
A fifteen-year member of the FBI who received its coveted Medal of Bravery, former agent Christopher Whitcomb electrified readers with his breathtaking memoir, Cold Zero. Now his remarkable past and hard-edged prose illuminate his highly acclaimed first thriller... Selected for the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team, Special Agent Jeremy Waller is about to fight terrorism at its source-by diving headlong into a violent world of trapdoor truths and shifting alliances. And he'll have company: a beautiful executive more adept at murder than marketing who turns his assignment into a cipher...a ruthless tycoon set on selling a revolutionary technology to terrorists...and a female senator and presidential hopeful charged with an unspeakable crime. Here there is no justice-and only one way out of the darkness: Head even deeper into the shadows...
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By Christopher Whitcomb
Little, BrownCopyright © 2004 Christopher Whitcomb
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFour Months Later
"THE COMMITTEE WILL come to order."
United States Senator Elizabeth Beechum, a Democrat from South Carolina, tapped a wooden gavel and stared out over S-407, a Capitol hearing room reserved for top secret briefings. The space felt typically quiet this morning, barren of the reporters, pool cameras, and curious tourists common to other congressional forums.
"Good morning, gentlemen," she said, noting that of the twenty-odd people in the room, she was once again the only woman. Typical, she thought. She'd seen progress during her twenty-three years in Washington, but Congress remained the world's most powerful boys' club. The fact that a Republican Senate had elected her to a third consecutive term as committee chair-the only such cross-party vote in anyone's memory-had little to do with gender. She was a consummate professional in a world that spoke its own language, handed out secrets grudgingly, and demanded uncompromising allegiance to rules. Even the Republicans knew they needed her.
"Before we get started, I want to read into record that this is the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence." The four-term senator spoke loudly and with a refined Southern lilt. "Today's session is a closed hearing on technology matters. All minutes, conversations, and proceedings are classified top secret, in their entirety."
Beechum read in the date, the time, and a list of the witnesses seated in front of her. There were two representatives from CIA and one each from the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. She called out the names quickly, like a homeroom teacher reciting the roll. This was rote process, an administrative speed bump she'd bounced over a thousand times before.
"I want to thank you all for coming today," Beechum added, slightly distracted. The committee's six other members settled into their seats as she glanced down at the morning's Washington Post, which lay discreetly propped against her knees.
BEECHUM AND VENABLE LOCKED IN DEAD HEAT, the top headline proclaimed. Despite Democratic efforts to pick a presidential nominee by the end of March, the race still looked too close to call. Connecticut governor David Ray Venable held on to a four-delegate lead, but party officials from California to New Hampshire were vowing to vote their conscience and Washington was awash in speculation. With a month to go before the Democratic National Convention, Beechum knew that the slightest turn in momentum-just one decent news cycle-could make her the first woman ever to lead a major party's bid for the White House.
"Let me say that we are particularly honored to have a special guest with us this morning," she said, trying to concentrate on the matters at hand. "Mr. Jordan Mitchell."
She nodded toward an elegantly dressed executive perched at a witness table directly across from her. Mitchell's perfectly groomed shock of white hair, John Dean glasses, and bespoke suit stood out in bold contrast to the lineup of military uniforms and drab, government-grade polyester.
"Welcome, Mr. Mitchell," the senator said. "It's nice of you to join us."
Jordan Mitchell needed no further introduction. As chief executive officer and majority stockholder of Borders Atlantic, the world's largest telecommunications company, he rivaled Bill Gates as the best known of America's billionaires. His How to Succeed in Business books often ranked among the year's bestsellers; his high-profile acquisitions filled financial pages around the world. Magazines often fawned over his triumphs. He'd been profiled by 60 Minutes. Twice.
"Good morning, Madam Chair," he said, smiling. "I want to tell you what an honor it is to testify before your committee. I've long admired your objectivity and foresight in safeguarding this great nation. And I want to add that you look even more ... engaging in person than on TV."
Charmer, Beechum noted in the margins of her agenda. Fortunately, he wasn't her type. Men like Jordan Mitchell condescended to women, rebuffed oversight, and largely ignored any authority greater than their own. He lived for himself in a secular world of bottom lines, balance sheets, and cost-benefit analyses. She'd seen enough of his kind during her two decades in Congress. His money and power singled him out in the business world, but it would serve him poorly in here.
"Thank you, I'm sure," Beechum replied, trying to sound flattered. "This committee certainly appreciates your cooperation. I understand you canceled a trip to Dubai so you could join us."
Mitchell nodded his head. He saw no need to elaborate.
"I want to assure you, as I said before," Beechum continued, "that our discussions are classified in their entirety and will not leave this room. We all understand the sensitivities of this issue and want to make you feel comfortable being completely candid."
Mitchell smiled politely. He felt comfortable in Washington, but only while clinging to two steadfast tenets: (1) never trust a politician and (2) never say anything you don't want to hear on CNN two hours later. Jordan Mitchell had billions of dollars resting on the new initiative they'd invited him in to discuss, and there was no way he was going to tell Beechum or her cronies anything that would place it in jeopardy.
"If I may ...," a voice interrupted.
Oh, hell, here it comes. Beechum winced. She turned toward Marcellus Parsons, the senior Republican from Montana. The tall, lanky cattleman adjusted his bolo tie, cleared his throat, and fired up his Big Sky hubris.
"I want to tell you, sir," Parsons said, "what a distinct honor it is to have a man of your singular accomplishment before this committee. The new Secure Burst Transmission-or SBT-phones that your company has developed will reestablish the United States as the preeminent leader in the worldwide telecommunications industry. We're honored by your presence."
Beechum tried not to choke on Parsons's kowtow. He was right, of course, about the technology. That's why they were here: Mitchell's company had developed a totally secure, low-cost encryption system that would allow virtually any subscriber to communicate without fear of interception. It worked as well on cell phones and landlines as it did in cyberspace and would be a boon to businesspeople, Internet marketers, and personal privacy advocates.
Unfortunately, terrorists, criminals, foreign governments-anyone capable of shelling out $59.99 a month-would enjoy the same protections. Unless Mitchell shared his secrets with U.S. intelligence agencies, Borders Atlantic would set back signals interception efforts by twenty-five years.
"Why don't we get started, then," Beechum suggested. "Mr. Mitchell, I believe you understand our concerns about this new Secure Burst Transmission technology. The United States government spends tens of billions of dollars each year gathering information on offensive foreign powers. As the rest of our witnesses will attest, signals intelligence accounts for almost eighty percent of our overall information-gathering capability. It's a vital part of our national defense."
The committee's witnesses-all government scientists and intelligence program managers-suddenly straightened to bent-leg attention, hoping Beechum would call on them for support. Each of them knew that these hearings carried real consequence. They all wanted to contribute.
"I would like to point out," Parsons fumed, "that not all statements by the chair represent the intentions or opinions of the committee." He cleared his throat again and nodded directly at Mitchell. "I, for one, hold dear the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment protections guaranteed in our Constitution and want to remind everyone of this country's proud traditions of innovation and enterprise."
Beechum tossed down her pen and shook her head. She poorly tolerated attempts to grandstand, especially when they implied any lack of respect for the Constitution.
"Senator, this is not about the Bill of Rights ...," she replied, but Parsons interrupted.
"Then what is it? How does the United States Senate drag in one of this nation's most prominent businessmen and accuse him of -"
"I accused him of nothing, Senator," Beechum barked. "I simply -"
"Please, Madam Chair ... Senator Parsons." Jordan Mitchell raised his hands like a referee stepping in to break up a clinch. These legislators hadn't even made opening statements yet, and they were already starting to kidney punch and bite.
"I understand both sides of this issue," he said with the same avuncular confidence he used to sell books and cell phones, "but I think it is important to point out that these same objections have been raised with each major communications advance since the telegraph. Every time private industry comes up with something new, the government cries out that it will stymie their efforts to protect the greater good of the people. You cannot expect the technology sector to maintain superiority over foreign competitors then rein us in when our efforts exceed your ability to manage them."
"We are at war, Mr. Mitchell," Beechum chided. "With terrorism. I can't show you the actual intelligence, but the FBI and CIA have credible and specific evidence of plans to strike a major American financial institution within the next few months. These SBT phones you are looking to introduce would give terrorists free lines of communication and make our job much more difficult. It could cost lives."
Parsons bristled at her preaching. Like others on the House and Senate intelligence committees, he had received classified briefings about what was now known informally in Washington as "Matrix 1016"-an SCI, or Secure Compartmented Information, report regarding efforts by a little-known Saudi fundamentalist cell to attack or disrupt the Federal Reserve. Nothing in what Parsons had read pointed to specific dates, times, or methods for this long-lead plot, and nothing in that report gave Elizabeth Beechum the right to give one of America's leading entrepreneurs a civics lesson.
"This committee's primary concern is oversight, not regulation," Parsons argued. "One of our most important functions is to prevent abuses of power, to make sure this government never oversteps its authority. I see no correlation between any classified intelligence reports and Mr. Mitchell's new phone system."
"Senators, if I may," Mitchell interjected. "I fully understand that we are at war with terrorism and that we all have individual responsibilities. The problem is that we can't stop technological advancement in the name of security. Private industry would never have developed the Internet, microwave-based communications, satellites ... hundreds of remarkable inventions, if scientists were held to some government-administered litmus test."
"This is different," Beechum argued. She had worked her entire career in the intelligence community and knew its back alleys and mirrored hallways better than anyone else on the Hill. "Signals intelligence is our most effective weapon against terrorism, and you are rendering it obsolete."
"Please," Mitchell said incredulously. "Intelligence agencies have always found ways to defeat sophisticated encryption. Look at the FBI's Carnivore program and the NSA's Echelon system. Both were created to eavesdrop on otherwise secure communications, and both have been very effective. Yet, people have a reasonable expectation of privacy on their phones and computers, and fortunately for the consumer, my company has come up with a way to restore it. That's not treason ... that's good business."
"We're not trying to infringe on America's right to privacy," Beechum huffed. Two decades on the Hill had given her a rock-steady sense of national security and a keen eye for bull. "We're protecting our responsibility to investigate and gather intelligence."
"I understand that," he said. "But you are an elected public servant, and Borders Atlantic is a private business with shareholders, a board of directors, market analysts, and lawyers-all of whom tell us that we have the legal and ethical right to develop this technology." He paused for effect. "If you feel it necessary to try to dissect our new SBT technology, jump right in line with our competitors, but please don't make Borders Atlantic a campaign slogan for this year's elections. Do not vilify us for political gain."
Beechum rocked back in her chair, stunned at his strident arrogance. She planned to challenge an increasingly vulnerable president in the fall. Mitchell was taking one hell of a chance in goading her.
"You don't really believe that, do you?" she asked. "You don't really think that the right to make a dollar should override the government's right to protect itself."
"I'm a businessman, Senator, not a spy." Mitchell looked Beechum straight in the eye when he said it, and she felt his power. This man had $47 billion in personal wealth and a huge multinational company behind him. He bowed to no one.
"Mr. Mitchell has a valid point," Parsons interjected. "This new encryption technology will mean thousands of new jobs, billions of dollars in revenue, trade parity, market share ..."
"And two new factories in your district!" The words jumped from Beechum's mouth before she could gather them back.
Parsons stared at her, as did the other sixteen members of the committee. Politicians often threw mud, but not over pork. Everyone in politics knew that constituents voted their pocketbooks. There wasn't an elected official alive who wouldn't have welcomed factories like Mitchell's into their district.
"I would think," Parsons growled, "that the esteemed senator from South Carolina might consider her advocacy and protection of the tobacco industry before casting stones about factories in Montana."
What had started as a quiet hearing was fast degenerating into a slugfest.
"Borders Atlantic is proud to bring nearly fifteen hundred new jobs to an economically challenged region of the United States." Mitchell nodded, ever the tactician. "We could have built additional plants in Thailand or Mexico or even China, but we chose to stay with the world's most productive workforce. In fact, we pledge to keep all new high-paying technology jobs inside the United States, where they belong."
Bravo, Beechum thought. He had prepared well.
"It's not the factories I object to, Mr. Mitchell; it's the technology behind them. None of these jobs will matter much if the Americans working there have to live in constant fear of terrorism."
She stopped herself short of proselytizing. "Before we nominate Mr. Mitchell for sainthood," Beechum said, "there are still some questions the committee and I would like to ask."
"I have all morning, Senator," Mitchell answered.
Excerpted from Black by Christopher Whitcomb Copyright © 2004 by Christopher Whitcomb. Excerpted by permission.
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I loved Christopher Whitcomb's autobiography Cold Zero. It left me proud to be an American and prouder still of the sacrifice of our soldiers who protect our freedoms. Then I bought Black and couldn't believe both books were written by the same author. Throughout the entire book I was frustrated and disappointed. I kept reading page after page hoping Whitcomb's anti-American attitude would change and the hero would become a real hero instead of a whiner. I hoped the good guys (Americans) would win. Unlike his autobiography, this book does not make you feel patriotic or proud. The story is fast-paced with an exciting plot but Whitcomb makes America look bad in the process of protecting itself. In Black, Whitcomb is anti-government, pro-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-business, anti-Christian and anti-American. If you like books that bash George W. Bush and our government, you'll love Black. Jeremy Waller, the supposed hero of Black, is a member of an elite team (HRT) and yet he is a whiner reluctant to follow orders. He's brand new on the team but thinks he knows more than anyone else in the government. Waller is not at all like the heros of other books of this genre such as Richard Marcinko (Seal Team Six, et al) and beloved Mitch Rapp (fictional hero by Vince Flynn). Marcinko (a real live hero) and Mitch Rapp (wish he was a real person) are patriots through and through and their every action is written from the point of view of Love America and protect Americans no matter what. Whitcomb's hero, Waller, is never outraged about what the enemy does to America or Americans. He's upset that he had to kill the enemy. The Republican's and big business are the bad guys and the democrats are the good guys. The heroine, Senator Elizabeth Beecham, is a Democrat and portrayed as the only clear-thinking, patriotic, honest person in the entire story. I find it hard to believe that the author, Christopher Whitcomb, was actually an elite soldier of HRT with the FBI for 15 years. He comes across as an embittered disgruntled former employee of the post office rather than the FBI.
This book was absolutely superb, the thriller is amazing and the story will keep you guessing who the real culprit is until the end where the culprit is shown, which will be shocking.
This Book get you from first page.A gripping take on today's world. A Must Read.
If you enjoy the black helicopter, conspiracy theory, paranoid thrillers, then Christopher Whitcomb¿s ¿Black¿ is right up your alley. Mr. Whitcomb writes what he knows. He spent fifteen years in the FBI¿as a sniper on Hostage Rescue, an interrogation instructor and director of intelligence for the Critical Incident Response Group. The plot centers upon telecom billionaire Jordan Mitchell whose latest high-tech cell phone has a new encryption model so advanced it will take the NSA at least a year to map it. Mitchell¿s game plan to roll out the phones in the Mideast prompts many in the U.S. government to accuse him of putting profits ahead of patriotism. This phone will compromise the U.S. ability to gather intel on the terrorists. There are three additional main players. The HRT connection is Jeremy Waller, a rookie, always at the top of his class. Senator Elizabeth Beecham who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee has Mitchell squarely in her sights. The sexy Sirad Malneaux who works for Mitchell in his Atlanta office is a spy¿who controls her, and is she perhaps a double or even a triple agent? These four swirl in an intense eddy, eventually converging in this high stakes game. To give away more plot points would sabotage your personal theories and predictions. If you find yourself bewildered, perplexed or disoriented as the plot unfolds¿at the resolution you will realize you were meant to feel that way. So---read, hypothesize and enjoy a genuine electrifying ride.
What a great and thrilling book. This is a page turner, however, I am not sure I would have spent the time reading it if I had known the ending would be such a letdown. The author nicely sets up complex characters with definite agendas. Unfortunately, about five loose ends get tied up in the last few pages without a lot of explanation. I needed closure on some of the characters and some of the story lines.
Black is a thrilling story about operations of 'black' undercover operatives - the kind of people who put their lives at risk and get no credit for it in the public eye. Having served in the FBI, Chris Whitcomb has a unique insight to black operations that allows him to take the reader into the depths of these operations. Black is filled with twists and turns and some scary technology scenarios.
The novel Black is full of action, adventure, and intrigue. Having already read this authors auto-biography, Cold Zero, I had been anxiously awaiting Black to hit the market. I was not disappointed in any way and it was well worth the wait. Having worked in the criminal justice field, I know how things aren't always what they seem. The general public is not aware of how many men and women work behind the scenes to keep our country safe and the great risks they take to do so. I felt that Black said a lot more about how that is accomplished than it initially shows on the surface. And it's easy to completely fall into this novel because you know it was written by someone who has been there, not just a writer. It has a ring of truth to it and that is its most compelling feature. I thoroughly loved Black and Christopher Whitcomb now has a devoted fan who is thankful for his personal sacrifices as well as his writing ability. I will be watching for his next novel and my next adventure.
As a fan of W.E.B. Griffin and Tom Clancy¿s style of writing, I found BLACK engrossing, fast paced, and unpredictable. I am always drawn to stories where I feel I am being brought alongside the adventures of the characters, and not told of them. The main characters in black kept me looking forward to the next page and next stage of adventure. If you have read 'Cold Zero', by this author, you will feel right at home with the FBI'S Hostage Rescue Team, and associated personnel. Jeremy Waller is a new member of 'HRT' and is faced with many twists and turns on a professional level as well as trying to cope with the emotional toll his new assignment brings. The plot takes us from the political intrigue of Washington, to the deserts of Yemen. You will feel you need your own passport to keep up with the contents of this book! You won't want to close the cover until you reach the end.