Digital Fortressby Dan Brown
When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant, beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage--not by guns or bombs -- but by a code so complex that if released would… See more details below
When the NSA's invincible code-breaking machine encounters a mysterious code it cannot break, the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, a brilliant, beautiful mathematician. What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage--not by guns or bombs -- but by a code so complex that if released would cripple U.S. intelligence. Caught in an accelerating tempest of secrecy and lies, Fletcher battles to save the agency she believes in. Betrayed on all sides, she finds herself fighting not only for her country but for her life, and in the end, for the life of the man she loves.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Second Edition, Revised Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.80(w) x 4.12(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Dan Brown
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Dan Brown
All rights reserved.
They were in the Smoky Mountains at their favorite bed-and-breakfast. David was smiling down at her. "What do you say, gorgeous? Marry me?"
Looking up from their canopy bed, she knew he was the one. Forever. As she stared into his deep-green eyes, somewhere in the distance a deafening bell began to ring. It was pulling him away. She reached for him, but her arms clutched empty air.
It was the sound of the phone that fully awoke Susan Fletcher from her dream. She gasped, sat up in bed, and fumbled for the receiver. "Hello?"
"Susan, it's David. Did I wake you?"
She smiled, rolling over in bed. "I was just dreaming of you. Come over and play."
He laughed. "It's still dark out."
"Mmm." She moaned sensuously. "Then definitely come over and play. We can sleep in before we head north."
David let out a frustrated sigh. "That's why I'm calling. It's about our trip. I've got to postpone."
Susan was suddenly wide awake. "What!"
"I'm sorry. I've got to leave town. I'll be back by tomorrow. We can head up first thing in the morning. We'll still have two days."
"But I made reservations," Susan said, hurt. "I got our old room at Stone Manor."
"I know, but —"
"Tonight was supposed to be special — to celebrate six months. You do remember we're engaged, don't you?"
"Susan." He sighed. "I really can't go into it now, they've got a car waiting. I'll call you from the plane and explain everything."
"Plane?" she repeated. "What's going on? Why would the university ...?"
"It's not the university. I'll phone and explain later. I've really got to go; they're calling for me. I'll be in touch. I promise."
"David!" she cried. "What's —"
But it was too late. David had hung up.
Susan Fletcher lay awake for hours waiting for him to call back. The phone never rang.
Later that afternoon Susan sat dejected in the tub. She submerged herself in the soapy water and tried to forget Stone Manor and the Smoky Mountains. Where could he be? she wondered. Why hasn't he called?
Gradually the water around her went from hot to lukewarm and finally to cold. She was about to get out when her cordless phone buzzed to life. Susan bolted upright, sloshing water on the floor as she grappled for the receiver she'd left on the sink.
"It's Strathmore," the voice replied.
Susan slumped. "Oh." She was unable to hide her disappointment. "Good afternoon, Commander."
"Hoping for a younger man?" The voice chuckled.
"No, sir," Susan said, embarrassed. "It's not how it —"
"Sure it is." He laughed. "David Becker's a good man. Don't ever lose him."
"Thank you, sir."
The commander's voice turned suddenly stern. "Susan, I'm calling because I need you in here. Pronto."
She tried to focus. "It's Saturday, sir. We don't usually —"
"I know," he said calmly. "It's an emergency."
Susan sat up. Emergency? She had never heard the word cross Commander Strathmore's lips. An emergency? In Crypto? She couldn't imagine. "Y-yes, sir." She paused. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Make it sooner." Strathmore hung up.
Susan Fletcher stood wrapped in a towel and dripped on the neatly folded clothes she'd set out the night before — hiking shorts, a sweater for the cool mountain evenings, and the new lingerie she'd bought for the nights. Depressed, she went to her closet for a clean blouse and skirt. An emergency? In Crypto?
As she went downstairs, Susan wondered how the day could get much worse.
She was about to find out.CHAPTER 2
Thirty thousand feet above a dead-calm ocean, David Becker stared miserably from the Learjet 60's small, oval window. He'd been told the phone on board was out of order, and he'd never had a chance to call Susan.
"What am I doing here?" he grumbled to himself. But the answer was simple — there were men to whom you just didn't say no.
"Mr. Becker," the loudspeaker crackled. "We'll be arriving in half an hour."
Becker nodded gloomily to the invisible voice. Wonderful. He pulled the shade and tried to sleep. But he could only think of her.CHAPTER 3
Susan's Volvo sedan rolled to a stop in the shadow of the ten-foot-high, barbed Cyclone fence. A young guard placed his hand on the roof.
Susan obliged and settled in for the usual half-minute wait. The officer ran her card through a computerized scanner. Finally he looked up. "Thank you, Ms. Fletcher." He gave an imperceptible sign, and the gate swung open.
Half a mile ahead Susan repeated the entire procedure at an equally imposing electrified fence. Come on, guys ... I've only been through here a million times.
As she approached the final checkpoint, a stocky sentry with two attack dogs and a machine gun glanced down at her license plate and waved her through. She followed Canine Road for another 250 yards and pulled into Employee Lot C. Unbelievable, she thought. Twenty-six thousand employees and a twelve-billion-dollar budget; you'd think they could make it through the weekend without me. Susan gunned the car into her reserved spot and killed the engine.
After crossing the landscaped terrace and entering the main building, she cleared two more internal checkpoints and finally arrived at the windowless tunnel that led to the new wing. A voice-scan booth blocked her entry.
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY (NSA)
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
The armed guard looked up. "Afternoon, Ms. Fletcher."
Susan smiled tiredly. "Hi, John."
"Didn't expect you today."
"Yeah, me neither." She leaned toward the parabolic microphone. "Susan Fletcher," she stated clearly. The computer instantly confirmed the frequency concentrations in her voice, and the gate clicked open. She stepped through.
The guard admired Susan as she began her walk down the cement causeway. He noticed that her strong hazel eyes seemed distant today, but her cheeks had a flushed freshness, and her shoulder-length, auburn hair looked newly blown dry. Trailing her was the faint scent of Johnson's Baby Powder. His eyes fell the length of her slender torso — to her white blouse with the bra barely visible beneath, to her knee-length khaki skirt, and finally to her legs ... Susan Fletcher's legs.
Hard to imagine they support a 170 IQ, he mused to himself.
He stared after her a long time. Finally he shook his head as she disappeared in the distance.
As Susan reached the end of the tunnel, a circular, vaultlike door blocked her way. The enormous letters read: CRYPTO.
Sighing, she placed her hand inside the recessed cipher box and entered her five-digit PIN. Seconds later the twelve-ton slab of steel began to revolve. She tried to focus, but her thoughts reeled back to him.
David Becker. The only man she'd ever loved. The youngest full professor at Georgetown University and a brilliant foreign-language specialist, he was practically a celebrity in the world of academia. Born with an eidetic memory and a love of languages, he'd mastered six Asian dialects as well as Spanish, French, and Italian. His university lectures on etymology and linguistics were standing-room-only, and he invariably stayed late to answer a barrage of questions. He spoke with authority and enthusiasm, apparently oblivious to the adoring gazes of his star-struck coeds.
Becker was dark — a rugged, youthful thirty-five with sharp green eyes and a wit to match. His strong jaw and taut features reminded Susan of carved marble. Over six feet tall, Becker moved across a squash court faster than any of his colleagues could comprehend. After soundly beating his opponent, he would cool off by dousing his head in a drinking fountain and soaking his tuft of thick, black hair. Then, still dripping, he'd treat his opponent to a fruit shake and a bagel.
As with all young professors, David's university salary was modest. From time to time, when he needed to renew his squash club membership or restring his old Dunlop with gut, he earned extra money by doing translating work for government agencies in and around Washington. It was on one of those jobs that he'd met Susan.
It was a crisp morning during fall break when Becker returned from a morning jog to his three-room faculty apartment to find his answering machine blinking. He downed a quart of orange juice as he listened to the playback. The message was like many he received — a government agency requesting his translating services for a few hours later that morning. The only strange thing was that Becker had never heard of the organization.
"They're called the National Security Agency," Becker said, calling a few of his colleagues for background.
The reply was always the same. "You mean the National Security Council?"
Becker checked the message. "No. They said Agency. The NSA."
"Never heard of 'em."
Becker checked the GAO Directory, and it showed no listing either. Puzzled, Becker called one of his old squash buddies, an ex-political analyst turned research clerk at the Library of Congress. David was shocked by his friend's explanation.
Apparently, not only did the NSA exist, but it was considered one of the most influential government organizations in the world. It had been gathering global electronic intelligence data and protecting U.S. classified information for over half a century. Only 3 percent of Americans were even aware it existed.
"NSA," his buddy joked, "stands for 'No Such Agency.'"
With a mixture of apprehension and curiosity, Becker accepted the mysterious agency's offer. He drove the thirty-seven miles to their eighty-six-acre headquarters hidden discreetly in the wooded hills of Fort Meade, Maryland. After passing through endless security checks and being issued a six-hour, holographic guest pass, he was escorted to a plush research facility where he was told he would spend the afternoon providing "blind support" to the Cryptography Division — an elite group of mathematical brainiacs known as the code-breakers.
For the first hour, the cryptographers seemed unaware Becker was even there. They hovered around an enormous table and spoke a language Becker had never heard. They spoke of stream ciphers, self-decimated generators, knapsack variants, zero knowledge protocols, unicity points. Becker observed, lost. They scrawled symbols on graph paper, pored over computer printouts, and continuously referred to the jumble of text on the overhead projector.
Eventually one of them explained what Becker had already surmised. The scrambled text was a code — a "ciphertext" — groups of numbers and letters representing encrypted words. The cryptographers' job was to study the code and extract from it the original message, or "cleartext." The NSA had called Becker because they suspected the original message was written in Mandarin Chinese; he was to translate the symbols as the cryptographers decrypted them.
For two hours, Becker interpreted an endless stream of Mandarin symbols. But each time he gave them a translation, the cryptographers shook their heads in despair. Apparently the code was not making sense. Eager to help, Becker pointed out that all the characters they'd shown him had a common trait — they were also part of the Kanji language. Instantly the bustle in the room fell silent. The man in charge, a lanky chain-smoker named Morante, turned to Becker in disbelief.
"You mean these symbols have multiple meanings?"
Becker nodded. He explained that Kanji was a Japanese writing system based on modified Chinese characters. He'd been giving Mandarin translations because that's what they'd asked for.
"Jesus Christ." Morante coughed. "Let's try the Kanji."
Like magic, everything fell into place.
The cryptographers were duly impressed, but nonetheless, they still made Becker work on the characters out of sequence. "It's for your own safety," Morante said. "This way, you won't know what you're translating."
Becker laughed. Then he noticed nobody else was laughing.
When the code finally broke, Becker had no idea what dark secrets he'd helped reveal, but one thing was for certain — the NSA took code-breaking seriously; the check in Becker's pocket was more than an entire month's university salary.
On his way back out through the series of security checkpoints in the main corridor, Becker's exit was blocked by a guard hanging up a phone. "Mr. Becker, wait here, please."
"What's the problem?" Becker had not expected the meeting to take so long, and he was running late for his standing Saturday afternoon squash match.
The guard shrugged. "Head of Crypto wants a word. She's on her way out now."
"She?" Becker laughed. He had yet to see a female inside the NSA.
"Is that a problem for you?" a woman's voice asked from behind him.
Becker turned and immediately felt himself flush. He eyed the ID card on the woman's blouse. The head of the NSA's Cryptography Division was not only a woman, but an attractive woman at that.
"No," Becker fumbled. "I just ..."
"Susan Fletcher." The woman smiled, holding out her slender hand.
Becker took it. "David Becker."
"Congratulations, Mr. Becker. I hear you did a fine job today. Might I chat with you about it?"
Becker hesitated. "Actually, I'm in a bit of a rush at the moment." He hoped spurning the world's most powerful intelligence agency wasn't a foolish act, but his squash match started in forty-five minutes, and he had a reputation to uphold: David Becker was never late for squash ... class maybe, but never squash.
"I'll be brief." Susan Fletcher smiled. "Right this way, please."
Ten minutes later, Becker was in the NSA's commissary enjoying a popover and cranberry juice with the NSA's lovely head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher. It quickly became evident to David that the thirty-eight-year-old's high-ranking position at the NSA was no fluke — she was one of the brightest women he had ever met. As they discussed codes and code-breaking, Becker found himself struggling to keep up — a new and exciting experience for him.
An hour later, after Becker had obviously missed his squash match and Susan had blatantly ignored three pages on the intercom, both of them had to laugh. There they were, two highly analytical minds, presumably immune to irrational infatuations — but somehow, while they sat there discussing linguistic morphology and pseudo-random number generators, they felt like a couple of teenagers — everything was fireworks.
Susan never did get around to the real reason she'd wanted to speak to David Becker — to offer him a trial post in their Asiatic Cryptography Division. It was clear from the passion with which the young professor spoke about teaching that he would never leave the university. Susan decided not to ruin the mood by talking business. She felt like a schoolgirl all over again; nothing was going to spoil it. And nothing did.
* * *
Their courtship was slow and romantic — stolen escapes whenever their schedules permitted, long walks through the Georgetown campus, late-night cappuccinos at Merlutti's, occasional lectures and concerts. Susan found herself laughing more than she'd ever thought possible. It seemed there was nothing David couldn't twist into a joke. It was a welcome release from the intensity of her post at the NSA.
One crisp, autumn afternoon they sat in the bleachers watching Georgetown soccer get pummeled by Rutgers.
"What sport did you say you play?" Susan teased. "Zucchini?"
Becker groaned. "It's called squash."
She gave him a dumb look.
"It's like zucchini," he explained, "but the court's smaller."
Susan pushed him.
Georgetown's left wing sent a corner-kick sailing out of bounds, and a boo went up from the crowd. The defensemen hurried back downfield.
"How about you?" Becker asked. "Play any sports?"
"I'm a black belt in StairMaster."
Becker cringed. "I prefer sports you can win."
Susan smiled. "Overachiever, are we?"
Georgetown's star defenseman blocked a pass, and there was a communal cheer in the stands. Susan leaned over and whispered in David's ear. "Doctor."
He turned and eyed her, lost.
"Doctor," she repeated. "Say the first thing that comes to mind."
Becker looked doubtful. "Word associations?"
Excerpted from Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. Copyright © 1998 Dan Brown. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
I was hooked by this and couldn't put it down. Twists and turns, exciting technology, this fast paced book is great to read on a rainy day.
I read Dan Brown's "Deception Point" and enjoyed it, so I went on to "Digital Fortress." Unfortunately, this novel cured me of Dan Brown. It's full of cliff hanging high intensity excitement, but is so totally unbelievable that I could not really enjoy it. He apparently did not research anything about computer programming and has taken great liberties with the facts about computer hardware operations.
My first negative book review: so very disappointed in this book. In fact, I could not finish it - I was unwilling to invest any more time to find out what happened. It was that badly written. Written early in Brown's career (ar at least earlier than Angles and Demons and The Davinci Code), Digital Fortress was not at all what I hoped or expected. Character development - who thinks the way these characters do? Plot development - formulaic and unlikely at the same time. Technical accuracy - couldn't say, except that Brown dives overly-deep into code-breaking programming, a common mistake when an author researches something technical and wants to share everything he or she has learned. While I've never felt Brown is the best writer, he usually tells a compelling story. This one should have remained in his head.
Everything he writes I thoroughly enjoy! I would however say Angels & Demons was his best. I highly recommend this book as well as all his others & look forward to anything he publishes!
I really enjoy the works of Dan Brown and this book has not been a let down. As expected, he has captured the readers attention from the beginning and holds it until the end.
This is by fat the worst book I have ever read. I actually use it as a conversation piece when discussing reading. Please only buy this book if you would enjoy taking notice to its many flaws. It is ridiculous and poorly constructed.
Just awful. The book lost credibility with me fast. It involves a contemporary consultant to the CIA who is supposed to not ever heard of the National Security Agency. I've heard of the NSA--as someone casually interested in public policy--decades ago. A very well-researched book on the agency, The Puzzle Palace was published in the 80s. There is a note at the front of the Digital Fortress claiming Brown consulted with anonymous sources in the agency for his novel. If Brown actually had, you'd think they might have told him right off that his hero would have to be a dolt never to have heard of the NSA, and so certainly wouldn't be consulted by the CIA. A minor thing? Perhaps. But coming so early in a not-very-well-written book, it killed it for me and I found it hard to read much further. I'm not a big fan of The DaVinci Code--I thought the writing clunky, the plot predictable, the history execrable. But it had at least the virtue of a provocative and ambitious premise. This doesn't.
I thought that this book was so-so. The book just never quite drew me in. I thought that Deception Point was a better book.
Brown attempts to use the same format that was so successful in 'Angels and Demons' and 'The Da Vinci Code' but falls short. The plot is weak, the characters are underdeveloped, and it is a chore to even finish this book. I do not recommend this book to anyone.
3 1/2 read. I liked it a lot. Read after Angels and Demons and Davinci Code.
I bought this book after reading the da Vinci Code. It was the last one I read and by now his formula for writing books was not working. Regardless, the ultimate downfall of this book is BAD WRITING. The characters are flat and annoying. Their actions are contradictory to their personalities -- for no other purpose than to move the 'plot' along. I think Dan Brown has a Word-a-Day calendar and he uses that new vocabulary word several times in the 10-15 pages of writing he produces that day. Words such as 'andalusian' are used several times in a 3 'chapter' span and then never again surface throughout the book. Most frustratingly, Dan Brown apparently never learned similes are functional and get the point across, but should not be used often as they can be extremely annoying and counterproductive to getting a point across. Towards the end of the book all these sentences are seriously used in less than 2 full pages: - "The commander rose through the trap door LIKE Lazarus back from the dead." - "Freon was flowing downward through the smoldering TRANSLTR LIKE oxygenated blood." - "Susan was standing before him, damp and tousled, in his blazer. She looked LIKE a freshman coed who'd been caught in the rain. He felt LIKE the senior who'd lent her his varsity sweater." [nice double simile, huh?] - "Her gaze was LIKE ice -- the softness was gone. Susan Fletcher stood rigid LIKE an immovable statue." [another one] "The puddle of blood beneath Hale's body had spread across the carpet LIKE an oil spill." Believe it or not, there are more in this 2 page space, but I'll stop here. Yes, the writing is THAT groan-inducingly bad. These two classics in the book make me laugh every time I think of them -- "Like in a cheap hollywood movie, the lights went out in the bathroom just as she heard the scream," and "any more interesting than last night and I'll never walk again." Ultimately, I did finish the book. BUT I WAS DISAPPOINTED.
The story line is very poor. Technically it is very interesting, if you are interested in cryptography. The characters are poorly drawn and the ones that are described as being extremely intelligent, do not live up to the billing.
Published in 1998, this is one of Dan Brown's earlier books, pre-dating the Da Vinci Code. I'd read it before, but had forgotten much of the plot until re-reading it recently. When this book was written, nobody had ever heard of the NSA (National Security Agency). When I originally read the book, I probably figured the NSA was a fictional government agency. As often happens, however, fiction later turns out to be reality. Much of what Brown wrote about the NRA in 1997 has become more true than even he ever could have imagined, making Digital Fortress a timely read today. And, while it is not as action-packed as Brown's later novels, it's a good read that will keep your interest all the way through. While the story-line stretches reality, in Dan Brown fashion, all of the characters are believable, relatable, and extremely interesting - also in the Dan Brown style of writing. I think I actually enjoyed it more, the second time around.
This is one of the best books I have read in a while. The writer takes you on a journey with well-developed characters and twists and turns in the plot. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries.
This book almost fits right in with the news of the day, although the paperback version was actually around in 1998. The descriptions of seemingly futuristic technology keep you on the edge of your seat, and also make you look over your shoulder, wondering "what if...?" A great read...make sure you have time!
Poor character development, too convenient connection points in story progress, illogical background events, unbelievable foundation of plot. Save your money,
I enjoyed Digital Fortress however, it did take me a while to finish it as I wasn't into it completely. While not a page turner it is certainly worth the read and I think it was @$2.99 so that makes it a real bargain!
I really can't recommend this book, unless you are really into computers, & can write programs. It seemed repetitive, & not as riveting as his other books.
A high tech thriller from the mid 90s shouldn’t hold up well nearly two decades later but Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress does pretty well. The book is bogged down by tech speak at times and other times that speak seems redundant in this day and age when everyone’s grandmother knows what Wi-Fi is. The characters are interesting but clichéd. There are some decent twists and a high intrigue level. Overall, this was a god book that I’m sure I would have enjoyed more had I read it in 1995.
Wow!! Great story but doesn't Brown always put together a great story. The plot is a little similar to his Robert Langdon stories, but yet is different in many ways. While the Langdon stories about about history and symbolic meanings, this story is about code breakers. Well researched, alot of suspense and on the edge of your seat, bitting your nails. Excellent read.
After reading Digital Fortress, I had a new understanding of and appreciation for the writing style of Dan Brown. I couldn't put it down. His gripping style of writing lead me to page after page of action; I couldn't anticipate what was going to happen next. It was faced-paced, and brought out the best and worst of his characters' personalities. He is a master of putting it all together. I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in computers and science fiction. The description of the actions seems to float off the page as if you were literally there.
Unlike his other books, he focused mainly on one scene with 3 main characters in it. He had alot of character development in this book in his main scene, but in other scenes he had many charachters..very forgettable ones. i found myself flipping back pages to remember who they were referring to. his secondary scene featuring the spouse of the main character on his race to find a lost ring was simply hillarious. i laughed and one of the only things pushing me to the end was that part of the story. it is a good read IF YOU HAVE THE TIME. it is about 500 pages, so it takes up some time. if u have that time it is a pretty good book..just not "Dan Brown" worthy
Digital Fortress is by far one of the most mind boggling and deceiving books i have yet to read. It follows Dan Brown's line of work and you can see how he has written several other best selling novels. The characters are strong and the plot leaves you guessing right up until nearly the last page of the book. The only concern I have is that at times I would get lost as to what characters were playing for which team as far as the story line goes, which I guess is supposed to add to the drama and suspense of the novel but sometimes it was a little too much tossing and turning with inserts of confusion. A great read for a quick, kickback read or a rainy day.
I enjoyed the DaVinci Code because it had an interesting, engaging, and challenging plot to follow. My hope in reading this was to find it to be just as engaging. Although quite interesting (if you like the world wide web) I did not find any of it to be completely engaging and kind of pushed myself through it. Plot and characters were good enough but I was not personally invested in any but the male lead. In some respects I think it runs a bit over the readers head so you can't sink your teeth into it. I am sharing the book with others who read a lot. It's tough for an author to follow up with another great book after writing the likes of the DaVinci Code.
Wasn't sure I would enjoy reading this book but was pleasantly surprised. Interesting characters and story line that kept me wanting to read more. Just when I thought I knew the outcome I was pleasantly surprised to find out I didn't. Can't wait for the next Dan Brown book to come out.