Whiteby Christopher Whitcomb
Islamic and Christian fundamentalists unleash a well-coordinated series of attacks all across the American heartland. Stolen radioactive material, a high-level spy, a mysterious break into top-secret data-encryption technology, twisting plots and spiraling conspiracies are all linked with fast-paced, cinematic crosscutting. In this thriller, FBI agent Jeremy Waller… See more details below
Islamic and Christian fundamentalists unleash a well-coordinated series of attacks all across the American heartland. Stolen radioactive material, a high-level spy, a mysterious break into top-secret data-encryption technology, twisting plots and spiraling conspiracies are all linked with fast-paced, cinematic crosscutting. In this thriller, FBI agent Jeremy Waller returns, as does tough-as-nails Elizabeth Beechum, now vice president, and the enigmatic billionaire Jordan Mitchell.
- Little, Brown and Company
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- 0.94(w) x 9.00(h) x 6.00(d)
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By Christopher Whitcomb
Little, BrownCopyright © 2005 Christopher Whitcomb
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Chapter OneMonday, 14 February
Situation Room, The White House
"ALL RIGHT, LET'S get moving. Matthew?" Newly elected president David Ray Venable waved his hand to quiet a room that seemed to quiver with shock and nervous energy. He stood behind his chair at the midpoint of a broad mahogany table. To his immediate left sat National Security Advisor Matthew Havelock, a former University of Pennsylvania history professor who looked down his nose through Dollar Store reading glasses at a sky-blue briefing package. Havelock folded his hands around a tumbler of slowly melting ice, trying to keep it from rattling.
"You've seen the morning papers, I presume, Mr. President. I think we ..."
"Seen the papers? Is this what I hired a national security advisor to tell me? Of course I've seen the morning papers!"
The Washington Post, New York Times, and several others lay neatly stacked in front of him. Headlines trumpeted the story.
BOMBERS STRIKE AT THE HEARTLAND, one proclaimed; TERROR RAVAGES HOMELAND, screamed another. USA Today perhaps said it best: NATION'S WORST FEARS A REALITY.
Just before 10:00 P.M. eastern time-nine hours earlier-terrorists had struck three targets: a popular Buckhead nightspot in Atlanta, Disneyland in Anaheim, and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Virtually every channel in broadcast news had preempted regular programming to go wall-to-wall with on-scene coverage. Local, state, and federal emergency response crews were working frantically to deal with massive casualties. Organizations from the Red Cross to small-town fire department auxiliaries and church-based volunteer groups were streaming in to help.
Washington had awakened as well, trying to bring three years of terror response planning into action. Unfortunately, the nation's capital-the seat of virtually every federal agency from the Department of Homeland Security and FBI to intelligence gatherers like the NSA and DIA-had been paralyzed by the worst winter storm in three decades. For a city that closed its doors at the lightest dusting, this crisis could not have come at a more difficult time. The only people moving around inside the beltway had four-wheel drives or skis.
"Reports are still sketchy, sir," Havelock said, "but based on what we know, this is the most serious attack anywhere in the world since 9/11."
Venable, the former Democratic governor of Connecticut, shook his head in disbelief. He had sworn his oath to the nation's highest office just three weeks earlier. It appeared that his so-called honeymoon had come to a crashing halt.
"Here's what we know," a voice interjected. It belonged to FBI director Richard Alred, a former judge, accomplished trial lawyer, and, at forty-three, the youngest Bureau head since J. Edgar Hoover. Like his pug-nosed predecessor, Alred never missed an opportunity to exercise his authority, regardless of audience, jurisdiction, or protocol.
"Experts from our Bomb Data Center at Quantico have determined that the I.E.D.s were similar in construction and sophisticated," he said. "Well planned. They hit all three sites-thousands of miles apart-within eight seconds of each other."
Venable crossed his arms and considered the FBI chief. The man wore close-cropped hair and a properly tailored suit over an athletic build. He spoke with remnants of a Boston accent, but the clean-cut delivery was bred of military heritage and enough time in the private sector to understand imperative. Though Alred came as a holdover from the previous administration, Venable suspected that this man would serve him well.
"I.E.D.s?" the president asked. "What are I.E.D.s?"
"Improvised explosive devices, sir: Czech-made Semtex-a particular batch with additives used in the manufacture of land mines. This special compound was exported to an Indonesian factory in 1997 and is the same chemical composition found in the 2003 Marriott bombing in Jakarta. Our investigators also found evidence of unusual e-cell timers and residue of methyl nitrate, ammonium nitrate, and fuel oil-the compound Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City."
"You think this was homegrown?"
"Not at all, sir. ANFO is one of the most common explosives out there, and these attacks bear all the hallmarks of Muslim extremists. They used truck bombs with remote detonators and planned the primary strikes to inflict maximum casualties. Once emergency crews and television cameras showed up, they set off tertiary explosives for even more devastating effects. These were well planned, expertly executed military operations."
"Press reports indicate they may have used ambulances," Havelock added. He still looked shaken but saw no point in letting Alred-who wasn't even officially part of the National Security Council-monopolize discussion. "Is that true? Did these animals turn vehicles of mercy into bombs?"
"It appears so," Alred said without turning his eyes from the president. "Up to thirty percent of the casualties are believed to be police, fire, and EMS personnel. I don't have to tell you what kind of impact this might have on responses to any future attacks."
Voices grumbled among more than a dozen people who had crowded into the living-room-sized space located one floor below the Oval Office. Most of the president's newly appointed National Security Council staff had been called in for this emergency session.
To the president's right sat his chief of staff, Andrea Chase, followed by the secretary of defense; secretary of state; attorney general; the heads of CIA, Treasury, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security; the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; the president's economic advisor; the U.S. representative to the United Nations; the council's national coordinator for infrastructure protection and counterterrorism.
"Future attacks." Venable huffed. "For God's sake, I thought we were done with nonsense like this." He placed both hands on the shoulders of his high-backed chair and shook his head. "You said Muslim extremists. Do we know that for sure?"
"We've received three separate claims of responsibility by a new group that calls itself Ansar ins Allah," Alred offered. "All came in the form of videotapes delivered via courier to local television stations in the affected markets. This is the same sort of delivery technique we've seen after attacks in Mombasa, Riyadh, and Jakarta. Standard rhetoric, suicide-ritual indicators, plenty of proprietary specifics."
CIA director Milton Vick cleared his throat. "The Agency has obtained all three tapes," he said, striving not to get upstaged by his FBI counterpart. "FIDUL is cross-referencing voiceprints and language patterns through Dominant Chronicle databases and ..."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa ..." The president stopped him. "The what is what?"
Vick, a short, plump former Congressman and ambassador to Chile had read this information from a piece of paper. He looked completely lost to deeper explanation.
"FIDUL is our Federal Intelligent Documents Understanding Laboratory," Alred explained "They work with groups like CENDI and NAIC in support of an interagency working group of STIs from Commerce, Energy, NASA, the National Library of Medicine, the DoD, and Interior. Dominant Chronicle is a joint DIA-FBI document analysis center."
The president shrugged and shook his head, bewildered by the endless list of agencies and acronyms. Explanations just added to his confusion.
"Bottom line," Vick said. "We don't have solid visual identification due to facial obfuscation, but our top analysts believe the claims of responsibility are credible."
"Quite frankly, Mr. President, Ansar ins Allah represents what we have most feared about the terror threat facing this country," Alred said. "A cell of al Qaeda sympathizers who haven't shown up on any radar screen. Small. Rogue. Violent. We really don't have a lot to go on."
"Don't have a lot to go on."
Venable spoke in a small voice, the falsely endearing rattle predators use to lure their prey. These were the nation's top intelligence and law enforcement officials, and they knew little more than what Venable had seen on cable news. For a man just three weeks in the Oval Office, that didn't seem possible.
"Did you say you don't have a lot to go on?"
Shoulders started to tighten around the room.
"Well, you sure as hell better come up with something! Thirteen hours from now, I've got to walk out in front of two hundred eighty million Americans and convince them that we're still the land of the free and the home of the brave. I'm going to need a little help here."
The president leered at his cast of experts. They ranged from political appointees to career professionals. None of them had ever presided over a disaster like this.
"We inherited this mess from a Republican administration," Andrea Chase pointed out. "They can hardly hold you responsible after just three weeks in office."
"This is America, Andrea," the president growled. "We hold everybody responsible." He raised his right hand over his head, palm out.
"Let's look at what we do have. We have at least three hundred fifty confirmed deaths, three times that number injured." Venable's voice began to rise as he curled up his index finger. "We have twenty-four-hour news outlets running nonstop images of the carnage." He tucked his middle finger beside the first. "We have panic in the heartland-places that never thought they'd experience something like this."
He paused for a moment as the blood rose in his face. A figure that had moments earlier looked like a confident commander in chief suddenly flushed crimson with rage.
"We've got the worst storm in thirty years shutting down the government, and we have nobody in custody!" He closed his last two fingers under his thumb and held a tight fist out in front of him, like some thug threatening a bar brawl.
"I haven't even arranged my kids' photos on the Oval Office credenza yet," he growled, "and Congress is going to march up the Hill with a saber in one hand and a whetstone in the other looking to cut my balls off! I don't want to hear that we don't have a lot to go on! I want to know precisely what we are going to go on, and I want to know it now!"
The windowless room froze silent except for the passive hum of fluorescent lights.
"Excuse me everyone ...," a voice interrupted. The conference room door closed with a loud thunk as Vice President Elizabeth Beechum blew in bold as the storm outside. Still pink in the face from the arctic air, she brushed snow off the collar of her heavy wool coat. "Sorry, but the air force delayed us coming out of New York."
She removed her coat and tossed it to a uniformed marine, then dropped her briefcase on the mahogany table, pulled out the last remaining chair, and sat.
"CNN is reporting a death toll over one thousand and there is talk of new explosions in Miami," she announced, oblivious to Venable's position or demeanor. "Perhaps one of you would be kind enough to read me in on what we plan to do about it."
SIRAD MALNEAUX LOVED New York in the winter, especially when it snowed. Storms like this painted the black city white, erasing the broken asphalt and the trash and the pollution-stained brick with an almost apologetic air. Snow pushed everyone indoors, clearing the sidewalks of tourists, chasing away the cabs and the New Jersey commuters and the double-parked box trucks; silencing the horns and the hawkers and the beggars. Storms handed New York back to its most stalwart souls-adventurers like Sirad who thrived on braving impassable expanses just for the thrill of looking back on their tracks.
And what a storm this was. More than eighteen inches of nor'easter had already fallen on Manhattan, and forecasters predicted that the worst still lay ahead. JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark International all had closed. Banks, city offices, public transportation, and retailers had barred their doors. Only the bodegas and the newsstands remained open, shining their neon ATM beacons for those who simply couldn't live without umbrellas, porno mags, and stale deli salads.
Sirad's digital watch flashed as she leaned into the blizzard and ran. Slush had already leaked through her shoes, melted down the back of her jacket, and misted on her face, but she smiled just the same. Running out across Central Park's great lawn, she felt free for a moment from the stress of a job that with each passing day seemed to consume her more and more.
Up to Eighty-first Street, then around the reservoir, then back down the horse path, she thought to herself. Most days she would have completed the four-mile run in half an hour, but today would take longer. No matter-with everything she had seen on the news last night, it might be a while before she next got to run.
"Ms. Malneaux!" a voice called out. It was a male voice, muffled by the storm yet all around her. It sounded urgent.
Sirad continued running but turned her head instinctively to the right. She squinted through the clouds of her exhaling, trying to make out the dark figure who appeared to be chasing her from the east.
"Ms. Malneaux, wait up!" A young man emerged through the blinding snow, a tall junior executive wearing earmuffs, a cashmere topcoat, and those L.L. Bean boots with the rubber bottoms. He breathed deeply, trying to suck in air and cough out words in the same instant. "Mr. Mitchell ... wants you ... back ... in his office. Now."
He stopped beside her as she ran in place and doubled over with his hands on his knees. Sirad guessed he had been sprinting.
"Is this about the terror attacks?" she asked. Sirad spoke calmly, with the composure of a well-conditioned athlete. "Because from what I've seen, there isn't a whole helluva lot we can do in this weather."
The man shook his head.
"It's the Quantis system," he managed to say. "Someone has ... launched an attack ... on our mainframes."
"What?" Sirad exclaimed. Quantis couldn't be attacked. The world's first truly secure data transmission system had been tested by the finest minds in telecommunications, both inside the government and out. It was Sirad's project-a project she knew intimately-and it was secure.
"That can't be." She stopped jogging in place, reached out, and straightened the man to standing. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm just here ... to get you." The man heaved. He wiped melted snow and sweat out of his eyes and pointed back toward Borders Atlantic's corporate headquarters, which in better weather would have stood out clearly on the eastern skyline. "I think you'd better hurry," he said, panting. "Mitchell said the sky is falling ... and I don't think he was talking about the storm."
IN A WARMER place, at the eastern edge of the sole remaining communist country in the Western world, a team of CIA elicitation experts stepped out into a brilliant Caribbean sun. They wore khaki cargo pants, polo shirts, and safari vests covered with pockets, Velcro, and zippers.
"Why do you think he has agreed to talk?" one of the men asked. He was trying to keep up with a sturdily built woman named Sarah. Two other men and a female advisor from the Army's Third Psychological Operations Group were falling in the best they could.
"Because he wants a deal," Sarah answered. She had a dark-green government-issue "wheel book" in one hand and a Skilcraft pen in the other. "He knows that information is the only ticket off this godforsaken rock, and he's going to try and play his trump card. If he really has one."
They traipsed toward Camp Four, a cluster of prefabricated buildings squared around an exercise yard of crushed rock and concrete slabs. Bearded men in white jumpsuits sat at picnic tables beneath an overhang. Guards with M-16s nodded as the elicitation team passed. The name tags on the guards' BDUs had been covered up with white medical tape to keep the prisoners from exploiting any personal identifiers.
"Good morning, ma'am." A corporal nodded as they passed. He motioned them through a subwaylike turnstile. A sign behind his left shoulder read CAMP DELTA-4, and beneath it: HONOR BOUND TO DEFEND FREEDOM.
"Fair, firm, and consistent," the group's leader responded. It seemed to be the mantra here, something the camp commander felt he needed everyone to say out loud. She heard it everywhere she went.
"Fair, firm, and consistent, sir."
Excerpted from White by Christopher Whitcomb Copyright © 2005 by Christopher Whitcomb . Excerpted by permission.
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