The terrorist Abu ben-Zhair is on the cusp of realising his vision to destroy the West and cow the East, thereby succeeding in his avowed ‘Cause of All Causes’ to establish a Caliphate which rules half the world. His earlier, unprecedented threats were ignored by the global community but he succeeded in his design. He has always delivered on his grandiose promises – and this one doesn’t come any bigger. He has identified one critical point on the earth’s surface where one determined terrorist with resources and imagination can trigger disaster on a global scale – and he has acquired the weapon for this purpose.
In the murky world of counter-intelligence, trust is a tradeable commodity and the geo-political turf wars continue while ben-Zhair moves towards his climactic attack.
The story moves to a terrifying close with a catastrophic threat to the United States and Europe, and even then the international political manoeuvring continues – up to the very last seconds. Baldwin and Williams fight desperately to save the day as the covert action moves from Gibraltar to Algeria – and across the Atlantic Ocean.
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"This can't go to COBRA. It's beyond Ultra."
'C' muttered. "Obviously, Prime Minister. Non plus ultra."
"What was that?"
"Nothing PM, sorry just muttering to myself."
"Besides you, me and Tweedy at AWE, how many of our people know the full details of the situation?"
"A baker's dozen – plus the Head of Middle East and North Africa Desk."
"Are they secure?"
"I may need to weed out one or two of the possible doubters of our actions."
"Weed out? How?"
"The way one usually deals with weeds, Prime Minister."
"Very well. And the new Deputy Director?"
"She knows nothing – she's only been in post a few weeks. She may have suspicions, but nothing more."
"I understand. All Blue Angel files are to be archived as Ultra Plus?"
"Yes, Prime Minister."
"Very well, let's draw a line under it."
The line dropped.
'C' could not help but be impressed. 'Hard bitch' was his view of the PM as he reviewed the files. This had been the dirtiest operation imaginable, and she had held steadfast, whatever the morality of the situation, and was continuing to tough it out. He looked down at the list.
Thirteen names. Two sets of files. All database records re-encrypted and locked with a quantum key; only two paper copies accessible – and these he would personally destroy within the next two weeks. The HR files had been purged. All that was left were eight paper career summaries in one pile. Five in the other pile and one in no man's land.
Two of the team would have fatal accidents. Two others – Stone and Gregory – were still missing. They had been with Williams and Baldwin when the explosion had taken place in Rome, but had been well outside the blast area. The others would receive posthumous commendations and not for publication. Their cover names would go 'on the wall' – the wall that listed the names of those who had died on active service. Two of those were missing and still unaccounted for. The thirteenth file presented a conundrum.
Which pile should that file be put on?
'C' scanned the latest medical reports. Amnesia. The trauma of the blow to the head had caused loss of short term memory. Events prior to the Rome disaster were apparently lost. The neurologists had tried triggering his memory with news reports, video images and audio but had not stimulated any reaction in the subject.
Baldwin's reactions were clearly those of someone with no recall of the events portrayed and the photos of the people involved. He apparently did not know Bryan Elliott, an MI6 colleague blown to pieces by Pavkovic in Tunis. Baldwin had recognised a picture of a Greek waitress from Crete, and he recognised pictures of his boat, Adèle. He had some recollection of leaving Crete for Malta and there were vague recollections of the events in Malta – these would probably be recovered in full. The period after Malta until he had awakened in the hospital appeared to be a complete blank.
The memory loss was thought to be permanent, although one could never be absolutely sure – doctors always qualified their prognoses – and Six's tame doctors even more so.
'C' locked the list of names in his safe. On balance Baldwin was very useful – capable, deniable and nowhere on the payroll - as long as the amnesia lasted. But Baldwin did suffer from an over-active conscience and a deep streak of independence – not really the profile of a cold-blooded assassin. He lacked proper respect for authority. Was it worth the risk? He sighed and shook his head. He would have to instruct Ogilvy to pay a visit to Baldwin before the final decision was made. And then, he, 'C', would have to deal with Ogilvy, the current Head of the Middle East and North Africa Desk.
A COBRA is the meeting forum used when the UK is subject to instances of national or regional crisis, or during events abroad with major implications for Britain.
The purpose of the COBRA committee is to co-ordinate the actions of bodies within the Government of the United Kingdom in response to the crisis. Usually, the policy regarding a particular type of crisis has been established and is held in a library of policies (and action plans) which may be subject to variation according to the circumstances.
The quorum and attendees of a UK COBRA meeting are variable depending on the nature of the particular crisis in hand. If the issue is a national rail strike, then one would not expect to see the Chief of SIS or the Chief of the Defence Staff in attendance, though the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the Minister of Transport would certainly be present. Neither is the meeting necessarily held in Downing Street, but it would usually be held in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (hence the acronym COBR[A]) in Whitehall, unless of course the Government had been moved to a secure location.
Meetings may also be virtual, particularly when held at short notice or when senior government ministers have been located outside of London.
Cobra Committee Meeting, Downing Street
Edited Meeting Transcript:
Sir William Gore, MI6:
'This matter carries the rather unfortunate code name 'Blue Angel' – a random computer selection I might say. We have information both from our own sources and the United States about the latest North Korean atomic weapon test. The radionuclide residues which have finally percolated through the subsoil and into the atmosphere have a radioactivity signature which is typical of a fusion bomb – that is, a hydrogen bomb.
Beyond that, there is little in the sample data which is typical of a fission bomb which is the usual trigger of a hydrogen bomb. I am advised that there is no way that the test – which measured five point one on the Richter scale could have been a fusion bomb – at least with the technology as we understand it. However, the radioactivity data would definitely appear to support the claim that North Korea made about a fusion device – with qualification. I stress the phrase – 'the technology as we understand it'. The nature of the radionuclide signature is unique – it has never been seen before – it appears to be 'fusion plus'. Now, we have Jonathan Tweedy on secure video link. He is the Technical Director of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston. It is a briefing and he will not be taking questions.'
Jonathan Tweedy, Technical Director of the Atomic Weapons Establishment:
'The conventional hydrogen aka fusion bomb requires a fission – aka an atom bomb - as its trigger to generate the high temperatures necessary to enable atoms to fuse (classically these are deuterium and tritium which are forms of hydrogen). In the process huge amounts of energy are released.
In contrast, peaceful fusion research has been geared towards maintaining a high-temperature plasma of deuterium and tritium in a relatively steady non-critical state. This requires continuous high energy input and the output must be controllable and continuous - an atom bomb is clearly out of the question! The energy output must also be usefully greater than the input for it to make economic sense for power generation. Present experiments are achieving the holy grail of 'net energy gain', but only for microseconds.
There are many technical issues – it is a far more complex process than making a bomb. Indeed, for the last sixty years, fusion power has always been 'at least fifty years away', whereas the first hydrogen bomb was tested in 1952.
Some avenues of current fusion power research involve the use of high-energy 'pumped' lasers to produce the high temperatures required and also need a lot of electrical power to hold the hot plasma stable in an electromagnetic 'doughnut' – the so-called tokomak – a Russian word. This is a complex configuration in which to maintain the stability of a very hot plasma. The United States and, we assume, other countries have been exploring alternative methods. Of course we have one ourselves.
If the energy output is not required to be continuous as for power generation but just one big pulse - as in a bomb - then high energy input needs only to be for the briefest of intervals to create a runaway reaction. The challenges of containment - maintaining plasma stability - are greatly simplified if not removed altogether. A special fuel pellet is used in the US test configuration – for peaceful purposes of course."
"It is a mixture of deuterium and tritium – forms of hydrogen, held in a small plastic pellet.
The pellet is located in a small gold canister known as a 'hohlraum' – the German word for space – smaller than a sewing thimble, although the term is also used in the physically larger context of a conventional nuclear bomb. Then, more than a hundred lasers pump out huge quantities of energy in less than a billionth of a second with the energy focused on the fuel pellet in the hohlraum. This has been demonstrated in fusion power research at the Lawrence Livermore lab in the US – supposedly for peaceful purposes as I said although the prime directive of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is to enhance US national security. Of course, many would argue that energy security – and therefore peaceful nuclear power research – falls within this definition. I digress, sorry.
These are big lasers and many of them are required for just one hohlraum delivering one point nine megajoules of energy in slightly more than a nanosecond, the lasers are rated at five hundred terawatts – that's five hundred trillion watts. That's equivalent to well over twenty thousand times the output of Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent. But it's only for a nanosecond.
One of the difficulties for a 'rogue state' or terrorist group in building a conventional atomic or fusion weapon is that some components - for example very fast-acting electrical switches for detonation - cannot easily be bought on the open market and are subject to very strict export controls – and they are not easy to make at home. And that's the least of the difficulties. Plutonium – or enriched uranium – is required. This is not easy to obtain. Then, miniaturization to produce a suitcase-size fission bomb is practically impossible for any entity other than a major state.
But with a pumped laser fusion device - 'PLFD' for short - these scarce, tightly controlled components would not be needed. The components that we envisage would be required are much more freely available, although still specialist – for example high power lasers. This would simplify the construction process. Nevertheless, some exotic materials are required but deuterium and tritium are relatively easy to obtain through university research laboratories. We believe that these weapons are feasible – I'll say no more on that – but nevertheless, the reality of a practical weaponized PLFD had been thought to be several years away.
One further and critical advantage of the PLFD is that fissile material usually uranium 235 or plutonium - would only be required in very small - that is sub-critical amounts - to enhance the performance of such a device. Or even not at all. So, a little goes a long way – at least in theory. And, uranium 235 is much more easily obtainable than plutonium.
Another aspect of the PLFD is that it would create minimal fallout. This would make it more useful when targets are nearer to home and does not create long term radioactive no-go areas – unless it is doped with, say, cobalt. I cannot see any way that such a device could be miniaturized, but, within limits, it could be a relatively simple route to constructing a true fusion bomb, and could of course avoid the use of plutonium or enriched uranium which are difficult to produce and relatively easy to track – unless of course they obtained some from a country friendly to the terrorists..
I have a team of technical analysts still working on the sampling data from the test. We are also trying to work out if North Korea could have 'hoaxed' us by falsifying a specific radioactive signature as part of a conventional atomic weapon test. We think that this would be very difficult to achieve and is very unlikely given also the seismographic data. That is all I am able to say at present, apart from the fact that with the exception of the North Korean aspect, there's nothing secret here – this design is all in the public domain. Sorry if I got a bit enthusiastic there – it's a very interesting development. Thank you.'
Two months later, another Cobra Meeting, London
There was a hubbub in the briefing room.
"Order please! Let's get on with it. I've come straight from Northolt, I'm very tired and need to get some sleep."
The Prime Minister started her report on the P5 meeting (the UN Security Council Members) to the Cobra committee in a Cabinet Office briefing room adjacent to 10 Downing Street.
"First, the latest P5 session. There is a consensus in the P5 that North Korea has very probably got a miniaturised fusion device. We know that they first claimed to have tested such a device in February 2016, but the claim was not believe at the time. By miniaturized we seem to agree that it is not a suitcase, but needing several trucks at the least to move it. So, it's not yet a practical proposition as a missile warhead. This information comes from the Chinese who probably know a lot more than they are letting on.
The Chinese did say that they have seismographic data from one site that supports the theory. They shared it with us.
All P5 members are pulling out all stops to pressurize the North Koreans, but sanctions have led us nowhere.
Now, this is completely unprecedented: we are jointly working on a plan for disarming North Korea. The Chinese have volunteered to invade and replace Dim Pong-un. Not all members were happy about that – the Chinese would obviously have access to the technology – not that they need it – we're all up to our necks in fusion bombs already. The Chinese are insistent on having a buffer state between themselves and South Korea where there are US troops. However, the plan does have the attractive elements of simplicity and low cost – to us that is.
Politically it keeps us clean, though we'd have to make a show about condemning Chinese aggression and so on, for public consumption, but that's understood by the P5. And China will insist on the new North Korean regime being Communist – in their own image. We can live with that. Japan might have an issue though, but the US would have to manage them. There would be some sabre-rattling from Tokyo. Of course, this would all be orchestrated in advance.
I have my doubts and frankly, I expect unilateral military action by the United States any day now."
If such a thing were possible, the silence intensified in the briefing room.
"That is the good news. When I was in the plane on the way back, Sir William called me. It gets worse. Much worse. Sir William, please update the committee."
"Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen. In the last twenty four hours we have discovered that North Korea has shared the new fusion technology with Iran. It seems that Iran has developed a new weapons research establishment at Yazd, unknown to us or the UN Weapons Inspectors until now. Iran has been building a prototype of the new device for the last several months in an effort to circumvent the nuclear arms treaty which they signed two years ago.
Even more disturbingly, we believe that Iran has lost control of the prototype, and we have further reason to believe that it is now outside Iran. I have high confidence in this intelligence and this information is certainly not being sexed up. Naturally I cannot discuss our sources of this information.
As you would expect, we are deploying all our resources – and I do mean all – towards determining the full facts and the location of the missing nuclear technology."
Excerpted from "Cause of All Causes"
Copyright © 2016 James Marinero.
Excerpted by permission of Wavecrest Publications.
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.
Table of Contents
A Month After Rome,
The Cause of all Causes,
A New Yacht,
Ellie Goes Black,
The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar,
Sidi bel Abbès,
The 'Yanbu Explorer',
'Yanbu Explorer' Heads West,
A New Home,
East of the Rock,
The Banana Hotel,
The First Day of Ramadan,
The Final Minutes,
At the Bunker,
Sidi Bel Abbès,
References and Further Reading,
About the Author,