“Clancy still reigns.”The Washington Post
“The man who virtually invented this genre.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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Though his father had been reluctant to become a heroic field operative, Jack Ryan, Jr. wants nothing more…
Privately training with special forces, he’s honing his combat skills to continue his work within the Campus, hunting down and eliminating terrorists wherever he can—even as Jack Ryan, Sr. campaigns to become President of/b>
Though his father had been reluctant to become a heroic field operative, Jack Ryan, Jr. wants nothing more…
Privately training with special forces, he’s honing his combat skills to continue his work within the Campus, hunting down and eliminating terrorists wherever he can—even as Jack Ryan, Sr. campaigns to become President of the United States again.
But what neither father nor son knows is that the political and personal have just become equally dangerous. A devout enemy of Jack, Sr. launches a privately-funded vendetta to discredit him and connect him to a mysterious killing in his longtime ally John Clark’s past. All they have to do is catch him.
With Clark on the run, it’s up to Jack, Jr. to stop a growing threat emerging in the Middle East, where a corrupt Pakistani general has entered into a deadly pact with a fanatical terrorist to procure four nuclear warheads they can use to blackmail any world power into submission—or face annihilation.
Table of Contents
ALSO BY TOM CLANCY
The Hunt for Red October
Red Storm Rising
The Cardinal of the Kremlin
Clear and Present Danger
The Sum of All Fears
Debt of Honor
The Bear and the Dragon
The Teeth of the Tiger
Dead or Alive
Against All Enemies
Submarine: A Guided Tour Inside a Nuclear Warship
Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment
Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing
Marine: A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit
Airborne: A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force
Carrier: A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier
Into the Storm: A Study in Command
with General Fred Franks, Jr. (Ret.) and Tony Koltz
Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign
with General Chuck Horner (Ret.) and Tony Koltz
Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces
with General Carl Stiner (Ret.) and Tony Koltz
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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The Russians call their Kamov-50 helicopter gunship Chernaya Akula—Black Shark. The name suits it, because it is sleek and fast, and it moves with cunning and agility, and, above all, it is a supremely efficient killer of its prey.
A pair of Black Sharks emerged from a predawn fog bank and shot through the moonless sky at two hundred knots, just ten meters above the hard earth of the valley floor. Together they raced through the dark in a tight, staggered formation with their outboard lights extinguished. They flew nap-of-the-earth, following a dry streambed through the valley, skirting thirty kilometers to the northwest of Argvani, the nearest major village here in western Dagestan.
The KA-50s’ contra-rotating coaxial rotors chopped the thin mountain air. The unique twin-rotor design negated the need for a tail rotor, and this made these aircraft faster, as more of the engine’s power could then be applied to propulsion, and it also made these aircraft less susceptible to ground fire, as it reduced by one the points on the big machine where a hit will cause a devastating malfunction.
This trait, along with other redundant systems—a self-sealing fuel tank, and an airframe built partially from composites, including Kevlar—makes the Black Shark an exceptionally hearty combat weapon, but as strong as the KA-50 is, it is equally deadly. The two helos streaking toward their target in Russia’s North Caucasus had a full load-out of air-to-ground munitions: Each carried four hundred fifty 30-millimeter rounds for their underbelly cannon, forty 80-millimeter unguided finned rockets loaded into two outboard pods, and a dozen AT-16 guided air-to-ground missiles hanging off two outboard pylons.
These two KA-50s were Nochny (night) models, and they were comfortable in the black. As they closed on their objective, only the pilots’ night-vision equipment, their ABRIS Moving Map Display, and their FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared Radar) kept the helos from slamming into each other, the sheer rock walls on either side of the valley, or the undulating landscape below.
The lead pilot checked his time to target, then spoke into his headset’s microphone. “Semi minute.” Seven minutes.
“Ponial”—Got it—came the reply from the Black Shark behind him.
In the village that would burn in seven minutes, the roosters slept.
There, in a barn at the center of the cluster of buildings on the rocky hillside, Israpil Nabiyev lay on a wool blanket above a bed of straw, and he tried to sleep. He tucked his head into his coat, crossed his arms tightly, and wrapped them around the gear strapped to his chest. His thick beard insulated his cheeks, but the tip of his nose stung; his gloves kept his fingers warm, but a cold draft through the barn blew up his sleeves to his elbows.
Nabiyev was from the city, from Makhachkala on the shore of the Caspian Sea. He’d slept in his share of barns and caves and tents and mud trenches under the open sky, but he had been raised in a concrete apartment block with electricity and water and plumbing and television, and he missed those comforts right now. Still, he kept his complaints to himself. He knew this excursion was necessary. It was part of his job to make the rounds and visit his forces every few months, like it or not.
At least he wasn’t suffering alone. Nabiyev never went anywhere alone. Five members of his security detail were bunked with him in the cold barn. Though it was pitch-black, he could hear their snores and he could smell their bodies and the gun oil from their Kalashnikovs. The other five men who’d accompanied him from Makhachkala would be outside on guard, along with half of the local force. Each man awake, his rifle in his lap, a pot of hot tea close by.
Israpil kept his own rifle within arm’s reach, as it was his last line of defense. He carried the AK-74U, a cut-down-barrel variant of the venerable but potent Kalashnikov. As he rolled onto his side to turn away from the draft, he reached out and put a gloved hand on the plastic pistol grip and pulled the weapon closer. He fidgeted for another moment like this, then rolled onto his back. With his boots laced on his feet, his pistol belt around his waist, and his chest harness full of rifle magazines strapped to his upper torso, it was damn hard to get comfortable.
And it was not just the discomforts of the barn and his gear that kept him awake. No, it was the gnawing constant worry of attack.
Israpil knew well that he was a prime target of the Russians, because he knew what they were saying about him—that he was the future of the resistance. The future of his people. Not just the future of Islamic Dagestan, but the future of an Islamic caliphate in the Caucasus.
Nabiyev was a top-priority target for Moscow, because he’d spent virtually his entire life at war with them. He’d been fighting since he was eleven. He’d killed his first Russian in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1993 when he was only fifteen, and he’d killed many Russians since, in Grozny, and in Tbilisi, and in Tskhinvali, and in Makhachkala.
Now, not yet thirty-five years old, he served as the military operational commander of the Dagestani Islamic organization Jamaat Shariat, the “Islamic Law Community,” and he commanded fighters from the Caspian Sea in the east to Chechnya and Georgia and Ossetia in the west, all fighting for the same goal: the expulsion of the invaders and the establishment of Sharia.
And, inshallah—God willing—soon Israpil Nabiyev would unite all the organizations of the Caucasus and see his dream fulfilled.
As the Russians said, he was the future of the resistance.
And his own people knew this, too, which made his hard life easier. The ten soldiers in his security force, along with thirteen militants of the local Argvani cell—each and every one of these men would proudly lay down his life for Israpil.
He flipped his body around again to shield it from the draft, moving the rifle with him as he tried to find some elusive comfort. He pulled the wool blanket over his shoulder and flicked the straw from his beard that came with it.
Oh, well, he thought to himself. He hoped none of his men would have to lay down his life before daybreak.
Israpil Nabiyev drifted to sleep in the darkness as a rooster crowed on the hillside just above the village.
The crowing of the rooster interrupted the transmission of the Russian lying in the weeds a few meters away from the big bird. He waited for a second and a third call from the rooster, and then he put his lips back to the radio attached to his chest harness. “Alpha team to overwatch. We have you in sight and will pass your location in one minute.”
There was no verbal response. The sniper overwatch team had been forced to close to within ten meters of the edge of a cinder-block shack in order to get a line of sight on the objective, another one hundred meters on. They would not speak, not even whisper, so near to unfriendlies. The spotter just pressed his transmit button twice, broadcasting a pair of clicks as confirmation that he’d received Alpha’s message in his earpiece.
Above the spotter, higher on the steep hillside, eight men heard the two clicks, and then they slowly approached in the black.
The eight men, along with the two-man sniper team, were troops from Russia’s Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, their Federal Security Service. Specifically, this team was part of the Alpha Directorate of the FSB’s Special Operations Center. The most elite of all Russian Spetsnaz units, the FSB’s Alpha Group were experts in counterterror operations, hostage rescue, urban assault, and a vast array of additional deadly arts.
All the men in this unit were alpinists, as well, though they possessed more mountain training than they needed for this hit. The peaks behind them, toward the north, were much higher than the hills of this valley.
But it was the other training these men possessed that made them the ideal fit for the mission. Firearms, edged weapons, hand-to-hand, explosives. This Alpha team was composed of hard-core select killers. Silent movers, black operators.
Through the night the Russians had advanced slowly, all senses on alert despite the hardships their bodies were forced to endure on the journey. The infiltration had been clean; in their six-hour insertion to their objective waypoint they had smelled nothing but forest and had seen nothing but animals: cows sleeping upright or grazing unattended in meadows, foxes darting into and out of the foliage, even large horned ibex high on the rocks of sheer mountain passes.
Alpha Group were no strangers to Dagestan, but they had more experience operating in nearby Chechnya because, frankly, there were more terrorists to kill in Chechnya than in Dagestan, though Jamaat Shariat seemed to be doing its best to catch up to their Muslim brothers to the west. Chechnya was more mountains and forest, the major conflict zones of Dagestan more urban, but this location, tonight’s Omega, or objective, split the difference. Wooded hills of rock all around a tight cluster of dwellings bifurcated by dirt roads, each road sporting a trench down the middle to drain the rainfall lower toward the river.
The soldiers had dropped their three-day packs a kilometer back, removing from their bodies everything save for tools of war. Now they moved with supreme stealth, low crawling through the pasture just above the village and then bounding in two-man teams through a corral. They passed their sniper team at the edge of the village and began darting between the structures: a feed shed, an outhouse, a single-family dwelling, and then a baked-brick and tin-roofed tractor shed. As they progressed, the men eyed every corner, every road, every black window, with their NODs—night observation devices.
They carried AK-105 rifles, hundreds of rounds of extra 5.45x39-millimeter cartridges in low-profile magazine chest rigs that allowed them to lie flat on the ground to hide from either a sentry’s eyes or an enemy’s gunfire. Their green tunics and green vests of body armor were smeared with mud and covered with grass stains and wet with melted snow and the sweat of their exertion, even out here in the cold.
On their belts, holsters held .40-caliber pistols, the Russian Varjag model MP-445. A few also carried suppressed .22-caliber pistols to muzzle guard dogs with a hushed 45-grain hollow-point admonishment to the head.
They found their target’s location, and they saw movement in front of the barn. Sentries. There would be others in nearby buildings; some would be awake, though their alertness would suffer at this time of the early morning.
The Russians made a wide arc around the target, cradling their rifles and crawling on their elbows for a minute before going to their hands and knees for two minutes more. A donkey stirred, a dog barked, a goat bleated, but nothing out of the ordinary for early morning in a farm village. Finally the eight soldiers spread around the back of the building, four groups of two, covering predetermined fields of fire with their Russian rifles, each weapon topped with an American EOTech holographic laser sight. The men peered intently at the red laser aiming reticle, or, more specifically, at the piece of window or door or alleyway that the red laser aiming reticle covered.
Then, and only then, did the team leader whisper into his radio: “In position.”
If this had been a regular hit on a terrorist stronghold, Alpha would have arrived in big armored personnel carriers or helicopters, and airplanes would have rained rockets on the village while Alpha leapt from their APCs or rappelled to the ground from their transport helos.
But this was no regular hit. They’d been ordered to attempt to take their target alive.
FSB intelligence sources said the man they were after knew the names, locations, and affiliations of virtually all the jihadist leadership in Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia. If he was picked up and drained of his intelligence value, the FSB could deal a virtual death blow to the Islamic cause. To this end, the eight men who crouched in the dark twenty-five meters from the rear of the target building were a blocking force. The attackers were on their way, also on foot and moving along the valley from the west. The attackers would, if the real world bore any resemblance to the op-plan, lead the target into the trap set at the back of the barn.
The op-plan was hopeful, Alpha Group decided, but it was based on knowledge of militant tactics here in the Caucasus. When ambushed by a larger force, the leadership would run. It was not that the Dagestani and Chechens were cowards. No, courage they possessed in spades. But their leaders were precious to them. The foot soldiers would engage the attackers, manning outbuildings and sandbagged bunkers. From there a single man with a single weapon could hold off an entire raiding force for the time it took the leader and his close protection detail to flee into impenetrable mountains that they would likely know as well as they knew the contours of their lovers’ bodies.
So the eight men of the Spetsnaz blocking force waited, controlled their breathing and the beating of their hearts, and prepared to capture one man.
In the administrative pouches of their ballistic plate carriers, each operator on the mission carried a beige laminated card with a photograph of the face of Israpil Nabiyev.
To be captured by these Russian Special Forces and have your face match the photo of the man they sought would be an unenviable fate.
But to be captured by these Russian Special Forces and have your face not match the photo of the man they sought would be even worse, because these Russians needed only one man in this village alive.
The dogs were the first to react. A growl from a large Caucasian sheepdog started a chorus from other animals around the village. They had not alerted to the smell of the Russians, because the Spetsnaz men masked their scents with chemicals and silver-lined underwear that held in body odors, but the dogs sensed movement, and they began to bark in numbers that spared them from the .22 pistols.
The Dagestani sentries at the front of the barn looked around, a few waved flashlights in bored arcs, one yelled at the animals to shut up. But when the barking turned into a sustained chorus, when a few of the animals began howling, then the sentries stood, and rifles were brought to shoulders.
Only then did the thump of the rotors fill the valley.
Israpil had fallen asleep, but now he found himself up, standing before fully awake, moving before fully aware of what, exactly, had roused him.
“Russian choppers!” someone shouted, which was plain enough at this point, because Nabiyev could hear the thumping rotors across the valley and no one save for the Russians had any helicopters around here. Israpil knew they had seconds to flee, and he gave the order to do just that. The leader of his security force shouted into his radio, ordered the Argvani cell to grab their rocket-propelled grenade launchers and get into the open to engage the approaching aircraft, then he told the two drivers to bring their pickups right up to the front door of the barn.
Israpil was fully alert now. He thumbed the safety down on his short-barreled AK and moved toward the front of the barn with the weapon at his shoulder. He knew the sound of choppers would resonate in the valley for another minute before the Russians would actually arrive overhead. He’d spent the past two decades ducking Russian helos, and he was an expert on their abilities and shortcomings.
The first truck arrived at the front of the barn thirty seconds later. One of the guards outside opened the passenger door and then leapt up into the bed behind. Then two more men opened the front door to the barn, not twenty feet away.
Israpil was the third man out the door; he’d taken no more than two steps into the early-morning air when the supersonic cracks of small-arms fire erupted nearby. At first he thought it was one of his men shooting blindly into the dark, but a hot, wet slap of blood against his face dispelled him of that notion. One of his guards had been shot, his ripped chest spewing blood as he heaved and fell.
Israpil crouched and ran on, but more bursts of gunfire erupted, tearing through the metal and glass of the truck. The military commander of Jamaat Shariat saw muzzle flashes in the road next to a tin shack some twenty-five meters up the hill. The man standing in the truck bed fired a single shot of return fire before he tumbled off the side and down into the muddy ditch in the center of the road. The incoming gunfire continued, and Nabiyev recognized the reports as several Kalashnikovs and a single Russian PPM light machine gun. As he turned, he was showered with sparks from copper-jacketed bullets impacting the stone wall of the barn. He ducked lower and crashed into his protection detail as he shoved them back into the barn.
He and two others ran through the dark structure, shoved past a pair of donkeys tied on the western wall, making for a large window, but an explosion stopped them in their tracks. Nabiyev pulled away from his men, ran to the stone wall, and peered out through a wide crack that had been torturing him with a draft throughout the night. Above the village, hanging over the valley, two helicopter gunships arrived on station. Their silhouettes were just blacker than the black sky, until each fired another salvo of rockets from their pylons. Then the metal beasts were illuminated, the streaks of flame raced toward the village ahead of white plumes, and earthshaking explosions rocked a building a hundred meters to the west.
“Black Sharks!” he called out to the room.
“Back door!” one of his men yelled as he ran, and Nabiyev followed, although he now knew his position would be surrounded. No one would crawl for miles to hit this place, as he was now certain the Russians had done, only to forget to cut off his escape route. Still, there were no options; the next rocket salvo could hit this barn and martyr him and his men without allowing them the opportunity to take some infidels with them.
The Russians at the back of the barn stayed low and silent in their four groups of two, waiting patiently while the attack commenced up the hill and the Black Sharks arrived on station and began dispensing death through their rocket pods.
Alpha Group had positioned two of their men to secure their six-o’clock position, to keep an eye out for any mujahideen or armed civilians moving up the hill through the village, but the two-man team with that duty did not have line of sight on a small cinder-block shack just to the southeast of the easternmost pair of Spetsnaz operators. From a dark open window the muzzle of a bolt-action rifle inched out, aimed at the nearest Russian, and just as the back door of the barn opened, the bolt-action rifle barked. The Alpha Group man was hit in the steel plate on his back, and the round knocked him forward onto his chest. His partner spun toward the threat and opened up on the cinder-block shack, and the rebels escaping out the back of the barn had a moment’s warning that they were stumbling into a trap. All five Dagestanis entered the open space behind the barn with their fingers on their triggers, Kalashnikov rounds spraying left and right, peppering everything ahead of them in the dark as they stumbled through the doorway.
One Spetsnaz officer took a chunk of copper—a hot, twisted fragment from a 7.62-millimeter ricochet off of a stone in front of him—directly into his throat, tearing through his Adam’s apple and then severing his carotid artery. He fell backward, clutching his neck and writhing in his death throes. All pretense of a capture mission disappeared in that moment, and his men returned fire on the terrorists in the road as more mujahideen gunmen poured out of the doorway of the stone barn.
The leader of Nabiyev’s security detail shielded him with his body when the Russians started shooting. The man was hit within a second of doing so, his torso riddled with 5.45-caliber rounds. More of Nabiyev’s men fell around him, but the team kept up the fire as their leader desperately tried to get away. He dove to the side, rolled in the dirt away from the barn door, and then climbed back up to his feet while blasting the night with his AK-74U. He emptied his weapon while running parallel to the wall of the barn, then stumbled into a dark alleyway between two long tin storage huts. He had the sense he was alone now, but he did not slow his breakneck sprint to look around. He just kept running, amazed that he had not been hit in the same fusillade of bullets that had raked through his men. As he fled, he banged against both of the tin walls, and he stumbled again. His eyes were fixed on the opening twenty meters ahead; his hands struggled to pull a fresh magazine for his rifle from his chest rig. His rifle, its barrel blisteringly hot from his having just fired thirty rounds through it at full auto, steamed in the chilly morning.
Israpil lost his balance a third time as he seated the magazine and pulled back the Kalashnikov’s charging handle; he fell all the way to his knees now, the rifle almost tumbling out of his gloved hands, but he caught it and regained his feet. He stopped at the edge of the tin storage shacks, looked around the corner, and saw no one in his path. The automatic gunfire behind him continued, and the sound of booming explosions from the helos’ rockets impacting the hillside beat against the valley walls and bounced off them, each salvo assaulting his ears numerous times as the sound waves moved back and forth through the village.
The radio on the shoulder strap of his chest harness squawked as men shouted to one another all over the area. He ignored the communications and kept running.
He made his way into a burning baked-brick house lower on the hill. It had taken a Russian rocket through its roof, and the contents of the one-room home burned and smoldered. There would be bodies in here, but he did not slow to look around, he just continued on to an open back window, and once there, he leapt through it.
Israpil’s trailing leg caught the window ledge, and he tumbled onto his face outside. Again, he struggled to stand up; with all the adrenaline pumping through his body, the fact he’d tripped and fallen four times in the past thirty seconds did not even register.
Until he fell again.
Running on a straight stretch of dirt alleyway one hundred meters from the stone barn, his right leg gave out and he fell and tumbled, a complete forward roll, and he ended up on his back. It had not occurred to him that he’d been shot by the Russians at the barn. There was no pain. But when he tried again to climb to his feet, his gloved hand pushed on his leg and it felt slick. Looking down, he saw his blood flowing from a jagged hole in the threadbare cotton. He took a moment to stare at the blood, glistening from the firelight of a burning pickup truck just ahead. The wound was to the thigh, just above the knee, and the shimmering blood covered his camouflaged pants all the way down to his boot.
Somehow he made it back to his feet again, took a tentative step forward using his rifle as a crutch, and then found himself bathed in the brightest, hottest white light that he’d ever known. The beam came from the sky, a spotlight from a Black Shark two hundred meters ahead.
Israpil Nabiyev knew that if the KA-50 had a light trained on him, it also had a 30-millimeter cannon trained on him, and he knew that in seconds he would be shahid. A martyr.
This filled him with pride.
He exhaled, prepared to lift his rifle up to the big Black Shark, but then the butt of an AK-105 slammed into his skull from directly behind, and everything in Israpil Nabiyev’s world went dark.
He awoke in pain. His head hurt, a dull ache deep in his brain as well as a sharp pain on the surface of his scalp. A tourniquet had been cinched tight high on his right leg; it stanched the blood flow from his wound. His arms were wrenched back behind him; his shoulders felt as if they would snap. Cold iron cuffs had been fastened on his wrists; shouting men pulled him this way and that as he was yanked to his feet and pressed against a stone wall.
A flashlight shone in his face, and he recoiled from the light.
“They all look alike,” came a voice in Russian behind the light. “Line them up.”
Using the flashlight’s beam, he saw he was still in the village on the hill. In the distance, he heard continued, sporadic shooting. Mopping-up operations by the Russians.
Four other Jamaat Shariat survivors of the firefight were pushed up to the wall next to him. Israpil Nabiyev knew exactly what the Russians were doing. These Spetsnaz men had been ordered to take him alive, but with the dirt and perspiration and beards on their faces and the low predawn light, the Russians were having trouble identifying the man they were looking for. Israpil looked around at the others. Two were from his security detail; two more were Argvani cell members he did not know. They all wore their hair long and their black beards full, as did he.
The Russians stood the five men up, shoulder to shoulder, against the cold stone wall, and held them there with the muzzles of their rifles. A gloved hand grabbed the first Dagestani by the hair and pulled his head high. Another Alpha Group operator shined a flashlight on the mujahideen. A third held a laminated card next to the rebel’s face. The photo of a bearded man looked back from the card.
“Nyet,” said someone in the group.
Without hesitation, the black barrel of a Varjag .40-caliber pistol appeared in the light, and the weapon snapped. With a flash and a crack that echoed in the alleyway, the bearded terrorist’s head jerked back, and he dropped, leaving blood and bone on the wall behind him.
The laminated photo was held up to the second rebel. Again, the man’s head was pulled taut to display his face. He squinted in the flashlight’s white beam.
The automatic pistol appeared and shot him through the forehead.
The third bearded Dagestani was Israpil. A gloved hand pulled matted hair from his eyes and smeared dirt off his cheeks.
“Ny—. . . Mozhet byt”—Maybe—said the voice. Then, “I think so.” A pause. “Israpil Nabiyev?”
Israpil did not answer.
“Yes . . . it is him.” The flashlight lowered and then a rifle rose toward the two Jamaat Shariat rebels on Israpil’s left.
The men slammed back against the wall and then fell forward, down onto the mud at Israpil’s feet.
Nabiyev stood alone against the wall for a moment, and then he was grabbed by the back of the neck and pulled toward a helicopter landing in a cow pasture lower in the valley.
The two Black Sharks hung in the air above, their cannons burping at irregular intervals now as they ripped buildings apart and killed humans and animals alike. They would do this for a few minutes more. They would not kill every last soul—that would take more time and effort than they wanted to expend. But they were doing their best to systematically destroy the village that had been hosting the leader of the Dagestani resistance.
Nabiyev was stripped to his underwear and carried down the hill, through the loud and violent rotor wash of an Mi-8 transport helicopter. The soldiers sat him on a bench and handcuffed him to the inner wall of the fuselage. He sat there sandwiched between two filthy Alpha Group men in black ski masks, and he looked out the open door. Outside, as dawn just began to lighten the smoke-filled air in the valley, Spetsnaz men lined up the bodies of Nabiyev’s dead comrades, and they used digital cameras to photograph their faces. Then they used ink pads and paper to fingerprint his dead brothers-in-arms.
The Mi-8 lifted off.
The Spetsnaz operator on Nabiyev’s right leaned in to his ear and shouted in Russian, “They said you were the future of your movement. You just became the past.”
Israpil smiled, and the Spetsnaz sergeant saw this. He jabbed his rifle into the Muslim’s ribs. “What’s so funny?”
“I am thinking of everything my people will do to get me back.”
“Maybe you are right. Maybe I should just kill you now.”
Israpil smiled again. “Now I am thinking about everything my people would do in my memory. You cannot win, Russian soldier. You cannot win.”
The Russian’s blue irises glared through the eye ports of the ski mask for a long moment as the Mi-8 gained altitude. Finally he jabbed Israpil in the ribs again with his rifle and then leaned back against the fuselage with a shrug.
As the helicopter rose out of the valley and began heading north, the village below it burned.
Presidential candidate John Patrick Ryan stood alone in the men’s locker room of a high school gymnasium in Carbondale, Illinois. His suit coat hung from a hanger on a rolling clothes rack next to him, but he was otherwise well dressed in a burgundy tie, a lightly starched cream-colored French-cuff shirt, and pressed charcoal dress pants.
He sipped bottled water and held a mobile phone to his ear.
There was a gentle, almost apologetic, knock on the door, and then it cracked open. A young woman wearing a microphone headset leaned in; just behind her Jack could see the left shoulder of his lead Secret Service agent, Andrea Price-O’Day. Others milled around farther down the hallway that led to the school’s packed gymnasium, where a raucous crowd cheered and clapped, and brassy amplified music blared.
The young woman said, “We’re ready whenever you are, Mr. President.”
Jack smiled politely and nodded, “Be right there, Emily.”
Emily’s head withdrew and the door shut. Jack kept the phone to his ear, listening for his son’s recorded voice.
“Hi, you have reached Jack Ryan Jr. You know what to do.”
The beep followed.
Jack Sr. adopted a light and airy tone that belied his true mood. “Hey, sport. Just checking in. I talked to your mom and she said you’ve been busy and had to cancel your lunch date with her today. Hope everything is going okay.” He paused, then picked back up. “I’m in Carbondale at the moment; we’ll be heading to Chicago later tonight. I’ll be there all day and then Mom will meet me in Cleveland tomorrow night for the debate on Wednesday. Okay . . . Just wanted to touch base with you. Call me or Mom when you can, okay? Bye.” Ryan disconnected the call and tossed the phone onto a sofa that had been placed, along with the clothes rack and several other pieces of furniture, into the makeshift dressing room. Jack wouldn’t dare put his phone back in his pocket, even on vibrate, lest he forget to take it out before walking onstage. If he did forget and someone called, he’d be in trouble. Those lapel microphones picked up damn near everything, and, undoubtedly, the press corps traveling with him would report to the world that he had uncontrollable gas and was therefore unfit to lead.
Jack looked into a full-length mirror positioned between two American flags, and he forced a smile. He would have been self-conscious doing this in front of others, but Cathy had been prodding him of late, telling him that he was losing his “Jack Ryan cool” when talking about the policies of his opponent, President Ed Kealty. He’d have to work on that before the debate, when he sat onstage with Kealty himself.
He was in a sour mood this evening, and he needed to shake it off before he hit the stage. He hadn’t talked to his son, Jack Junior, in weeks—just a couple of short-and-sweet e-mails. This happened from time to time; Ryan Sr. knew he wasn’t exactly the easiest person to get in touch with while out on the campaign trail. But his wife, Cathy, had mentioned just minutes before that Jack hadn’t been able to get away from work to meet up with her in Baltimore that afternoon, and that worried him a little.
Though there was nothing unusual about parents wanting to stay in touch with their adult child, the presidential candidate and his wife had added reason for concern because they both knew what their son did for a living. Well, Jack Sr. thought to himself, he knew what his son did, more or less, and his wife knew . . . to an extent. Several months back, Sr. and Jr. had sat Cathy down with high hopes of explaining. They’d planned on laying out Jack Junior’s occupation as an analyst and operative for an “off-the-books” spy agency formed by Sr. himself and helmed by former senator Gerry Hendley. The conversation had started off well enough, but the two men began equivocating under the powerful gaze of Dr. Cathy Ryan, and in the end they’d stammered out something about clandestine intelligence analysis that made it sound as if Jack Junior spent his days with his elbows propped on a desk reading computer files looking for ne’er-do-well financiers and money launderers, work that would expose him to no more danger than carpal tunnel syndrome and paper cuts.
If only that were the truth, Jack Sr. thought to himself as a fresh wash of stomach acid burned into his gut.
No, the conversation with his wife had not gone particularly well, Jack Sr. admitted to himself afterward. He’d broached the subject a couple of times since. He hoped he’d been able to peel back another layer of the onion for Cathy; just maybe she was beginning to get the idea that her son was involved in some real intelligence fieldwork, but again, Ryan Sr. had just made it sound like Ryan Jr. occasionally traveled to European capitals, dined with politicians and bureaucrats, and then wrote reports about their conversations on his laptop while sipping burgundy and watching CNN.
Oh, well, thought Jack. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. And if she did know? Jesus. With Kyle and Katie still at home, she had enough on her plate without having to also worry about her twenty-six-year-old son, didn’t she?
Jack Sr. told himself that worrying about Jack Junior’s profession would be his burden, not Cathy’s, and it was a burden that he had to shake off for the time being.
He had an election to win.
Ryan’s mood brightened a little. Things were looking good for his campaign. The latest Pew poll had Ryan up by thirteen percent; Gallup was right there at plus eleven. The networks had done their own polling, and all three were slightly lower, probably due to some selection bias that his campaign manager, Arnold van Damm, and his people had not bothered to research yet because Ryan was so far ahead.
The electoral college race was tighter, Jack knew, but it always was. He and Arnie both felt he needed a good showing in the next debate to keep some momentum for the home stretch of the campaign, or at least until the last debate. Most races tighten up in the final month or so. Pollsters call it the Labor Day spread, as the narrowing in the polls usually begins around Labor Day and continues on until Election Day on the first Tuesday in November.
Statisticians and pundits differ on the reasons for this phenomenon. Was it that likely voters who had switched sides were now getting cold feet and returning to their original candidate? Could there be more independent thinking in the summer than there was in November, now closer to the time when answering a pollster’s questions had actual consequences? Was it the near wall-to-wall news coverage on the frontrunner as Election Day approached that tended to highlight more gaffes for the leading candidate?
Ryan tended to agree with Arnie on the subject, as there were few people on earth who knew more about matters related to campaigns and elections than Arnie van Damm. Arnie explained it away as simple math. The candidate leading the race had more people polling in his favor than the candidate trailing. Therefore, if ten percent of both voters shifted allegiance in the last month of a race, the candidate with more initial voters would lose more votes.
Simple math, Ryan suspected, nothing more. But simple math would not keep the talking heads on television talking or the twenty-four/seven political blogs blogging, so theories and conspiracies were ginned up by America’s bloviating class.
Ryan put down his water bottle, grabbed his coat and slipped it on, then headed for the door. He felt a little better, but anxiety about his son kept his stomach churning.
Hopefully, thought Ryan, Jack Junior was just out tonight enjoying himself, maybe on a date with someone special.
Yeah, Senior said to himself. Surely that’s all.
Twenty-six-year-old Jack Ryan Jr. sensed movement on his right, and he spun away from it, twisted his body clear of the knife’s blade as it made to plunge into his chest. As he continued his rotation he brought up his left forearm, knocked his attacker’s hand away as he grabbed the man’s wrist with his right hand. Then Ryan heaved his body forward, into his attacker’s chest, and this sent the man tumbling backward toward the floor.
Jack immediately went for his gun, but the falling man took hold of Ryan’s shirt and brought Ryan down with him. Jack Junior lost the space he’d created from his enemy that he needed to draw his pistol from his inside-the-waistband holster, and now, as they crashed to the floor together, he knew the opportunity was lost.
He’d just have to fight this battle hand to hand.
The attacker went for Jack’s throat, fingernails digging into his skin, and again Jack had to knock away the threat with a violent arm sweep. The assailant flipped from a sitting position to his knees, and then hopped up again to his feet. Ryan was below him now, and vulnerable. With no other options, Jack went for his pistol, but he had to roll onto his left hip to free the weapon from its holster.
In the time it took to execute this move, his attacker had pulled his own gun from the small of his back, and he shot Ryan five times in the chest.
Pain stitched across Jack’s body with the impact of the projectiles.
“Dammit!” he yelled.
Ryan was shouting at the pain, yes. But more than this, he was shouting with the frustration of losing the fight.
Ryan ripped the goggles off his eyes and sat up. A hand came down to assist him, and he took it, regained his feet, and reholstered his weapon—an Airsoft version of the Glock 19 that used compressed air to fire plastic projectiles that stung like hell but did not injure.
His “attacker” took off his own eye protection and then retrieved the rubber knife from the floor. “Sorry about the scratches, old boy,” the man said, his Welsh accent obvious, even buried as it was behind his heavy breathing.
Jack wasn’t paying attention. “Too slow!” he shouted at himself, his adrenaline from the hand-to-hand melee mixing with his frustration.
But the Welshman, in stark contrast to his American student, was calm, as if he’d just stood after sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons. “No worries. Go tend to your wounds and come back so I can tell you what you did wrong.”
Ryan shook his head. “Tell me now.” He was mad at himself; the cuts on his neck, as well as the scrapes and bruises all over his body, were the least of his concerns.
James Buck wiped a thin sheen of sweat from his brow and nodded. “All right. First, your assumption is off. There is nothing wrong with your reflexes, which is what you are talking about when you say you are too slow. Your speed of action is good. Better than good, actually. Your body can move as quick as you please, and your dexterity and agility and athleticism are quite impressive. But the trouble, lad, is your speed of thought. You are hesitant, unsure. You are thinking about your next move when you need to be full-tilt action. You are giving off subtle little clues with your thoughts, and you are broadcasting your next move in advance.”
Ryan cocked his head, and sweat dripped from his face. He said, “Can you give me an example?”
“Yes. Look at this last engagement. Your body language did you in. Your hand twitched toward your hip twice during the fray. Your gun was well hidden in your waistband and under your shirt, but you revealed its existence by thinking about drawing it and then changing your mind. If your assailant didn’t know you had a gun, he would have just fallen to the ground and climbed back up. But I already knew about the gun because you ‘told’ me about it with your actions. So when I started to fall back, I knew to pull you down with me so you wouldn’t get the space you needed to draw. Make sense?”
Ryan sighed. It did make sense, though, in actuality, James Buck knew about the pistol under Ryan’s T-shirt because James Buck had given it to Ryan before the exercise. Still, Jack conceded, an incredibly savvy enemy could possibly discern Ryan’s thinking about making a play for a hidden weapon on his hip.
Shit, Ryan thought. His enemy would have to be almost psychic to pick up that tell. But that’s why Ryan had been spending the vast majority of his nights and weekends with trainers hired by The Campus. To learn how to tackle the incredibly savvy enemies.
James Buck was ex-SAS and ex-Rainbow, a hand-to-hand and bladed-weapons expert, among other cruel specialties. He’d been hired by the director of The Campus, Gerry Hendley, to work with Ryan on his martial skills.
A year earlier, Ryan had told Gerry Hendley that he wanted more fieldwork to go along with his analytical role at The Campus. He’d gotten more fieldwork, almost more than he’d bargained for, and he’d done well, but he did not have the same level of training as the other operators in his organization.
He knew it and Hendley knew it, and they also knew their options for training were somewhat limited. The Campus did not officially exist, it did not belong to the U.S. government, so any formal training by FBI, CIA, or the military was absolutely out of the question.
So Jack and Gerry and Sam Granger, The Campus’s chief of operations, decided to seek other avenues of instruction. They went to the veterans in The Campus’s stable of operators, John Clark and Domingo Chavez, and they sketched out a plan for young Ryan, a training regimen for him to undergo in his off-hours over the next year or more.
And all this hard work had paid off. Jack Junior was a better operator for all the training he’d undergone, even if the training itself was humbling. Buck, and others like him, had been doing this all their adult lives, and their expertise showed. Ryan was improving, no question, but improving against men like James Buck did not mean defeating them, it merely meant “dying” less often and forcing Buck and the others to work harder in order to defeat him.
Buck must have seen the frustration on Ryan’s face, because he patted him on the shoulder, a gesture of understanding. The Welshman could be vicious and cruel at times, but on other occasions he was fatherly, even friendly. Jack didn’t know which of the two personalities was the “put-on,” or if they were both necessary aspects of his training, a sort of carrot-and-stick approach. “Chin up, old boy,” Buck said. “Heaps better than when you started. You’ve got the physical assets you need to handle yourself, and you’ve got the smarts to learn. We just have to keep working on you, continue to build on your technical proficiency and mind-set. You’re already a sharper tack than ninety-nine percent of the blokes out there. But that one percent remaining are right bastards, so let’s keep at it until we have you ready for them, all right?”
Jack nodded. Humility was not his strong suit, but learning and improving was. He was smart enough to know that James Buck was right, even though Jack wasn’t crazy about the prospect of getting his ass kicked a few thousand more times in pursuit of excellence.
Jack put his eye protection back on. James Buck smacked the side of Ryan’s head with his open hand playfully. “That’s it, lad. You ready to go again?”
Jack nodded again, this time more emphatically. “Hell, yes.”
Under the heat of the midday Egyptian sunshine, Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili market overflowed with lunchtime diners and bargain shoppers. Food vendors grilled meat, and the heavy aroma wafted through the air; it mixed with the other smells as coffeehouses vented the scents of their brewed beans and the smoke from their hookah pipes out into the narrow winding alleyways that made up a warren of shops and tent stalls. The streets, alleys, and narrow covered passageways of the marketplace wrapped around the mosques and the stairways and sandstone walls of ancient buildings, and sprawled across a wide portion of the Old City.
This souk had begun its life in the fourteenth century as a caravanserai, an open courtyard that served as an inn for caravans passing through Cairo on the Silk Road. Now the ancient and the modern mixed together in a dizzying display in the Khan el-Khalili. Salespeople haggled in the middle of the narrow thoroughfares dressed in salwar kameez alongside other shopkeepers decked out in jeans and T-shirts. The thin tinny beats of Egyptian traditional music spilled out of cafés and coffeehouses and mixed with the techno music that blared from sales bays of stereo and computer vendors, creating a melody like that of a buzzing insect, save for the clay and goat-skinned drums and synthesized backbeats.
Vendors sold everything from handmade silver and copper wares and jewelry and rugs to flypaper, rubber sandals, and “I ♥ Egypt” T-shirts.
The crowd shifting through the alleys were young and old, black and white, Arab, Western, and Asian. A group of three Middle Eastern men strolled through the market, a portly silver-haired man in the center and two younger muscular men flanking him. Their pace was leisurely and relaxed. They did not stand out, but anyone in the market who paid attention to them for any length of time might well notice that their eyes shifted left and right more than those of the other shoppers. Occasionally, one of the younger men glanced back over his shoulder as they walked.
Just then, the man on the right turned quickly and checked the crowd in the alley behind. He took his time looking at the faces and hands and mannerisms of everyone in sight. After more than ten seconds, the muscular Middle Easterner finished his six-o’clock scan, turned back around, and picked up his pace so he could catch up with the others.
“Just three best buddies out for a lunchtime stroll.” The transmission came through a small, nearly invisible earpiece secreted in the right ear of a man twenty-five meters behind the three Middle Easterners, a Western male in dirty blue jeans and a loose-fitting blue linen shirt who stood outside a restaurant, pretending to read the handwritten French menu posted by the door. He was American, thirtyish, with short dark hair and a scruffy beard. Upon hearing the radio transmission, he looked away from the menu, past the three men in front of him, and ahead into a dusty archway that led away from the souk. There, so deep in the cool shadows that he was only a dark form, a man leaned against a sandstone wall.
The young American brought the cuff of his blue linen shirt to his mouth as he swatted an imaginary fly from his face. He spoke into a small microphone secreted there. “You said it. Goddamned pillars of the community. Nothing to see here.”
The man skulking in the shadows pushed away from the wall, began strolling toward the alley and the three Middle Easterners, who were now just passing in front of him. As he walked he brought his hand to his face. In a second broadcast received in his earpiece, the American in the blue linen shirt heard, “Okay, Dom, I’ve got ’em. Shift one road over, overlap the target, and move up to the next choke point. I’ll update you if he stops.”
“He’s all yours, Sam,” Dominic Caruso said as he turned left, departing the alley via a side passageway that led up a staircase that emptied out on al-Badistand Road. Once he hit the larger street, Dom turned right and moved quickly through pedestrians and bicycles and motorized rickshaws as he maneuvered to get ahead of his target.
Dominic Caruso was young, fit, and relatively dark-complexioned. All these traits had served him in these past few days of surveillance here in Cairo. The latter, his skin and hair color, helped him blend in with a population that was predominately dark-haired and olive-toned. And the former, his fitness and relative youth, was helpful on this operation because the subject of his surveillance was what was known, in Dominic Caruso’s line of work, as a hard target. Mustafa el Daboussi, the silver-haired fifty-eight-year-old man with the two musclemen serving as his bodyguards, was the focus of Dom’s mission in Cairo, and Mustafa el Daboussi was a terrorist.
And, Dominic did not need to be reminded, terrorists did not often make it fifty-eight years on this earth by being oblivious to men following them. El Daboussi knew every countersurveillance trick in the book, he knew these streets like the back of his hand, and he had friends here in the government and the police and the intelligence agencies.
A hard target, indeed.
For Caruso’s part, he wasn’t exactly a debutant at this game himself. Dom had been tailing some scumbag or another for most of the past decade. He’d spent several years as a special agent in the FBI before being recruited into The Campus along with his twin brother, Brian. Brian had been killed the year before on a Campus black op in Libya. Dom had been there, he’d held his brother in his arms as he died, and then Dominic returned to The Campus, hell-bent on doing the hard, dangerous work that he believed in.
Dom stepped around a young man selling tea from a large jug hanging by a leather strap from his neck, and he picked up the pace, anxious to get to the next decision point for his target: a four-way intersection some hundred yards to the south.
Back in the alleyway, Caruso’s partner, Sam Driscoll, followed the three men through the winding passageways, careful to keep his distance. Sam had decided that if he lost contact with his target, so be it; Dom Caruso was making his way forward to a choke point ahead. If el Daboussi disappeared between Sam’s and Dom’s positions they would look for him, but if they lost him today they would pick him up later, back at his rented house. It was better, it had been determined by the two Americans, to chance losing the target rather than to press their luck and run the risk of compromising themselves to their target or his protection detail.
El Daboussi stopped at a jewelry store; something had caught his eye in a dusty glass display case just inside the wide entrance. Sam continued forward a few yards and then stepped into the shadow of a canvas tent, under which young salesgirls sold chintzy plastic toys and other tourist kitsch. As he waited for his target to move on, he stepped deeper into the shade. He felt he blended well into the scenery, but a teenage girl in a chador saw him and approached with a smile. “Sir, you wanna sunglasses?”
He just shook his head, and the girl got the message and moved on.
Sam Driscoll had the ability to intimidate with a glance. An ex-Ranger with multiple tours of duty in the sandbox and beyond, he’d been scooped up by The Campus after an introduction from Jack Ryan Sr. Driscoll had been chased from the military by Justice Department lawyers doing the bidding of a Kealty administration hungry for Sam’s blood after a cross-border incursion into Pakistan left a few too many dead bad guys for Kealty’s taste.
Driscoll would have been the first to agree that he’d violated those terrorist shitheads’ civil rights by firing a .40-caliber hollow-point into each of their brainpans. But as far as he was concerned, he’d done his job, and no more than what was necessary for his mission.
Life’s a bitch, and then you die.
Jack Sr.’s publicity of the Driscoll affair was enough to get the DOJ to drop the matter, but Ryan’s recommendation along with John Clark’s personal appeal to Gerry Hendley had gotten Sam hired into The Campus.
At thirty-eight, Sam Driscoll was several years older than Dom Caruso, his partner on this op, and even though Sam was in excellent physical condition, he wore his extra mileage on him, manifested in a graying beard, deep-set creases around his eyes, and a nagging old wound to his shoulder that he woke up to each and every morning. The injury had come in a firefight on the exfil during his Pakistan mission; a jihadi’s AK round had shattered a rock in front of Driscoll’s firing position, sending natural shrapnel into and through the Ranger’s upper body.
The shoulder didn’t bother him so much at the moment, the stiffness and soreness melted away with movement and exercise, and a couple hours of “foot follow” surveillance through Cairo’s Old Town had given him plenty of both today.
And Driscoll was about to get some more exercise. He looked up and noticed el Daboussi was on the move again. Sam waited for a moment, and then stepped out into the alleyway to resume his tail of the silver-haired terrorist.
A minute later, Sam stopped again as his target entered a busy kahwah, a boisterous neighborhood coffeehouse ubiquitous in Cairo. Men sat in chairs around small tables that spilled out into the center of the alley; they played backgammon and chess and smoked hookah pipes and cigarettes while drinking thick Turkish coffee or fragrant green tea. El Daboussi and his men walked past these open-air tables and continued deep into the dark room.
Sam spoke softly into his cuff mike. “Dom, come back?”
“Yep,” came the reply into Driscoll’s earpiece.
“Subjects have stopped. They’re in a coffeehouse on . . .” Sam scanned the walls and corners of the impenetrable market alleyway for a sign. Up and down the souk he saw stalls and canvas-covered kiosks but no signs referencing his exact location. Sam had had a better sense of direction humping through the mountains of Pakistan than he did right here in Cairo’s Old Town. He chanced a surreptitious glance down to his map to get his bearings. “Okay, we just made a left off of Midan Hussein. I think we are still just north of al-Badistand. Say fifty meters from your location. Looks like our boy and his goons are going to sit and chat. How ’bout you come over here and we can split the coverage?”
“On the way.”
While Sam waited for his backup, he wandered over to a chandelier shop and gazed appreciatively at a glass light fixture. In the reflection of a large crystal bauble he could see the front of the kahwah well enough to watch it in case his target left. But instead of anyone leaving, he saw three other men step into the kahwah from the opposite direction. Something about the look of the leader of this little pack gave him pause. Driscoll chanced a pass by the entrance, and he looked inside as if he was searching for a friend.
There, in the back against a stone wall, Mustafa el Daboussi and his men sat at a table right next to the new arrival and his men.
“Interesting,” Sam said to himself as he wandered off a few yards away from the coffeehouse’s entrance.
Dom arrived in the alleyway a minute later, shouldered up to Sam as both men picked through the wares of another tiny kiosk. Driscoll leaned over a table and pulled a pair of jeans out of a pile as if to look them over. He whispered to his partner. “Our boy is having a clandestine meet and greet with an unknown subject.”
Dom did not react; he only turned to a cheap mannequin at the front of the stall and pretended to look at the tag on the vest the mannequin wore. While doing so, he looked past the plastic life-size figure and into the café across the street. Driscoll passed behind him closely. Dom whispered, “It’s about damn time. We’ve been waiting for days.”
“I hear you. Let’s grab a table at the café across the way, maybe get some pictures of these jokers. We’ll send them back to Rick and see if his geeks can ID them. The one in back looks like he’s in charge.”
A minute later, the two Americans sat in the shade under an umbrella in the open-air café that faced the kahwah. A waitress in a chador stepped up to the table. Dom took the lead with the ordering, much to the surprise of Sam Driscoll. “Kahwaziyada,” he said with a polite smile, and then motioned to himself and Sam.
The woman nodded and stepped away.
“Do I want to know what you just ordered us?”
“Two Turkish coffees with extra sugar.”
Sam shrugged, stretched the tight scar tissue of his shoulder wound with a long, slow neck roll. “Sounds pretty good. I could use the caffeine.”
The coffee came, and they sipped it. They did not look over at their target. If his security detail was any good, they would be evaluating the Westerners sitting across the alley, but probably only for the first couple of minutes. If Sam and Dom were careful to completely ignore them, then el Daboussi, his men, and the three other new arrivals would satisfy themselves that the Westerners were just a couple of tourists, sitting and waiting while their wives shopped the souk for rugs, and there was nothing to be concerned about.
Even though Sam and Dom were operational and in no small danger here spying on a terrorist, they enjoyed being outside, sipping coffee in the sunlight. For the past few days they’d gone out only at night, and then only in shifts. The rest of the time they’d operated from a studio apartment across from a posh walled residence rented by el Daboussi in the upscale Zamalek neighborhood. They had spent long days and nights peering through scopes, photographing visitors, and eating rice and lamb in quantities that caused both men to no longer be great fans of either rice or lamb.
But Sam and Dom, as well as their support team back at The Campus, both knew this work was important.
While Mustafa el Daboussi was Egyptian by birth, he’d been living in Pakistan and Yemen for the past fifteen years or so, working for the Umayyad Revolutionary Council. Now that the URC was in utter disarray due to the disappearance of their leader and a number of recent intelligence successes attributed to the CIA and other agencies, el Daboussi was back home, ostensibly working for the new government in some paper-pushing job in Alexandria.
But The Campus had learned there was more to this story. Jack Ryan Jr. had been going down the roster of known URC players, trying to find out where they were and what they were doing now, by using both classified and open-source intelligence. It was difficult work, but it had culminated with the discovery that MED, as Mustafa el Daboussi was known at The Campus, had been given a “no show” job by members of the Muslim Brotherhood who held the reins of power in parts of Egypt. Further investigation had indicated that MED had been placed in charge of setting up a pair of training camps near Egypt’s border with Libya. According to classified CIA documents, ostensibly the plan was to have Egyptian intelligence train Libya’s civilian militia into something of a real national defense force.
But some in the CIA, and everyone at The Campus, thought that was a lie. MED’s history showed he had interest only in supporting terror against infidels; he didn’t seem like a good fit to train a home guard in North Africa.
So when a coded e-mail from a MED associate’s account was picked up by The Campus saying el Daboussi would spend a week in Cairo meeting with foreign contacts who would be helping him with his new “enterprise,” Sam Granger, the chief of operations, immediately sent Sam Driscoll and Dominic Caruso over to get pictures of whoever came to see MED at his rented house, in hopes of getting a better idea of the real objective of these new camps.
While the Americans sat at their table and pretended to be nothing more than bored tourists, they talked about the Turkish coffee they were drinking. They agreed that it was incredibly good, even though they had identical stories about accidentally sucking down a mouthful of the bitter grounds that collected in the bottom of the cup the first time they tried it.
After their coffee was more than half put away, they returned to their operation. One at a time, they took turns glancing into the dim room across the alley. Just nonchalant little eye sweeps at first. After a minute of this, they recognized they were in the clear—none of the six men at the table gave them any unwanted attention.
Dom pulled his sunglasses case from his jeans and placed it on the table. He opened the top and then pinched the padding and fabric away from the inside of the lid. This revealed a tiny LCD screen, and the screen projected the image being captured by the twelve-megapixel camera secreted into the base of the case. Using his mobile phone, he transmitted a Bluetooth signal to the covert camera. With the signal he was able to increase the zoom on the camera until the LCD monitor displayed a perfectly framed image of the six men at the two tables. As el Daboussi and his two henchmen smoked sheesha and talked to the three men at the next table, Caruso took dozens of digital images through the surreptitious camera on the table by using the photo button on his mobile phone.
While Dom concentrated on his work, careful not to look like he was concentrating, Sam said, “Those new guys are military. The big guy in the middle, the one with his back to the wall, is a senior officer.”
“How can you tell?”
“Because I was military, and I was not a senior officer.”
Driscoll continued. “Can’t explain how I know, exactly, but he’s at least a colonel, maybe even a general. I’d bet my life on it.”
“He’s not Egyptian, that’s for sure,” said Dom, as he slid the camera back into his pocket.
Driscoll did not move his head. Instead he studied the coarse, wet grounds in the bottom of his coffee cup. “He’s Pakistani.”
“That was my guess.”
“We’ve got pictures, let’s not push our luck,” said Sam.
“Agreed,” replied Dom. “I’m tired of watching other people eat lunch. Let’s go find some food.”
“Rice and lamb?” asked Sam morosely.
“Better. I saw a McDonald’s by the metro.”
“McLamb it is.”
Jack Ryan Jr. pulled his Hummer into his designated parking space in the lot of Hendley Associates at 5:10 a.m. He struggled to climb out of the big vehicle. His muscles ached; cuts and bruises covered his arms and legs.
He limped through the back door of the building. He did not like coming in so early, especially considering how beat-up he was this morning. But he had important work that could not wait. At this moment there were four operatives in the field, and although he truly wished he were out there with them, Ryan knew it was his responsibility to provide them the best real-time intelligence he could in order to make their tough work, if not easier, at least not any harder than it needed to be.
He passed a security man at the reception desk in the lobby. As far as Jack was concerned, the guard was freakishly awake and alert at this rude hour.
“Morning, Mr. Ryan.”
“Hey, Bill.” Normally Ryan didn’t come in until eight, and by then Bill, a retired Air Force Security Force master sergeant, had handed off his post to Ernie. Ryan had met Bill only a couple of times, but he seemed like he was born to do his job.
Jack Junior took the elevator up, shuffled through the dark hallway, dropped his leather messenger bag off in his cubicle, and headed for the kitchen. There he started a pot of coffee and then reached into the freezer and pulled out an ice pack that had been getting a lot of use of late.
Back at his desk while the coffee brewed, he lit up his computer and flipped on the lamp. Other than Jack, some IT guys who worked twenty-four/seven, a third-shift analytical/ translation unit, and the security men on the first floor, the building would be dead for at least another hour. Jack sat, held the ice to his jaw, and put his head down on his desk.
“Shit,” he mumbled.
Five minutes later, the coffeemaker dripped its last drop into the pot just as Ryan grabbed a mug from the cabinet; he poured steaming black liquid into it and hobbled back to his desk.
He wanted to go back home and lie down, but that was not an option. The after-hours training Ryan had been going through was kicking his ass, but he knew he wasn’t in any real danger. His colleagues out in the field were the ones in peril, and it was his job to help them out.
And his tool to help them was his computer. More specifically, it was the data that the parabolic dishes on the roof and the antenna farm of Hendley Associates pulled out of the ether, the data the code breakers and a mainframe supercomputer decoded from the near constant haul of encrypted information. Jack’s daily morning fishing expedition derived its fish from data traffic from CIA in Langley, from the National Security Agency at Fort Mead, from the National Counterterrorism Center at Liberty Crossing in McLean, from the FBI in D.C., and from a host of other agencies. Today he saw he had a particularly large pull to go through even this early in the morning. Much of it was traffic that came to Langley from friendly nations overseas, and this is what he’d arrived early to peruse.
Jack logged in to the NSA’s Executive Intercept Transcript first. The XITS, or “zits,” would alert him to any big goings-on that he had missed since leaving work at six the previous afternoon. As his screen began filling with data, he took mental stock of what was going on today. The operational tempo, or OPTEMPO, here at The Campus had been going up precipitously in the past few weeks, so Jack found it harder and harder each morning to decide on a starting place for his day’s duties.
The four Campus operatives out in the field were divided into two teams. Jack Junior’s cousin Dominic Caruso was teamed with ex–Army Ranger Sam Driscoll. They were in Cairo, tailing a Muslim Brotherhood operative who, Jack and his fellow analysts at The Campus had reason to suspect, was doing his best to raise some hell. According to the CIA, the man had been setting up training camps in western Egypt and was purchasing weapons and ammunition from a source in the Egyptian Army. After that . . . Well, that was the problem. No one had been able to figure out what he was doing with the camps and the guns and the know-how he’d obtained working for the URC and other groups for the past two decades. All they knew was that he and his camps and his guns were in Egypt.
Jack sighed. Egypt, post-Mubarak. Pre-fucked-up free-fire zone?
The American media declared as fact that the changes in the Middle East would promote peace and tranquility, but Ryan, The Campus, and a lot of people in the know around the world thought it likely that the changes in the Middle East would usher in not moderation but rather extremism.
To many in the American media, people who thought such things were pessimists at best, and bigots at worst. Ryan considered himself a realist, and for this reason he didn’t run out into the street to praise the rapid change.
The extremists were out in force. With the disappearance of the Emir nearly a year earlier, all over the map the terrorists were shifting safe houses, allegiances, occupations, and even host nations.
One thing hadn’t changed, though. Ground zero for the entire jihadist movement was still Pakistan. Thirty years ago, all the fledgling jihadists of the world flocked there to fight the Russians. Every male kid in the Islamic world past the age of puberty was offered a gun and an express ticket to paradise. Every boy younger than that was offered a place in a madrassa, a religious school that fed them and clothed them and gave them a community, but the madrassas set up in Pakistan taught only extremist beliefs and war-fighting skills. These skills were handy for the students, as these children were just being made ready to send into Afghanistan to fight the Russians, but the skill sets they’d learned, along with the madrassas’ promotion of jihad, didn’t leave them many options when the Russians left.
It was inevitable that when the Soviets quit Afghanistan, the hundreds of thousands of armed and angry jihadists in Pakistan would become an incredible thorn in the side of the government there. And it was equally inevitable that these armed and angry jihadists would push into the vacuum that was post-Soviet Afghanistan.
And thus began the story of the Taliban, which created the safe haven for Al-Qaeda, which brought Western coalition forces over a decade earlier.
Ryan sipped his coffee, tried to focus his thoughts back on his duties and away from the big geopolitical issues that governed all. When his dad made it back into the White House, then his dad would have all that to worry about. Junior, on the other hand, had to deal with the comparatively tiny day-to-day ramifications of all those big problems. Small stuff, like ID’ing some mutt for Sam and Dom. They had e-mailed him another batch of pictures for him to look at. Pictures including some of the unknown Pakistani who had met with el Daboussi the day before.
Ryan forwarded that e-mail to Tony Wills, the analyst who worked in the cubicle next to Jack’s. Tony would work on ID’ing the subject. For now, Jack knew he needed to concentrate on the other team in the field, John Clark and Domingo Chavez.
Ding and John were in Europe at the moment, in Frankfurt, and they were mulling over their options. They’d spent the last two days preparing a surveillance operation to monitor an Al-Qaeda banker who would be heading into Luxembourg for some meetings, but the man canceled his trip from Islamabad at the last minute. The men were all dressed up with no place to go, so Jack decided he’d spend some time this morning digging deeper into the background of the European bankers the URC man planned on meeting with, in the hopes of getting a fresh lead for his colleagues in Europe to check out before they packed up and came home.
For this reason, Jack had rolled in to work much earlier than usual. He did not want them to return with nothing to show for their trip; it was his responsibility to feed them the intel they needed to find the bad guys, and he’d spend the next few hours trying to find them some bad guys.
He scanned through the XITS and a proprietary software program created by Gavin Biery, The Campus’s head of IT. Gavin’s catcher program searched data strings following the wishes of the analysts here at The Campus. It allowed them to filter out much of the intelligence that was not relevant to their current projects, and for Jack this software had been a godsend.
Ryan opened a series of files with clicks of his mouse. While he did this, he marveled at the number of tidbits of intelligence that were coming on a one-way street from U.S. allies these days.
It depressed him a little, not because he didn’t want America’s allies to share intel; rather, he was bothered because, these days, it was not a two-way street.
To most in the U.S. intelligence community, it was an outrageous scandal that President Edward Kealty and his political appointees in top intelligence posts had spent the past four years degrading the U.S.’s abilities to unilaterally spy on other countries. Kealty and his people had instead shifted the focus of intelligence gathering, relying not on America’s own robust spy services but instead relying on the intelligence services in foreign nations to provide information to the CIA. This was safer politically and diplomatically, Kealty correctly determined, although diminishing America’s spy services was unsafe in every other respect. The administration had all but precluded nonofficial cover operators from working in allied nations, and CIA clandestine-services people functioning in overseas embassies found themselves hamstrung with even more rules and regs, which made the already difficult dance of their work nearly impossible.
The Kealty administration had promised more “openness” and “transparency” in the clandestine CIA. Jack Junior’s father had written an op-ed in The Washington Post that suggested, in a manner that was still respectful to the office of the presidency, that Ed Kealty might want to look up the word clandestine in the dictionary.
Kealty’s intel appointees had eschewed human intelligence, instead stressing signals intelligence and electronic intelligence. Spy satellites and drones were far, far safer from a diplomatic standpoint, so these technologies were implemented more than ever. Needless to say, longtime CIA HUMINT specialists complained, quite rightly saying that although drones do a spectacular job showing us the top of an enemy’s head, they were inferior to human assets, who often could tell us what was inside the enemy’s head. But these HUMINT proponents were seen by many as dinosaurs, and their arguments were ignored.
Oh, well, Ryan thought. Dad will be in charge in a few months, he was sure of it, and he hoped most or all of the damage done could be undone during his father’s four-year term.
He pushed these thoughts out of his head so he could concentrate, and he took a long swig of quickly cooling coffee to help his still-sleepy mind focus. He kept clicking on the one-way overnight intelligence haul, paying special attention to Europe, as that was where Chavez and Clark were right now.
Wait. Here was something new. Ryan opened a file that sat in the inbox of an analyst at CIA’s OREA, the Office of Russian and European Analysis. Jack scanned it quickly, but something piqued his interest, so he went back and read it word for word. Apparently someone at DCRI, the French internal security arm, was letting a colleague at CIA know that they’d gotten a tip that a “person of interest” would be arriving at Charles de Gaulle that afternoon. Not a big deal in itself, and certainly not something that would have been pushed into one of Jack’s queries on its own, except for a name. The French intelligence source, not described in the message to CIA but likely some form of SIGINT or HUMINT, gave them reason to suspect the POI, a man only known to the French as Omar 8, was a recruiter for the Umayyad Revolutionary Council. DCRI heard he would touch down at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 1:10 that afternoon on an Air France flight from Tunis, and then he would be picked up by local associates and taken to an apartment in Seine-Saint-Denis, not far from the airport.
It looked to Jack like the Frenchies did not know much about this Omar 8. They suspected he was URC, but he wasn’t someone they were particularly interested in themselves. The CIA didn’t know much about him, either—so little that the analyst at OREA had not even replied yet or forwarded the message to Paris Station.
Neither the CIA nor the DCRI had much information on this POI, but Jack Ryan Jr. knew all about Omar 8. Ryan had gotten his intelligence straight from the horse’s mouth. Saif Rahman Yasin, aka the Emir, “gave up” Omar 8’s identity the previous spring, while under interrogation by The Campus.
Jack thought about that for a second. Interrogation? No . . . It was torture. No sense calling it anything else. Still, in this case anyway, it had been effective. Effective enough to know Omar 8’s real name was Hosni Iheb Rokki. Effective enough to know he was a thirty-three-year-old Tunisian, and effective enough to know he was not a recruiter for the URC. He was a lieutenant in their operational wing.
Jack immediately found it odd that this guy would be in France. Jack had read Rokki’s file many times, as he had read the files of all the known players in all the major terrorist organizations. The guy was not known to ever leave Yemen or Pakistan, except for rare trips home to Tunis. But here he was, flying into Paris under a known alias.
Jack was excited by this nugget of intel. No, Hosni Rokki was no big fish in the world of international terror; these days, after the incredible degradation of the URC brought on by The Campus, there was only one URC operative who could be considered a serious player on an international level. That man’s name was Abdul bin Mohammed al Qahtani, and he was the operational wing commander of the organization.
Ryan would give anything for a shot at al Qahtani.
Rokki was no al Qahtani, but, wandering around France, so far from his normal area of operations, he was certainly interesting.
On a whim, Jack clicked open a folder on his desktop that contained a subfolder on each and every terrorist, suspected terrorist, cutout, etc. This was not the database used by the intelligence community at large. Virtually all federal agencies used the TIDE, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. Ryan had access to this massive file system, but he found it unwieldy and populated with way too many nobodies to be of any use to him. He referred to the TIDE when he was building his own folder, or Rogues Gallery, as he called it, but only for specific information on specific subjects. Most of the rest of the data for his Rogues Gallery was his own research, with odds and ends added on by his fellow analysts here at The Campus. It was a tremendous amount of work, but the effort itself had already paid dividends. As often as not, Jack found himself not needing to check his folder, because in the preparation of the files he had committed the vast majority of this information to memory, and he allowed himself to forget a tidbit of intel only once the man or woman had been confirmed dead by multiple reliable sources.
But since Rokki was not a rock star, Ryan did not remember all of the man’s specs, so he clicked on Hosni Rokki’s folder, took a look at the pictures of his face, scrolled down the data sheet, and confirmed what he already knew. As far as any Western intelligence agency was aware, Rokki had never been to Europe.
Jack then opened the folder of Abdul bin Mohammed al Qahtani. There was only one picture on file; it was a few years old, but the resolution was good. Jack didn’t bother reading the data sheet on this guy, because Jack had written it himself. No Western intelligence agency had known anything about al Qahtani until after the capture and interrogation of the Emir. Once the man’s name and occupation passed the Emir’s lips, Ryan and the other analysts at The Campus went to work piecing together the history of the man. Jack himself took the lead on the project, and it was something he couldn’t take much pride in, since the information they’d managed to compile after a year of work was so goddamned thin.
Al Qahtani had always been camera- and media-shy, but he became incredibly elusive after the disappearance of the Emir. Once they knew who he was, he seemed to just drop off the map. He’d stayed in the dark for the past year, until last week, that is, when fellow Campus analyst Tony Wills uncovered a coded posting on a jihadist website claiming al Qahtani had called for reprisals against European nations—namely, France—for passing laws outlawing the wearing of burkas and head scarves.
The Campus distributed that intel—covertly, of course—back out to the intelligence community at large.
Ryan connected the dots, such as they were. The head of URC ops wants to strike out at France, and within a week a junior achiever in the organization shows up in country, apparently to meet with others.
Tenuous. Tenuous at best. Certainly not something that would normally make Ryan move operators to the area. Under normal circumstances, after this sighting he and his coworkers would just make a point of monitoring French intelligence feeds and CIA Paris Station traffic to see if anything else developed during Hosni Rokki’s European vacation.
But Ryan knew Clark and Chavez were in Frankfurt, just a quick hop away. Further, they were geared up and ready to go for a surveillance op.
Should he send them to Paris to try and learn something from Rokki’s movements or contacts? Yes. Hell, it was a no-brainer. A URC goon, out in the open? The Campus might as well find out what he was up to.
Jack grabbed his phone and pushed a two-digit code. It would be just after noon in Frankfurt.
While he waited for the connection to be made, Jack picked up his melting ice pack and held it to the back of his sore neck.
John Clark answered on the first ring. “Hey, John, it’s Jack. Something popped up. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it looks semi-promising. How do you feel about taking a side trip to Paris?”
One hundred miles south of Denver, Colorado, on Highway 67, a 640-acre complex of buildings, towers, and fences sprawls across the flatlands in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
Tom Clancy is America’s, and the world’s, favorite international thriller author. Starting with The Hunt for Red October, all thirteen of his previous books have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. His books, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears have been made into major motion pictures. He lives in Maryland where he is a co-owner of the Baltimore Orioles.
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First of all, I just have to say that if some of these reviewers haven't figured out by now that a novel written 'with' the author is never up to the standards of a novel written 'by' the author then maybe they should stick to non-fiction. Second of all, if you're going to let 2 short phrases out of a 544 page novel, sway your opinion of the whole book then why waste your money on a Clancy novel to begin with? No criticism of Fox News? That's right, but I didn't see any criticism of CNN either and they are just as liberally biased as Fox is Conservative. Who the heck watches MSNBC anyway? Can you imagine the plot for a spy/action/war/espionage novel written by an author with liberal bias? What would it be about; how polite we were when we asked for our drone back? How many of our guys get killed before we get to fire back? What's the proper degree of back bend when bowing to the Chinese premier or the king of Saudi Arabia? What's the protocol for a state dinner for the president of Iran? Ok, now that I have that off my chest, I thought this was a very well written, exciting and well researched book. It's what I look for in an action novel of this type; action, excitement, intrigue, heroism, the good guys beat the bad guys. The bad guys don't play fair, why should we? In short - when I read about about US forces against enemy forces I like it when we win. Now I too am going to go back and reread some on Clancy's older novels (with and by) so I can refresh my memory on how some of the old characters like John and Chavez developed. I will continue to be Clancy fan until until his choice of co-authors forgets whose side he or she is on.
Read this book in 5 days. Couldn't put it down. The twist of the election and the biased and evil billionaire (George Soros?) Was a nice turn. The complaining from others about the liberal bashing is comical. Where are your complaints on the poor products being turned out by the liberal media daily in real life? This is a FICTION book written as entertainment. Reading is a true escape for me and Tom Clancy writings really help me relax. Can't wait for the next one in this series. Thank you Tom!
Not even finished with this book. Its back to the old ways and its great!! To all u bleeding heart liberals... bet its just not nice when somebody tells you how the world really operates and the media can't ignore it or cover it up huh? love it!! So glad to see you back Tom!
Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney have a armchair gripping spy thriller that is eerily pertinent with regard to current international affairs. Even though this is fiction, it opens the reader's eyes to the very real possibility that a variant these circumstances could conceivably happen in any of several unstable countries or sympathetic governments with a dual agenda. At 853 pages it's a whopper--but it's a fast read. I finished it in 3 days time. If nothing else, I gives the reader a good reason to keep informed on international and national events...not to be lulled into complacency in today's endless cable news cycles with a biased agenda, and not take every postulation at face value. Pretty sure there's another round forthcoming!
I hesitated in ordering this book as I felt Clancy's later work wasn't on par with his earlier Jack Ryan novels (Bear and the Dragon was terrible in my opinion). That said, when I heard several years ago that a new series was starting with a new generation of characters, including Jack Jr. I didn't have much hope and stayed away from the earlier installments. I now wish I hadn't as I'm very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the writing and the level of detail and character development he goes into. In that respect, compared to Clancy at his best, most the writers of this genre (even those that I enjoy very much) can't compete. Is it a perfect book? No. But it is very enjoyable and the quality of story telling reminds me of Clancy's earlier writings.
How far will career politicians go to save their own careers?? Tom gives you insight into it. It's harsh but blunt in pointing out there are no limits or concerns for collateral damage to other people or even their own co-horts. Against a backround of middle east terrorism,that we have been through before, the political plot is what stays with you and continues into the next Clancy novel. The novel ends open ended. Enjoy the read.
Excellent book. Keeps you reading. So hard to put down
Clancy's books featuring Jack Ryan have always hustled right along, with good characterizations, excellent scene setting, and the ability to put the reader into the action without bogging one down in boring minutiae. This book is no different, and if that's all you're looking for you won't be disappointed. But over the years, Clancy has actually changed the Ryan character significantly. While Ryan was never completely apolitical, he seemed to operate above that plane, on a more noble level, his actions as often as not based on practical, realistic considerations instead of base political ones. In this book, virtually every page has some form of right-wing political commentary - a piece of dialog, a character's thought, an author's note meant to set the scene. At times the book reads like it was co-written by a Fox News commentator. According to the authors, the entire Campus team is made up of noble, dedicated, Oliver North types, working their brave patriotic magic behind the scenes because the venal, cowardly powers that be just can't be trusted to do what is right. The American press is assumed to be liberal; anyone whose politics are to the left of Dick Cheney is simple minded, deluded, greedy, or dedicated to the destruction of all that is right and good. There is no middle ground in this tale, no possibility that people can accept the movements toward popular self-determination across the Middle east without believing that there is the possibility that our strategic interests may not be served but that we may not have a say in the matter. This book is full of moral absolutes, both domestically and internationally; it's a black-and-white version of a technicolor world. You'll enjoy it if that's how you think, but if your mind is more open to other opinions, I think you'll find it hard to slog through the endless editorializing.
This book was truly difficult to put down. The only problem with it is it did too good of a job setting up the follow up novel. I just wish I could order it now.
The former Rainbow Six and the Campus guys pull the worlds bacon out of the fire once more. Good book but you need a diagram to keep track of who is who. So many middel eastern names it's hard to keep track. It is a believable trip into the minds of those that threaten our American way of life both internally and externally.
I have all the ryan series and this is the best. I read it in 2 days couldnt put it down
No more for me. Read all the Clancy books. Sometimes more than once. Really well written. Now it's time to move on. These books that are co-wtitten are just not worth the money or the time. All of these super heros that always win the far-fetched battles. Not realistic in any way. I'll not longer be a reader of Clancy. Locked on is not worth the effort. Half way through I started to skip read to get it over with. exfan
This book is awesomeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Clancy's co-authored works lack the depth of characters and intricacy of plot of his older, better works. An ok read and a decent time-waster but instantly forgettable and far below the standards I expect of Mr. Clancy.
Intrigue. Clancy and Baldacci are the authors I read most frequently. This one I'm not so sure, it seems pretty biased especially during this election year. If you get past that, it's a run of the mill thriller, well written of course.
"Locked On" is not up to Clancy's earlier works. For Instance it lacked continuity with Clark's character. The ending was poor, even if the intention is to have a sequel to his volume. Terrible if not. If Tom needs an assistant to write, let that person stick to research, etc.
Another fast pace book by one if my favorite authors.... just now have to wait for the next one to come out....the twist and turns just kept me turning the pages....and to leave it hanging at the end just makes me yearn for more... great series continues with old casts of people along with bringing on new ones..... Anthony
Great read and from the ending there is more coming
Use to be a fan but good things come to an end. The plot is stiffer than a piece of plywood. Cobbled together without interest. Skip this one.
While I usually really enjoy his books I found that this one was more of a plot justifying a political position at the expense of good storytelling. I prefer good stories to ones that proselytize. Sadly the politicking in the book became so blatant I was unable to finish reading the book, which for me, a prolific reader for more than half a century, is incredibly rare. I just wasted my money on this one. Sadly this will make me leery of purchasing his books in the future. Although it is of no significance, I consider myself a political conservative. That said, I do not read a book that might serve to support my political views; I read a book for pleasure and personal enjoyment. Maybe as this was a collaborative work, though, I am being too presumptive in blaming the primary author (at least it seems he is, based on the cover). That said, it's your dime (actually several) to spend as you please.
I think that Jack Jr's coming of age is another great spin for this series. Already hooked and waiting on the follow up.
Good read. Good action. Glad to see what The Campus and Rainbow crews get involved with.
Enjoyed this work after being diverted to other authors for a time. Mostly well written and well edited. It seems I always reached the "good parts" at bed time. The plot's premise plays to the prejudices of my military mind. Fortunately, the premise is believable enough and made a good story. Some of the whiz bang is so extreme that I was left left thinking "oh really" but not extreme enough for me to put the book down. Upon reflection, some of the rescues were beyond improbable but they are entertaining as they are read. I found the political commentary gratuitous, distracting and stilted. It was easy to skip because it seemed to have been "plugged in" after the story was completed. Government by ideology seems a bad idea and a novel is a poor place to convince me otherwise. Besides, who says "liberals" are less responsive to reality than "conservatives". The political commentary is less prominent in this book than it is in some other books of the same genre. Flynn is much worse, for example. I would prefer that such material be omitted, not because I disagree with it (which is a fact) but because it detracts from the work. I recommend the book because it is a good and absorbing read, but it is not "Hunt for Red October". Unless you are a fan of ideological conservatism, skip the political commentary however. It is easy to isolate.
Books are ahh-mazing