After an intelligence failure at Op-Center results in a major terrorist attack, director Chase Williams radically transforms the agency into a ground-breaking mobile strike force.
It’s a beautiful day in Manhattan as excited tourists board the floating Air & Space Museum on the USS Intrepiduntil a horrible explosion rips across the flight deck, showering the body parts of innocent people everywhere. The perpetrator is none other than Captain Ahmed Salehi, an Iranian mastermind whose last terrorism plot was foiled at the last minute by Op-Center.
Back in Washington, the White House orders Op-Center disbandedor so it seems. Unbeknownst to America’s enemies, director Chase Williams has been put in charge of a brand-new, top-secret covert attack team known only as BLACK WASP. Its members, each chosen for their unique set of specialized black-ops skillsmartial arts expert Lieutenant Grace Lee, sharpshooter Lance Corporal Jaz Rivette, and JAG attorney and criminologist Major Hamilton Breenhave been assigned to seek out Salehi and finally bring him to justice.
But Salehi is part of an even more frightening conspiracy, led by a renegade Iranian tycoon determined to establish a new Islamic State that will dwarf the horrors of ISIS. From the heart of Manhattan, to the swamps of Trinidad, to the sunbaked mud villages of Yemen, this new Op-Center is America’s only line of defense against a bloody Middle Eastern tyrant.
About the Author
JEFF ROVIN is the author of more than 150 books, fiction and nonfiction, both under his own name, under various pseudonyms, or as a ghostwriter, including numerous New York Times bestsellers and over a dozen of the original Tom Clancy’s Op-Center novels.
Date of Birth:April 12, 1947
Date of Death:October 1, 2013
Place of Birth:Baltimore, Maryland
Education:Loyola High School in Towson, Maryland, 1965; B.A. in English, Loyola College, 1969
Read an Excerpt
Op-Center Headquarters, Fort Belvoir North, Springfield, Virginia July 22, 9:26 a.m.
Every device owned by Chase Williams came active at once — personal cell, office cell, tablet, and all three landlines. He had been reviewing intelligence reports from Asia when the symphony of tones and beeps told him that something terrible had gone down. The only question the director of Op-Center — formally, the National Crisis Management Center — had was who he wanted to hear it from.
Williams chose the secure landline on his desk. The caller ID was Matt Berry, deputy chief of staff to President Wyatt Midkiff. The team of intelligence advisors who worked or visited the White House regularly was known around town as the "party planners"; among those, Berry was a bit of an outlier, a mystery. He did not have the respect of the heavy hitters but the president trusted him. Berry was a close friend of Op-Center's Brian Dawson and he had become the team's unofficial inside man at the White House. If Williams had to get bad news, the former Navy four-star combatant commander wanted it immediately contextualized. But he simultaneously flipped his desktop to CNN to see what he had missed. The crawl and live images gave him a quick, sickening synopsis. Nor was Berry's information as comprehensive as Williams had hoped.
"Matt?" Williams said. "What —"
"Conference call with the president, in the Tank, now," Berry said.
Berry hung up the phone just as Deputy Director Anne Sullivan swung through the door. The sixty-year-old Op-Center director rose, answered her concerned look with a shrug, and told her what Berry had said.
"You know anything?" Williams asked as he grabbed his sports jacket from the hook behind the door.
"I think we're in shit," she replied, nodding toward his desk.
He looked back at the tablet. There was a security camera photograph from the computer of Kathleen Hays, Op-Center's visual analysis specialist. Beneath it was a name in black type.
Williams swore. Anne was correct, as always. He jabbed the name with a finger, waited a moment. The only data that came up was a tab for the file they had closed on July 3.
"Find out why we did not know this," Williams said vaguely as he hurried past Sullivan toward the electronic and scientific brain center of Op-Center.
Williams's voice seldom reflected what he was feeling. Decades of service at Pacific Command and Central Command had taught him, as Kipling had written, that he had to keep his head while all around him were losing theirs. But his quiet order to Anne concealed rage that burned at an uncommon level. Captain Ahmed Salehi had been their target. His defeat had been their doing. Even though he had disappeared into the shrouded corridors of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, they should have seen him emerge.
Not just emerge, Williams thought. Emerge quickly and with a plan of counterattack. His team had underestimated the man and civilians had died, another black day marked on the American calendar.
It was a short walk, and Williams did not consciously avoid the looks of the employees he passed. But his thoughts were scattered, partly on what to do next and partly on what the president would do next. He could not even allow himself to dwell on the horror of what he had glimpsed a minute ago. That would come at night, when he tried to sleep.
The Geek Tank was Op-Center's technological heart, the locus for all raw, incoming data. Williams looked out across the ring of fourteen young tech wizards, all bent toward their multiple screens. Most would be continuing to look for threats. Others would already be investigating his directive to Anne.
"Find out why we did not know this ..."
His own words played over and over like a dirge. But he could not allow himself to mourn. Most of the twenty- and thirtysomething Op-Center team had never experienced a national disaster. They would have to be motivated, bootstrapped, made more vigilant, not allowed to wallow. Senior management would have to revisit every active individual, cell, warlord, anti-American movement both domestic and global, foreign radical — search for more than just threat analysis algorithms but use intuition and experience to identify potential threats.
Why did we not know about Salehi? Williams asked himself with anger that was now tinged with shame. The team had failed but, worse, the leader had failed the team. And people died as the world watched.
Williams's index finger was scanned and the Tank door popped open. He pushed the sound-absorbing panel shut behind him, sat at the small conference table, and spoke his name plus a code word —"Nedla," his father's name backwards. That activated the wall-mounted audiovisual system that only a handful of voices could turn on. Not only was that photonic band line secure, the room itself was sheathed in an electronic web that prevented any other signals from getting out. Anne had once described the Tank as a grand jury room where the fate of civilization was on trial. Williams felt that now, though when he saw the face of the president and the others he knew it was not the future of the world being decided. Also present on the split-screen view were National Security Advisor Trevor Harward, who was in the Oval Office with President Midkiff; January Dow, who headed the INR, the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and FBI Deputy Director Allen Kim. The vice president was in China, planning for a post–Kim Jung-un unification of North and South Korea, and the president saw no reason to terminate that critical mission. The man who had told Williams about the meeting, Matt Berry, was not present. That told the director all he needed to know. Without an ally, and with Dow having actively and openly campaigned against the autonomy Op-Center had enjoyed, this wasn't a meeting. It was an execution.
The African-American woman was speaking as Williams plugged-in.
"... movements were not known until he wanted them to be known," she was saying. "As far as we can determine, someone matching Salehi's general physical description arrived at the embassy on July 7 just before midnight. If he moved in and out he did so in Pakistani state vehicles."
"The man who seems to have been traveling with him today?" Midkiff asked, consulting his own tablet.
"We do not yet know that," she said. "He was wearing a baseball cap and seemed to take care not to appear on camera."
"Any competent New York mugger knows how to avoid our goddam security cameras," Harward complained.
The president finally looked at the screen. "You have anything to contribute, Director Williams?"
It was "Director Williams," not "Chase." That was the first salvo.
"No, Mr. President," Williams replied.
"Nothing after July 3?" January asked Williams pointedly, referring to the file Op-Center had distributed among its fellow intelligence services. "No red flags?"
"No, Ms. Dow."
Confirming nearly three weeks of inactivity. That was the second salvo.
Williams was watching the president carefully. Midkiff's eyes shifted to the clock on the screen. The president's mind was not, at the moment, on forensics. It was not on the past but on the future. That was the third salvo.
"Director Williams, effective fourteen minutes from now, at ten a.m., the charter for Op-Center will be revoked. The personnel has just been informed that they are to remain on-premises until notified, though all security access has already been terminated and research locked in place. The reassignment of said personnel will be turned over to Mr. Harward. In recognition of your service, Mr. Williams, the delictum organizational status will not require your resignation. You will, I trust, have no difficulty vacating by ten?"
"None whatsoever, Mr. President," Williams replied.
The screen went black. The silence in the Tank was overwhelming. The weight of his negligence, of his failure, of how he let his team — his friends — down was greater still. Every shred of vitality seemed to leave him; like Dorian Gray's portrait, he felt as though he had aged countless years in a moment.
Williams could not lift his big frame from the chair. He looked around the Tank, at the pitchers of water, at the glasses — Anne had written her name on hers — at the ghosts of countless meetings, of crises successfully resolved.
All but one, he thought bitterly. And that is how a career, how a life, is to be defined — like George S. Patton slapping a frightened soldier, not helping to win the Second World War. Like George Armstrong Custer massacred at Little Big Horn, not courageously leading attacks at Gettysburg, commandeering a horse when his own was shot from under him. Williams briefly chided himself for not accepting this defeat like a man, but an officer was more than a man: he was an ideal. And this exemplar of leadership had collapsed into ash.
And self-pity, he told himself. That had to stop, since he still had to walk from the Tank to his office to the front door within about ten minutes. Failure to do so could well result in his being escorted out by the security officers at the front door. How Williams made his egress would also mark him in the eyes of those who had served under him. It would stick to him and, perhaps, remind those around him to be more vigilant.
He could do that much, make it to his car as though all was right with him. Pressing his palms to the table and pushing off, he strode to the door, drew back his shoulders, and made his way briskly through faces that were averted but eyes that followed. He acknowledged no one, not even Anne who was waiting outside his office.
"What can I do?" she asked as he moved past.
"Whatever Harward needs," he said, then stopped and looked back at her. "Take care of yourself," he said less stringently. He smiled, his eyes moist. "And thank you."
She nodded, tight-lipped, as Williams grabbed his cell phone from the desk and left. He refused to carry photographs and mementoes from his office; they would be sent. There was a difference between retreat and defeat, and maybe that was it. As MacArthur understood when he left the Philippines, how you left mattered.CHAPTER 2
Bradley International Airport, Hartford, Connecticut July 22, 12:03 p.m.
Were it a direct flight, the trip from Bradley International Airport to Benazir Bhutto Airport in Islamabad was nearly 6,800 miles. From there, the trip to Tehran would have been another 1,200 miles. But it was not a nonstop trip, nor would the schedule have worked for Salehi or his three traveling companions.
They had taken two separate Ubers for the two-hour drive, and would be traveling on different flights. The Akif family — still on tour — would be flying to Montreal and then separate, the chemist taking a train to Toronto for "diplomatic" business and then flying to Vancouver, his daughter and granddaughter waiting a day in a hotel before joining him. From there, they would go to Tokyo and then home. Salehi, traveling as Balvan Prabhu, was headed to Puerto Rico en route to Antigua. Because his face and probably his identity were known, it had been decided that he would not go to a major European or Asian airport but, again, to show a Sikh face and identity at a smaller terminal. None would use their diplomatic credentials since American intelligence services would be watching for that: the connection between the attack on the Intrepid, Iran, and Pakistan was too direct, too obvious. Instead, they used false passports that indicated they were Indian citizens, headed home from their respective vacations. Each had the souvenirs to prove it, packed in luggage that held clothes, toiletries, reading material, and little more. The only reason they were departing from the same airport was so that each could keep an eye on the other. If something went wrong, representatives of Pakistan would be informed; they were waiting in a nearby motel room to lend assistance. These agents would insist on taking the Akifs or Salehi into custody, in Pakistan, to await proper extradition procedures. It was unlikely that the request would be denied; Washington would be hard-pressed to explain what they had done to Salehi to merit his radical act. The narrative would quickly turn to an unprovoked attack on an Iranian cargo ship in international waters. The incident would also involve the Russians, who would deny that nuclear missiles had ever been involved.
Salehi never had any use for international politics or diplomatic posturing. In this case, however, he was a useful shield.
Because his command of English was limited to a few nautical terms, Salehi did not understand the news reports on the Uber radio, or the comments of the driver. But there was a tablet on the passenger's seat and Salehi indicated that he should like to see the images. There was video that showed the fires still burning and firefighters in hazmat suits combating them. Rows of aircraft had lost their footing and lay lopsided and damaged, some beyond recognition. There were numbers in an accompanying article. The higher number, seventy-seven, must have been the wounded and hospitalized; the smaller, fifty-two, the number of dead. There was a momentary twinge of sadness when Salehi thought about the man he saw, the old seaman, who was the first to die. The captain apologized inside; a sailor should die in water, not flame.
As for the rest? He felt nothing much one way or the other. He had seen people die before, many times. Soldiers, seamen, civilians, children. This was simply the price of a new ship, the need to prove his worth as an Iranian man and naval officer. Above all, Salehi was grateful for this opportunity to redeem himself. That did not happen often in life, less so in Iran.
Which made the triumph all the more sweet.
Before getting in the Uber, the captain had removed his yarmulke and replaced it with the turban he had concealed under his shirt. He was now Sikh. He did not see the Akif family and, better, saw no other Sikhs — which was one reason he had chosen to depart from a less convenient location. He had only rudimentary training in Sikh customs and might be easily exposed. Anyone going to India or Pakistan from this section of the country would most likely leave by way of New York or Boston. Which was the other reason for leaving from Hartford: it was easier for persons on watch lists or with no-fly tags on their names or faces to lose themselves in one of those airports, or Philadelphia, or Washington, than to hide here. An older Sikh man with a perpetual smile would attract no attention — other than a kind of deferential courtesy. He had been told that Americans like to signal how tolerant and embracing they were by acting pleasantly around those who boldly asserted their cultural, religious, national, or sexual uniqueness.
The wait for his flight was uneventful. Salehi watched the news on overhead monitors, uninterrupted coverage of what he had done. President Midkiff said something from the White House, other officials looked grave and also spoke. They even showed his picture, the one he had virtually posed for prior to leaving the Intrepid. Sitting here with a cup of tea and a roll, he seemed to all the world like a man with nothing on his mind other than going home.
Which was entirely true. That, and presenting himself before the magistrates of Branch 1 of the Iranian Military Court to officially request the cleansing of his record and the assignment of a vessel to replace the Nardis.
Shortly after one p.m., the four figures from the Intrepid were airborne.
Only one had been noticed and, being noticed, would not be permitted to continue as planned.CHAPTER 3
Fort Belvoir North, Springfield, Virginia July 22, 12:05 p.m.
If the morning had not gone as Chase Williams could have imagined, the afternoon was more unlikely still.
The reason Matt Berry had not been on the call from the White House was because the deputy chief of staff had been waiting in his BMW in the Op-Center parking lot. When he saw Williams leave through the opaque glass doors, Berry left the car and walked toward him. The DCS was a head shorter than Williams, but no one would have known that to look at them. If a man's broken spirit could shrink him by a foot or more, that was Williams.
It took a moment for the former director to recognize his colleague, that's how lost he was inside. He stopped a few feet from Berry.
"Hostile friend or friendly hostile?" Williams asked. It was a question that had been debated in training sessions for combat-bound soldiers ever since Desert Storm: which would you rather encounter and who would you be more likely to trust.
"Neither, Chase," Berry said. "I'm the guy with your next assignment."
The statement was as impactful as it was unexpected. "What is this, a mercy fu —"
"No," Berry interrupted, mildly insulted. "I'm here by order of the president." He jerked a thumb behind him. "Get in the car. We'll talk."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tom Clancy's Op-Center"
Copyright © 2019 Jack Ryan.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
too much reality mixed with a good read
I really enjoyed this book. It my first time reading Op-Center book and I found it very enjoyable. I have read all the other Yom Clancy novels, I will now need to start at the beginning of the Op-Center series and get caught up.
Having read all of Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, I thought I’d give the Op Center a try, and I’m glad I did. Lots of action with characters that are almost super-human in their abilities to protect the country from those who would do us wrong. Looking forward to the next installment already, and I think I’ll go back and find out what I’ve missed.