The stately calm of a Washington morning is shattered when a group of terrorists descends, killing dozens and taking nearly one hundred hostages as they try to infiltrate the White House. The Secret Service immediately evacuates the president to an underground bunker—and while officials argue over how best to negotiate with the enemy, Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s top counterterrorism operative, moves stealthily among the hidden corridors and secret passageways of the nation’s capital to save the hostages before the terrorists reach the president. But there’s someone waiting in the wings, someone within the Washington elite, who is determined to see Rapp’s rescue mission fail.
With heart-pounding thrills and feverish pacing, Transfer of Power “mixes in a spicy broth of brutal terrorists, heroic commandos, and enough secret-agent hijinks to keep the confrontation bubbling until its flag-raising end” (Publishers Weekly).
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A fine mist fell from the darkening spring sky as the black limousine turned off of E Street. The armor-plated car weaved through the concrete-and-steel barricades at a speed suggesting urgency. As the limousine turned onto West Executive Drive, it slowed briefly for the heavy black gate to open, and then sped forward. After splashing through several puddles, the limo came to an abrupt stop in front of the ground-floor entrance to the West Wing of the White House.
The rear passenger door opened immediately, and Dr. Irene Kennedy stepped from the car. She walked under the long off-white awning that extended from the building to the curb and paused to let her boss catch up. Thomas Stansfield slowly climbed out of the limo and buttoned the jacket of his charcoal gray suit. At seventy-nine years of age Stansfield was an icon in the intelligence community. His career dated all the way back to World War II and the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. Stansfield had been one of Wild Bill Donovan's recruits almost sixty years earlier -- a different war fought by a different breed. Stansfield was the last one. Now they were all gone, retired or dead, and it wouldn't be much longer before he turned over the reins of power at the much-maligned and embattled intelligence agency.
The CIA had changed during his tenure. More precisely, the threats had changed, and the CIA was forced to change with them. The old static days of a two-superpower world were long gone, replaced by small regional conflicts and the ever-growing threat of terrorism. As Stansfield closed out his career, this was what bothered him most. The threat of one individual bringing biological, chemical, or nuclear annihilation to America was becoming more and more plausible.
Stansfield looked up at the lazy mist that was falling from the early evening sky. A light spray dusted his face, and the silver-haired director of the CIA blinked. Something was bothering him, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Stansfield gave the darkening sky one last look and then stepped under the awning.
Kennedy continued through the double doors, where two uniformed Secret Service officers were standing post, and started down the long hall. This was the first floor of the West Wing. The president's office was located on the floor above, but that was not where they would be meeting. Irene Kennedy sped ahead, while Stansfield followed at his always even pace.
Down the hallway, on the right, a U.S. Navy officer stood in his cleanly pressed black uniform with his hands clasped firmly in front of him. "Good evening, Dr. Kennedy. Everything is ready. The generals and the president are waiting for you." The watch officer of the White House Situation Room gestured to his left.
"Thank you, Commander Hicks," replied Kennedy as she walked past the naval officer.
They went down several steps, took a right, and came to a secure door with a camera mounted above it. To the left was a black-and-gold plaque with the words "White House Situation Room: Restricted Access."
The lock on the door buzzed, and Kennedy pushed the door open. She entered and turned to her left, into the Situation Room's new conference room. Director Stansfield followed her, and Commander Hicks closed the soundproof door behind them.
President Robert Hayes, dressed in a tuxedo, stood at the far end of the room and listened intently to the two men in front of him. The first, General Flood, was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Flood was six four and weighed almost two hundred seventy pounds. The second man was General Campbell, a half foot shorter than his superior and one hundred pounds lighter. Campbell was the commander of the U.S. military's Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC. Before taking his most recent job, he had proudly commanded the famous 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps.
President Hayes had been in office for only five months, and thus far had a decent working relationship with both the Pentagon and the CIA. Before being elected president, Robert Xavier Hayes had served as both U.S. congressman and senator. The Democrat from Ohio had been elected to the highest office in the land largely because he had a very clean personal life and was seen as someone who could mend the ever-deepening divide between the two parties. The previous administration had been rife with scandal, so much so that the American people had overwhelmingly picked someone whose personal life could pass the rigorous scrutiny of the press. Hayes was happily married and had three children in their thirties, all of whom had managed to stay off the tabloid covers and live relatively normal lives.
Kennedy set her briefcase on a chair near the end of the long table and said, "If everyone will be seated, we can get started." She felt rushed. Things were coming together at a frantic pace.
Director Stansfield greeted the two generals and the president. No one was in a talkative mood. The president worked his way around to the opposite end of the table and sat in his high-backed leather chair. All four walls of the room were covered with dark wood except a square section behind the president. That portion of the wall was white, and in the middle of it was the circular seal of the president of the United States.
With the president at the head of the table, the two generals sat on his right and Director Stansfield on his left. Kennedy handed each of the men identical folders that were sealed with red tape and marked Top Secret.
"Please feel free to open the files while I get the rest of the materials ready." Kennedy pushed some of her shoulder-length brown hair back behind her ear. After several seconds of digging through her briefcase, she found the right disk and inserted it into the A drive of the computer under the podium. About sixty seconds later the director of the CIA's Counter-terrorism Center was ready to start.
A map of the Persian Gulf appeared on the large screen to Kennedy's right, and she began, "Mr. President, four days ago we inserted one of our people into the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas. Our man was operating on some information he received that Sheik Fara Harut might be in the city." Kennedy pressed a button, and the screen changed from the map to a grainy black-and-white photograph of a bearded man in a turban. "Fara Harut, shown here in this 1983 photograph, is the religious leader of the militant Islamic group Hezbollah. He has very strong ties to the religious conservatives in Iran." Kennedy glanced sideways at the president and added, "You may have noted some mention of him in your PDB." Kennedy was referring to the President's Daily Brief, an intelligence summary given to him every morning by the CIA.
The president nodded. "I recall the name."
Kennedy pressed a button, and a new photo appeared on the screen, this time of a much younger, clean-shaven, and handsome individual. "This is Rafique Aziz. It was taken in the late seventies, when Aziz was obtaining a degree in electrical engineering from American University in Beirut."
The president nodded reluctantly and said, "I am definitely familiar with this individual."
Kennedy nodded. "Well, you might not be familiar with this most recent development." The doctor pointed to the screen at the front of the room, and a series of photos played out showing charred buses and grotesque, bloody bodies. "These bombings have all been linked to the fundamentalist Palestinian group Hamas. Hamas has stepped up its attacks recently in an effort to derail the Middle East peace process. Hezbollah and Hamas have done very little to help each other's causes." Kennedy looked down the long table and added, "That is, until recently. Aziz and Harut have been looking for a way to continue their fight as things have calmed in Beirut. They found their opportunity after Israel assassinated Hamas leader Yehya Ayyash in 1996. Hamas turned even more militant, stepping up its efforts to drive Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In this most recent period, the Israelis have noted a marked increase in the sophistication of Hamas bombs and tactics. It is our belief that Rafique Aziz is responsible for this." Kennedy paused and got ready to drop the bombshell. "To make matters even worse, we have also learned that Saddam Hussein has offered to help fund some of the group's actions."
President Hayes shook his head slowly and scowled.
"It gets worse," Kennedy continued. "The stipulation that Saddam has put on the money is that it be used to attack the United States domestically." Kennedy emphasized the last word.
The information caused Hayes's left eyebrow to rise a half inch. "Where did we get this?"
Kennedy looked to Stansfield, and the director of the CIA replied, "The NSA intercepted some communications, and we verified them through several of our foreign contacts."
"That's just great." Hayes shook his head. Looking to Kennedy with dread in his eyes, he asked, "What else?"
"Two nights ago our man in Iran informed us of a probable ID on Harut, and earlier this evening he made a positive ID."
The president folded his arms across his chest. "Can we be sure your guy has the right man?"
"Yes, Mr. President," answered Kennedy confidently.
Hayes looked from Kennedy to the map of Iran and then back. "I assume you didn't interrupt my dinner plans just to tell me you may have found this fellow."
"You are correct, Mr. President. We have been waiting for this chance for a long time. If we don't grab him now, we may never get another chance." Kennedy stopped to make sure the president understood how serious she was. "General Campbell and I have put together a plan to grab Harut." Kennedy changed the main screen. A second map of the Persian Gulf appeared, this one with a half dozen new markings on it.
Kennedy looked to General Campbell and nodded.
Campbell rose from his chair, and with his ramrod posture, he marched to the front of the room. Once firmly in position behind the podium, he started. "Mr. President, Harut, like Saddam, never stays in the same place for more than three or four nights at a time. This is the first time in over a decade that we have been able to track his whereabouts for more than a day and be in a position to do something about it." Campbell gestured to the map. "We have two helicopters from the First Special Operations Wing that have left Saudi Arabia and are in the process of hooking up with the Independence, which is on patrol in the Persian Gulf." The general tapped the spot on the map that marked the location of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. "And over here" -- the general moved his finger across the Persian Gulf to a spot just off the Iranian coast that was marked by a blue cigar-shaped object -- "we have the USS Honolulu. As I'm sure you have already noted, she is no longer in international waters. Right now she is about two miles offshore and waiting for the orders to off-load her cargo."
While Campbell continued his briefing, President Hayes felt as if he were having an out-of-body experience. He had dreamt of this moment for years and loathed it. The idea of ordering U.S. troops into battle had no appeal, no mystique, no glory, and surely no satisfaction. People would die tonight because of the orders he gave. The enemy's men for sure and possibly some of his own.
President Hayes listened to the general intently and tried to be objective. Hayes was a student of history and knew that to never use force was foolish. If he did not act tonight, it might someday cost the lives of Americans. Terrorism had to be confronted. He could not pass on this decision.
Persian Gulf, 3:16 A.M. (local time)
In the Iranian seaside city of Bandar Abbas an elderly man shuffled down a dusty street in his dirty white djellaba, a simple robelike garment that flowed from his shoulders to his ankles. A brown turban covered his head and face; a pair of worn leather sandals, his feet. The wind blew in off the Persian Gulf, and the night sky was filled with thick clouds.
The decrepit old man mumbled to himself in Farsi, the native language, as he went. Like so many things in life, appearances could be deceiving. Underneath the ragged turban and djellaba was one hundred ninety pounds of solid, lean muscle. Mitch Rapp, a thirty-one-year-old American, hadn't showered in a week. His deeply bronzed skin was covered with a film of dirt, and his black hair and beard were spotted with streaks of gray dye that made him look twice his age.
During the late mornings and early afternoons, the American had slept in a tiny apartment. By afternoon and evening he roamed the streets with a brown canvas bag collecting discarded pop cans and bottles. While he played the role of street bum, he kept his posture slouched and his demeanor timid. But his eyes and mind were alert. He scanned doorways and windows and listened to conversations -- waiting for a clue. Two days earlier he had discovered the telltale sign he had been looking for. Rapp was searching for a man, a man he wanted to kill.
His pursuit of this man had led him to some of the roughest and dirtiest cities in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. In the process Rapp had himself been shot, stabbed, and hunted, and every step of the way his quarry had managed to stay just out of his reach. Six months earlier, on a rainy Paris night, Rapp had had his chance and blown it. A moment of hesitation, of stupid indecision, had allowed Rafique Aziz to escape by the narrowest of margins. Never again, Rapp had sworn a thousand times. Next time he would pull the trigger -- innocent bystander in the way or not.
Tonight, Rapp was determined to pick up the trail again. Nearing the house he had discovered two days earlier, Rapp scanned the rooftops and windows for signs of sentries he might have missed on his previous visits. The smell of the salty air mixing with the open sewage heightened his instincts. He was on enemy ground, walking straight into the lion's den. The streets he walked belonged to Hezbollah, one of several militant Islamic groups that dominated the underbelly of Middle Eastern politics. The terrorist group had killed thousands in their jihad -- their holy war. This was their stronghold in the dirty seaside city of Bandar Abbas. Rapp had learned early in his profession that home was where his enemies were most vulnerable, where they were most likely to feel comfortable and let down their guard. Tonight he would come into their home -- unannounced and uninvited.
Rapp adjusted his turban to conceal everything but his eyes. Then, he turned the corner and continued the shuffle of a man more than twice his age. Several doors down a man sat on a folding chair with an AK-47 resting on his lap.
Rapp mumbled to himself in Farsi, intentionally trying to alert the bodyguard to his presence. The bodyguard heard his approaching footsteps and aimed his gun in the direction of the noise. The babbling tramp appeared from the shadows, and the bodyguard relaxed, dropping his weapon back onto his lap. It was his crazy late-night visitor, just another worthless vagrant.
As Rapp approached the bodyguard, he pulled his turban away from his mouth. Smiling, he flashed a set of fake rotten teeth and greeted the armed sentry as he shuffled past. The large man nodded and then leaned back in his chair, resting his head against the wall of the house.
Rapp continued down the street, his alert eyes taking inventory of everything on the block. He noted every window and every doorway. He looked beyond the doorframes and the curtains, into the shadows. If this was a trap, that was where they would be waiting.
Rapp turned onto an even narrower street. Sixty feet down, the American ducked into an alley that had been built long before cars were envisioned. The tunnel-like passage was four feet wide and enclosed in darkness. Slowing his pace, Rapp stopped in the second alcove on his left and closed his eyes. He set his canvas bag of bottles and cans down and listened intently while squeezing his eyelids tighter, trying to speed up the process of adjusting to the near total darkness.
White House Situation Room
General Campbell finished the mission briefing and stood at the far end of the room with Kennedy. For the last twenty-four hours they had worked almost nonstop to get everything in place, and now they looked on somewhat helplessly as the president analyzed the pros and cons of the mission. After a minute of silence President Hayes looked at Director Stansfield and asked, "Who is this man we have on the ground?"
Director Stansfield closed his mission summary and placed it on the table. "He is one of our best. Fluent in three languages, not counting English, and he understands another half dozen dialects well enough to get by."
"Is he American?"
President Hayes nodded slowly, and then asked the million dollar question. "Instead of exposing ourselves by trying to grab Harut..." The president paused and formulated the most tactful way to say what he was thinking. "Why don't we have your man -- " The president looked to Kennedy. "What is his name?"
"His code name is Iron Man."
"Why don't we have this Iron Man...eliminate Harut?" President Hayes looked cautiously around the room, nervously aware that what he had just suggested was against the law.
"We have looked at that as an option, Mr. President, but there is another issue we haven't discussed." Kennedy looked to her boss.
Stansfield sat leaning back in his chair with one leg crossed over the other. He removed his left hand from his chin and said, "We have just recently come into some information," Stansfield stated evenly, "that is directly related to this operation. Yesterday I received a call from one of my counterparts abroad. They informed me that Hamas is targeting Washington for a terrorist attack. When and where is not certain, but we have a corroborating source that can confirm this intelligence."
Hayes shook his head and uttered a curse under his breath. "Where did you get this information?"
"Our Israeli friends brought it to my attention several weeks ago, and it was corroborated by the British this morning."
"Elaborate, please." Hayes made a rolling motion with his index finger.
"The Israelis picked up a Hamas commander during one of their sweeps through the West Bank about a month ago. While they were interrogating him, he made several references to an attack that was being planned here in Washington. The Israelis couldn't get anything more out of the commander on this issue, except that the man behind the operation is none other than Rafique Aziz."
President Hayes swiveled in his chair and looked up at the smaller screen that vividly showed the carnage left from one of Aziz's bus bombings in Israel. The mere thought of the same thing happening in Washington, D.C., caused the president's blood to boil.
"This dovetails," continued Stansfield, "with the NSA's report that Saddam has offered to bankroll any terrorist attack that is carried out in the United States."
President Hayes looked at the director of the CIA and rose out of his chair. He reminded himself to stay calm. Saddam had become the unreachable thorn in America's back, and it was time to start dealing with him in a more ruthless manner.
With sarcasm dripping from his voice, the president said, "This is just wonderful." All Hayes could think about was the lunatic terrorism of the Middle East playing itself out in the streets of America. He knew there was no way he could allow it to happen, not if he could take the battle to them first.
Irene Kennedy half listened to the conversation between the two generals, her boss, and the president. At the moment, she was more concerned with Mitch Rapp. Rapp was her recruit, and she had grown very fond of him. There was nothing sexual about the connection; it was more in the nature of a bond between two people who had been through the wringer together.
Kennedy had spent more than half of her youth bouncing around the Middle East as her father was moved from one embassy to another. As a State Department brat she saw nothing unusual in this, since most of her friends had gone through similar experiences. In fact Kennedy had loved growing up in the Middle East, but unfortunately all of those fond memories came crashing down in April of 1983 when a car bomb ripped through the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Kennedy's father was killed in the blast, and her life was forever changed.
The anger she felt in the wake of the tragedy had led her to the CIA, and it didn't take Langley long to make up their mind about Kennedy. She had spent twelve years of her life growing up in the Middle East, she had a doctorate in Arabic studies,
and she was motivated. Kennedy was earmarked from the very start for counterterrorism. Now, some sixteen years later, she was running the show at the Counterterrorism Center.
But that was only part of Kennedy's story -- the part that was reported to the legislative oversight committees. A separate job that fell under Kennedy's purview was responsibility for the Orion Team, one of the most secretive organizations within the CIA. Only a handful of people knew of the group's existence, and it was to stay that way indefinitely. It had to. The group had been formed by Director Stansfield in response to another terrorist incident. The downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December of 1988. Irene Kennedy was given the reins and instructed to build a group with one single task -- to hunt down and kill terrorists. As Director Stansfield had said at the time, "There are certain people here in Washington who have decided it is time to go on the offensive." Who those people were, Kennedy had never asked, and in truth, she never wanted to know. She only knew that she agreed with the strategy and was willing to risk everything to help implement it. That risk was very real, and by no means marginal. If the wrong people on the Hill, or over at Justice, ever got wind of the Orion Team, they would hold an inquisition, and Kennedy's head would be the first one on the chopping block.
The truth was, the American people would never be able to stomach the escapades of Mitch Rapp and the Orion Team. In the political grandstanding that would take place under a congressional investigation, everyone would forget the fact that it was a war. The team would be portrayed as a group of rogue operatives with complete disregard for the Constitution. Someone like Rapp, who was at this very moment putting his life on the line, would be eaten alive by the country-club liberals and conservative opportunists looking to make a name for themselves.
Kennedy felt the burden of responsibility for Rapp. She was the one that had gone to Syracuse University in the winter of 1988 and discovered him. He did not find the CIA -- as she had done after her father's death -- they had found him. Thirty-five students from Syracuse had perished on Pan Am Flight 103, and one of them had been Mitch Rapp's high school sweetheart. Irene Kennedy had dangled the prospect of revenge in front of an anguished Rapp, and he had leapt at the chance without a moment's hesitation. Now, a decade later, they had turned him into quite possibly the most efficient and lethal killer in the modern era of the Agency.
President Hayes had heard enough. He pondered the ramifications for a long moment. If he chose not to act, the end result could cost American lives. Yes, he could lose men tonight, but these men had assumed a risk when they signed up. If he walked away, it could cost the lives of noncombatants. Hayes knew what he had to do.
With a no-nonsense tone, the president asked, "General Campbell, what do you think we should do?"
In his clipped military tone, Campbell replied, "I think it's an opportunity we can't pass up, Mr. President."
"Dr. Kennedy, I assume you think we should go in?" asked Hayes.
"Yes, Mr. President."
"Thomas?" Hayes looked to the director of the CIA.
Stansfield paused for a second and then nodded.
The president turned lastly to General Flood. "Jack, what do you think?"
The general folded his large hands and thumped them on the table once. "I think we should grab him."
President Hayes squinted at the map of Iran on the large screen while he thought about the potential risk. After about twenty seconds of silence, he said, "You have my authorization."
As soon as the sentence was completed, Kennedy and Campbell were on the phone giving the mission the green light to the various players and commands involved.
Stansfield slid two white sheets of paper across the table. They were identical. One was for the president's records, and the other was for Stansfield's. The president grabbed a pen from his breast pocket and put his signature on both sheets. The relatively bland document was a presidential finding, required by law whenever the president authorized any type of covert mission. These simple documents had been a source of much controversy in Washington over the years.
"When do you plan to notify the committees?" asked President Hayes.
By law, the chairman and ranking minority member of both the House and Senate intelligence committees had to be informed of the intended action before it took place. This, however, was an area that was grayer than the London sky and one that was abused often, and sometimes for good reasons.
Stansfield placed his signed copy in a folder and said, "Fortunately, the gentlemen in question all have plans for this evening. I will alert their aides that I need to speak to them in about an hour. If all goes well, they will not be able to make it out to Langley until after our people have safely completed their job."
"Good." President Hayes stood and pulled on his cuff links. "My wife and I will be attending an event at the Kennedy Center. Where are you going to monitor the mission?"
"At Langley," replied Stansfield.
"Keep me updated, and good luck." With that the president left the room.
Copyright © 1999 by Vince Flynn
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