Authors: Brad Thor
Tags: #Thrillers, #Fiction, #Political, #General
The Lions of Lucerne
Path of the Assassin
State of the Union
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 by Brad Thor
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Takedown : a thriller / by Brad Thor.—1st Atria Books hardcover ed.
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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For Robert M. Horrigan—
a beloved patriot who served his country
with courage, honor, and unparalleled dignity
Exitus acta probat
The ends justify the means.
he problem with being in the wrong place at the wrong time is that you never know it until it’s too late. That’s how it was for Steven Cooke, and the bitter irony was that right up to the very last moment of his life, he thought he had stumbled upon an intelligence jackpot.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed twenty-six-year-old had happened across the meeting completely by accident. In fact, Cooke wasn’t even supposed to be in that part of town except that his sister had asked him to bring her a special caftan when he flew home for a long-overdue visit at the end of the week.
Although he had way too much work to do before leaving, Steven had always found it hard to say no to Allison. The two were more than brother and sister. They had been best friends since childhood. In fact, Allison was the only person who really knew what he did for a living. Even their parents had no idea that their son was a CIA field officer.
Steven had been in Morocco just under a year and had gotten to know Marrakech fairly well. The souk at the heart of the small city was a labyrinth of passages and narrow alleyways. Donkey carts laden with merchandise lumbered up and down the hot, dusty thoroughfares, while the ever-present haze hung so thick that neither the city’s mud-brick walls nor the high Atlas Mountains off in the distance could be seen from the main square. The heat was absolutely insufferable and as he combed the various covered markets for the perfect caftan for Allison, Cooke was grateful for the shade.
It was when Steven took a shortcut through one of the alleys that he noticed an unremarkable café with a rather remarkable patron—a man who had disappeared two days before the September 11th attacks and for whom the United States had been searching ever since.
If he was correct, his discovery would represent not only a major coup for American intelligence, but it might also place a very distinct feather in his cap and set him apart as one of the more distinguished young field operatives. That would be nice, though Cooke reminded himself that he had joined the CIA to help defend his country, not to rack up
Removing his cell phone, Steven contacted his supervisor and filled him in on everything he had seen, including a mysterious new player who had entered the café and was now sitting at their man’s table. With no one close enough to provide support, the best his boss could do was request the retasking of one of their surveillance satellites to help gather additional intelligence. The lion’s share of the operation would fall to Steven. There were a staggering number of question marks surrounding the man in that café and the CIA needed Steven to gather as much information about him and what he was up to as possible.
Though adrenaline, fear, and excitement were coursing through his bloodstream, Cooke focused on his training to keep himself under control.
The first thing Steven needed was a record of the meeting. Since there was no way he was going to show his white Anglo-Saxon face in that café and potentially scare away his quarry, he had to get his hands on a fairly decent camera. Moving through the marketplace as fast as he dared, he finally found what he was looking for. The only problem was money—he didn’t have enough of it. The souk pickpockets were notorious, and he never carried credit cards and definitely never any more cash than he knew he would need. What he did have, though, was his Kobold Chronograph wristwatch, and the shop owner gladly accepted it in exchange for a Canon digital camera with a fairly decent zoom lens and an extra-high-capacity memory card.
From the edge of a rooftop across the alley, Steven interspersed his picture-taking with pieces of short video he hoped the experts at Langley would be able to decipher. Whatever had drawn the man in the café out of hiding must have been extremely important for him to risk this meeting.
Steven filled the high-capacity memory card and was about to reinsert the low-end factory-included card to see if he could get any pictures of the man’s car once he left the café, when he heard a noise behind him.
The garrote wire whistled through the air and then snapped tight around his neck. Steven’s hands scrabbled uselessly for it as he felt a knee in his back and the pressure begin to build. When his trachea severed, the camera clattered onto the rooftop, cracking the screen.
The damage made no difference to the assassin as he dragged the lifeless young CIA operative back from the parapet and pocketed the camera as well as the spare memory card. The only thing Abdul Ali cared about was that there never be any record of the meeting in that café.
The Americans would know its outcome soon enough, and by then it would be too late.
resident Jack Rutledge entered the situation room and signaled the men and women around the conference table to take their seats. He was less than five months into his second term and had already been called to this room more times than in the last two years combined.
He had hoped to use his second term to focus on the key domestic policy issues he had campaigned on and which would comprise his legacy. But more than that, the president wanted to leave his successor, Democrat or Republican, a better country than had been left to him. The war on terror, though, had much different plans for Rutledge.
Contrary to what the White House press secretary was spinning to the media, terrorist plots against America and American interests were not on the decline. They were in fact on a very marked upswing, and the United States was running out of fingers and toes with which to plug the dike.
For every attack the United States thwarted, three more popped up in its wake. The operations tempo in the intelligence, military, and law enforcement communities was higher than anyone had ever seen. Despite its phenomenal successes, most of which the average citizen was never aware of, all America seemed able to do was tread water. The country was running well beyond capacity and it was only a matter of time before the overtaxed system collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Something needed to be done, and done soon.
That was the thought on the mind of every person in the room as the president finished skimming the contents of the file folder in front of him and turned the meeting over to General Bart Waddell, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“Thank you, Mr. President,” replied Waddell, a tall, dark-haired man in his late forties. As he stood, he pressed a button on a small digital remote, and the plasma monitors at the front of the room, as well as those recessed within the situation-room table, sprang to life with the revolving DIA logo. “The footage I am about to show you was shot this morning. It was developed thanks to two converging pieces of intelligence. The first was a series of satellite surveillance photos ordered up by the Central Intelligence Agency when one of its field officers spotted the subject in North Africa—Morocco, to be exact. The second piece of intelligence was a tip that pinpointed the subject’s base of operations more than six thousand kilometers southeast in Somalia.”
Waddell advanced to the first slide in his PowerPoint presentation and everyone watched as a dusty Toyota Land Cruiser pulled up in front of the weather-beaten façade of a long single-story structure. “What you are looking at is a Muslim religious boys’ school, or madrassa, on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The man getting out of the car on the right is Mohammed bin Mohammed, aka Abu Khabab al-Fari, or as our analysts are fond of calling him, M&M. He is known as al-Qaeda’s master bombmaker and head of their weapons of mass destruction committee. Born in Algeria in 1953, he has training in both physics and chemical engineering.”
Waddell then advanced through a series of still images as he continued to narrate. “At al-Qaeda’s Tora Bora base near Jalalabad, Mohammed not only built and managed a facility for the manufacture of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, but he provided hundreds of operatives with training in the use of those weapons. Most of you are familiar with the images that made it into mainstream media showing the scores of dead dogs, cats, donkeys, et cetera scattered outside the complex.”
Everyone in the room was indeed familiar with the photos, but it didn’t make them any easier to have to see again. Around the table, they nodded their heads in grim unison.
“The photos only heightened some of our worst fears about the ghoulish experiments we suspected M&M was carrying out with anthrax and other biological and chemical poisons.
“When our teams hit the site in 2001, we found hoards of documents authored by Mohammed. They bore little similarity to the other terrorist manuals recovered at al-Qaeda safe houses throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, which in comparison were extremely crude. Mohammed’s manuals contained very innovative designs for explosive devices and represented a huge leap forward in al-Qaeda’s technological capabilities.
“On September ninth, two days before the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Mohammed’s facility was completely abandoned and he was evacuated to an unknown location somewhere in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Despite numerous leads, we had not been able to assemble any verifiable eyes-on intelligence for him. Until this morning.”
“Any idea what he was doing at the madrassa?” asked Secretary of State Jennifer Staley.
Waddell turned to James Vaile, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to see if he wanted to field the question.
DCI Vaile looked at Staley and said, “There have been reports that some elements of al-Qaeda are taking advantage of the absence of a strong centralized government in Somalia to reestablish themselves and open up training camps.”
Homeland Security Secretary Alan Driehaus shook his head and said, “I suppose the fact that we wouldn’t touch Mogadishu or any of that area with a ten-foot pole only adds to its appeal for them.”
“How do you know we wouldn’t touch it?” asked General Hank Currutt, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A patriot who had bled for his country on more than one battlefield, Currutt had never been a big fan of Driehaus’s. He felt the secretary’s position called for a warrior familiar with combat rather than a career attorney familiar with nothing more than the inside of a courtroom.
For his part, Driehaus resented Currutt’s constant implications that he wasn’t up to the task and that serving his country for more than two decades in the Department of Justice was somehow less noble than having served it in the armed forces. “Considering the whole Black Hawk Down incident and the fact that our resources are stretched too thin as it is,” replied Driehaus, “I just assumed we wouldn’t be too hot to jump into another conflict over there. I think we need to start being very sensitive to the perception that we’re empire building.”
replied Currutt. “Is that what you think this is?”
“I said that’s the
but you’d have to be blind not to see where it comes from.”
“Well, let me tell you something. We’ve sent a lot of brave young men and women to fight for freedom outside of our borders and the only land we’ve ever asked for in return is enough to bury those who didn’t come home.”
The room was completely silent.
Normally, the president embraced healthy differences of opinion among his cabinet members and advisors, but he knew something that Secretary Driehaus didn’t. Hank Currutt was at the “Battle of the Black Sea,” as that infamous eighteen-hour firefight in the heart of Mogadishu’s Bakara Market was known. Eighteen servicemen had been killed and more than seventy wounded.
There were too many pressing issues vying for their attention to allow the animosity between Driehaus and Currutt to become the focus of this meeting. They needed to concentrate on the matter in front of them, and Rutledge was enough of a statesman to know that allowing Currutt to jump across the table and rip Driehaus’s throat out was anything but productive.
The president said, “As far as I’m concerned, all options are on the table at this point. Mohammed is one of the most dangerous threats to this country and I have to be honest, up to this point I’d been harboring a secret hope that with all the bombs we dropped on Tora Bora, we had pulverized whatever rock he was hiding under and that’s why we hadn’t heard anything from him. But now we know differently and I want to discuss what we’re going to do about it. General Waddell, it was your folks that gathered the intel. What’s your read on this?”
“Well, Mr. President, we know from the documents we’ve recovered and from our interviews with detainees both at Gitmo and in Afghanistan that Mohammed had been trying to assemble very sophisticated delivery devices for multiple terror attacks inside the United States. We’ve got eyes on him right now and I think we need to strike while the iron is hot. We’re never going to get a chance like this again. I say we take him out.”
“Director Vaile?” inquired the president as he turned to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. “Would you concur?”
“Normally, I would, but we’ve got a problem in this case.”
“What kind of problem?” asked Waddell.
“We know that despite our successes al-Qaeda is reconstituting itself. They have a myriad of attacks at different stages of development here in the United States and abroad, some of which we’re on to and many of which we’re still trying to smoke out.
“As you are aware, Mr. President, one of the most troubling pieces of intelligence we’ve uncovered recently is that they’re very close to completing a transaction that would allow them to launch an unprecedented nuclear attack on the U.S. Based upon several converging streams of intelligence, including the loss of our field operative and the satellite imagery we pulled from Marrakech, we have a very high degree of certainty the transaction was masterminded and is being controlled by Mohammed bin Mohammed. The CIA’s position is that it’s vital to national security that he be taken alive for interrogation purposes.”
“You mean torture by some friendly government,” replied Secretary Driehaus. “The ultimate in American outsourcing.”
Vaile fixed the head of the DHS with a very unfriendly stare.
“Where would we send this one? The ex-Soviet facilities in Eastern Europe are pretty much out of the question, especially now that the press has been all over them. Most of the Western Europeans won’t allow us to use their international airports as transition points anymore. So, I suppose that leaves us with our old fallbacks. Egypt? Jordan?”
“Which side are you on, Alan?” asked Vaile.
“I side with the rule of law,” replied Driehaus.
Everyone in the room knew the secretary was not a fan of the administration’s extraordinary rendition policy. It was a strategy that allowed prisoners to be handed over to foreign governments who conducted torture so that the United States could sidestep its own laws strictly forbidding it.
Keeping his eyes locked on Driehaus, the DCI said, “Regardless of where Mohammed might be interrogated, I think the president’s policies have served our country, and in particular your department, exceedingly well.”
“With all due respect to the president, I think you’re wrong,” said the DHS secretary. “We’re supposed to be a nation that holds the rule of law above all else. We use it to justify every single thing we do, including the invasion of other sovereign nations. If we don’t truly place that principle above all else then we can’t be any better than the terrorists we’re fighting against.”
“That’s it!” bellowed General Hank Currutt as he rose from his chair and stabbed his thick finger at Driehaus. “I’m not going to listen to any more of this subversive garbage.”
replied Driehaus. “That’s a mighty convenient way to label opinions that don’t agree with yours.”
“Listen, you smug SOB, if you don’t like the way things are being done here, then resign your post, pick up a picket sign, and stand on the other side of the fence with the rest of the whackos out on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Once again, things were quickly spinning in the wrong direction. “Let’s take our seats and all calm down,” said the president. When Currutt didn’t comply, the president ordered, “General, I said
Once the man had retaken his seat, the president looked at Driehaus and said, “You’ve got a sharp mind, Alan, especially when it comes to homeland security issues and that’s why—”
“Mr. President,” interjected Driehaus, “our enemies use our extraordinary rendition policy as prime recruiting propaganda. In fact, with all the attention the media has been devoting to it, they don’t need to recruit at all. Willing bodies are lined up out their doors and down the block. This policy makes us look like hypocrites.”
“No it doesn’t,” stressed Rutledge, who had been getting progressively more frustrated with his appointee’s refusal to be a team player. “The policy makes us look tough. What’s more, it gets results. Civilized rules of engagement and jurisprudence mean nothing to a vicious enemy willing to do anything to succeed. If we want to win, we have to adopt the same strategy—success at any cost. I’m sorry, Alan, but if a nation refuses to bend, then that nation is almost certainly doomed to break. In this case we have to suspend the rule of law in part, in order to save it.”
That one remark tore at the very few remnants of respect Driehaus had left for the president. “We know Mohammed exchanged information with the Palestinian and Hezbollah bombmakers who helped Richard Reid design the shoe bomb he carried on the Paris-to-Boston flight in 2001. Let’s indict him under that. If we put him on trial here, a fair trial, it will go a long way to repairing our image abroad. And it’ll send the message that we’re tough.”
“Ramzi Yousef bombed the World Trade Center in 1993,” interjected the attorney general, Laura Finley. “We found him, tried him, and put him in SuperMax out in Colorado, but where’d that get us? His uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, came back with al-Qaeda and hit the Trade Center again in 2001. Yousef got a fair trial and then he got life in prison. That’s pretty tough, if you ask me, but it didn’t stop anything. Alan, we’ve worked together and you know I have a lot of respect for you, but the president’s right. We can’t bring knives to gunfights anymore.”
Driehaus was about to respond, when the secretary of state, Jennifer Staley, piped up and said, “As someone who deals with America’s image abroad on an around-the-clock basis, I want to put my two cents in here. Have the press leaks about our interrogations of detainees abroad hurt our image overseas? Yes, they definitely have. But the bottom line is that right or wrong, the United States is safer because of what we’re doing.”
“So we shouldn’t be concerned with what happens to these people once they’ve been handed over to another government?”
“When we render a suspect, that suspect is often being rendered to his or her country of origin or a country where that individual already has outstanding warrants. Despite how the press warps our involvement, we actually have very little control over what happens from that point forward.”