– Coming Soon to a City or Town Near You …Do Paris or San Bernardino Ring a Bell? –
We’re talking about the threat of homegrown jihadists. My fourth novel, Existential Threats, published last August before those two horrifying and tragic events occurred illustrates the challenges faced by Biff Roberts, a CIA operative tasked to counter the emerging terror threat.
Here is some background from the novel: Iranian mullahs have issued a fatwa (death warrant) on Biff Roberts, the CIA’s incoming director of counter terrorism. He has been chased to the ends of the earth and survived several unsuccessful assassination attempts. Finally, his luck ran out and a sniper got close enough to wound him.
In the following excerpt from Existential Threats, Biff is ruminating about the threatening situation.
Biff had adapted the critical element of self-awareness emphasized in Sun Tzu’s doctrine to an uncanny degree, assuring his exceptionally long survival and value to the CIA as a field operative without peer. His career spanned four decades of conflicts. Currently, he was involved with the seemingly never-ending War on Terror.
Persistent, dangerous asymmetric threats were popping up in the Middle East when it appeared withdrawal from the area was conceivable. The world was in turmoil. Even Africa had showed a recent surge in Islamic jihadism. His mind rolled through the list of foreboding scenarios, like a computer database itemizing the multiple conflicts threatening global stability.
Currently, the rise of radical jihadists, particularly the homegrown variant, presented a mounting problem.
The major problem was that sleeper cells and recruited extremist U.S. nationals were difficult to identify. Citizens or legal immigrants in an ethnically diverse country could hide, like an undetected malware virus infiltrating the machinery of daily life, indiscernible in a free society. Democratic, open societies were particularly vulnerable, relatively soft targets.
The indigenous terrorists’ malicious, indoctrinated beliefs defied reason and their nefarious missions were incomprehensible by civilized norms. Radical Islamists had declared war on free societies with no intention of observing Geneva conventions. As the incoming director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Division, Biff’s job was to thwart their nefarious schemes, and he planned to do so with vengeance.
When he assumed his new role at Langley later in the month, he’d develop a comprehensive strategy to counterman this emerging, imminent threat. Over the years, he’d honed his leadership skills. He knew the players, the stakes, and the contingency game plans. He could handle it. He’d spent a lifetime preparing for the challenging job.
He also possessed the essential gift of compartmentalizing sticky moral issues like rendition and enhanced interrogation. If done for the greater good, he rationalized that the ends justified the means. He was able to tuck away moral contradictions, all with “plausible deniability.”
He signed up with the CIA to live on the edge, with no margin for error. Keeping the mission paramount, with all other considerations secondary, allowed him to function in his high capacity, risky job.
Recently, he had focused on twenty-first century cyberspace programs, including concepts of complex cyber-warfare, and the clandestine satellite and Internet intelligence system programs run by the NSA. And his immersion into the sophisticated drone (UAV) sphere, working with the Agency’s Special Projects Staff, had introduced a new paradigm, a quantum leap forward.
Predator drones were the CIA’s air force, extremely successful and risk reducing in their targeted missions. Young officers in secret control centers, miles away from the action, directed the recon and attack missions with surgical precision. Their strategic role in modern warfare minimized risky “zero dark thirty” Seal operations and conventional air and ground attacks. However, in special cases that justified the risk, special ops remained essential to obtain live intelligence from the intense interrogation of captured enemies.
Recently Biff had mastered, with NSA guidance, some of the tenets of digital intelligence. He’d particularly focused on enemy recruits or assets with access to passwords and encryption codes, and knowledge of data storage systems, firewalls, computers or control systems that might be hacked or compromised. He also had a working knowledge of the intricacies of computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. He was well schooled in zero-day exploits and up to snuff on the intricacies of twenty-first century cyber warfare that used sophisticated electronic innovations to disable the enemy with minimal risk.
Yet Biff still liaised successfully with top-notch spies in allied agencies and covert black ops, including targeted assassinations, operating in deep dark sites when a mutual objective coincided. He had cultivated valuable relationships that would come in handy in the future.
Over the past ten years, counterterrorism had become his primary focus. In a world filled with existential threats, he personally represented an imminent threat to a foreign government—Iran. Once the hunter, yesterday he was the hunted, the target of an assassin’s sniper bullet, and there was a good chance Iran was behind it.
Intent on eliminating him for his co-conspirator role with Mossad in the targeted assassinations of four essential Iranian nuclear scientists, coupled with his collaboration in the Stuxnet cyber-attack on the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the mullahs had issued a fatwa on Biff two years ago. They had been relentless in pursuing him, and he had eluded them until yesterday.
As a consequence, he was now their poster boy for retribution, his cover blown. When they failed to kill him on several prior occasions, they had resorted to brutally assassinating his wife in San Francisco the previous year. Reprisals were becoming a vicious cycle and unpredictable events the norm. Fortunately, they had failed to assassinate him yesterday. But, no denying, they were getting closer, and they had wounded him this time.