JIHADI REVENGE: a novel

Battle-hardened jihadi fighters from Hamas made plans for a daring attack on a supposedly impregnable US nuclear power plant. Outraged that while the US was loudly insisting on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Washington was surreptitiously  shipping tons of bombs and rockets to Israel to continue the onslaught, Hamas, which had never before operated outside of its home base, was determined to show the US that it actually had a devastating reach.

Arabella, a beautiful young blonde FBI rookie, who had proven herself in her last mission against terrorists, and Aaron, a tough and very savvy Israeli Mossad operative, teamed up to investigate and help confront the threat.

They were operating on fragmentary intelligence from a Palestinian turncoat, from Mossad field agents, and from the CIA.

In carrying out their mission, the pair had first to deal with dangerous gunmen from a Mexican drug cartel, hired to sneak the Hamas terrorists into the US.

But with 100 nuclear power plants, which one would be targeted? Hamas felt it had a huge advantage with a secret collaborator working on the security force on one nuclear reactor. But, again, which one?

While US nuclear reactors are not soft targets–far from it–neither are they impregnable. This novel makes the point that with a handful of fixes, the safety of nuclear power plants could be significantly bolstered.

With the American public understandably concerned about the threat of determined terrorists, this novel is unusually timely.

POST-ELECTION REFORMS

Washington–In the aftermath of a nightmarish Presidential election, in which both candidates were disliked and distrusted by a majority of American voters,  it’s time to consider fundamental changes in our political system.

Some changes would be relatively easy to win bipartisan support. Others not so much. But a serious debate is called for to avoid a repetition of the political trauma just experienced.

For example, who would dispute the need for the next Congress to pass a law requiring each aspirant for the Presidency to immediately make public, on announcing his candidacy, both his tax returns and his complete health  records for the previous ten years?

The public has an absolute right to know if the candidate is in tip-top physical and psychological shape and has paid his fair share of taxes, like any ordinary citizen.

Donald Trump, who promised to “drain the swamp”in Washington and “make America great again,” campaigned as an agent of change.

But again and again, he took outlandish positions that would have instantly doomed a normal candidate. Such as deriding  the sacrifices of Senator John McCain, by saying that he preferred those who had not been captured. Or disrespesting a Moslem Gold Star Mother who’s son died a hero’s death in Iraq.

He charged that a large number of Mexican migrants were either rapists or drug smugglers. He vowed to deport 11 million illegal aliens in two years. His grossly misleading assertions, made on prime time television, stood largely without timely challenge as his candidacy built momentum.

Where were the truth-tellers  who would dispute his mischaracterization of Mexican aliens?  Who made an effort to point out that the undocumented aliens represent an important five percent of the country’s workforce, pay taxes, lead blameless, constructive lives, and that it would require the creation of a sort of Gestapo to locate and forcibly deport them overnight?

Hillary Clinton often skirted the truth as well, though not as often and nat as egregiously.  Her use of a private email server was set up for convenience, so should wouldn’t have to carry more than one cellphone?  And it was approved by an unnamed State Department official?  Come on!

Or that she never allowed information that was “marked classified” to be carried on her emails? Every morning she received a top secret briefing from the CIA and knew exactly what was classified, without any markings on a piece of paper.

So would it be possible for the major TV networks to hire a team of fact-checkers who could quickly provide the public with factual correctives?  Perhaps the nightly news shows could devote a 5-minute segment to such factual and impartial perspective.

And major newspapers and wire services should also have such fact-checkers who could provide those writing breaking news with timely insert material that would put wild assertions to the test.

If those reforms were put into effect, without doubt it would markedly improve politicians’ discourse.

The FBI represents another cause for concern. Certainly it should not make public in the last days of an election unassessed assertions that were bound to impact the process. And undisciplined FBI agents should not be allowed to leak half-baked information to the press in the run-up to the vote.

Another unprecedented challenge should deal with the malign efforts of foreign intelligence services hacking the computers of US political operatives and leaking embarrassing stories, through WikiLeaks, to journalists.

Reporters will of course try to check the facts to ensure they were not part of a campaign of misinformation. But do they also have a responsibility to make clear to their readers that actual or suspected origin of the political dirt?  And its objectives?  Wouldn’t that be part of balanced reporting?

It’s a truism that he who doesn’t learn from his mistakes is bound to repeat them. So, instead, doesn’t it make sense to forthrightly address and correct them?

 

 

DOUBLE AGENT STALLION

Double Agent Stallion is my seventh novel. It is based, in part, on a true story. It focuses on a scheme by Russian intelligence to coerce an American college student into spying for Moscow. The story line:

A Russian master spy, nicknamed the Fisherman, dispatches a sultry young redhead to an American college campus to ensnare a promising student into a compromising position where he’d be forced to spy for Moscow. Early on, he becomes suspicious and goes to the FBI, which persuades him to become a double agent. Many years later, after he’s “proven” himself to his handlers with carefully vetted intelligence, he provides some clever technical misinformation designed to sabotage one of their major weapons programs.

Meanwhile, the redhead falls madly in love with her target, confesses, and they marry and have two children. The FBI, to protect its high value asset against retribution, stages the family’s “death” in a flaming car accident. When inevitably the Russians realize they’ve been snookered, and suspect that the American agent may not really be dead at all, the Fisherman sends a pair of experienced killers to check out the car accident and hunt him down, if he’s in hiding. He and his family are in the witness protection program, with new identities and appearances., but the determined killers manage to track them down anyway. A gunfight ensues.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEADLINE

As the targeted deadline for achieving a nuclear weapons program deal with Iran draws near, Ayatollah Ali Khomenei has just overplayed his hand in what could turn out to be a historic misjudgment.

Presumably believing that President Barack Obama wants and needs a deal more than Tehran does, Khomenei laid down a series of outrageous demands, which he described as “major red lines.” Perhaps he figured that by doing so he would signal to the US and its allies that Iran’s negotiators have their hands tied by the Supreme Leader.

But if a final deal fails to be compleied and the world believes that fault lies with Iran, then the crushing economic sanctions may not only be continued, but perhaps even strengthened.

Recall Obama’s warning to Congressional skeptics that if a deal falls through, there are essentially only two alternatives–either heavy bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and consequently war,or watching as Iran hastily rushes to complete an arsenal of nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region.

But there exists a middle course, whether short term or long, to significantly tighten the economic screws on Iran. It was the pressure of sanctions, after all, that forced Iran into negotiations in the first place.

Regardless of whether the June 30 deadline is observed or extended, if a detailed agreement is negotiated and then rejected by the US Senate, some of those–such as Russia and China–who see advantage in ending the sanctions, would feel free to do so. The blame would then fall at the feet of the Americans.

But Khomenei’s eleventh hour demands raise the prospect that Iran would be blamed for failure to reach an accord. Among them:

First, all US and UN sanctions must be immediately lifted when an agreement is signed, rather than gradually lifted as Iran implements a series of agreed upon steps. This would allow Iran to pocket tens of billions of dollars of immediate economic relief.

There could be no freeze on nuclear research and development. Thus Tehran could continue to plough ahead on more effective, speedier uranium enrichment centrifuges.

International inspection of Iran’s military facilities would be forbidden, making it impossible to verify Iran’s compliance. It is believed that certain military facilities, such as Parchin, have been devoted to developing nuclear missile nose cones.

Additionally, there could be no long term restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment. Highly enriched uranium, of course, is not required for nuclear power plants, but rather for nuclear warheads.

The driving hope of the Obama Administration has been that if a cork could be kept in the bottle of Iran’s nuclear weapons program for ten years, maybe Iran would lose its appetite for such weapons as it enjoyed the fruits of unhindered international commerce. But that assumes that Iran’s strategic goal of becoming the hegemon of the Middle East and a world power will somehow disappear over the next decade.

And that would constitute quite a gamble.

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This piece also ran in the World Policy Journal blog.

OBAMA’S WORLDVIEW

The tentative nuclear framework agreement with Iran is the acid test of President Obsma’s worldvirw that the best way to deal with global adversaries is with rigorous diplomacy, rather than military threats. Before long historians will be in a position to assess the wisdom or fallacy of his judgment.

During Obama’s first campaign for office, Hillary Rodham Clinton described him as “dangerously naive” for asserting that the way to deal with an enemy such as Iran is with “aggressive personal diplomacy.” At the start of his presidency, he offered to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

That is Obama’s core philosophy. He believed that in the past the US was too inclined to turn to military power to address problems in the world, as in iraq and Afghanistan. He was convinced he had a better way: persistent diplomatic engagement.

In six years in office, however, he has faced one rebuff or misstep after another. Perhaps until now. But the proof of whether the framework with Iran will be effectively spelled out in finite detail and, more importantly, signed and then faithfully observed, remains to be seen. It is a colossal gamble on the President’s part. In all likelihood it will become the touchstone of his historic legacy, one way or the other.

Obama is fond of quoting former President Jack Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

In his first speech abroad, delivered in Prague,he made clear his foremost concern was nuclear proliferation, even going so far as to advocate a world without nuclear weapons. That helps explain why the negotiation with Iran has been pretty much his foreign policy fixation in office.

And yet, ironically, if Tehran’s frightened neighbors regard the ultimate deal as making Iran a nuclear threshold state, one that could turn a screw and become nuclear capable, the chances are that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and perhaps one of the Gulf states will seek nuclear weapons for themselves. And the fractious Middle East could become even more perilous than it is today.

Early on in his presidency, Obama said he wanted to shift the emphasis from the Middle East to the Pacific. But events have conspired otherwise.

Following the so-called Arab Spring, which only blossomed positively in Tunesia, came Egypt’s putsch against the Moslem Brotherhood, the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the revolution of the minority Houtis, supported by Iran, in Yemen, with the attendant decision by Saudi Arabja and perhaps Egu[t tp use military force to contest them. The ancient blood feud between the Sunnis and Shiites appears to be rekindling.

Now it’s true that Obama was confronted by two ongoing wars when be came to power–costly and controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there arose a secular rebellion in Syria, where Obama rebuffed the entreaties of his top officials to help arm and train the rebels, and Libya, where hr reluctantly agreed with European allies to help oust Mammmar Khadafi, by “leading from behind,” only to subsequently back away and allow a failed state to emerge.

And don’t overlook the effort to “reset” relations with Russia. Whether Vladimir Putin regarded the new American president as a creampuff, who would do nothing significant if he annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, remains a matter of conjecture. But obviously Putin did not feel constrained by Obama who offered an open hand, rather than a mailed fist.

No question that Obama’s rose colored worldview is in question. But not yet decided.

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William Beecher is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington correspondent for The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He’s a former Asskitant Secretary of Defense and is an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland.

This blog was picked up by the World Policy Institute.

NUCLEAR IRAN

The ham-fisted letter by 47 Republican Senators to Iranian leaders about the negotiation to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program was from many perspectives ill-conceived and counter-productive. But, ironically, it might serve a very positive and constructive purpose. It all depends on how it is interpreted in Tehran.

From an American point of view, the best face that can be put on the letter was that it was motivated to persuade Iran to offer terms to President Obama that are not only acceptable to him, but also to the Senate of the United States, including members of both parties.

The worse interpretation, pounced on the the White House and some US allies, is that it was a gross attempt to scuttle the arms talks.

The letter argued that the Iranians should be put on notice that if they insist on terms that the Republicans in particular regard as contrary to US national interests, the next president and congress could easily–with the stroke of a pen–vitiate the executive agreement since it would not have the standinding of a treaty..

There is precedent for such action: A controversial arms control agreement with North Korea, negotiated by the administration of President Bill Clinton, was torn up by President George W. Bush on the basis the Pyongyand was blatantly cheating. It was not a treaty either.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatolah Ruhollah Khomeini dismissed the missive as “propaganda.”

It is anyone’s guess whether, if terms can be agreed among the parties, that the Ayatollah will accept it or reject it. Assuming the terms can be agreed, Khomeini now is in a position to blame the Republicans for his rejection.

And Obama in now in a position, should talks fail to achieve closure, to also blame Republican interference, rather than failure on the part of his negotiators to be persuasive at the bargaining table.

In either of these two cases, it might be difficult either for the Senate to impose tougher economic sanctions, or for many trading partners to observe even current sanctions.

However, recall that when President Bush sent forces into Iraq to go after Saddam Hsssein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, suddenly Iran put all of its nuclear weapons activities on hold, probably fearful that otherwise the US might put Iran next on the invasion list.

So if hardliners in Tehran interpret the Republican letter as an effort to scuttle the talks in order to open the way for a military campaign to destroy all known Iranian nuclear weapons facilities, they conceivably could decide that even a less than ideal diplomatic agreement would be preferable to facing two or three months of heavy bombing by the United States and Israel.

Sure Iran would be in a position thereafter to reconstitute the program it insists doesn’t exist. but only after having suffered colossal damage to the infrastructure that has been built, at a colst of billions of dollars, over a decade or more.

So if Iranian decision-makers, on the assumption that the Republicans might conceivably win the next Presidential election, think the GOP prefers the war option, to what they regard as a bad agreement, it might be advisable for Iran to offer an agreement that is less than ideal from its point of view.

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William Beecher is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington correspondent for The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland.

This blog was also published by the World Policy Institute.

NOVEL: ARABELLA UNDERCOVER

My sixth novel focuses on Arabella, a beautiful, adventurous young blonde, who was recruited by the FBI. After two boring years of routine assignments,she finally is given an important undercover mission:to infiltrate a Hezbollah terrorist ring being established for the first time in the United States. Hezbollah is based in Lebanon, but is funded and in part directed by Iranian intelligence. She is extensively prepared for the assignment academically and even has her appearance dulled down to be able to get a job as a teaching assistant to a Muslim professor,suspected of being the ringleader.

Being headstrong and determined to succeed in her first major assignment, she takes risks against the advice of her superiors and very nearly loses her life when her cover is blown. But being fast-thinking and resourceful, she manages to help bring down the terrorist cell before it can implement its bloody plans, which could have produced far more casualties than the 3,000 lost on 9/11.

Arabella was first introduced in my fourth novel, NUCLEAR REVENGE. Several readers were so intrigued, they urged me to further explore her character in a future book. Thus ARABELLA UNDERCOVER.