Memorial Day, p.26Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
Add to all of that a convoluted, misguided, and rabid political correctness that permeated nearly every meeting, and you were left with an environment in which the inconsequential was debated and dissected, and the issues of real importance were obfuscated and put off for someone else to deal with at a later date. It was not the type of place where a man of action felt at ease, but it was nonetheless where Mitch Rapp found himself on this Thursday morning in May, sitting in the Cabinet Room with a painting of Teddy Roosevelt appropriately looming over his shoulder. His surly mood had not abated, but for Irene's sake he was working to conceal it. All but four of the eighteen leather chairs were occupied. The national security team was assembled and waiting on their commander in chief to join them.
President Hayes entered with a smile on his face and a jovial bounce to his step. Everyone immediately stood, even Rapp, though he didn't feel like it. As the president walked past him, he squeezed Rapp's shoulder as a sign of his gratitude. So far he had not had the chance to thank him personally.
Hayes continued around the table to his chair that was positioned facing portraits of Lincoln and Jefferson. Chief of Staff Valerie Jones, never far from her master, took the vacant chair to the president's right. The thought occurred to Rapp, not for the first time, that it would have been more fitting for her to be seated on his left. Attorney General Stokes entered next and was followed by a tall blonde who Rapp assumed was this Stealey woman McMahon had told him about. So intense was Rapp's resentment of this woman that he failed to notice her obvious beauty. The Department of Justice officials took their seats opposite the president and then everyone sat.
Rapp had watched part of the press conference in Kennedy's limo and it was obvious that Attorney General Stokes was riding high on the accolades he'd received from the president. After National Security Advisor Haik announced the agenda, Paul Reimer from the Department of Energy took over.
Holding a yellow legal pad in his hands the man in charge of the Nuclear Emergency Support Teams began on a very sober note by saying, "Our scientists have concluded that if the various components that we intercepted had actually been assembled, the device would in fact have obtained a yield in the twenty-kiloton range." Reimer cleared his throat and added, "A nuclear weapon of that size would have destroyed the capital and killed over a hundred thousand people in the initial burst. In the following month that number would double due to the radiation effects."
A morbid silence fell over the meeting. Somewhat used to dealing with these scenarios strategically, General Flood was the first to move on. "Have you figured out where this thing came from?"
"That's the million-dollar question," replied Reimer. "Twenty KT is not significant by nuclear bomb standards, but by no means is it small. Attribution for the special nuclear material could take up to six months, but there are certain design geometrics that lead us to believe the weapon is of Soviet origin."
The president sensed there was more. "You sound a little shaky in your assessment."
"We have a slight disagreement among several of our scientists at the moment, but we're ninety percent confident that the weapon is in fact Soviet made."
"What's the other ten percent saying?"
"There is a slight possibility that it is one of the Pakistanis' early prototype designs."
The president looked at his secretary of state, briefly, and then back at Reimer. "Based on some of the intelligence we've already gathered I would be inclined to think the chances of this thing being Pakistani would be much higher."
"It's that intelligence, sir the missing scientists in particular that is causing us to leave the door open on the Pakistani issue. From a purely scientific standpoint, we are very confident that it's Soviet."
Reimer looked at the other attendees before answering, and then turned his attention back to the president. "As I said, it will take us six months to figure out exactly where this material originated, to finger-print, in other words, the exact reactor where the SNM was made, but that is not the only way to identify the origin. The other method is through design analysis. At first we were thrown by this weapon. We'd never seen anything like it, which led us to believe that it was possibly an early Pakistani design that we knew nothing about. This was where the minor dissent, if you will, originally started. With the design.
"We ran the design through the computers and came up with nothing. Typically weapons with yields in the ten to twenty range tend to be designed for torpedoes, cruise missiles, or artillery shells. This weapon does not fit that design geometry profile. We were running out of ideas when one of our senior scientists remembered a series of tests that the Soviet Union conducted during the late sixties and into the mid-seventies."
Reimer flipped through a thick file and asked, "How many of you are familiar with the Kazakh test site?"
General Flood and Director Kennedy were the only two people who raised their hands.
Reimer held up a map. "The Kazakh test site is located in western Kazakhstan on the northern edge of the Caspian Sea. From 1949 to roughly 1990 the Soviets conducted 620 known nuclear explosions at this site. That is approximately two thirds of all Soviet tests. Over 300 megatons of nuclear weapons were exploded at this one range alone. To put that into perspective, that's the equivalent of roughly 20,000 Hiroshima bombs and nearly twice the amount of all U.S. tests."
Rapp only heard the first part. His mind fixed on it. He leaned forward in his chair and raised his hand to get Reimer's attention. "Paul, you said this test site is located on the northern edge of the Caspian."
"You might be interested to know that when we raided the al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan one of the things we found was a map of the Caspian region."
Reimer's thick eyebrows arched in surprise. "Could you send it to me when we're done?"
Reimer jotted a quick note and then continued saying, "From the late sixties to the mid-seventies the Soviets tested a series of atomic demolition munitions. ADMs. We don't know a lot about these because they were not designed for military purposes."
"Then what were they for?" asked the president.
"A significant part of the Kazakh test site is rich in salt deposits. The idea behind these tests was to create extremely cheap and large underground storage facilities for oil, natural gas, and radioactive waste."
"Did it work?"
"No. A Soviet scientist who was involved in the program defected in 1979, and gave us detailed information about the results. Our scientific people looked into it and agreed that it was something that wasn't worth pursuing."
"So how would al-Qaeda get their hands on this bomb?" the president asked.
In Reimer's mind there were only two possibilities. One of them, that the Soviets had sold the material, was extremely remote, and he wasn't about to throw it out in front of this group until he knew more. The other possibility, that al-Qaeda actually retrieved the material from the test site themselves, was more likely, but there were others at the table who were in a better position to answer, so he said, "I'm not sure, Mr. President."
Secretary of State Berg leaned forward and looked at CIA Director Kennedy. "We need to get the Russians involved."
"I agree. They can lean on the Kazakhs better than we can."
The president looked across at Flood. "General?"
"I concur. They don't want this stuff floating around any more than we do. They might not tell us everything they find, but they'll deal with the problem."
"What does that mean exactly?" asked Jones.
"On something this big," Flood answered, "people will be marched in front of a firing squad, and if they want to save themselves and their families they'll be given one last chance to confess."
Rapp simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to make his opinion on a related matter known. "You mean like we should do with the two guys we picked up in Charleston."
If anyone other than Rapp had made the comment, th
President Hayes decided to let the comment pass. He had been warned by Kennedy that Rapp wouldn't like the move by the Justice Department, but he knew when he had the opportunity he'd be able to talk some sense into him.
"It goes without saying that we need to keep all of this very quiet," Hayes said. "So far the press has no idea just how destructive this weapon could've been, and I stress the wordcould. I've talked to Paul about this." The president glanced at Reimer. "This device was never fully assembled, and even then, it would have had to have been put together by someone highly skilled or it would have never reached its full destructive power. Therefore, it is highly likely it would have been nothing more than a subatomic yield. So for reasons that should be apparent to all of us, from this point forward the device will be referred to only as a dirty bomb in official circles."
Rapp clenched and then flexed his hands in agitation. A disaster had been averted, but there was still real work to be done and instead they were playing word games. He couldn't resist pointing out the obvious.
He looked down the length of the table. "Paul, would Dr. Imtaz Zubair be skilled enough to assemble the weapon so that it could obtain its optimal yield?"
Reimer nodded, "Yes."
Chief of Staff Jones asked, "Who is Dr. Zubair?"
"He's a Pakistani nuclear scientist who entered the country on Monday using a false passport." Rapp looked directly at the president and then Jones. "You haven't heard of him?"
"Yes, we've heard of him," snapped Jones. "We've got a little bit more to worry about than the name of every terrorist who's trying to attack us."
"Val, after he arrived at LAX, do you know where he went?"
"No." Jones began jotting down notes as if Rapp had already lost her attention.
"Atlanta." Undeterred, Rapp turned to the attorney general and his deputy. FBI Director Roach, who was sitting next to Stokes, thought he knew what was coming and slid his chair back a bit to get out of the way.
"Do we know anyone else from Atlanta?" asked Rapp in an ominously calm voice. "Maybe a couple of Saudi immigrants who tried to pick up a nuclear bomb yesterday?"
Before the attorney general could answer Peggy Stealey asked, "What's your point, Mr. Rapp?"
Rapp was caught slightly off guard that the blonde had answered for her boss but he returned her unwavering stare. "Do you think that just maybe those two guys you have locked up out in Fairfax might be able to tell us where to start looking for Dr. Zubair?"
"Mr. Rapp, our investigation is proceeding just fine, so I still don't see your point."
"Have you found, Dr. Zubair?"
"No, Mr. Rapp, we haven't, but rest assured we will."
Rapp was not about to give up. "Forgive me if I don't share your confidence."
Stealey chose to ignore the jab.
Rapp wasn't inclined to quit just yet. "What information have you gotten out of the two men in jail?"
Stealey looked at him as if she had tired of this line of questioning and was just barely able to conceal her impatience. "Mr. Rapp, this is a domestic issue that is already in front of the courts."
"And your point is "
"The two suspects in question have a lawyer," she said now with a healthy dose of irritation in her voice. "Surely you are not suggesting torture as a method to get these men to talk?"
"I don't give ashit what you use to get them to talk. Just get them talking, and do it fast."
Stealey's face flushed, but her piercing eyes never left Rapp's. "This is entirely ludicrous."
Rapp was beyond the point of caring. "I'll tell you what's ludicrous. Mustafa al-Yamani, one of al-Qaeda's top lieutenants, is in America right now, and I'll guarantee you the two men you have in custody have information that could help us capture him."
"Mr. Rapp, the Justice Department doesn't tell you how to conduct your business outside this country, so I suggest you return the favor and let us handle things here in America."
"Actually you do try to tell me how to do my job. I just choose to ignore you."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to do the same."
"How do you know they don't have another bomb? How do you know they don't have another attack planned? We can't take the chance. Those men you have in jail need to be interrogated, and don't tell me you can't find a federal judge to revoke their citizenship, because if you can't, I can think of one that'll have it all taken care of in thirty minutes."
"And we'll have a media nightmare on our hands," growled Valerie Jones. "I am fed up with these outbursts." She looked to Rapp's boss. "If you can't control him, don't bring him to these meetings anymore."
Rapp stood up so fast his chair toppled over. He slammed his left hand down flat on the table. "Outbursts," he shouted at Jones. "These two pricks were planning on wiping Washington, D.C., off the map! I think the American people might cut us a little slack if we decide to deny them their day in court!"
"That's it." The president stood and pointed at Rapp and then Kennedy. "My office! Right now!"
* * *
Rapp marched down the hall and seriously considered walking right out the door and never looking back. People who didn't share his commitment were one thing, but actually getting in his way was another. Before he could decide, Kennedy caught up.
"You said what needed to be said."
Rapp shook his head and kept moving. "I'm getting sick of this bullshit, Irene."
"I know you are, but hang in there." In a quieter voice she added, "He needs to hear you. Don't back down."
Surprised, Rapp turned his head and stared at her. Kennedy usually told him to keep his mouth shut. They turned into the Oval Office and a moment later were joined by the president and Jones. The four of them faced one another in front of the president's desk.
Jones started to speak and the president held up his hand and stopped her cold. It was obvious he was trying to remain calm. "This is the White House. I need levelheaded advisors, and I will tolerate nothing less."
Rapp was beyond caring. He was incensed at the lunacy of such decisions in the face of something so serious. "Levelheaded," he repeated. "Okay, how about this for a levelheaded assessment?" He took in a deep breath and then in a very calm voice said, "The next time a group of Islamic radical fundamentalists try to blow up Washington, D.C., you might want to consult your entire national security team, including the director of the CIA, and place a little less emphasis on the advice you receive from your attorney general, who by the way is looking to make a name for himself so he can be your running mate in the upcoming election."
Hayes's fair complexion had grown flushed. "You are on thin ice, Mister."
"Oh I forgot one other thing. You should also place a little less emphasis on what your chief of staff tells you since she doesn't have the slightest idea what she's talking about when it comes to terrorism."
Hayes's face was now beet red. "Mitch, I have a lot of respect for you, but I'm getting sick and tired of you walking around here like you're the only person who cares the only person who's contributed."
Rapp's anger reached a steady boil. Barely able to conceal his fury he kept his eyes locked on the president and said, "The next time you compare the contributions I've made in the fight against terrorism to that of your political appointees, you won't have to worry about firing me."
"Everybody contributes in their own way. Just because they aren't out in the field doesn't mean they aren't as committed to the war on terror just as much as you." Hayes pointed his finger at Rapp. "You need to start respecting other people's opinions, and realize you're not the only one with the answers."
Rapp didn't wonder for even a second if he was in the wrong. He had his faults, and he was more than aware of them, but what he had just heard from the president was absolute unadulterated bullshit. "Mr. President, you sit here in this vacuum with all of these sycophan
"Of course I have."
"Mr. President, there are a lot of things that I don't tell you about. Stuff that you're better off not knowing, but maybe now's a good time to give a you a glimpse into what it takes to win this war. Do you have any idea how we found out that the nuclear material was on the ship headed for Charleston?"
Hayes shook his head.
"We pulled five prisoners out of that village in Pakistan, sir, and none of them were willing to talk. I lined them all up, and started with a man named Ali Saed al-Houri. I put a gun to his head, and when he refused to answer my questions I blew his brains out, Mr. President. I executed the bastard, and I didn't feel an ounce of shame or guilt. I thought of the innocent men and women who were forced to jump out of the burning World Trade Center, and I pulled the trigger. I moved on to the next terrorist and blew his brains out too, and then the third guy in line started singing like a bird. That's how we found out about the bomb, sir. That's what it takes to win this war on terror. So don't lecture me about commitment because I doubt anyone else on your national security staff would have pulled that trigger, and don't ever forget that if I hadn't, we wouldn't even have the luxury of this argument. That is for certain."
* * *
It was midmorning by the time they reached the construction site. Al-Yamani drove past the entrance twice before turning in. He even stopped once and scanned the sky to make sure there were no helicopters following him. He had very bad memories when it came to helicopters. They reminded him of the early years in Afghanistan when the Soviets had dominated the battlefield with their lethal flying machines. Al-Yamani loved the bitter irony that it was the Americans with their shoulder-launched Stinger missiles who had helped them to beat the godless communists. To al-Yamani it was further proof that Allah was on their side.
Memorial Day by Vince Flynn / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes