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Authors: John Spikenard

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The way he said it was just enough to get George to chuckle. He took a deep breath and after a few moments responded to Lannis. “The warhead never would have made it to DC from wherever they brought it ashore, if the media had not weakened our defenses.”

“But George, the media has always played a crucial role in America of keeping politicians honest. I understand more than most the need for intelligence; and I imagine the people in the media do too. But it’s often the media who ensure the intelligence is gathered legally. They’re the watchdogs of our individual freedoms.”

“In principle, I agree with you, Lannis, but I disagree that the media has
always
played the role of watchdog. During World War Two, for example, the media did not knowingly print topsecret national security information like they do today. Nor did they keep politicians honest. In fact, they went out of their way to help President Roosevelt conceal the fact that he was disabled because it would have demoralized the country. In other words, they were
patriots
. They put the well-being of their country ahead of getting a scoop.”

“That’s bullshit, George. The members of the media still put the country’s well-being first, it’s just a matter of opinion as to what’s best for the country.”

“No, the evidence says otherwise,” George angrily responded. “The problem with the post-9/11 press was they were still in the Watergate mode instead of wartime mode. Reporters for the
New York Times
and the
Washington Post
still looked back at Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as their heroes, and they wanted to be just like them. They just didn’t adapt to changing circumstances. They didn’t understand the seriousness of the problem. They didn’t believe that when President Bush said we were in a war, we really were.
They just didn’t get it.

“I disagree, but even if you’re right, you can’t allow the executive branch to run amok. If you do, they will turn the country into a police state, and then the terrorists have won. They’ve achieved their goal of taking away our freedoms.”

This kind of thinking really irritated George, and it was one of the main reasons he disliked Lannis so much. “Don’t be ridiculous, Lannis. I may agree that the executive branch needs some checks and balances, but what makes you think the goal of the terrorists is to take away our freedoms? They don’t want to take away our freedoms;
they want to kill us
! Just look at the freedoms we had already lost before the DC attack. We couldn’t go to a football game without being frisked and searched with a metal detector. The same was true if we wanted to go to the courthouse or into a school. Look at what we had to go through just to get on an airplane back then, even before today’s restrictions were imposed. We had already lost a lot of freedoms, and it didn’t slow down the terrorists one bit. The goal of the terrorists is
not
to take away our freedoms.”

“You’re on a roll, boss, keep it up!” urged Buffalo.

George continued, “And their goal is not to get the U.S. out of the Middle East and away from their oil supplies either, so don’t even go there, Lannis. Ever since President Thornton took over, our country’s policies have been largely isolationist. I remember back when Bush-the-Younger was president, the Democrats in Congress were whining and calling for us to bring home our troops from Iraq before the job was finished. Well, after the Washington attack, Thornton pulled all our troops out of the Middle East, Europe, and Korea. That was pretty shortsighted and naive.”

“I think it was good policy.”

“Yeah, well
you
would. How long have you been an intelligence officer, Lannis?”

“About five years.”

“Five years? You’ve been in the navy at least ten years; what the hell did you do before that?”

“I was a surface warfare officer.”

“A SWO? You were a line officer—why did you switch to Intel?”

“It was getting more and more engineering-intensive. They sent us back for a refresher at Surface Warfare Office School. I’m not an engineer.”

“So what does that mean? You washed out of SWOS or something?”

“Something like that.”


Something like that?
Either you did or you didn’t. Which one is it?”

“Okay, I did.”

George laughed. “I’ve never heard of anyone washing out of SWOS. I mean that’s where people go when they wash out of submarine school or flight training!”

“Yeah, well there you go, George, bad-mouthing surface warfare officers when you don’t know a thing about the rigors of SWOS,” retorted Lannis.

George looked at Buffalo for some support, but the only thing he got in return was a look and a shrug that seemed to say, “He’s right, you know.”

“Okay, okay. I apologize to all the SWOs out there. You’re right—I don’t know anything about it. And now that I think about it, I’m sure surface ships have become just as complex as submarines. But that doesn’t mean I have to apologize to
you
, because you washed out. I don’t know whether you barely washed out or were a total bumpkin.”

“Well I can tell you I barely washed out, and when I went to Intelligence Officer School, I was first in my class. We all have our strengths, George. We just have to find where to apply them.”

There was silence for a minute as they continued to drive toward the naval base. George hated it when Lannis was right! Finally, George broke the silence. “You’re right, Lannis. I was off base with those comments. I’m sure you’re a fine intel officer or you wouldn’t have been selected for the SUBLANT Staff.”

“Thanks.”

“I just wonder why you’re such an idiot when it comes to politics and national security!”

They all laughed.

“Very funny, George,” said Lannis.

They drove in silence for several minutes as it grew lighter outside and Buffalo enjoyed the last of his coffee. Finally, Lannis broke the silence.

“So George, you think President Thornton’s isolationist policies are all wrong? It seems to me the radical Muslims just want to get us out of their neighborhood. What’s wrong with that?”

Much to Buffalo’s relief, George ignored Lannis and continued to drive in silence.

Still trying to provoke George, Lannis continued, “Why don’t we just let them have their Middle Eastern deserts? Sure there’s oil there, but we need to develop other energy sources anyway. Everyone knows the world’s oil supplies can’t last forever.”

“Traffic seems heavier than normal today,” said George.

Lannis chuckled to himself, then made one last attempt to get George to respond. “Okay, George, so what would
you
do?”

George looked at Lannis in the rearview mirror. Fat chance he would tell this little weasel what he would do! Considering his response carefully, George said, “I don’t know for sure, Lannis, but what I
do
know is this:
You cannot defeat fanaticism with moderation
, and that’s what the West is trying to do.”

Chapter 7

 

Nearing Naval Station Norfolk, there was a longer than normal backup for security at the main gate.

“What’s this about?” George asked. “Did either of you guys hear anything about extra security today?”

“No,” they responded in unison.

“Maybe it’s a reaction to the Paris bombing,” ventured Lannis.

“Great. With this delay we’ll really be scrambling to get the briefing together on time,” said George.

Fifteen minutes later, upon finally reaching the gate, George didn’t bother asking the marine guards what the problem was. These guys were grunts. They knew only one thing: They were told to check everybody’s ID and to search the trunk of every car. And that’s exactly what they were doing. George had learned long ago that even if the marines knew what they were looking for, they weren’t going to tell you, so don’t bother asking.

“Thank you, sir,” said the marine corporal, handing back their military ID cards and sharply saluting.

George saluted the marine and drove through the gate. Once clear of the gate and the guards, George headed straight for SUBLANT Headquarters. The twenty-mile-per-hour speed limit on the base was really irritating when he was late, and today it seemed to take an eternity to reach the two-story, redbrick building with a mock-up of a Polaris ballistic missile beside the building extending thirty feet into the air. George parked in the designated area for staff members on the perimeter of the headquarters building. It was usually a pleasant walk to the front entrance, but not when you were fifteen minutes late to prepare the admiral’s briefing.

They entered the building and walked down the gleaming, polished linoleum hallway shiny enough to see yourself. Photographs of each submarine in the fleet adorned the walls together with the appropriate photos of the president, secretary of the navy, chief of naval operations, and Admiral Charles “Rowdy” Yates, COMSUBLANT himself. If they could just do something about the painted cinderblock walls, the place might actually be an attractive place to work.

Buffalo gave a mock salute to Admiral Yates’s photo. “Howdy Rowdy!” he said in jest as part of his daily routine.

George snickered. Lannis ignored him.

It seemed that anyone in the navy who rose to the rank of admiral had a nickname, whether they wanted it or not. They either earned it through their deeds over the years, or it was associated with them because of the likeness of their name to some famous person or fictional character. In this case, the admiral’s nickname referred to Rowdy Yates, the Clint Eastwood character from the old television series
Rawhide
. As they all knew, there was nothing rowdy about Admiral Yates. He was all business.

As they approached the briefing area, George ran into Yeoman First Class Leona Harris. Yeomen are the navy’s administrative personnel, and Petty Officer Harris’s many years of experience, although mostly in other navy commands, made her an invaluable asset to George Adams. She was about fivefoot six with short blond hair and penetrating greenish-blue eyes. Buffalo referred to her in private as “Sparkle Eyes”, even though the nickname seemed to irritate George. George found her quite attractive. It was a wonder how a woman of such beauty could remain single amongst so many single men. Official navy regulations, of course, forbade any type of fraternization between officers and enlisted members of the service—regulations that George had never questioned in the past.

George saw her first and offered, “Good morning, Petty Officer Harris.”

She turned and handed him a stack of papers prepared for the briefing. “Good morning, Commander. Did you hear the news?”

“About Paris?” George guessed.

“No, al-Qaeda delivered another videotape to Al Jazeera. They are promising another nuclear attack on the U.S…. and soon!”

“They’ve declared that a dozen times since DC,” George replied. “So what’s news about that?”

“This tape has more details. It sounds more ominous.”

“What can be more ominous than saying they have a nuclear weapon and they’re going to sneak it into the country and blow up a major city?” George asked sarcastically.

“This time the tape says the first attack was a glorious victory for Allah, but not enough infidels died. At least three to five
million
U.S. citizens need to die before we begin to feel the same kind of pain Muslims have endured because of U.S. policy in the Middle East.”

“Okay, so other than specifying how many of us they plan to murder, that still doesn’t sound new.”

Lannis and Petty Officer Ed Humphrey, the admiral’s yeoman, stopped in the hallway nearby to discuss some papers. Seeing that they were within earshot, Petty Officer Harris became more formal.

“Well as you know,
sir
, exact translations are always a problem, and the sound quality is not too great on the copy our analysts finally obtained. But the speaker on the tape seems to be hinting they have more than one bomb, and they’re planning to use them soon.”

“How many and how soon?” George asked.

“We don’t know that. The analysts just think some of the sentence structure on the tape indicates plural warheads or plural operations being planned.”

“Great! So we continue to live in fear of an undeterminable threat for an undeterminable amount of time. Wow! If there’s anything terrorists know how to do, it’s instill terror. They’re masters at using psychology against us. It’s the
unknown
that gets us, and they really play that aspect to the hilt.”

“Sir?”

“It’s like this—if you know a bomb is going to go off at the corner drugstore on Tuesday, you can stay safe simply by staying away from the drugstore on Tuesday. But if you only know that a bomb is going to go off, but you don’t know when or where, it’s much more frightening because you can’t control it. As you walk down the street on any given day, the bomb could go off right next to you at any time. One minute you could be enjoying a clear, crisp, beautiful fall morning, and the next minute, paramedics are picking up the pieces.”

“Wonderful thought,” Petty Officer Harris responded sarcastically.

“The terrorists tease us,” George continued. “It’s like playing a game to them. They keep
leaking
these reports of more nuclear attacks so that we’re constantly wondering if it’s true or not. We don’t have a single day of peace. As far as we know, these nukes you’re talking about could already be in the country, or the whole thing could be a bluff.”

“We don’t think it’s a bluff, sir. The progress the CIA made in tracking down the origin of the DC bomb indicated a number of ex-Soviet warheads that could not be accounted for. Al-Qaeda could have gotten their hands on at least three or four of them.”

“Okay, so why do we think the attacks may be coming soon?” George asked as they moved down the hallway toward his office and away from Lannis’s prying ears.

George and Petty Officer Harris often played this question-and-answer game before the admiral’s briefing. George would ask every question he thought Admiral Yates might ask of
him
during the briefing. If Petty Officer Harris’s answer was incomplete or unconvincing, and he could not add anything to it, he would identify it as a weakness they needed to fix before the briefing. If at all possible, they would get the missing information by 0800. Otherwise, they would initiate actions to get it. Generally, the admiral wanted answers. But you could satisfy him, at least temporarily, if you already had an action plan to get the information and an estimate of when you would get it. What really irritated Admiral Yates was a staff member who had no answer and no plan to get the answer because he never even thought of the question.

Staff work had trained you to think like an admiral. You learned to anticipate the admiral’s questions. If you could do that, a staff assignment was great for your career. Once the admiral became convinced you were admiral-material yourself, you would get an excellent fitness report. A one-percent REP fitness report (meaning top one percent and Recommended for Early Promotion) signed by an admiral was like gold when your record went before a promotion board or a commanding officer (CO) selection board. The submarine CO selection board was meeting next month, and George Adams was up for command selection. He could not afford to screwup now.

“I don’t like this situation,” George confided to Petty Officer Harris. “Admiral Yates will be looking to me as the ops officer, and to Lannis as the intel officer, to provide answers about this latest threat. I don’t have any answers, and I’m pretty sure Lannis doesn’t either.”

“Admiral Yates is not one to take ‘I don’t know’ as an answer,” Petty Officer Harris reminded him.

“That’s true, but those are really Intel questions. Intel has to tell us about the threat. Ops is responsible for coming up with a response once Intel has defined the threat. At least it’s going to be pleasurable to watch Lannis squirm. Somehow, that guy always manages to come out of the admiral’s briefing smelling like a rose. Admiral Yates banters questions with him and even seems to enjoy the process and the personal interaction.”

“You sound a little jealous to me…”

“Yeah? Well, maybe I am. It’s clear Lannis’s part of the briefing is the admiral’s favorite, and I have to admit, I find that really irritating. Surely Admiral Yates can see through that brown-nosed apple polisher!”

“Whoa, you sound more than a
little
jealous!”

“Lannis is a real
smack
, that’s for sure!” George continued, using the vernacular he had learned years ago at the Academy—smack, of course, being a lightly veiled reference to an ass kisser. “Some people get ahead by ass-kissing. I’ve always preferred to distinguish myself through hard work and superior performance.”

Petty Officer Harris could see this conversation was going downhill fast and opted to say nothing. After a few awkward moments of silence, George continued with the briefing preparations.

“Ok, I’m pretty sure Intel is not going to have any answers about where, when, or how al-Qaeda plans to get this weapon or weapons into the U.S.,” he said. “For our part, we’ll concentrate on a plan to increase the number of submarine patrols off the coast. We’ll maximize the number by accelerating some maintenance activities and getting as many attack boats on station as we can muster. And depending on Intel’s threat assessment, we may also throw out the question of whether the admiral would consider using some boomers in the attack role.”

“Well, wait a minute,” Petty Office Harris responded. “I thought attack submarines were designed for the mission of seeking out and destroying enemy submarines and enemy ships. Their crews are trained to do that either independently or in coordinated hunter/killer groups. Right?”

“Yes.”

“And isn’t the mission of boomers to stay hidden for sixty days or more while always being ready to launch their ballistic missiles at a moment’s notice?”

“Yes.”

“Well, can the boomers do both at the same time?”

“Probably not,” George responded. “It would mean giving up some strategic assets until this crisis is over.”

“Sounds like a risky thing to suggest to Admiral Yates,” ventured Petty Office Harris. “He probably won’t like the idea of pulling strategic assets out of their patrol areas. You know how he is.”

“Yeah, I know. The guy’s a dinosaur. He still has a coldwar mentality while the threat to our security has totally changed. I realize there has always been a well-defined line between strategic assets that would be used in a nuclear war and tactical assets that would be used in lesser conflicts, and it’s almost unheard of to use strategic assets to perform a tactical mission. But if the threat changes, and you have an asset out there that can help eliminate the new threat, why would you refuse to even consider using it just because of some artificial designation as strategic rather than tactical?”

“Now don’t go trying to use logic on him—admirals aren’t known for that, you know!”

George laughed and repeated one of his stock phrases, “What good are boomers on patrol against a band of terrorist thugs with a nuke?” He continued, “We might as well put the boomers to good use in the attack role. After all, boomers have sonars and torpedoes, too, you know.”

“Yes, sir, I know.”

“Okay, one more thing,” said George, realizing he didn’t need to convince Petty Officer Harris. “Add another slide related to joint operations. Let’s list the names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses of points of contact for coordinators in the coast guard and the air force. We want to show the admiral we have a joint plan to intercept anything coming into the country, be it under the surface, on the surface, or in the air. Got it?”

“Aye-aye, sir.” Leona turned and started for the door.

“And keep that great memory of yours for numbers working during the briefing. I want to lay out the current disposition of forces when we get back to the office.”

As she hurried out the door, she glanced back. “Yes, sir—as always!”

Leona Harris had an unusual ability, which George had found to be very useful. She could look at a map or chart during the briefing and afterward remember the minutest details of the numbers and positions of all of the ships and submarines depicted. Her memory had made George look like a genius more than once!

BOOK: Counter Poised
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