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Authors: Richard Herman

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BOOK: Force of Eagles
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“My God,” he whispered, “it’s Amiens jail,” where the Gestapo in World War II held hundreds of French Resistance fighters and the RAF raided it to help break them out…Was it a farfetched leap from then to now, or a possible way out for those POWs?

 

 

 

Chapter 5: D Minus 30

 

The Pentagon

 

Simon Mado was standing in front of an easel in his office. Rough block letters at the top of the twenty-by-thirty-inch briefing charts on the easel spelled out “Top Secret.”

“The President wants the POWs out within a month.”

“A D-day within thirty days—that’s going to be tough,” Stansell said.

“I’ve worked up a milestone chart showing what’s got to be done if we’re going to be ready,” Mado said. “It’s D minus thirty today.” He pointed to the chart that was numbered from thirty down to one and filled with neatly printed notes showing what had to be accomplished by each day. It was an ambitious plan. “Use this week to get an intelligence and training section together, find a training site and complete the operations plan. While you’re doing that I’ll line up the C-130s and the army unit that will be going in. By D minus twenty-three, next Monday, I want you in place at the training site ready to bed down the C-130s and the army and start training. By Tuesday, D minus twenty-two, have the ops plan completed. After you talk to Allen Camm at the CIA today, touch base with Air Force Special Activities Center at Fort Belvoir. I’ve told them you’re coming.”

The meeting over, Stansell left, impressed by the general’s work. No wonder he’s a fast-burner and made general so fast, he thought as he headed for the Pentagon’s huge parking lot, hoping he could remember where he had left his car. Eventually he located it and was soon headed toward the exit that led to the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Langley, Virginia, home of the CIA. In spite of himself, he kept looking for a blue BMW in his rearview mirror.

Heavy traffic on the parkway turned the seven mile drive into a twenty minute ordeal, and a white Chevrolet sedan three cars back kept changing lanes with him. He was so intent on watching the Chevrolet that he almost rear-ended a car in front of him. A prominent sign over the parkway pointed to the CIA’s exit in plenty of time for him to make the turnoff. The Chevy sped by in the inside lane. You’re getting paranoid, he cautioned himself.

A bright, protypically eager-looking college girl was waiting for him at the security desk inside the main entrance. She looked all of twenty years. After signing him in, she led the way through the building, up to the third floor. Stansell noticed many of the hallways were next to the windows and that the offices were set inside, windowless.

“Worked for the company long?” he asked.

“We don’t call it that. Not long. I’m Mr. Camm’s gofer.” She beamed at him, then ushered him into Camm’s office and left.

“Well, Colonel Stansell, what can we do for the Air Force?”

The man extending his hand was clearly old school—establishment—tall and slender with a mane of carefully styled, graying hair. He wore a dark gray tailored suit and a regimental tie. His old, well-brushed shoes added to the image of understated refinement. Allen J. Camm was a member in good standing of the old Harvard-Yale-Princeton triumvirate at the CIA.

“General Cunningham suggested I contact you to open a channel for a special Air Force operation,” Stansell said.

“We prefer to funnel all our information through the DIA.” Camm’s accent was proper Bostonian.

“We’re going to need direct access, if possible. I talked to Brigadier Eichler yesterday and he stressed the need for
current
intelligence.”

“Ah, the POWs, no doubt. Sorry to hear about The Brigadier, he died yesterday evening.” Camm let the news sink in, gauging Stansell’s reaction.

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said, but was hardly surprised. “You’re right about the POWs. General Cunningham seemed to think you’re the man to see…”

“It will take a major policy decision to open a new channel and my office can’t make that decision. I’ll have to take it to the Director, and Mr. Burke has a rather full plate right now. But if you forward your request in writing I’ll put it before him.” Camm pressed a button on his intercom panel. He was dismissing Stansell.

“Thanks for your time, Mr. Camm. I’ll get the request to you.”

The self-styled gofer reappeared at the door and chatted about the changing weather as they walked back to the entrance. After saying good-by Susan Fisher walked briskly back to her office, made a phone call, picked up two files and went directly into Carom’s office. In real life she was the case officer he had assigned to the POWs.

“Well?” Camm said.

“We got some good ID shots. No right ear makes him easy to pick out.” The cutesy college-coed act was gone. “This is the first I’ve heard of the Air Force planning a rescue mission. Leachmeyer’s got a well-developed plan in rehearsal right now at Fort Bragg. Looks like the services are competing with each other again. You know Cunningham.”

“He’s a wild card.”

“We’ve got a team monitoring the action-arm of the Islamic Jihad. They’ve at least five agents operating in the U.S., and the team reported two of the Jihadis followed Stansell yesterday. Apparently, he made them. They were driving a blue BMW. Very damn obvious. We put a surveillance team on Stansell to see if the Jihadis followed up. Stansell made our people this morning.”

“Is he that good? And is the Islamic Jihad onto the rescue mission?”

“We don’t think so. Two other Jihadis are at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. They’ve staked out the two sergeants who rescued Stansell, killed the guards and dragged him out of Ras Assanya when they broke out. It tracks with a report out of Beirut. The Jihad is trying to kidnap or assassinate the three men who escaped out of Ras Assanya, which would embarrass the U.S. at the Geneva negotiations.”

“How did the Jihad get onto Stansell so quick?”

“One of their agents has taken over a sergeant that works in Pass and ID at the Pentagon.” She handed Camm a sharp color photograph. “She’s turned him every which way but loose. Sex still works. She’s working two others.”

Camm handed the photo back to Fisher. “Few men would stand a chance against someone like her. Okay, keep on top of the situation. When we get a request from Stansell through channels, send him a copy of everything we’ve given Leachmeyer and the JSOA on the POWs. Make sure he gets a copy of anything new we send to the JSOA. Give the FBI enough information on the Jihad agents so they can roll them up. For God’s sake, make ’em work for it. If the Bureau finds out we’re operating inside the U.S. again . .” Camm paused, then: “See if you can turn the woman. We might be able to use her. Find out who’s financing the Jihad’s operation here and which embassy is providing them support. I don’t like the Islamic Jihad expanding their operations into the U.S. They specialize in hostages.”

Fisher was scratching a few notes. “Should we sanitize and pass on intelligence from Deep Furrow to the JSOA and Stansell?”

“No way.” Camm was determined to protect Deep Furrow, the net of contacts and operatives he was developing inside Iran. “Deep Furrow would surprise too many people who don’t need that kind of shock right now,” he told the young woman.

*

Stansell was back on the Parkway heading for Fort Belvoir. His eyes kept darting to the rearview mirror, looking for a tail. You’re not being paranoid, just prudent, he told himself. The traffic was lighter as he passed the Pentagon and continued south into Virginia. What a complete waste of time that was, he thought, the CIA is caught up in bureaucratic bullshit and old school ties.

A sharp MP at Fort Belvoir’s main gate directed him to the northern part of the post, where an isolated compound housed the Air Force Special Activities Center. A guard at the Center escorted Stansell through the double chain-link fence.

The Special Activities Center was responsible for the management of all Air Force human intelligence activities, HUMINT, the Air Force’s version of old-fashioned spying. The Center started life as the 1127th Field Activities Group, a collection of oddball con artists whose job was to get the right people to talk. When the generals couldn’t stand having such a screwball outfit in the Air Force, they changed its name to the 7612th Air Intelligence Group in a try for respectability and conformity. When that didn’t work they changed it to the Special Activities Center and clamped a bureaucratic umbrella over it. The building Stansell walked into looked and smelled like a military organization.

The brigadier general running the outfit was a no-nonsense type, and Stansell snapped a salute when he was shown into his office. A prominent autographed photo of Eichler on the wall caught his attention.

“Sorry to hear about The Brigadier,” Stansell said.

A quizzical look on the one-star’s face told him that the Center had not yet heard.

“He died Sunday evening, I’m told. Probably right after I talked to him—”

“You talked to him?”

“Yes, sir. About rescuing the POWs. He was very weak but entirely lucid.”

“That would be just like Messy.” The general picked up the phone and relayed the news to his executive officer. “Thanks for telling us. The Brigadier was special around here.” He rolled a pencil in his fingers, studying Stansell. “What can you tell me about your conversation?”

Stansell recounted the visit and the reason behind it.

“You mentioned Simon Mado.”

“He’s my boss, sir. General Cunningham has made him the task force commander.”

“Mado is an asshole, but a damn competent one. Well, The Brigadier was right, intelligence is the key. You’re going to need all the help you can get. A beautifully planned and executed mission can go bust without up-to-date accurate intel. The Son Tay raid to free sixty-one POWs in North Vietnam in 1970 was a textbook example. Perfect, except when they got there the POWs were gone. An old-fashioned operative on the ground would have prevented that. The Center isn’t allowed to run foreign operatives any more but we can do other things for you.”

The general hit his intercom. “Dewa, can you please come in?” For the first time the general smiled. “Just one of our civilian intelligence specialists. Fluent in Farsi.”

The woman who entered the office stood five feet three in high heels and seemed a direct descendant of the women who inspired the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Black shoulder-length hair framed her dark eyes and fair complexion. The general introduced Stansell to Dewa Rahimi.

She extended her hand. “My pleasure, Colonel. I’ve read about you and what happened at Ras Assanya.” There was no trace of a foreign accent.

“Colonel Stansell is working on a mission to get the POWs out of Kermanshah. I want the Center to give him all the help we can. He’s going to need an operative on the ground, which we don’t have. You’ve debriefed quite a few Iranians. Let’s see if we can pull someone out who would be willing to work for him and go back inside. I want you to be his contact with us. Give him whatever he needs.”

Dewa played it with a straight face.

“Colonel, if you like, I’ll detail Dewa to you on temporary duty for your intelligence section. Besides speaking Farsi, she’s a computer whiz. But we want her back.”

Stansell caught himself from expressing excessive gratitude. “Thank you, general, that would be most fine. I can’t think of anything else for now. Thanks for your support. Much more, I might say, than I got from the CIA.”

Rahimi spoke up as he was about to leave. “Colonel Stansell, I need your number.”

Stansell stared.

“I need to know who to call so I can report to work.”

The general smiled. Dewa did have that effect.

*

 

The Zagros Mountains, Iran

 

The blow ricocheted off Carroll’s shoulder before hitting his head. But the boy had swung the rifle butt with enough force to knock him out of his seat. Carroll was vaguely aware of a woman’s shrill voice—“Kill him…”

The driver pulled the bus to the side of the road and turned off the headlights. Carroll could hear the brakes groaning through the floorboards. A sour smell assaulted his senses. Was it the tattered rubber floor matting? He pretended unconsciousness, trying to push away the fuzz swirling through his head. All the passengers were awake, jabbering and shouting, undecided and confused.

“Kill him.” It was the same woman’s voice. No one seemed to be listening to her.

“Move him,” a male voice said. “He’s blocking the aisle.” Four hands picked him up and shoved him into a seat.

Carroll didn’t move, his chin on his chest. The fuzz was shredding, leaving a splitting headache. He could feel the right side of his head throb. What the hell had happened? He could hear most of the passengers clambering off the bus, anxious to get away and not be involved. The padding under him shifted—he was in the same seat. The side of his head didn’t feel warm or moist, apparently he wasn’t bleeding. Only the woman’s voice dominated the conversation around him and no one seemed to be listening to her repeated demands to kill him. There was no one in charge. He listened for traffic, tried to figure a way to escape. Now he was sure they were on a deserted part of the highway. But what had given him away? He derided to risk a groan.

“Kill him—” the woman said again—“my sons, my husband, martyred, and now this foreign devil lives, filth on the earth—”

“His name is Javad Khalian,” the man who had been sharing the seat with Carroll said. “He is a sergeant in the commandos of the Revolutionary Guard. He is one of the elite.”

“You believe him? He is the man the Council of Guardians is looking for…”

“And how many suspects have they already hung?” another voice said.

Carroll decided it was time to become a player before someone with a clue took charge. He moved and groaned again, opening his eyes. A black-shrouded figure hovered in front of him. He blinked at the woman and she jumped back. A twelve-year-old boy held his AK-47, the muzzle pointed directly at him. Was he the one who had knocked him down? “Point it at the ground,” he told the boy. “Only raise it when you intend to kill in the name of Allah.”

BOOK: Force of Eagles
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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