CIA agent John Wells returns, in a novel that reaches beyond today's headlines to foretell dangers yet to come, from the author of The Faithful Spy- "one of the best spy stories ever told" (The Wall Street Journal).
Alex Berenson's 2006 debut was one of the most acclaimed suspense novels of the year, "the best spy thriller in a long, long while" (The Kansas City Star). The Ghost War proves that he is no longer a brilliant newcomer but a master of the art.
In The Faithful Spy, John Wells became the only American CIA agent ever to penetrate al-Qaeda, but his handlers became distrustful of him, and he of them. He had to stop a devastating terrorist attack nearly alone.
Now Wells is back in Washington. His wounds have healed, but his mind is far from clear. He is restless, uneasy in his skin, and careless with his safety. When the CIA finds evidence of a surge in Taliban activity, backed by an unknown foreign power, it takes little to convince Wells to return to Afghanistan to investigate. But what he discovers there is far from what he expected.
A deadly power play in China, a mission to North Korea gone terribly wrong, an Iran determined to go nuclear, a mole within the ranks of the CIA who is about to light a fuse, the consequences of which he cannot possibly understand-the world is hurtling toward confrontation. And, this time, there may be nothing John Wells can do to stop it. Real-world threats, authentic details, a scenario as dramatic as it is plausible-The Ghost War is another "timely reminder of the extremely precarious way we live now" (The Washington Post).
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As a reporter for The New York Times, Alex Berenson has covered topics ranging from the occupation of Iraq to the flooding of New Orleans to the financial crimes of Bernie Madoff. His previous novels include The Faithful Spy, winner of the 2007 Edgar Award, and The Ghost War. He lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
“A very sophisticated vision . . . Geopolitically savvy.”—The New York Times
“A fast-paced story of international intrigue and espionage... Wells is a fine character who will likely propel Berenson’s thrillers to success for some time to come.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Mesmerizing . . . an extraordinary achievement.”
—The (Raleigh, NC) News & Observer
“Terrific and relentless suspense and action.”
“Berenson marshals turncoats, the Taliban, and testosterone to produce a tautly paced, credible, and gripping scenario guaranteed to buttress Berenson’s niche as one of the stars in the suspense firmament.”
“Stellar . . . Wells is a fascinating, tortured soul, and his attempts to live a normal life create a gripping narrative. The authenticity Berenson brings to his ripped-from-the-headlines stories makes them seem as vividly real and scary as nonfiction or the nightly news.”—Booklist
“The author’s plausible scenario distinguishes this from most spy thrillers.”—Publishers Weekly
THE FAITHFUL SPY
Winner of the Edgar® Award
“A well-crafted page-turner that addresses the most important issue of our time. It will keep you reading well into the night.”—Vince Flynn
“One of the best espionage books of all time.”
—William Stevenson, author of A Man Called Intrepid
“An intriguing thriller studded with alarming possibilities.”—New York Daily News
“The best spy thriller in a long, long while.”
—The Kansas City Star
“Berenson offers a very American story—a sort of terrorist High Noon . . . Exciting.”—The New York Times
“A hold-your-breath thriller. . . a grabber.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Mounting suspense, a believable scenario, and a final twist add up to a compelling tale of frightening possibilities. It’s not for the squeamish, though: the torture sequences and bombing descriptions are graphic and chillingly real.”—Publishers Weekly
“Berenson has done a sharp job of pulling together possible what-ifs and combining them with a journalist’s knowledge of how government and the military operate.”—Rocky Mountain News
“[An] unsettling first novel. . . Dirty bombs and biological contamination riddle this novel with paranoia and the frightening realization that an attack on the United States, as it’s laid out in The Faithful Spy, appears highly plausible, even inevitable.”—USA Today
“A thriller worthy of Le Carré . . . The payoff is tremendous.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A well-informed, often chilling look at how al Qaeda might launch a major new attack in the United States—and how one intrepid undercover agent might do his darnedest to foil it . . . A timely reminder of the extremely precarious way we live now.”
—The Washington Post
“Berenson is clearly a go-getter . . . [His] debut is gritty and fast-moving.”—The Observer (UK)
“This is New York Times reporter Alex Berenson’s first novel, but you wouldn’t know it by the writing or the plot, both of which are razor sharp . . . Crisp writing, understatement, and an aversion to the sort of caricatures that have sunk other books without a trace make this story sing . . . This high-voltage thriller has major motion picture written all over it.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Berenson is a crackerjack researcher and possesses a seemingly native ability to write entertaining fiction. He quickly sets his story in motion, creating engrossing scenes.” —Chicago Tribune
“As a reporter for the New York Times, Alex Berenson has spent time in Iraq. He draws on his experience in writing this taut and quite chilling thriller . . . Berenson has written a solid debut novel notable for its relevancy and great sense of reality.”
—The Tampa Tribune
“This is one of the most unusual and engrossing spy-action books I have read in many decades of perusing such books, starting with the original James Bond novels . . . All this is written in the most realistic style, giving us a very good picture of life on that side of this ongoing war . . . This is a good one. It is action packed, but it is also a sophisticated view of the new and unusual kind of warfare that America and the West face.”
—Lincoln Journal Star
“Alex Berenson [has] concentrated on building suspense, maintaining thrills, and plotting a frighteningly plausible scenario... a worthwhile first effort . . . The Faithful Spy brims with knowledge, especially about the frightening tactics used in the name of war.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“A complex idea and a multilayered story . . . Berenson takes readers across the world, unveiling al Qaeda’s brilliant and evil plot slowly. For sheer drama, no one can fault Berenson’s plot. His daring leaps in many directions almost always pay off. Scenes of torture and attacks are so clearly written, readers will be able to feel the pain.”—Detroit Free Press
“In his debut thriller, investigative reporter Berenson has come up with an intriguing premise . . . Well written.” —Library Journal
“A fast-moving, timely thriller with interesting characters and believable events—all ably narrated by Dean, who appears to know just how to tell the tale. His deep, rich tones set just the right mood for CIA agent Wells.” —KLIATT
“Berenson paints a realistic picture of a modern-day terrorist attack inside America. His theme is worthy of a John le Carré novel . . . this is a page-turner of a book, putting gripping drama into an all-too-believable cautionary tale.”
—The London (Ontario) Free Press
ALSO BY ALEX BERENSON
The Faithful Spy
The Number (nonfiction)
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THE GHOST WAR
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For Ellen and Harvey, my parents
Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.
Be subtle. Use your spies for every kind of business.
The Art of War
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA
TED BECK WALKED WEST DOWN THE ROTTING PIER, squinting through his wraparound sunglasses into the late-afternoon haze. He moved without haste. He’d arrived early, and the boat he’d come to meet was nowhere in sight.
At the end of the dock, trash from three countries—China and the two Koreas—bobbed in the dank water, the eastern edge of the Yellow Sea. The air was heavy with smoke from the ships that docked at Incheon every day to load up on cars and televisions for the United States. The sun had baked the fumes into a brown smog that burned Beck’s throat and made him want a cigarette.
He fished a packet of Camel Lights from his pocket and lit up. He’d tried to quit over the years. But if he was going to sign up for missions like this one, what was the point? He smoked slowly and when he was done flicked the butt away. It spun into the harbor, joining the empty beer cans and condom wrappers.
Then he heard the low rumble of a boat engine.
Incheon was an industrial port fifty miles west of Seoul and a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone, the strip that separated North and South Korea. During the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur had landed here, cutting behind North Korean lines to stop the Communist advance.
A statue of him stood atop a hill not far from this pier. Binoculars in hand, the general looked out to the Yellow Sea, which separated China and the Korean Peninsula. This afternoon, Beck would head into those waters, on a mission smaller than MacArthur’s assault but just as dangerous.
The rumble of the distant boat grew louder. Beck pulled his wallet out of his pocket, a battered piece of cowhide that had seen him through thirty-two countries and three counterinsurgencies. He wasn’t carrying any identification or a passport, just money. About $3,000 in all. And three pictures: his wife and their two sons. He took out the pictures and kissed them.
Then he flicked his lighter to them and watched them burn, holding them as long as he could, until the flames singed his fingers and he had to let them go. Their remnants sank into the water and drifted away.
Beck carried out the same ritual before every mission, for reasons both practical and superstitious. If he was caught, the photographs would give his captors a psychological edge. More important, burning the pictures was his way of accepting the danger of the mission. When he came back, he’d put fresh copies in his wallet. Until the next time.
THE MESSAGE HAD COME IN twelve days before, to a signals-intelligence station at Camp Bonifas, on the edge of the Demilitarized Zone. The six hundred Americans and South Koreans who lived at Bonifas stayed on alert twenty-four hours a day, knowing they would be the world’s tripwire if the North Korean army came over the DMZ. As they waited, they monitored the North’s airwaves, listening for messages from American spies across the border.
To the officers at the Bonifas station, the transmission was gibberish, a twenty-two-second series of 1s and 0s. But they knew it meant something, for it came in on a shortwave frequency reserved for the highest-priority messages. They forwarded it around the world to Fort Meade, Maryland, the headquarters of the National Security Agency. From Fort Meade, the message, now decoded, took a shorter trip, across the Potomac to a seventh-floor office at CIA headquarters.
There it caused Vinny Duto, the director of the CIA, to unleash a few uncoded curses of his own. For the message was short, simple—and unwelcome. The Drafter wanted out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country-sized prison commonly called North Korea. Immediately if not sooner.
The Drafter’s real name was Sung Kwan. Dr. Sung Kwan. He was a scientist in North Korea’s nuclear program, and by far the most important asset the United States had in North Korea. “Asset” was a rather clinical way to describe Sung, who was after all a person, not a spy satellite or a well-placed bug. But the term was fitting. For Sung had told the United States exactly where the North Koreans held their nuclear weapons—information that was priceless.
Most analysts outside the CIA thought that North Korea hid its nukes in caves, hoping to keep them safe from an American airstrike. They were wrong. In fact, the nukes were kept in a warehouse in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. The Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, wanted them close by, protected by the same army regiment that provided his personal security.
Now the USS Lake Champlain, a guided missile cruiser in the Sea of Japan, had a dozen Tomahawk missiles targeted on the building. If the order came, the Tomahawks could turn the warehouse into rubble in minutes. All thanks to Sung. And now he wanted an emergency exfiltration. No wonder Vinny Duto was upset.
SUNG WAS A CAREFUL SPY. He had met American agents only three times, each time in Pakistan,...
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