Karna Small Bodman Gambit

ISBN 13: 9780765319289

Gambit

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9780765319289: Gambit
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Karna Small Bodman’s first thriller, Checkmate, was praised for its compelling authenticity and page-turning plot. Now Bodman, a former director of the National Security Council, returns with another gripping thriller that reads like tomorrow’s headlines.

American planes are being shot out of the sky, and no one knows how or why. Three commercial jets have gone up in flames. In each crash, nobody reported seeing anything in the sky and nothing showed up on the radar. No planes. No missiles.

Dr. Cameron Talbot, a world-famous expert on missile-defense systems, believes that a new stealth technology is being used in these attacks. With the country in a panic and the economy taking a nosedive, the White House orders the beautiful young scientist to protect America’s endangered airways. The assignment places Cammy in mortal jeopardy as she finds herself stalked by nameless assassins.

Who is behind the threat? Islamic jihadists? The big drug cartels? None of the usual suspects have claimed responsibility for the crashes. As Cammy races against time to develop a defense against the mystery weapon, she comes to suspect that the downed planes are only the opening gambit in an ambitious campaign of conquest that could change the world’s balance of power forever.

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About the Author:

The Honorable Karna Small Bodman served in the White House for six years, first as deputy press secretary and later as senior director of the National Security Council. At the time of her departure, she was the highest-ranking woman on the White House staff. She spent fifteen years as a reporter, television news anchor, and political commentator in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1 The VH-71 helicopter dubbed Marine One hovered over the helipad on the South Lawn of the White House. The impressive craft was eight feet wide, twenty-five feet long, and housed a large cabin, galley kitchen, lavatory, computer systems, and data streams. All in all, a flying Oval Office. When the pilot landed, a fold-down stairway was extended. In his new chopper, the President of the United States never had to duck down when making photogenic arrivals.
He gave a subtle sign to the pilot, who nodded imperceptibly. It was the signal to keep the five flared rotor blades turning, thus drowning out the shouts of the gaggle of newsmen straining behind a rope rail at the Diplomatic Entrance to the White House.
“Mr. President . . . Mr. President . . .”
“Who shot down our planes?”
“Was it al Qaeda?”
“Were they missiles? Nothing on radar . . .”
“Did you feel safe flying today? Air Force One has systems. But what about Americans on planes with no protection?”
The President pointed to the rotors, cupped his ear in an “I can’t hear you” gesture, and hurried through the doors to the Diplomatic Reception Room. He raced past the painted murals on the curved blue walls and hurried into the hallway where his chief of staff was rushing to meet him.
“Is she here?”
“Yes, sir. She’s in the Oval along with the Vice President and Austin Gage.”
“Good. Let’s get the hell over there.”
Dr. Cameron Talbot jumped up from the plush white couch as the President entered the room. She pushed a strand of strawberry blond hair back behind her headband and straightened the skirt of her navy blue suit.
Vice President Jayson Keller was standing near the white fireplace with the National Security Advisor, Austin Gage. They had greeted her when she arrived and asked her to sit down for a few moments while they went over their notes. She had met Austin Gage some months ago and saw that the erudite advisor was clad in his trademark pin-striped suit. This was her first encounter with Keller, the charismatic second-in-command, and she could see why many had dubbed it the kangaroo ticket during the election. More strength in the hind legs. The VP exuded a kind of confidence most politicians had to practice to stay in the game.
The President nodded to the two men but walked directly to Dr. Talbot and extended his hand. “Thank you for coming over on such short notice. Sorry I was a bit delayed on this trip. Our pilots are taking all sorts of circuitous routes these days. Please sit down. We need to talk.” He set his briefcase on the polished mahogany desk and pulled up a green-striped side chair. The two others sat on the couch across from Dr. Talbot and opened their leather notebooks.
“Now then,” the President began. “We all know the country’s in an uproar over these plane crashes. Damn terrorists have pulled off a hat trick and the market’s down five hundred points in a week. The Air Line Pilots Association is clamoring for new systems to protect our airliners and nobody seems to know, yet, what’s bringing down the planes.” He turned to his NSC advisor. “Austin, anything new from your terrorism people?”
“Nothing yet, sir. No group has claimed responsibility. We’ve been coordinating with Janis over at FBI, with our best CIA people, Interpol, the British, the Israelis; we’re even drilling the Russians because so many of their SA-7 Strela shoulder-fired missiles are floating around just waiting for a terrorist to pick them up. We had one report about how easy it is to get missiles from a former Red Army base in Kutaisi, Georgia.”
“Why is it easy at that place?” the President asked impatiently.
“First of all, there are no lights at night. They turn off the electricity from midnight until dawn, so it’s pretty simple to move around undetected. Second, those places are guarded by soldiers who earn about fifty bucks a month. They’re so poor, they can’t even afford boots. They wear slippers. So some terrorist comes along and gives the guy a thousand dollars and bingo, you’ve got an instant fire sale.”
“But who says it’s one of their rockets?” the President pressed. “The FAA is telling us that in each one of these three crashes, nothing, absolutely nothing, showed up on radar and nobody reported seeing anything in the sky. No planes. No missiles. Nothing.”
“If I may, Mr. President.”
“Go ahead, Jay.”
The Vice President shifted in his seat and leaned forward. “I know that at Logan they said they didn’t see anything, but when that plane took off, it was first heading east, right into the sun. So it would be pretty hard to see anything from the tower at that angle.” He shook his head and added, “I admit the radar part is really puzzling though.”
The President turned to Dr. Talbot. “As I’m sure you know, our Department of Homeland Security has got contracts out with a couple of defense contractors to adapt military defense technology to our commercial fleet.”
She nodded and said, “Yes, Mr. President. I know about the contracts. Oh, and you can call me Cammy.”
“Yes, Cammy. I remember. Last time you were in this office, you were here because you had invented a new technology for missile defense. A defense against cruise missiles. It was an incredible feat and we’re all in your debt for your work on that project.”
Austin Gage interjected, “You probably prevented another war between India and Pakistan when you deployed your system and took control of that missile aimed at New Delhi.”
Cammy saw a ray of sunshine glinting off of a picture frame behind the President’s desk and reflected on her last meeting in this historic room. She had been with Hunt Daniels, a member of the National Security Council staff who had worked with her on Q-3, as her technology was called. He had helped her get funding from Congress, protected her when a foreign agent had tried to kill her, and finally made love to her in a way no other man had ever done. She had fallen for him. Hard. And now? Now he was overseas somewhere. On some sort of secret mission, she imagined. He hadn’t told her, hadn’t called her, hadn’t seen her in months.
“Dr. Talbot? Or rather, Cammy? Are you all right?” the President asked as he scrutinized her serious expression.
She looked up, flustered. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just thinking about our previous meeting, Mr. President. But now, how . . . I mean . . . what can I do for you now . . . sir?”
The President exchanged a glance with Jay Keller and explained. “About these crashes. Nobody thinks they were mere accidents. Everybody here believes they are part of a calculated plan by a very sophisticated terrorist organization. We don’t know which one, but damn it, we’re going to find out and we’d better find out fast.”
The Vice President nodded his agreement. “Here’s the situation. As the President said, we have contracts out to try and put military technology on our planes. There are several systems out there. Military jets have sensors that can tell when they’ve been targeted. They can send out flares or chaff so the missile might go after the decoys. But the jet still takes evasive action. A jumbo jet filled with hundreds of passengers can’t exactly fly in loops and you can’t have a bunch of decoys or flares landing on our cities and towns. It’s different in a war zone. Now we need something else.
“There are different kinds of jammers they’re also working on, but the systems have to be serviced every three or four hundred hours. We can’t take our planes out of service all the time. That’s just not practical. And besides, they’re talking about at least two million per plane and we’ve got sixty-eight hundred planes in this country.”
The President saw that Cammy was now paying close attention. “Another company is working on a system that would put a network of sensors all around airports so that when they sense some heat-seeking device, they can use a high-powered microwave beam to confuse the missile and send it off course. But that costs about twenty-five million dollars per airport and we’ve got a helluva lot of airports,” the President said, “to say nothing about the ones overseas.”
“And speaking of numbers,” Austin said, “there are at least half a million missiles of various kinds that could be used to bring down a plane. Or a helicopter. We thought we were lucky when we hadn’t been hit in the last thirty years. Did you know that over forty aircraft in other parts of the world have been hit by some sort of missile since the seventies?”
“I knew there had been a lot of attacks,” Cammy said. “I read about the Israeli jet in Kenya that was almost brought down, so yes, sir, I’m well aware of the threat. In fact, I’ve been working on a new laser technique. . . .”
“Precisely why you’re here,” the President said. “We know that your company, Bandaq Technologies, has been on the leading edge of several defensive systems and we wanted to enlist your help, right now, in this fight to protect air travel. We can’t go on like this. We’ve got to have a new system. It’s got to be fast, reliable, and more economical than what we’ve got now, because what we’ve got now is useless.”
The NSC advisor interrupted. “I don’t know that I’d go quite that far, Mr. President. It isn’t that it’s useless; it’s just that it’s taking too long and, well, I admit it’s too expensive. Our major airlines are all in financial trouble.”
“Financial trouble?” Jay asked. “That’s the understatement of the day. They’re trying to save two million dollars a year not giving out pretzels and you think they’re going to pop for a new defensive system?”
“I know. You’re right about that,” Austin said. “But last I heard, the Secretary of Homeland Security was pushing for another huge appropriation so they can pour more R & D money into those contractors to speed up the process.”
“We’ll let DHS handle the contractors. If they come up with something, fine. But meanwhile, I want a special project and I think Dr. Talbot is the one to head it up. How about it, Cammy? Can you work with us on this?”
Cammy sat back, her mind racing. Yes, she had been working on a new scheme. She had been collaborating with a former colleague at M.I.T. who was one of the smartest guys in the research arena. But this was big. This was huge. The whole country was being held hostage by a terrorist trifecta and now the President of the United States was turning to her to save not only the airline industry but the whole economy. She was stunned.
“Well, Dr. Talbot? Can you tell us more about your new laser and if you think you can speed up the process?” the President asked directly.
Cammy took a deep breath and began. “You see, Mr. President, it’s true that I’m working on a new laser. I have a researcher at M.I.T. and we’ve been exchanging ideas for a whole new concept.”
“Go on.”
“We had planned to pitch it to the Pentagon, but it might have commercial applications. It’s an idea we’ve been working on for months now.”
“Can you really put it on a commercial jet?” the Vice President asked, staring at her intently.
“I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure, yet.”
“How long will it take to find out?” Austin asked.
“If we had a crash project? Uh, sorry, wrong term.”
The President shook his head and gave an indication of a smile. “Look, we’re all rattled right now. The entire country is looking to us for answers, for solutions to this mess. I know this is a tall order, but after I saw what you did with your last missile defense system, I feel you’re the right person to work on this one.”
“But that was different, sir. That was a defense against guided missiles. I just had to figure out the frequency the terrorists were using to communicate with the missile, use that same frequency, go in and scramble their signal, and redirect the missile away from our targets. It was a completely different problem.”
“I realize that. But from what we know about your new research, we want you to try. Will you do that?” the President implored.
Cammy took a deep breath and gave the only answer she could give: “Of course, Mr. President. I’ll do everything I can. I just don’t know how long—”
“We don’t have much time. The press is hammering me on these attacks and I don’t see any recovery coming in the market as long as the threat is out there.”
“Have you thought about shutting down the airlines like we did after 9/11?” Cammy asked.
“Not yet. If we shut down our airline transportation system, you’re looking at a loss of at least fifteen billion dollars a week in revenue and cost to our entire economy. No, we can’t do that. Not yet anyway.” He turned to Austin. “I want your staff to work every angle you can on the whole terrorism question. I want telephone and Internet surveillance by NSA stepped up, and quite frankly, I don’t give a damn if lawsuits are filed this time. We’ve got to find these bastards.” The NSC advisor made some notes.
The President then focused on Jay Keller. “And I want you to coordinate the missile defense projects. Work with Dr. Talbot here and pull in anybody you think could be useful. Got that?”
“Why don’t we bring back Hunt Daniels?” Austin asked.
Cammy jolted upright. Just hearing his name again almost brought tears to her eyes.
“Good idea,” the President said. “He should be about finished with that project in South Korea, right?”
The NSC advisor nodded and said, “Yes, we can get him back. And now that you mention it, he worked with Dr. Talbot before. So let’s give these two another try. Is that all right with you, Cammy?”
What could she say? She could hardly admit that she’d fallen in love with a man who had obviously dumped her. Her personal problems paled in comparison to the terrorism threats facing the country. She looked up at the President’s expectant gaze and simply said, “I’ll try.” Copyright © 2008 by Karna Small Bodman. All rights reserved.

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