“Good man,” Herbert said. “I’ll order the C-141B packed for a desert operation.”
“We can put Striker down at the Incirlik if the ROC stays in Turkey or northern or eastern Syria,” Hood said. “If the ROC goes into southern or western Syria or Lebanon, we’ll have to see about getting them into Israel.”
“The Israelis would welcome anyone wanting to kick terrorist butt,” Herbert replied. “And I know just the place to base our team there.”
Hood picked up a light-pen and signed the screen. His signature appeared on the Striker Deployment Order No. 9. He saved the document on the hard drive, and then Emailed it to both Martha Mackall and to Colonel Brett August, the new Striker commander. He put the pen down. Then he rapped the edge of the desk slowly with his knuckles.
“Are you okay?” Herbert asked.
“Sure,” Hood said. “I’m probably a hell of a lot better than Mike and those poor devils in the ROC.”
“Mike will get them through this,” Herbert said. “Listen, Chief. Would it make you feel any better to piggyback to the Middle East with Striker? They’ll actually be getting there before you.”
“No,” Hood said. “I need to talk with Nasr about the Syrian strategies. Besides, you and Mike and all the Strikers have worn uniforms. I haven’t. I wouldn’t feel right planting myself in a seat of honor I haven’t earned.”
“Take my word for it,” Herbert said. “A ride in a C-141B ain’t no day at Disneyland. Besides, it’s not like you ran from a uniform. You stayed 1A during the draft. You just weren’t called. You think I would’ve gone if the Selective Service Board hadn’t grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, ‘Mr. Herbert, Uncle Sam wants you?’ ”
“Look,” Hood said, “I’d be uneasy about it and that’s that. Please brief Colonel August and work out the details with him. Fax the finished mission profile to our embassy in London and have them bring it to me at Heathrow. Bugs has my flight schedule.”
“All right, Paul,” Herbert said. “But I still think you’re overreacting about the C-141B.”
“I can’t help that,” Hood said. “You’re to call me directly with any news. I also want you to get us some on-site help. Does it make any sense to bring in some Kurdish resources?”
“Not to me it doesn’t,” Herbert said. “If our Kurdish resources were all that goddamn super reliable, we’d have known about the Ataturk blast. We’d know who these terrorists are.”
“Good point. Whoever you get, go into the black budget to pay them. And pay them well.”
“I planned to,” Herbert said. “We’re talking to some informants now to try and find out exactly where the dam-busters might be headed. I’ve also got a lead on someone to go in there with Striker.”
“Excellent,” Hood said. “I’ll call Martha from the car and explain the situation to her. She’ll have to go to Senator Fox and the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committee.”
“You know that Martha’s not going to be happy about any of this,” Herbert warned. “We’re getting ready to mount a covert operation without prior Congressional approval; we’re giving money to the Kurdish enemies of her friends in Damascus and Ankara.”
“Friends who aren’t going to do a damn thing to help us,” Hood pointed out. “She’s going to have to live with that.”
“With that,” Herbert said, “plus the fact that we planned this without her.”
“Like I said, I’ll call her from the car and explain. She’s our political officer, for God’s sake, not a lobbyist for Turkey or Syria.” Hood rose. “Is there anything I’m forgetting?”
“Just one thing,” Herbert said.
Hood asked what that was.
“I hope you don’t think I’m out of line,” Herbert said, “but you’ve got to try and calm down.”
“Thanks, Bob,” Hood replied. “Six of my people are in terrorist hands, along with a key to undermining U.S. intelligence efforts. I think I’m pretty calm, all things considered.”
“Pretty calm, yes,” Herbert said, “but that may not be calm enough. You’re not the only one who’s on the hot seat. I had supper with Donn Worby of the General Accounting Office last night. He told me that last year, over sixty-five percent of the estimated quarter-million hacker attacks on Department of Defense computer files were successful. You know how much classified data is floating around out there? The ROC is just one front of a large battle.”
“Yes,” Hood replied, “but it’s the one that fell on my watch. Don’t tell me there’s safety in numbers. Not on this.”
“All right,” Herbert said, “But I’ve been through more than a couple of these hostage situations, Paul. You’ve got the emotional pressure, which is awful, and then you’ve got additional disorientation. You’re forced to work outside our structured environment. There are no checklists, no established procedures. For the next few days or weeks or months or however long this takes, you’re going to be a hostage along with Mike—a hostage to the crisis, to every whim of the terrorists.”
“I understand,” Hood said. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“No,” Herbert replied. “But you have to accept the process. You also have to accept your part in it. It’s the same with Mike. He knows what he has to do. If he can get his people out, he will. If not he’ll have them play word games, make up limericks about God knows what, force them to talk about their families. He’ll get them through. That terrible burden’s on him. You’ve got to handle the rest. You’ve come out of the gate with the right ideas. Now you’ve got to keep yourself and everyone on this end cool. And that maybe pretty rough. We may get intelligence that our people are being mistreated. No food, no water, physical abuse. There are two women in the group. They may be assaulted. If you’re not loose, fluid, you’re going to crack. If you start to feel vengeful or angry or self-reproachful, you’ll become distracted. And then you’re going to make mistakes.”
Hood removed the diskettes from his computer. Herbert was right. He was already primed to lash out at Martha, at himself, even at Mike. Who would benefit from that except for the terrorists?
“Go on,” Hood said. “What am I supposed to do? How did you deal in these situations?”
“Hell, Paul,” Herbert said, “I never had to lead a team. I was a loner. I only had to give advice. That was relatively easy. I was never attached to the people I worked with. Not like we are to Mike. All I know is, people who lead operations like this effectively have got to empty themselves of emotion. Compassion as well as anger. I mean, suppose you find but that one of the terrorists has a sister or a kid somewhere. Suppose you can get to them. Are you prepared to play the same kind of ball they’re playing with us?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Hood said. “I don’t want to stoop to their level.”
“Which is something that people like these always count on,” Herbert replied. “Remember Eagle Claw in 1980 when the Delta rescue force attempted to get our hostages out of Tehran?”
“Mission parameters forced our guys to set up the Desert I refuel site in a moderately well-traveled area. Minutes after landing, the guys captured a bus with forty-four Iranian civilians. Before the whole operation blew up on them, the plan was to hold the captured Iranians for a day while the commandos went in, then release them from Manzariyeh Air Base, which we intended to capture. Sorry if I sound a little Burkowesque,” Herbert said, “but I think we should’ve held those Iranians and given ’em the same shit treatment our people were getting.”
“You would’ve made martyrs of them,” Hood said.
“No,” Herbert replied. “Just broken-down prisoners. No press coverage, no burning Iranian flags. Just an eye for an eye. And when word spread among terrorists worldwide that we were prepared to play their game, they would’ve thought twice before picking on us. You think Israel’s still around because they play by the rules? Uhuh. I’ve seen the view from the high road and it ain’t always pretty. If you let compassion affect your judgment, you may end up jeopardizing, our own people.”
Hood breathed deeply. “If I don’t let compassion affect my judgment, then we aren’t people.”
“I understand,” Herbert said. “That’s one reason I never wanted a bigger office in this town. You pay for every square inch of it with soul as well as blood.”
Hood slipped the diskettes into his jacket pocket. “Anyway,” he said, “you weren’t out of line, Bob. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Herbert said. “Oh, and one more thing.”
“Whatever you have to face,” Herbert said, “you won’t face it alone. Don’t ever forget that, Chief.”
“I won’t,” Hood said. He smiled. “Thank God. I’ve got a team that won’t let me.”