Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

Seeing it then gave Hood the flash of courage he needed.

“I’m sorry to intrude, Mr. President, gentlemen,” Hood announced.

“This couldn’t wait.”

“Things never can wait with you, can they?” Fenwick asked. He glanced back at the green folder in his lap.

A preemptive strike. Hood thought. The bastard was good. Hood turned and looked at the NSA chief. The short, slender man had deep-set eyes beneath a head of thick, curly white hair. The whiteness of his hair emphasized the darkness of his eyes.

“Your team has a history of rushing blindly into evolving crises, Mr.

Hood. North Korea, the Bekaa Valley, the United Nations. You’re a lighted match waiting for the wrong tinderbox.”

“We haven’t blown one yet,” Hood pointed out.

“Yet,” Fenwick agreed. He looked at Lawrence.

“Mr. President, we need to finish reviewing our data so that you can make a decision about the Caspian situation.”

“What does Maurice Charles have to do with the Caspian situation?” Hood demanded. He was still looking at Fenwick. He was not going to let the man wriggle away.

“Charles? The terrorist?” Fenwick asked.

“That’s right,” Hood said. Hood said nothing else. He wanted to see where this went. The president looked at Fenwick.

“Did the NSA know that Charles was involved with this?”

“Yes, Mr. President, we did,” Fenwick admitted.

“But we don’t know what his involvement was. We’ve been looking into that.”

“Maybe I can point you in the right direction, Mr. Fenwick,” Hood said.

“Maurice Charles was in touch with the NSA both before and after the attack on the Iranian oil rig.”

“That’s bullshit!” Fenwick charged.

“You seem sure of that,” Hood said.

“I am!” Fenwick said.

“No one in my organization would have anything to do with that man!” Hood had expected Fenwick to 3D the charge: disavow, deny, and delay.

But neither the vice president nor Gable had jumped in to defend him.

Perhaps because they knew it was true? Hood turned to the president.

“Sir, we have every reason to believe that Charles, the Harpooner, was involved in the destruction of that rig.”

“Evidence from whom?” Fenwick demanded.

“Unimpeachable sources,” Hood replied.

“Who?” Vice President Cotten asked. Hood faced him. The vice president was a calm and reasonable man. Hood was going to have to bite the bullet on this one.

“General Sergei Orlov, commander of the Russian Op-Center.” Gable shook his head. Fenwick rolled his eyes.

“The Russians,” the vice president said dismissively.

“They may have been the ones who sent Cherkassov into the region to attack the rig. His body was found in the water nearby.”

“Moscow has every reason not to want us involved in the region,” Gable said.

“If Azerbaijan is chased out of the Caspian, Moscow can lay claim to more of the oil reserves. Mr. President, I suggest we table this side of the problem until we’ve dealt with the larger issue of the Iranian mobilization.”

“We’ve reviewed the data Orlov provided, and we believe it’s accurate,” Hood stated.

“I’d like to see that data,” Fenwick said.

“You will,” Hood promised.

“You wouldn’t also have given General Orlov any secure codes to help him listen in on alleged NSA conversations, would you?” Hood ignored that.

“Mr. President, the Harpooner is an expert at creating and executing complex cover stories. If he’s involved in this operation, we have to look carefully at any evidence that comes in. We should also inform Teheran that this action may have nothing to do with Baku.”

“Nothing?” Fenwick said.

“For all we know, they may have hired the Harpooner.”

“You may be right,” Hood said.

“What I’m saying is that we have no evidence of anything except the fact that the Harpooner is in the region and was probably involved in the attack.”

“Secondhand evidence,” Fenwick said.

“Besides, I spent a day trying to open a dialogue with Teheran about an intelligence exchange. The bottom line is that they don’t trust us, and we can’t trust them.”

“That is not the bottom line!” Hood snapped. He stopped. He had to watch that–showing anger. He was frustrated, and he was extremely tired. But if he lost control, he would also lose credibility.

“The bottom line,” Hood continued evenly, “is that misinformation has been passed regularly between the NSA, the CIOC, and the Oval Office–”

“Mr. President, we need to move on,” Fenwick said calmly.

“Iran is moving warships into the Caspian region That is a fact, and it must be dealt with immediately.”

“I agree,” said the vice president. Cotten looked at Hood. There was condescension in the vice president’s eyes.

“Paul, if you have concerns about the actions of personnel at the NSA, you should bring your proof to the CIOC, not to us. They will deal with it.”

“When it’s too late,” Hood said.

“Too late for what?” the president asked. Hood turned to the president.

“I don’t know the answer to that, sir,” Hood admitted.

“But I do believe you should hold off making any decisions about the Caspian right now.” Fenwick shook his head.

“Based on hearsay from Russians who may themselves be moving planes and ships into the region.”

“Mr. Fenwick has a point,” the president said.

“The Russians may indeed have designs on the Caspian oil,” Hood agreed.

“That in itself doesn’t repudiate General Orlov’s intelligence.”

“How long do you need, Paul?”

“Give me another twelve hours,” Hood said.

“Twelve hours will give Iran and Russia time to position ships in the Azerbaijani oil regions,” Gable said. The president looked at his watch.

He thought for a moment.

“I’ll give you five hours,” he said. That was not what Hood wanted, but it was obviously all he was going to get. He took it.

“I’ll need an office,” Hood said. He did not want to waste time running back to Op-Center.

“Take the Cabinet Room,” the president said.

“That way I know you’ll be done by seven. We’ll be moving in then.”

“Thank you, sir,” Hood said. Hood turned. He ignored the other men as he left the Oval Office. The hostility was much greater now than when he had come in. Hood was certain he had hit a bull’s-eye. Just not with enough firepower. It would have been too much to expect the president to buy everything he was telling him. Even after their earlier conversation, Lawrence was still obviously struggling with the idea that Jack Fenwick could be a traitor. But at least the president had not dismissed the idea entirely. Hood had been able to buy himself some time. Hood walked down the quiet, green-carpeted hallway of the West Wing. He made his way past two silent secret service officers. One was posted outside the Oval Office. The other was standing down the hall between the doorway that led to the press secretary’s office on the northwest end of the corridor and door to the Cabinet Room on the northeast side. Hood entered the oblong room. There was a large conference table in the center of the room. Beyond it, in the northern end of the room, was a desk with a computer and a telephone. Hood went over and sat down. The first thing Hood would do was contact Herbert. He had to try to get more information about the Harpooner’s contacts with the NSA. Yet even having the exact time and location of the calls would probably not persuade the president that there was a conspiracy. Hood needed proof. And right now, he did not know how he was going to get it.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Tuesday, 10:20 a.m.

When he was a cosmonaut. General Orlov had learned to read voices.

Often, that was the only way he learned whether there was a problem with a flight. Ground control had once told him that all was well with his Salyut space station mission. In fact, pitting from micro meteoroid dust and a chemical cloud dumped by the spacecraft’s own thrusters had corroded the solar array. The panels had been so seriously compromised that the station was going to lose power before a Kosmos ship from Earth was due to ferry them home. The first hint of trouble came from the voice of the liaison in ground control. His cadence was a little different from usual. Orlov already had an ear for voices from the years he spent as a test pilot. Orlov insisted on being told what the problem was with the Salyut. The entire world heard the conversation, embarrassing the Kremlin. But Orlov was able to shut down noncritical systems and conserve power rather than wait for scientists to figure out how to realign the remaining panels while also shielding them from further corrosion. Orlov trusted Natalia Basov. Completely. But he did not always believe her, which was not the same thing. There was something in her tone of voice that worried him. It was as if she had been concealing something. Just like the liaison at ground control.

Several minutes after they spoke on her cell phone, Orlov called the phone registered to Odette Kolker at her apartment. It rang a dozen times and no one answered. Orlov hoped that meant she had taken the American with her. Twenty minutes later, he called back again. This time a man with a slurred voice answered. In English. Orlov looked at the readout on the telephone to make sure he had the correct number. He did. The woman had left without the American.

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