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Summary

Throughout the 1970’s and ‘80’s, salafi terrorist groups increasingly target American personnel, civilians and facilities across the globe. The American reaction – as perceived by its adversaries - is weak and ineffective.

Following a succession of such terror attacks, in 1996 a massive truck bomb strikes the USAF facility at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The act kills nineteen Americans and wounds hundreds of others. Angered and frustrated, the U.S. Government determines to strike back. In response the National Security Council turns to a covert Special Activity that is known only to cleared insiders as the Org.

The NSC directs the Org to launch an extremely hazardous, long-term HUMINT agent penetration of a radical jihadist group. The goal? To prevent any future such attacks against American interests. And to do so at any cost.

What are the odds?


The author is a career Special Agent with the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department, nor of the U.S. Government.
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Page 1 of 1

THE SUPPLICANT

A novel by

REGIS P. SHEEHAN

CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright

Epigraph

ONE: GOING FOR THE MISSION

TWO: BUILDING # 131

THREE: SCIF

FOUR: THE ORG

FIVE: CHALICE

SIX: CAPE FLATS

SEVEN: MUNAFIQ

EIGHT: BOSNIAKS

NINE: OVER IGMAN

TEN: DRAGON’S BLOOD

ELEVEN: THE BODY SNATCHERS

TWELVE: RENDITION

THIRTEEN: CHANDLER

FOURTEEN: ST. SIMONS

FIFTEEN: OTHER GOVERNMENT AGENCY

SIXTEEN: ACOLYTE

SEVENTEEN: POLLSMOOR

EIGHTEEN: JETSTREAM

NINETEEN: ENTRY TEAM

TWENTY: SALAT

TWENTY-ONE: THE AGYPTISCH

TWENTY-TWO: THE TAKE

TWENTY-THREE: MITCHELL’s PLAIN

TWENTY-FOUR: WATER LIKE MOLTEN LEAD

TWENTY-FIVE: Missao Confidencial

TWENTY-SIX: DHABIHA

TWENTY-SEVEN: REASSESSMENT

TWENTY-EIGHT: DISAPPEARED

TWENTY-NINE: SCHEDULED

THIRTY: … SMOOTH IS FAST …

THIRTY-ONE: EMBARCADERO

THIRTY-TWO: UNDERSTUDY

THIRTY-THREE: THE COMET

THIRTY-FOUR: TEMPLE BAR

THIRTY-FIVE: CLONTARF ROAD

THIRTY-SIX: THE WIZARDS

THIRTY-SEVEN: IN TRANSIT

THIRTY-EIGHT: GOING DARK

THIRTY-NINE: INTO BACTRIA

FORTY: SABRI GEMAL

FORTY-ONE: KHALDEN

FORTY-TWO: Ka’aba

FORTY-THREE: CHARLES BRIDGE

FORTY-FOUR: CONDUIT

FORTY-FIVE: LIAISON

FORTY-SIX: CHAREF

FORTY-SEVEN: AUDIENCE

FORTY-EIGHT: BURST TRANSMISSION

FORTY-NINE: OVERWATCH

FIFTY: SPINNING UP

FIFTY-ONE: SOLO APEX

FIFTY-TWO: EYES ON TARGET

FIFTY-THREE: RAKYETA

FIFTY-FOUR: HOT WASH

~THE SUPPLICANT~

This is a work of fiction in its entirety.

The views expressed in this manuscript are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or of the U.S. Government.

© 2012 Regis P. Sheehan

"Our collective experience makes it absolutely clear that the only way to uncover and destroy a terrorist activity is to penetrate the organizations engaged in it. And the best way to do this is to place spies in their innermost councils."

Bryant, Hamre, Lawn, MacGaffin, Shapiro and Smith

The Economist, July 2003

ONE: GOING FOR THE MISSION

Without warning, the interrogator’s assistant snapped a hard, well-controlled fist into the prisoner’s cheekbone. The latter’s head rocked to the right and then dropped to his chest. As he absorbed the pain, the prisoner became dully aware of the fact that a molar had just loosened in his mouth.

The Assistant paused momentarily to adjust the tight leather gloves over his hands, and then delivered another focused shot to the prisoner’s face.

He reeled back once again, head swimming. Shit, that fucking hurt!

Tasting blood, he realized that he might have inadvertently bitten into his tongue that time.

The prisoner kept his eyes averted to mask the hatred. He would have physically resisted, if he could. Indeed, he would have killed them, if he could. But he could not.

The captor completely controls the physical environment, they had instructed him. No doubt. They were right about that one. Amen. Spot fucking on.

The prisoner was naked. His ragged bundle of clothes lay casually strewn in the corner. His wrists and ankles were handcuffed to a rusted metal chair. The chair itself was solidly bolted to the concrete floor.

He lolled his head to the left to gaze at his compatriot. The other was a man that he had never met prior to this awful session. The dark-skinned Sudanese was similarly fastened to a sturdy metal chair. He appeared to have an orbital fracture of the right eye, the result of an overly exuberant strike delivered by the Assistant. If anything, the abuse that the Sudanese suffered had far exceeded his own.

He surmised that the primary function of the Sudanese was to serve as an object lesson as to how much worse things could be for him if he continued to resist.

God save him, he was glad that their roles were not reversed.

So, they have helped you? Your friends? the familiar voice intoned. Have they stopped the pain?

He blinked and focused on the bronze face of the Interrogator. The Interrogator was a slight, bronzed man with a dented, shaved head. He wore a pair of opaque sunglasses, completely concealing the whites of his eyes.

Needless in the dank room, he assumed that the shades were solely for their intimidation effect. If so, they were working.

Earlier in their relationship, the Interrogator had advised him that he was a Uighur, a Muslim from Xinjiang, China.

A Uighur? Where the fuck would you expect to run into one of those? Especially here?

Just give us the name, the Uighur cooed. One name. For silence you get nothing.

Silence.

They had trained him to deal with this situation. It was called "Resistance to Hostile Interrogation". And it was effective – to a degree. There were methods, classified techniques that he had been taught to employ. Even so, he decided to remain stolidly silent for fear of what he might blurt out if he began to speak. In the end, the Uighur would be neither forgiving nor understanding.

So far he had successfully withstood a variety of applications that the Interrogator and his associates had briefly employed, then discarded. A bit of sleep deprivation. Hunger. Exposure to cold. Blaring, mindless white noise. And now it seemed that they were back to the old tried and true low-tech sphere of simple physical punishment.

For him then, life had been reduced to its essential simplicities. It was no longer a question of wealth, recognition, or simple comfort. It was now merely an issue of surviving each of these successive interviews, as the Uighur called them.

Really just that and nothing more.

This one, the Uighur sneered at the Sudanese. "Like you, he also works for them. Not like you, he knows nothing of value. He does not have the name."

The Uighur glanced at the Assistant with a look of mock despair. He nodded with an air of grim resignation.

The Assistant, no Uighur himself – a local by his features and language - sighed and reached for an object that lay on the floor behind him.

There was a simple and compelling reason why he could not supply them all-important name that they sought. For all of their supposed operational effectiveness, they had overlooked the obvious. He could not provide it at any cost, for the much sought after name was his own.

The situation was rich in irony. In other circumstances, it might have even been darkly humorous.

The Assistant had the hefty object in his lap now. It was a pump shotgun with a customized, shortened barrel. It looked to be an old Remington 870, unless he missed his guess.

The Interrogator affixed a pair of shooting range earmuffs on his head while the Assistant carefully produced a single red shotgun shell, a round of buckshot. He dropped the shell into the 870’s loading port and slammed the action home with the familiar clang of metal against metal.

The Assistant pulled a similar pair of muffs over his own ears and then leveled the muzzle of the Remington at the forehead of the Sudanese. He paused for a heartbeat, then two, and pulled the trigger.

The prisoner was stunned and deafened by the blast. The upper portion of the Sudanese’s head was gone. Gritty smoke hung in the air and his shoulder burned from the impact of a few stray pellets.

Although he could not hear the words, he could read the lips of the Interrogator as they moved beneath the blood-flecked lenses of his sunglasses.

Now … You see we are serious people. Give. Us. The. Name.

* * * 

In the desert to the south, a small feral animal scampered across the arid landscape. Wisps of dust followed in the path of its small paws. The creature mounted a small rise in the earth, stopping momentarily to glance this way and that, before darting for cover.

Pausing in the relative safety of a rocky overhang, it turned its head and sniffed at the moonless night sky.

The air was cool and still. There were no sounds audible to the human ear. Nevertheless there was an indefinable sense of movement somewhere off in the distance. Something was amiss.

Instinctively sensing danger, the animal turned and dashed for a well-used depression in the earth, leaving a swirl of loose dirt in its wake.

* * * 

The hushed night sounds on the desert floor were gradually replaced with a staccato thrum, throaty and dull. The sound intensified, its presence dominating the empty expanse.

The source of the commotion soon revealed itself in the form of an aging Russian military helicopter as it crested a mountain range to the southwest.

The blacked-out helicopter, technically a Mi-24 HIND, would have been hurtling along at treetop level – had there been treetops in the area. Its two man Ukrainian crew was skillfully flying a nap of the earth route. They were gently rolling and juking, climbing and diving, in response to the folds of the terrain not far below their feet.

The Ukrainians sat in a tandem cockpit. The pilot was located in the rear, higher position. In front and below of him sat his partner in the gunner’s position.

Local air traffic, as had been previously briefed, was nonexistent. From the flight deck, the chopper crew peered out at the horizon via the muted haze of their night vision goggles. The resultant landscape unfolded before them in ghostly shades of green and black.

The pilot’s primary concern was that either his stamina or their technical gadgets might fail them at some point. Either could allow him to steer their trusting craft directly and disastrously into the rocky face of an unseen cliff.

A secondary, yet nonetheless nagging, concern was that they might yet be caught in the sights of a hostile figure on the ground below. One shot of sufficient caliber, no matter whether based in luck or skill, could reduce them all to the status of infantry – or to that of combat ineffectives – at any moment.

The pilot was a burly fifty-two year old émigré from Lvov. A former Red Army aviator, he was a grizzled combat veteran of the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan. Some had described him as an artist, at home in his aerial studio.

With practiced ease, he modulated the balls of his feet against the floor pedals while grasping the collective and cyclic control sticks lightly with his gloved hands. As he did so, the craft glided over the bleak terrain below.

Above his head the twin turbo shaft engines beat steadily, reliably sending power to the rotor mast. In turn, the five ungainly rotor blades spun smoothly, describing a huge invisible disk in the air. Two stubby wings drooped away on either side, heavily laden with the weight of loaded rocket pods.

In past years the Americans had often referred to the HIND as a "flying tank", given its renowned firepower and resiliency. The Soviets themselves often referred to it as a "krokodil".

The Muj of Afghanistan, who had direct experience with its effective, overhead capabilities, had still other and less affectionate names for it.

The Muj in question had never known the pilot’s name, nor had they ever seen his face, but they had seen his handiwork on many occasions.

Seven other men were crammed into the small troop compartment of the HIND behind the Ukrainian crewmen. Their faces were painted black and their bodies draped with muffled combat gear. They accepted the uneven ride and clung to their individual weapons with workmanlike resignation.

Their team leader was a battle-scarred American currently using the call sign of "Paco". He was trying his best to approximate a Zen oneness with the situation. As he did so, a series of rhythmic vibrations from the HIND rode up his spine and into his brain stem, generating a slight but annoying headache. He rested his head against the wall and reflected upon the old adage that a helicopter was but several thousand separate parts, all flying together in a tight formation.

It was little different than scores of earlier such flights. Not worse but never better.

Once again he peered into the darkened faces of the largely middle-aged men who were huddled in the darkened troop compartment. In equal measure, they returned either blank stares or the odd wolfish grin of anticipation.

Paco reflected that, at age fifty-seven, neither he nor his men could be counted among the spring chickens, fit as they might be. But each, he knew, had more than accounted for themselves in previous actions. And each had eagerly and aggressively drawn blood for their countries.

Softly, Paco’s earpiece crackled with the heavily accented Slavic voice of the pilot. We have fifteen minutes now on the inbound leg. You copy?

Paco keyed his push-to-send button with one hand while adjusting his lip mike with the other. Roger. Understand fifteen minutes. Out.

He then switched his radio over to the base repeater channel and called home. Niner Lima One, this is Paco. Over.

There was a brief hiss of rushing air until the lilting female voice of base operator replied. Paco, this Niner Lima One. Go with your traffic. Over.

The team leader adjusted his mike closer to his lips and keyed the radio again. Niner Lima One. This is Paco. Now crossing Salvador. I say again, now crossing Salvador. How copy this station? Over?

There was another momentary pause from the controller at the other end. Paco, this is Niner Lima One. We understand you are now crossing Salvador. Now crossing Salvador. Stand by for status.

Paco, standing by for status. He dropped his hand from the lip mike and waited.

He noted that one of his men, a bearded ex-paratrooper from Kentucky, was gently honing the edge of a serrated fighting knife with a small whetstone. The team leader smiled slightly, knowing that this was more a means of distraction than preparation.

If it ever came down to knives, they would all be in the absolute deepest of shit.

The channel came alive again after a few seconds of dead air. Paco, this is Niner Lima One. Your status is Orange Five. I say again, Orange Five. How copy? Over.

Paco nodded, giving a vigorous thumbs-up to his teammates. Roger. Good copy - Orange Five. Paco out

There was a pause. Good luck guys. Out here, the controller responded.

Paco flipped the radio toggle switch back to the intercom and spoke to the pilot. Okay Driver, we’re going for the mission. Copy?

The pilot grimaced involuntarily and spoke to his gunner, "Yura, stand by for insertion. He gently rolled the HIND to the left and keyed the intercom, Xorosho, Paco. Inbound now. Twelve minutes. Be ready."

The pilot’s headphones squawked briefly with Paco’s twangy American voice, Roger. Twelve minutes. Let’s do this.

TWO: BUILDING # 131

June 25, 1996 – 2130 hrs – Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

It was well past sundown when the three-vehicle convoy wove its way through the streets of Dhahran. The business of the day was largely completed and the traffic density was beginning to relax. Outside, the warm air was thick with humidity, which was not surprising given the proximity of the Persian Gulf, a short distance to the east.

The heat and humidity had no appreciable effect on the men in the vehicles – two sedans and a large sewage truck. They were well acclimated, having all grown up in the environment. In any event, they were single-mindedly focused on the task at hand.

Their destination was just ahead. It was a handful of apartment buildings that had taken over by their unwanted heathen guests, in this case members of the U.S. Air Force. The buildings were called the Khobar Towers.

Muusa, driving the lead sedan, made a right hand turn and led the small convoy up to the checkpoint before Building Number 131. And that is where the Air Force sentry stopped them.

The young sentry was immediately suspicious. Why, he wondered, was a large sewage disposal truck pulling up to the USAF housing area this late at night? And while we’re at it, what the fuck are these other two cars doing driving in along with a shit sucker anyhow?

Thinking that they could just as easily come back tomorrow, the sentry stopped them and brusquely waved them off.

The vehicles backed out obediently and maneuvered their way around to the front side of Building Number 131. There, close to a mosque and before a barrier some 90 feet from the front of 131, Butrus eased his truck to a stop. Muusa and Ibrahim positioned their cars in front and behind of his vehicle and waited for him to act.

Butrus glanced nervously to his right. He was separated from the building by an eight foot chain link fenced, topped with a row of barbed wire. Beyond the fence there was a series of concrete bollards, rising like dragons’ teeth in the rocky soil. How this all would effect the operation, he did not know.

Earlier they told him that his truck was packed with more than 4,000 pounds of explosives. The effect, the Persian technician assured him, would be that of 20,000 pounds of TNT. Or even more.

But he was also told that the bomb would only work as intended if the task could be executed up close to the target. That was strongly emphasized to him. Now however they were delayed and the threat of reaction by the American or Saudi security forces was increasing.

* * * 

The presence of the vehicles perched so close to their perimeter attracted the attention of yet another Air Force sentry. This one was posted on the roof of 131 and he didn’t like what he was seeing on the other side of the fence. To his mind, this could just as easily be a few Arabs driving as poorly as usual. Or it could be that he was watching something bad shaping up right before his eyes.

Charged with the safety of a couple hundred of his comrades in the building just below his feet, he opted for caution. He sounded an alarm that began an emergency evacuation of the structure.

* * * 

Butrus could now see that they had already lost the element of surprise. Moving quickly, he reached under the seat and carefully closed the switch that the technician had implanted.

That done, he leapt from the cab of the truck and clambered into the rear car that was driven by Brother Ibrahim. Together the trio sped away from the scene in the two cars.

Just before 10 p.m. the sewage truck violently exploded.

* * * 

From the sentry’s rooftop vantage point, it appeared that the spot where the vehicles sat had abruptly bloomed into a searing flash of light, heat and dust. As he was hit with the shock wave of the blast, it occurred to him how amazing it was that the entire event was soundless.

* * * 

Structural engineers tell us that explosives do not actually do all of the work in destroying buildings. In fact, it could be said that all buildings really want to fall down; it is only their design structure that defies their weight and holds them up. Knock out the structural supports – say with a sufficient cutting charge of high explosives – and gravity does the rest.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion the front of Building 131 dropped to the ground, taking some of the occupants with it. A half dozen neighboring high-rise buildings were partially destroyed. Windows were shattered as far as a mile away from the detonation site, which was now a crater eighty-five feet wide and thirty-five feet deep. By the next morning, as a bizarre footnote, the crater was beginning to fill with saltwater from the Gulf.

And nineteen members of the U.S. Air Force were dead.

THREE: SCIF

June 26, 1996 - 0555 hrs - Washington, DC

The EOB – or Old Executive Office Building - is an ornate six floor structure perched on the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW on the immediate west side of the White House. Completed in 1888 after seventeen years of effort and in the days of smaller government, it was once home to the federal departments of State, Navy and War.

The EOB has had a checkered past. Mark Twain, a contemporary, once called it the ugliest building in America. Harry Truman thought of it as a monstrosity. Once having been scheduled for demolition, it was saved from the wreckers by the JFK administration.

It is now a U.S. Secret Service secured site and houses an overflowing variety of offices for White House aides and staffers.

Dawn was just breaking in the gray skies over Washington as a group of nine people, seven men and two women, filed into a SCIF in the basement of the EOB. The SCIF was a Secure Compartmented Information Facility, a place where classified discussions could be held in complete confidence. The topic of that morning’s emergency session was an incident that had taken place in a location that few of them had even heard of twenty-four hours previously.

The Chair of the meeting, a jowly fellow from the National Security Council staff, seated himself at his customary place at the head of the table. He opened a leather bound folder and scanned a three-page memo as the others settled into their swivel chairs around the table. Finished with his memo, he greeted them perfunctorily and turned his attention to the CIA representative. Okay Sarah. What do we know?

As you might guess, our information is still pretty sketchy, she said. The attack took place in Dhahran which, as you may know, is a city on the east coast of Saudi Arabia. Time-wise, it’s eight hours ahead of us. CENTCOM has a number of logistical facilities there including the one involved in this incident – the Air Force’s 4404th Composite Wing. The 4404th is part of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, monitoring the no-fly zone in Iraq.

The CIA woman paused to consult her notes. Last night at a few minutes before ten p.m. the 4404th’s housing facility at a place called Khobar Towers was attacked with a VBIED, causing massive destruction.

At the end of the table one junior staffer, a cleared White Hose Fellow, jotted a note to another: VBIED?

The other quickly scratched …veh borne improvised explosive device … truck bomb… in response.

We have conflicting reports as to the number of vehicles involved, Sarah continued. But all agree that that at least one medium sized truck made an attempt to enter the compound sometime around nine-thirty, local. Having been turned back at the security checkpoint, it pulled around to a spot on the north side of the compound and exploded. So far it looks like the casualty count is nineteen dead and fewer than four hundred injured – some pretty seriously.

Not the first attack at U.S. interests in Saudi, the NSC assistant to the Chair observed.

No, Sarah agreed. It was less than a year ago – last November in fact – that terrorists went after the OPM SANG building in Riyadh. A car bomb killed five U.S. contractors and two other non-U.S. personnel. All of them were working with the Saudi National Guard."

And didn’t the Air Force do some sort of physical security inspection of this Dhahran place as a direct result of the Riyadh bombing? the Chair asked, knowing well the answer to his own question.

Sarah nodded. The OSI did do a vulnerability assessment of Khobar, as well as other places in the region. I believe they recommended installation of shatter resistant window film and the relocation of some the aircrews to reduce the concentration of those most directly involved in SOUTHERN WATCH.

Too little, too late, someone mumbled.

The Chair peered at Sarah and then over to the rep from the National Security Agency. The latter was a senior cryptanalyst who had been called in for the meeting in the course of an over-night shift. Any early ideas as to the perpetrators?

Ideas, yes. Anything solid, no. Sarah replied.

The NSA rep, a reed thin man with a shock of thick white hair, shook his head negatively. We’re heavily monitoring all traffic in the area, to include Iranian military, diplomatic and security channels. Everyone is talking about it. All are up on alert in case we decide to retaliate. But nothing to go on so far.

The