Chapter Forty-Nine

It’s possible he was a double agent,” said Janda. “We don’t know.” The general and Fowler finally decided to throw Thorpe a bone, what information they had on Raji Fareed. “We had him under surveillance. We thought we had him covered, but we lost him in France.”

“Who were you using on the ground?” said Thorpe.

“Military intelligence and CIA,” said Janda. “We thought we had plenty of resources. Somehow they both got away.”

“Funny how that happens,” said Thorpe. “Who were you using here in the States, for surveillance, I mean?” This was a sore point, and Thorpe knew it. Neither the CIA nor the military could be used legally within the territorial borders of the United States to conduct intelligence against U.S. citizens.

“We’re not discussing that,” said Fowler. “Suffice it to say that we were doing our job.”

“We knew what we were doing,” said Janda. “The reason I say Fareed could have been a double agent is not only his background, Iranian father and Israeli mother. We have photographs of him meeting with handlers from both embassies.”

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe he knew you were following him?” said Thorpe.

“He was playing a dangerous game,” said Fowler. “That’s probably why he’s dead.”

“How long did you have him under surveillance?” asked Thorpe.

“Two years,” said Janda. “We have reason to believe he was a deep plant, a sleeper. He could have been activated more recently by radicals, but we don’t think so.”

“Why wasn’t the bureau informed?”

“That’s above your pay grade,” said Fowler.

“Yet you allowed this man to have access to highly classified information and to leave the country,” said Thorpe.

“That’s enough,” said Fowler. “Your job is to find Leffort and to make sure we get any and all classified information back, including this flash drive. What about computers? Did the French police find a computer in Fareed’s hotel room?”

“No. We checked. If there was anything there, whoever killed him took it,” said Thorpe.

“Find that flash drive,” said Fowler. “Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Then, unless you have more information for us, we won’t detain you any longer.”

Thorpe got up, took his briefcase, and left.

They waited for the door to close behind him. “I don’t trust him,” said Fowler. “He’s not a team player.”

“He’s old enough to remember Watergate,” said Janda. “If you recall, all the team players in that event went to prison.”

“You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”

“No,” said Janda.

“In case you’re worried, let me remind you that we’re not stealing money and we’re not trying to fix elections here. You know as well as I do that this was our one chance to take down the major terrorist cell in Europe. We know they were the people one notch above Bruno Croleva in this thing. They’ve been the eyes and ears of more terrorist acts than we can count. What we were doing was on a need-to-know basis, and Thorpe didn’t need to know.”

“I agree,” said Janda. “I’m on board.”

“Good!”

“It’s just that if the media gets wind of any of the details of Project Thor, it’s going to be more than just a major international embarrassment. These are serious treaty violations. You know and I know that the president’s gonna be looking for cover, claiming that he never authorized anything. They’re going to be looking for a fall guy,” said Janda. The way he said it made Fowler wonder if he was auditioning for the role. The thought had crossed Fowler’s mind more than once.

Project Thor was a direct violation of international treaties prohibiting the militarization of space and the extension of weapons of mass destruction as part of space-based warfare.

Thor was a black box program of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was undertaken only because defense agencies realized it was just a question of time before some other government stumbled on what was now becoming obvious.

Weapons of mass destruction on a scale previously unknown were already there and available, just waiting to be harvested. The Rand Corporation and others had done research and rendered reports some years earlier finding that the concept was not feasible. Not because it couldn’t be done-the science and technology were already there-but because it couldn’t replace a nuclear strike force in terms of deterrence. They were still thinking inside the box, in the terms of the Cold War. Since then the world had changed. Deterrence was not an issue if your goal was to wipe an adversary off the face of the earth and to avoid accountability for the act.

They were the perfect weapons for asymmetrical warfare. If properly deployed in a preemptive strike, the damage would be so devastating that no thermonuclear device, no matter how powerful, could compare. Best of all, they could be used without fear of retaliation. There was no way to trace them back to the nation that launched them. It was the perfect cover.

What no one knew, other than a few people at NASA and a handful of leaders at the highest levels of government, was that the United States was already three years into the testing phase. Two potential weapons were already deployed, something Raji Fareed and his handlers could not have known.

It was Leffort, the trader of secrets, who had changed the telecommand codes at NASA and severed the telemetry links to Project Thor. The weapons that had been on a taut leash for so long were no longer under the government’s control. If the world were to discover what was happening, the public panic and political fallout would be cataclysmic.

Adin drove past Richmond on toward Williamsburg, then swung around Langley Air Force Base to avoid the main gate. He approached the base from the south on State Route 167 where there was much less traffic and where he had gained access the day before.

A short distance south of the gate, he pulled off the road into an industrial area on the tidewater and parked. They all got out, Adin, Sarah, the dog, and Herman. Sarah held Bugsy on a leash. Adin opened up the back of the van. They folded up the jump seat in the back and pushed the boxes with their diplomatic seals toward the front where they could easily be seen by anyone standing outside the driver’s window. They made a wall with the boxes and arranged the tarp behind it.

Sarah and the dog got in first. Adin got Bugsy down on his stomach and petted him a little until he relaxed. Herman got in, and Adin covered all three of them with the tarp.

“Next stop is the gate. Stay still and keep quiet.” He closed the back of the van and locked it. If the guard made him open it, Adin had no idea what he would do next. This had never been part of the plan.

Back in the driver’s seat he started the engine, swung a U-turn, and drove back out to the road. He took a deep breath and turned right. Half a mile up, he saw the concrete gatehouse with the guard standing outside. There were two cars in front of him in line. Adin pulled up behind them, stopped the van, and got his paperwork ready. There was a clipboard with the embassy’s diplomatic lading slip, along with official documents all in triplicate, stamped with the embassy’s official seal.

One car was through. The second took only a moment, an officer with an ID. The guard saluted and waved him through. Adin pulled the van up and stopped.

“Good morning.” Adin smiled at him, then handed the clipboard to the guard.

The guard looked at it. At first he seemed a little puzzled, then he saw the day pass clipped to the top sheet. The embassy had obtained it through Israeli military connections with the U.S. Air Force. It was the magic key. “This is a little unusual, isn’t it? Don’t you guys usually fly this stuff commercial?” said the guard.

“Usually,” said Adin. “But we had a military tanker coming in for refueling, so I guess they figured may as well use it.”

The guard stuck his head in the window and counted with his finger until he got to twelve. “Looks like it’s OK.” He tried to peek over the boxes. “Just the twelve boxes, right?”

“That’s it.”

The guard signed off, tore the top sheet off, and handed the clipboard back to Adin. “Have a nice day.”

Adin smiled. “Thanks,” he said and drove through the gate. To his passengers in back, he said, “Stay down. We have one more stop to make before we get to the plane.” He took the curving road around to the right, passed the huge B-52 on display, and a half mile up he turned left on Laurel. He followed it to the large commissary where it ended in a T intersection in front of the building. He turned right and threaded his way through the short blocks to Holly Street. There ahead of him was a single chain-link gate, the last barrier between the van and the concrete apron leading to the runway.

He stopped at the gate, and a guard came out. He checked the paperwork, didn’t bother to look at the boxes, and opened the gate.

As he drove through the gate Adin saw an entire wing of fighter jets, F-18s, parked in a separate area off to the right. He assumed that this was part of the Air National Guard unit stationed at the base.

Two A-10 Warthogs were parked closer in on the apron. Just beyond them, farther out toward the runway, was a KC-130 with four large squared-off propellers in desert camo colors. It bore the Israeli Air Force marking on the side, a simple white circle surrounding the blue Star of David. Adin sighed a deep breath when he saw it. Almost home.

One of the flight crew was standing outside near the open ramp under the tail section talking with a U.S. Air Force officer. The Israeli pointed toward the approaching van, and the American turned and looked.

By the time Adin reached them, he already had the window down and the clipboard out. He pulled up next to the two men, handed the clipboard to the American, smiled, and said, “Do you want to count them?”

The guy just glanced through the window, looked at the boxes, checked the paperwork, and said, “I’ll take your word for it.” He tore off one more of the forms for his records and asked the Israeli crewman if they needed a hand loading.

“We can handle it,” said the Israeli. “You could do us a favor, though. The driver is a military attache from the embassy. He’s going to be flying out with us. Could you park the van and hold it? They’ll be sending somebody down to pick it up later today.”

“No problem,” said the American.

“Go ahead on back. I’ll drive over to the hangar and give you the keys when we’re done,” said Adin.

“I can wait,” said the guy.

“I’m afraid it’s gonna take a while. There’s some things I have to discuss with the crew before we load up and take off,” said Adin.

The Israeli crewman looked surprised. But he didn’t say anything.

“Well, if it’s gonna take a long time, I’ll head back,” said the American.

“Catch up with you at the hangar.” Adin smiled.

As soon at the guy walked away, Adin looked at the other Israeli and under his breath said, “I’ve got some passengers.”

“So have we,” said the Israeli.

They spoke for a second, and Adin pulled the van around, backed up to the foot of the ramp, and told his passengers in the back to hang on. He hit the gas and backed up the ramp until the rear of the van edged into the open belly of the plane. He stopped, put the van in park, and jumped out.

By then the other Israeli was already at the back of the van. Adin unlocked the two back doors and they swung open. Except for a few feet exposed under the two open doors at the side, Sarah, Herman, and the dog were completely shielded from view by anyone outside the plane.

Adin pulled the tarp off them and Bugsy jumped. His eyes immediately fixed on the other Israeli. Adin grabbed him as he lunged, snagged his collar. “Easy! Easy! Heel!” He struggled to calm the dog and hold him in the van. He grabbed him by the muzzle to keep him from barking as Adin peeked through the crack at the hinge of the rear van door.

The American airman had turned around to see what the commotion was. He stopped for a second and looked. When he didn’t see anything, he turned again and headed once more toward the hangar.

Adin watched him go. “Now!” he told Sarah. “Move.”

Quickly she stepped down from the van and up into the plane. Herman followed her. Adin took the dog by the leash. Once inside he gave Bugsy to Sarah. “Hang on to him and don’t let him bark.”

“How do I stop him?”

“Just like this.” Adin took Bugsy’s muzzle with his hand and held it firmly but gently.

“He’ll let me do that?”

“Yeah, if you show him who’s boss,” said Adin. He smiled at her.

She took the dog up the ramp and was immediately confronted with what was in front of her.

It wasn’t until then that Adin noticed the configuration inside the plane. The twin fuel tanks weren’t there. He turned to the other Israeli. “Where are the tanks?”

“It’s all right. We have a single tank up front, centered under the wings. We’ll have enough range. Besides, you’re going to need what’s in those other containers.” There were two large metal boxes balancing the load, one of them the size of a double shipping container but not quite as high. It had a drop-down door facing the open ramp.

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