Jerry Mitchell is on exercises off the coast of Pakistan when his submarine, the USS Michigan, is ordered to a rendezvous off the Iranian coast. Once there, disembarked SEALs---experts in seaborne commando operations---are to extract two Iranian nationals who have sensitive information on Iran's nuclear weapons program.
While en route to shore, Michigan's mini-sub suffers a battery fire, killing one crew member and forcing the survivors---four SEALs and LCDR Mitchell---to scuttle their disabled craft and swim for shore. There they find the two Iranians waiting for them, but their attempts at returning to Michigan are thwarted by heavy Iranian patrol boat activity. When agents of Iran's secret police, VEVAK, appear, escape seems all but impossible.
When Mitchell and his men find themselves surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp troops, they create a bold plan to escape by sea. It's a desperate gamble, but it's the only way to get proof of the Iranian plot to the U.S. . . . and prevent a devastating new war.
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Larry Bond is the author of numerous New York Times bestselling thrillers, including Cold Choices, Vortex, Cauldron, and The Enemy Within. He's worked with Jim DeFelice on the Larry Bond's First Team series, as well as the Larry Bond's Red Dragon Rising series. A former naval intelligence officer, warfare analyst, and antisubmarine technology expert, he makes his home in Springfield, Virginia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
8 February 2013
Uranium Enrichment Facility, Natanz, Iran
Natanz lay only 150 kilometers to the north of his headquarters in Isfahan, so General Moradi had flown up early in the morning with his aide, Captain Hejazi. Moradi’s staff had urged him to wait, to not rush up there the same day, that afternoon. “They won’t know anything,” Colonel Nadali had warned. “They’ll bury you in raw data and argue with each other.”
The general had learned to listen to Farzad Nadali, his chief of staff. The colonel’s patience and good humor complemented Moradi’s own fiery temperament. Nadali had counseled Moradi to wait until the scientists had something to tell him.
So finally, two days later, they were flying north in an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Mi-17. Instead of jump seats for troops, the Russian-made transport helicopter was fitted for VIP travel, with increased soundproofing, comfortable seating, and fold-down work surfaces. A few hundred meters below them, the landscape was empty and broken, painted in shades of brown and gray, with stony hills rising from the left. It was still winter, and the morning cold did nothing to soften the desert landscape.
Moradi had made the trip often, and hardly noticed the harsh beauty of the ground below. Instead, he studied a briefing prepared by the scientists and e-mailed to his headquarters that morning. The general was sure they’d been up all night working on it, but he was not sympathetic. A few more sleepless nights might have prevented this disaster.
Captain Hejazi’s voice interrupted his review. “Sir, Natanz is in sight.” Moradi understood that his aide was referring to the uranium enrichment facility. They’d spotted the town of Natanz proper five minutes ago. The facility was thirty kilometers farther to the north, surrounded by desert and rocky hills, but not isolated. Its front gate was just south of the Isfahan-Kashan road, a six-lane highway that actually passed through the outer ring of air defenses. A moment later the aide added, “Major Sadi is monitoring our approach.”
Moradi nodded, acknowledging the report. Sadi was in charge of the facility’s air defenses, and simply because they were a scheduled flight didn’t mean they couldn’t be shot out of the sky.
The enrichment site itself was a rough square, a kilometer and a half on each side. A perimeter fence enclosed the pilot enrichment plant, the gigantic buried centrifuge halls, and the support buildings for those two vital facilities.
A few hundred meters out, a road paralleled the perimeter, connecting dozens of antiaircraft gun emplacements and watchtowers. Each gun position, a pair of manually aimed 23mm or 35mm autocannons, was ringed with sandbags and sited on an earthen mound to give it a better field of fire.
Farther out, a second ring bristled with even more guns: larger four-gun batteries of 100mm weapons, radar-directed 35mm batteries, scores of the manually aimed guns, and half a dozen batteries of surface-to-air missiles. Three early warning radars covered Natanz and the surrounding area. It was possible that Natanz was the most heavily defended place in Iran, except, of course, for Tehran itself.
And a lot of that was Moradi’s doing. Since he’d been placed in charge of the nuclear weapons program five years ago, he’d tripled the number of SAM batteries and ordered a second ring of antiaircraft guns placed around Natanz. He’d also handpicked Sadi for his post. The major was inexperienced, but competent, hardworking—and loyal.
Moradi felt the helicopter descend, and he saved his notes and closed the laptop. As Hejazi packed up the general’s computer, the helicopter hovered and then set down smoothly. The crew chief moved aft to open the side door, and Moradi remembered to remove his uniform cap before the rotor wash snatched it away.
The blades slowed, and figures outside ran toward the open door. A few were ground crew, but most were officers, with a few civilians scattered through the group. Moradi recognized the Natanz facility’s commander, Colonel Zamanian, with his staff, including Sadi, and Nadali, who’d arrived yesterday to manage the recovery and the investigation. Colonel Nadali was a great organizer, and he’d been right to go ahead and manage things. Moradi knew he’d probably have fired the lot on the spot.
The officers immediately fell into two ranks, and the civilians wandered about for a few moments, deciding where to stand. There was more than a little tension between the scientists, engineers, and the military. The civilians seemed reluctant to fall in line, but finally formed a knot at one end, not quite in line, but not sticking out either.
Nadali, who’d placed himself at the near end of the front rank, saw Moradi appear in the open door and called “Attention!” The officers saluted as one, and even the civilians managed to stand a little straighter.
Brigadier General Adel Moradi of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Pasdaran, stepped from the helicopter. The Revolutionary government’s propaganda machine had dubbed him “The Lion of Karbala,” for his bravery in the war with Iraq, but he knew his real nickname, the one his staff thought he didn’t know about: “The Rhino.”
Smoothly slipping on his uniform cap, Moradi returned the salute. His hat was a dark olive green ball cap, matching his fatigues and emblazoned with the emblem of the Pasdaran in gold thread. The symbol was repeated on his breast pocket.
In his late fifties, Moradi was trim, almost athletic. His aide, Hejazi, was taller, but Moradi was still six foot one. Solidly built, his physical presence had always been an asset, both on the battlefield and in politics. Trimmed close, his beard was only lightly threaded with gray. It outlined a broad, weathered face that seemed to settle naturally into an impatient scowl.
Nadali didn’t wait for Moradi to speak. Shouting over the helicopter’s slowing turbines, the colonel reported, “We’re ready for you, sir.” He pointed to a line of jeeps, and Moradi got into the lead vehicle without saying a word.
As Colonel Nadali climbed in the backseat, Moradi asked him, “Is there anything worth seeing at the pilot plant?”
Nadali shook his head sharply. “No, sir, and as a matter of fact, they’re encouraging us to keep clear of the area while they make another sweep for radiation and toxicity.” He saw Moradi’s expression and continued. “When they spot-checked the first survey results, there were several errors—all underreporting.”
Moradi’s scowl deepened. “When will they be done?”
“They couldn’t start until it was daylight this morning. It will be late this afternoon.”
“Wonderful,” Moradi rumbled. “I wonder how many other mistakes they’ve made.” His tone made it clear that he was sure there were more. The other jeeps were pulling away, and Nadali ordered their driver to head for the administration building.
Nadali took the general to a conference room. Pasdaran sentries, armed with automatic weapons, flanked the door, and Nadali led the staff inside. When one of the civilians tried to go in the room, Nadali waved him back. “The scientists will brief the general in half an hour. We just have some housekeeping and organizational issues to go over.” The civilian nodded nervously and hurried away.
As soon as the general was seated, a middle-aged major looked over at Nadali, who nodded. “The room has been swept, and is clear,” the officer reported. “The spaces on all sides of us, and above and below, are occupied by my people.” Major Hassan Rahim was Moradi’s intelligence and counterintelligence officer. He also belonged to VEVAK, the Ministry of Intelligence, but although everyone knew it, nobody ever mentioned it.
“It was a careful sweep, Rahim? There are some clever people here,” Nadali observed.
“Not from what I’ve seen,” Moradi countered. “What have you found, Hassan?”
Rahim was a small officer—short, and older than would be expected for a major. There were rumors that his real rank was much higher, but changed to match the assignment. His glasses gave him a professorial look, but his gaze was hard, and his tone cold. “The centrifuges failed on their own, sir. I can find no sign of sabotage, either from foreign agents or someone inside.”
“It’s hard to prove the absence of something,” Moradi offered.
Rahim pulled out a notepad and flipped through the pages. “This is already one of the most secure installations in Iran. My people have enhanced those measures. We’ve been able to correlate the movements of everyone on base that day with the entrance and exit logs for each building. Dr. Sabet has helped us with scenarios for sabotage, and who would have the knowledge to perform it. Everyone on the list is being watched. Most have been questioned.”
Moradi nodded as he took in the information. He’d expected this result. If Rahim had found anything amiss, the perpetrators would have been arrested instantly. VEVAK might have different masters than the Shah’s SAVAK, but they used the same methods.
“Could it have been that damned computer worm again?”
“Unlikely, sir. I had every computer on the installation checked, as well as all personal computers in the dormitories. Every CD and flash drive was also examined. There was no sign of the Stuxnet worm. As you recall, we found this worm on dozens of computers when the cyber attack was first discovered three years ago,” remarked Rahim.
Stuxnet was a devilishly effective piece of malware that sought out and attacked the motor controllers on the centrifuges, causing them to under...
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