On a quiet park bench in Manhattan---just miles from the ruins of the World Trade Center---spymaster Jake Janos Illin delivers a chilling secret message to Jake Grafton: A rogue Russian general has sold four nuclear warheads to a radical Islamic terrorist group, the Sword of Islam. The group intends to detonate them in America in the ultimate terror strike, the apocalypse that will trigger a holy war between Western civilization and the Muslim world. After passing Illin s message to his superiors, Grafton is charged by the president with the task of assembling a secret team to find the warheads before America s population centers are consumed by a nuclear holocaust.
As he hunts for the terrorists, Grafton soon finds himself up to his neck in power politics, techno-billionaires, money-grubbing traitors, anarchists, and spies. He also discovers that the terrorists don t all come from the Middle East. They come from places close to home. They masquerade as patriots. Some may even have the president s ear.
With the survival of Western civilization at stake, Grafton pulls out all the stops. Calling on the assistance of the indomitable Toad Tarkington, and CIA burglar Tommy Carmellini, he raids the prisons to assemble his team while the clock ticks toward Armageddon.
Peopled with the rich, vivid characters that have made Stephen Coonts famous worldwide, Liberty is all action and suspense from the very first page. And it poses the unanswerable question: How far should civilization go to defend itself from its mortal enemies?
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Former naval aviator Stephen Coonts flew combat missions during the Vietnam War. A graduate of West Virginia University and a former attorney, Coonts is the author of nine New York Times bestselling novels, which have been translated and republished around the world. He lives in Nevada with his wife and son.
CHAPTER ONE The tall, lean man walked out the entrance of the United Nations building in Manhattan and paused at the top of the main staircase to extract a cigarette from a metal case. He wore a dark gray suit of an expensive cut and a deep blue silk tie. Over that he wore a well-tailored wool coat. He lit his cigarette, snapped the lighter shut, and descended the staircase. He joined the throngs on the sidewalk and walked purposefully, taking no more note of his fellow pedestrians than any other New Yorker. He turned westward on East Forty-sixth Street, which was one-way eastbound and choked with traffic, as usual. Striding along with the pace of a man who has a destination but is not late, he crossed Second, Third, Lexington and Park Avenues, and turned north on Madison. On Forty-eighth, he turned west again. Crossing Fifth Avenue, he took no notice of the crowds or people in front of the plaza at Rockefeller Center, but walked steadily through them, ditched his cigarette at the door of the NBC building—he was on his third by then—and went inside. Seven minutes later he was on the Rockefeller Center subway platform. He stepped aboard a southbound F train just before the doors closed and grabbed a bar near the door. The train got under way immediately. As the train roared through darkness, the tall man casually examined the faces of his fellow passengers, then stood at ease holding the metal bar. He watched with no apparent interest as people got on and off the train at each stop. In Brooklyn he exited the train, climbed to the street and immediately went back down into the subway station. In minutes he was aboard another F train heading north, back into Manhattan. This time he exited the train at Grand Street in Little Italy. Up on the sidewalk, he began walking south. An hour later the tall man passed the entrance of the Staten Island Ferry and walked into Battery Park. Several times he checked his watch. Once he stopped and lit another cigarette, then sat on a bench overlooking New York Harbor. After fifteen minutes of this, he went back toward the ferry pier and began walking north on Broadway. Three blocks later he caught a northbound taxi. “Seventy-ninth and Riverside Drive, please.” Broadway was a crawl. The taxi driver, a man from the Middle East, mouthed common obscenities at every stoplight. North of Times Square the cab made better time. After he left the taxi, the tall man walked toward the Hudson River. Soon he was strolling the River Walk. He turned onto the pedestrian pier that jutted into the river and walked behind several dozen people standing against the railing facing south. Many had cameras and were shooting pictures of the skyline to the south where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had stood. At the end of the pier were several benches, all empty save one. Four men, two of them policemen in uniform, were turning strollers and tourists away from the bench area, but the tall man walked by them without a word. The middle-aged man seated on the bench was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, a faded ski jacket, and wraparound sunglasses that hid his eyes. He had a rolled-up newspaper in his hand. He glanced at the tall man as he approached. “Good morning, Jake,” the tall man said. “Hello, Ilin.” “I’m clean, I presume.” “Ever since the Rockefeller Center subway station.” The tall man nodded. His name was Janos Ilin, and he was a senior officer in the SVR ( Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki), the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, which was the bureaucratic successor to the foreign intelligence arm—the First Chief Directorate—of the Soviet-era KGB. The man in jeans was Rear Admiral Jake Grafton of the United States Navy. He appeared to be in his late forties, had short, thinning hair combed straight back, and a nose that was a size too large for his face. He looked reasonably fit, with a fading tan that suggested he spent time in the sun on a regular basis. “Poor tradecraft, meeting in the open like this,” Jake said. Ilin had picked the meeting place. Ilin grinned. “Sometimes the best places are in plain sight.” Ilin stood examining the surroundings. After a minute spent looking south at the southern end of Manhattan, he ran his eyes along the shoreline, the people on the pier, then turned to watch the boats going up and down the Hudson. “That atrocity,” he said, gesturing toward the southern end of Manhattan, “would never have happened in Russia.” Jake Grafton made a noncommittal noise. “I know what you are thinking,” Ilin continued, after a glance at the American. “You are thinking that we would never have given several dozen Arabs the free run of the country, to do whatever they had the money to do, and that is true. But that is not the critical factor. Bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the Islamic Jihad—all those religious fascists know that if they ever pull a stunt like that—” he gestured to the south “—in Russia, we will hunt them to the ends of the earth and execute them wherever we find them. We will exterminate the lot of them. To the very last man.” “The same way the KGB murdered Hafizullah Amin in Kabul?” Jake asked. In 1979 KGB special forces disguised in Afghan uniforms assaulted the presidential palace and assassinated the president of Afghanistan, his family, and entourage. Moscow’s handpicked successor asked for Soviet help, which fortunately was immediately at hand since the Red Army had already invaded. “Precisely. But you Americans don’t do things the Russian way.” Ilin got out his cigarette case and lit one. “Thank God. You killed a million Afghanis and lost what, about thirty thousand of your own in Afghanistan?” “As I recall, you killed four million Vietnamese and lost fifty-eight thousand Americans in your little brushfire war.” “I served that one up, I suppose.” Jake sighed. “Two men followed you to Rockefeller Center. Apparently Russians. Someone over there doesn’t trust you.” “ Touché,” Janos Ilin said. His lips formed the trace of a smile. “Can you describe them?” Jake reached under his jacket and produced two photos. He handed them to Ilin, who glanced at each one, then passed them back. “I know them. Thanks for coming today.” “Why me?” Jake Grafton asked as he pocketed the photos. Yesterday Ilin had telephoned Callie Grafton at the Graftons’ apartment in Roslyn, Virginia, and asked for Jake’s office telephone number. Since she knew Ilin—he had worked with her husband the previous year—she gave it to him. Then he telephoned the FBI/CIA Joint Antiterrorism Task Force at CIA headquarters in Langley and asked for Grafton by name. The call came from a pay telephone in New York City. When Grafton came on the line, Ilin asked to meet him in New York the following day. They had set up the meet. Grafton had arranged to have agents monitor Ilin’s progress around New York to ensure he wasn’t followed. If he had been, Grafton would not have been waiting on the pier. “I heard you were the senior military liaison officer to the FBI/CIA antiterrorism task force. I know you, so …” “I don’t think that’s classified information, but I don’t recall anyone doing a press release on my new assignment.” A trace of a smile crossed Ilin’s face. “The fact that I know is my credential. Let’s reserve that topic for a few minutes.” Jake took off his sunglasses, folded them carefully, and put them in a shirt pocket inside his jacket. His eyes, Ilin noticed, were gray and hard as he scrutinized the Russian’s face. “So what are you doing in New York? Servicing a mole?” “I came to see you.” “Did the Center send you?” “No.” Ilin stepped to the railing facing south, which he leaned on. Jake Grafton joined him. A police helicopter buzzed down the river and jets could be heard going into Newark and Teterboro. Contrails could be seen in the blue sky overhead. Ilin watched them a moment as he finished his cigarette, then tossed the butt into the river. “Islamic terrorists can be placed in three general categories,” Ilin said conversationally. “The foot soldiers are recruited from refugee camps and poor villages throughout the Arab world. These young men are ignorant, usually illiterate, and know little or nothing of the Western world. They are the shock troops and suicide commandos who smite the Israelis and murder tourists in the Arab world. They speak only Arabic. They blend in quite well in Arab society, but are essentially unable to function outside of it. These are the troops that bin Laden and his ilk train as Islamic warriors in Afghanistan and Libya and Iraq.” Grafton nodded. “The second category, if you will, are Arabs with better educations, usually literate, some even possess a technical skill. The fundamentalists actively recruit these people, appeal to their religious sensitivities, wish to convert them to their perverted view of Islam. Since these people have often lived outside the Arab world they can move freely in Western society. These people are dangerous. They are the ones who hijacked the airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. By the way, the plane that hit the Pentagon was supposed to crash the White House. The one that crashed in Pennsylvania was supposed to hit the Capitol building.” “Umm,” Jake said. He knew all of this, of course, but Ilin had gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this meeting and he was willing to listen to what he had to say. “The third category of terrorists can be thought of as generals. Bin Laden and his chief lieutenants, financiers, bankers, technical advisers, and so forth. These people are Muslims. For whatever reason, terrorism appeals to their ethnic and religious view of the world.” Ilin paused and glanced around him, almost an automatic gesture. “And there is a fourth category. Few of these people are Arabs, few are Muslims. They see profit in terrorism. Some of them take pleasure in the pain the terrorists inflict, for every reason under the sun. These people are enemies of America, enemies of Western civilization. I came today to talk to you about several people in this category.” “This fourth group,” Jake mused. “Are any of them Russians?” “Russians, Germans, French, Egyptians, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, you name it. America is the big boy in the world—many people have grievances, real and imagined.” “Hate is a powerful emotion,” Jake muttered. “One of America’s many enemies is a Russian general named Petrov. He doesn’t hate America, he loves money. A few weeks ago he sold four missile warheads for two million dollars.” “To whom?” “They call themselves the Sword of Islam. Petrov is in charge of a base near Rubtsovsk. The man who led the team that picked up the weapons was Frouq al-Zuair, a man who has been knocking around the Middle East causing random mayhem for many years. He hacked some tourists to death in Egypt and evaded the roundup of extremists by escaping to Iraq. Who his friends are, where they are, I don’t know. In fact, I am not supposed to know about Petrov or Zuair or the weapons.” “But you do know?” “A little, yes.” “Is it true? Or fiction that you are supposed to pass along?” . “True, I think. Although one can never be absolutely sure. And honestly, the Center doesn’t know I am telling this to you.” . “How’d you hear of it?” Grafton was shoulder to shoulder with Ilin. “That I can’t tell you. Suffice it to say that I believe the information is credible. I know of Petrov. He’s capable of a stunt like that. I’m passing it to the American government to do with as they see fit. For what it’s worth, most of our senior politicians don’t know of this matter and would not admit it happened even if they did know. They can’t afford a rupture with the United States.” “Are you saying we can’t use this information?” “Your government shouldn’t brace Moscow on it. They’ll deny it. And don’t let my government know where you heard it. I’m a dead man if it gets back to them.” “I’ll do the best I can.” “So we get around to your question about how I knew you had been assigned to the antiterrorism task force. We have a mole in the CIA.” “Jesus,” Jake muttered, shaking his head. “His name is Richard Doyle. Don’t let him see anything with my name on it.” “What if we arrest him?” “That’s up to you. As long as he doesn’t learn that I betrayed him.” “We may use him to feed you disinformation. There’s a spy term for that, though I have forgotten it.” “Richard Doyle is a traitor,” Janos Ilin said softly. “He signed his death warrant when he agreed to spy for the communists fifteen years ago. He’s been living on borrowed time ever since.” “Fifteen years?” Jake was horrified. Ilin took out his thin metal case, opened it and extracted another cigarette. He played with it in his fingers. His hands, Jake noted, were steady. “Fifteen years … and now he gets the chop.” “Unfortunately, Mr. Doyle must be sacrificed for a larger cause.” “Who made that decision?” “I did,” Ilin said without inflection. “A man must take responsibility for the world in which he lives. If he doesn’t, someone will do it for him, someone like bin Laden, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao … . Murderous fanatics are always ready to purge us of our ills.” He shrugged. “I happen to believe that the planet is better off with civilization than without it. This tired old rock doesn’t need six billion starving people marooned on it.” “And you? Are you a traitor?” “Label me any way you wish.” Ilin grinned savagely. “I don’t want to read about four two-hundred-kiloton nuclear explosions devastating the only superpower left in the world. Russia needs a few friends.” “Where are the weapons now?” “I don’t know. They could be anywhere on the planet,” Ilin said, and puffed slowly and lazily. Airplanes came and went overhead. The late-winter breeze was out of the west and carried the smell of the Hudson. “What kind of information is the SVR getting from Doyle?” “That’s an interesting question,” Ilin said, brightening perceptibly. “I don’t see all of the Doyle material, but one listens, makes guesses, surmises. Doyle is quite a source. Almost too good. I got the impression that his control and the Center have wondered at times if perhaps he was a double agent, yet his information has been good. From across a surprisingly large spectrum of the intelligence world.” “He’s getting intelligence from someone else inside our government?” “He’s remarkably well informed.” “Any guesses where some of this other stuff is coming from?” “Somewhere in the FBI, I would imagine. Counterintelligence.” “Want to give me a sample or two?” “No.” “The Sword of Islam,” Jake mused. “I’ve heard of them. Rumor has it they were involved with something called the Manhattan Project, but we assumed it was that.” He pointed toward the southern skyline. “That would be a dangerous assumption,” Ilin said. “Four tactical nukes, warheads for long-range, stand-off antiship missiles. Fleet killers. Each packs roughly twenty times the yield of the weapons you used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Easily transported. If competent technicians get their hands on them, they could be used as portable bombs.” “Handy.” “Quite. I would imagine each warhead would weigh about a hundred kilos, and be, perhaps, a little larger than a soccer ball. As some wit pointed out years ago, the terrorists could disguise them as cocaine and bring them in through the Miami airport.” “Any other thoughts?” “Don’t assume that the target is America. Oh, certainly, America is the great Satan and all that, but the real target is Western civilization.” He smacked his hands together. “This web of airplanes and computers and telephones and banks that move capital freely—all of that is in danger from religious fanatics who wish to destroy this secular edifice that feeds and clothes and houses billions of people. They want to create c...
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