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Thursday, November 27, 2014

A fresh look at 21st century terrorism - A Touch of Nerves by D.C. Hampton


New novel explores America’s role in the Middle East

When Army Captain Ben Hawkins discovers chemical weapons missing from a military research facility, he begins an investigation into preventing a possible terrorist attack. The suspects? Two rogue Iranian agents who blame the deaths of their family members on the United States. What Hawkins doesn’t expect is to find himself forced to decide whether to risk his career—and possible arrest—to stop the attack, even if it means working with a foreign agent.

D.C. Hampton’s debut novel, A Touch of Nerves, may be set on the battlefield of America’s “War on Terror,” but the book is a far cry from your typical action narrative. Inspired by his two sons who served in Iraq and the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War and his own time serving in the U.S. Army, Hampton brings depth and humanity to characters that might otherwise be painted in the two-dimensional “hero” or “villain” archetypes. With Hampton’s passion for history and global affairs, A Touch of Nerves brings a fresh perspective to the long history of tension between the United States and Iran.

I wanted to write a story that was worth telling, realistic and suspenseful,” says Hampton. “I believe the book is entertaining, but it also sheds light on the complex relationship between Iran and the United States and explores the complex emotions and issues that drive some individuals to commit terrible acts.

The story includes a wealth of details as Hampton weaves a complex plot,” writes Kirkus Reviews. “A conceivable threat and suspense-filled plot keep readers engaged until the end. Hampton eschews the genre’s typical plot holes and vague facts and his handle on international relations gives the terrorists credible motivations.


Qazvin, Iran, 100 miles northwest of Tehran

Colonel Arash Kashani was sitting behind a desk in a small office located in an administration building at the Borj-e Milad Sharif University of Technology. He drank some of the strong tea he had brought in with him. Two other men sat in chairs in front of the desk. Kashani had arranged the meeting, and it was the first time the three of them had met together.

Colonel Kashani monitored the activities of a small group of Iranian agents within the Ministry of Intelligence. He also kept track of the intelligence activities of the Revolutionary Guards, although that could be a challenge. The Revolutionary Guards had a record of pursuing its own agenda, and often acted independently. Their independence and their recklessness often created serious problems for the Supreme Council, as each acted on its own agenda.

The two other men in the room were members of the Revolutionary Guards, intelligence agents attached to units of the Quds Force stationed in Qazvin. Kashani hadn’t met these agents before, and he had been sent to find out what they were up to. His boss had been getting some unexpected inquiries from some of his contacts in Europe. Unexpected and disturbing.

This was a particularly sensitive time, with the U.N. and especially Europe and the United States considering—once again—ratcheting up the trade sanctions against his country. Their own president, the belligerent Ahmadinejad, wasn’t exactly helping their cause with his threatening rhetoric and hostile challenges.

Kashani often wondered why the United States and its allies hadn’t taken stronger actions already. He knew that even their fellow Muslims in the Arab world across the Persian Gulf would be more than happy if the United States or Israel took military action against his country to prevent them from becoming a nuclear ­nation. Arab solidarity trumped Muslim brotherhood. The so-called Arab leaders just wouldn’t risk saying so in public.

“Tell me more about this group. What is their assignment?” the colonel asked the senior of the two men, a major by the name of Heidari.

“Our man is working with a female agent we placed in Spain. He has a plan to bring great harm and embarrassment to our enemies.”

“And what is it these agents of yours hope to do?”

Kashani knew it might take awhile to get the full story from the two men, but he would keep them here until he had it. Apparently there were some alarms going off in the U.S. and Europe, and that meant alarms had gone off within the Supreme Council.

Kashani himself wasn’t concerned about the European agencies or the nations they represented. In his experience, they would talk and talk and talk, but they wouldn’t do anything, not without the United States behind them. And the Americans wouldn’t do anything unless someone forced their hand.

The eight-year war with Iraq demonstrated how pivotal such weapons could be. Iraq had chemical weapons. Iran didn’t. And when Iraq used their chemical weapons in nerve gas attacks against Iran, against their armies, against their people, and against their cities, Iran had no response. Thousands of Iranians, both military and civilian, died from the chemical weapons Saddam used at places like Susangerd, al-Basrah, and the battle for the Al Faw peninsula—and the world was silent.

No, Iran had no response, and neither did Europe or the Great Satan. And even when the United Nations finally condemned Saddam for his massive use of chemical weapons, the United States voted against the resolution. Where were the Americans then with all their talk about outlawing such weapons?

Oh yes, the war with Iraq had made it very clear that those who didn’t possess the terrible weapons were at the mercy of those who did. And then the game had changed. The Americans and their allies invaded Iraq. With Saddam gone, and Iraq in chaos, there were many voices in the Supreme Council saying that it was time for the country to reclaim its historic role.

But how much more time did they have? The western powers might do something eventually, but Colonel Kashani was just as concerned about the pressures from within his own country. The counter-revolutionaries were getting stronger and stronger every year. The protests at Tehran University had gotten particularly ugly. These young students seemed more interested in western technology and western ideas than in the ideas he and his generation had struggled for. They didn’t get it—and neither did the religious zealots. It was Persia that counted, and this ancient nation could reclaim its rightful place in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

From what Kashani heard, the nuclear engineering people needed only another year or so to produce a low-yield nuclear device. After that, they wouldn’t have to worry about the Americans or the Europeans anymore. Even Israel would be a different story.

But what the high-ranking security officer heard in Qazvin during the next half hour took him by surprise. It was worse than he thought—much worse. These fools had started by helping the Iraqi insurgents with supplies and equipment for building more lethal IEDs. OK, one enemy fighting another enemy, and let the Iraqis do the dirty work. We would settle with the Iraqis later anyway. As far as Kashani was concerned, Iraq was supposed to be governed by his own people anyway, as it had been for centuries.

But these fools had gotten ambitious. They didn’t just want to damage a few Humvees around Baghdad or Fallujah, or kill a few American soldiers. They had an ambitious plan to make the Americans pack up and leave. Ambitious—and very dangerous.

“You see, Colonel,” Major Heidari, the senior Qods Force officer explained. “We’ll turn their own weapons against them. We’ll use their own WMDs, the kind of weapons they are so righteous about, to make them leave Iraq. Then we can do whatever we want there, not just smuggle in materials and equipment for a few insurgents.”

“What about deniability?” Kashani asked. “Can the Americans trace this back to us?”

“No, Colonel, that will not be a problem. When more than a dozen Saudis attacked the World Trade Center and their Pentagon, did the United States attack Saudi Arabia? No, because these were individuals who merely happened to be Saudis. They were acting on their own, or so it appears. They had no connections to the Kingdom or to the family of Saud, so why would the Americans attack Saudi Arabia? And they didn’t, of course.”

Kashani persisted. “But this man Najidad is connected to us. He’s connected to you and to the Revolutionary Guards. Surely the Americans are likely to discover that.”

“We took very careful steps to prevent that,” Major Heidari countered, but he was becoming uncomfortable with the challenging questions. He had expected the Revolutionary Council to be very pleased with the operation, and he was already thinking of the rewards that might be in store for him.

“Almost two years ago, after Najidad came to me with his plan, he and I worked on the details for several months. Only then, when we were completely satisfied that it could work, did I have him discharged from the Guards, with discipline. He left in disgrace, with an unsatisfactory record, discharged for stealing from his own men. He lost his position, his benefits. Even his family was ashamed of him.”

“He accepted this? How did he deal with it?” Colonel Kashani wondered, unable to imagine the hardship and disgrace of being discharged from your unit “with discipline”—the same as a dishonorable discharge.

“He accepted it as a true believer. Not in the religious sense, for he is not particularly religious. But as a soldier in the Revolution who is proud to do his duty,” Major Heidari answered proudly.

Colonel Kashani actually admired the plan and how well the group had done. A supposedly rogue agent placed in the United States, and the coerced co-operation of an American soldier to help them steal an American WMD, or at least a very lethal nerve agent from the Americans’ own chemical weapons. Carefully implemented steps so their own government could not be connected to the act. Impressive. It would be a shame to arrest these men for actions deemed dangerous to the Republic. He complimented them, and both agents looked pleased with themselves.

“Now tell me how you contact this Mahmoud Najidad and this Elena Saman in the United States,” he instructed Major Heidari.

Over the next few hours, Kashani learned the operational details of the plan, along with information about the types of facilities the agents would target. He also learned how Heidari contacted his senior agent, Mahmoud Najidad, in the United States.

Kashani had more tea and several light dishes brought into the room. He wanted to relax with Major Heidari and his assistant, Captain Ashkani. He listened to them talk excitedly about how well their plan was working. Once he felt there were no more details to learn, he got ready for the 100-mile drive back to the capitol.

Before leaving the university grounds, Kashani placed several calls, including one to the Iranian Embassy in Madrid. He also issued an order to Colonel Backhi, head of security for the Revolutionary Guards and a man he had worked with previously, reminding the Colonel that he, Colonel Kashani, was there on the authority of the Supreme Revolutionary Council.

“Alright, Ahmad,” he told his driver. “We’re heading back to Tehran.”

During the two-hour drive, the very concerned security officer worked out his travel plans. They were about halfway to Tehran when he looked out the window at the Elburz Mountains looming in the darkness to the north. On the other side was the Caspian Sea, an area Kashani and his family loved to visit. He wouldn’t return home for at least a week, if all went well. If it didn’t—well, he might not return at all.

Colonel Backhi was surprised at Kashani’s order. Major Heidari and Captain Ashkani were even more surprised on their return to the Revolutionary Guards base when Colonel Backhi and two guards escorted the two intelligence officers to secure officers’ quarters.

“Don’t be concerned, gentlemen, but for security reasons, I am placing you in protective custody, at least for the duration of this operation,” Backhi told them. He didn’t tell them that Colonel Kashani had said “house arrest,” not protective custody.

Minutes later, the Revolutionary Guards officer was back in his office. He had a second order from Colonel Kashani, one he didn’t understand either, but he was not about to question someone from the Supreme Council. He sat at his computer, composed a brief message, and pressed “Send.” His two agents in Seville would get their new instructions in a few seconds.

About the author:

D.C. Hampton holds an MA and PhD in Audiology from Columbia University and has been published extensively in the field. He has done graduate work in history and has always been interested in international relations. 
Though he has been extensively published in medical and trade publications, A Touch of Nerves is his first foray into fiction.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow! This one sounds good and I am intrigued by the excerpt. As a vet myself, I enjoy the occasional book on war (and war on terror). Our relationship with the Middle East is complicated and endlessly fascinating to me.

Thanks for sharing this one!

Sara M. Drake