Let’s Read Hostile Intent ch. 41-43

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We’re now dealing with the fallout of the recent terrorists attacks: the US stock exchange is tanking, and the British Prime Minister (who seems to be a sort of modern-day expy of Margeret Thatcher based on what little we find out about her) is furious because she suspects the US of withholding information about the London attack. I’m no economist, so can someone explain that first point to me? Why would the DOW be so badly effected by an explosion at a mall in LA? I know the economy was badly effected by 9/11, but I thought that was because the attacks destroyed a major financial hub.

I’ve commented before that these books seem to be taking place in some kind of alternate timeline possessing advanced technology, and we get another instance of that here as Tyler reveals the existence of an impenetrable missile shield along the entirety of both coastlines (boy I bet the UK government wishes you had shared that with them right about now!) and some kind of scanning technology to detect weapons being carried in ships. These are obviously band-aids being laid over the plot- having introduced the concept that the villains can pull off a secret missile attack on a major city, we now need a reason for them to not just start firing missiles off all over the place.

Once again, the book seems determined to portray Tyler as incompetent (newly-minted badassitude aside) and once again I find myself agreeing with him. This time around he starts to wonder whether they should really be putting all of their hopes on Devlin to solve everything instead of just deploying as many military and intelligence assets as they possibly can and yeah, that seems perfectly reasonable to me. I mean, surely throwing more resources at the problem can’t hurt, right?

This chapter also finally addresses that whole “Devlin’s cover is blown” thing, with Seelye claiming that Tyler blew Branch 4’s existence on live TV. In fact, if you go back and read the chapter all he said was that the government was deploying some kind of secret and highly capable agent to get to the bottom of the recent attacks, a statement vague enough that it couldn’t possibly be construed as breaking confidentiality. I mean, think how many covert and classified assets the US has across all branches of its military and intelligence apparatuses. He could be referring to any one of them.

I’m sure you had a good reason, but right now every foreign intelligence service, both friendly and hostile, will be working that out right now. And let me tell you, they’ll be plenty pissed that we haven’t been leveling with them about this. The friendlies, I mean.”

Do foreign intelligence services, even allied ones, really have the right to be mad about the fact that the US wasn’t sharing all of its secrets? Wouldn’t they have plenty of secret bullshit going on as well? And even if they are, Tyler could just say “yeah, I was talking about SEAL Team Six” or something. Seriously, this isn’t hard.

“Send somebody else, then,” said Tyler. “One of the other Branch 4’s.”

“There are—” began Seelye, and then stopped to rephrase. “Branch 4 ops work alone. They cannot be identified, even to members of their own service. You know that, sir.”

Okay, I’m going to let you in on a spoiler: there are no other Branch 4s. it’s just Devlin. Seelye has been deceiving everyone the whole time, for reasons that will become apparent later, which introduces some severe plot holes:

1) His excuse here makes no sense- sending another Branch 4 to London wouldn’t require them to reveal themselves to Devlin

2) What exactly was he planning to do if the President asked to meet one of the other agents?

3) Come to think of it, if Tyler believes there are multiple Branch 4 agents out there, why is only now coming up with the idea of getting them on the case? What does he think the rest of them are doing?

4) Seelye’s entire plan hinges completely on the fact that Tyler is too incompetent and uninterested in the military to really care about Branch 4. Remember, the president is supposed to know everything about the agents, and if Tyler had bothered to look into the matter it would have become apparent very quickly that there’s only one of them.

Seelye’s deceptions are interrupted by a phone call from Charles, and we get the usual “quick we have to trace the call  before he hangs up” thing even though doing that takes literally zero seconds, hence why terrorists don’t usually call world leaders up for a chat.

It turns out that the call is coming from INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE!

Which left only two possible conclusions: either the call really was coming from inside the White House, which was impossible, or whoever was making it had cracked the NSA defenses.

If Charles is routing the call through the White House, couldn’t they just keep tracing it back to its original point of origin?

Seelye handed the president his BlackBerry: THANK YOU FOR BLOWING ME BEFORE YOU FUCKED ME.

Devlin, acting like a moody teenager again. Hey here’s an idea, couldn’t Tyler just order Seelye not to kill Devlin?

Speaking of which, our boy Devlin’s trying to figure out what to do next. Things are looking dire!

And if the government of the United States had been parliamentary instead of republican, it might have already fallen.

We never get any further explanation for this statement, which I find quite baffling. Parliamentary governments have remained intact through a lot worse than a single bombing.

Most of this chapter is just Devlin thinking through the terrorists’ actions and trying to understand what they’re playing at, and he makes some rather odd assumptions, such as:

The attack on Edwardsville made some sense, if testing the American defenses had been the point of the exercise.

This entire book takes place over the course of six days, during which the villains enact a massive and byzantine set of interlocking operations. Any information gleaned from “testing American defenses” would come far too late to make significant changes. We as the readers know that Charles’ real plan was to draw Devlin out into the open and we can forgive Devlin for not coming to that conclusion (even though he has in fact speculated that this was the case multiple times) as it’s quite counter-intuitive, but this idea that the villains invaded a school to test the country’s defenses makes no sense. I don’t get why Devlin considers it at all plausible.

Remember last time, when I pointed out that the details of the London attack would surely make people suspicious of Skorzeny? Devlin finally twigs to this after Maryam points out the obvious red flags indicating an assassination attempt, and they both race off to chase the lead. This just solidifies my assertion that Skorzeny should have the British And American governments all over him by this point- Devlin is supposedly some kind of super genius, but it doesn’t take a super genius to realize that he’s suspiciously close to everything going on.

The RAND Corporation building stood out among the buildings in “downtown” Santa Monica like the proverbial sore thumb—but only if you were already aware that you had just struck your opposable digit with a hammer.

This sentence makes my head hurt.

We get thrown into this chapter with almost no explanation, but basically: according to wikipedia the RAND corporation is “a nonprofit global policy think tank originally formed by Douglas Aircraft Company to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces”. Devlin is there under an assumed identity to talk to a bunch of intelligence agents from around the world about…. stuff. Mostly this is just an opportunity for Walsh to have Devlin deliver an Ayn Randian (eh?) filibuster about how society has grown soft and complacent since the post-9/11 military victories against Al Qaeda.

During the speech Devlin reached for a glass of water and somehow- the wording on this is extremely unclear- this allows him to watch the progress of Skorzeny’s remaining “aid” ship. The way the sentence is structured makes it sound like there’s some kind of video feed being projected through the water or something.

So earlier I complained that Skorzeny’s plan should be shot to hell due to people getting suspicious of his docked cargo ship; upon rereading this chapter I’ve realized that the clumsy wording of the prose made me misunderstand how many ships Skorzeny has and what they’re doing, as Devlin now directs various security and military personnel to move in on the cargo ship using radiation-detecting drones disguised as kites (yes, really).

and the DHS agents who were lucky enough to draw beach duty could take their readings from the comfort of their beach blankets, while ogling the rear ends of the teenage girls wiggling by.

Have I mentioned that Devlin is an enormous perv?

it is our duty to constantly evaluate and extrapolate, not simply from ‘known knowns’ to ‘known unknowns,’ but into the realm of ‘unknown unknowns’ as well.

“I don’t actually know what the fuck I’m talking about, I’m just making shit up”

Devlin continues his rambling, at one point comparing the current threat facing them to the aliens in Independence Day, who are portrayed as interstellar locusts utterly erasing all life they come across. This really gets to the heart of what I talked about in an earlier post: in the worldview pushed by this book, terrorism has no reason and no purpose. The people who perpetrate it are driven by an irrational desire to kill and destroy for the sake of killing and destroying, and so the only way to combat terrorism is to fight fire with fire, by killing them faster than they can kill their targets.

In reality, this kind of attitude tends to lead to perpetual cycles of endless warfare as every violent action committed by either side is used as a justification for further violence. In traditional wars it’s possible for one of the combatants to be defeated, but in asymmetrical combat involving terrorists that’s rarely an option as different groups splinter apart and reform.

As he expected, this did not go over well with some of those in attendance. Probably half the members of his audience were “root cause” types; the idea that sheer nihilism might lay at the dark heart of society’s enemies was something they were not prepared to admit.

Just in case you think I’m mis-representing the views being presented here, Walsh, through Devlin, literally states that “society’s” enemies are driven purely by a desire to destroy.

Note the use of the word “society” here. The book plays coy by being non-specific about individual countries and demographics here, positing a war between “civilization” on one hand and amorphous nihilism-embracing aliens on the other, but I’m assuming I don’t need to spell out where the battle lines are really being drawn. Walsh is playing the classic “clash of civilizations” card, setting the glorious technological utopia of the West (remember those flush toilets?) against the barbaric hordes of Foreign Places Where People Have A Different Religion.

While Devlin directs some SEALs to infiltrate Skorzeny’s ship (apparently he can just randomly commandeer SEAL teams even though no one knows who he is) his filibuster continues, hammering home the idea that America- sorry, “society’s”- current enemies are no different from the vandals and the vikings; all of history has been an endless battle between the forces of civilization and the massed hordes of unwashed barbarians hammering at the gates. Needless to say “civilization” seems to always come in the guise of people who are no swarthier than the ancient Romans; white people can be dirty barbarians, but everyone east of, say Greece and south of the Mediterranean is automatically a  dirty barbarian, unless of course their country has been blessed with the light of western society.

I don’t really have to spend any time refuting this, right? Everyone knows this is racist pseudo-historical bullshit, right?

“But, if what you said about the nature of the threat is true, doesn’t that give these ‘operatives’ extraordinary executive authority with very little accountability?”

Inwardly, Devlin smiled. “The best way I can answer that question is to quote Wendell Phillips, in a speech before the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in 1852. ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’ he said. I really can’t improve on that.”

Astute readers will notice that Devlin’s reply does not actually answer the question at all.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that the SEALs sink the ship and recover whatever was on it. No, it’s never explained why Devlin decided to give a speech to a bunch of people at the same time.

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15 thoughts on “Let’s Read Hostile Intent ch. 41-43

  1. Pingback: Let’s Read Hostile Intent ch. 44-45 | Doing In The Wizard

  2. Reveen

    I think the real reason why conservatives would talk shit about the Parliamentary system specifically is that among other things, it makes it harder for local governments to run around passing whatever bullshit laws they want. Like, say, the state of Arkansas making it illegal for one of it’s cities to pass anti-discrimination bills.

    http://www.ky3.com/news/local/arkansas-house-supports-religion-antidiscrimination-bills/21048998_31258350

    Hell, in Canada, seeing how bad an idea “states rights” were is why we designed our government the way we did in the first place.

    “we have adopted a different system. We have expressly declared that all subjects of general interest not distinctly and exclusively conferred upon the local governments and legislatures shall be conferred upon the general government and legislature. We have thus avoided that great source of weakness that has been the disruption of the United States. We hereby strengthen the central Parliament, and make the Confederation one people and one government, instead of five peoples and five governments, with merely a point of authority connecting us to a limited and insufficient extent.”

    -John A. MacDonald

    That idea burns the far right like holy water burns a vampire.

    Reply
  3. andrea harris

    That slap at parliamentary systems of government is pretty standard in American conservative discourse. For some reason the idea has formed that parliamentary systems are unstable, or chaotic, or too complicated, or make it too easy to get “bad people” in control… none of which notions are based on anything but that we have a presidential system and we’re used to it. Also we like having an all-powerful head of state in control of everything, because ceremonial heads are for those foofy European countries where they drink tea and eat tiny cakes.

    I don’t get the quotes around “downtown” in the bit about Santa Monica. Santa Monica is a town. It has a downtown. I know it’s surrounded by Los Angeles on all sides except the ocean side, but that’s no reason to question its existence. (I’ve been there. It’s quite pleasant, though the traffic is something else.)

    Re the idea that terrorists are just nihilists (or not even–nihilists do have a world view and goals and reasons for them) out to destroy all the nice things because they’re just evul bad baddy bads: actually admitting that the terrorists have reasons for what they are doing means we might have to examine those reasons, and we might find out things that make us uncomfortable and our idea that the U S of A is the greatest country ever to exist might start looking… inadequate, and we might have to actually treat these foreign brown people like human beings, and look up from our tvs occasionally, and chaos in the streets, dogs and cats living together…

    Reply
    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      Conservative contempt for parliaments might also stem from the fact that they have coalition governments which is anathema to the current American system of one party either controlling every branch and forcing through the party’s agenda or blocking everything from the other side.

      Which could also be related to the painting of terrorists of nihilistic anarchists who have to real motivation. Seeing as how the Republicans seem to believe that the Democrats are in league with Muslim extremists (or Communists, or Nazis) one has to wonder if their rhetoric is merely hyperbolic, but regardless of whether they really believe Obama is receiving orders from Mecca or not compromise is nothing more than a weakness and suggests that the agenda of their party is something other than the best thing possible for America.

      Reply
  4. Signatus

    “Everyone knows this is racist pseudo-historical bullshit, right?”

    If you mean your readers, deffinitely. If you mean the rest of society… sadly this vision is more extended than we’d like.

    It is like the rest of the world can’t get the handle of; “I’m not like you, I’m different, I have different tastes, different sexuality, and NO, that doesn’t make me less or more than you. That only makes me different.”

    I find fascinating learning from other cultures and civilizations. It is a pity most people have not yet evolved from their natural instincs of; “we and them”.

    Reply
  5. Ian

    On the topic of the effect of terrorism on the stock market:

    http://business.time.com/2013/04/16/what-the-boston-bombing-means-for-the-economy-and-the-stock-market/

    While you’re right that the September 11th attack had a disproportionately large impact due to the dual nature of the crisis, it’s actually probable that a country’s market would tank – at least a percentage point or two for a day or two – in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack; even an attack on a close trading partner could cause your country’s market to take a short-term hit. The stock market is generally accepted to be efficient in most cases, but pretty inefficient (irrational) in the case of tail-risk events like terrorism, financial crises, large-scale accidents, etc.

    However, a party orchestrating a terrorist attack for the sake of shorting the market sounds like more implausible Bond villain stuff. If you were perfectly forewarned you could probably benefit slightly, but you’d have to be willing to stomach a lot of uncertainty. A person with enough capital to execute a plan this intricate already has dozens of other, safer money-making options at their disposal.

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      Thanks for the insight! I’ll admit I know absolutely nothing about the economy or how it works.

      ” at least a percentage point or two for a day or two”

      When you say a percentage point, is that the same thing as someone saying the market (or whatever) dropped by x number of “points”? Because in a few chapters Tyler gets told that the market dropped by six hundred points, and I’m wondering if that’s a plausible rate of decline.

      Reply
      1. sonamib

        I looked it up on Wikipedia, and I found that the Dow Jones Index is currently at 18,000 points* give or take, so a 600 point drop corresponds to a 3,3% drop. It’s not implausible.

        *I have no idea what these “points” mean.

        Reply
      2. Ian

        As a quick aside, it’s been my experience in the finance industry that when someone (incl myself) uses the term “percentage point(s)”, they are trying being as transparent as possible and basically saying that ‘whatever you had invested in whatever vehicle, it just went up/down by this many fractions of 100%.”

        But in terms of stock markets Sonamib is definitely on target in that “points” often refers to the specific single units of measurement for a given index…. The DOW is in the tens of thousands, so each point for that index is about a tenth less than the S&P 500, which is in the thousands. Because of this, saying “the market dropped by 600 points” becomes a rather vague statement unless people know which stock market you’re referring to.

        The only other option I can think of is that the author is referring to “points” in terms of “basis points” – this is another common finance shorthand that refers specifically to one percent of one percentage point (one basis point is 0.01‰).

        Going off “the market dropped 600 points” is ambiguous, especially for this book with its tendency to exaggerate harm. .. dropping 600 points in the DOW is much better than 600 ‘basis’ points in the market as a whole (which in turn is way better than 600 points dropped off the S&P, which at its current 2000 would pretty much signal the apocalypse….). If I had to hazard a guess I’d assume he’s referring to he DOW, but only because he’s unfamiliar with the markets…. I’ve never actually heard anyone refer to how much “the market” dropped, because believe it or not the American stock exchange isn’t the center of the world anymore.

        Reply
  6. rmric0

    Wait, aren’t parliamentary governments repbulican? Ignoring figurehead monarchs that are there just for funsies, a parliament is just a way of organizing the legislature – it doesn’t change the fact that power is ultimately derived from the electorate.

    Reply
    1. sonamib

      And there’s Italy, Germany, Greece, Ireland and India who’ve got all the parliamentary fun and no hereditary head of state !

      And while in a presidential system the government never falls, it may still lose support in Parliament (exhibit A: the US right now) and that’s pretty much the same thing.

      Reply
  7. devilsjunkshop

    The author disguised lecturing the reader as a character giving a lecture. Genius :-O

    This whole Branch 4 super-secret-single-agent-doing-everything stuff reminds me of Remo Williams and CURE from the Destroyer series of novels. Except they were just entertaining hokey pulp. And made more sense…

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Let’s Read Hostile Intent ch. 39 -40 | Doing In The Wizard

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