By David A. Andelman
If there’s one individual uniquely qualified to write about nuclear espionage, purloined dirty bombs and the post-Soviet blackmail of a paranoid American establishment, it’s William Beecher. His most recent novel, Nuclear Revenge (Amazon/Kindle), transports us into a world of high-stakes intrigue that seems to have sprung fully-formed from Beecher's fertile imagination.
Beecher is a veteran journalist and nuclear expert. His long career in journalism includes stints as a Pentagon and national-security correspondent for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Boston Globe. Along the way, he earned a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the nuclear arms race. Later, he served in the Defense Department and worked for ten years at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. From spending time on the outside, then the inside, Beecher came to understand how the U.S. protects and defends its nuclear arsenal – and the awesome power that it is capable of unleashing. In the end, however, he also came to appreciate the underside of nuclear-weapons technology.
Now it’s time for him unpack this wisdom, using it at once to educate and entertain in books intended to serve as cautionary tales. His previous novel, The Acorn Dossier (Dailey Swan Publishing: 2009), tells the story of a bitter former Soviet military-intelligence agent who manages to filch a file pinpointing the locations of nuclear weapons buried in various locations in America – and already known to a succession of deep-cover Soviet moles who’d waited patiently for their activation. The gripping tale proved to be disturbingly prescient, foreshadowing the saga of red-headed bombshell Anna Chapman and the handful of other Russian agents scattered across the U.S. – in innocous locales like Camden, New Jersey – who were unmasked for real just this past June. The damage inflicted by Chapman and her band of merry moles appeared to consist of little more than infiltrating a few entirely banal cocktail parties and high-school soccer games. Fortunately for the reader, Beecher’s vision is far more deadly.
Nuclear Revenge opens on the tree-lined campus of a fictional university in suburban Washington, DC. From the humble classroom of the narrator, a professor of journalism, the story quickly spirals into a transnational al-Qaeda plot to introduce a nuclear weapon into the United States. Beecher just happens to be an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, teaching two interpretive-writing seminars and a lecture course on the history of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. His fictional counterpart is drawn into an international conspiracy when a stunningly beautiful student, Arabella Davidov, takes a fancy to her fatherly instructor. From there, Beecher's nuclear thriller unspools with a clever plot that I won’t spoil by unraveling its many twists and turns.
Suffice it say that Nuclear Revenge revolves around the threat of a dirty-bomb attack – one of the true nightmares of those who, in real life, try to keep America safe from a nuclear terrorist assault. The technology is far more primitive than a conventional, full-scale atomic weapon, and it requires far less technical sophistication to build and deploy—witness the years of ultimately unsuccessful work by such governments as Libya, Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, each with the ability to call on the vast financial resources available to oil-producing nations.
The concept of a dirty-bomb attack is far from original in the annals of contemporary spy fiction. But Beecher's background allows him to treat the subject with more depth and accuracy than others. In the words of Leslie H. Gelb, the veteran national-security columnist and later president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “The best Pentagon correspondent ever (for the New York Times) has written the best book yet about a nuclear attack on the United States. And I mean best book, fiction or non-fiction.”
David A. Andelman is the editor of World Policy Journal and the author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today and, with the Count de Marenches, longtime head of French intelligence, of The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism.