Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Lion and the Sun: A novel that's more topical than ever

Iran and its nuclear ambitions seems to be constantly in the news. How close is this oil rich, bellicose, unpredictable nation from building a nuclear weapon? Is that its intent, or is its purpose strictly peaceful, as its leaders claim?

I spent five weeks in Tehran in 1978 as part of a US Military Assistance Advisory Group. I was fortunate to get out on one of the last US commercial flight to leave Mehrabad Airport. Subsequently, I worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, on nuclear safeguards, and followed that assignment up with work in the intelligence arena. After I retired, I wrote a novel, The Lion and the Sun, which drew upon that experience. The material in the novel comes from unclassified sources, but it is accurate in the way it paints the development of Iran's nuclear capabilities. Anyone who doubts Iran's real purpose will find that the tale told in this novel erases any doubt.
The Soviet Union’s house of cards finally came crashing down in 1991, sending the West near euphoria. Unfortunately, there were thousands of nuclear weapons stored in various locations in Russia and, as with the Russian ruble,  security at Russian weapons storage sites collapsed. The US spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to shore it up. Despite its best efforts, something slipped through the cracks three years later; something that in the wrong hands, would put a great big crater in the middle of Manhattan.

Daniel Conte, a veteran of 25 years with a covert unit attached to the CIA, is getting old, he’s burned out, and he’s on the razor edge of being divorced. Conte has promised his wife he’ll participate in marriage counseling to get their troubled relationship back on track just in time for Christmas. But Conte is assigned the mission of tracking down the missing nuclear weapon component, and like the good soldier he is, he drops his domestic agenda and once again does the bidding of his CIA masters.

Conte’s mission takes him from Vienna, to Istanbul, to Tehran, where he’s in serious danger of returning home in a body bag. Along the way he reconnects with an old adversary from Russian intelligence, becomes involved with a beautiful MI6 agent, and comes up against a smart-mouthed Turkish intelligence intern who seeks advice from him on her love life.

Conte heads off on his globe trotting tour in November of 1994; just nine months after Aldrich Ames is revealed to be a Soviet mole in the CIA. The implications of Ames’ treachery will be felt by Daniel Conte in more ways than he can imagine as he puts his life at risk in the service of his country; ways that will challenge his core beliefs and test his courage and his values.

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