- - Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The House of Representatives voted unanimously to create the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The act passed the Senate in October and now goes to the president’s desk for his signature.

According to DHS, the CISA Act will reorganize the National Protection and Programs Directorate into a new agency and prioritize its mission as the federal leader for cyber and physical infrastructure security.

As I read the DHS press release, I thought of Frederick Forsyth’s timely thriller, “The Fox,” which I had just read and enjoyed.

Mr. Forsyth, the author of the classic thriller “The Day of the Jackal,” said he was finished writing books after the 2015 publication of his memoir, “The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue.” Thankfully, he decided to write one more thriller.

I like that Mr. Forsyth uses his skills as a veteran journalist to infuse his thrillers with facts and fascinating details about crime, espionage, terrorism and war. He also offers a thrilling and suspenseful story and “The Fox,” Mr. Forsyth’s 17th novel, continues in that fine tradition.

According to Mr. Forsyth’s publisher, Putnum, his new thriller was inspired by the cyberterrorism cases of Lauri Love and Gary McKinnon, two computer hackers who have Asperger’s Syndrome, like Mr. Forsyth’s fictional character, the Fox, a teenager named Luke Jennings.

“Cyberspace is the new crime zone, the new battlefield,” Mr. Forsyth said. “All the enemies of the West are major players. The Fox is a damaged teenager, a cyber-freak who can hack into any database — anywhere. What he lays bare is worrying.”

In “The Fox,” Sir Adrian Weston, a former deputy chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service and adviser to the British prime minister, is notified that the Pentagon, NSA and CIA were all breached simultaneously. The intelligence officials of the United States and the U.K. were later surprised to discover that the hacker was a British teenager with Asperger’s.

But he is not a hacker, spy or terrorist. Mr. Weston offers an alternative to prosecution: Use his skills against our enemies. The gifted teenager penetrates the computer systems of Russia, Iran and North Korea and pays them back for their cyber operations directed at the West.

“Basically, just about everything I’ve written comes down to two unanswered questions: ‘Would it be possible to?’ and ‘What would happen if?’ Mr. Forsyth said. ‘The Fox’ is very simply, what would happen if a Western nation like Britain discovered in its midst what is basically the most dangerous teenager in the world? Would it be possible to expose the secrets of some of the most vicious nations if only we can get into their secret archives? We have a genius cybercriminal or ‘cyber freak’ as he has no malice. He’s just a kid in a candy store who doesn’t know what he’s doing. However, if you guide and direct him in specific tasks then he may be able to do things that no other expert can. That’s Luke Jennings. If someone can put malware inside the enemies’ computers, that is like taking out several divisions of infantry without firing a shot.”

Over the years Mr. Forsyth has used his considerable contacts in the intelligence field to obtain information that has fueled his thrillers, and in “The Outsider,” he told of how he aided British intelligence while working as a freelance writer during the war in Biafra. When asked if he thought our adversaries read thrillers and used the fictional ideas in their operations, Mr. Forsyth replied that they do, even if they won’t admit it.

“Once during the Cold War I was interviewing a defector from the USSR who had been quite high ranking in the KGB. I introduced myself and he said he knew who I was and that I was very popular,” Mr. Forsyth recalled. “I thought I was banned in the USSR and he said I was to the people but not the KGB and that every time one of my books came out they had a limousine from the embassy outside a book shop in London to pick up 50 copies. They were shipped in a diplomatic bag to the Russian equivalent of Langley. After they arrived, there would be 2-3 days of silence as all the generals were reading it.”

Mr. Forsyth said that we have all the technology in the world, but it can ultimately be reduced to junk, as it is all governed by computers. He noted that there is an invisible war going on and few people truly understand it.

Readers of “The Fox” may understand it a bit more.

“And it’s all true,” Mr. Forsyth said of an earlier novel of his. “Well, okay, it’s not all true, it’s a novel. But it’s accurate.”

• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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