Lt. Col. Oliver North was a U.S. Marine for 22 years. The Vietnam veteran has been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for valor and two Purple Hearts. He served in President Reagan’s National Security Council as counterterrorism coordinator from 1983 to 1986.
Today, he reports regularly from Iraq and Afghanistan for Fox News. He is the author of several best-selling fiction and nonfiction books. His new novel, “The Assassins,” is the last in a trilogy. “The Assassins,” set in 2007, tells of Islamist terrorists who have acquired weapons of mass destruction. The following are excerpts from a phone interview with Col. North.
Question: The protagonist in your novels, Peter Newman, is a U.S. Marine officer who has had many experiences that mirror experiences from your career. How similar to Oliver North is this character?
Answer: Actually, in the first two novels, I put myself in [as a character] so people wouldn’t say that. They still do. But Peter Newman is really a composite of people I’ve known over the years.
I have had a very active, adventure-filled life. There are very few people who have had the kind of excitement I’ve had in my days. Now my job at Fox News is to hang around with heroes. I made a composite out of several of them to make Peter Newman.
Q: You have a very graphic description of a Russian signals intelligence site in Cuba. Is that real?
A: Yeah. And not only that, but [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, as I wrote in the book, promised to close it in 2001, but he didn’t. He upgraded it. The Cuban intelligence shares space with it. The [Russian] intelligence unit operates the thing. It’s been there since the 1960s, and all he’s done is upgrade it.
They might have fewer people [working at the site], but they updated the automated satellite system there. If you make a satellite call from the U.S., it’s probably going by microwave up and down the West Coast, and it’s easily [interceptive]. Whether they can encode and decode everything is something else again. But they are recording and sharing it.
Q: Aren’t the Russians our friends in the war on terror?
A: Ronald Reagan had a great word for it: “Trust but verify.” The Russians have a very, very serious problem and they’re much closer to it than we are. We saw that last week in the attack [on Russians from Chechen rebels].
If Russia cuts a deal from Tehran for more nuclear technology in exchange for them withdrawing their support from Chechen rebels, we’ve got an even bigger problem than we thought we had. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind today that the Iranians are adamant about getting nuclear weapons.
Q: In the book, Congress takes up an “assassination bill.” What does the bill say?
A: In the aftermath of 9/11, a [real-life] congressional committee actually sat and drafted a bill, which I basically drew from. A lot of what I’ve got in the book was actually in the bill that was drafted after 9/11.
The bill never saw the light of day because cooler heads prevailed, but this book suggests that in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear threat, Congress says that we’re now going to go assassinate people. That is not as wild-eyed as some people think it is.
Q: Should assassination be legal?
A: I want the American people to make this call. I’ve got some very strong feelings about it, but I don’t want to address them upfront. The really important question that somebody has to ask is, if you decide you want to do that, somebody — before they carry it out — had better figure out what happens to the people sent to carry out those kinds of missions, when things don’t go according to plan. What happens to those people?
That’s kind of a theme that’s in all three of these books. My hope is that people are looking at it, [saying], “Yeah, this could all happen. Is this what we want to happen?”
Q: How are the challenges presented to this administration different from those you faced on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration?
A: Great example: 20 years ago last week, we were all celebrating the capture of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. We worked on it nonstop for six days and nights. We thought it was a really big deal to have captured Islamic radicals who had murdered an American, Leon Klinghoffer; who had hijacked a cruise ship with 1,000-plus people on it. We managed to capture them in Sigonella, Sicily.
In the aftermath, the president was congratulating those of us who worked so hard on it, and the CIA chief, whose pattern in this book is William Goode, who was there nonstop, said: “You know, Mr. President, it would have all been different had these guys wanted to die instead of wanting to live.”
What we did not see is the willingness of young people [to commit suicide attacks], and we’ve now seen a lot of it. Thousands of young Islamic radicals have blown themselves to pieces, all the way from Iraq to Tel Aviv, Israel. It has become the way of carrying out the jihad. If you posit that the Iranians really have nuclear weapons, or could get them, then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.
Q: How is this administration’s foreign policy different from President Reagan’s?
A: It’s much more aggressive in going after the terrorists. There’s only three things you can do with terrorists. You can protect the people better, and [the Bush administration] has. There’s no doubt we are safer. As the president pointed out, a thousand times they’ve tried and failed.
Second, you can take military action against them where they gather. They’ve done that in Iraq and Afghanistan. And third, you can ameliorate the conditions in which people want to join the jihad. You do that with purple fingers and education, and that’s coming. I think the president’s speech to the National Endowment for Democracy was very important. There’s some very clear handwriting on the wall. Those who advocate, “If you just pull out, it will all go away,” … they’re wrong.
Q: Many events in the book are similar to what’s going on in the world right now. What did you want to say about the war on terror?
A: That you gotta fight it. You gotta do the three things I just described. It’s important that you not pull the plug in the middle of a war. Or you’re inviting the scenario [in “The Assassins”].
I could not have envisioned two years ago, when I wrote the book, that we would have seen the massive evacuation of two cities like we saw in Katrina. Before you get to that point with 11 cities being targeted, you’d better plan ahead than try ad hoc in the midst of it.