Chapter 54 of Silent Vector

Chapter 54, in which Uncle Sam takes the bait

CHAPTER 54

TARGET ACQUISITION

The Director skims the executive summary one more time. Across from him sits the Army’s premier expert on the Soviet Union’s military capabilities and Warsaw Pact strategy, Colonel Stan Stratton.

“Cuba? We’re sure? I know we’ve been getting some wild reports from the expats in Miami, and most of it’s garbage.”

“U-2 reconnaissance confirms it, sir.”

“The President and the Joint Chiefs?”

“Being informed as we speak, sir.”

Stratton, currently attached to the National Security Agency, hands the Director another manila file marked TOP SECRET.

“Copies of the flyover aerial photographs are in the file, sir, along with shipping routes, known tonnage, and aerial photographs of merchant marine activity from the Navy. You’ll note in the Navy’s photographs that the waterlines on the merchant marine ships are right at surface level. Those ships are fully loaded.”

The Director leafs through the report quickly.

“That’s a hell of a lot of hardware. How solid are those numbers?”

“The numbers are our best judgment based upon site preparation from the flyovers, unit redeployment activity in the Soyuz, HUMINT out of Cuba, SIGINT from Key West, and transoceanic maritime traffic from Sevastopol, Vladivostok, Suez, Gibraltar, and Panama, as determined from sources on the ground and aerial photographic evidence. Needless to say, we’ve had our best people on it.”

“Payloads?”

“Same answer, sir.”

“What’s our vulnerability?”

“Once they’re operational, extensive to say the least. We’ve included a map in the materials as Appendix C.”

The Director flips through the file until coming to Appendix C; its import is immediately apparent.

“Just about the whole damn country.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s your best judgment? Are they bluffing?”

“I think we should assume they’re not, sir. The sheer scope of the operation is too extensive to reasonably constitute a feint. If it’s a bluff, it’s a costly one.”

“Which may be exactly what they want us to think. Their huge operation forces us to pour everything we’ve got into a response on Cuba. Meanwhile they’re shoving it to us on the other side of the globe while everyone on this side of the Iron Curtain’s losing their collective sanity over a nuclear conflict that’s never going to happen.”

“Always a possibility, sir, although in my judgment it sounds too imaginative for their current leadership. And the risk for the West of being wrong about such a possibility is simply not supportable.”

“What about the next level, just below the big shots?”

The intercom on the Director’s desk buzzes before the Colonel can answer.

“Excuse me, Colonel.”

The Director flips a switch on the intercom.

“What is it, Cheryl?”

“Your presence is required at the White House in an hour, sir, for an emergency meeting of the NSC.”

“Thanks, Cheryl. Let my driver know. I’ll be ready in five minutes.”

He flips the switch to off.

“Are you part of this briefing, Colonel?”

“I am, sir. The President is forming a special group to respond to the crisis.”

“You can ride with me and we’ll talk on the way. There’s another Caribbean operation this may affect.”

“Temple’s outfit?”

“You know about it. Good. I want to talk about the possibility of linkage between Cuba and St. Thomas. Are there any strategic or tactical connections, or are we just looking at a coincidence? Does Ivan’s left hand know what his right hand is doing?”

“Without knowing where the orders are coming from on the St. Thomas matter, it’s difficult to say, sir.”

“Wouldn’t they be coming from the top?”

“The logistics, as I understand them, are limited enough that the operation could conceivably have been initiated at some intermediate level, just below the big shots, as you put it. But again, it’s difficult to say for certain.”

“Well, Colonel, we get paid to make the difficult calls. When you get back to the shop, I want you and your boys to assume they’re connected and see if any evidence under analysis supports that assumption.”

“With all due respect, sir, I’m working non-stop on the missiles in Cuba as of two days ago. That’s directly from General Blake.”

“Understood. I’ll chat with your boss after the NSC meeting. If I can’t get him to pull you away for a few hours, I want you to at least keep that possibility in the back of your mind as you go through the intel. Can you do that much for me?”

“Certainly can, sir.”

“Thanks. And I’ll keep the old man in the loop.”

“Probably best.”

The Director grabs the TOP SECRET file off his desk, stands, and comes out from behind his desk.

“Let’s get going. My car should be waiting.”

The Director opens his office door allowing Colonel Stratton to exit ahead of him. They leave Langley not knowing for certain if what America’s intelligence community has uncovered is the dreaded “beginning of the end,” merely another infuriating bit of Soviet brinksmanship, or an elaborate piece of theater conjured up solely for its ability to occupy the complete attention of America’s leaders while some other operation unfolds undetected and unopposed.