William S. Cohen, former Secretary of Defense, US Senator and Congressman, has walked the most powerful corridors in the world. Now, in Dragon Fire, he takes us with him into the top-secret rooms where the fate of the world is held in the hearts and minds of men with dangerous and hidden agendas. Packed with action and espionage, intrigue and romance, Dragon Fire is a riveting, intricate, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that so convincingly written, readers will wonder just how much of it is true.
Listen to this audiobook excerpt from William S. Cohen's thriller novel Dragon Fire. William S. Cohen, the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of Defense, has walked the most powerful corridors in the world. Now, in this intricately woven story where it's nearly impossible to distinguish fact from fiction, he takes listeners into the top secret rooms where the fate of the world is held in the hearts and minds of men with dangerous and hidden agendas.
1. Your novel, Dragon Fire, while an entertaining and action-packed thriller, also tackles serious issues, including terrorism and political sabotage. With your background and expertise, why did you decide to write fiction rather than nonfiction?
The short answer is that I can tell more of the truth in fiction than in fact. As Oscar Wilde observed, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth.” In writing creatively about a serious subject, I hope both to enlighten and entertain, potentially reaching an audience beyond those who might read a non-fiction tome. Recently, while addressing a security conference in Munich, the host of a popular television program who had seen an advance copy of Dragon Fire remarked that the novel had given him an insight into the workings of secret programs and activities that he had not been aware of, and most likely would never have been inclined to read about in a non-fiction book. The novel, he said, had given him a virtual tour of the minds and machinations of powerful people who play on the global chessboard.
2. In Dragon Fire, an arch-conservative Chinese general and a billionaire Russian mafia boss form an alliance to topple American supremacy in Asia. Do you believe that in the future, this kind of thing could happen? What about the possibility of other kinds of rogue elements within these foreign governments?
I’ve studied intelligence and national security matters for most of my more than thirty years in public office. I’ve learned that people in power, or those seeking to gain power, will often move in imaginative and Machiavellian ways to achieve their goals. I have no doubt that there are individuals and groups who dream and scheme of ways to topple America from its position as the world’s only superpower. These groups tend to hold philosophically extreme and dogmatic views of the world. In Dragon Fire, I speculate on what might happen if the United States were to have its trans-Atlantic link severed; what nations would seek to dominate the European continent; and what means might be used to achieve this goal. Today, we are witnessing the rise of China as an economic and military power. China’s goal to bring Taiwan under its domination and sovereignty, either through persuasion or force, is stated policy. Russia appears to becoming more autocratic than democratic. It is no secret that significant arms sales occur between the two nations openly, government to government, and covertly through the gray and black markets. At the same time, Germany (along with other European countries) is seeking ways to strengthen its relationship with Russia. Should the trans-Atlantic relationship that currently joins America with our European allies be broken, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Russia might seek to exploit the vacuum and strike a strategic relationship with one or more of the European countries. If history were to repeat itself, Germany would be a prime candidate. The Rapallo Treaty of 1922 offers us a lesson.
3. The news media continues to focus on the war in Iraq, Al-Qaida, and suicide bombers- things we all know about. You, however, stress that we must look beyond the obvious in terms of our vulnerability to terrorism. What types of terrorist acts do you feel we must be most prepared for? Does Dragon Fire address this?
The threat we face today will come at us with terrifying velocity and from multiple directions. Gone is the uneasy comfort of the Cold War, when America only had to face the existential threat from one source—the Soviet Union. Today, we are risk from the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the hands of anarchists, malcontents, and religious extremists, domestic as well as international, who have access to the means to commit unspeakable crimes against humanity and bring about suffering on scales that we once thought were unimaginable. Globalization, while expanding the reach of knowledge, opportunity, and prosperity, has enabled the fanatical to use the tools of technology, not to enhance life, but to extinguish it. Nuclear, radiological, and biological attacks are likely to slaughter millions. Similarly, cyber attacks against the critical infrastructure of industrialized societies can disrupt and destroy our means of transportation, communication, and distribution of goods and services that will threaten our survival. Others have written extensively on the nature and extent of this grave new world that we now live. I’ve chosen to reveal how a shift in the balance of power might be brought about by those who operate in the shadows, secretly plotting how power might be seized through selective assassinations and covert actions that go undetected until it is too late to stop them.
4. In Dragon Fire, there is a tense relationship between the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor. In reality, how much tension and/or competition exists within the top offices and departments of our government? Is turf protection the order of the day?
Most department heads are strong-minded, capable individuals who want to set and pursue their department’s agendas. Inevitably, there will be clashes of personalities and programs. Virtually every administration has had to contend with the tension, competition, and turf protection that surfaces amongst cabinet members. It is, of course, incumbent on the President to insure that the frictions are kept to a minimum and that his or her goals are not jeopardized by advocacy that generates into dysfunctional antagonisms.
5. Dragon Fire begins with a secret nuclear experiment conducted in a remote area of China. Ordered by the Chinese Deputy Secretary of Defense unbeknownst to his president, he dreams of bringing China to its rightful status of Superpower. How realistic is it that a rogue official could conduct such an experiment without the knowledge of his country's president?
Much depends upon the strength and popularity of a nation’s leader. It’s axiomatic that unchecked power leads to its abuse. In societies where the instrumentalities of governance are opaque, where officials remain unaccountable and the military is independent of civilian control, the impossible becomes the inevitable. Under such circumstances, the line that separates fact from fiction, the real from the imaginary, becomes very thin. When such circumstances prevail, military officials acting without presidential authority in conducting nuclear tests or other experiments, become more than plausible.
6. In Dragon Fire, the character of Arthur Wu, Secretary of Defense Santini's DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) briefer, is Chinese-American. He falls under suspicion after several security breaches occur within the Department of Defense. Isn't it ethnic McCarthyism to suspect him of spying based on his race? Does such racism still occur even within the upper echelons of our government?
Racism is an evil that continues to thrive throughout much of the world. America, of course, has not been immune from this unsavory aspect of the human experience. Usually, racist emotions surface when a country experiences a stressful and tragic event. Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attacks come quickly to mind. I raise the issue of racial profiling in Dragon Fire to illustrate how even sophisticated and experienced officials can fall victim to such ignoble sentiments. While the US military has been a model of establishing a meritocracy, where character and capability define position, racism still exists in the highest echelons of society.
7. You've said that your thriller Dragon Fire will open doors for planning ahead and protecting the United States against other potential terrorist threats. In what way?
My goal is to stimulate people to think how others might examine our vulnerabilities and seek to exploit them. It is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that there are legions of men and women who have been tasked to explore creative ways to weaken or destroy American leaders and leadership. While it is impossible to predict or prepare for every conceivable plan of attack against our country, we should make every effort to probe our imaginations and weigh their products on the scales of probability. Such an exercise might help forewarn us, so that we can, through counter-measures, deter or defeat their successful execution.