Authors: Don Mann,Ralph Pezzullo
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“We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
This book is dedicated to those rough men and women, and especially the Navy SEALs.
It is a principle of human nature to hate those whom you have injured.
Staff Sergeant Nancy Cisneros bounded from the main building of the U.S. embassy in Rabat, Morocco, the space around her seemed to light up with her energy. She was armed with an M4 automatic rifle and M9A1 sidearm, and wore a lightweight helmet with a MARPAT desert cover and an outer tactical vest with two bullet- and heat-resistant Kevlar plates.
Despite her formidable appearance, Sergeant Cisneros was in a good mood because she’d just finished Skyping her fiancé back in the States. In less than two weeks, they were planning to get married in San Diego during her annual leave.
Last Saturday, the leader of the embassy guards—a tall Berber tribesman named Jalil—had escorted her to a stall on the covered Rue Souk as Sabbat, where Cisneros picked out matching filigreed gold wedding bands.
As she crossed the driveway to Post One, the sergeant flashed a thumbs-up to Jalil, who stood outside Post Two dressed in a black Royal Gendarmerie uniform with an MP5 slung over his shoulder. Despite their cultural and religious differences, she and her Moroccan counterpart had become friends. Several months ago, Nancy and some other Americans had attended an elaborate ceremony in Jalil’s family compound near the Rif Mountains to celebrate the birth of the Moroccan’s first son. Together, she and Jalil had raised thousands of dollars for a fund that provided soccer balls, nets, and uniforms to needy local children.
The two fortified guard posts at the U.S. embassy entrance stood approximately fifty feet apart. Post One, to Cisneros’s right, monitored vehicular traffic in and out of the main gate. The smaller Post Two, where Jalil was standing, was responsible for checking people who were trying to gain access to the embassy compound on foot.
Every workday morning, hundreds of local Moroccan visa applicants lined up along the high concrete wall that surrounded the embassy compound, waiting to be checked and patted down before a marine guard waved them through the body scanner. If the red light didn’t flash, the applicants would then be escorted through a metal door and along a path to the U.S. consular office, which was housed on the ground floor of the main building.
Before entering Post One, Sergeant Nancy Cisneros looked up to see the sun burning its way through the morning haze. Inside the six-sided reinforced-concrete structure, two Moroccan security agents and another marine stood watching the front gates through a Plexiglas window. A State Department security officer named Havlichek sat before a console of six monitors that broadcast pictures of the traffic on nearby Avenue Mohamed El Fassi and the access street to the main gate.
“All clear?” Sergeant Cisneros asked the American at the console.
“Except for that white pickup,” Havlichek answered. “It’s been parked there about ten minutes doing jack shit.”
Sergeant Cisneros noticed that the Toyota truck appeared to be carrying a heavy load in its back cargo bay, which was covered with a canvas tarp.
“Driver probably stopped to drink some
” she offered, referring to the popular local mint tea.
“Or smoke some kif, more likely.”
“I’ll send one of the gendarmes to check it out.”
Sergeant Cisneros exited Post One and took two steps toward the front gate with the intention of giving orders to one of the four Moroccan security officers stationed there, when she heard a vehicle honk behind her. Turning, she saw the big white water truck that had arrived to deliver fifteen hundred gallons of potable water to the embassy backing toward the gate.
“What the hell’s he backing up for?” Cisneros asked into the helmet headset that connected her to Post One.
“Because he’s a typical Moroccan driver,” answered Havlichek.
“Open the inner gate,” Sergeant Cisneros barked.
Then she held up her arms to stop the driver of the water truck and yelled,
But the driver, who had his radio blaring, didn’t hear her. Cisneros had to jump on the truck’s running board and shout through the side window before the driver applied the brakes and stopped.
Sergeant Cisneros was trying to figure out how to tell the driver in French that he should reverse course, proceed farther down the driveway, and turn around, when she heard one of the Moroccan guards shout. She turned to her right to see a white pickup speeding toward the open gate. It looked to be the same one she had viewed on the monitor only half a minute earlier.
She jumped off the running board and ran toward the gate yelling, “Halt! Halt! Tell that son of a bitch to stop!”
The Toyota screeched to a halt in front of the Delta barrier, a steel structure that came up from the ground with a flap that faced the driver. As smoke rose from the pickup’s tires, a young scrawny man got out of the passenger side, pointed to the barrier, and started screaming in Arabic.
“What’s he saying? What the hell does he want?” Sergeant Cisneros shouted to Jalil, who had joined her at the gate. Both of them held their weapons ready.
“He wants you to lower the barrier,” Jalil replied in English.
The young man on the other side of the barrier was dressed head to toe in white. His dark eyes were popping out of his head, and he was gesturing wildly.
“Tell him to get back in the truck and back it the fuck out of here before I blow him and his friend away!”
As Jalil started shouting instructions in Arabic, Sergeant Cisneros remembered that Arab men who were preparing for martyrdom often wore white. Feeling an enormous surge of fear and adrenaline, she screamed, “Jalil, take cover!” Then, “Tell the driver to get out of the vehicle and hug the ground!”
The man in white turned suddenly and started running away from the pickup toward Avenue Mohamed El Fassi. Sergeant Cisneros lowered one knee to the pavement and opened fire on the Toyota driver.
Seeing a flash from the barrel of the American’s M4, the driver of the pickup pushed a button that detonated the seven hundred pounds of explosives in the truck. The last thing Sergeant Nancy Cisneros saw was an enormous white flash. The power of the blast completely pulverized her body and threw her head a hundred yards.
Jalil, Havlichek, the driver of the water truck, the other marines, and all the Moroccan guards were killed immediately. The visa applicants standing in line were either killed outright or horribly wounded. All that remained of the water truck was a shredded chassis. What had been the pickup became a twelve-foot wide, six-foot-deep crater.
The blast destroyed the front of the embassy building, killing thirty-three Americans and twenty-four local employees. Flying metal, glass, and debris seriously injured another seventy people inside the building, including the U.S. ambassador, who suffered facial lacerations and a concussion. Windows were blown out in neighboring buildings, including the Belgian embassy and a preschool, injuring hundreds of others.
Less than an hour after the attack, as rescuers fought through smoke and the nauseating smell of burnt human flesh to search for victims, the president of the United States and the king of Morocco issued a joint statement calling it a “heinous and cowardly crime” against both of their countries and promising to cooperate fully to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
called it the worst terrorist attack against Americans since 9/11/2001.
Don’t raise more demons than you can lay down.
—Old English proverb
later, U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Tom Crocker and three of his SEAL Team Six teammates, all dressed as civilians, were flying at 32,000 feet over Mount Erciyes in central Turkey when the Emirates Airlines Boeing 777 they were in hit an air pocket. Akil (full name Akil Okasha El-Daly, aka Akil Daly), who was standing in the aisle, lost his balance and landed in Crocker’s lap.
“Do I look like Santa Claus?” Crocker asked.
“Sorry, boss,” the handsome Egyptian American said, smiling, trying to pull himself up.
Crocker, the assault leader of Blue Team of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six, aka the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group—the premier antiterrorism arm of the U.S. military—lifted the 220-pound former marine sergeant up and set him back in the aisle like he was a little boy.
Then he pulled off his earphones. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” seeped into the drone of the engines. The forty-two-year-old team leader had recently discovered that fifties jazz put him in a mellow groove. Something about the 5/4 rhythm and the cool precision of the melody. Gentle, economical, restrained.
“You’re one strong mother,” Akil said, looking down at the manila folder on the middle seat. “Don’t you ever take a break?” Pushing back his bristly black hair, smoothing the sky blue Nike polo over his muscular torso.
Take a break from what? Crocker wanted to ask. Working out? Studying? Preparing for the mission? Listening to music? Trying to relax?
Crocker didn’t answer. Akil held on to Crocker’s headrest and leaned over, flashing his pearly whites like he was performing for the other passengers. “You pumped?”
A fifteen-year veteran of the Navy SEALs and dozens of top-secret ops to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other hot spots around the world, Crocker was too disciplined to talk about a mission with foreigners within earshot. So he said, “You’re referring to the climb, right?”
“That’s right, boss,” Akil answered. “The climb.”
The climb was the team’s cover. Hours after the U.S. embassy bombing in Rabat, CIA officers had picked up the trail of the man who ran away from the pickup before it exploded in front of the gate. They learned that his name was Mohammed Saddiq and he had managed to survive, even though the blast had blown him off his feet and forward, leaving lacerations and cuts from the back of his head to his ankles. Bleeding through his clothes and feverish, Saddiq had managed to board a flight to Rome. CIA operatives found him in the Italian city two days after the bombing, hiding in an airport bathroom.
Crocker looked up at Akil and said, “It’s a training climb to give you guys a feel for what it’s gonna be like when we really do attempt to summit K2.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Piece of cake.”
“We’ll see.” In addition to being the assault leader of Blue Team, Crocker was ST-6’s lead climber. SEAL stands for Sea, Air, and Land, and Crocker was determined to prepare the men on his team for any contingency, including dealing with the most treacherous terrain on the planet.
Previously, he had led his men on ascents of Denali, Mount Whitney, and winter ascents on Grand Teton and Mount Washington (the latter featured unimaginably bad weather, with gusts up to 230 miles an hour). Physical challenges were his bread and butter, his manna. He lived for them.
Leering, Akil said, “I hear Edyta might be there.”
Edyta Potocka. Early forties. Legendary climber. Third woman to summit Mount Everest. “Yeah. What about her?”
She and Crocker had spent a night together eighteen years before in a tent in the Himalayas. This was before he’d married his current wife. Neither had bathed for days. He remembered it as an odd mixture of wrestling and sex, with no words spoken. Seeking warmth and relief in each other’s bodies as frigid winds roared outside.
“Kind of attractive in a gritty Eastern European way.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting her.”
“I bet you are.” Crocker stroked his strong chin. He knew that anything with a pair of tits under the age of sixty was prey to the single Omar Sharif look-alike, who consistently claimed to have bedded over three hundred women.
Akil lowered his voice like he was passing a secret. “You read the file on AZ?”
Crocker nodded, picked the folder off the middle seat, and pushed it into the backpack on the floor in front of him. He’d practically committed all twenty-some pages to memory. Crimes ranging from bombings, to torture, to kidnapping and murder.
“What’d you think?”
“It’s light on visuals.”
A couple of blurry security-camera stills of a man with a black beard. A profile from a meeting with Pashtun warlords in eastern Afghanistan.
“How’s your stomach?” Akil asked.
“My stomach?” In the Ankara airport, Crocker had consumed a chicken kebab smothered in dill-accented yogurt. Pushed the pita and rice aside. Leading up to a climb, he watched what he ate. Leaned heavily on the protein and fresh vegetables. Eased up on the carbs, especially those that quickly converted into sugar.
“It’s in a good mood. Why?”
Crocker slid into the middle seat. A third member of the team—indefatigable, smart Davis—was snoring lightly by the window, the shade down, his blond surfer hair smushed into a little blue pillow. The fourth, Mancini—a former college football star with an encyclopedic knowledge of practically everything relating to science, history, and technology—was two rows back, reading a technical treatise on cell-phone hacking. The fifth—Crocker’s next-door neighbor and workout buddy, and a former navy firefighter, Ritchie—was waiting for them in Karachi, Pakistan.
No sooner had Akil settled beside Crocker than he reached into his pocket and stuck a thumbnail drive into the port on the side of Crocker’s laptop.
“Don’t mess up my iTunes.”
“I’m not touching anything, you pussy. Watch.”
Akil slapped some keys and a video appeared on the screen. Murky at first. Then dark shadows moving against a gray background. Someone screaming in Arabic.
Akil quickly toggled down the sound, then turned the thirteen-inch screen so it wasn’t visible to passengers in the aisle.
Crocker put on his reading glasses and leaned forward. “What am I watching?”
A bright light illuminated a face in the foreground. White, sandy haired, blindfolded, tied to a metal chair.
Crocker knew immediately what this was. Felt a ball of rage gathering in his stomach.
“Steve Vogelman, right?”
Tom Crocker had shared a transatlantic flight with Steve and a wiseass journalist from CNN, drinking single malt scotch and playing blackjack. The two of them prodding him to reveal things that they knew he couldn’t, like a couple of naughty kids.
Before passing out, a drunken Steve had shown him pictures of his wife and two little girls, sighing, love in his eyes, so that Crocker would understand what he really valued.
But he hadn’t appreciated the danger he’d flirted with, that had caught him in its teeth. On the screen, Crocker counted four armed men on either side of Steve Vogelman, shouting in his ears, spitting, slapping, punching. All with black masks covering their faces.
Crocker’s strong dislike of bullies and sadists dated back to when he was a kid growing up just north of Boston. Racing motorcycles, riding wheelies, with a group of hell-raising teenagers—most with one foot in the grave. Proudly became the only non-Italian member of the Mongrels. Black leather jackets; Levi’s with leather belts with big buckles—good for fighting; black T-shirts; bandanas worn on their heads. Beating up drug dealers, stealing their money. Taking no shit from anyone.
“Where’d you get this?”
“A friend of mine downloaded it from a jihadist website.”
During that flight a year and a half ago, two hours short of Dulles, Vogelman had started lecturing him about what he called Crocker’s narrow-minded, military conception of Sunni radicalism. Explaining that it was espoused by men with strong beliefs, who needed to be understood in the context of a religious-historical struggle over hegemony of the Middle East and Europe.
“They’re the products of a unique cultural experience,” Vogelman had said. “They feel threatened by the West. With good reason.”
“They want what we want. Power. That commonality is important and misunderstood. Political leaders on both sides play up the fear.”
“What’s your point?”
“Guys like you, Crocker, who see things in black and white, are a big part of the problem.”
Crocker, who hadn’t graduated from college and didn’t like being talked down to, had heard enough. “You’re right, Vogelman, I do evaluate people more in terms of black and white than you do. And I can tell you right now, you’re talking like a fucking sheep.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Sheep and wolves, buddy. The wolves are the threat—the evil motherfuckers who live among us. Whatever they call themselves, jihadists, Nazis, murderers…they’re basically aggressive sociopaths. They prey on people who are too trusting, or buy their bullshit. Sheep like you. Like the woman walking through a dimly lit parking lot alone at two a.m. and not hesitating when a strange man approaches.”
“Then what are you?”
“I’m a sheepdog whose job is to protect sheep like you, which means I’m a ruthless motherfucker who spends a good deal of time in the heart of darkness.”
On the laptop screen perched on the fold-down tray, the
reporter was facing a steady stream of insults in Arabic. Accusations of being a Zionist, a Mossad secret agent, an infidel crusader. White-faced Vogelman denied it all in rudimentary Arabic, sobbing, pleading to return to his wife, his young children, promising that he had, and always would, fairly represent Islam’s point of view.
That’s when a fifth man entered from the direction of the camera and grabbed Vogelman by the hair. Pulled his head up.
The armed men shouted a prayer of some kind. Crocker’s Arabic wasn’t good.
“What are they saying?”
“They’re explaining to Allah that this man is an infidel who has to be killed,” Akil muttered.
Crocker, his blue-hazel eyes burning, focused on the screen, where a sixth man stepped forward. Dressed all in black like an executioner. Thick black whiskers obscured his face.
He held a knife, which he raised and brought down violently along the side of Vogelman’s head. The journalist’s ear came off in a spurt of blood.
“Fucking savages!” Crocker exclaimed, bile rising like he’d been kicked in the stomach.
The man in black hacked off Vogelman’s other ear, then sliced off his tongue.
Crocker wanted to punch something. Anything. The bastards!
“Look,” Akil said.
The bearded man was holding Vogelman’s severed tongue and shaking it at the camera, his eyes red with hatred, rage.
“Abu Rasul Zaman, yes. Number three man in al-Qaeda. The so-called Protector of Islam.”
As Zaman started gouging Vogelman’s left eye out, Crocker groaned, “Turn it off.”
Akil hit a key and the screen went dark.
Soon after Mohammed Saddiq was captured in Italy, he confessed to his role in the U.S. embassy bombing. He said the attack had been planned and ordered by Abu Rasul Zaman.
Crocker growled. “I want that motherfucker…bad!”
A passing flight attendant shot Crocker a wary look. He seemed like a friendly, fit man. Had a long, narrow face with prominent cheekbones and chin, big teeth, a salt-and-pepper mustache, short graying hair, a warm smile. He was an outdoorsman of some sort, or maybe a businessman. Now he looked like he wanted to kill someone.
Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport was insane, as usual. Bag handlers, businessmen, hustlers, Pakistani soldiers cradling AK-47s, women sobbing, ticket agents screaming in Urdu and English, flight announcements smooth and seductive over the PA.
The four men walked down the sleek beige stone corridor, each carrying several bags packed with gear—double plastic climbing boots with liners, insulated overboots, gaiters, synthetic socks, liner socks, polypro underwear, down parkas, down pants, balaclavas, bandanas, nose guards, ski goggles, gloves, expedition mitts.
Crocker led the group. Dressed in sports clothes, they looked more like members of a rugby team than scrawny climbers. Pakistani officials picked through their gear thoroughly.
Two days earlier, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, Crocker had been driving his teenage daughter to a local movie complex when he’d received a text message from the commander of ST-6. He dropped his daughter off at the theater, then gunned the engine of his SUV to ST-6 headquarters in Little Creek, Virginia.
His CO, Captain Alan Sutter, sat waiting for him with two senior officials from the CIA. His orders: Put a small team together. You’re going into Pakistan completely black, under the cover of sports enthusiasts, climbers. The agency has a location on Zaman in Karachi. This is coming straight from the White House. The president wants us to hit him, fast.
This wasn’t the first time Crocker and his men had been sent on a special mission for the CIA. Twelve hours later, they were on a flight to London. Slam bang.
Now Pakistani officials were picking through the team’s gear.
“You gentlemen headed north?” one of the Pakistanis asked in accented English.
“Yes, sir. A day and a half here, then we’re flying to Islamabad.”
“For what purpose?”
“Past there into the Baltoro Glacier.”
“Very difficult terrain, sir. Good luck.”
Their translator and driver, Wasir, stood waiting on the other side of customs. Short, skinny, early thirties. A wannabe businessman, Crocker thought.
“Mr. C. It’s good to see you again.”