Cyber security has emerged as one of the most important priorities for the United States and other governments around the world, so it’s not a stretch to wonder what would happen if cyber thieves managed to hack the unhackable: the CIA. That’s the terrifying premise of Tom Clancy Enemy Contact, the third novel in the Jack Ryan Jr. suspense series from Knoxville writer Mike Maden.
In Enemy Contact, the CIA’s deepest secrets are for sale to America’s enemies by a mysterious entity on the dark web known only as CHIBI. The clandestine organization eliminates any skepticism about what it can deliver with a series of “proof of concept” demonstrations — including the assassinations of an Argentinian special operations team and Turkish Maroon Berets, an assault on a Chinese compound, and the death of a deep-cover German BKA agent — to show would-be buyers just how valuable its information can be to their future operations.
The incidents slowly arouse the attention of the Director of National Intelligence, who notes a “nearly imperceptible pattern”: Each incident is connected to a single CIA communications satellite where the Intelligence Community (IC) has moved all its data in order to improve its cyber security. “Access to this satellite was, in effect, access to the entire Western intelligence community,” Maden writes.
Meanwhile, Jack Ryan visits the home of his former Georgetown University classmate Cory Chase, who is on his deathbed after a long bout with cancer. Jack feels guilty about not having stayed in touch with his friend through the years — while Jack found his dream job as an analyst, “Cory stocked lumber and bird food” after taking over his father’s hardware store — and promises to fulfill Cory’s dying request.
The encounter leaves Jack questioning what he has accomplished in his own life, particularly when compared to his father, who is president of the United States. “He and his dad shared a lot of qualities, but lately Jack had been taking stock,” Maden notes. “If life was a race between him and his dad, his dad was lapping him badly. Heck, Jack felt like he was still stuck in the starting blocks.”
Determined to carry out his promise to Cory, Jack schedules a leave of absence. But before he gets the chance to do so, he is called in by his boss, Gerry Hendley, who has a covert assignment for him from the president. Jack insists that someone else handle the task, but Hendley convinces him that he’s the right man for the job. “You have a unique skill set in this regard, my boy. You have a doggedness to you that can’t be taught, and, more important, the political savvy to know when to tread lightly.”
Before long, Jack is in Poland, where he teams up with an agent from Poland’s domestic counterintelligence agency. His mission: to determine why Senator Deborah Dixon, chief of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a potential candidate to succeed Jack Ryan Sr. as president, has blocked plans to open a U.S. Army base there. Dixon argues that the move could be seen as an act of NATO expansion and might provoke a war with the Russians, but the president suspects there’s more to it.
As the younger Jack closes in on an international conspiracy, he’s pitted in a battle for his life that takes him across the globe, and both plotlines ultimately intersect in an explosive finale.
With a Ph.D. in political science focusing on conflict and technology in international relations, Maden capably incorporates real-world issues into a compelling narrative of espionage, cyber attacks, and political maneuverings. As he ratchets up the suspense with each subsequent page, he imbues this entry in the series with meaningful questions of self-reflection and identity.
Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.
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