Bestselling novelist Vince Flynn on his career and worldview.
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HH: Special edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show, and I do mean special. You’ll know if you’ve listened to this program for any period of time, I love to talk to the people that move the culture, and especially when they’re writers. So you’ve heard me do extended conversations with Steven Pressfield who wrote Gates Of Fire, Tides Of War and most recently Killing Rommel. You heard an extended conversation with novelist Daniel Silva about the Gabriel Alon books. And many of you after those conversations have said can you find Vince Flynn? And the answer is yes, and today we are going to spend the program talking with perhaps America’s bestselling author over the last four years about what he does and why he does it, about Mitch Rapp and about terrorism. Vince Flynn, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you with us.
VF: Hugh, great to be on the show. I’m a big fan of yours as well. I’ve got to tell you, my only gripe is that you come on in Minnesota as dusk is falling on the Twin Cities, and the signal, usually depending on what time of the year it is, goes from great to really bad.
HH: Yeah, that’s that Patriot signal up in Minnesota, so we make you…you’ll have to move closer to the station, I guess, Vince.
HH: Well, I’m glad to know you’re a listener. Then you’ll know a lot of the shorthand I’m going to use in the course of today’s conversation.
HH: But let me begin by saying it’s extraordinary your background, and let me give the audience a little bit about this. You’re a big family guy, born in St. Paul, 1966, that makes you 42, went to St. Thomas Academy then the University of St. Thomas, an extraordinarily good college up in the Twin City area. You tried to get into the Marine Corps as an aviator, you had a medical disqualification. And then you decided you were going to throw everything despite dyslexia at being a writer.
HH: That’s a pretty good summary, right?
VF: (laughing) That is. That is, very good.
HH: Now…but most people with dyslexia don’t end up being the bestselling novelist in America. How daunting a challenge was that at the beginning of your writing career?
VF: You know, it was a huge challenge at the beginning, but I also think that dyslexic kids, because you’re wired a little differently, I think your brain is naturally a little more creative. And throw on top of that that I come from a big family, I’m the fifth of seven children, you know, and I grew up, I like to say that tail end of the parents of the baby boom generation, my mom and dad are both 71, where my grandparents were still around. And we only had three TV channels.
VF: You remember that growing up? You know, maybe you got four, but it was prior to cable, cable came when I was in high school, and so people still sat around and told stories.
HH: And…go ahead.
VF: My editor has told me time and time again, because early in my career I used to get a little worked up that the critics would shred me, you know, not enough character development, whatever, blah, blah, blah. And she’d always say you know, listen, you’ve got a real talent here, and it’s the best talent that any writer could hope for. You tell a great story. Ignore them.
HH: Oh, please do, and keep ignoring them…
HH: …because people want to read books that take them in and captivate them. And how many books have you sold, by the way?
VF: The last count I heard was we were over ten million.
HH: Yeah, and the current one, Extreme Measures, that’s the most recent one, bestseller on the New York Times as we tape this, but I must tell people who are hearing about you for the first time, I can’t imagine that because that means they haven’t been in an airport or a bookstore in the last seven years, that they ought to start at the beginning. I know publishers hate when I say that…
HH: …because then they don’t go…and they wait to get Transfer Of Power, and then they go to The Third Option. But don’t you, wouldn’t you rather have a reader discover you from the beginning of the Rapp series and move on through?
VF: It really, I have no preference either way. What cracks me up about it, Hugh, is I’ve done this test before. I’ve had people get in arguments at my book signings over this.
VF: Some people say you have to start at the beginning, other people say you have to do this. And I’ll tell them, pull out your wallet.
HH: Yup, yup.
VF: And the one person will pull out their wallet, and the one who says you have to start from the beginning and read it all the way through, their wallet is in perfect shape, the bills are organized perfectly…
VF: …and the person who says you can start anywhere, it doesn’t matter (laughing), their wallet is in shambles, they’ve got a business card in there from ten years ago, it’s as fat as a brick. It really depends on the person.
HH: That’s very interesting, because I have a wallet like the latter, but I had to start at the former. Duane is laughing in there because I’m exactly, I’m the exception that proves the rule, because I can’t stand going backwards after I know what’s happened in a character’s life. But we’ll come back to that in a moment. I still want to stay on bio a little bit…
HH: …because when I bring people in on the air who have taken up hundreds of hours in some instances of someone’s life, they never know enough about you. They can learn everything about their characters, but they don’t know much about you, and I always love the high school summary, because that’ll put you on the map for a lot of people. What was Vince Flynn doing at St. Thomas Academy in 1980-84?
VF: You know, I was a very good athlete, which helped me get through school, because I was a bad student. And St. Thomas Academy is an all-male Catholic military college preparatory school, and so they’re not screwing around. And there’s no easy classes. And so I was lucky to get by with a C-plus, B-minus average. But the truth was, my dad had taught there, and I had older brothers who’d gone there, and my dad had gone there as well. So I had a little more to live up to than probably most people. But I…this is the other thing that happens with dyslexic people, and one of the big newspapers or universities did a study a couple of years ago that came about this, is dyslexic kids grow up and they represent a disproportionate of entrepreneurs. Like you can look at lawyers, accountants, all these various fields, and the number of people who are dyslexic in those fields are very, very small. Now you look at entrepreneur, you look at CEOs, and the number jumps. It gets really big, because they become problem solvers at an early age.
VF: They can’t do things the way everybody else does, so you have to, because you can’t actually write well, and you don’t do well on tests, the way you make up for things, and the way you get by and don’t get failed is you learn people skills. You learn how to suck up to your teacher. You learn how to verbalize in class, because you can’t write or read. And you learn ways around all the obstacles while the other kids just tend to go along with the conveyor belt. And the conveyor belt doesn’t work for us. You’ve got to find different ways to do things. And I had a job year around. I always tell my kids, because of course now because of my success, they’re probably never going to have to do this, but Hugh, I had a job, if you can believe this (laughing) in high school, my junior and senior year, I worked every Sunday at an Amoco gas station from Nine in the morning to Nine at night with a 30 minute lunch break, and that was it. And Mr. Peterson, who owned the gas station, was a great guy, but we weren’t allowed to sit down.
VF: We were not allowed to sit down, because he didn’t want anybody to come in and think that his employees were lazy. So there wasn’t a chair or a stool in the place. And we would stand (laughing), and this is, you know, people were still doing full service back then.
HH: Oh, yeah.
VF: They were coming, and we’d run out, you know, it’d be minus 20 and you’re pumping their gas and changing oil and fixing tires. I loved the job. It was a great job. But it put a lot of things into focus for me. I didn’t want to work from Nine to Nine for the rest of my life on Sundays.
HH: I’ll bet you’re the only internationally known celebrated author with 10 million book sales who’s changed tires and pumped gas that way. There might be someone else, I’ll have to ask Pressfield. He was kind of a screw off when he was a kid, too. But I don’t think anyone else…no wonder you know so much about cars. That comes through, actually.
VF: (laughing) Oh, you know, and by the way, Steven Pressfield is one of my favorite authors, great guy, and…when I do a lot of research with the SEAL teams, in its base, Gates Of Fire is basically required reading for every SEAL.
HH: I’m not surprised, yeah.
VF: They live by the ethos that he puts forth in that book. And Steven’s a…I think the guy’s a national treasure.
HH: He is. I think you and Silva and Pressfield are the Big 3 for me. And that’s why I’m curious about what do you read when you read to relax?
VF: You know, I’m embarrassed to say it took me this long to read this book, but my wife and I just got back from our annual trip to Mexico, we always…every year we go without the kids, and I finally sat down and read Lone Survivor. And I had had President Bush tell me to read it, I’d had friends at the CIA, friends in special forces, everybody was telling me you’ve got to read this book. The problem I ran into, Hugh, is when that book came out, I was under deadline for Extreme Measures. And I can’t read anything…
VF: …that is either in my genre, fiction-wise, or non-fiction-wise while I’m writing.
HH: I understand that. Explain that to people why.
VF: Well, I’m paranoid that…and call it Catholic guilt or whatever, but I don’t want to be accused of ever borrowing somebody else’s ideas.
HH: Thought so, yeah.
VF: And so I don’t even entertain the idea. In fact, there’s some authors out there that I’ve heard about and people say you should read this, and I won’t go there because I just, I don’t ever want to be accused of taking one of their ideas, so I don’t even pick up their book. Now I’ll give you the exception to that rule, because I think our styles are so different, is Daniel Silva.
HH: I’m not surprised.
VF: Daniel is such…first of all, he’s…I meet a lot of authors, and I don’t want to take away from the other ones I’ve met, but Daniel’s one of my favorites. He’s a great husband, a great father, really, actually, a darn good sense of humor that doesn’t really come out in his books because they’re so serious. But he’s just an all-around really good guy. And our styles are so different that I, he’s my…he and kind of Lee Child, especially Lee’s earlier stuff, it’s my opportunity every year to kind of read stuff that I kind of, I mean I’m in the same genre, obviously, the thriller, but I get to read their stuff and enjoy it, and not really worry because our characters, they’re tough, strong guys, but they’re very different.
HH: Very different.
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HH: Vince Flynn, I’m still going to do a little more bio with you, because obviously, I looked at your bio and read a little bit around, you’re Catholic to the core.
HH: Are you still practicing?
HH: Okay. And tell me about your mom and dad, because this looks like this could have been one of these classic big Catholic families around whom I grew up and was part of. And tell me about them.
VF: (laughing) Well, it’s a pretty great story, because my father went to St. Thomas Academy as well, and then went to the University of St. Thomas, graduated, and started teaching back at St. Thomas Academy right after he graduated. And he coached basketball, football and baseball there for his thirteen years, and then as he puts it, one day he woke up and realized that a teacher’s salary at a private high school wasn’t going to raise seven kids, so he left and went to work in corporate America, went to Borg Warner and then Control Data, and then did some other things. And now they’re retired and they spend their time, split their time between Mississippi and Minnesota. But he was a real stern taskmaster. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who was more of the Vince Lombardi coaching style, very successful coach, won two Catholic state baseball championships and other basketball championship, and was quite a player himself. But there was no screwing around, Hugh. I mean, it was, there was no gray with him, which I found to be, I didn’t like gray. I didn’t want gray. I wanted to know what was right or what was wrong. And his whole deal was you want to step over that line, you go right ahead and do it, but don’t mope if you get caught and you’ve got to pay the price.
HH: Right, right.
VF: And so he was there to really…I used to joke (laughing), because we have a thirteen year old, and my wife is, she likes to go in and wake him up in the morning and rub his back…
VF: …you know, come on, let’s get out of bed. And when he started at St. Thomas Academy this year in 7th grade, he was having a hard time getting out of bed and getting ready for school. And I had been on tour and I came home and I said no. No. This isn’t going to work. This is how you do it. (laughing) And I started just like my dad used to do. Two feet on the floor right now. That was what he’d say to wake you up. Get your butt out of bed. The time’s ticking, there’s stuff to get done. So that was my dad, but he was very fair. And then my mother was this very successful wildlife artist in Minnesota and the Midwest, did a lot of stuff with Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever…
HH: Oh wow.
VF: So there was this creative side to the household as well. She was the old Catholic mom, Hugh, who every kid in the neighborhood was welcome to come over, and we weren’t allowed to leave the house or enter the house without giving her a kiss. You couldn’t go to bed without saying I love you. Now of course I didn’t tell me father I loved him until his mother died…
VF: And I was in college…
VF: …because you just never did that growing up. Now we say it all the time and the world has changed. But I always say they gave, they really showed me a unique roadmap of his discipline. He was one of those guys that was a list…every day he had a list with boxes that he would check off of things he had to get done.
VF: And my mom was more of, you know, she’d walk around the house saying happy, happy, happy.
VF: You know, whatever makes you kids happy, short of doing anything illegal.
VF: She was all for us trying to fulfill our own hearts. And she was always there to pick us up, and he was there to give us the swift kick in the butt when we needed it. And it worked out, I think, you know, I’m very blessed to have been raised in a household like that. And you know, here’s the other thing. I never went to bed worried that they were going to not be together in the morning.
VF: And that was strange.
HH: It’s profoundly important and it effects people, but yeah, now you can tell how important it is.
VF: Yeah, I mean, they fought, I mean, they fought and they argued, and we were one of those classic Irish families where the dinner table was a time to discuss everything. And you…I took my lumps early, and you had…my dad was all for it. You had to learn, if you could not verbalize your opinions in a logical manner, you were going to get your clock cleaned at the dinner table.
HH: Right, right.
VF: And your brothers and sisters were more than happy to do it to you, and it prepared me for life. But you know, they would fight, but they would never go to bed upset with each other, and it was nice. I always look back on it now how nice that was to never worry that I was going to wake up and dad was going to be gone with all of his crap on the front lawn.
HH: Now tell me you’re a Notre Dame fan.
VF: You know, it’s funny that you say that, because I am. I grew up a diehard Notre Dame fan…
VF: …and then something happened, Hugh.
VF: (laughing) My best friend from high school, Thomas Patrick Tracy…
HH: Oh, if he went to USC, we’re done, but go ahead.
VF: No, he went to Notre Dame.
VF: And he became such an obnoxious Notre Dame fan…
VF: (laughing) …that he turned me. I was already a Michigan fan from an earlier…
HH: Oh no!
VF: You’re going to love the Michigan deal. I’m in 7th grade, and a kid named Chris Berkeley from Columbus, Ohio moves in across the street. And within about three months, he turned me into a Michigan fan because he was so obnoxious.
HH: Oh, because he was a Buckeye.
VF: Yes. Oh, it was all he talked about. So…and I’m still a Notre Dame fan. In fact, this Charlie Weiss deal, it kills me, it’s…college football is not as much fun when Notre Dame is stinking it up.
HH: You bet, and they’re going to get better. They have to. Otherwise, I’m going to have to leave the California state because of the USC people. You want to talk about obnoxious, Vince Flynn…
HH: You ought to come live out here for a couple of years.
VF: Oh, I’ve heard. I’ve been out there. I heard.
HH: I want to go back even further in time before St. Thomas Academy. What’s the name of your elementary school?
VF: West View Elementary.
HH: Oh, so you went public. You didn’t have the nuns.
VF: My parents made…when we were little, we were born in the Nativity Parish in St. Paul, and then they moved out to Apple Valley, which is a suburb about 20 miles outside of the Twin Cities.
HH: I know Apple Valley.
VF: And they made a decision then that, you know, brand new public school, good school system, and we’re all going to Church out there still, so they sent the little ones to public grade school, and then we all went to Catholic high schools. The girls went to Holy Angels, the boys went to St. Thomas Academy.
HH: Got it. A lot of people in Ohio did the reverse. Well now, tell me a little bit about the craft. I always want to make sure, when I talked to Pressfield and Silva, a lot of young authors, the first thing they always ask me when I’m doing one of these things is find out how you sold your first book. So let’s start there, then we’ll talk about the craft. How did you break in?
VF: How did I break in? This… (laughing) oh, I’ll tell this story in two parts. The first is, I am sitting in my cubicle at the age of 27, working for an outfit called United Properties, which is a commercial real estate and property management firm in the Twin Cities. And once you turned 27, you can no longer serve in the United States Marine Corps as an officer. Now they grant waivers now that we’re at war, but back then, they weren’t granting any waivers. And Hugh, it came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks. I had never gone for anything in my life as hard as I’d gone for trying to be a Marine aviator and failed at it. And I was medically disqualified because of some concussions I’d had as a kid. And it really stuck in my craw. I’m not a Buddhist, so I think we’ve got one shot at this, and you can’t turn back the clock. And so I said I’m never going to live my life and not realize another dream, because what was eating at me, Hugh, is I could have gone Marine infantry as an officer.
VF: And I didn’t for a variety of reasons, some of which, you know, my father and some other people counseled me, you know, you really want to go in with a skill. This is, by the way, the late 80s, early 90s, when people were still high on the airlines, that that was a great job, was a great way to move forward in life and retire basically when you’re 50.
HH: Hold onto that thought. We’ve got to go to the break with Vince Flynn. I’m coming right back, I want to hear this story without interruption.
– – – –
HH: But I’m so screwed here. I’ve messed up my outline already, I’m way behind, but I just, we’re going to go where it goes. When we went to break, Vince, you were telling us, I had asked you how did you sell your first book, how’d you break in, and you were talking to us about the fact that the Marine Corps would not let you be an aviator because of concussions when you were young…
HH: And you’re sitting in your cubicle at 27 not wanting to regret something else.
VF: Yeah, I didn’t want to regret something else, so I said I’ve got this idea for a book. I had a friend out of college, a real sad story. He went to the University of St. Johns, about an hour north of the Twin Cities, he’s the youngest of nine kids from Omaha, Nebraska, his name is Dan Hutz, and he moved out to Washington, D.C. after graduation, and was there for five days, and was shot and killed on Capitol Hill, was mugged, right…with his girlfriend. His older brother was out there fixing up houses on Capitol Hill. And I know you spent a lot of time in Washington, Hugh.
VF: Most people who weren’t around it don’t remember how horrible D.C. was in the late 80s.
VF: And it was a real cesspool. And I just, at the time, about the same time I’d read a book called Washington Waste From A To Z by Martin Gross, and I just said what is wrong with this country that the youngest of nine kids from Omaha, Nebraska, great kid, can show up in our nation’s capitol and get killed literally two blocks from the Capitol at Nine o’clock at night with his girlfriend.
HH: Mind boggling, yup.
VF: And something really wrong with it. So that’s what gave me the impetus to sit down and write Term Limits out of frustration. And I had been journaling that idea for a couple of years, and I finally said you know what? I’m going to do it. I’m going to quit my job. I don’t believe you can…anything that’s really worth doing and is competitive and fulfilling, you’re not going to do it part time unless you’re incredibly gifted, and I wasn’t incredibly gifted. I had to learn a lot. I mean, I took two English classes in college and got C-minuses in both of them. So I had an upward hill, but I thought…the other thing, Hugh, is people always say how’d you think you could do it. Every time I sat down and watched a movie or read a book, and that’s another story, I always knew what was going to happen. And the other thing, I should back up and tell a real quick story, I’m taking a class, pass/fail, in my junior year in college. And I’m not there to pick up the paper. A buddy in the class picks it up for me. I show up at lunch the next day, and there’s the paper sitting in the middle of the lunch table with about ten of my buddies sitting around, and on the back of it is a big, red F. And underneath it, it says in red letters, very politically non-correct, by the way, (laughing), but it says I don’t know how you got into college…
VF: I don’t know how you’re going to graduate. This is the worst paper I ever read in all my years of teaching. Now it’s a pass/fail class, okay? And I didn’t give it my best effort, but still, I was still hiding my problem.
HH: I see.
VF: I wasn’t confronting the fact that I was dyslexic. And I’d taken special classes when I was a kid, but I was really out of sorts with it. And my parents had been trying to get me to read for years. And so I finally sat down and I said you know what? Screw this, this is too embarrassing. I’ve got to confront this. And I’d been told by my counselors when I was little was the only way to really fix this is you’ve got to read. And so I picked up Trinity by Leon Uris, because my mom and dad had been trying to…
HH: Amen, great book.
VF: And it took me a hundred pages to get through it, or it took me a long time to get through the first hundred pages because it was so slow to start with. Then I was hooked. The next thing I’m crying, it’s a very emotional novel.
VF: And all of a sudden, I’m reading everything I can get my hands on – Ludlum, early Clancy, the whole deal. And every time I’d pick one of these up, I knew what was going to happen. And it’s so bad now, Hugh, I just recite lines from movies and TV when I’m sitting on the couch next to my wife before the actor says it.
HH: An intuitive sense of story.
VF: And I think it’s just…
HH: You just have an intuitive sense of story, where it has to go.
VF: Yeah, I think so, and so I thought…and Hugh, maybe you’re one of the only radio people I could talk to who would fully understand this. Being raised, my father was a big, Irish Catholic. I mean, with a capital IC.
VF: …who really did not like the British, and I grew up hearing all about Oliver Cromwell and the Orangemen, and the whole thing.
HH: You bet.
VF: And he was adamant to all seven of his kids, you are no greater and you are no less than any person that you will ever meet in this country, and never forget that. And he would pound that into us over and over and over and over. So I was giving a talk a couple of years ago and somebody said, you know, what made you think you could write these books? And I said well, I thought to myself if Tom Clancy can do it, why can’t I? And a large number of people in the audience began snickering. And I realized like an embarrassed child, oh my God, they think I’m conceited. And it took me a while to kind of get the idea back, and I said I’ve got to back up and explain something to you people. I’m not being conceited. I just literally, I was naïve enough and egalitarian enough to think that if Clancy could do it, why can’t I?
HH: More on that when we come back. Vince Flynn is my guest. This is amazing. Stay tuned, I’m sure you will.
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HH: Vince Flynn, when we went to break, we were talking about you were naïve and egalitarian enough to take up the pen or the typewriter or the word processor. But after you started, and you finish your first book, or you at least get a draft of it…
HH: How do you in the middle of Nowhere, Minnesota, 27 years ago with a crummy academic record and dyslexia, get to market?
VF: I started sending out the letters to all the agents and the publishers and the editors, and you’ll relate to this (laughing). I began until the rejection letters started to come back in. So what did I do? I used to pin them up on my bulletin board, one after another, right where I sit there and write, and I’d say to myself I’m going to show you. Every day, I’d pin up a new one and I’d say I’m going to show you I’m not going to quit. And I didn’t realize it, Hugh, as a kid how competitive my father had made us all. I just thought in the high school that I went to, I just thought that’s the way everybody was. And I didn’t realize until much, much later in life that that culture that my parents gave us is very different than a lot of other, how other people are raised.
VF: And so another quick story, senior year, high school, we’re playing Creighton, our archrival, and that’s where a lot of great football players go to school, and we had an 18 year streak on the line against beating Creighton. They were the other male Catholic military high school in town. And at halftime, we are winning 7-0, and I played defense, I’m a defensive end. (laughing) And we walk into the locker room, and by the way, Chris Walsh is the starting quarterback for Creighton.
HH: Oh, okay.
VF: …who went on to win a national championship at Miami and play in the pros and everything. (laughing) And the coach comes, our coach, Jerry Brown, comes in and he starts peeling off his jackets, and he’s yelling and screaming, and he starts reaming up and down, Vinnie Flynn, you little blankety-blank blank blank, I’m so sick of watching you pee down your pant leg and blah, blah, blah. Get the hell out of this locker room.
VF: (laughing) And I got tossed out of the locker room. And keep in mind, I played defense, they haven’t scored, and we’re winning 7-0. But again, this is old school…
VF: This is Herb Brooks. This is, you take the one guy on the team who you think can take it, and he’s your lightning rod, and you use him to light everybody up. And I didn’t, you didn’t think much about it at the time other than the fact that you’re near being crushed. Well, you translate that later into life, and if you can survive that, who really cares if you get a rejection letter from somebody in New York who you’ve never met?
VF: …that you’re opening in the privacy of your own home.
VF: So I didn’t let this stuff get me down. In fact, I kind of used it to fuel me. So after a year of all this, I end up, and you’re actually going to love this story because I am, to make ends meet, I’m bartending at night, I’ve now finished the book, and I’m looking to make some extra money, so I’m painting for this guy named Darrel who I knew from the bar who had a good painting business in town. And I am standing in Vice President Mondale’s kitchen in Minneapolis…
VF: …painting his kitchen. And I called my agent that I’ve got down in Texas, and I fire her. And then I called up the three editors in New York who had had the manuscript for six months but couldn’t make up their mind, and I said to them I want you to reject my manuscript and send it back to me. And they were shocked, because they’d never had anybody say this. They’re like whoa, whoa…I said I’m going to self-publish it. I had worked for Kraft General Foods out of college, and I had this idea, Hugh, that I was going to be like a minor league baseball team, or like a local band. I’m going to publish locally, it’s going to go well, and then I’ll take it to the next level.
VF: And they thought I was nuts. So I sold 25% of Term Limits and raised a bunch of money, I put together a business plan and approached all these guys in town who had read the book and thought it was good, and I self-published it. And it went to number one in the Twin Cities, and then lo and behold, they all came running back. And I signed a two book deal with Simon & Schuster for, it was a half million dollars at the time.
VF: …which you know, I was going, this is fantastic. And I have stayed with Simon & Schuster, and my imprint is Atria Books and Pocket, the entire time.
HH: Well I mean, they do wonders by you, by the way, just the look and feel of the book says…they’re wonderful.
VF: I have been so lucky. I always say I’d really like to get through this life with one publisher, one editor, one agent, and one wife. And so far, that’s the case.
HH: Are you also going to go with one picture? Actually, the picture’s different now on Extreme Measures, finally.
HH: I was going to say, what, you’re not aging after all these years in success?
VF: (laughing) It’s every two years. They reshoot the photo.
HH: They do not.
VF: Hugh, they do, too. And you want to know something else?
VF: You know how painful those photo shoots are? Have you done them?
HH: (laughing) Yes, yes I have. Yup.
VF: They fly me to New York, and I sit there surrounded by a bunch of people who are, let’s just say they’re not like the guys I grew up with. And they are fussing with my hair and putting makeup on me, and you know, and putting paperclips on my suit coat. And it’s just…
HH: Tucking kerchiefs into your collar so the makeup…I know, I’m sure you’re very comfortable with that. Before we run out of time on this segment, I’ve got to ask you, though, where do you actually do your writing? This is another craft question. Do you go to the same place at the same hours and discipline yourself that way?
VF: I try. I’ve got two things, they’re both great setups. One is the cabin, we’ve got a cabin over in Wisconsin that’s about an hour and a half from our house, and last year, the last two years I’ve been under such tight deadlines, I move up there for the summer. And Lisa comes up on Thursday night with the kids, and she’ll drive back on Tuesday morning, and I write seven days a week. But it’s a fun experience. You know, I’ll get out of bed at Six in the morning, dive in the lake, it’s cold, I write pretty much all day long. And then my big treat, and this is where you come into play, is I open a bottle of wine, I grab a cigar, and I go out on a pontoon and I either listen to you or the Twins. And I can listen…it depends on if…I hate to say this to you, but if the Minnesota Twins are playing, I don’t listen to you.
HH: Oh, that’s okay, even though they’re lousy and they’ve beaten the Indians a couple of times in the stretch here in the last ten years.
VF: But then if not, I listen to you. But then as soon as the sun starts to go down…
VF: I lose you.
HH: Especially if you’re in Wisconsin. We don’t get so far into Wisconsin.
VF: Yeah, so I sit there with a notepad, and I write down what’s going to happen tomorrow. Now I already have cute index cards filled out, and I love index cards. I write down all my ideas on index cards. I set up timelines, major scene summaries, character summaries. But now we just built a new house, and it’s kind of been my dream. I always wanted to walk across a motor court to a carriage house, and work above the carriage house. And so we just moved in back in October, and that’s where I’m sitting right now, and I’ve got a fireplace up here, and it’s just fantastic.
HH: Well, we’re going to be right back in Vince Flynn’s carriage house and his wheelhouse as we talk to him about how he grows Mitch Rapp when we come back.
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HH: Now we’re going behind the scenes. We’ll talk more about the issues raised by the novels in the next two hours after I get through talking a little bit about how they get made. Vince, this is a very short segment, but you just mentioned something that I find a little bit interesting, how you do character summaries on note cards, and then you say you plan what’s going to happen the next day. When you sit down to write Extreme Measures or Separation of Powers or Memorial Day, naming some of my favorite ones here, do you know the whole arc of the story when you start?
VF: I used to plot the whole book out. And then what I found out, Hugh, is I’d sit down and I’d start writing it, and invariably, a better idea always came along. So what I now do is, the best way to describe it is I say all right, I’m going to leave Minnesota, I know I’m going to California. I don’t know exactly where I’m going in California, because I know roughly how the books are going to end. But I don’t know exactly where I’m going in California, but I’d better start heading West, and I’d better start working my way South. And so what I do is I outline the first third of the story.
HH: I see.
VF: And sometimes I barely get through that third. What happens with me is I sit down and I shut everything out. I can’t have the internet, I can’t have phones, I can’t have anything. I listen to music when I write, and you know what? The other thing that kills me is when I go into deadlines, I don’t listen to talk radio, and I’m a talk radio junky.
VF: And so I deny myself a lot of these things that I…because I have to focus, and I just write, write, write. And it occurred to me finally with writing the last couple of books, if I don’t know exactly where the story’s going to go everyday when I sit down, I have a rough idea, there’s no way that the reader can figure it out.
VF: I mean, think about that for a minute.
HH: Sure, it makes perfect sense.
VF: (laughing) It would be a little predictable. And I don’t know how you are, I assume you’re the same way when you prepare for the show. You’ve got a bullet list of things that you want to talk about. But you can feel it when something good starts to happen on the show and you start to take off on a certain topic or you get a good caller. You’re willing to throw that script out the window and run with it.
HH: Well, that’s why my script is in ruins here.
HH: I’ve got three pages of notes. It’s in total disarray. I’ve got ten books, I haven’t mentioned one of them yet. I’ve got questions on each book. I want to know why did you put Ruby Ridge and Waco into Transfer of Power. I’ve got, also…but the conversation’s too good, so you go where the conversation goes.
VF: Well thank you, and yeah, that’s how you write. At least that’s how I write.
HH: Wow, this is amazing. We’re going to come right back. Vince Flynn is my guest, and this is gold. And I thought, I knew it would be gold, but I didn’t know it would be this good of gold. Don’t go anywhere, America.
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HH: We get back to the chase here, Vince Flynn. I want to talk to you about Hollywood in just a second, but in terms of the research, in the current book, I knew about the Triple Frontier, because it’s part of the world of terrorism, and people worry about that region. How did you find about it? How did you figure out how it works and why al Qaeda might want to go there? How’d you research it?
VF: You know, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a great article, oh when was it, two or three years ago in I think it was The Atlantic Monthly, and we have the same agent. So that was the first time I was aware of it. The other reason why I know about that stuff is I have been blessed with some really good contacts in the national security area. I think chiefly because people will say why do you think these guys talk to you, and I say well, because I am not a partisan hack who wants to destroy the very institutions that I think are keeping us safe. So these guys are great, you know, and I spent a lot of time going out to D.C. and some other areas of the country where I sit down with these guys and we talk, and I just, we press each other on these issues. Where’s it headed? Daniel Silva, you’ll love this, I’m sure you’ve had this conversation with Daniel, is I am always flabbergasted when somebody will say to me how did you know? You know, how did you know that these terrorists were out there and they wanted to kill us?
VF: And I’m always, I always look at them like you know, all right, and Daniel and I laugh about this, well, we had this crazy idea that when they shot their AK-47 in the air and said death to America that they actually meant it.
HH: Well you know, you bring up Silva, and this brings up one of the interesting notes I have here. Your books, all of your books that feature Ben Friedman and Mossad have a very, I don’t want to say ambivalent, but a very nuanced view of Mossad. It’s very different from Silva’s, which is of course featuring Gabriel Alon as a Mossad agent.
HH: Explain to people what you really think about Mossad, and about Israel. And then we want to turn to the Saudis, another theme that moves through the books. I’m going out of order here, but you brought it up, so let’s go there.
VF: Yeah, I’ll tell you what. What I think about Israel is anytime you look at Israel, if you want to give it the nuanced effect, you have to remember that they are their own country. And at the end of the day, they will do what is best for themselves. There is nothing either right or wrong about that. It simply is a fact, and it’s the way it should be. The same with Saudi Arabia, the same with us. People that actually think that Israel should just roll over and do whatever we want are, I think, being really foolish. One of the chief mistakes I think people in this country make is that they don’t put themselves in the shoes of what the Israelis go through. They don’t literally understand the psychological scar of what they’ve been through, the fact that they’re, the people that want to wipe them off the face of the planet are like you’re living in Westwood and they live in Pasadena. And at any day, they can come over the mountain range and shove you into the ocean, and you would cease to exist as a people. And they’ve got leaders who swear that that’s exactly what they want to do.
VF: It shocks me at times. So I have a deep, deep respect for Mossad. Are they always perfect? Absolutely not.
HH: No, you’ve created Ben Friedman so that you can hate Ben Friedman and still like Israel. I kind of like that. I think that’s actually…
VF: Well, you know what? It’s funny that you say that. I like Ben Friedman. He’s an interesting guy. He is what you would consider a classic spy. I get into this all the time. We’re not in the real world. I laugh when we start about how all of these rules that the CIA have to follow, and we’ve moved so far away from what…
HH: …what they’re supposed to do.
VF: …the whole idea is. They’re not supposed to follow the rules.
VF: They’re supposed to go abroad and do really nasty things to people, and lie and cheat and bribe and steal to keep us safe.
VF: They’re not supposed to go over there and act like they are working for the Justice Department.
HH: Well, the reason I don’t like Ben Friedman, I’ll tell you very particularly…
HH: Because he went private. In one of your novels, I don’t want to give too much details of any of these away, but he went private contractor to make money…
VF: Oh, yeah.
HH: And I thought to myself, oh, you know, it could happen, but it disturbs me. That’s why I don’t like Ben Friedman for that reason. Not his national security…
VF: That’s a valid point.
VF: That’s a very valid point, but I think, you know, I wanted to make him kind of this nuanced character…
HH: Oh, he is, yeah.
VF: …like you said, who you kind of begrudgingly respect, but at the same time, you know, he really pisses you off.
HH: And he does, he does what he thinks is in the best interest of Israel as you say. Now that brings me, I’m going to go out of order, to Protect And Defend. It’s your 2007 novel. It’s about Iran…
HH: It’s about Hezbollah. It’s powerful, it’s very important for people who cannot figure out the Iranians, and they don’t have the time or the effort they want to reading sort of the history of Iran, et cetera. Go pick up Protect And Defend. You’ll get a good idea why Obama’s effort to reach out to the mullahs isn’t going to work. But you’ve got a character in there. You’ve got the Ahmadinejad character, but you’ve got a guy named Ashani.
HH: He’s mildly sympathetic. Not much, but more than the Hezbollah nutter running around, and more than Ahmadinejad, and more than the theocrat at the top of the system. Do you believe such people exist inside of Iran, Vince Flynn?
VF: I do. I do, and let me, you know, I’ll say this by saying I haven’t been there, I’m not welcome, you know, the state news agency’s condemned me and all that fun stuff, so I’m not about to run over there. But I believe that basically on this planet that God created, you’ve got a certain number of people, and I’ve heard the range being one out of every twenty five, is a sociopath. I think in Iran, you see what happens when you get a bunch of sociopaths at the top who control the press and they run the country. I find it almost impossible to believe that there are that many people all the way though the government that are absolutely crazy. And the one area where I think I could glean some proof of that is that even the supreme counsel slaps down Wackmadinejad from time to time.
HH: Yeah, they do, they do.
VF: …because this guy is so far out on a limb. He is just, he is one of the more unnerving historical figures, and Hugh, I know you talk about this all the time, if I could…the one thing today, one of the things today that incenses me more than anything else, is that a guy like that can go and say what he says about America and Israel in the well of the United Nations, and nobody bats an eye.
HH: Oh, it’s even worse. He gets invited to Columbia to do it. It’s just mind boggling.
VF: Could you imagine, and this would have been really interesting, and I know you’ve met President Bush on many occasions, he, could you imagine if he had gone to the UN and said I am calling for the complete destruction of the country of Iran?
VF: Paused, watched them all freak out, and then say I’m just kidding here, I’m trying to make a point that when he comes here and said that about Israel, none of you bat an eye. But when I say it, you’re all freaking out.
HH: What do you think is going, you know, you study this, obviously, you had to for that novel and for the other novels. What do you think Israel’s going to do about this nuclear program, because we’re not going to do anything now.
VF: No, we’re not going to do anything, and we were kind of really painted into a tough corner the last couple of years because of the economy and Iraq, and some other things that were going on. I don’t know, Hugh. I don’t see what they can do. The problem now is that a lot of the program is so far underground, they’ve got it spread around, that analysts I’ve talked to say that short of dropping some tactical nukes, you’re going to have a hard time completely taking out the facility. I…the only crazy kind of game-breaking scenario that I came up with, and I thought it would have been really gutsy, but of course people would have flipped, is if President Bush as a parting gift had gone to the UN and said listen, we’ve tried to stop Iran from getting a nuke, none of you have taken us seriously, and since you’re not going to honor that, what we’re going to do to guarantee Israel’s security is that we at one point had 16 nuclear missile ballistic submarines that carried 28 warheads apiece. And we are, I think eight of them have now been mothballed. We’re going to lease them free of charge two of these submarines for the next 50 years. And at any…and one of them will always be at sea, and one of them will always have 28 nuclear warheads on it capable of wiping out the entire country of Iran, should it be stupid enough to try to attack Israel. Good luck.
VF: And walk away, and watch the international community try to come to grips with that whole thing.
HH: I’m kind of hoping they’ve already got one, it may not have 28 warheads on it, but they do have Israeli subs.
VF: Well, and what they do have, Hugh, what I have been told is they actually have some of them hooked up to cruise missiles, and they are, one of them is always kept at sea aboard a destroyer. Should they, you know, in case there really is a sneak attack, they also of course have some missile-launched ones they can use as well as ones they can drop from airplanes.
HH: They’ve got the Temple Weapons as Golda Meir used to call them.
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HH: Talking with Vince Flynn, America’s bestselling author of thriller after thriller that reached the New York Times list and into your homes, and in every airport in America. You see them on every plane I’ve ever been on. Someone’s reading your books, Vince. By the way, how often are you recognized? I mean, you’ve got this picture out there all the time, but nevertheless, how often do people say Vince Flynn and bend your ear?
VF: You know, it happens more and more. (laughing) And I was on a flight from Newark to Orange County this past winter, and this was going to be a long flight, and I had been, it had been a long week, and I got on the plane, and sure enough, the woman sitting next to me was reading one of the books.
HH: Oh, no.
VF: (laughing) And she looked the photo, she looked at me, she looked at the photo, and she looked up at me and she pointed at the photo, and I said no, it happens to me all the time.
VF: (laughing) And I said I guess I look a lot like them, and then I just put on my Bose headphones and (laughing) got some work done.
HH: Because that would be a bad thing. So I was going to ask. I write a lot on airplanes. Can you do it?
VF: You know, I can. I used to not be able to, and now I can. And of course, it depends how far into the story I am. But you know, when you’ve got kids, and you’re busy, sometimes it’s a great little respite to get on one of those planes. I’m fairly tall, so it’s got to be up in first class, or it’s not a respite, and then be able to kick back and just get some solitude, listen to some music and write.
HH: Amen. Now do you, by the way, do you coach your kids’ sports teams?
VF: Oh, geez, that’s funny. (laughing) I coached (laughing), I have a thirteen year old stepson, and I coached his 6th grade football team last year.
HH: Mitch Rapp on the sidelines (laughing).
VF: Oh, and you know what I learned, Hugh? I learned that I am not emotionally equipped to coach my own children.
HH: (laughing) And I have coached him in basketball and football for many years, but as it started to get more serious, I started to get more serious. And we were literally in the playoffs, and we were up by two touchdowns with two minutes to go, and the boys imploded. And I won’t get into the specifics, but they imploded and we lost the game. (laughing) And we go over to the huddle, and big Coach Healey who went to St. John’s, and tried out with the Saints, he’s about six foot six, he’s telling all the boys well, you know, those are tough breaks, and you know, it was a fun year. And I looked him and I said wait a minute…
HH: Oh, no.
VF: And I said, if I could take it back, I would have. I said wait a minute. I said guys, you know, I’m not going to sit here and play this game of political correctness and everything’s fine. It isn’t fine. And I said you know what? If you guys want to ever play football in high school, or maybe college, you’ve got to take that feeling, that pain in your stomach right now, and you’ve got to chew on it, and you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to work, because this sucks! (laughing)
HH: (laughing) Oh, gosh. I wish I had a camera…I would like a tape of that.
VF: (laughing) I was pissed. You know, the parents are standing twenty feet away, and they’re looking at me like I’m psychotic.
HH: (laughing) Keep the boys away from Vinnie.
HH: Now let’s get back to the other issue about Hollywood. I just don’t see you, I know a lot of the guys in the business, I stay out of it, I’m on the news side, I’m not on the creative side, but I know…and they’re not your people, Vince.
HH: And so you’ve signed a deal. Are you going to write the screenplays? And are you going to promise us that Matt Damon is not going to be Mitch Rapp?
VF: Yeah, well Matt Damon would never play Mitch Rapp for starters. But you know, we got the deal last year, and I had this moment of great anxiety right before I signed it, because I had a lot of friend saying to me, don’t let them ruin him. And these contracts in Hollywood are very complicated, and you really, you kind of cross that Rubicon and you’re done. Your rights are, you give them away. And if you try to be too stringent, they won’t sign the deal, because they want creative control. So we had a little 24 or 12th hour phone call with Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who’s the, he and Nick Wechsler are behind the idea. And I basically, all I wanted from Lorenzo was a promise that he wouldn’t wussify Mitch Rapp. And Lorenzo promised it. And I think Lorenzo is one of the best producers out there, and I think Nick as well. They do a great job. They actually read the books that they buy, which is unusual for that town. They usually read a one page treatment that was written by some 21 year old liberal New York film school graduate. And Lorenzo promised me, do you remember the scene in Consent To Kill where Mitch Rapp takes the son of the wealthy Saudi and he puts the suicide vest on him…
HH: Oh, you bet. Oh, you bet.
VF: And he drives him and sends him out, and the dad comes out of the Mosque and it blows up, and then you flash to the guy who runs the Saudi security service, and he’s saying how can this be? We do suicide bombs. They don’t do suicide bombs.
VF: And Lorenzo promised me, because that’s the book they’re trying to make into a movie right now, which actually I’m supposed to see the screenplay next week. Lorenzo said I want to put that in the movie. That’s how badly I want to keep Mitch Rapp the way he is.
HH: That’s Consent To Kill they’re going to make?
VF: Consent To Kill is where they decided to start.
VF: I think the reason why is they want to add, they want a female side of the story to it…
VF: …to bring that audience in.
VF: I know, but it’s an interesting idea. And now they all read Extreme Measures over the holiday break, and I only say holiday because I’m talking between Christmas and New Years. I’m not afraid to say Christmas break. And they all read it, and they have now, they want to put Extreme Measures into production and get a script written on it.
HH: Interesting. I would have guessed Act Of Treason first because there’s some easier characters, you know, Cy is kind of easy. But if it’s going to be Consent To Kill, on my story notes here, Page 450, you’ve got Saudi radicals funding conversions in American prisons. Now this is genuine, interesting news hook.
HH: It’s a very important story. You’ve got a harsh view of the Saudi radicals. I mean, throughout all your books, you’re very eye-opened about this.
HH: How are they going to deal with stuff like that? Are they going to find a way to do it? Is it just going to be the blowup in the central plot? Or are they going to put your worldview in?
VF: I think Lorenzo’s plan is to have it in there. You know, we, I ran into so much, so many obstacles every time we tried to sell this thing in Hollywood, the Mitch Rapp franchise. I actually had after Memorial Day, the head of Paramount had read it, and told my agent I hated it, it was more Bush than Bush. Now this was back in 2003 or 2004. And to me, that showed just how biased that town was. I said you’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, the whole plot of the story is terrorists want to set off a nuke in Washington, D.C. and New York, you know, not that complicated. And by the way, that’s exactly what al Qaeda said they’d like to do. Can’t we get on the same page and agree that that’s a bad idea?
VF: …for all Americans? But no, and by the way, this is a little aside, I think that is why that town makes so many bad business decisions. And it’s going to start to come back to the middle at least, I hope, is they let, unlike any other business I’ve been involved in, they let their own political beliefs really infuse their daily work culture. People say the craziest things about…
VF: …about President Bush, the most offensive things, they would say them. And now, you watch, you can’t even really walk in the workforce, and then make the kind of callous, classless comments about President Obama, those same people that would say that stuff about President Bush will freak.
HH: And they’ll…you know, I’ve talked to Andrew Brietbart about this. It is a remarkably closed town, but he’s trying to bring some light to it, and again, I hope your movies just sell, sell, sell, because there’s a point of view here. We’re going to talk about enhanced interrogation techniques and terror in the real world of fighting terrorism and torture in the next hour and a half. But there’s a point of view that is never represented, ever in Hollywood filmmaking that I hope comes through in the Vince Flynn adaptions of his novels.
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HH: Vince Flynn, since we were just talking about Consent To Kill, one of my sidebar notes here, it’s one of those odd things I notice, it was dedicated to brothers and sisters, Daniel, Patrick, Sheila, Kelly, Kevin and Timothy, and Lucie, who’s smile, love and grace lives on in Lauren, Connor and Jack. Now I know you’re one of seven, so is Lucie your sister? I just…
VF: No, Lucie was my cousin Terry’s wife, who was, her kids were roughly the same ages, their kids were roughly the same age as my kids, and she contracted leukemia, oh, a few years ago, and it was very, very heartbreaking. She found out the week after New Years, and four weeks later, she was gone.
HH: Oh, my gosh.
VF: Really kind of caught everybody off guars, you know, 36 years old, beautiful, a real tragedy, but you know, in the end, a real blessing to…I always say Lisa and I have had, we had another couple we knew real well, lost their little thirteen month old boy, went to bed and didn’t wake up. And you know, when stuff like that happens, you really realize you have no problems. You don’t have anything, you have no right to complain about anything. If you can wake up in the morning and your kids are still breathing, you’re a lucky person.
HH: Yup, you are only as happy as your least happy child, one parent told me, and I think that’s probably true.
HH: Let me ask you, Vince, in terms of Daniel, Patrick, Sheila, Kelly, Kevin and Timothy…
HH: What do they think of this? I mean, you’re their brother, I grew up in a Catholic family. You hit everyone, you knock each other over, you wrestle around the house, all that sort of thing. And now you’re this international figure. I’m sure they cut you no slack, but…
VF: No slack.
HH: But what do they think about this?
VF: I don’t know, Hugh. I don’t put any thought into it. (laughing) This is where you get me uncomfortable. I, you know, I once read not too long ago people tend to get stuck at a certain age, and they always think of themselves at that age.
VF: And that’s what I do. You know, I still live in the same town I grew up in, I still, you know, my best friend from high school is the godfather to one of my daughters, and I’m the godfather to one of his kids. And I hang out with the same people, and I just try to keep, I don’t let it get to me. I try…and the one…it’s starting, the one way it’s starting to get to me a little bit is the kids have come home, and they’re starting to hear stuff here and there at school and stuff, and I say there’s the two words that I will not allow in the house, which is the F word and the C word, which is celebrity and famous. And they’re starting to buy into that and kind of get this idea that their dad does something, I don’t know what it is. I hate to even think about it, because it bugs me, because I don’t want, I got to grow up in such a great household, I don’t want my kid to grow up somehow tainted by this.
HH: Influenced by fame and celebrity culture, sure. Yeah.
VF: Yeah, so we stay…if I’m out in public, I’ll tell you what, Lisa and I were just down in Mexico, and Billy Williams, the lead actor in CSI, was at the resort where we were staying. And I’m talking about it was a four bedroom house, ultra, really secluded deal. We didn’t bother him once other than saying hello. You know, at the time there were three couples there the whole week we were down there, and just let him go be…and maybe part of that’s Minnesota, too, but I just don’t, I would never walk up to a table while someone’s eating and say excuse me. (laughing) You know?
HH: Yup, yup.
VF: And so some of that started happening, and it’s one thing if Lisa and I are out. It drives her nuts. But I really hate it in front of the kids…
VF: …because I just would like to have them not be affected by it.
HH: Now another real world question. You are working at a phenomenal pace. You have turned…I mean, I write a lot of books, but they’re non-fiction books, and they sell eight copies. The question is, why are you rushing forward with, I mean, two a year sort of thing?
VF: Well, it’s one a year right now, and it’s going to stay that way. I would like to branch out and write kind of more of an FBI-private eye type thriller based in the United States. But I’ve got to be careful when I do it. And you know, to be honest, Hugh, I enjoy writing. And writing is a discipline. And if you put it off, it’s easy to put it off. If they told me I only had to write a book every two years, I’d write a book every two years.
HH: A book every two years, yeah.
VF: And the only thing that makes this hard is with the kids in school and everything, I don’t get to travel to do the amount of research that I used to do, which makes it a little more difficult. But then again, I have this knowledge base now, and I have this rolodex of these people I can call to do my research. And so in many ways, at some point, it’s like getting ready for a marathon. You’ve just got to say all right, you know what? On Monday morning, I’d better start running, because I’ve got to run that thing in four months.
HH: Yeah, I’ve got 20 weeks…it’s funny you say four months, yeah. I’ll be right back.
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HH: Vince Flynn, there’s a worldview in these books. How much of that is yours, how much of it’s simply developed around the character of Mitch Rapp?
VF: You know, somebody finally busted me with this question the other day, because people always say are you Mitch Rapp? And I’m like, no, I’m not Mitch Rapp. You know, of course I’m not Mitch Rapp. And somebody finally said to me on what things do you and Mitch Rapp disagree on?
HH: (laughing) Good question. Great question.
VF: (laughing) Well, now that you say it that way, we really don’t disagree on a lot of things. Yeah, it’s my worldview, and it’s a fairly…it’s a little all over the board, but I tend to believe that the people who we should support are the men and women who makes less than a bus driver in Washington, D.C., who work seven days a week, who put their lives on the line. These are the men and women in the clandestine service of the CIA, the overseas teams in the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Special Forces and the military. These are the people we should be giving our almost unflinching support to. I have in the last couple of years taken, if it’s possible, an even more callous view of our political leaders in Washington.
HH: Oh, that’s clearly true in the most recent book, and easily turned once the toll of terrorism comes home. But it’s hard to be more callous by the end of this, except I think we’re entering an era where we will even fall off the floor here, Vince Flynn.
VF: Yeah. You know, the thing, and I know you talk about this all the time, but the thing that gets me just shaking my head is the way the politicians get away with it, that they can stand up like they did in the 70s and 80s and neuter the CIA, and miss opportunity after opportunity in the 90s to deal with this issue of Islamic radical fundamentalism. And then when 9/11 hits, act absolutely shocked that it went down. And now pull it to the financial debacle, and especially the mortgage crisis, these (laughing), I’ve got to be careful that I don’t let loose any profanity on the air…
HH: No FCC violations, please. Yeah, good.
VF: These individuals on Capitol Hill, why are they there? It is their entire job, one of their most important jobs to make sure that this stuff doesn’t happen, to regulate, to hold hearings, to legislate. And what do they do? This, they were all at the switch when this thing blew up. And now they act shocked, and they want to blame some CEO for flying in a G-5, that that somehow is going to explain away the problem. And I know…Barney Frank…and it’s just…
HH: Well let me ask you about…I agree about the political types, and we can come back to them. But what’s much more interesting in the novels is that you have to carry forward, and you do, a double-breasted approach to the agencies, because like you, I’ve happened to have known a lot of people who served as undercover operatives in the clandestine services, and being like any bell curve, there’s going to be great…
HH: …there are going to be terrible ones, and there are going to be most of them in between. And you’ve got good ones and bad ones in the CIA. But you also have wonder workers. And I’m wondering, does a Marcus Dumond really exist, do you think?
VF: The types? Yes, they do.
HH: That’s amazing to me.
VF: Well, and maybe not as rolled into one person as he is, maybe not as illegal as he is, but they do have their teams that are capable of doing some pretty amazing things, technology-wise.
HH: That’s good to know. Now you’ve got some people like Peter Cameron, again, he appears in The Third Option. He’s a rogue former CIA agent who’s just gone out for the money and does very nasty things for the money. You think those such people exist?
VF: Well, (laughing) here again, I always have to be careful. I don’t want to offend any friends. You know, Blackwater’s in the news again today…
VF: And Blackwater, I like Eric Prince, I know him personally, and I think Blackwater unfortunately got caught in the middle of a big fight between the State Department and the Defense Department. And the idea that a lot of people whose likelihood depends on it at the Pentagon didn’t like an outfit like Blackwater running around doing what it was doing. But having said that, Blackwater employed some cowboys that probably didn’t practice some restraint that they should have practiced. And it’s nothing to take lightly. And I think there is quite a few ex-guns for hire who have been out working all over the place. And it didn’t just start with the beginning of the Gulf War, or excuse me, the Iraqi Freedom, but it’s been going on for quite some time. And you’ve seen it over the years when you’ve got former SEALs and Green Berets and Delta guys going down and running the security operations for some drug dealers in South America.
HH: Right, right.
VF: And it’s just like you said. You’re going to have your bell curve. You’re going to have some bad apples. But that doesn’t mean you should paint the entire Special Forces community as a bunch of mercenaries.
HH: Of course not. In fact, you mentioned Marcus Luttrell earlier. I had a chance to interview him on the deck of the Midway a while back. I think if anything, they’re getting squarer. I’ve gotten to know theses guys because they have supporters…
VF: Oh, I agree.
HH: They’re getting more and more square than they must have used to have been. In fact, when you describe in Executive Power the training on Pages 236-237 that goes down on the strand there, they must wash out all of the sociopaths at this point.
VF: I think they…well, and then there was an argument that right there back in ’02-’05, quite of few of the folks down at Bragg and out at Coronado were getting upset that they were being told you’ve got to not be so harsh on some of these people because we need some numbers. And they didn’t like that. They said go ahead and send more of them to jump school, do whatever you do, set up new units, but we don’t want to lower our standards, because if you read in Lone Survivor, and it’s not uncommon, basically you’re looking at 160 guys go into a class, and you’re lucky if 30 graduate.
HH: Right. That’s very amazing.
VF: And Hugh, none of them are wusses going in.
VF: You know, it’s not like you’d look at them and go oh, he’s going to drop for sure.
HH: Well, you have a line here, and I scored it when I was reading through it, “The men who ran the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado needed to find out who could take it, because in the real world of special operations, quitting was not an option.” I’d actually never thought about that as clearly as that until in the course of reading Executive Power. You don’t get to same I’m tired, do you?
VF: (laughing) No.
HH: You don’t get to be a radio host and say you know, I’m going to take tomorrow off, Duane, run the Vince Flynn special. I’ll be right back, America.
– – – –
HH: Vince Flynn, do you watch 24?
VF: I do.
HH: What do you think?
VF: This year I have not, well, I actually was down at Rush’s, and got to see the first four, was it four? Yeah, first four hours back in, when was that, November? Yeah, November. But other than that, I haven’t been able to watch it on TV this year because of some traveling. But they’re TiVo’d right now. And I consulted on Season 5 for the show.
HH: Oh, you did?
HH: Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s pretty interesting. How was that?
VF: It was a lot of fun. You know, they’re a real interesting group of guys. Joel Surnow and Bob Cochran, the creators, are now off the show, but real interesting birds. Bob Cochran is just, the guy’s an absolute genius. Joel is this frenetic ball of energy who kind of pushes people to come up with newer and better ideas. And Howard Gordon, who now is running the show, is just about one of the nicest guys you’re ever going to meet in Hollywood.
HH: You know, it’s very interesting, you’re very eclectic in your choices of friends. And in the books, you’ll throw off stuff, I’m looking at my notes here, Separation Of Power, a little conversation between Mitch and another character, I won’t give it away, Washington Times versus Washington Post, and how you can tweak people like that. So you’re very knowing about your media inputs. How much are you out there when you’re not writing and isolated, taking in media? Obviously, you’re a talk radio junky, but what about the other side?
VF: I inhale it. (laughing)
HH: Yeah, it sounds like it.
VF: I don’t know how to explain it, but I was one of these kids who on Sunday morning, I’d get up, and again, we had three…there was nothing on TV back then. And I’d get up and I’d watch Meet The Press, This Week or whatever…
HH: Meet The Press.
VF: …because that’s all that was on.
VF: And I’d sit there and eat my cereal and get ready to go to Mass.
HH: Yeah. Now by the way, are you an altar boy?
VF: Of course.
HH: Just checking. Now you listen to Rush, you listen to me, I’m very flattered by that. What other talkers you listen to?
VF: I listen to Glenn from time to time. There’s a great guy here in town called Joe Soucheray.
HH: Oh, Joe’s wonderful, yeah.
VF: …who’s got this show, Garage Logic, who is, one of…his producer, the rookie, Matt Michalski, is one of my high school buddies. And so I just, I love that show. I listen to Laura in the morning, it kind of depends on where I’m out and what I’m doing.
HH: Okay, and I hope you listen to Medved and Prager. I have to put that in…
VF: Well you know, I do listen to both of them. For some reason, unfortunately for Michael, Soucheray and he are on at the same time.
HH: Right, right.
VF: Prager’s on the same time as Rush, but I’ll skip back and forth between. What I like, and I’m going to say this about you and Dennis, I think Soucheray’s the same way. You guys have this great talent of not letting people get under your skin.
HH: Well that’s, yeah, amen.
VF: And keeping things intellectual, entertaining, and humorous, which is not an easy balance to strike.
HH: Well, one guy has gotten under my skin. His name’s Jay Larson. I’m wondering if you can arrange to have him killed. He’s the guy over at the Patriot. Can we have that done with your contacts?
VF: (laughing) Are you serious?
HH: No, okay, I’ll let him live again.
– – – –
HH: This hour, we’re going to focus in on that. Vince Flynn, I think of these, the one that got to me the most is Memorial Day, because it’s about the city which I love, and the city in which I have lived, and may live again, Washington, D.C., coming under nuclear threat. And it reminds me of Bill Keller’s story when he wasn’t the editor of the New York Times about can they get a device here, and this is what happens when a device is coming. And it’s the classic question of what do you do when it comes time to interrogate or even use extreme measures against terrorists who know about a massive impending attack. And you don’t let people off the hook. You put it right there.
HH: You force that hypothetical. I don’t think the left loves to talk, will even ever confront this hypothetical. What’s your thought about the Memorial Day and the reactions to it?
VF: Well, you know, you get these people like Matt Damon, for instance, who goes on national television, and is not challenged the way you get challenged, Hugh. You go on these shows and you say something that’s somewhat…or anything you say is going to get challenged by Chris Matthews or whoever. Matt Damon goes on the Today Show, and he says these crazy things like oh, you know, torture never, every works. I could get somebody to say anything, and anything I want him to say by torturing him. Well, he starts out with a faulty premise, which is that the…and I have to be careful when I discuss this, because I’m always afraid that one of these days the Justice Department’s going to knock on my door and subpoena me and ask me who do you talk to and what do you know, at which point I’m going to end up in jail not speaking to anybody.
HH: Call me, I’ll represent you. Call me, yeah.
VF: (laughing) But let me say to you, wink, nudge, fictitiously how this stuff goes down. You catch somebody like Sheikh Mohammed on the battlefield, and you bring them into a very dark place, and you disorient them over a three to four day period. You don’t let them sleep, you play Barney blaring I Love You, You Love Me, you do all kinds of crazy stuff like that. And you may actually slap him around a little bit. And you get them so disoriented that they don’t know if they’re coming or going. And if they won’t begin to talk at that point, you may waterboard them, which I always say is nothing that we should be proud of as a country, but there are many things that this country has done that I wouldn’t be proud of. President Lincoln and President Roosevelt are often, FDR that is, are often cited as two of our greatest presidents by everyone. I mean, nobody disagrees with that. But the left conveniently leaves out the fact that both of them at a time of war basically threw out habeas corpus, and just absolutely tossed people in jail, opened up every letter…FDR opened more mail than any president has ever done.
VF: Anything that came over from Europe, they just opened it. They didn’t care.
VF: And so we are going to have to make some arrangements here. Now when they get these terrorists to start talking, what they do is you waterboard them, all right? They pop up, you ask them the question again. They never start out, Hugh, asking a question that they don’t already know the answer to. It’s just like an attorney in a court of law. And once they get them going down that track, and by the way, they’re hooked up to biosensors to measure everything know if they’re lying to them or not. They’ve got people sitting in another room that are connected to databases all over the world, and they’re checking everything these guys are saying. And at any point, they can say oh, we’ll take a 15 minute break, go up in the other room, they find out what’s he lying, what’s he telling the truth about. They go back in and they listen, you just lied to us about this. Do you want to go back on the board?
HH: Well, that’s the brilliance of Extreme Measures. I mean, you really communicate in that, and lesser so in Memorial Day, but Extreme Measures, how this actually works.
VF: And you know what? It’s unfortunate, Hugh, that we even have to talk about it, because the truth is, in my opinion, this is why we have elected representatives. These fifteen people that sit on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee are supposed to do this for us. They’re supposed to make these tough decisions and keep their mouth shut, and say you know what? These guys never signed the Geneva Conventions. They intentionally attacked civilians. You know what? So be it. Let the CIA go take them to some, I’m sorry to say it, some hell hole of a prison in the middle of nowhere and make their life uncomfortable. As I once said to President Bush, and I actually got him to snicker about it, I said Mr. President, the next time somebody starts complaining to you about the treatment of this, just stop and say are you kidding me? You want me to lose a wink of sleep over the fact that we waterboarded the guy who came up with the idea to take these civilian airliners, slit the throats of these flight attendants, slit the throats of the pilots, turned them around and fly them into the World Trade Center? And you want me to, you want some compassion from me? What do you want from me? Boo hoo.
HH: I just got a note from Frank Dowse. He runs the Agemus Group in San Diego, 20 years in the Marine Corps, aviator guy, you might even have known him or come across him. He taught the survival and evasion course for a number of years…
HH: …in which some of the candidates are waterboarded. And he cannot believe we are abandoning this technique for circumstances such as those you describe in Memorial Day. Do you think we have hurt our national security, Vince Flynn, by doing so?
VF: I do, and I’ll tell you…remember, I know you watched the inaugural…
VF: There was a moment where President Obama said you know, we will not give up our ideals for security. And they flashed to President Bush, and he kind of gave it that little Texas smirk and nodded, and I, you know the man and I know the man, and I know exactly what was going through his head, which was we’ll see.
HH: Well you know, he’s also…I’m sure he’s told you this, I’m not sure, but my guess is he said to you that the briefings change the candidate.
VF: Oh, absolutely.
HH: And I am hoping that that is the case, that you find out how many people want to kill us…
HH: …and how they want to kill us, and you’ve got to take this differently. There is a speech in Memorial Day on Page 365, Mitch Rapp is talking to the president. “Mr. President, there are a lot of things I don’t tell you about, stuff you’re better off not knowing, but maybe now is a good time to give you a glimpse into what it takes to win this war. Do you have any idea how we found out that the nuke material was on that ship headed for Charleston?” And obviously, I don’t know if those conversations have happened in the Oval Office. I’m not sure I want them to happen. That’s what deniability has always been about. But again, the rule of law matters. Do you think we have hit the right balance over the last seven years, Vince Flynn?
VF: No, I don’t. (laughing) I think that President Bush would have liked to have pushed that a little farther into the arena of back where it was, back where it was with Kennedy and with Eisenhower, where people in the Senate who got…first of all, you were not allowed to sit on one of these committees unless you knew how to keep your mouth shut.
VF: And the problem is, that’s all gone now. They go on there, they leak like sieves, they give stuff away to the press. There used to be an honor amongst the politicians that national security was sacrosanct. This is not a political football. If you want to play that game, go over to Judiciary, go the Armed Services Committee. And the Armed Services Committee unfortunately could never be that because there’s too much money at play. But intelligence, it was simply, if you’re going to come on this committee, you’re going to keep your mouth shut and you’re going to see things you can never talk about, and that was that. And they all said you know what? We have to do this, because if we want to stay safe in this world, this is what we have to allow the CIA and these other agencies to do. That’s all gone out the window now.
VF: And I’ll be honest, mostly from the Democrats. And I’m, with this pork in the various budgets, I’ll spread the blame all over the place. But when it comes to this intelligence issue, the Democrats have been abominable in keeping their mouth shut. Who are they defending?
HH: So I guess you’re pretty happy that Al Franken’s most likely going to be your new Senator.
VF: It pains me, because Senator Coleman…
HH: He got it.
VF: …was a man of St. Paul, and he’s a great guy, very effective, and I was a big supporter of his, but you know…
HH: Hey, let’s turn to some other stuff about the bad guys, because part of the wonder of this book is that you’re trying to educate people about the bad guys. Now I have always been a thriller fan. I read Len Deighton and le Carré when I was growing up because I wanted to know what was going on, and I think you teach more about the Cold War in novels, and what it was really like in Berlin, and what it was really like to be at the tip of the spear. And now you’re doing the same thing. Did you intend to start out that way? Or were you just telling stories and making money? And now have you adopted that mission of trying to get people to understand what it’s like?
VF: It’s really interesting you ask that, because at the beginning, I think I was trying to tell a story. And I believe the marketplace, it’s a big place, okay? So John Grisham, who I have a ton of respect for, David Baldacci, I have a ton of respect for. I think they’re both really talented writers. In fact, I think Grisham never gets enough credit. But they are, they tell their stories from the liberal side of the perspective. Often times, the FBI is a bunch of bumbling fools, and what have you. I still respect those two as writers, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about them as individuals. I have a different opinion than they do, though. And so I got into it because I used to get a little bummed out when I’d read Grisham and every FBI agent was an idiot. I said you know, I’ve met a lot of these guys, and I want to tell the story from how I feel it is, that these are a lot of good family men, and they’re selfless, and they’re not doing it to make a bunch of money or satisfy their egos. They really do believe in this country and what it stands for. And so…and then it grew over time. Over the last fifteen years, what has happened, Hugh, is I have grown so frustrated by this blatant partisanship, and I’ll tell you, on 9/11, I was sitting in my house, and I saw the hole in the first tower, and Bryant Gumbel was still on the Today Show, and he said oh, you know, it looks like a small commuter plane has hit the World…and I’m like…and I remember they’d try to take it down the one time, and I’m going nope. Not…
HH: That’s it. I was on the air that day. I’ll talk about that when we come back, how it changes everything if you’re paying attention.
– – – –
HH: Vince Flynn, before we went to break, we were talking about the fact we’re both blessed because we get to combine in what we do for a living, the passion of educating people about the war. I get to do it by talking to anyone who writes books about the war that makes sense, whether it’s John Burns, whether it’s Lawrence Wright. I’ll bring them on if they know or have something to talk about the war. But you have to limit how much you do that, otherwise people are overwhelmed.
HH: Your books have to include a lot of other stuff besides who the bad guys are, or you’ll lose your…you have to tell a good tale. But I found as I read from one through ten of the Rapp books, I didn’t read the very first book, but one through ten of the Rapp books, that you were getting better and better at doing more and more teaching, and I mean like al-Yamani, I think you read through Memorial Day, and you’re going to understand what makes these people tick a lot better. Or you go through, which one’s with the Palestinian terrorist who blows up the bad guys and he’s very interesting characters.
VF: Executive Power.
HH: Executive Power, very interesting character.
HH: Very sympathetic to the Palestinians, by the way…
VF: Well, and you caught onto it. He is, when I told that story, you have a really good instinct for this. That was one of the books where I, before I sat down to write it, I said you know what I want to do? I want to tell a parable of the Palestinian people, that in the end, they’re always screwed.
VF: And typically by their Arab neighbors.
VF: And that, you know, I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but…
VF: It’s a bad deal.
HH: But that’s a teaching function. The most recent book, I’ve got a paragraph I copied out of Extreme Measures. “Zawahiri and bin Laden had not used a mobile phone in years, and the rest of al Qaeda and Taliban leadership used them only sparingly. Dozens had been killed or captured after making calls. One minute they’d be standing there talking, the next thing you knew, a missile would come streaking through the air and blow them to bits.” Now I love this because it is absolutely true about Zawahiri and bin Laden. I’ve been told that by the highest sources. They’re very security conscious now. They do not get close to getting exposed. But when we drop Predators on people, we know what we’re doing, Vince Flynn. And you’re teaching people through a novel what’s going on there.
VF: You mean the American people or the terrorists?
HH: No, the American people. The terrorists? No. They see themselves getting blown up on the cell phone. But…
VF: Yeah, I don’t, and I really don’t buy into the fact that the bin Laden types read my novels. I mean, I supposed there’s a possibility somewhere along the…although I’ve been told recently, and it blows me away, that my books are very popular in Saudi Arabia, and I don’t know what that (laughing)…
VF: …what that means, if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, like we actually have a fifth column in Saudi Arabia that believes in our struggle. But I’ve grown, my passion has grown. Right before the break, I said on 9/11, I remember sitting there, and I think part of the deal with an author is you spend so much time alone, you’re constantly looking into the future trying to think of what’s going to happen. And I had a real sinking feeling that morning, and it was simply this. Do we have the stomach to do this? Do we have the stomach to fight these guys, because I knew right away, you know, because I’d been writing about it, it wasn’t going to be a five year war. It was going to be a generational war if not multi-generational war. And they’re a lot hungrier than we are. And my fear was almost immediately that we would start to see casualties, the media would act the exact way they acted. I knew, it was not hard to predict, and then the liberal politicians in Washington would start screaming bloody murder and tear this country apart. And all of these individuals I just mentioned, and you’ve talked about this, if they’d been around on D-Day, we would have put everybody back on the ships, and gone back to America, and built the walls, and that would have been that. We would have quit.
HH: Do you think, well, this is a two part question. First of all, do you think the United States will be hit in a significant way again in the relatively near future by terrorists?
VF: Without giving away what happens in the next book, I think, when I did my research for Memorial Day, showed me how difficult it is to get your hands on a nuke. And as crazy as Ahmadinejad is, and some of these other folks, A.Q. Khan in Pakistan and what have you, they know that if they go and let that nuke out of the Pandora’s box, there’s a good chance they’re going to get a nuke coming right back down their throat, which and by the way, at the time it was a wonderful thing. And when that Congressman, I can’t remember where he was from, came out and said you know, I think we should put them on notice that if they set off a nuke on American soil, that we’re going to nuke Mecca and Medina. And you know, a lot of the people in this country started to freak out.
HH: I didn’t like that. I’m on the…that’s Tom Tancredo, but we may part company on this, but go ahead.
VF: But I found it at least an interesting idea. Maybe not get that specific, but say we will respond in kind.
HH: Well, I don’t mind saying Tehran will be a parking lot if Hezbollah uses a nuke against us.
HH: That’s for sure. But where were you going with the next book?
VF: Well, what the next book is, I think they’re headed towards more of what you see over in Israel, which is that because it’s so difficult to get your hands on nukes or chemical weapons, the dirty weapon is much easier and can cause a lot of problems. I think you’re more likely, and I don’t want to give the book…what happened in Extreme Measures, but talked to quite a few people in Washington who when they read that book, they said holy crap, you know, this is what we fear most, outside of a nuke. But we kind of say that’s real hard, it’s going to be very difficult for them to do. This is the most plausible attack.
HH: Did you see al Qaeda kill themselves playing around with the Bubonic Plague in Algeria?
VF: I did see that.
HH: You know, that’s the other thing, Vince Flynn.
VF: Well, don’t be so sure they killed themselves. I read that, and the first thing I thought was, what a beautiful way to take the enemy out.
HH: Oh, how interesting.
VF: …if you were to be able to send something into the camp and let them get it, and say bye, bye.
HH: You have been thinking about this a lot. How free and easy are the guys and the gals you talk with from within the agencies?
VF: Oh, they’re very quiet. Most of what happens is when they retire, I hear more things. The other thing that happens is I am good at filling in the blanks. And I think Tom Clancy was the same way. When he went out and wrote The Hunt For Red October, they only took him so far, and then he had to sit down and figure the rest of it out. I was writing about the secret prisons before, and now…this does put me into a bit of a moral crisis from a patriotic standpoint. I was writing about it without really thinking that when this program gets blown, it’s going to hurt us from a national security standpoint. But I was sitting down, and was hearing some rumors here and there, and I thought well, you know, if I was at CIA, what would I do? I sure as heck wouldn’t bring them back to America. And I wouldn’t put them in Guantanamo, because everybody knows about Guantanamo, so if it was a real high value terrorist, I’d take him to Uzbekistan, you know? (laughing) And put him in some cargo container that got up to 120 degrees every day at the end of the airstrip and sweated it out of him.
HH: It’s an amazing amount of research and detail you have here about… I was just reminded about Rashid Dostum, the guy from the Tajik in Afghanistan that’s…
VF: Yes, yes.
HH: What possessed you to have him have a walk on role?
VF: Well, because he’s a real character in real life, and he’s a barbarian…
VF: …who happens to be on our side. And you can just imagine the reaction of a Taliban member that was about to be handed over to this man.
VF: They would be just mortified. What I found so interesting about it is you can, Hugh, you can lay that whole scenario out. And this is what scares me about Extreme Measures. You would have, you would virtually be guaranteed that you would have politicians on the left, and Department of Justice officials that would react the exact ways the characters reacted in the book.
HH: Yup, yup. 100% certainty. Vince Flynn is my guest. We’ve still got a half hour. Don’t go anywhere, America.
– – – –
HH: Vince, I’m running low on time with three segments, two of them pretty short. So I’m going to bounce around to the things I just absolutely have to ask you about.
HH: In Act Of Treason, you’ve got Stu Garret as a character. Again, I’ve been avoiding telling many plot details here, because I hate to give away plots. People have to read it for themselves. But he’s a political consultant. He’s like Axelrod, he’s like Rove.
HH: You loathe him.
HH: Everybody loathes him by the end of this book. What do you think of this professional class of media and electorate manipulators? And they’re on both sides of the spectrum, all right? They’re on the left and they’re on the right. What do you think of them?
VF: Yeah, well, where I have a problem, I had a Hollywood who read that book (laughing) and called me up and said, and this shows you how people in Hollywood can be, kind of miss the mark occasionally. (laughing) He said to me oh, I just loved that book, because something happens at the beginning of the next one. I love that Garret got what he deserved, and I just, I knew it was Karl Rove, wasn’t it?
VF: And I just looked at the guy and I’m like no. I like Karl.
HH: No. I like Karl Rove.
VF: I know Karl, I like him. I think Karl has been really unfairly maligned by the media.
HH: He’s a very moral guy, yup. Yup.
VF: Yeah, and you know what? He’s funny.
VF: Karl is a very jovial, funny man. And he’s not this sinister person that people like to make him out to be. And by the way, I don’t think Axelrod seems like a bad guy, either.
HH: I haven’t got a fix for him yet. I’ll take your word on that. I don’t have a fix on him.
VF: Okay, I haven’t met him, but I kind of get the feeling that I just don’t think he’s a horrible guy. Where I took that Garret character, and he actually appears in Term Limits, the first book, the one that Rapp is not in. But where I took him was these men that you meet on occasion, there’s quite a few of them out in Hollywood, quite a few producers in Hollywood that operate this way, that were obviously never raised by parents who taught them how to respect other people, who think it is okay to throw a temper tantrum anytime they want to get whatever they want, and be just an absolute, you know, the most vile person you can imagine to get what they want done. Now we finally have a chief of staff in the White House who I respect only in the sense that he is an (laughing), he’s a strong opponent, okay?
VF: But anybody who thinks that, anybody who hated Karl Rove, it’s because they think that he was radical, has no right to stand up and say that they think Rahm Emanuel’s a great guy, because Rahm is probably one of the most divisive, tenacious men in Washington. Now I respect him because he’s tenacious and he fights about what he believes in, but the Blagojevich tapes, you know, that’s Rahm. Rahm likes to swear every other word. And if anybody get in his way, he threatens to do really nasty things to them. And that’s more like the Stu Garret character.
HH: Yup. It’s a fascinating, it’s fascinating that you’ve studied these people. Do you spend much time with that class of person as opposed to the operators and the agents and the Secret Service people?
VF: Not as much, because I don’t enjoy it as much (laughing). You know, the other thing is I had somebody ask me once, they said you know, how do you write these books and not live in Washington? And I said well, the answer’s simple. I said if I lived in Washington, I’d be like all the other people who get sucked into, and then I’d start pulling my punches. The truth of it is, I actually deleted a paragraph one time because I consider Senator Coleman a good friend, and I wrote it, and I’m like, no, he’s going to read this and think it’s about him. That’s really bad, and I deleted it.
HH: Yeah, that’s a good caution. Now what about the media? There’s a key figure, again I’m not giving it away, an ABC correspondent in this book, who plays, she has a huge role in a few of the books. What’s your assessment of the talking heads, generally?
VF: My assessment of the talking heads is that while they carry the banner of honor and truth and the virtue of integrity, the little sneaky secret is that they are more competitive than the best pro athletes. They will do whatever it takes to get the story and make a name for themselves. And at the end of the day, it’s about satisfying their ego. And often times, a little bit of an insecure ego. And people don’t take that into context enough, that when David Gregory used to stand up and throw his little temper tantrums in the White House press room, it’s because David’s spoiled rotten. And David wanted to get the story so he could advance his career. And the truth be damned, and national security be damned, and respect for the President, all that stuff. I have, I’ve grown increasingly tired of those people, and I think that they are, some of them are bordering on treasonous, I’ll be perfectly honest. I think it’s ridiculous the way some of them operate.
HH: And we might be talking here about the New York Times and L.A. Times when they released classified stories on terrorist surveillance?
VF: Oh, absolutely.
HH: Yeah, that’s…
VF: And by the way, Hugh, go back thirty years ago. You talk about people with radical ideas? Thirty years ago, the type of thing they are doing would have landed them in jail.
HH: I’ll be right back. Vince Flynn is my guest. His new book is Extreme Measures.
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HH: The time is rushing by. Vince Flynn has been my guest the entire show. This is the penultimate segment, talking with America’s bestselling author. His new book, Extreme Measures. A couple of questions about this, Vince Flynn. Nash is new here.
HH: And I guess, my guess is you’re taking him in a different direction than Rapp, and that he’s going to be around for a while. But what I found fascinating is this book that has gotten only high stakes, terrorism, counterterrorism, a lot of political drama, a lot of commentary, a lot of sidebars. It’s also got babies with poopy diapers. It’s got erectile dysfunction. It’s got juggling…
HH: …family life around. And I thought, because again, I know some of these people and the lives…they have real lives. They have real families.
HH: Was that part of the deal here?
VF: It was, and you know, I was in Washington about two and a half years ago with a good friend, who was very high up in the clandestine service, and I heard him talking about some of the sacrifices he’s had to make. And it hit me that this is the untold story. Nobody in the media talks about this. We talk about the military leaving. We all get that, that they leave their families and they go and they sacrifice. But what most people don’t understand is that there’s an entire group of people at the CIA and other agencies in Washington who after 9/11 dropped it all, and they went and they were gone for months on end, they didn’t get to see their kids grow up as much as they would have liked. Many of them got divorced. Dad wasn’t around so kids got into some trouble with drugs and this and that. And then what really hit me, and there’s a scene in Memorial Day, or Extreme Measures where I talk about this, is here’s these guys, okay, who have given this great sacrifice to their country. They don’t get paid a lot, and they literally, Hugh, they’re pushing 80, 90, 100 hours a week for five, six years in a row.
VF: And they’re not asking for anything back. And then you start to see what goes on when we destroyed the tapes of the waterboarding interrogations. And you see these people in Washington, the political opportunists start to demand investigations. And I saw the sadness in this guy’s eyes, that he literally is like, you know, one of my biggest fears is that I’m going to fly back to D.C. after getting shot at over in Afghanistan, and the Justice Department is going to be waiting for me, and they’re going to arrest me and they’re going to throw me in jail. And that’s the thanks that I’m going to get when this country rang the bell and said hey, go do whatever it takes to make sure we don’t get hit. And that’s what they went and did. And you know what? Do you expect them to come back with lily white gloves? I don’t.
VF: And I think most people don’t. But yet the political opportunists, they can’t help themselves. And you must have seen the parable in this book, Hugh, where I talk about the scorpion and the frog.
HH: Yup. Oh, yeah.
VF: It is who they are. The politicians, the media types who all they really want to do is advance their own career. They can’t help themselves. It’s who they are. They see the opportunity, they jump to it. You are going to have more fun in the next four years watching Joe Biden stick his foot in his mouth, because the man, that’s who he is.
HH: Yeah, he cannot not be Slow Joe Biden. Let me ask you, Vince Flynn, about the parable in, it’s not a parable, the storyline in Executive Power, about the State Department assistant secretary talks to the ambassador, who talks to the wrong person in the Philippines, who talks to the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas through the corrupt general…
HH: And bad things happen to good people, really bad things happen. And I got the sense that you were trying to communicate that indeed loose lips do sink ships, you idiots.
VF: Oh, for sure.
HH: And that…but we have not had a single prosecution of a leaker, or a single story told of how intelligence back-dooring, reverse engineering intelligence leads to death in the field. Why not? Why hasn’t the government…
VF: Hugh, it drives me insane. The Valerie Plame deal, okay? I have no issue with Valerie Plame. But I had a high ranking person at Langley tell me that every year, they refer on average about 200 cases to the Justice Department where they feel their operatives have been outed. And in the last five years, guess how many cases they’ve pursued?
HH: Yup. None.
VF: One, the Valerie Plame case.
HH: Valerie Plame, Valerie Plame.
VF: And again, this goes back to our old education, you know, with logic. Everybody forgets one thing here. Valerie Plame would have never been outed if her husband hadn’t gone and shot his mouth off. He was the one that put her in the crosshairs of everything. He knew his wife was a clandestine operative who hadn’t served overseas in three years, mind you. He went and wrote the op-ed piece all on his own. And for him to do that, and think that people weren’t going to go hey, who’s he married to? I mean, come on.
HH: Yeah, yeah. In terms of the Iranian thing that we’re closing on, I want to get back to Protect And Defend. Do you believe that we’ve got the kind of assets to let us know what they’re up to, because we have worn out our intelligence service? Do you think we’ve got people who are still up to the game on the front lines?
VF: No, unfortunately. I think we have ran these people into the ground. I think that we still have a lot of talented people at Langley specifically, where I talk to people. But the truth of the matter is, Hugh, a lot of them have left. They’ve simply said enough. They saw the way that a lot of these guys were treated here in the last three years with the investigations on the waterboarding and the enhanced measures and all that stuff, and they said why? Why would I continue to do this? Their wives are looking at them saying are you nuts? You’re making sixty grand a year, I see you once every three months, you’re home for a couple of weeks and you go back over there? And for what? So you can keep looking over your shoulder that the FBI is going to arrest you someday? And so no, we’ve lost a lot of really talented people. And the other thing is it’s causing these guys to flinch. They’re in field, and they’re hesitating. Do you know how bad it’s gotten, Hugh? They get a prisoner now, you’re not going to believe this. They get a prisoner now, and they start to interrogate them. And let’s say it’s a fairly high value target, and the person’s not talking. They have to get, they have to call back to Langley, they’ve got to get the attorneys to fill out the right legal forms, and the DCI has to sign it that it’s okay for them to slap the guy, and fax it back over there.
HH: Isn’t that amazing? That comes through in Extreme Measures, but…unless you have actually researched…there’s a tendency for me not to believe it’s that bad, so I’m glad you’re telling me it is that bad.
VF: No, it’s horrible! It’s literally, it’s become…and no offense, I know you’ve got your law degree from Michigan, but we have too many lawyers.
HH: Oh, no. No, amen. Amen, and you know what? Guys…the good ones have fled the government, because you cannot write an opinion on any that will not end up having you ruined in the public practice of law if you were in the Bush Justice Department.
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HH: Vince, first of all, thanks for spending the entire program with me. What a hoot, and I know that people love your books are going to enjoy this. I have one more question. I just want to make sure I give you a chance as well if I have missed anything. Generally speaking, are you a happy guy?
VF: Oh, yeah (laughing) I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror. I mean, my kids are happy, I’ve got an awesome wife. Yeah, I’m very happy.
HH: Okay, and so generally speaking, do you think what you’re doing has a dimension beyond just entertainment, that it’s important, that you’re on…I talked to Jay Mathews last week about his book about inner city education, et cetera, and he’s on a mission to try and get people to pay attention to inner city education. Are you on a kind of a mission?
VF: I am. I mean, and I don’t even know if I knew I was on the mission until recently. Where it hits home is I just got back in town last night and opened up a big stack of mail that the publisher had sent, and there were a couple of letters from high school kids thanking me, that they’ve never read before and now they’ve become voracious readers. But the one that really gets me is all, I’ll get the letter from the retired spook or active duty, or I’ll meet the Special Forces guys when I’m traveling around, and they’ll say to me hey thanks, thanks for telling our side of the story, because not enough people are doing it. And I really, I’m a big student of history, Hugh, and I’m always, it borders on unnerving me to disgusting me that the lack of respect that I see from certain quarters of this country for the sacrifice that these men and women in the military and the national security community make for us, it just drives me insane.
HH: Do you think that will change if and when, and it’s really a when, another major terrorist attack happens?
VF: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. In fact, Hugh, go back to the 1930s and look at history, and I’ve got this horrible feeling that we’re starting to repeat ourselves. And what happens, when you force people to deny certain natural, let’s say market forces, and you force them to deny the obvious through things like political correctness and diversity, you can only do that for so long, and then it eventually snaps back. And there’s a horrible effect, a horrible reprisal. And my fear is we’re one or two attacks away from the mob mentality taking place, and people finally saying screw it, enough is enough. I’ve only seen one group of people running around causing all these problems, and they are Islamic radical fundamentalists between the age of 16 and 32. And let’s stop this nonsense. And I’m not…
HH: And then the mob takes over, yup.
VF: Yes, and it makes me nervous.
HH: It makes me very nervous as well, and you know, I think it’s a good warning to conclude on, that we’ve got to be very careful not to go so far in one direction that the snap back will be equally far in the other direction.
HH: Hey Vince Flynn, thanks again, what a great joy, and I appreciate it. Next time I’m in Minnesota, I’ll buy you some French fries at the fair or something, take you out to dinner.
VF: No, no, no. I will buy you a steak dinner at Manny’s.
HH: That’s a deal. I look forward to it. And say hello to your long-suffering wife for us as well, because she let you get away for a few hours with us today.
VF: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: I appreciate it very much, especially since you’ve been traveling.
End of interview.