Brad Thor on his latest thriller, Black List
HH: As promised, special interview now, Brad Thor in studio with me, one of America’s most successful authors. His brand new book, Black List, is out, his 12th novel. Scot Harvath, Riley Turner, The Athena Project, Reed Carlton, Nicholas, they’re all back, they’re all in the book. Brad Thor, welcome to the program, great to have you in studio.
BT: It’s great to be with you in person this time, Hugh.
HH: In person and live. It’s been three years since we talked last on the air, so that’s like six books ago for you. You are prolific, and so welcome back in person.
BT: Thank you.
HH: You will be at the Reagan Library very shortly. You’re doing a talk tonight at 6pm, you’re signing books beginning at 4:30.
BT: That is correct.
HH: And so is the Reagan event open, if people are driving around on the 101 and they just go over to the Reagan Library tonight?
BT: Yeah, yeah.
HH: And then you’re off to Texas on Friday, and on to different places, www.bradthor.com has all these?
BT: Correct, all the appearances.
HH: And so how long have you been on the road promoting Black List?
BT: A couple of weeks.
HH: Okay, so are you tired of it, yet?
BT: No, you know what? I’ve got to tell you, this is, I am a capitalist. I am a business person. This is the chance for me to go out and meet my customers, my readers. This is actually one of my favorite parts of the process.
HH: But I must say, I’m stunned. Brad Thor, if you’re watching on the Hughniverse, you can see this, but Brad Thor arrived, Dapper Dan, Guy Benson has nothing on him. He’s wearing a pink tie.
BT: It’s not all pink. It’s partly pink. My wife picked this out.
HH: People would mistake you for John Campbell, who’s another dapper Congressman. I call him a dandy, but I thought you’d come in with bandoleros, and you know, kind of a rough…
BT: Yeah, bring my AR’s in here. This is the people republic of California still, though.
HH: Oh, you can’t carry any of that stuff.
BT: Yeah, I’d get the electric chair here.
HH: All right, we’re going to cover Black List in detail. I’ve got, this entire interview is scheduled out so you know what’s coming, America. I’m going to talk about the big themes of Black List, the little details of Black List, and the politics of Brad Thor, and I’m going to do that throughout. But I’m not going to give away the plot. Now that’s always the hardest thing.
HH: People don’t want to know plot points.
HH: They’ll kill me if I give away anything about a Brad Thor novel, but Black List, by the way, how’s it doing? Top of the list already?
BT: Oh, it’s doing very, very well, yeah. It’s been my bestselling book yet, so very happy with that.
HH: Did you anticipate that? Do they build book to book for you?
BT: They have, but I have to tell you, and we’ll talk about it, I think, a little bit more today when we talk about my writing process, I made a pivot a few books ago where I said okay, there are actually bigger threats facing the country than radical Islam, and I want to start incorporating those into the book. And when I did that, it was just this trajectory straight up.
HH: Well, I’ve always said the most interesting books for me are those from which I learn things, which while I’m being entertained, I also take away an information packet. There’s a lot of that in Black List, primarily to do with electronic surveillance that I didn’t know about, and data collection assessment and mining that we’ll get to. But let’s start, for the benefit of the people who didn’t hear the interview in July of ’09, with your background. How does Brad Thor get to be Brad Thor?
BT: Well, I was born in Chicago. My dad is a no longer active Marine. The Marine Corps got him out of the south side of Chicago, saw the world, and then went into the private sector. My mom was a flight attendant for TWA back in the 60s, the glamour days, Boeing Boeing with Tony Curtis. And I got the travel bug from them. I’d always wanted to write, but I loved travel. And when I got out of college, long story, I went to Paris, I’d done a semester abroad, went back to Paris, wanted to write my first novel, sat down and got three chapters into it, and said you know what? I’m not going to do this. And what it was, was I was afraid of failure. What if I write a book and nobody likes it, I don’t get a book deal. And I shipped my laptop back home, traveled around in Europe, and came up with an idea for a TV show. I said there should be, there was only Rick Steves on public television at the time doing travels in Europe, and I said there should be a show for young people, because for me, I thought going away from the United States made me see my country in an even better light. I realized how blessed I was to be an American. And I said I want to take young people and tell them don’t wait until you retire. Go see the world now. And Public Television loved it. I did that show, did a couple of seasons of it. But on my honeymoon, my wife asked me what would you regret on your deathbed never having done? And before I could grab the words out of the air and put them in my big mouth, I said writing a book and getting it published. She said then fine, when we get home, two hours a day protected time, no email, no phone, you start making that dream become a reality. And that’s what I did.
HH: Good for Mrs. Thor. Now you jumped quite a lot, and one of the interesting things about talking to hyper-successful novelists is that the audience wants to know how did it happen, and so I want to go back to Chicago. First of all, neighborhood, where are you in Chicago when you’re young?
BT: Right downtown.
HH: Right downtown.
HH: Okay, so you grow up Cubs or White Sox fan?
BT: Cubs fan.
HH: Okay, where were you educated? Public schools, Catholic schools, what’s the deal?
BT: No, my dad, the public schools in Chicago are terrible.
BT: And my dad was a small business owner/entrepreneur, and he worked his tail off to make sure my brother and I could go to a very good private school that was run by a French order of nuns, Catholic school, Sacred Hearts school in Chicago.
HH: Are you Catholic?
HH: Okay, so you go there, and when did you actually push noun against verb with confidence? Could you write in high school?
BT: I was writing little plays and short stories ever since I was in grade school, so I’d always wanted to do it. So for me, but listen, my dad’s, I jokingly refer to him as the Great Santini. He’s not the Great Santini, but the arts in our family, Hugh, were to make you better rounded. They weren’t a career path. So when I left, went to high school in Chicago, and then my dad had been doing a lot of real estate development in Southern California, loved USC, because everybody he met in Southern California went to SC.
HH: Oh, no. You’re not a Trojan, are you?
BT: I am a Trojan.
HH: This is false pretenses. No one told me you were a Trojan.
BT: I’m going to get thrown…I’m looking at your wall here, trying to figure out did you go to UCLA or what’s the…
HH: We’ve got Colorado and Miami and Cleveland, we’re Ohio State fans.
HH: But mostly, I grew up loving Notre Dame, so I hate the Trojans.
BT: See, that’s why.
HH: So you, did you do the writing program at USC?
BT: Here’s the seal. The Great Santini wanted me to study business administration and go into the entrepreneurship program at SC. I started business administration and I just, it wasn’t for me. It’s not what I wanted. And I made a jump over to the creative writing program, studied under T.C. Boyle, a fantastic American author.
HH: You bet.
BT: And yeah, that’s what I did.
HH: Now it all comes together, because your knowledge of the criminal element is obviously rooted in your years at SC.
BC: …my years at USC.
HH: And so the football program.
BC: That’s right, yeah, uh-huh.
HH: Okay, so take us from SC, then to Paris. So you’re sitting there, and your newly betrothed, you’re a successful television guy, by the way, hard life to lead, that’s interesting.
BT: It’s Public Television, though.
HH: You don’t have to go do a novel when you’ve done TV.
BT: Yeah, TV was fun, but Public Television, listen, they say hey, great idea, you go out and raise the money, you go out and do this, you go out and do that. I mean, it’s the media form of, I’m not going to bash Public Television too bad, because they were good people to me in that arena. But it’s, you know, they put their hand in your pocket. You go out and raise all the money, and then they want a handling fee for basically doing nothing. You know, but I had a lot of freedom that I probably wouldn’t have had at a network, so that was good.
HH: I did 12 years in the PBS system, and I…
BT: So you know what it’s like.
HH: And people need to understand you make no money in PBS.
HH: That’s the bottom line.
HH: I mean, you can do great work, but unless you’re Ken Burns…
BT: PBS stands for please buy something, you know? That’s what we always said.
HH: So you sit down to write, and two hours a day, how long does it take to turn in that first manuscript?
BT: Well, I did it in about a year, and here’s what’s interesting, is on that honeymoon, my sponsor at Public Television, underwriter, they don’t like the term sponsor, had been Rail Europe Group. And they had given us, my wife, gave us passes to travel in Europe in X amount of overnight train rides. And we shared a compartment, this is amazing. After I told my wife I wanted to write a novel, we ended up sharing a compartment with a young brother and sister from Atlanta, Georgia, and we talked, this sister and I, of our love of books. All night we talked from Munich to Amsterdam. And the next day, she said oh, I love your TV show, are you going to make more episodes? And I said actually, I’ve decided I’m going to write a novel. And when we were on the train platform in Amsterdam, we went to exchange business cards, and she said here you go, and I looked down, she was a sales rep for Simon & Schuster. And she said if I can help you when your manuscript is done, please send it to me and let me see what I can do for you.
HH: And did you follow up with that?
BT: Oh, I mean, 12 books later, I’m still at Simon & Schuster.
HH: That’s remarkable.
BT: Yeah, it was Divine providence. I mean, that was meant to be.
HH: That is very, that never happens. So you are with the same publisher you began with.
BT: Absolutely. They’ve been fantastic to me, yup.
HH: That is truly remarkable. All right, in terms of, we’ll talk later about your politics, but since you did that first novel and sold it to Simon & Schuster, have you done other than write novels?
BT: No. I’ve done, you know, a little bit of going on people’s show or guest hosting and things like that, but no, the bread and butter has been the books.
HH: And so after 12 books, you obviously don’t have to keep doing this. You’re a bestselling…it’s like Silva, it’s like Follett, it’s like Vince Flynn, but you do it anyway. Why is that?
BT: I love it. This is my passion. This is what I love doing, and I’m going to keep doing it as long as it’s fun, and people enjoy reading the books. If I can’t get better with each successive book, then I’ll go drive a cab. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll do something, because I can’t sit around.
HH: And the obligatory question before we come back and start talking about this, do the Brad Thor novels have to be read in order, in your view? I always do. I’ve read them all in order, but you know, a lot of people are looking at Black List in the airport. I don’t think they have to. What do you think?
BT: No, you can read the books in any order you want. They’re meant to each stand alone.
HH: And so, but at www.bradthor.com, if they want to do it the way I do it, which is from beginning to end?
BT: Right, we have the list of the books in order right on the main page. You can click on the button, and it’ll tell you.
HH: And that does it? Do you have a button that will send every book that you’ve written to a…I found that to be a very useful thing that doesn’t exist anywhere.
BT: Oh, to every single book, you can download them onto your device…
HH: Yeah, you get $50 dollars, and we’ll send you ever Brad Thor book.
BT: That’s a great idea. David, let’s write that down. I like that.
HH: Oh, because when I do the Patrick O’Brien stuff, which I’m working my way through right now, it’s back to the website every time, remember the series. If they’d just download it in one vast sweep, it would be much easier.
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HH: More on the book in just a second. Brad, I do a lot of author interviews. As I mentioned, Flynn, Silva, C.J. Box, Alex Berenson, Michael Walsh, I love to talk to them all. Very few make it. You know, the number of people who start wanting to be novelists, and the people who make it are very few. They each have a story at which they were ready to give up. Is there a story like that in Brad Thor’s background where you know, the book didn’t sell, the first book or the second book, or whatever it was, or has this always been clicking?
BT: It’s a good question. I’ve always been one of those people, I watch my dad who’s an entrepreneur. He used to make cold calls from our living room to clients, and I got to sit basically at his knee and watch and learn that every no brings you closer to the yes, you know, all these kind of chestnuts that you hear in sales, but they were very firmly rooted in my from a young man. And I realized that you know, the degree of my success is going to be directly proportional to the amount of intelligence and effort that I put into it. And so nobody handed me an audience overnight. I’d go to book signings, and there’d be nobody there. And now, we’ve got hundreds of people that show up in some cases. So failure was never an option for me. Let’s put it that way.
HH: All right, now it’s interesting to me as well, the biggest selling novelist I’ve ever probably had in studio, Ken Follett.
HH: Ken Follett drove down, you know, Ken Follett doesn’t have to do anything.
BT: Wrote one of my favorite books, Pillars Of The Earth.
HH: Oh, absolutely.
BT: One of my all-time favorites.
HH: I thought you were going to say Eye Of The Needle because you’re a thriller guy.
BT: No, no. Pillars Of The Earth, one of the best books I’ve ever read.
HH: So he comes down, and he does a three hour interview. He doesn’t have to do that. You don’t have to do this. I mean, your books just sell. But why are you doing the promotion? I know why you want to meet your audience, but why bother with all the promotion when your books self-promote?
BT: Well, I think there’s a lot of, I see that I wear two hats, Hugh. Number one, I’m a thriller author, so it’s toes in the sand, book in the hands, and I’m trying to give you a white knuckle, edge of your seat thrill ride. If I’ve done that, I’ve done my job as a thriller author.
HH: And you do that in Black List, absolutely.
BT: Thank you. And the other thing, as you mentioned, that I’m trying to do, one of the biggest, the most flattering pieces of mail I receive is people tell me Brad, I have to read your thrillers with my laptop open, because I can’t believe this stuff is true. So you can call it a calling if you will. I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve written, and then I hit that pivot point and I realized okay, there’s something else going on here. I see all these things. Brad Meltzer, great author who’s a friend of mine, Brad Meltzer had said a thriller writer’s job is to beat the headlines. And I think that’s very true, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I think there aren’t, and we’ll get into politics a little bit more, but there aren’t a lot of people kind of our mindset, Hugh, involved in the American culture. And I am, I’m an author first and foremost. That’s how I make my bread and butter when it comes to business. But before that, I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a citizen of this republic. I think there’s a lot of interesting things that are out there that I’d like people talking about in the public square, and I can put those things out there through culture, through the books, and have people decide for themselves what they think of it.
HH: You anticipated my next question and agenda other than entertainment. And I think you just said yes, if it can be entertainment.
HH: That’s the key. I’m not, I don’t want to be on a soap box. That’s not going to be an interesting book for anybody. But I find this stuff fascinating, and I refuse to see the American public as kind of the way that the elitists on the left coast, and the West Coast, you know, on both coasts, see people. I think that there’s a lot of brilliant people who want to know more, and if you can weave in really fascinating things that people don’t know about into the novels, I think that makes for an even…listen, at the end of the day, you can go out and make more money to buy more books. The one thing you can’t make more of is your time. It’s your most valuable commodity. So it’s incumbent upon me to give you not only that great thrill, but I want you to walk away feeling smarter, feeling like you’ve learned something by reading one of my books, not like a textbook or a school book, but about really cool things.
HH: The takeaway.
BT: Yeah, that are happening in the intelligence world, or that you know, there’s a lot of interesting forces looking to collapse the United States that a lot of people aren’t away of, so that’s the fun for me in the book.
HH: And they’re coming up. That’s what’s known as a tease. How about your practice, your craft? Give people a window into how you write, when you write, and what kind of schedule you’re on to keep your publisher happy.
BT: Well, I do, I put out a book a year. It tends to be this time of year, kind of July-August. And if I’m not on the road touring, I’m probably doing research for the book, and my goal is to go to all the places I write about. Every single weapon that’s mentioned in the book is something that I’ve picked up and fired, unless it’s bolted to an aircraft and in which case, maybe they’ll let me look at the red button, but I’m not allowed to punch it. And then the actual craft of writing, I go into my office Monday through Friday. I’m a bit of an exercise nut, so I’ll work out in the mornings and then go in. And then I want be, you know, I have a seven year old and a nine year old. I’m a dad, and I want to be out of the office in time for dinner, so that’s always my goal. Our family sits down and eats together.
HH: So in that five to six hour window that you’re in the studio writing, and that I’m in here working, my life is to be diverted, right? I have to look at what’s over here, I’m watching the Olympics behind you and I’ve got the internet on.
BT: Yeah, Twitter…
HH: What do you do? I mean, do you shut it off to write?
BT: I have to. Listen, the internet is one of the best things and one of the worst things to ever happen to writers. I can be looking for a particular piece of technology on how a certain new missile that we’re going to bolt to the bottom of drones works, and two hours later, I’m watching midget wrestling from Tijuana, and I’m wondering how I got there. So there is a certain…
HH: And how are you going to make that wrestling match get into that missile. You know, you’ve got to…
BT: It’s hard to fuse it all together. So the internet can be a distraction, but it can also be a great tool. It’s, listen, at the end of the day, it’s seat of pants to seat of chair. It’s discipline.
HH: And so, who do you read, by the way? Do you read other thrillers?
BT: Who do I read? Absolutely. Absolutely. Some of the people I love are Kyle Mills, Steve Berry and Jim Rollins are pals of mine. I enjoy their work. There’s a great new author that I highly recommend, and his name is Dalton Fury. He wrote the non-fiction book Kill bin Laden, and now he’s doing a series of Delta Force thrillers, and he’s a great, great author.
HH: That’s interesting that I don’t know any of these. And you know, I’m a thriller guy, and I bring them in, and I always talk to the same ones every year, because you and C.J., and then someone else will follow up, and then Vince will show up and Silva will show up, and you all get, I’m kind of, I don’t have any room. And so how do they get on your radar? How does someone get you to read a new author?
BT: Well, I’ll tell you, the neat thing is that David Morrell, who wrote Rambo…
BT: Huge success right out of the box, couldn’t be a nicer guy. Dave Morrell and another thriller author named Gayle Lynds have started something they started many years ago called the International Thriller Writers Association. It was this attempt to kind of create a guild for us where we could have a little bit more clout in the industry so that our books aren’t being slotted in bookstores with mysteries, because we really feel that mysteries and thrillers are completely different.
HH: They are. I don’t read mysteries.
BT: No, and I don’t. I have a lot of friends that do that love them, but I’m a thriller guy, so that’s the neat thing for me, is now being part of this, we have an annual conference in New York every year, we try to help younger up and coming writers work their craft.
HH: Oh, neat.
BT: And so I get to know my contemporaries, so it’s not just me sitting alone at my desk at home. I get to meet other people in the business.
HH: Now I’ve got a question about politics and the media, and don’t be shy about this. When I bring on Silva, he’s always going to get interviewed by the Today Show because of Jamie Gangel.
BT: Oh, yeah.
HH: He’s always going to get good press, and he deserves it. He’s a great author. Vince never ends up on the big shows, because he’s a conservative. Does Brad Thor get the attention from mainstream media that other authors who might be writing, Alex Berenson will get covered in the New York Times, because he’s a New York Times veteran.
BT: Right, because yeah, he’s a vet.
HH: So what about Brad Thor?
BT: Well, I think the key to getting covered is number one, you have to have a good non-fiction hook, because they just don’t put fiction authors on. Now I have the ability to talk a little bit about terrorism and things like that, so there’s a couple of tricks that you can use to get in.
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HH: I’ve read it, it’s magnificent. It’s what you expect from Brad. He gives you what you must have plus a lot more, and I’ll tell you about the specifics just about five seconds from now. Brad Thor, we were talking about media attraction, and the thriller genre. I think they sell more books than anything else, of course, I project myself onto the bookstand.
HH: So why don’t they want to cover them on media? I mean, if you go on with Piers Morgan, God forbid…
BT: I was just on with him.
HH: Were you? How did it go? Did he Jonah you?
BT: No, he didn’t Jonah me, and it’s funny, because I tweeted afterwards that I always have great discussions with Piers Morgan. I’m complimenting him. We do have nice discussions. And then Jonah retweeted it and said me, too, which was hysterical.
HH: Oh, I wish I had seen it. Did you tape that today? Is it on tonight? Or was it on already?
BT: No, it was about a week ago.
HH: Oh, I missed it. I would have liked to have seen it.
BT: I’ll send you a link to it.
HH: Who watched it? Did anyone see it?
BT: Yeah, no, people, he’s got, listen, I get exposed to a different audience.
HH: You’re very kind.
BT: And he’s been, I’ll tell you what, he, we had a long talk about how to be a responsible parent with kids, because last year was the first time I was on Piers Morgan’s show. I disagree with him vehemently on a lot of issues, but when I’ve been on there, we’ve been talking about national security issues and things like that, which I think should not be partisan.
HH: But Brad, I did Larry King a lot in the old years, and Larry King was never rude. Piers Morgan is rude to people. Was he rude to you?
BT: No, he was not rude to me.
HH: He was so rude to Jonah Goldberg. It was the rudest…
BT: John Lott. John Lott was on, more guns, less crime, John Lott was on before me, and it was just painful to watch. He was not good to John Lott.
HH: There’s just no excuse. I have lots of lefties on this show. You just don’t have to be… I mean, you can mix it up, but you’ve got to give…all right…
BT: No argument from me on that. I agree with you.
HH: All right, let’s move onto Twitter before we plunge into Black List. You are probably the most prolific Twitterer/novelist out there, @bradthor, and Duane, how many people are following you now on Twitter?
DP: 574,000 people.
HH: He’s got 574,000 people, I’ve got 35,000. Where are you?
BT: Just about 18,000.
HH: Eighteen? That’s all?
HH: You’re really funny.
HH: Oh, that’s, people should go follow Brad Thor. Why do you do that?
BT: Twitter, now here’s what’s interesting is that people on my professional team in New York, so the people around the publishing end, did not want me to be political on social media. They thought it was, and I said listen, I said here’s the deal. I’ll make you this deal. I’ll split it. Facebook can be just about the stuff I write about in the books, and that can be non-, you know, that can be apolitical. But Twitter, I need someplace to be a citizen. I need to just be Brad Thor – dad, husband and citizen of this republic, because you know, I think we’ve got some serious things that need to be dealt with, plus listen, I’m the happy warrior, and I want to be able to go out there and mix it up in the arena a little bit and bring some of that great, positive energy that we can bring. You know, my buddy, Andrew Breitbart, passed away. And I said all right, Andrew’s gone, and a lot of us need to step up. We need to be doing more, not less.
HH: I can’t believe your social media team wants you to do other than be prolific. It sells books. I’m quite certain more people know about you, even if they’re not following you, they know about Brad Thor by retweeting from everyone I know follows you.
BT: I hope so. Listen, let me put it this way. I went from 3,000 followers back in September to telling the people, my professional team I’m not going to listen to you, I’m going to do what I feel is right and go with my gut, and now I’m up to almost 18,000 in less than a year.
HH: Oh, and that’s going to rise. Now you were not a fan of Mitt Romney. You’re here at Romney central, of course.
BT: Well, I know he is…
HH: But you were always, you were never critical. You were not just, you were not into the Romney movement. You were a Santorum guy.
HH: And I’m, Rick is a friend, and he’s always been a great friend of the show, and we had him on every week. Are you on Team Romney now?
BT: Not only am I on Team Romney now, but I had dinner with one of his advisors last night.
BT: One of his senior foreign policy national security guys.
HH: And so are you feeling as though this is the right guy for the country right now?
BT: There’s no question. Absolutely. Absolutely. He is our guy, and I back him 110%. And we’re talking about stuff now, is it appropriate for me to become a surrogate for the Romney team, go to Boston, do a little surrogate training, and then get on and do my happy warrior thing on TV the way I was doing it for Rick.
HH: I hope they do that. And are they at all concerned back at Brad Thor central that people won’t read you because they understand that you’re a patriot and a conservative? I can’t imagine someone saying I won’t be entertained because I don’t agree with someone’s politics.
BT: There are people out there that are like that, you know. Glenn Beck invited me down to Dallas for his Restoring Love event, and I went down there and I gave a talk about my books, just about my books and writing and how I got started, a longer talk than what we did here. And it was great, and I had posted pictures and it was fantastic, great patriots, everybody, American flags everywhere, and I got back, and somebody on Facebook said oh, you’re one of those people? I’m not going to read you anymore. And I thought well you know what? This is what’s great about America. I have the right to write whatever I want, and it’s equaled by another right just as powerful – your right not to read it if you don’t want to.
HH: And to deprive yourself of entertainment, and that’s what Black List is, which we will turn to after the break.
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HH: Brad Thor, I’ve got my two lists. I’ve got the big themes of Black List, and I’ve got the little details of Black List.
HH: I love little detail stuff. I mean, you’re in the nail salon equivalent, in the radio studio equivalent of a nail salon, someone that no one would ever know is a radio studio from the outside.
HH: So that’s one of the little details I love. I’ll start there, in fact. Nail salons are dangerous places, I’ve learned at the end of Black List.
BT: Well, you did learn that. I touch upon, and this is again trying to bring people, I want to be the buy who really rules the roost in this genre of thrillers called faction, where you don’t know where the facts end and the fiction begins. So what you’re referring to, the nail salon, a lot of people don’t know that Delta Force has been actively recruiting women, triathletes, saying, tapping them on the shoulder in Hawaii at the Ironman competitions, things like that, saying hey, how about you come serve your country? Now just imagine you train up a woman, how much equipment you can get under a burka, Hugh. I mean, you can put a lot of hardware under that burka. And the nail salon in my book is a front in Fayetteville by Fort Bragg to run a lot of the women through, and to handle some of the day to day stuff.
HH: It make perfect sense when you said it, but I think every nail salon in North Carolina is now going to get a second look from people. Also, do you think those Delta recruiters, another one of my detail issues, are at the Olympics as we speak, because you talk about them recruiting at Olympics and other events like the Ironwoman. Do you think they’re there and watching the water polo girls, and the…
BT: They may be. I think they spend a lot more time at the training facilities we have in the U.S., because it makes the approach easier, because you wouldn’t be able to get, it would be very difficult to get close to any Olympian with all the security at the Olympics and stuff like that.
HH: True enough, true enough. All right, big themes, being a sheepdog was what he was good at, Page 35, this is Scot Harvath. Sheepdog, of course, I also go back and think of Bill Whittle in a famous essay that Bill wrote about it. Tell people what you mean by being a sheepdog is what he was good at.
BT: Well, I have a great friend named Dave Grossman, who trains military folks, he trains law enforcement people. Dave was at West Point, he wrote a book called On Killing, On Combat, a couple different books. And Dave talks about that there are three types of people in the world. We have sheep, we have wolves, and we have sheepdogs whose job it is to protect the sheep from the wolves. And that’s what Scot Harvath is, my protagonist. He is someone who has basically realized that for everyone else to have the American dream, there have to be those who are willing to go out on the pointy end of the spear and protect it, and defend the people of this republic, and that’s his job.
HH: And that is a good person to have on your side. He is ambiguous, morally. I think of the colonel and the field hockey scene…
BT: Let’s say he has a certain moral flexibility. Let’s put it that way.
HH: Well, it’s the Jack Bauer factor.
HH: And how difficult are the situations in which you write for you to decide what the morally correct actor would do? I thought the field hockey scene was a very interesting scene.
BT: I’ll tell you, in the last couple of books, my book last summer, Full Black, I actually had a guy who wanted to collapse the United States, he wanted to get rid of the dollar, just one of these guys like a Soros or one of those guys who’s made all their money and wants to lock the door behind them and burn capitalism to the ground. And what I do, I actually try to put myself in the bad guy’s position and actually create an argument for them that’s powerful for me, even though I disagree with it. So when it comes to this stuff about harsh interrogation and these kinds of things, I really believe that political correctness is the greatest chink in our armor in this country. It’s ridiculous, and I think it’ll be the death of this country is we don’t get our hands around its throat and choke it off completely. So when Harvath is willing to apply pressure, these are things that people I know have actually done in the field, some of these things. If you’ve got a bad guy and you need information, you don’t right to ripping his fingernails out. If you can convince him we know where your family is and blah, blah, blah, if you can find something that’s important to that bad guy and use it as leverage, you do it, especially when you’ve got a ticking time bomb sort of a scenario, and you need results.
HH: It would be interesting as people read Black List, when they come, and call me up after you’ve read it and we’ll talk a little bit off air about what you think of the field hockey scene. You’ll know what I’m talking about when we get there. But let’s also talk about another big theme. We’re sitting in a studio with three cameras, and obviously you’ve come into a building with the ubiquitousness of cameras everywhere. Caroline Romero at the mall, Nicholas at Casa de Palmas, there are cameras, you develop this detail. People don’t notice them. You notice them. Are you now noticing them wherever you go?
BT: Absolutely. Again, this idea of beating the headlines, I really think the next big thing we’re going to be talking about in the public square is the explosion of surveillance technology in this country. It is, and I actually think it’s something that we’re going to unite on across the political spectrum. I think you’re going to see such a backlash, Orwell couldn’t have even predicted what we have now stepped into in this country. And I didn’t want to believe that this stuff was true until my key people, particularly out in D.C. said Brad, this is an issue you should be looking at and think about writing about in your next book. And the more I looked into it, I was stunned, Hugh. But if I can back up a second, Frank Church, the Democrat Senator from Idaho in ’75, went on Meet The Press to talk about what he had learned in his investigations about our intelligence gathering capabilities. And he gave a big warning to the American people. He said if the National Security Agency ever takes its giant listening ears, which were focused outside the country, and turns them around to inside, we will have crossed a surveillance Rubicon. And if our government ever tilts towards tyranny, the ability for the American people to launch a second American revolution will be absolutely zero. Such, at that time, ’75, was the government’s ability to know and hear everything. Now that’s ’75. What happened after 9/11? Boom. Those giant listening ears of the National Security Agency turned inward on the United States. And now this digital dragnet is out there, where it’s sucking up all of our digital exhaust looking for bad guys. But no more 4th Amendment in this country. It is everyone’s exhaust is being sucked up.
HH: Well you see, I’m an originalist, and I know that the 4th Amendment, I have a different view of the 4th Amendment. I know that it’s okay for the government to take anything you put out there legally and use it. And so my question is, I tell my law students every search you do is being gathered by the data miners.
HH: And every single, you have a line, we’ll come to it later, every GPS, every easy pass lane number, it’s just data, and you’re giving it to people. So don’t think you have privacy. Are you shocked, Brad Thor, that we don’t have privacy?
BT: Let me put it this way. I think that there’s a certain expectation to privacy that we have here. I think people don’t realize that their communications are compromised, that they are being sifted, sorted, stored and analyzed, maybe not by human beings, because it would be like drinking from a fire hose, but by a computer program. The biggest, when I was talking about this book at cocktail parties, Hugh, when I was writing it, I had two camps of people – people that were outraged that had no idea how much their information was being scooped up and looked at, and then people who said well, I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I care. Fascinating.
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HH: Brad Thor, there is an interesting character, Padre Peio. How do you say it in your mind?
BT: Padre Peio.
HH: Okay, because Padre Peio is a very famous Catholic monk.
BT: Yes, he is.
HH: And this is sort of a model on a Padre Peio, but drinking, drugs, attempted suicide, redemption, utility, combined with lethality. He’s an interesting character. Where do you get people like that?
BT: Well, it’s funny, I have a very good friend who’s an Opus Dei priest who actually helped me not develop the lethal side of this character, but the pious side of him. It was very interesting.
HH: Father McCloskey?
HH: Just guessed. I did not know that, America. I just guessed.
BT: Are you listening in on my phone calls or reading my emails?
HH: No, just Chicago, Opus Dei, Brad Thor, had to be Father McCloskey.
BT: Father C.J., absolutely. So it was Father C.J. He was very helpful with that. That’s the neat thing about being an author. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I couldn’t do what I do without guys on the SEAL teams, or guys with the unit at Bragg helping out. But that was an interesting character, because I wanted to take someone who went through, who lost the most important person in his life in a terrorist act, who was an intelligence officer up to that point, and I thought what way could you go? You’d go the full-on Rambo revenge thing, but could you fill that hole of losing your soul mate, and what might happen? And he actually ended up turning to God, and he went to the absolute depths of despair, and that was his salvation. He would have died, or he would have surrendered himself and joined the priesthood, and that’s what he did.
HH: Fascinating character. Now you have him in Basque, Spain right now, and you said earlier, you try and go to every place you write about. You been up in the Basque region?
BT: Have not, that’s one of the spots I did not make it to. I’ve been in Spain, but not up there.
HH: I’m not sure they’d welcome you. The ETA, I don’t know, are they still in the business? The ETA comes of fairly sympathetic in this book.
BT: Well, you know what? I had a great thing in the book that got cut, because they wanted to speed it up, but I had Harvath basically reflecting his disgust for ETA, because Che Guevara’s parents were from that area. So that’s kind of where Che Guevara’s roots are, is with the Basque…
HH: Okay, so…
HH: When you say that, we’ve got a minute to the break to the top of the hour. You say it got cut. Are you talking about an editor who dares talk to a novelist about what’s going to be in and out? Do you have a tough editor?
BT: Vince Flynn and I have the same editor, and she’s fantastic.
HH: Oh, you do?
BT: She’s fantastic. Yup, so if she tells me listen, it’s dragging on the pace, and she’s good. She understands it. She gets it. It’s not like she’s trying to push an agenda. She loved it. She said it’s fine, put it as an excerpt on your website, but it’s, we need to move the story along.
HH: And is the Padre there as a potential future character?
BT: Absolutely. He’s been in two books now…
HH: But I mean as his own guy, as his own books?
BT: You know, that’s interesting. He’s hooked up with the Troll.
BT: He’s the connection. And I think it might be fun to do them together. I actually have, when the movie gets made, there was that great actor, Nestor Carbonell, I believe, from Lost, who’s a great guy. He’s the one I modeled in my mind Padre Peio on.
HH: Interesting, because when C.J. Box put in his Romanowski, I knew there was a book there, and eventually, it showed up. So I think Padre is going to be a book here.
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HH: We picked up, we were talking about characters, and you mentioned, Brad thor, Nicholas, who readers of previous Scot Harvath novels will know as the Troll, they’ll have seen him before. For people who are just about to enter the world of Brad Thor, would you give them the quick background on Nicholas?
BT: Nicholas is a little person. He’s about two feet tall, and he deals in the purchase, theft and sale of black market information. That’s the real one sentence elevator speech on Nicholas.
HH: And he is a techno wizard.
BT: He is, yeah. He gets his stuff by stealing it. He’s fantastic in the realm of computers.
HH: He’s a very compelling character, and of course, right now, there’s a dwarf in the Game of Thrones, and it’s being played by…
BT: Peter Dinklage.
HH: Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister. Is Dinklage in your mind for the movies?
BT: Yeah. Ever since I saw The Station Agent, which was a fantastic…
HH: Oh, terrific movie.
BT: I’ve loved Dinklage, and then he was on Nip/Tuck, which we watched him there all the time. I think he is an incredible actor, so yeah, if we can get Dinklage, I’d be thrilled.
HH: Well, he also gave an interview to Rolling Stone where he talked about his life in upstate New York. It’s a fascinating interview. He’s a very interesting guy. Have you, do you think about that when you’re writing one of these books about how they immediately jump to screen? And what’s the option situation with any Brad Thor book?
BT: Well, the novels have been optioned by Warner Brothers, particularly by two great executive producers there, Billy Gerber and Casey Wasserman, and as far as the picturing it, yes, when I’m writing the books, it’s a very cinematic experience for me as an author. I’m seeing it play across the movie screen of my mind.
HH: And so do you watch thriller movies the same way that you read thriller books? Or are you afraid of having them collide with your vision?
BT: No, I love them. I love them. I’ve always said that the worst piece of advice that a starting writer gets is to write what you know. If that was true, we never would have gotten Tom Clancy. He was selling insurance.
HH: We’d never have Moby Dick.
BT: Yeah. You never would have had…
HH: Great American novel.
BT: I tell people write what you love to read, because that’s where your passion is, and the same thing for the types of films that you enjoy watching.
HH: But some of the authors I interview won’t read or watch these things, because they’re afraid of idea cross-pollenization. You’re not?
BT: I’m not. And I’m also fortunate that people like, the first great blurb, the first two great blurbs I got when I was starting came from Vince Flynn and Nelson DeMille.
HH: Very nice.
BT: My very first book, they said great things that went on the back, and undoubtedly helped launch my career. So now, I’m in the position of being able to help writers who are coming up behind me. So I have stacks and stacks of manuscripts. I could roll off a ton of names here that you’re not going to know until next year. And that for me is a thrill to be able to pay back for the wonderful kindness that was shown to me, particularly by Vince and by Nelson.
HH: How long does it take you to realize the book’s unreadable?
BT: I can tell within the first couple of chapters.
HH: And if it’s good, how long will you carry on with it? Will you go to the end?
BT: I’ll finish it.
HH: You will?
BT: I’ll finish it.
HH: Okay, good for you. Now back to the substance of Black List, there is on Page 107 a brief history of the internet, which is very interesting. I don’t know if you heard this, but a couple of days ago, Rush was doing this, was talking about a brief history of the internet, because it came up again on who’s going to control it. You talk about net neutrality, et cetera.
HH: How much of that did you know, and how much did you have to discover?
BT: Well, the net neutrality stuff, I’m a political animal, and I spend, this is one of the distractions when I should be writing, is I am at places like Townhall or Red State, or you know, I listen to Rush, and I listen to you, and I’m on Twitter, and so you know, Guy Benson and I are good pals. So I really eat, sleep and breathe politics, like a lot of the Special Operations guys I know. They’re very keyed into what’s happening domestically and internationally. So the net neutrality stuff was part of what I was researching. I got an idea for what it was about, because I’d heard Glenn talk about it, you, Rush, everybody has talked about it. But this stuff about, what’s interesting for me is Ben Franklin, and I’m going to paraphrase him, and I’m going to change it a little bit, but Ben Franklin said those who would trade a little liberty for a little added security deserve neither and will lose both. Again, that’s paraphrasing.
HH: Good paraphrase.
BT: I know that’s not exact…it’s my favorite way that I’ve ever heard it put together. So we have been told a lot in this country that we need more security, and they’re going to have to give up a little liberty to get it. It’s been constant. The fact that we’ve been under a national state of emergency ever since 9/11, that President Bush and President Obama have renewed it, raised a lot of questions in me. And as I was doing the research for this book, and I’m looking at, okay, we need net neutrality because fairness, we need this internet user ID thing to prevent crime on the internet and everything, and I’m, you know, the big thing that came out a couple of weeks ago that plays right into Black List is that the Obama administration has been pushing the FAA to open the airspace for drone use, okay? The FAA was petitioned by 106 different government entities wanting to put drones in the air. And the FAA said based on all the requests they’re getting, they predict that there will be upwards of 30,000 drones over the lower 48 in the next eight years. This is that big cocktail party discussion I was referring to earlier in our interview, where people were telling me hey, if I’m not doing anything wrong, I don’t care if the government looks at my stuff, and other people who are outraged about it. And Charles Cook at National Review did an unbelievable, and I’m the author, and I wish I had come up with this term. When he was talking about this explosion in surveillance a couple of weeks ago, he said just like a farmer doesn’t believe one bountiful harvest augurs a lifetime of bountiful harvests, we should not expect that just because the government is not actively using this technology now against its citizens, we shouldn’t believe that it’ll always be that way. That’s why in the book, Hugh, I quote from that white paper from the Brookings Institute. This was a fascinating data point for me. The Brookings Institute did a white paper that showed that as the cost of storing data goes down, they studied governments around the world, governments are pushed towards surveilling their people around the clock. And it actually moves them on the spectrum from democracy closer towards tyranny, because they just suck everything up and monitor their people 24/7.
HH: I don’t know if you were watching the Olympics the other night, but Coke has an ad in which they go to the surveillance cameras, and they say look at all the good things we found on surveillance cameras. And they find people holding doors, and they find people returning wallets. It’s very nice until you realize those surveillance cameras, how did they get permission to use all that stuff?
BT: Well, you’ve got to, and what does it do to you as a person if you know you’re under surveillance 24/7? Do you lose your individuality? That’s one of the questions I tried to kind of coax into people’s minds in the book. What does it mean to be watched 24/7?
HH: Let me ask about, very quickly, we’ve got the Media Monitoring Initiative, we’ve got the Radio Frequency Identification Tags, we’ve AQUAINT, The Advanced Question Answering for Intelligence, we have FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology, we have the PROMISE, which is the Prosecutor Management Information System, and the TIP, Total Information Program. How many of these are real, Brad Thor? They all make appearances in Black List. And how many are iterations, evolutions, or…
BT: All of them are real.
HH: All of them?
BT: The only one that is not called by its actual name is TIP, because when I discovered that program, the people that had read me into it told me actually, you weren’t supposed to be told what the name of the program was, so I had to make up the name.
HH: I’m going to run through this again. Media Monitoring Initiative, the Radio Frequency Identification Tag, the Advanced Question Answering for Intelligence Program, the Future Attribute Screening Technology program, and the Prosecutor Management Information System, they’re all real?
HH: I’m a little stunned by that. I thought you had gone off on a frolic and a detour here.
BT: It’s faction.
HH: I know about some of it.
BT: It’s all faction. You know, FAST, that Future Attribute Screening Technology…
BT: That’s an array of sensors that DHS wants to put outside sporting events and outside concerts to scan you when you go by to see if you’re giving off physiological signs that you intend to commit a crime.
HH: …of being upset.
BT: It’s Minority Report with Tom Cruise.
HH: When I read that, I thought that’s every Browns fan, because they all go into the stadium expecting a disaster, and angry.
BT: That’s funny.
HH: So that’s just, every Browns fan is going to register as emotionally distraught.
BT: I like that one.
HH: So anyway, let’s walk through it. The Media Monitoring Initiative I’d heard about at the Department of Homeland Security. Tell people what it is.
BT: If I recall correctly, this is the one where they’re studying, they’re watching Twitter, they’re watching Facebook, they’re watching what’s being said out there, all this kind of stuff. It’s interesting, they’re claiming that if they could do it here, if they could have applied it in the Arab Spring, they would have had a better handle on what was going on. It’s to spot revolution before it happens, and that kind of stuff.
HH: And they’re watching commentators.
HH: They’re listening to this radio show.
HH: And they’re ID’ing Hugh Hewitt and Brad Thor as either non-threatening or threatening. Some idiot, some government bureaucrat is sitting around deciding if you and I are threatening.
BT: So Media Matters kids who may be listening right now, there is a future outside your parents’ basement.
HH: The Advanced Question Answering for Intelligence, AQUAINT, I didn’t think that was real, because you propose that all tweets, all Facebook entries, all EZ Pass tolls, all Amazon purchases, all cell phone data, all of it goes into a giant crunching program that anticipates behavior.
BT: That’s the idea. You know, one of the interesting things Google has been working on with the NSA is to create an artificial intelligence program that not only thinks like a human being, but they’re feeding in the millions upon millions of Google searches every day. It’s being taught to think just like a human being, and then anticipate what you’re going to do next.
BT: And again, Hugh, you know me, I am the straightest arrow, the biggest pro-law enforcement, pro-military guy. I’m not a big pro-big government guy, and so this stuff fascinated and scared me. And again, I’m a fiction writer. And this stuff shook me.
HH: That’s what people see at the post at www.hughhewitt.com, that the privacy people, and maybe some who are close to them, are going to be completely paranoid at the end of this. I’ve figured out how to defeat this, though. We’re going to try and have them track a radio producer, who do nothing. And therefore, they’re not going to show up anywhere doing anything. They’re just going to be a complete and utter white space, a while hole, a black hole in the internet, the radio producer guild. It’s like a cloaking device in Star Wars.
DP: (remains nonplussed by the aspersions cast his direction)
– – – –
HH: Brad, we were talking about information collection. I tell my law students every year that Voter Vault can predict who they will vote for based upon the car that they buy…
HH: …the television shows that you watch, your Amazon, and that that data is readily available, that they have no privacy, and that they’re silly if they think they do. But you take it a step further, because if it’s just someone trying to sell me something, I don’t care if it’s the government trying to anticipate control, or otherwise influence my behavior. I do. And I know of good conservatives who are worried that Team Obama lives on this data, and they collect it everywhere in an attempt to influence elections.
BT: Well, I think they…I don’t know if they use it to influence elections, or it’s more to target voters that they can influence so that they can win.
HH: That’s what I mean, yeah.
BT: Yeah, yeah, so listen, I am a guy who believes the government that governs best is the government that governs least. I don’t like this explosion in surveillance technology. I want the ability, they’ve got an interesting piece of legislation over in the U.K., which is the right to be forgotten, which is the right to have, if you say I don’t want any of my stuff on the internet, I don’t want any of it in the databases anymore, that you actually have the right to demand that that be destroyed. The cocktail party discussion of well, if the government looks at my stuff, they’re just going to get bored was very interesting. Or if it keeps me and my children safe, then I’m all for it. If I go to the football game and that piece of screening technology keeps us safe…and I would prod the conversation a little bit and say well, what if that same piece of technology is used twenty years from now to ID your son as a political dissident, which some of this technology in different parts of the world has been used for those purposes? And this thing about well, if I’m not doing anything wrong, I don’t mind them looking at my stuff, and you and I can talk about any, what the expectation of privacy should be, we can talk about the 4th Amendment, and you’re an originalist. My thing is that, and I say to people, if you’re okay with the government, without your permission, without a warrant, looking at all your stuff, is that any different than saying a police officer can walk into your home at any point, day or night, look through your drawers and read your journal just to make sure you’re not up to anything you shouldn’t be doing?
HH: You talk about bread crumbs a lot. I love the analogy of people leaving bread crumbs. And the 4th Amendment picks up public bread crumbs.
HH: And so if you put your trash out at the curb, there’s nothing wrong with the government digging in your trash.
HH: So it’s a question of what the virtual commons is. When you go on and you log onto CNN, if CNN has given a pass to the data retriever and they can harness that, I just don’t know that people should object. I’m telling you, you know it. And people who read Black List will know it goes on.
BT: Well, email, yeah, if you put it out on Twitter, by the way, there is nothing the intelligence community loves more than social media. They love it, because all your relationships are already mapped out for them. There’s a great, have you watched any of the Ted discussions online?
HH: I don’t watch Ted.
BT: Okay, well, there was an interesting one where there was a cell phone guy from the UK, or actually, he was a Green Party member, and he actually demanded his data from a cell phone company. And it was astounding to him how he could figure out who the influencers were in his life based on who talked, and who retweeted whom. And he said that if there were cell phones in 1989, in the autumn of 1989, the Berlin Wall never would have fallen, that the Stasi would have shut, the Stasi and the secret police would have shut everything down, and it never would have happened.
HH: Well, that raises the central question, because that goes to the PRC and whether they can stop it forever. I think the greatest amount of security for people is in the fact that there is so much data collected by so many people, they might be able to figure out who is buying popcorn on Tuesday, but they’re really swamped when it comes to who’s the future dissident.
BT: Like drinking from a fire hose is how it’s been likened, and I believe that. But the technology is very quickly ramping up to be able to sort through all that data to pick certain things out. Listen, again, I come back to Charles Cook. You got a great harvest this year, doesn’t mean it’s always going to be great. And that’s my concern, is that the technology always leads legislation. That’s why you see Rand Paul doing things about you should have to have a warrant before people can be surveilled with drones and all this kind of stuff. My concern is not how it’s being used now, but as a thriller writer, as someone who’s job it is to look over the horizon and see what might be coming, I see the potential for abuse here, and I already think there’s too much. I believe I should have a right to privacy in my email. If it’s my email account, I mean, it’s different if you’re using a gmail account, a free service. But I believe that my text messaging should be private.
HH: Interesting. What I took away from this, the most disturbing thing, is the potential for blackmail is so extraordinary. That’s what ATS Corporation does in Black List, is that they compile so much information, and they’re able to tell by virtue of data mining, and it’s not the standard oh, you look at porn, it’s not the fact that you’ve been married three times. It’s your insider trading, it’s everything. They present you with a portfolio of the life of the target, and the target has no choice but to crumble, because they have amassed so much data.
HH: That is going to happen.
BT: Absolutely. I would suggest…
HH: You’d better lead a virtuous life, because that is going to happen.
BT: I’d suggest it already has been happening. I think those things, I think people have had data…listen, the Nazis, and I talk about this in the book, the Nazis…
HH: Did IBM really do that?
BT: Yes. The Nazis were the first ones…
BT: …to weaponize data. There was a man named Herman Hollerith, he was a German-American living in D.C. who invented this punch card system in the 1800s to help categorize census data. And it’s a little side story in the book, but he sublicensed his stuff to a German company. The Weimar Republic came, that guy couldn’t pay his licensing fees, and by that time, the International Cash Register Corporation, which became IBM, took over the German version of this company. And these guys worked with Hitler, and it made them very, very efficient. They would not, it is the legend that they would not have been as efficient as they were, killing as many Jews, had they not had this early IBM technology with which to coordinate it.
HH: It’s a very interesting history. Now obviously, the faction at some point, the character takes over, and they haven’t denied, and they’re not hiding. But is IBM open about their history?
BT: IBM sued to keep that information quiet.
BT: There’s a book called War Against The Weak, and IBM and the Holocaust, and they sued. No, it’s the same author. IBM and the Holocaust is the book, and they sued to keep that stuff quiet and lost.
HH: All right, interesting part of the book as well, psychologically preparing the battlefield, and I was thinking of Frank Gaffney and my friends who warn about EMP’s, because they’re always trying to tell people you know, when an EMP comes along, and you list the consequences of internet failure on Page 342, internet failure would be a very bad thing.
HH: And I mean, enormously bad, and I didn’t think about this. I thought about power failure. But airplanes and trains would collide, the power grid shuts down, banks, financial services fail, utilities and emergency service would grind to a halt, so would the delivery of food, fuel and medicine. Tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, or even millions would die. Is Frank preparing the battlefield for the control freaks by warning people about EMP’s?
BT: You know, Frank is a good friend of mine. I love Frank. Franks is, I’ll tell you, not only has Frank done a wonderful job trying to bring attention to this, so has Speaker Gingrich. And as a matter of fact, one of the best thrillers I have read in the last twenty years was written by Newt’s writing partner who does the Civil War books with him, William Forstchen.
BT: And the book is called One Second After, and it’s all about beginning one second after an EMP goes off above the United States, one of the best thrillers in the last two decades I’ve read.
HH: Don’t really want to think about it much.
BT: Well, I think about it, and I try to make sure I’m, you know, I think through and am prepared if something like that happened…
HH: Oh, my friend Breslo, retired colonel, says we retreat to Costco, and we set up camp there.
BT: Costco. I like that.
HH: You want to go if the EMP actually comes. Don’t go anywhere, America, I’m coming right back with Brad Thor. His brand new book is Black List. It’s the 12th of the Scot Harvath novels. They’re all tremendous, but you can pick this one up if you’re interested in the information issues and just dive in right now. And if you want to know what the reforms are that you want, you need to go to Page 360, because in the mouth of one of the characters, we get the Brad Thor reform agenda.
BT: Here’s how we fix it.
HH: Is that what it is?
BT: That’s what it is.
HH: That’s what I thought. The Brad Thor reform agenda.
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HH: Brad Thor, Carlton Group is at the heart of this book and others. It’s a secret, off the books, national security defending, good guys loving agency. Do such things exist in your view?
BT: Yes, they are out there. And this was another thing. When I saw the privatization kind of, of special operations with your Blackwaters, your Triple Canopies, things like that, and with as gummed up as the intelligence community is, there are a lot of great men and women who worked at the CIA and other places, but there’s a lot of middle management bureaucrats that are risk averse. And it’s not the agency that Wild Bill Donovan had envisioned for the nation. So I saw that private intelligence gathering companies would be a big thing in the future, and those are starting to take off.
HH: And so in terms of the Black List that’s at the heart of this, I know there is a kill list. The White House has handily leaked evidence of its existence, and the President’s consulting it. So no one can really deny it. And in the old administration, the CIA director would make the call. In the new one, it’s now the President makes the call. But they’re all foreigners, or they’re Americans living beyond the extent of the law. Do you believe a black list exists that would get an al-Awlaki if they were in the United States?
HH: I believe a list exists of people that if there was a national crisis or a national emergency, that that list would be activated, and there would be different color coding based on how bad they thought these people would be in a national emergency. So listen, there’s a contingency plan for everything. There’s, heck, if Canada invades, we’ve got a plan on how to deal with it.
HH: But you know, I was in the government for a while. This was in the 80s, and I had SCI clearance, and I worked at the Department of Justice with the Bureau when I was at the White House. And there wasn’t that level of sophistication then. Do you think that’s a new deal?
BT: I don’t necessarily know that it’s sophisticated. I know there’s a lot of exceptional war planners at the Pentagon who do have a binder on the shelf for every potential eventuality. At the end of the day, I tell people, remember, when people say oh, I don’t mind the government and my data, and blah, blah, blah, I say remember, this is the same government that runs the No-Fly list and the Post Office. So there isn’t a tremendous amount of sophistication there. But I do believe that the government in this country has become an entity unto itself, and it will do everything it can to preserve its own existence.
HH: Question, if al-Awlaki had been within the reach of the law, not in the desert in Yemen, but had been within the reach of the law so that we could have snatched him, Eichmann-like, the way the Israelis went and got Eichmann…
HH: Do you think we would have snatched him, or do you think we would have killed him?
BT: Yup, I think so, too. No, I think we would have, I think we would have gone out and gotten him. The FBI has done some fantastic operations, going overseas and grabbing bad guys and bringing them back. And I think al-Awlaki? Yeah. That’s a guy that we would have gone out and grabbed if we could have.
HH: Would it have been useful, do you believe the President right now is killing off terrorists because it’s easier than handling them at Gitmo?
BT: Yeah, I definitely think so. You know what? This whole thing we’re not supposed to hold them at Gitmo without a trial, but it’s okay to go kill them without one, you know, listen, there are some bad guys out there that just need killing. Don’t get me wrong. And al-Awlaki? I was, I didn’t shed any tears for that guy when he got smoked, nor with that scumbag kid from Jersey, Samir Khan, who was with him, who was the guy writing Inspire Magazine. I mean, that was a two-fer. That was fantastic that day.
HH: So you’re not losing sleep over this.
BT: Oh, no way.
HH: Tomorrow, I’ve got Rajiv Chandrasekaran on, the national editor of the Washington Post, three hour interview about his new book, Little America. You know, he just spent 30 trips to Afghanistan over the last three years. It’s about what’s going on in the war right now. There are Talibs, our most dangerous Talibs, were at Gitmo and we released them. And so we do not keep some people long enough. So where, I mean, they’re killing Americans right now, and that’s really one of the scandals of Little America.
HH: So where do you want us not to surveil, Brad Thor?
BT: Where not to surveil?
HH: Because there are bad Americans.
BT: Yeah, there’s bad Americans. Listen, I’m not, this is the reason we have checks and balances in this country. I’m not against surveilling bad guys. But I want you to have probable cause. I want there to be a check and a balance. I don’t want the FISA Court being circumvented. That, to me, is not, that is not okay. And Hugh, I’m one of the most conservative, straight and narrow, pro-law enforcement guys you’re ever going to meet. But I see the potential for abuse with the technology. And the fact that, again, post-9/11, the NSA turned inward, and we’re all being looked at, I don’t like that.
HH: Here’s the problem, though. I was the FISA special assistant to the Attorney General. I prepared those files, I prepared those wiretaps for Bill Smith and Ed Meese. They take days, weeks to prepare. And then they go to the court, and if the court doesn’t give them back to you, you can’t use them. Now this is of course the 80s. It’s not today. But the FISA Court is slow, and time bombs tick.
BT: Listen, and the FBI has the power to do emergency letters from within the Bureau right to telcom companies and things like that if they need it right now, and here’s the emergency. What’s interesting is with a lot of these surveillance things, I don’t want to get too far into the weeds, there’s been a suggestion that the emergency letters are getting abused, and it should have actually gone through the proper court procedure. So this is a case by case basis. There’s no blanket thing. It’s a hard thing. We want to stay safe, but my question is for all your listeners, or all my readers, I’m trying to be provocative. Where’s the line between liberty and security?
HH: You’re going all Ron Paul on us? I’m worried about you. You’re not a Ron Paul fan.
BT: I’m, no.
– – – –
HH: I’m mad. Brad Thor is going off on a cruise with Ed Meese and the Young America’s Foundation. YAF just has me drive up to the ranch and broadcast. They don’t invite me on the cruise, Brad Thor. So I’m really jealous. All right, I want…
BT: You need to write more books, Hugh.
HH: I want to do trade craft. Riley’s backpack, designed by Camelback for Special Operators so a handgun can be hidden. True or false?
BT: True. I’ve got one here with me today. I can show it to you.
HH: Oh, interesting.
HH: I hope it’s legal.
BT: It is.
HH: McAllen and NAFTA, you describe the effects of NAFTA on McAllen. True of false?
HH: Have you been down to McAllen?
BT: Yup, I was just down there.
HH: I’ve never been there. I’ve got a great station there, Hello, McAllen. You’re in Black List.
BT: Yeah, loved it.
HH: Blame storming, it’s a fascinating term. I haven’t heard it before. That’s what Duane does to me. He blame storms the host. And there’s this malevolent Middleton guy in this thing, and there’s this pathetic Schroeder. Very interesting, by the way, Schroeder is a, or do you call it Schroeder?
HH: Schroeder. He’s this child of a ponzi scheme perpetrator. Where did that come from, because it’s an interesting psychological profile to be the kid whose dad goes off in cuffs and loses everything.
BT: And I just wanted, I wanted to take that Occupy Wall Street rabble, but take somebody out of there with a little bit of sophistication that could pull off what Schroeder pulls off in the book, so that’s how I did it. It’s somebody who’d be embittered about capitalism and blah, blah, blah, and blame everything but his old man, who was a thief.
HH: Okay, it was a great character.
BT: Thank you.
HH: The C & O Canal, on which I have run many, many miles over many, many years, I’ve never seen a blue door. Is there a blue door on the C & O Canal?
BT: No comment.
HH: All right. Orphanages, my church helps one out. Tijuana’s full of them, and they’re not too far down the road from here. And I had not thought of them in the context of being great places for operators to hide and to meld into. Has that got a reality hook in there somewhere?
BT: It’s got a reality hook not with the orphanages per se, but as you know, NGOs have been used as cover for action for a long time. And I was just trying to do a spin on the NGOs, because everybody’s heard about spies using NGOs to get in and out of countries, and I thought you know what, these international networks of orphanages could be an interesting play.
HH: All right, my only criticism of the book is your choice of rubber ducky from this name is Bootsy Baby as a code for anybody. That’s a horrific, terrible, post-traumatic stress disorder triggering song. Where did that come from?
BT: I am a big fan of funk music. And one of the Easter eggs that you get in every Brad Thor book is at least one funk song.
HH: Well, how do you define funk? I wrote that down, this American funk, and I thought that, is that like the cable guy or the CB guy and all those songs? What’s American funk?
BT: No, American funk is like George Clinton and Parliament, it’s Bootsy and Catfish Collins, who were the guys that helped James Brown develop his sound, Kool & the Gang even can get thrown in there. That’s my, the Ohio Players, those are my funk guys, and I love them.
HH: All right, trade craft. The Union Station gig, again, I’m not giving away anything, people have to read it, very nicely done. Is that based on a reality of trade craft shared out with you by people who live in that world?
BT: Yes, yes. The fun thing about Black List was to take high speed, young counterterrorism and intelligence guys who are used to using technology to get their enemies, and then put them on the Black List, and have them have to unplug. And then they’ve got to use the old school trade craft. So I went back to a lot of the spies I know from the Cold War and said how would you do this? And they said, we’d do it the way we always did it, and they laid it out. And that was fun.
HH: That’s a beautiful, that’s a nice piece, it’ll show up in a million movies. People will steal that. And then you mention hot firearms. You don’t use a weapon you haven’t fired. There’s a Heckler, and is it Koch?
BT: Heckler & Koch.
HH: Mark 23. How many weapons do you own, and are you proficient at them?
BT: As a resident of Chicago under the wonderful stewardship of Mayor Rahm “He Loves His People” Emanuel, I don’t own a single firearm.
HH: You own none, of course. Okay.
BT: But at my father’s place outside the state of Illinois, I’ve got a multitude of long guns, pistols, lots of stuff, everything. Glocks and H&K’s, and…
HH: Do you hear from your audience, there are a number of weapons, of course, in Black List, all lovingly described in great detail. Do you hear from your audience about specifics and particulars?
BT: And they love it. I hear from men and women who are over in Afghanistan and Iraq who say Brad, I carry a Benchmade knife, or Mark La Rue in Leander, Texas makes the best battle rifles on the planet, and I use those. And that’s what I love to hear is I work hard to get the details right, and that’s incredibly rewarding when the men and women who are downrange using this stuff to smoke bad guys are saying right on, that’s what I carry.
HH: Did you see Act of Valor, by the way?
BT: No, I’ve not seen Act of Valor. We’ve actually got it at home, and I have not had a moment where I’ve had the kids asleep enough that I could put that on and really rattle the sound system, because I’ve got the subwoofer, and I just want to let it rip.
HH: Okay, because when you said downrange, that immediately came back to me. Now into the acknowledgements, I always read acknowledgements carefully. You’re sitting here with your publicist extraordinaire, David Brown. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a publicist acknowledged in a book before.
BT: You don’t know how hard it is for a publicist to get a fiction author publicity. It’s tough. Hugh, you’re so kind to our industry. You love authors. We love talking books…
HH: I love thrillers, yeah.
BT: You love thrillers, and that’s wonderful. This guy here is one of the best in the business, and I owe so much of my success to how he’s so widely exposed my books to people through great media.
HH: And how did you connect up with Brown?
BT: Brown works for Simon & Schuster.
HH: Oh, are you in house? I didn’t know that. Okay, so I thought you were one of the guys who did it on the outside, having been on the inside. In terms of everyone else in there, how long do you spend on your acknowledgements, and by the way, you’re the only person to bold the names, which is also a pretty neat, little thing. I always pay attention to stuff like that, and that’s pretty cool.
BT: Yeah, well it’s my way of saying thank you. That’s the way I was raised. You don’t take credit for something you didn’t do. And that book, I could not have written it without the help of brilliant people…
HH: Can you bring up my board? I want Brad Thor to hear this.
BO: You didn’t build that.
BT: You didn’t build that.
HH: You just went into Obama land.
BT: That’s, well, you know what? I’ve got to tell you, if I did not have Navy SEAL guys and guys at Delta who are saying Brad, this is what we’re doing right now, this is how we do it, then I wouldn’t be the guy who people love reading, because they’re learning about it first in my books. So yeah, I work my butt off to write that book, don’t get me wrong. But that doesn’t mean that people who help me along the way don’t deserve a thank you, a tip of the hat, and that’s what it is.
BO: If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.
BT: (laughing) Yeah, well, and thank God the government built the roads that get me to my office every day, or else you wouldn’t have a Brad Thor thriller.
HH: What did you think of that? I mean, you’ve just shared out credit. It’s very generous. It’s deserved. But what did you think of that?
BT: I, here’s what I think. With…we talked about all the bad people in Obama’s background – Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers and all that kind of stuff. Here’s my challenge, okay? I would like Barack Obama to show me one pro-American person that ever held a position of influence in his life, just one, whoever told him America is good, America is noble. You show me that, I’ll tell you what, I’ll take Michelle to dinner anywhere in the world she wants to go and I’ll pay for it.
BT: Right there, he can’t do it.
HH: Okay, I’m going to come back after the break and just do a little bit of politics with you. But in terms of international sales, do your books do well abroad?
BT: They do pretty well.
HH: Yeah, I would think they would.
– – – –
HH: Brad Thor has been my guest these past two hours. If you haven’t figured it out, Black List, a wonderful read. But tomorrow, Rajiv Chandrasekaran is going to be my guest talking about Little America all the entire show about the war in Afghanistan. Brad Thor, I’m sure your books are popular with service men and women around the world, because a lot of Special Operators and a lot of military are in here. A bad colonel here, by the way, interesting change to have a bad colonel.
HH: My question is, what do you think about Afghanistan?
BT: I had the pleasure of going to Afghanistan a couple of years ago to do research for one of my books. And it was, it was an amazing, amazing trip. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, and I got to go over with a very interesting team. And they said you want to see what Scot Harvath does for a living, come with us. And it was an incredible experience. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay there longer. The people were really, really fantastic. They would have fought to the death to keep us alive in their villages where we were their guest, the Pashtunwali. It was just the trip of a lifetime.
HH: So do you think the war is lost? Or do you think that we are losing it intentionally right now?
BT: Well, I’ll tell you this. I think the best way of summing up Afghanistan was done by Ann Coulter. She said you cannot bring democracy to a country that has more goats than it does flush toilets. And that was a great line by Ann Coulter. These people don’t want democracy over there. You know, I want to go crush the Taliban. I do not want them to reconstitute themselves. But this is one of these things where we’ve kind of been in these cities, you know, similar to the Russian, the Soviet strategy, and it is an insurgency that is out in the sticks, and it’s hard. It’s not easy.
HH: And then in that case, what about the need to keep drone bases forward in Pakistan. Okay, forget democracy development. Don’t we have to stay there in a quasi-imperial way in order to prevent the Talibs from reforming and reissuing passports to bad guys to come kill Americans?
BT: Yeah, I’d love to. Let’s use the 30,000 drones that they want to put over the lower 48 here, and we’ll use them over there. How about that? I’d be all for it.
HH: All right, predictions for November.
BT: Ah, predictions for November. The pollsters have had their thumbs on the scale. When you see that Romney is just behind Obama, or only slightly ahead, it’s complete B.S. Romney is much further ahead. The White House is panicked. They are going to get their back ends handed to them big time. It’s going to be an incredible rout, and Romney will have a mandate, and we will get full control of the Hill, of Congress.
HH: And then will the Republicans use it, Brad Thor? This is my concern. I’m looking a little ahead now, because I agree with you. I think we’re going to win this, because America’s not stupid.
HH: And we’re in big trouble if we reelect the President or keep the Democrats in the Senate. But will the Republicans use their mandate?
BT: Let me put it this way. The Tea Party’s job does not end on November 7th. It is just beginning. We need to hold Romney’s feet to the fire, and every other Republican elected representative in D.C, and we need, this country’s in big trouble, big trouble, Hugh. And we need to do the tough things. They’ve got to make those tough decisions, and we’ve got to hold them to it.
HH: Have you had any electeds seen out walking around with Black List or any other Brad Thor novel?
BT: My pal with the Romney campaign took it to Israel on the pre-trip, so I got some cool pictures out of that.
HH: Interesting. Brad Thor, great to have you, thank you, congratulations on Black List. Press on at the Reagan Library, and then in Texas tomorrow and through the weekend. Go to www.bradthor.com to find out where you can go get a book signed.
End of interview.