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Rich Lowry talks about Iran in his new novel, Banquo’s Ghosts

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HH: This hour, however, we are going to spend with Rich Lowry, who is making his way to the studio even as we speak. Rich Lowry, of course, the editor of National Review, and Rich is a phenom, you’ve seen him on Fox News, and he’s a prolific writer and a very, very talented and accomplished essayist. But he did one of those things which I always find to be rather interesting. He’s gone into fiction. And he’s written a thriller. And the thriller is called Banquo’s Ghosts. Now he’s co-authored it with a fellow by the name of Keith Korman, who I do not know. When Rich gets here, and he’s making his way through the labyrinth that is the Hugh Hewitt studio complex, I will ask him what, who Keith Korman is. I just don’t know who Keith Korman is. But I am here to tell you I am a pretty tough grader on thrillers, as you know. And this is very good. I’m a skeptic, by the way, of celebrity authors when they turn to fiction. It usually turns out badly. It usually isn’t very well done, but in this instance, Lowry pulls it off. He’s arrived now, too. He’s on the book tour, so he probably doesn’t even know what city he’s in. Rich Lowry, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RL: Hi, Hugh, how’s it going?

HH: You’re calm, you’re organized, nothing’s wrong.

RL: (laughing) Calm, cool and collected.

HH: Now tell the people, where have you been today? Book tour always people’s head spin. Were you in San Diego? Were you in L.A?

RL: No, I was in Rancho Mirage. I’m still not entirely sure where I’m going next.

HH: You don’t need to know. Let’s get to the book. Congratulations.

RL: Thank you so much.

HH: I enjoyed it quite a lot. I have a lot to talk about. What are you looking for?

RL: The volume.

HH: Okay, the volume on his headphones. Is it too hot? All right, turn it down.

RL: Okay, I got it.

HH: It’s down there. There’s a little knob. Aren’t you a Fox News consultant? Don’t you know about headphone knobs?

RL: I’m not good with technical stuff, Hugh.

HH: All right, take them off, we won’t need them, I won’t take any calls. I just have to be able to hear them.

RL: Okay, I got it. I got it. Okay.

HH: On this program, Rich, we spend a lot of time on thrillers. Steven Pressfield’s been my guest a lot, Daniel Silva I did three hours with, Vince Flynn did three hours, and so the craft…I love them, and I am here to say I was a skeptic going in, and I loved Banquo’s Ghosts. Congratulations.

RL: Great. Thanks…wonderful. I’m so delighted.

HH: When did you decide to take the plunge into thriller writing?

RL: Well you know, I wish I could claim it was some grand scheme, but two or three years ago, I was at an editorial dinner that Bill Buckley hosted every two weeks for the editors of National Review. And we were talking about Iran, and we were talking about all the permutations of its nuclear program, and I thought what if we set an amateur assassin, and the light bulb went off, and I was like, that would make a great spy novel. So I got together with my friend, Keith Korman, who has actually written novels before…

HH: I was going to ask, who is Keith Korman?

RL: He’s a literary agent, he’s my literary agent and my friend, and he’s written novels before. And I convinced him, coaxed him into doing this with me, and we just had a blast doing it. It was literally a lot of fun, and we did it in six or nine months.

HH: Okay, first I talk about the craft, then I’ll talk about the book.

RL: Sure.

HH: The trick, of course, is to tell people enough about the book without telling them how it ends…

RL: Sure.

HH: …or a key plot point, because people hate that, and they write, too. So I managed to do it through three hours with Silva and with Flynn without giving away anything, and I’ve got a pretty good structure here. But let’s talk about the craft. How did you do it, especially with a partner?

RL: Well, we came up…I came up with the basic plot idea, a few of the basic three or four key characters. Keith added onto that. He ran with it for a while. He got the head start, because he’s written novels before, he knows how to do this. I kind of learned by doing it. And we got about halfway through at a key moment, where the moment comes where he either has to try to assassinate the scientist or not, and that was, that kind of, we ran out our string there. And then we had to sit down and figure out okay, where the heck do we take this thing…

HH: You’re kidding. You didn’t know?

RL: No, and then we plotted it out. And then we alternated chapters the rest of the way through.

HH: The reason I find that amazing, it’s very seamless, and it does have the classic thriller three arcs. And the three arches are tremendous. There’s arc number one ending in that arc, number two, escape and renewal arc, number three, the plot and discovery.

RL: I think you know more about spy thrillers than I do, clearly.

HH: No, I’ve just interviewed a lot of thriller writers.

RL: You should write one. You should write one.

HH: No, I think it’s too hard. I think dialogue is really hard.

RL: We’ll collaborate. We’ll collaborate on the next one.

HH: You’ve got Korman. He wants this. But tell me, was dialogue hard? It’s the hardest thing to me.

RL: I don’t think so, no. There are a couple of things that surprised me. One, detail is more important in fiction than it is in non-fiction, because it just is dead on the page unless you come up with those details, which is something I didn’t realize going in. I was also surprised if a character is worth his or her salt, he or she really takes on a life of his own. And you figure going into a scene, I can make this character do whatever I want. I’m the novelist, and I’m pulling the strings. But if it’s a real character, you can’t. That character is going to react in ways that you can’t entirely predict that are in keeping with his character. So I was really surprised at how a character takes on his own life.

HH: How interesting. My guest in studio is Rich Lowry, familiar voice from Fox News, editor of the National Review. His brand new book, Banquo’s Ghosts is linked over at I guarantee you a riveting read. You will like it. Now let’s start talking about…is O’Hanlon Andrew McCarthy?

RL: Wow, you’re good. (laughing) I haven’t even told Andy McCarthy that. (laughing)

HH: Is he? Fordham graduate, hot-headed, very down to Earth, tough as nails prosecutor going after Islamists?

RL: I thought of Andy McCarthy when we came up with that character, yes.

HH: Okay.

RL: He’s not, I mean, no one in this book is actually another person, a real life person, but based on Andy a little bit? Yes.

HH: And the reason it can’t be completely, because he didn’t pull the trigger at the end of the book when he was asked to pull the trigger…

RL: Yeah, right.

HH: …because he didn’t have the evidence, because he’s a lawyer’s lawyer. And it’s really, by the way, there’s a legal thriller built into that. That was fascinating from my perspective as a law professor, the rule of law thing. And I’m going to come to waterboarding later.

RL: Yeah.

HH: But did you decide at the beginning we’re going to cover all the hot spots of surveillance ethics, CIA corruption, waterboarding ethics, all that stuff? Or is that just…

RL: Basically. Yeah, and the O’Hanlon character is key, because he’s a really good guy. He really gets it. And what I wanted to get at with the entire episode where there’s a key moment where he has to decide whether he goes beyond the law or not. And he says no, I don’t, because I’m an officer of the law. And I think that is just an inherent tension in the war on terror we’re always going to experience. And no one necessarily is right or wrong in that dispute. It just depends on the circumstances, and there’s always going to be a gray area.

HH: But he made the wrong choice in the book.

RL: He did, he did.

HH: And let’s not tell them too much again, because that’s really one of the key things. All right, a couple of quick things. One of the themes in here, it’s an amusing kind of back story, is your knowing nods at the media. And let me give the audience an example. We’ve got Larry King, the guy who never missed a chance to ask a puffball question. We’ve got Keith Olbermann. Ibrahim, Olbermann asked, tight lipped and serious, do you think the neocons are going to take advantage of these incidents? You’ve got Anderson Cooper. He gave his guest the furrowed brow looked. Cooper looked vaguely concerned. Meghan Kelly loves you. I’m wondering if you’ve got something going here. Quick-witted, likable, loved with a passion by the camera, and then E. Neville Poor, Frank Rich, I assume.

RL: Of course.

HH: Of course.

RL: (laughing)

HH: These are, this is sort of…it’s a wonderful…you live in New York, you know, D.C, how much of this are you going to be paying the piper? I don’t know that you’re going to get invited onto MSNBC…you’re a Fox News consultant…

RL: Exactly. You can tell through this book that I’m a Fox News guy. Yeah, but Neville Poor, again, I don’t know how Frank Rich actually is in real life, but Neville Poor is a former theater critic and a lefty op-ed writer for the New York Times. So there’s obviously a lot of Frank Rich there.

HH: Yeah, well have you heard back from any of these people yet? Do they know they’re in the book? Or all the other media people that are in the book?

RL: I had a very anxiety-inducing moment a couple of weeks ago, because I had scheduled for a long time a debate with Katrina Vanden Heuvel…

HH: Who is clearly…the Crusader is The Nation, and I’ve done a lot with Katrina. Did she see it yet?

RL: Well, and she said oh, someone just gave me your novel. And I was like uh oh, but obviously she hadn’t read it yet. And Josephine von Hildebrand, the editor of the left wing magazine in the book, she’s not Katrina.

HH: She’s too old, for one thing.

RL: There’s aspects of Katrina. Think Arianna. Think more Arianna with her.

HH: Oh, okay, you’re right. You’re right. The reason I say this, whenever I seem to do a national show, Arianna is always on it, as is Katrina.

RL: Yeah.

HH: These are the only two people I ever get matched up on ABC News This Week, or when Mahre did his old show and I would do it, these are the people that haunt me. They’re always around. And they’re…it’s pretty devastating, though, in the book how easily predictable and manipulable the hard left media is. And that’s a sub-theme here, but it doesn’t destroy the plot.

RL: Yeah, that’s a sub-theme, a herd mentality among these people, they’re self-obsessed, and they’re defeatist at the slightest instigation. So we really enjoyed skewering a lot of these people.

HH: How about, is it Mayor Bloomberg who melts before their eyes? Is that who you have in mind?

RL: More or less, yeah. Again…

HH: That’s the harshest portrait in the book.

RL: Yeah, and again, I don’t know whether Mayor Bloomberg faced with a terror attack would actually react in that way, but he’s a mayor with some Bloomberg characteristics.

HH: I was wondering, I have never thought of Bloomberg. Of course, I don’t live in New York, and I don’t spend much time there, and I don’t even think about him much. He’s much more, it’s sort of like Arnold on the West Coast is who we have to obsess about as opposed to Bloomberg on the East Coast. The most famous comb-over in America – Rudy Giuliani?

RL: (laughing) Who was that? Remind me.

HH: It’s the guy who can’t get in the…

RL: Oh, no, no, no. Trump. Trump.

HH: Oh, okay.

RL: Yeah, of course.

HH: I was wondering.

RL: That’s a hell of a comb-over, yeah. And Rudy, to his credit, gave up the comb-over several years ago.

HH: Okay, so how’s it doing, by the way?

RL: It’s doing pretty well. It’s doing okay. It’s unusual promoting a novel. There’s not news in it, you know, necessarily. So…

HH: The media stuff is fun.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And it’ll be interesting to see who give you an invite.

– – – –

HH: Back to Banquo’s Ghosts, during the run up last hour, I called up my friend, David Allen White, who taught Shakespeare at the Academy for a long time, because on Page 113, you quote the sonnet, “They that have the power to hurt him will do none, that do not do the thing they most do show.” And I had to have him explain it to me. And then I told him it was in the context of describing Islamic fanaticism and the Mahdi-like attachment to nuclear weapons. Why did you write that in there? What was going on?

RL: Well, that was Keith. Keith came up with that, and we just have a Shakespeare theme going throughout the novel…

HH: Yes, you…

RL: …because Peter Johnson, the journalist who’s sent on this mission to assassinate Iran’s top nuclear scientist, he’s a literary journalist and a literary type. So these things come to his mind. And of course, the title is a Macbeth reference, a play where you have assassinations and a quest for power that’s deeply corrupting of the sort that the Iranian regime has embarked upon.

HH: That’s why I asked David, I said why were they going to call this Banquo? And I understand Macbeth killed him, and he came back and he’s the good ghost in Banquo’s Ghosts, and we’ll come back to that in a second. Key question, you know, a lot of interesting people here – Large Marge, Wallets, the Sniffers, the Watchers, do you think they exist? Do you think they’re doing the work that you imagine them doing to counter the Iranian program?

RL: I’m sort of afraid they’re not. We have a covert program targeting the Iranian nuclear program. David Sanger of the New York Times has written about it. And it’s hard to tell what exactly it is, but we’ve tried to mess up their equipment. In past years, we’ve had some success with that, because the centrifuge needs a real even source of electricity. If you interrupt that, it can blow up. We’ve had some success doing that. And actually, we are apparently pressuring, whatever that means, one of the top scientists in Iran. But I doubt it’s anything this strenuous. The people who might be doing something like this, you could imagine, is perhaps the Israelis.

HH: The Israelis. Now Andover, and we’ll come back to him, is a CIA senior official. He seems all too true. And Banquo seems too good to be true. This is the trouble. Andover…

RL: That’s very well put.

HH: …the corrupt, middling, risk-averse, cover your rear end bureaucrat in the CIA, and Banquo, the long time veteran operative under deep cover in New York. Do you know any Banquos? Unfortunately, I think there are lots of Andovers.

HH: Yeah, I don’t know any Banquos. But our entire political system and media culture have conspired to create Andovers. You know, since the 1970s, if you do anything aggressive, you do anything creative and it goes wrong, as it inevitably will, that’s another point we try to get through in this book, there are no easy solutions to any of this. And if you’re really fighting them on their own turf, things are occasionally going to go wrong, and you can’t feast on yourself when that happens, and that’s just a deep tendency we’ve had over the last thirty years. So we’ve neutered our intelligence agencies relative to the sort of things they should be doing.

HH: Now what’s very interesting is that this week is a week in which we have seen on display the hyper-competency of America’s Special Forces. You have three snipers on the fantail of a rolling Bainbridge destroyer, three shots, three dead pirates in a nanosecond. And they’d been on that fantail for hours and hours. It was like Mitch Rapp out of Vince Flynn novels. So we know they exist. I just don’t know that they work for the Agency.

RL: No.

HH: So you’ve got a lot of them working for the Agency, and the left’s going to hate this book, because the Agency’s operating on United States soil, and you’re not unhappy with that prospect.

RL: No, I mean, it would obviously be problematic, but if you take the war paradigm, that we’re really in a war on terror, does that war end when the enemy comes on our shore? And that’s the question, one of the questions we grapple with in this book. But I love your phrase hyper-competent. That’s what those snipers are. And Banquo’s right hand man in this book, the character Wallets, he’s one of those types – someone for whom duty means everything, someone who’s really trained to do his job well and is committed to it. And as you say, I’m just not sure those types are working for the CIA anymore.

HH: Let’s talk a little bit about Wallets, because I think he’s your Mitch Rapp. And if I was a Hollywood producer, I would be tracking after Lowry right now to sign up the novel sequence, because I think what we’ve got here is the coming of the second Mitch Rapp. And Wallets is introduced to us in a stretch where he confronts a young gang of criminals who’ve rolled your anti-hero hero, Peter. And he quickly dispatches them, et cetera. Do you, did he start out fully formed? Or did Wallets develop in the course of the book?

RL: He developed in the course of the book. We just sort of came up to the beginning, okay, there’s going to be a tough guy, an upstanding tough guy type. And he developed as the novel went on. But in that initial episode, and I think this is a key aspect of his character, you know, three thugs are rolling Peter Johnson, who’s drunk as usual and doesn’t know what he’s doing and is confused, and gets mugged by these guys outside his Brooklyn Heights apartment. And then Wallets storms in and kind of takes care of them. But he doesn’t just take care of them. He gives them his business care, and he says if you want to make something of yourself, if you don’t want to constantly disappoint your mothers for the rest of your lives, come see me.

HH: Yeah.

RL: And one of them does.

HH: One of them does, shows up on the subway later. I love that scene. Now I’ve got to tell you something that will, you don’t hear the show, or at least you probably haven’t been able to hear the show until recently. We only came on in New York six months ago, and there is a regular contributor to the program who is Yosi. He is your Yosi. His name is Yoni. Yoni is a 20 year veteran of the Israeli Defense Services, was a covert operator in Lebanon, part of the border forces. He’s returned now to the United States. He looks like Yul Brynner with a big, black mustache.

RL: That’s him.

HH: He has trained with the Turks. He’s the scariest man I know.

RL: (laughing)

HH: And Yosi…Yoni’s in this book, Duane. Duane’s looking at me right now. You’re going to…everyone who’s listening right now to the Hugh Hewitt Show who is a long time listener, how did Yoni end up in the book? How did you invent Yosi? I don’t think you know Yoni.

RL: (laughing) That’s hilarious. We have characters…some of these characters are based on real people we don’t even know.

HH: Yes,, by the way, and by the way, he’s hyper-competent, he’s uber-religious, and he’s as right…he would be happy to go to Iran. He may have been to Iran to shoot some Iranian scientists. I don’t know, but how did you come up with Yosi, because he’s just not in the normal pattern of an American character.

RL: Well, he’s another character that just developed as went. We started him as kind of the muscle guy for Banquo. And I hope Yoni isn’t truly like Yosi, because Yosi’s deeply, morally corrupted, because he’s so deep in the shadow world, he doesn’t really know, doesn’t have any interest in getting out, or any interest in the outside world.

HH: He works for a bunch of different people.

RL: That’s right. And he loves the betrayal, he loves the danger, and the risk.

HH: Well, Yoni is not corrupted, but he certainly has been deep in that world. That’s one of the interesting parts. Finally, Large Marge. We’re going to come back and talk about plot and the last character. I love this character.

RL: Do you?

HH: And unfortunately, we don’t know what’s happened to her at this point. Things went pretty badly for Large Marge. But again, obviously not your ordinary human being. Where did she come from?

RL: Well, I’m going to let you into probably more of the creative process than you want to know about. Large Marge is Keith’s creation entirely. He loved her, he thought people would love her, he wanted her having a more central role in the book. I didn’t like her. She left me cold. So we had this debate, you know, something bad happens to her. We had this debate over whether she lives or dies, and Keith says no, she’s got to live, and I was like no, she’s really not that interesting, I don’t like her that much, she’s got to die.

HH: You are so wrong, Lowry.

RL: (laughing)

HH: You’re absolutely wrong about your own characters. Keith, keep her alive in the sequel.

– – – –

HH: Let’s go to Iran, Rich Lowry. It’s a thriller about Iran, inside and outside of Iran. It’s got majors from the Quds forces, it’s got their nuclear program described in great detail, it’s got the fanaticism of the upper regime, it’s got the fanaticism of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. How much did you study Iran to write the book?

RL: Well, we read about it, and then…but one thing I learned about a novel like this, you take a certain baseline of reality, and then you twist it up two or three notches. So we’re not experts on Iran, we knew enough to get that baseline, and then you jack it up, and that’s where you get the thriller aspect and the pager turner aspect.

HH: And it does page turn, especially because the plot involves dirty nukes, how they get here, how they’re deployed. One fascinating scene that people concerned with the border will be wondering about is that you do a border rush. And this happens with some frequency along the southern border. We know about it here in terms of human people where a border is rushed. And of course, there are do not fire, do not return fire orders for some of the border patrol. Just written in for the benefit of the anti-illegal immigration crowd? Or was it integral for getting dirty nukes into the U.S.?

RL: (laughing) It was pretty integral to getting dirty nukes into the U.S., but we wrote that, we wrote it two or three years ago before the drug war really took off on the border. So that’s one of those things that’s more realistic now than when we actually wrote it.

HH: Couple of craft questions, how long did it take to write this?

RL: I think about six to nine months, roughly, to get the first draft, to get to the end. And then finding a publisher and revising was an extensive and not particularly enjoyable process. But just writing it, again, we did it in a rush, we were trying to interest and amuse each other in what we wrote, and it went really quickly. And I hope that sense of it comes off the page…

HH: It does.

RL: …because it’s meant to be a fun book.

HH: It is a fun book. It’s got a lot of laugh lines in it, especially if you follow the media the way I do, and watch the media the way I do. And anyone out there and watches cable will be enjoying that sub-theme. How many hours did you spend with Korman? Or did you send this draft back and forth to each other?

RL: We didn’t see each other, literally, until about, we’d finished about half of it, and we needed to figure out the rest of the plot. The rest of it was done just e-mailing back and forth.

HH: Now you’re a busy guy. I always get this question, so I always ask it of people. You’re on TV, you’re editing a major magazine, you’ve got lots of other obligations out there, you wrote Legacy, the New York Times bestseller. When did you write this?

RL: Yeah, I know. Well, having no life really helps. I mean, that’s the key to everything, sadly. But I’m a single guy in New York, nights and weekends. And again, I wouldn’t have done it unless it was enjoyable. And for every book at the beginning, you’re thinking oh, it’s going to be easy and enjoyable. And then by the end, it isn’t. But this one, most of the time, was, just because of the nature of the material.

HH: How much of this is Hitchens?

RL: Peter Johnson?

HH: Yeah.

RL: You know, there’s a little Hitchens to Peter Johnson. He’s a British ex-patriot, again a very literary…

HH: Oxford, versed in history, yeah.

RL: …journalist, a left winger who turns after 9/11. And actually, I saw Hitchens, I almost said Peter, I saw Hitchens three or four weeks ago before this came out, and I said Christopher, you might want to know I have a spy novel coming out, and he said oh, that’s great, that’s great. And I was like, some people think the main character is based on you. And he said oh, that’s great, that’s great. Wait a minute, tell me more. Tell me more.

HH: (laughing)

RL: But…so again, Peter Johnson, he’s the most developed character in the book.

HH: Yeah.

RL: End of the day, he’s his own guy who exists entirely within the four corners of this novel.

HH: Well, he’s a very interesting character development, and he goes from hard drinking, synthetic and fake, to authentic, not sober but certainly in control and in the service of a greater ideal. And he turns.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And that’s a hard thing to do.

RL: But he’s someone, he at the beginning of the book, he wears his left wing views fairly lightly. He does it as a matter of convenience, basically, because if you’re going to thrive in Manhattan society and get those $5 dollar a word magazine assignments, these are the views you have to have. And he’s never taken anything too seriously his whole life, three marriages down the drain, he’s a womanizer, all the rest of it. And the choice he’s confronted with is will you put yourself utterly and totally on the line for something bigger than yourself. And that’s what challenge of this mission to Iran for him.

HH: And he does. But you’ve just deeply disturbed me. Are there such things as $5 dollar a word magazine assignments?

RL: (laughing) So you don’t even know about the new…

HH: I don’t even know about them. They don’t exist on the right.

RL: Your views are so wrong…(laughing)

HH: They don’t exist on the right. That’s for sure. I’ve never met an editor in my life who even acknowledged that such a thing exists.

RL: You see it’s tempting, isn’t it? (laughing)

– – – –

HH: Let’s talk about Stewart Banquo. Banquo’s Ghosts refer, I think, to the Marines killed in Beirut.

RL: It refers to a couple of things – 1. memories of past operations that are seared into his mind, and that provide the kind of roadmap for how the world works going forward, and operations in the future, and 2. all the shadowy figures he has around the world who can do his bidding.

HH: But his memories, he is haunted by his inability to have acted after the Embassy bombing in Beirut, ’82-’83, and before the Marine Corps barracks bombing in ’83. We left the Marines sitting there, we took no action against the young and nascent Hezbollah. How much of that is of your invention? How much of that did you pick up from veterans of the service?

RL: Mostly my invention, although the events are all very real.

HH: Very real.

RL: And they can see that the novel is Banquo is on the ground there in Beirut, had a bead on the bomb maker, and could have taken him out in a very convenient explosive event somehow, involving his car, probably. But he didn’t do it because he didn’t get authorization from on high. And originally, he was outraged by this after the Marine barracks bombing. And then when he gets back to the United States, he realizes perhaps the lack of authorization was not a no, but an implicit yet.

HH: You know how that came up relevant this week? The order, the standing order given the commander on the Bainbridge wasn’t a no and it wasn’t a yes. It was an authorization to act under certain circumstances which he interpreted broadly.

RL: Right, right.

HH: I don’t know that that’s exactly leadership, but it certainly is, you conflicted him at the end in this, and it’s a very nicely written piece of the book.

RL: Yeah, well thank you. I have so much admiration, though, for guy who have to make calls like that in the real world, that have such consequences. And for us as talkers and journalists, it’s so much easier than these guys who exist in that shadowy world, confronting our enemies, where that’s not necessarily, you know, if one of those shots goes awry, everyone’s saying he’s an idiot for having authorized that.

HH: Right. Frank Dowse is a friend of mine. He runs the Agemus Group, 20 years in the Marine Corps, the Agemus Group a security consulting group. He sent me a note asking me, well, I’ll just read it to you, about executive order forbidding, now I’ve lost it of course, forbidding assassinations. And he wanted to know whether or not you deal with it, or whether it’s in any way, it’s Executive Order 12333, the no assassination E.O. Obviously, your main character is sent to Iran to assassinate the key Iranian scientist. A rogue operation?

RL: Yeah, it’s a rogue operation, and Andover brandishes that executive order to chastise Banquo and say what a fool he is and how he’s acting illegally, and he better hire a lawyer right away if he’s going to survive this whole episode. But that executive order in some ways is honored more in their breach than not. I mean, what are we doing in the tribal areas of Pakistan if not assassinating guys?

HH: What did we do in Yemen when a taxi with four people are going along and a Predator hits it? You betcha.

RL: Of course. Yeah, of course. Saddam Hussein, when we took that first shot at him at the beginning of the war, what was that if not an assassination attempt? So if you take the idea seriously that we’re at war with Iran, and this nuclear program is a weapon system, and that the scientists are the key enablers of that, well then you follow the logic to a mission like this. And again, I can’t see us doing it, perhaps the Israelis are.

HH: Civil libertarians are going to hate this, because you bring a compelling argument for waterboarding, and waterboarding occurs, and it’s effective, but it’s also grisly. I mean, you do not spare the details. How did you get these details? Are these invented in your mind?

RL: No, there’s enough out there on waterboarding, you know basically how they do it. And again, this is where we didn’t want to be overly simplistic on this. And coercive interrogation is a deeply problematic thing. I think we should do it, and it’s right to do it in certain circumstances, certainly when you have a ticking time bomb. But in real life, the closest you come to that is when you capture a KSM, so it doesn’t shock my conscious that we waterboard…

HH: KSM being…

RL: Sorry, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the planner of 9/11.

HH: Yeah.

RL: But we wanted that scene to be vivid, and people who watch this waterboarding take place are appalled by that, appalled by it, even folks who realize…

HH: The characters in the novel.

RL: Yeah, who realize how necessary it is, blanch at seeing someone suffer like that.

HH: You know what’s fascinating is that it’s not the ticking time scenario as you acknowledge in the book, it is the exploding bomb scenario.

RL: Exactly.

HH: The bombs are, the threat, which I don’t want to describe too much because it’s trying to figure out what is going on and making it believable is one of the gripping parts of Banquo’s Ghosts. There are lots of thrillers out there that have got a nuclear bomb going off somewhere.

RL: Right.

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