Black – Book Review
Little, Brown and Co., 2004
Black takes us into the world of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, using a FNG "……. New Guy" named Waller as the lead-in to the rigorous training and lifestyle these guys follow. Much of the book focuses on his initial tests to make it onto the team, and smaller missions before he gets tangled up with the larger "Black" plot. At times humorous (when a group of the HRT spend a relaxing picnic with their families by trying to survive wearing a dog’s shock collar) and at times tense (a violent hostage rescue mission). We also get a good look at their training techniques (Whitcomb’s first book was called Cold Zero, which focused on his own training with the HRT) which was pretty interesting.
The other characters in the book introduce a diverse group of special interests. From the realm of politics, we have Senator Elizabeth Beechum who becomes politically marginalized after a violent encounter in her home ends with her as one of the suspects. From the corporate world, we are introduced to Sirad Malneaux, a female executive who will use any means necessary to ascend the corporate ladder. Representing technology, we have Jordan Mitchell, the CEO of Borders Atlantic and mastermind behind one of the most advanced cell phone technologies ever created. Together, they all share a common bond, and once the ball is in play during the last half of the book, it remains difficult to see the connection until almost the very last page.
The premise of the book concerns the creation of an unbreakable encryption for cell phones, allowing complete privacy for point to point communications – creating a supposed safe haven for spies, criminals, and terrorists to conduct their business without the US intelligence community’s prying eyes. If this was created by a corporation, how far could the US Government go to control this technology? In the post 9/11 world, what responsibility would corporations have to cooperate with the intelligence community? How far would an executive go to keep the government out? Agent Waller is sent into this tangled web of competing interests and his training is soon put to the test on confusing covert missions overseas, forcing him to try to unravel the mystery surrounding his assignments and this technology.
Overall the book was enjoyable, and it reads pretty fast. The ending has a nice twist, but ends a bit abruptly just as you are taking it all in. I would have liked a bit more epilogue to explore the consequences, but it wasn’t enough to detract from the rest of the book. It just left me wanting more.
If you are interested in the role technology might play in the evolving war on terrorism, this book might be one to check out while you wait for your cell phone to ring…