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David A. Andelman: The Acorn Dossier, by William Beecher

The ultimate nightmare for the nuclear age is not the behavior of a rogue nuclear power like North Korea, nor the potential for evil of a "wannabe" like Iran. Rather it is the all but totally unpredictable event of an errant nuke falling into the hands of an all but totally uncontrollable, not to mention unpredictable, even undetectable, hands of a nuclear terrorist. Undetectable, that is, before it's too late. This is the premise of the riveting nuclear thriller, The Acorn Dossier; an entirely new genre of spy caper from an author whose career has uniquely positioned him to offer us such a delectable and exciting yarn. William Beecher, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, served for years as the Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. He then covered national security out of the Washington bureau of the Boston Globe before moving to the Department of Defense and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he was intimately involved with the teams that actually tracked the whereabouts of the world's nukes. Who better, then, to posture the nightmare scenario that unfurls in this book? As it opens, a team of elite retired Spetsnaz commandos are assembling quietly but most efficiently in a plush villa in Ljubljana, Slovenia; they have gathered from the four corners of the former Soviet empire for one final, highly lucrative, covert operation. The organizer of this rogue enterprise is former Spetsnaz general Nikolai Brik, codenamed "Merlin"—but whose full nickname is Merlin the Merciless. And merciless he certainly turns out to be. Merlin, it seems, is a veteran undercover operative. Put on the shelf in the post-Soviet world of Kremlin-backed oligarchs and what he sees as their American allies, he nurses a deep grudge against his former bosses, but especially against the United States. His reasons unfold as we wind through the intricacies of a tale centered on deeply hidden caches of "suitcase bombs," sequestered during the depths of the Cold War in various towns across America. Their "sleeper" handlers have long since been forgotten, it appears, by everyone but themselves, but Merlin prepares to change all that. The assumption is diabolical, frightening and deeply relevant, for the suitcase bomb is by no means the figment of the unquestionably vivid imagination of William Beecher.

THE INDEX—September 28, 2009

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