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Brad Thor is the author of a series of popular thrillers that features a character called Scott Harvarth, a former U.S. Navy Seal and Secret Service agent who becomes a counter-terrorism operative.
Brad Thor graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California where he studied creative writing, film, and television production. Prior to becoming a novelist, he was the award-winning creator, producer, writer and host of the critically acclaimed national public television series, “Traveling Lite.”
In addition to writing thrillers, Brad Thor has appeared on television to discuss terrorism and how closely his novels of international intrigue parallel the real threats facing the world today.
He has also served as a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Analytic Red Cell Unit. And he has lectured to law enforcement organizations on over-the-horizon/future threats. He has also been a keynote speaker for the National Tactical Officers Association annual conference. In 2008, he shadowed a Black Ops team in Afghanistan to research his thriller, “The Apostle.”
His latest thriller is called “Rising Tiger.”
Brad Thor was interviewed by Paul Davis.
IACSP: I read “Rising Tiger” and I enjoyed the novel. You describe your thrillers as “Faction.” For example, I understand the brutal battle between Indian and Chinese troops on their border, and the Indian organized crime “Soda Pop War,” are two true events you include in “Rising Tiger.” Can you tell us what you mean by “faction”, and can you describe the two true events?
Thor: I call what I do ‘faction’, where you don’t know where the facts end, and the fiction begins. And this year with “Rising Tiger,” my goal was to put the action in the ‘faction’. When I write my books, I like to choose a geopolitical set piece as the backdrop. Preferably something people aren’t seeing much of in the media. When I read this true story about Chinese troops crossing the line of actual control in the disputed border region with India two summers ago high in the Himalayas and attacking with the Indians with all these home-made weapons, because there are no guns or explosives allowed in that area, I was riveted by this. I said, why am I not reading and hearing more about this in the media? I realized there are a lot of reasons for the United States to be more of a formal ally with India, not the least of which is that the United States is the world’s oldest democracy, and India is the world’s largest. We learned during COVID about the supply chain, and how much is made in China. China is not a good partner for the United States to be dependent on, from cholesterol medication to whatever you find at your local Walmart. I like India on many levels, but I didn’t know much about it. So how do I set a thriller in India? None of my contemporaries have done it. India is a fascinating place for espionage, and what if we took this association called the “Quad,” that exists in the real world. That’s India, the United States, Japan and Australia. What if the United States wanted to create an Asian version of NATO, and they sent a kind of shadow diplomat over to India to begin talks, but the Chinese caught wind of it and decided to assassinate the diplomat? What kind of firestorm would that kick off? That’s the basis for the book. It starts with the horrible six-hour hand-to-hand medieval-style melee in the Himalayas, and the next chapter is the assassination of the diplomat and it just rolls on from there.
IACSP: Can you describe the Soda Pop War? An unusual name for an organized crime gang war.
Thor: Growing up in Chicago and having friends in New York and New Jersey, I thought we had some colorful mafia wars. But some of the organized stuff that is happening in India is fascinating. I didn’t realize the links between organized crime and terrorism in India, and how much hand-in-glove it goes. The Soda Pop War happened to deal with a particular Indian crime syndicate that were using pop bottles as weapons. It was very much like a Sharks and Jets kind of thing, except instead of switchblades, they were using soda pop glass bottles. This very aggressive faction was willing to take it right up to the edge with what they did with the soda bottles. They were so brutal. A nasty bunch.
IACSP: Most interesting.
Thor: My problem with this book was not what to include about India, but what to leave out. It’s a spy thriller, and I want you to take it to the beach and keep flipping the pages, but I was riveted by the research.
IACSP: How would you describe your series’ protagonist, Scot Harvath, and how has he evolved over the twenty years you have been writing about him?
Thor: I have a couple of things to say about Harvath. First, he’s my alter ego, in the same way I’m sure James Bond was for Ian Fleming and Jack Ryan was for Tom Clancy. I like to joke that Scot Harvath gets to do the things my wife won’t let me do. I wanted to create a character where if the enemy isn’t going to abide by the Geneva Convention, or the Marquis of Queensberry Rules, I wanted the United States to have somebody who wasn’t expected to meet the enemy on the battlefield and have one arm and one leg tied behind his back. I wanted the United States to say we have established a way to do this with plausible deniability. We will let you go and do what it takes to achieve the mission. It is kind of based loosely on the idea of achieving the mission at all costs from “Wild Bill” Donovan and the OSS, the precursor of the CIA, and Donovan’s maxim was “If you fall, fall forward in service of the mission.” If you are going to send out somebody to do some of the nation’s most dangerous business, you are going to send them out unrestrained – no rules. You need somebody with a good, solid moral compass. You cannot send out a sadist. You want somebody who will break the rules only if it is absolutely necessary. People have joked that Harvath is kind of a Boy Scout, and he is to a certain degree, in that he has a code. At the base of everything is his belief, which is my belief, that you cannot have the American Dream without those men and women willing to protect it. Without them we have nothing. My wife can’t go the grocery store and my children can’t go to school safely if we don’t have those brave men and women, whether it is in the intelligence community, the military, or law enforcement. They are all critical to us enjoying peace, stability and prosperity.
IACSP: As George Orwell reportedly said, “We sleep soundly in our beds, because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on those who would harm us.”
Thor: So I send Harvath into the world to do dangerous things and he doesn’t have any rules, but he wrestles with it, which is the right thing to do. How do I achieve this, because for him, coming out of the Navy SEAL community, success is the only option, and the only easy day was yesterday. As Harvath has developed, I think he has given voice to a lot of people in the law enforcement, military and intelligence community who are out there risking everything every single day.
IACSP: Is Harvath based on a particular Navy SEAL or someone you’ve met?
Thor: Harvath is kind of a slew of people that I know in different places, even down to his name. I know somebody in the judicial branch with the last name Harvath. His first name Scot was taken from my brother, but he is really a makeup of several people that I know in various communities that are working hard to keep America free form attack. I spent a lot of time with these people. I rely on them to help me do my books.
IACSP: Do your friends in the various communities act as your sources? Do you run things by them and ask them to authenticate things?
Thor: All the time. The national security advisor in the Trump administration, Robert O’Brien, was a neighbor of mine in college. That Chinese attack in the beginning of “Rising Tiger” happened during the Trump administration, so I was able to talk to Robert and without reveling classified information, which he would never do, he told me some very interesting details.
IACSP: Do you think an alliance between America and India is a counterbalance from the threats from Communist China?
Thor: I do. I also think a stronger relationship is an excellent bulwark against Russia. I think now we have such an opportunity to deepen that relationship within and so much benefit can come from it, such as manufacturing. I was stunned during COVID to realize how dependent we were on China. It is crazy to depend on an adversary. Two democracies bracing arms is a good thing, particularly in that region.
IACSP: Do you think China is going to invade Taiwan in the near future? And if so, what do you think the U.S. should do?
Thor: Taiwan is an important player in the semiconductor industry, and we would not like to lose our supply of semiconductors. You see what our support has done for Ukraine against Russia, but Russia has turned out to be a paper tiger. You get peace through strength and superior firepower, and we need to let China know that making a move on Taiwan is not a good option.
IACSP: What do you think of the killing of al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan? Is al-Qaeda still a threat to the U.S.?
Thor: I think al-Qaeda is always going to be a threat. I was thrilled that they got al- Zawahiri. I think it was a fantastic piece of intelligence work that they were able to track him down and locate him. It was a good, clean hit. We’ve been after that son of a bitch forever, so I’m glad we got him.
IACSP: I read that you were a member of Homeland Security’s “Red Cell Unit.” Can you describe what the unit does and what your role was?
Thor: I did Red Cell stuff for the Pentagon, and I also did it for Homeland Security. Everybody knew that 9/11 was a failure of imagination. Too often we expect what is coming down the road will look like what is in the rearview mirror. Our government said we want to be six or seven steps ahead of the bad guys. What they did was invite creative thinkers from outside the Beltway, like me and Michael Bey, the director. They had us come in and help them wargame different scenarios. I can talk about one scenario that was published, but other than that I can’t talk about it or put it in my books. They wanted me to do for them what I do for my books, which is to come up with these very thoughtful, real-life scenarios that are based in fact, which will help them think creatively. I think it was one of the most forward thinking and aggressive programs the federal government ever put together. As the son of a United States Marine, it was an incredible honor for me to be asked to serve my country, not by picking up a rifle, but by using the gray matter between my ears.
IACSP: Another thing in your background that I find interesting is that you shadowed a special operations group in Afghanistan. Can you talk about that?
Thor: I was invited to go over there as these guys were fans of the books. It was unofficial and I went over and spent a couple of weeks with them in Afghanistan. They said they didn’t know how I would react, so they reserved a hotel room for me in Kabul. They said if I got off the plane and was frozen and was not going to be able to handle moving around the country, they were going to park me in the hotel for a couple of weeks and grab me when they were done with what they had to do. It was fascinating. I learned a lot about the “Pashtunwali,” their code of honor. We would not go to a village where we had not been invited by the elders. If you were invited in, they would fight to the death to protect you. I was also fascinated with my guys moved around with a ton of Viagra. Because some of the elders have three, four wives and some married younger girls and they are considerably older, and erectile dysfunction is an issue. And they can’t get the little blue pill over there. It was interesting to learn about some of these Afghans who had no choice but align themselves with the Taliban, because it was the only way to survive. But they didn’t believe in what the Taliban were doing, and they didn’t want that for their children. It was also interesting to see the way they look at things. It is family, village, tribe. It is an interesting country and so sad that they have backslided so much since our departure a year ago.
IACSP: Can you say what unit you went out with?
Thor: No. I promised I would not say.
IACSP: I read you were threatened by Islamic terrorists over something you wrote in your books. Can you tell us about that?
Thor: I had a thriller called “The Last Patriot,” and the concept was that there was a chapter missing from the Koran. There was a lot of real-life evidence that suggests that there was kind of a deadline put on the followers of Mohamad. They keep showing up with little scraps that Mohamad said this and that, and then the person in charge of compiling the Koran said, alright, on Friday at five o’clock we are closed for submission. No more entries. Several years ago, while during work on the Grand Mosque in Yemen, all of these old parchments were found. A team of German archaeologists and specialists were invited in by the Yemen government to examine and date all of this stuff. They said this is stuff from the time the Koran was compiled. The Yemen government shut that down right away, because in the Muslim faith, the Koran is a perfect copy of a perfect book in Heaven, so there can’t be things that didn’t make it into the Koran. What is interesting is that over the course of his lifetime, Mohamad contradicted himself. And his followers said you said this fifteen years ago, and it put him in a tough spot. And he came up with abrogation and said to his followers was, “If the Angel Gabriel revealed something to me today and it conflicts with something I said in the past, what I say today takes precedent and abrogates what came before.” So I had an idea for a thriller in which is a missing chapter of the Koran is discovered and if the chapter could be authenticated, it would completely abrogate everything that came before and absolutely change the Muslim faith, cutting the legs out from under the hard-core radical the Islamists.
IACSP: I take it those hard-core radical Islamists were not thrilled with your idea?
Thor: It pissed off a lot of followers of that faith. We can make fun of other faiths, but Islam expects a protected face in the public square. And that is just too bad. I said I have the right to write whatever I want. You don’t have to read my book. I got a lot of death threats, so we ended up moving our house and we learned very quickly how to dial our security way, way up. I had a very excellent Muslim FBI character in the book, and it was balanced and not unfair to Islam, but there are some people in that faith that don’t want anyone saying anything.
IACSP: Are there plans to film any of your books.
Thor: We are now at a big studio in Hollywood, and we have the director that I wanted, and the producers are fantastic. I am sworn to secrecy because the studio gets to break the news once they get the writer.
IACSP: Good luck with the film and your book and thanks for talking to us.
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