Rules of Deception


In late May, 2005, I was engaged to create a television pilot called The Diplomat in coordination with Brillstein-Grey Entertainment. The show was about a former soldier and diplomat who, fed up with how governments constantly got in the way of “peace breaking out,” took it upon himself to resolve all manner of political conflict, large and small. The show was to star the acclaimed French actor, Christopher Lambert (Highlander, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Subway) and was being produced by Howard and Karen Baldwin, who had recently completed “Ray” and “Sahara.” After initial discussions about the scope of the series, it was decided we needed a consultant to help out. Someone with a little experience in these matters. Howard and Karen knew just the man: General Tommy Franks. Yes that, Tommy Franks! The four-star-general and commander of all allied troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, who had recently retired from active duty after over thirty years service in the United States Army. I was impressed.

Let me back up a moment. Actually, I wasn’t just impressed. I was quaking in my boots. I am a military history buff from way back. I grew up watching “The World at War,” every Sunday afternoon, reading Cornelius Ryan and Barbara Tuchman, and watching just about every war film ever made. I still love “Kelly’s Heroes,” “The Devil’s Brigade,” and “The Longest Day.” But my favorite, by far, was “Patton.” (It was written by Francis Ford Coppola, by the way, and directed by Franklin Schaffner) In the years since, I’ve read a half-dozen biographies of George S. Patton and I even included him as a minor, but crucial, character in my second novel, The Runner.

So anyway, back to General Franks. The idea that I was going to be granted the opportunity not only to meet the man, but to actually spend hours face to face with him was overwhelming. Like Patton, Tommy Franks was a tank man, and had, in my considered opinion, proven to be an outstanding combat commander and leader of men. I’d never met anyone who it could be said so greatly affected history.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I met General Franks in Boston in late June of that year. He entered the room dressed in a sharp navy suit, silver rodeo buckle glistening at his belt, and offered a polite handshake. I don’t think he was as pleased to be a consultant on this project as I was to be the writer. He probably thought of most people in Hollywood as being a little bit weird and on this he was 100% correct. They are. Take it from me.

Anyway, we began to talk and to get to know each other. It quickly became apparent that Franks was not only charismatic and funny as heck, but also sharp as a tack. This was a man you would follow straight into a hail of machine gun bullets as you charged Beach Red at Iwo. I certainly would.

One of the subjects we kept coming back to was the use of special operations troops both on the battlefield and off it. Franks told me about the selection process, the training, and the level of skill expected of these exceptional individuals. At the time, I had recently read an article in the Washington Post about something called “Gray Wolf,” a clandestine program run out of the Pentagon that inserted teams of these “special operators,” as they’re called, behind enemy lines to gather information, disrupt the enemy, and in general, safeguard American interests. The operations were classified as “black,” which meant that if any of these “operators” were caught, no one would own up to knowing them. There would be no call to the U.S. Embassy, no exchange of prisoners, no secret flight home. They were on their own and they knew it. Some might call it “dirty work.” I prefer to think of it as just plain necessary.

These secret soldiers sounded pretty close to Superman – kryptonite be damned! Even Franks spoke about them in a tone of awed respect. What made it all the more fascinating was the veil of secrecy that surrounded their work. Few people knew anything about these men and women. The question kept coming back to me: “How could you keep what you’re doing secret from those around you” And then: “Suppose you weren’t even allowed to tell your wife…or for that matter, your husband? Just how deep could your cover go? How far could the government ask an operator to go to make their cover truly convincing?

It was at that point that something clicked in my mind and I said, “Wow! This would make a great book!”

And that’s when my questions really began….

By the way, The Diplomat never made it to the airwaves. Like many other pilots, it languished in development and still lies there, one more unproduced script.