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John Whitman

24 Declassified: Trinity

After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, a division of the Central Intelligence Agency established a domestic unit tasked with protecting America from the threat of terrorism. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Counter Terrorist Unit established field offices in several American cities. From its inception, CTU faced hostility and skepticism from other Federal law enforcement agencies. Despite bureaucratic resistance, within a few years CTU had become a major force in the war against terror. After the events of 9/11, a number of early CTU missions were declassified. The following is one of them.


One month ago

It used to be easier, Claire told herself as she pushed the refreshment cart down the narrow aisle. The plane hit a pocket of turbulence and bucked like a horse. She didn’t like horses. She liked planes, or at least she had for the first thirty years of her career. In her twenties, it had been fun to be a stewardess (she was old enough to have been called that once upon a time). Her thirties had been good, too, even her forties. But now, in her fifties, the rides had grown too hard on her feet, and the aisles had shrunk too narrow for her hips. The men didn’t look at her anymore, either. They had stayed the same age, but she’d grown older. They liked her still — thirty years of dealing with grumpy travelers packed in like LEGOs had taught her how to survive on charm — but these days they smiled at her the way her grandson’s friends smiled at her, and where was the fun in that?

“Something to drink?” she said, snapping down the brake and smiling at the boy in 29A. The young man wore an REI jacket and a leather thong choker with a wooden Inuit-carved pendant dangling from it. Claire had seen the boy a hundred times. Not the same boy, of course, but annual versions of him, flying back home from Alaska after a season aboard a fishing boat. Sometimes they were rich people’s sons “toughing it out” for the experience. Sometimes they came from the underside of middle class, really needing the money. They all came back looking the same. She liked to guess as much as she could about them. Thirty years of practice had made her pretty good at it. 29A took a Coke. She poured the fizzy soda into the plastic cup and handed it over.

29B and 29C were together, a couple in their late twenties, no wedding rings, coming back from a trip up to the Alaskan wilderness. She was a redhead with a bright smile. Schoolteacher, Claire thought. He had a smile, too, but he was thinner, like a sword. She wondered if he was an athlete. The way he said, “Thanks” reminded Claire of Chicago.

On the other side of the aisle, a young man sat alone in 29D. He had short black hair and a clean-shaven face. He smiled at her warmly and said, “Tomato juice” in answer to her question. He spoke with a bit of a lilt in his voice that didn’t sound Hispanic, though he looked it. She poured tomato juice into a plastic cup. “Is L.A. home?” she asked pleasantly.

“For a while,” the young man replied.

“Everyone says that at first.” Claire laughed. She handed him the tomato juice.

Claire never heard him reply because the plane exploded.


6:00 P.M. PST Panorama City, California

“I promise you, there will be no need for anything rough.”

Jack Bauer believed him and lowered his SigSauer. He motioned for Ed Burchanel to do the same. The FBI agent hesitated, not as sure as Jack. Finally, he lowered his Glock.40 but did not holster it.

The fat man on the wrong end of Burchanel’s gun chuckled nervously. “Your Agent Bauer knows when he’s won. I am not the type to give you trouble.”

Burchanel’s expression hadn’t changed since the moment they’d kicked in the door. “You gave us trouble back in ’93.”

Jack knew Burchanel was barking more than he planned to bite. Burchanel wasn’t even aware of the entire package. All he knew was that the fat man, Ramin, had been connected to terrorist activities. But Jack was CIA, and by law the CIA was not allowed to operate domestically. Burchanel’s presence made it legal.

“Not me, not me,” Ramin insisted. He lowered himself heavily into the armchair of his own living room, like a guest not sure the chair was permitted to him. There was already a deep indentation where he usually settled his wide ass. The chair creaked heavily and made a sound like one of the springs popping. He kept his hands on the armrests in plain view. He wore thick gold rings on most of his thick fingers. His nails appeared unnaturally neat and shiny. His mustached face smiled at them, a smile that was neither arrogant nor deceptive. It was the anxious smile of a man who had no desire except to please whoever might do him the most damage, and right now that honor belonged to Jack Bauer of the CIA and Ed Burchanel of the FBI. Ramin smiled again. “I wasn’t involved directly at all in the truck bombing.”

Jack motioned for Burchanel to stay with Ramin while he cleared the rest of the house. It was a small bungalow in Panorama City, in the dirty heart of the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. Master bedroom, extra bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. He was done quickly and returned, nodding to Burchanel. Jack sat on the sofa that put his back to a wall and gave him full view of the front door and the hallway. Burchanel’s position blocked the door itself, although with Ramin’s size there was no way he could outrun them, even if he were the type.

The search had taken a few seconds, but Jack spoke as if no time had passed. “Not directly, but you used to go by the name of Mezriani, and you were friends with Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.”

“Sheik Omar was the man behind the ’93 bombing,” Burchanel added. “You moved money around for him.”

Ramin sighed at Burchanel, then appealed to Jack. “Agent Bauer, look at me. I am an aging fat man of moderate resources. I am neither a patriot nor a zealot. I have one goal in life, and that is to make myself as comfortable as possible. I do not find interrogation or imprisonment comfortable, so I will tell you everything, everything I can.”

“Start by taking us through ’93,” Jack said. “Tell us what you know.”

Ramin obeyed. He talked freely, but ultimately he told Jack nothing the CIA agent didn’t already know. Seven years ago, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, “the Blind Sheik,” had inspired several members of a Jersey City mosque to park a truck bomb in the parking structure of the World Trade Center. Most of those responsible had been caught, including the Sheik himself. One terrorist, Abdul Rahman Yasin, had been taken into custody and then mistakenly released. He’d slipped away to somewhere in the Middle East, probably Iraq. With most of the main culprits in jail, the media considered the case closed, but the World Trade Center bombing had been a wake-up call to a few entities inside the U.S. government, and they had started watching more carefully. Ramin hadn’t been missed in the first rounds of investigation. He’d been brought into custody and interrogated — something, he repeatedly told Jack, that he did not find comfortable at all — but his only real connection to the World Trade Center bombing was an association with some of the Blind Sheik’s zealous friends, and a knack for investing their money profitably. The FBI and Federal prosecutors had chosen not to pursue a case against him. Since 1993, Ramin had been interviewed several times by the Feds, and each time he insisted that 1993 had scared him into a much more cautious and upstanding circle of friends.

Jack had come to Ramin from the other end of operations. Jack was currently “on loan” to the CIA, although he couldn’t explain even to his wife what “on loan” meant. In the early days, in the military and with LAPD, it had been easy. You were assigned to a unit and you worked in that unit. You reported to a commanding officer, and that was that. But over the years Jack had risen (or fallen? he wasn’t sure which) into a murkier stratum of operations. It was as though the closer he got to the source of decision making, the more complex the network became. Communication channels crisscrossed. Organizational charts looked like Escher drawings. It was, to coin a phrase one of Jack’s CIA colleagues had used, the “fog of deniability.”