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Clear and Present Danger is a novel by Tom Clancy, written in 1989, and is a canonical part of the Ryanverse. In the novel, Jack Ryan is thrown into the position of CIA Acting Deputy Director (Intelligence) and discovers that he is being kept in the dark by his colleagues who are conducting a covert war against the Medellín Cartel based in Colombiamarker. The title of the book is based on the legal phrase "clear and present danger".

Plot summary

The United States Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Panache intercepts a yacht in the Caribbean Seamarker, discovering two Hispanic males cleaning up after executing a man and his family. Through a mock execution, the Coast Guardsmen coerce the executioners to confess to the grisly murders. However, it is later learned that the murdered man was part of a money laundering scheme within the Medellín Cartel; upon further investigation, it is discovered he had laundered and embezzled approximately $650 million.

The details of the expedition percolate up to the office of the President, who calls for a change of direction in the War on Drugs. The incumbent president feels compelled to take drastic measures against the drug trade in the United States because election-year mudslinging has revealed his failure to generate returns on campaign promises regarding drug-trafficking in the United States. The President's challenger, J. Robert Fowler, has rallied the public behind the administration's failure to curb the drug trade, and forces the administration to take a more active stance against drug imports.

To combat the source of drugs, the President initiates covert operations within Colombia. The CIA concocts a plan involving a step-up of airborne-interdiction operations against aircraft believed to be entering U.S. airspace with the intent to distribute narcotics. In order to verify targets, the CIA dispatches soldiers to infiltrate Colombian territory and stake-out airstrips dispatching and receiving drug-trafficking aircraft. The airstrips are destroyed after the aircraft is shot down or captured.

Three major players help the plan reach fruition:

New Operations

The plan consists of five operations:
  • Operation: CAPER: Electronic-intelligence gathering
  • Operation: EAGLE EYE: Aircraft interdiction.
  • Operation: SHOWBOAT - I: Airstrip reconnaissance.
  • Operation: SHOWBOAT - II: Destruction of coca processing sites.
  • Operation: RECIPROCITY: Surgical air-strike on Cartel management.

Operation: CAPER is the covert-dispatching of SIGINT-gathering units to Colombia to intercept communications between Cartel management. The primary mode of communication is cellular phones, which at the time of the book's authoring were new devices that many felt were impossible to intercept because of their ability to be moved and reprogrammed. It is also the communications arm for Operation: SHOWBOAT and the light-fighters' only means of contact with the outside world. John Clark is dispatched with CAPER to coordinate the effort.

EAGLE EYE involves dispatching F-15s to intercept drug flights verified as originating from Colombia and identified as carrying narcotics. These drug flights are scouted by a completely Hispanic light infantry force which has been drawn from the various units that the U.S. Army has at the time of the novel. These include the 7th and 25th and the 10th Mountain Infantry Divisions . The interdiction flights are primarily executed by United States Air Force Captain Jeff "Bronco" Winters. His primary craft is an F-15C Eagle. He destroys at least four aircraft and forces others to land, where the pilots are met by members of the Marine Corps Force Recon and interrogated for more information regarding the cartel.

These soldiers are the bulk of Operation: SHOWBOAT. The soldiers are seconded from American-based infantry battalions, and are all Hispanic in order to blend in with the local population. The infantrymen are tasked with scouting landing sites and reporting departure times and tail numbers of aircraft using the airfields to refuel, allowing the EAGLE EYE team to intercept them.

Operation: RECIPROCITY is the fourth operation formed as a part of the new War on Drugs. As the name suggests, it is a reciprocal attack on cartel operations as a result of the assassination of sitting FBI Director Emil Jacobs, the Director of the DEA and the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia during a visit to the Attorney-General of Colombia.

The assassination is made possible by a Cubanmarker national named Félix V. Cortez. Cortez is a former member of the Cuban DGImarker in the employ of the cartel, and specifically Ernesto Escobedo, as their Chief of Security and intelligence operative/analyst. Cortez turns the widowed aide of Director Jacobs, Moira Wolfe, into an unknowing agent by feigning romantic interest. She unknowingly reveals information regarding the date and time of Jacobs' official visit. Cortez delivers this information to the Cartel, who have become wary of missing drug flights. The cartel management orders Jacobs's assassination as retaliation for Operation Tarpon, which seized hundreds of millions of dollars of cartel money. Cortez is infuriated with the plan, as it means his source is no longer of any use.

After Jacobs, the U.S. Ambassador and several other Americans who are part of their delegation have been killed, Operation: RECIPROCITY begins. This phase involves using a carrier-borne A-6 Intruder ground-attack aircraft and a single laser-guided bomb to covertly attack the meeting location discovered by CAPER intercepts. The planners intend to keep the bombing secret and give the impression of a car-bomb due to the political unrest in the region caused by disillusioned Marxist militiamen who are part of M-19. In order to further this belief, the bomb is a precision-guided munition with a delayed fuse. To further hide the fact that it is an air-dropped bomb, it has a case made from cellulose, which has been designed for use on stealth aircraft. This casing will be consumed in the blast and there will be no fragmentation. Unfortunately, one piece of oversight tips Felix Cortez off to military involvement in the assassination attempt: the use of Octol as the explosive and catalyst.

Jack Ryan becomes aware of the events surrounding the activities in Colombia, and grows suspicious of the agency. As acting Deputy Director of the Intelligence Directorate, Ryan should be privy to most operations, but he realizes he is being left out of something, and suspects it is related to Colombia. After his long-time friend Commander Jackson inquires about activity in the region, Ryan goes to Judge Moore to demand an explanation. Moore avoids explaining the situation, but orders Ryan to withhold the information from the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committee, and thus break the law.

Cortez discovers the true nature of the villa bombing after another airstrike hits a house in Colombia. Planning to create a war within the cartel that will leave him in a position to seize power, he suppresses this information. He also learns of the American troops in Colombia, and orders large groups of cartel mercenaries to hunt them down. He finally comes into contact with Vice Admiral Cutter, and blackmails him into ending the operation, promising an intra-cartel war that will slow drug imports into the United States.

Cutter's meeting with Cortez is shadowed by Jack Ryan along with CIA operatives John Clark and Carlos Larson, who have staged into Panama from the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Fieldmarker. Dan Murray has been dropped off on the Panache to obtain their assistance as a "last resort" landing platform in case their helicopter can't make it back to Panama. John Clark is outraged at this abandonment of the troops in Colombia, and with Ryan and the Air Force personnel plans a rescue operation. Clark hits it off with the helicopter's pilot, Colonel Paul Johns, a fellow Vietnam veteran.

Clark flies into Colombia with Larson to make radio contact with the teams to warn them of the cartel operations and advise them of alternate pickup points. Making contact with two of the four SOC teams inserted (FEATURE and OMEN), he orders them to pre-determined hold positions to await extraction. Whilst trying to contact Team BANNER, which has been rendered combat ineffective due to an encounter with a large number of cartel mercenaries, Clark spots Team KNIFE. KNIFE has encountered the same group of mercenaries as BANNER, and is overrun at their expected extraction zone while Clark is flying overhead. He makes sporadic radio contact with the survivors from Team KNIFE. The survivors, including Domingo Chavez escape. Clark advises Chavez that he will meet them the next day at a rendezvous point.

Clark flies into Colombia the next day to retrieve Chavez' band of survivors. Jack Ryan flies in later that night and picks up the surviving members of Team OMEN. This group together with Clark and Chavez's group launches a raid on the cartel's command post, capturing Escobedo and Cortez. The group then attempts to extract the remaining ground team, Team FEATURE. During this extraction the team and the helicopter come under heavy fire from the remaining cartel ground forces. The helicopter's crew chief, Sgt. Buck Zimmer, is mortally wounded, and Ryan makes a promise to take care of his family - a promise which plays into the plots of the novels The Sum of All Fears and Executive Orders.

Due to a hurricane and damage to the helicopter, they land on the deck of the Panache. Cutter, who has flown back to Panama upon finding out that a rescue operation is under way, is made to believe that the helicopter crashed in the mountains. He flies to Washington believing that the matter is closed.

Before leaving Colombia, Escobedo is returned by Larson and Clark to his fellow cartel members, who are led to believe that it was he who was conducting the assassination attempts. Cutter commits suicide to avoid prison. Cortez is returned to Cuban hands, where he is a marked traitor. Ryan confronts the President, who insists what he did is right. Ryan responds that despite his classifying the drug cartel as a "clear and present danger," what the president did was illegal, and Ryan must brief Congress.

The two presiding members of the committee briefed by Ryan meet with the President, who agrees to unspecified conditions. Ryan, who has observed both presidential campaigns, realizes that the incumbent has deliberately sacrificed himself (by running a poor reelection campaign) to protect the knowledge of the covert operations and the honor of those involved. Fowler wins by a slim margin, and Ryan realizes that the incumbent has more honor and dignity than he originally thought.

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