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Ex-Official's Novel on Nuclear Security Poses Hard Questions

April 08, 1987|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

I am in possession of a nuclear weapon from the United States Atomic Stockpile. There is no PAS associated with the weapon and I am in a position to fire it without a Release Hour Message, the permissive Link Action Codes, or an Authenticator.

If you don't know what I am talking about Dr. Loggerman will. I will contact him in twenty-four hours about the next step in this operation. If you have any doubts about the seriousness of this call, you can use that time to confirm that the weapon is missing.

How would Ronald Reagan react to such a telephone call?

Would Reagan--or any other President--have the sagacity to cope with such a threat? Could any President make sense of the cacophony of advice from scheming White House staffers and from experts on the other end of the telephone lines who are total strangers?

Could the Pentagon determine--overnight--if just one of America's 25,000 nuclear weapons, some of them small enough to fit into a backpack, was missing?

Those unanswerable questions provide the plot for "State Scarlet" (Putnam's: $18.95), the latest brink-of-World-War-III thriller. But while this is fiction, the novel differs from others of the genre because it was written by a former National Security Council staffer, David Aaron, who served both the Nixon and Carter White Houses.

Aaron was there when the Carter Administration planned its failed raid to free the hostages in Tehran, when America negotiated Salt I and II with the Soviets, when Carter practiced his nuclear command duties.

Aaron peoples the book with both fictional characters and real people--such as Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus--doing fictional things. But he isn't saying who Dr. Karl Loggerman, his novel's manipulative National Security adviser, is based on: his old boss, Zbigniew Brzezinski, or Henry Kissinger or maybe even Gen. Alexander Haig. "Let each of them figure it's him," Aaron said.

Aaron, 48, graduated from Occidental College in 1960 with a degree in diplomacy and world affairs. He is scheduled to speak at the Eagle Rock school's June 14 commencement, where he will receive an honorary doctorate.

After Carter's term ended, Aaron left the capital for Wall Street, where he worked in mergers and acquisitions for the investment banking house Oppenheimer & Co. Aaron and his wife, Chloe, grew up in Los Angeles. She is the former senior vice president of programming at PBS and now runs her own Manhattan firm producing public television programs. They have one son in college. But Aaron has since withdrawn to the quiet of Weston, Conn., to consult and write novels.

"I start in the morning and go until my brains turn to bean dip," he said of his writing. He is working on his second novel, a thriller about Washington and Wall Street, for Putnam's.

Both Henry Kissinger and Air Force Gen. David C. Jones, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have sent Aaron laudatory notes. Brzezinski said he has read parts of the book and finds it "very engaging."

Richard V. Allen, Reagan's first National Security adviser, said he may read the book this weekend in Florida, even though he is livid about one page of the novel that Aaron insists is based on fact and that Allen calls pure fiction.

The book also benefits from gushing dust-jacket blurbs by journalists who cover affairs of national security, including the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, CBS' Lesley Stahl and Leslie Gelb, Carter's director of the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs and now the deputy editorial-page editor at the New York Times.

Aaron thinks the prospects for nuclear war in our time grow daily and that at the highest levels our government is ill-prepared to deal with a less than global nuclear war--say an exchange of atoms between the Iranians and the Iraqis or the Indians and the Pakistanis, or even, as his novel posits, a disgruntled U.S. military officer ripping off a small nuclear field device he is supposed to be guarding in Europe.

"Mutual deterrence is extremely stable and extremely strong, but I am worried that it may be brittle," Aaron said, "that a shock, some sudden unexpected series of events, could set off a political chain reaction that could lead to a nuclear war.

"Remember, what we today would call a terrorist incident started World War I," Aaron said, recalling how the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, sparked "the war to end all wars."

"Just put yourself in the position of thinking that maybe one of our nuclear weapons is missing," Aaron said. For those Americans to whom it might seem a big leap from living room to Oval Office, Aaron suggests it is hardly any leap at all.

"These are just people like you and me. They may have had more experience with leadership, but in the end they have kids and wives and loved ones and fears. Maybe their parents treated them badly. They have their own phobias.

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