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Oliver north certain bin laden is dead { August 27 2002 }

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THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK | August 27, 2002, Tuesday

Oliver North Tells a Tall Tale of White House Intrigue

By PHILIP SHENON (NYT) 1533 words
Late Edition - Final , Section E , Page 1 , Column 2

BLUEMONT, Va. Back when he was at the red-hot, klieg-lighted center of the worst political scandal in a generation, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North was accused more than once of mixing a little fiction in with his facts.

So perhaps there's a little justice for Mr. North, now a conservative radio talk-show host and the capital's newest celebrity novelist, in writing a Washington thriller that mixes a few uncomfortable facts in with his fiction.

"I'm not trying to settle any scores," insisted Mr. North, who at 58 is only a little grayer and a little thicker than when he was catapulted into national celebrity and scandal during the Iran-contra affair. "I still revere Ronald Reagan."

"But I do understand the nature of the political beast that's called Washington, D.C.," he said, his voice still that familiar, slightly raspy mixture of gung-ho Marine commander, preacher and salesman that helped turn him into a conservative symbol 15 years ago.

One corner of his home office here, a large, airy suite of rooms on top of the garage on his 250-acre family farm near the Shenandoah River, about an hour's drive from Washington, is dominated by a poster-sized photograph of his swearing-in at the summer 1987 Congressional hearings on Iran-contra.

"There are a lot of characters in this book, and a lot of events in this book, that are remarkably similar to real events," he said. "There are a lot of really bad things that happen to some good people in every administration, and that's what this book is an effort to say."

His 605-page novel, "Mission Compromised," written with a Chicago writer, Joe Musser, is a Tom Clancy-esque tale in which the hero is a fast-rising Marine officer on temporary assignment to the White House. The marine finds himself betrayed by an administration that expects him to do its foreign-policy dirty work and save the world.

Sound familiar?

And in a twist that his fans will find clever and an equal number of book critics will probably pounce on as evidence of egomania the cast of characters includes the real-life Oliver L. North, who serves as a sort of Marine Corps father figure to the hero, Maj. Peter J. Newman, a newly assigned deputy to the White House national security adviser.

In the story, which is clearly set during the Clinton Administration although the president's name is never mentioned, Major Newman is asked to revive the White House secret-projects office that Colonel North ran during the Reagan years, and that was shut down in scandal after the discovery that it had orchestrated the sale of weapons to Iran, with proceeds diverted to Nicaraguan guerrillas.

In trying to understand his dangerous new assignment, which will include a military operation to kill Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden as they meet in Iraq to plot evil, the fictional Newman reaches out to the real-life North.

On Page 241, the two men meet beneath the Iwo Jima memorial outside Washington, with North flashing his "familiar gap-toothed grin" counseling Newman that "launching a personal crusade from the N.S.C. isn't a very good idea."

Mr. North (the real one) flashed his familiar gap-toothed grin as he explained why he could not resist making himself a character in his own novel.

"I wasn't too sure how the publisher was going to take it," he said, easing back in the chair, gazing out onto a brilliant green patch of the farm. "My problem was, I couldn't construct a way of doing it credibly any other way."

"Mission Compromised" is the first of a trilogy of thrillers that Mr. North has contracted to write for a Christian publishing house, Broadman & Holman of Nashville, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Broadman clearly sees the North books as an opportunity to break into more mainstream publishing, and it has printed an extraordinary 350,000 copies of the book in hopes of a a best seller when it is released next week. It was Broadman that hooked Mr. North up with his co-author, Mr. Musser.

"Obviously I want this to be a blockbuster best seller," Mr. North said. "I think it can be. If hard work makes a best-selling book and a good story makes a best-selling book, then this will be a best seller. Yes, it's a Christian publishing house, and it's important to preach to the choir. But it's also important to reach out beyond that market."

There are strong Christian themes in the book, many involving Newman's lonely, long-suffering wife and her efforts to save a marriage strained by the pressures of a military career.

Mr. North said the sacrifices of military families and particularly the suffering of the wives of men in uniform were an issue that he had long wanted to address in print. In the past he has acknowledged problems in his own marriage caused by long deployments with his beloved Marines.

"It is a crisis in the military," he said. "I've acknowledged that my own marriage has survived some very rocky times, and so part of this book is aimed at that problem." "Mission Compromised" is dedicated to his wife, Betsy.

Mr. North, whose 1991 autobiography, "Under Fire," was at the top of best-seller lists for weeks, said he could have gone with a major New York publisher, possibly for more money. He said his agent, Robert B. Barnett, the Washington lawyer who also represented Bill and Hillary Clinton in their recent multimillion-dollar book deals, had been ready to put the book up for auction.

But Mr. North said he felt committed to Broadman, which had recently obtained rights to republish "Under Fire," and which had first recommended that he consider fiction. "They came to me," he said. "I don't just mouth the words semper fidelis. I believe in them. Those are important to me."

He said Broadman also made sense since the religious elements of the book might have made other large publishers uncomfortable. "I don't proselytize well, and I wouldn't pretend to be a biblical scholar," he said. "But there's a dimension of this book that a lot of publishers wouldn't think is necessary."

Still, the Christian themes are secondary to the larger tales of Newman's derring-do involving three stray nuclear warheads and a White House-sanctioned mission to kill Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Hussein.

Mr. North said he had intended to write the book himself, and that he actually began batting out the novel on a laptop computer long before he opened negotiations with a publisher.

But after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, his commitments as a commentator on the Fox News cable network left him with no time to finish the book; it was then that Mr. Musser was brought in.

Mr. North, who is now in the middle of the second book of the trilogy, said that he tried to establish a strict routine for his writing. "I try to get in a couple of hours every morning, early," he said, "And then go in and do the radio show, and then I'll come back, and I'll have some wild ideas that I jot down on cards."

After the commute home from the radio studio in Washington, he returns to the computer "and bangs them out," he said. "I do the whole thing in caps so I don't have to worry about punctuation, just boom down those 10 or 12 thoughts." He e-mails the results to Mr. Musser, who is also working on the second book.

"Joe will take it and turn it into English," Mr. North said of their collaboration, noting that he had insisted that Mr. Musser's name be included on the book's cover. "Joe has a gift for taking my military jargon and saying, `What does this mean?' "

Mr. North said that "Mission Compromised" was well under way before Sept. 11, and that he had not adjusted the story as a result of the terror attacks, including the plot line that links Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Hussein in a terrorist conspiracy against the United States.

Since Sept. 11 there have been conflicting news reports about whether such a conspiracy actually existed. Mr. North said he doubted there was such a conspiracy. And certainly there is none now, he said, because he is convinced that Mr. bin Laden is dead, quite possibly buried beneath the rubble of an American airstrike in Afghanistan.

"I'm certain that Osama is dead," Mr. North said, his certitude on this subject and so many others just about palpable. "I'm convinced of it, absolutely. And so are all the other guys I stay in touch with."

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