The Silent and Deadly
WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Tuesday, May18, 2018, that he was withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. Some European diplomats believed that America’s reneging on its commitment to the pact could cast the West into new confrontations with Tehran.
The West ended three decades of sanctions and isolation of Iran that had crippled its economy and fueled domestic impatience with its clerical leaders. In return, Tehran agreed to ship roughly 97 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country, and forgo further production even for ostensibly peaceful purposes. President Trump called the current agreement a disaster and insane and that the“sunset clause” simply put off the day when Iran would become a nuclear-armed state. The agreement, also failed to address Tehran’s growing missile capability and expanding terrorist activity in the Middle East, all funded from cash that was returned to the Iranians as a part of the deal, as well as its resumed oil trade.
President Trump also believed that once the current agreement was destroyed, Iran would come to the table for a new one. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the initial accord with Mr. Kerry for more than two years, said Tehran will not participate in such negotiations since it already spent years doing so. Hard-liners in the country are already arguing that it is time to resume uranium enrichment and plutonium production. “Since America has left the nuclear deal, it will be historic regret for them,” President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said in a speech broadcast live on state television in recent days. “We have put forth a number of options for ourselves that include resuming our nuclear activities at a faster rate. We have sworn to destroy Israel, America and their allies, and we will keep our pledge.”
Six months after the withdrawal from the agreement, Israeli intelligence determined from satellite surveillance that the Iranian government was preparing a nuclear facility on Lavan Island for ballistic missile launching. It was located 18 kilometers south of Bandar Mogham in the Persian Gulf and its coordinates are Latitude 26, 47’, North Longitude 53 20’E.
The U.S.S. Paul Jamison was a Virginia-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine and Captain Joseph Wayne was in command of the vessel. He was summoned to meet with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, commander of Fifth Fleet at CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa Florida.
“Have a seat, Captain,” Secretary Mattis said.
Captain Wayne complied.
“We have a mission for you,” Vice Admiral Scott Stearney added.
“Yes sir,” Captain Wayne replied.
“We need to destroy a nuclear facility before it becomes operational,” Secretary Mattis stated.
“Briefing is tomorrow at 0700 hours,” Vice Admiral Scott Stearney ordered.
After the briefing, Captain Wayne boarded a plane to CENTCOM’S forward headquarters at Camp As Saylilah in Doha, Qatar. Lieutenant Commander Ray Warren of Seal Team Four and Captain Benjamin Skardon of Israeli Special Forces were waiting for him when he arrived. The men exchanged greetings then Captain Wayne said, “Let’s get down to work.”
The Iranians put an elaborate security net around Lavan Island to protect the facility. Patrol boats circled the island twenty four hours a day and anti-aircraft missiles were strategically positioned to intercept any hostile aircraft. Ground troops protected the island and larger warships were positioned farther out in the Persian Gulf ready to engage intruders. It seemed like a fail-safe plan.
The mission was designated top priority by the Pentagon and could not be delayed because Intel determined the Iranians intended to strike Israel with a nuclear warhead as soon as they were operational. This would be followed by additional attacks on American installations in the Middle East. The radical Mullahs expected to be annihilated once Israel and United States retaliated, so they intended to inflict as much damage during the first attack as possible. Captain Wayne and his team knew that they had been entrusted a mission of historical importance and failure was not an option.
Lieutenant Commander Ray Warren of Seal Team Four commented as he looked at the map, “We’ll have to get through three layers of security just to get in to the facility…do we know what they have inside?”
“That might be the only good news, our intelligence reports show that the Iranians have focused more on external security than on internal safeguards,” Captain Benjamin Skardon added.
Captain Wayne said, “At present, the majority of the Navy’s existing underwater drones fall into one of two categories, mine hunting or employed in oceanographic mapping and research roles. I’ve been in contact with the Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Squadron about this new drone they’ve been working on and this may be the opportunity for us to do the field test for them.”
Two days later, The Poseidon Voyager arrived at Qatar and could operate as either a remote controlled or autonomous mini-submarine and had the ability to transport eight passengers. After doing several trial runs with the equipment, the team felt ready to proceed and the Poseidon Voyager was mounted to the deck of the U.S.S. Jamison. “Tomorrow we go,” Captain Wayne informed the crew.
The submarine left base and Captain Wayne gave the following orders, “Forward room, rig for dive, set depth for three zero zero feet, bearing two seven zero degrees, speed two zero knots.”
Diving Officer, “Rigging for dive, setting depth for three zero zero feet, bearing two seven zero degrees, speed two zero knots. Affirmative, sir. One-third trim, niner ze-ro feet, two degree up bubble.”
“Take her down,” Captain Wayne ordered.
When they got within three miles of their destination, Captain Wayne ordered, “All stop, make preparation to access Poseidon.”
The crew made sure that the access hatches of the Jamison and the Poseidon were sealed against each other and the Diving Officer reported “Air pressure is stabilized, connection is secure, sir.”
“Prepare for transfer,” Captain Wayne ordered and the eight men boarded the Poseidon.
“Affirmative,” Ray Warren responded.
The team situated themselves inside the cramped compartment. “We’re ready to go,” Ray Warren radioed.
“We’ll get you under a patrol boat then follow them into the harbor, good luck,” Captain Wayne turned to a sailor at the control panel, “Secure hatches.”
“Yes Sir,” The sailor made the necessary adjustments then replied, “Hatches secure, Captain.”
The Poseidon was released from its moorings and slowly ascended toward the surface, “Bring drone to depth of four zero feet and hold,” Captain Wayne ordered.
“Four zero feet, yes sir.”
“Search thirty degrees on each side of the bow.”
“Searching thirty degree, aye, aye sir,” The sonar operator noticed a blip on his screen, “Patrol boat, direction one eight zero, speed one seven knots.”
Captain Wayne then ordered, “Get the drone in position.”
“Yes sir,” The drone operator manipulated the controls to bring the Poseidon to the same course as the approaching Iranian patrol boat. The drone was powered by two battery powered electric engines and had a propulsion system that forced high- pressure air forced out of the stern. It also had instant torque and at full speed it barely made a sound. There was a camera mounted on the top of the drone and the crew of the Jamison watched the patrol boat approaching.
“We only have one shot at this so let’s do this right,” Captain Wayne said, “on my command, three, two, one, Go!”
The drone operator increased speed and the drone stayed directly beneath the Iranian vessel while carefully maintaining the same speed. When the patrol boat reached the narrow entrance of the harbor, a massive winch pulled back a steel net and both vessels entered.
“We’re inside sir,” The drone operator reported.
“Communications officer, notify the teams once the patrol boat docks,” Captain Wayne said.
The Iranian vessel stopped and the eight men inserted breathing devices into their mouths. They exited the drone and slowly swam to the surface and stayed close to the hull of the patrol boat to avoid detection until it was clear enough to make it to land. They took off their wetsuits and were wearing Iranian military uniforms beneath them.
“We’re moving toward objectives,” Ray Warren radioed back to the U.S.S. Paul Jamison.
The Communication Officer called out, “Captain, we just intercepted an Iranian radio communication that the patrol boat has been ordered to go back out once they have refueled.”
“What the hell! Why would they be going back out so soon?” Captain Wayne was momentarily puzzled then it dawned on him, “They must have detected our presence in the area, … Chief Mancuso.”
“What’s your best guess on refueling time on the Iranian patrol boat?” Captain Wayne asked.
“I know the type of engines they have on board, their fuel capacity and how long it would take our people to refuel a vessel of that type with our equipment, 15 minutes,” Chief Mancuso responded, “But I’d only be guessing on theirs.”
“Let’s give the Iranians 25 minutes, “Com Officer, notify the teams that they’ve got two zero mikes to complete their mission and get back to the Poseidon.”
Captain Skardon looked at his watch, “Rendezvous back in 18 minutes.”
“Roger that,” Ray responded.
There were two targets; the Israelis’ mission was to insert a Polymorphic Virus into the Iranian’s mainframe computer. The usefulness of this particular virus was its ability to evade detection and change its code every time the infected file was executed, making it impossible for any ordinary antivirus to track it down. The Americans would place a Resident Virus in the gas centrifuges computer and this virus had the ability to change calculations and formulas at any given time. This would negatively affect the Iranians’ ability to enrich Uranium 235. Both viruses were improved variations of the Stuxnet computer worm that was developed in 2010.
The Israelis were able to access the Iranians’ closed system by finding a computer terminal in a warehouse that was on the network to complete their part of the mission. The Israeli commandos immediately returned to the harbor and found an inconspicuous place to wait among some metal storage containers for the Navy Seals to return. They only had five minutes left.
It wasn’t so easy for the Americans because the centrifuges were on a different system and could not be accessed from any other location than where the centrifuges were located. The Seals didn’t want to kill the guards because that would arouse the suspicions of Iranian leadership so Ray told his team about his plan to neutralize the guards with tranquilizer darts then access the building. By the time the Iranians came to, they wouldn’t know if they had dozed off on their own and would be too scared to notify their superiors. At least this is what Ray hoped would happen.
Petty Officer Jeremy Matlock was the best shot on the team, “Can you take both men out in quick succession?” Ray asked.
“Got it,” Petty Officer Matlock responded and pulled a revolver from his holster and inserted two darts in the cylinders. He walked behind the two guards and shot both of them in the neck. In less than two seconds, they were unconscious. Jeremy pulled them out of sight then took their place as a guard.
Ray and the other two Navy Seals entered the building and went directly to the centrifuge terminal. Chief Petty Officer Kevin Hutton, the cyber expert tried getting past the firewall to implant the virus, but was having difficulty.
“How much longer?” Ray asked impatiently.
“I don’t know, I’m doing the best I can,” Kevin responded in frustration.
Master Chief Nick Federson looked at his watch and warned, “We have to abort the mission.”
“I’m in,” Kevin sighed in relief.
Ray asked, “How much time do you need now?”
“Probably three minutes…four minutes.”
Ray realized that if they were going to complete the mission, they’d have to miss the rendezvous time, “Are you guys up for a swim?”
“We came too far not to finish now,” Master Chief Federson said.
Ray communicated with the Israelis, “Go on without us, we’ll find another way out.”
The Israeli entered the water and swam under the patrol boat and entered the drone and when the Iranian vessel pulled out of the harbor, the drone was beneath it. At the appropriate time the Poseidon submerged and reconnected with the U.S.S. Paul Jamison and the Israel commandos re-boarded the sub. Sonar picked up a dozen Iranians boats and ships in the area and while the American submarine could stay submerged on silent running for several days to avoid detection, the Navy Seals would have no way of reaching them at this depth. The other problem was that even if Lieutenant Warren and his team swam off the island, how far could they really expect to get without being noticed by the Iranian patrols?
As Captain Wayne walked back to his quarters, he overheard two sailors arguing about the situation. “If we stayed in the original agreement with our European allies then we wouldn’t be in this rotten position,” First sailor said.
“It was a bad deal and we needed to get out of it,” The second sailor retorted.
“Stand down, sailors! I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what you feel. What I do care about is what you say and how you do your job when you’re under my command. We have a mission and if you don’t think that you can keep your focus on the task at hand because of your political ideology, then tell me right now and I’ll relieve you of your duties,” Captain Wayne’s voice was stern and unbending.
Neither sailor replied. “I asked a question, I expect an answer,” Captain Wayne repeated for emphasis.
“It won’t happen again, sir,” First Sailor answered.
“Sorry sir,” Second Sailor said meekly.
When Captain Wayne got back to his quarters, he called the Communications Officer, “Get the Seals on the net and patch it through to my quarters.
Thirty seconds later, Lieutenant Warren was on the radio, “Sir.”
“Tell me what happened,” Captain Wayne ordered.
“It took us longer than expected, sir.”
“Do you have an extraction plan?” Captain Wayne asked as he looked at the map of the island.
“No sir, we’re still working on it,” Lt. Warren answered, “We knew the risk by staying past the rendezvous time. We don’t expect you to wait for us; we’ll find a way out.”
“That would be the smart thing to do because the Iranians have increased their patrols,” Captain Wayne stated. “I’m looking at a map right now; can you make it to the southeast side of the island?”
“We’re hiding in a warehouse right now, but we could leave after dark.”
“There are several underwater caves, find one of them by sunrise, then make contact and we’ll pick you up.”
“We’ll be there,” Lt. Warren promised, “Thank you sir.”
Captain Wayne was plotting a course to pick up the Navy Seals when Executive Officer Mike Jeffries knocked on the bulkhead, “Permission to enter, sir.”
“C’mon in, Mike.”
Mike Jeffries handed Captain Wayne a sheet of paper, “This just came in, and I knew you would want to see it without delay.”
Captain Wayne looked at it, “Return to base immediately.”
“I guess this means that the Seals are on their own,” Mike responded.
“It’s a little late, I already told them where to meet us,” Captain Wayne cursed under his breath, “Notify the Seals and tell them that we received new orders.”
“Yes sir,” Mike responded.
Captain Wayne leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes and tried to decompress, if only for a few minutes. He had almost fallen asleep when Mike returned, ‘Sorry to disturb you, sir.”
“No problem, I got what I needed,” Captain Wayne responded, “What are the Seals’ plan?”
“I couldn’t reach them,” Mike responded.
“Did you try the alternative frequencies?”
“Several times and I told communications to keep trying,” Mike answered, “but it looks like the Iranians are jamming everything.”
“The Seals are going to be waiting for us and we won’t be there. Give me a few minutes to figure this out,” Captain Wayne said.
“I’ll get our course plotted for our return,” Mike suggested.
Three minutes later, Captain Wayne returned to the control room. “Course has been plotted and inputted into the computer,” Mike said.
Mike, I’m going after the Seals.”
Mike pulled Captain Wayne off to the side where the crew could not hear him, “Our orders are to return home. You’ll lose your command and your career if you do this.”
“It is duly noted that you warned me and I will put it in the Captain’s log to protect you. Our men are relying on what I told them. I intend to keep my word.”
“Set course for the southeast side of the island,” Mike said to the navigator and the U.S.S. Jamison left its position on the bottom of the Gulf.
The two sailors who were arguing earlier approached Captain Wayne, “We’d like to volunteer to go with you, sir,” Andy Freeman said.
“It’s too dangerous for one man to go on the rescue mission,” Austin Sadler added.
“I appreciate the offer, but I can’t ask you to do that,” Captain Wayne replied.
“You’re not asking, we’re volunteering. We can’t leave our men behind,” Andy Freeman said.
When the submarine got to the other side of the island, the two sailors waited for the airtight connection between the Poseidon and the submarine to be completed then boarded with several small arms that included an M-203 grenade launcher. Captain Wayne turned to Mike before boarding, “Take her home, Commander,” then climbed into the cockpit of the Poseidon. After the hatches were secure, the submarine headed home and the drone went to shore.
Back on Lavan Island, the Navy Seals were doing their best to make it to the underwater caves while fighting Iranian patrols along the way. Captain Wayne rose to periscope depth and saw the underwater caves and headed for the largest one. Captain Wayne brought the Poseidon to the surface and Andy Freeman opened the hatch and Captain Wayne and Austin Sadler got their weapons and exited the watercraft, “We’ll find the Seals…be ready to move on my command. I forgot to ask, can you drive this thing?” Captain Wayne asked.
“I’ll figure it out, sir.” Andy Freeman smiled.
The two Americans made their way out of the cave and took a narrow path to the top of the cliff where they saw the Navy Seals running in their direction, followed by two dozen Iranians soldiers. They provided cover fire until the Navy Seals made it to their position.
“I didn’t expect you to personally come get us, sir,” Lt. Warren smiled.
“Plans have a way of changing,” Captain Wayne replied.
The Iranians were rapidly approaching and the Americans realized that they couldn’t hold them off much longer. The high cliff was fifty yards behind them, “This was another thing that I wasn’t planning,” Captain Wayne radioed the Poseidon, “We’re coming over the side…pick us up.”
“Roger that, sir,” Andy Freeman slowly maneuvered the Poseidon out of the underwater cave.
“Let’s go Seals!” Captain Wayne yelled and the Americans took off at a full sprint and jumped off the cliff and into the water. They swam to the Poseidon as bullets hit all around them and held on as it sped off. Five minutes later, Andy Freeman pulled back on the throttle and the Poseidon slowed to a stop. He opened the hatch and the Navy Seals and Austin Sadler entered.
Captain Wayne was the last one left on top when he saw an Iranian patrol boat approaching so he quickly climbed down, secured the hatch and took control of the drone. For several minutes the Iranian boat patrolled the area then stopped dead in the water. The Iranian commander walked to the bow and scanned the area with his binoculars, but didn’t see anything. Something just didn’t feel right to him. The Poseidon quietly rose to the surface, twenty five yards behind the Iranian vessel and Captain Wayne opened the hatch and fired three 40 mm shells. The boat exploded in a ball of flames and the Poseidon submerged.
As the U.S.S. Jamison cruised at a depth of two hundred feet, two Iranian destroyers detected it and began dropping depth charges. Commander Jeffries ordered, “Prepare to fire.”
“Ready sir, Fire control responded.”
“Fire torpedoes one and two!”
The two Iranian destroyers were hit and sank to the bottom of the Gulf.
Three months later, Captain Joseph Wayne went through the proper administrative and disciplinary process and was relieved of his command. This effectively ending his naval career, but he knew it was coming and he had no regrets. His retirement ceremony was a festive occasion and was held at his home in Oceanside with family, friends, the Navy Seals and members of his crew in attendance. Lieutenant Ray Warren sneaked up behind the guest of honor and was ready to tap him on the shoulder while holding a beer in each hand when Captain Wayne turned around, grabbed one bottle, and held it up, “To the Thunder Down Under!”
Lieutenant Ray Warren raised his bottle, flashed a boyish smile and proposed another toast, “To the Silent and Deadly.”