The Name's Bond, Larry Bond

Meet the man who inspired Tom Clancy and The Hunt for Red October.

Writer Tom Clancy, who died last week, co-wrote the 1986 bestseller Red Storm Rising with former U.S. Navy officer Larry Bond. "I wrote like 1 percent of [that] book," laughs Bond -- but as the designer of the popular naval wargame Harpoon, he played an important behind-the-scenes role as a naval warfare counselor to Clancy. Foreign Policy caught up with Bond this week to reminisce about his long relationship with the master of the military thriller. 

Foreign Policy: How did you and Tom Clancy meet?

Larry Bond: Harpoon was published in April 1980. I would get letters from enthusiasts with questions about naval systems and stuff. Tom Clancy's was one of the letters I got with questions about naval warfare. I answered it. Didn't think more anything about it. Tom sent a follow-up letter with more questions, and we eventually started talking on the phone. We became good friends. He would call and we would chew the fat for hours. That's why I always answer my mail. You never know where a letter is going to lead.

FP: What was Clancy like?

LB: He was knowledgeable and asked questions. He was always playing with concepts. Can you do this in real life? How does this thing work under the hood? For instance, electronic support measures (ESM), which is using an enemy's radar and radio signals to determine his location. And he not only figured out how to use cross-bearing to triangulate the target, but he would ask, how wide is that beam? What is your margin of error? He really wanted to know how things worked. He was always exploring whatever issues interested him. He would bang the rocks together and come up with very correct answers.

When we were plotting Red Storm Rising -- the core of the story is a NATO-Soviet war in the North Atlantic -- he looked at Iceland and said, "this is a strategic piece of real estate. The Russians are going to want this." I told him the Russian Navy wasn't set up for this. They didn't have the amphibious groups we have. Tom goes, "no, no, they need to take this." We set up a Harpoon battle called the Great Keflavik Turkey Shoot that sort of validated what Tom was saying. If there are U.S. fighters based in Iceland, and Soviet Backfire bombers tried to strike convoys in the Atlantic, even just a few fighters would indeed tear a hunk out of the bomber stream. But what I couldn't tell him at the time was that I had been working at the Center of Naval Analyses where there were several very classified studies going on about the strategic nature of Iceland. People were thinking about this hard, and Tom just pulled it out of the air.

FP: Is it true that Harpoon was the basis for the Hunt for Red October?

LB: Harpoon was one of the data sources for Hunt for Red October. The real basis for the book was the Storozhevoy Incident (where a Soviet destroyer unsuccessfully attempted to defect in 1975). Tom looked at that and thought, "What if that hadn't been a surface ship that could be stopped easily, but a sub which couldn't be easily found? And what if it was a brand-new ballistic missile sub?"

As far as technical stats, there are very few numbers in Hunt for Red October. People always focus on where he got all his information. If you pick up The Boy's Book of Submarines, and The Boy's Book of Sonar, you have 90 percent of what Tom had. What he got out of Harpoon was some weapon names, speed of ships, and so on.

When I wrote Harpoon, I was still in the Navy, so I deliberately did not go to any classified data sources I had. But there was a Navy training game called NAVTAG [Naval Tactical Game]. It was classified, which made it hard to distribute. So I wrote Harpoon as a training game. It wasn't classified so we could leave the game lying around. I wrote it with simple rules because most naval officers are not gamers. But I was thinking about making Harpoon a commercial release, so in the game, I explained things like what a convergence zone was, or how passive sonar worked. And I think that's what Tom liked. There was so much explanatory text in the game.

There was some stuff that Tom got wrong. In that era, the Soviets didn't name their submarines. They had letters and numbers: "K" for the nuke boats and "B" for the diesels. But what I think what was important about Harpoon was that it served as a bridge for his next project, Red Storm Rising. It was the basis for our relationship.

Tom would have done okay without Harpoon. I'm not saying that because I'm humble. Harpoon only gave him some names and some speeds. So much of what he did in terms of creating characters and plots was independent of Harpoon. Tom was a born storyteller. Whenever he talked with people, he always used stories and anecdotes. After he wrote Patriot Games, Tom decided to take a year off from writing. And whenever I talked with them during that year, he would have ideas for books. He couldn't stop thinking about creating stories.

FP: So it sounds like Tom wasn't so much interested in creating realistic stories as he was plausible ones?

LB: If somebody who does this kind of stuff in the real world says this is bogus, the general public will pick up on it. It's cooler to use the real stuff and come up with unusual ways of using it, even if this can be a challenge. Tom actually wrote himself into a corner once, with that knife fight at the end of Hunt for Red October between Red October and the Alfa-class sub. There are two U.S. subs there, but they don't want to shoot at the Russians, and Red October can't shoot because the torpedoes aren't there and so on. How the hell are we going to get out of this one? Tom came up with the idea, after much head-scratching, of having Red October ram the Alfa. Everybody was like, what? But I've got models of both subs on the shelf in my office, and an Alfa-class sub is a fifth of the size of a Typhoon-class sub like Red October. If a Typhoon rammed it, the Alfa would be toast. Tom had an ability to come up with unusual yet plausible solutions.

FP: How did Red Storm Rising come about?

LB: The book came about because of another game. I was doing analysis for the Center for Naval Analyses, which was doing things like, how many carriers will we need in 20 years? We're doing all this deep thinking about REFORGER [reinforcements to Germany in the event of a Soviet attack] and Atlantic convoys. There were so many variables. I was explaining this to Tom, blathering on about the Atlantic and the convoys and the SOSUS net (underwater sonar network). And Tom goes, "you could turn that into a good book." And I'm like, really? How would you do that? [laughs]. That was how we decided upon Red Storm Rising. The core is about the Atlantic and the convoys to Europe.

I got to watch Tom's genius. I'm listed as co-author, but I wrote like 1 percent of the book. Tom was fast. He could do 10 pages a day without breathing hard. I was doing staff studies and operations analyses of how the Russians would take Iceland, and that was the structure that Tom would hang everything else on. But I was basically his apprentice and his reality check.

FP: Did you and Tom ever play Harpoon together?

LB: He was in rural Maryland and I'm in northern Virginia. But we did play sometimes. There was one chapter in Red Storm Rising called "Dance of the Vampires." We played it out in Harpoon with Tom as the Russian commander. We gamed out some of these carrier battles. We weren't looking for a particular plot for the book. We already knew how the plot would run. You know, it's early in Act II, and the bad guys have to win at that point. But after gaming a couple of those carrier battles, Tom and I both had a better sense of what the flow of the battle would be and how it would take shape. Any kind of research like that simplifies writing fiction. I tell high school English classes time and time again that it's so much easier to go and find out about something than have to make stuff up.

FP: What was Tom like as a player?

LB: Very aggressive. He was always looking for an angle or an unusual tactic. I'm Mr. Doctrine. I try to emulate real-life tactics. Tom wanted to go one step further. He would come up with these strategies that were very unconventional. He noticed that the speed of an AS-5 Kelt [an old Soviet air-to-surface missile carried by bombers] very closely matched the cruise speed of a Backfire bomber. Tom was the one who asked, what if the Russian fired these missiles as drones -- the Russians had converted many of them into target drones -- so on radar they look like a Backfire formation coming at a carrier? I was the one who told him how you could tell the two apart. But the Russians could hang a radar reflector on them so the itty-bitty missile would look like a big bomber. So we worked it out. It wasn't part of Soviet doctrine, so the U.S. wasn't ready for it. It's a viable tactic, even if you can only use it once.

FP: Do you think Tom Clancy's novels had an influence on the Cold War?

LB: There is a very strong rumor that I've heard about Red Storm Rising. Iceland gets invaded, and when Tom and I were researching this, we discovered that NATO and Iceland had a basing agreement that was very strict. NATO could not bring any new equipment to Iceland without agreement at the ministerial level. In the book, it became clear that the reaction times for reinforcing Iceland had to be a lot quicker. So there was a renegotiation of basing rights based on what was depicted in the book. Red Storm Rising was also used at the Naval War College.

Harpoon has also had a positive effect. It's been used as tactical training at the Naval Academy and elsewhere, though not officially. There are games and simulations. A game is two or more opponents in a closed system where theoretically everyone has an equal chance of winning. But a simulation is more open-ended. I can set up a simulation where there is no hope that one side can win. That was an argument I used to have with Tom all the time. He would look at the Soviet Northern Fleet and their Backfires, and the U.S. Second Fleet, and go, "well, each has a 50-50 chance of winning." And I would go, no, no, Tom, don't make that assumption. It's not a closed game. There could be a change in tactics. If there is a fat carrier target out there, they can bring over Backfires from Long-Range Aviation [the Soviet strategic bomber force] to join the Red Navy Backfires, and now instead of two regiments of bombers, the carrier is facing five. That's no longer a simulation. That's a murder mystery.

FP: A lot of information has come out of the former Soviet archives. Did you find anything that changed Tom's novels or Harpoon? 

LB: Harpoon has been almost completely revised after what we found in the Russian literature. For example, nobody had heard of the Kh-31 Krypton, a Mach 3 anti-radiation missile. We're like, where did that come from? And then there was the Kh-41 air-to-sea missile, which the Russians called the Mosquito. Who said the Russians had no sense of humor? It's the size of a Greyhound bus. We confirmed that Soviet doctrine was entirely defensive. The further we penetrated into their defensive zones and got closer to their bases, the more stuff they were going to throw at us.

FP: So if you could redo Red Storm Rising or Red October knowing what we do now, how would you change the plot and weapons? 

LB: Good question. Obviously I'd tweak the weapons and hardware to use the newest data, but I believe in both cases, the premise and story hang together pretty well. A very small example of that is that I updated the Dance of the Vampires scenario a few years back, and I didn't have to change the basic structure of the scenario at all.

FP: Why do you think books like Red Storm Rising were so popular?

LB: Red Storm Rising has to be the greatest "what-if" of that genre. You have to jump back into your wayback machine. In the 1980s, we were out of Vietnam, and you have to remember how frozen the two militaries were. We didn't want to shoot at the Russians, and they didn't want to shoot at us. Remember when we shot down the two Libyan aircraft? The actual use of American military force during peace time was a huge issue back then. Today, people are dropping bombs all over the place and no one notices. But it wasn't just that the book had huge force-on-force war. There was so much stuff we wrote about that had never been used before, like cruise missiles. So much of it was untested. Then Desert Storm came along, and now everyone knew about these weapons. So the guys who came along after us and wrote these novels didn't have the same success that we did.

FP: How do you feel about your books being called technothrillers?

LB: I always use the term "military thriller," because the focus is on military action. If you look at some books, they focus so much on military technology. They throw numbers at you. I don't like to use numbers in my stories. If you use more than one or two, people's eyes start to glaze over.



The New Iron Lady

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf talks to Foreign Policy about corruption, press freedom, and developing her nation as a petropower.

Africa's first female head of state. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. President of a country that self-identifies as one of the most corrupt states on the planet. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a lightning rod for praise and controversy. The Harvard-educated economist has presided over a remarkable period of peace and stability in Liberia, picking up the pieces after a pair of devastating civil wars and turning the former economic backwater into one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa. But she has also drawn criticism for appointing family members to powerful government positions and for entering into agreements to lease a quarter of Liberia's landmass to logging companies in a two-year span. Most recently, the arrest of leading journalist Rodney Sieh in Monrovia has thrown the West African country's reputation for free press into question.

Foreign Policy sat down with Sirleaf last week during the U.N. General Assembly in New York for a wide-ranging interview, touching on everything from the crisis in Syria to corruption to the president's own complicated image at home and abroad. "Call [me] the 'Iron Lady' if you want to say so," she said, "because I have the capacity to take hard decisions. I'm not worried about my personal popularity. I'm worried about doing the right thing."

Sirleaf was particularly hopeful about the prospects for developing Liberia's petroleum sector. "What we did in the oil sector is to bring in the big players -- the players that have integrity, regulations," she told FP. "I met with the executives of both Chevron and ExxonMobil oil on this trip, and they said to me that when the reform is over and there's another international bid round, they will bid again. That tells me a story."

Below is an edited transcript of FP's conversation with the Liberian president.

Foreign Policy: Since we're in New York, I wanted to open with Syria. As a survivor of Liberia's long civil war, what role do you think the international community can play in Syria? In particular, what role do you think the United States can play?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: I think the role that the United States is playing right now is the right role. They've decided to engage in dialogue to try, at a minimum, to bring the war to an end. We have condemned the use of chemical weapons by any group anywhere in the world, and we're glad that that particular issue will be resolved in terms of weapons being turned over. We support what the U.S. is doing right now in collaboration with others such as the U.K. and France. Our own African countries on the Security Council are also a party to that. Where innocent people are dying, women and children are suffering, we share the view of the United Nations policy -- to which Liberia is a party -- about the responsibility to protect. Our own society was protected by the United Nations, and we expect that they will act similarly.

FP: Turning to Liberia, you've enjoyed explosive economic growth since your government has taken the reins over the economy, but development has lagged behind. Spending on education hasn't grown in proportion to GDP. There's only been a modest increase in public expenditures on the health system. How do you balance this economic growth with the job of providing services to the citizens of Liberia?

EJS: Perhaps you're not fully informed. First of all, when one mobilizes resources for investment, given the scarcity of our own domestic resources while we try to build the economy, there is a time lag between when you mobilize investments and when those investments create jobs and that improve the infrastructure. However, we have indeed begun to deliver basic services. We've been working on our roads. We've been working on our schools and our hospitals. We've been expanding the services that we render through our health institutions, our educational institutions. We've increased civil service pay because of that. The period we're now entering is the period when the benefits from the $16 billion in foreign direct investment which we mobilized will begin to be felt. There's no shortcut to the processes of development.

FP: So looking forward to the next several years in your government, what do you anticipate will change in terms of basic services, education, health care?

EJS: We expect first of all to [improve] our infrastructure, our roads, our power. Power is of critical importance -- it's a major constraint to being able to move from mobilizing investment to delivering services and increasing income, to move from being a primary commodity exporter to being a manufacturer and adding value to our natural resources. That's what's going to happen in the next few years. The jobs that we talk about cannot come until we train young people who were bypassed by an education for so long. Technical and vocational training is something that we're now putting emphasis on, to give them marketable skills. Give us four more years, and the results of all of this growth will be felt. We're now exploring for oil. Oil is a transformative commodity, because we [have] sizable resources there. We have [a] discovery, but not a commercial discovery. The process is ongoing. What we did in the oil sector is to bring in the big players -- the players that have integrity, regulations -- like Chevron, like ExxonMobil, to make sure that we have the bona fide ones in there.

FP: Since you mentioned oil, when you're choosing between an American company that obviously has to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and human rights considerations and a company from another nation without similar limitations -- like China or Russia -- what considerations are you looking at in these potential partners?

EJS: We have a bidding system. They bid. There are certain technical requirements that one looks at through a due diligence process, financial requirements that one looks at based upon their record, and we select what we think is the best. What we did was to encourage U.S. companies to come in and to arrange for them to buy into blocks that were already owned by others. We've been lucky in that regard to achieve just that. Today we now have a petroleum reform that's under process. That reform has gone very far. We're committed to proper management of our natural resources for the benefit of our people. And we stand on our record on that.

FP: With regards to Chevron, Exxon, I know both of the original owners of those particular exploration blocks had some issues that were pointed out by your General Auditing Commission [GAC].

EJS: Absolutely.

FP: A decision was made by your government to not cancel those deals though the GAC had found that legislators in the Liberian House of Representatives had received money for their ratification. [Read more about this on ForeignPolicy.com: "Big Oil, Small Country."]

EJS: We cannot cancel a contract, the executive [branch] on its own. If we did that, we would have an environment in which people say, "Our contractual arrangements are not respected." The General Auditing Commission reports to the legislature by a law that I initiated, so all of those reports are now before the legislature. The legislature has now announced that they're going to have public hearings on those reports. Any one of those reports that accuses or charges anyone -- whether from the legislature or from the executive or from the judiciary -- there's an opportunity to deal with that. There's no limitation on corruption cases under our laws.

FP: In those two cases involving American companies, the Justice Ministry did not follow the recommendations of the auditor and pursue a prosecution or any other legal mechanism to address the bribery that was pointed out in the findings.

EJS: I know that what we concentrated on was to make sure that we had American companies coming to [the oil industry]. I don't believe Chevron, who we attracted and who we brought into the oil sector, was a party to this, and neither was the executive a party to it. So we're just pleased that we're able to do that. The other block with ExxonMobil -- we didn't like the [prior] ownership arrangement. We purposely went after bringing in a company that we felt would respect the integrity laws, and that's the approach we've taken to it.

FP: Do you foresee Liberia becoming an oil state? Obviously there's been no commercial discovery to date. There have been some indications that there may be commercial-grade oil.

EJS: Let me just say to you that I met with the executives of both Chevron and ExxonMobil oil on this trip, and they said to me that when the reform is over and there's another international bid round, they will bid again. That tells me a story.

FP: There's a very popular narrative in the West of you as the Iron Lady who won the Nobel Peace Prize. You are the first female African head of state. But in Liberia, there's a more complex picture. You're a survivor of the civil war and political crisis. You're also seen as a member of the nation's elite, and you've also put your children into places of power in the government like your predecessors. Which view of yourself do you see as more accurate?

EJS: I'm still a strong leader. Call it the "Iron Lady" if you want to say so, because I have the capacity to take hard decisions. I'm not worried about my personal popularity. I'm worried about doing the right thing.

FP: Recently, your son Robert resigned as the chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia as well as from his role as a special advisor to you. How much did pressure -- internal pressure from the legislature and from the press, and external pressure from other governments -- play into that decision?

EJS: There was no internal pressure from the legislature. As a matter of fact, on the reform I mentioned before, he worked very well with the legislative committee to get those draft laws prepared. There was no external pressure from the international community. There was a lot of local talk, but we had an agenda: to bring major American companies into our oil sector. Because he worked in this country as an investment banker for years, he knew them. It has nothing to do with pressure. It had to do with staying the course, completing his assignment.

FP: The presence of peacekeepers has been a constant since 2003 in Liberia. When the United Nations Mission in Liberia eventually leaves -- the force will be reduced from 7,343 personnel today to 3,750 by July 2015, though no final departure date is set -- do you feel that your army and police force will be adequate to secure the borders, to enforce law?

EJS: We have to be. We know we cannot depend on the international peacekeeping force to provide us with the safety and security our nation needs. We have to be normal again. And to be normal means taking responsibility for our own security. The process of getting ready is on. We've made a lot of progress. We still have a lot to do in the training of our policemen and making sure that they are given proper logistics and incentive.

FP: Transparency International, in their 2013 [Global Corruption Barometer], found that Liberians view their nation as the most corrupt nation on Earth. They singled out the legislature, but also the police, as corrupt. Do you see that as a failure in the war on corruption?

EJS: No. Absolutely not. People must understand the Liberian context. First of all, it's a perception index. If you take that and compare it with the data and statistic-based index, you find quite a different story. Because on the basis of Transparency International or World Bank indicators or MCC indicators Liberia has made a lot of progress. It ranks higher than many other African countries in the fight against corruption. But Liberia is a rumor-based, talk society -- and sometimes without understanding the consequences of what [people] say. We know that there's a problem in the police, because we have to do more for incentives for police to reduce their vulnerabilities. And that's what we're trying to do. We also say to the society: "You can be of help to us." There are many times when people offer bribes to the police. Both of you are wrong. We're going to start to prosecute people who offer bribes. Then maybe we will send a message.

FP: The perception of corruption can be as pernicious as corruption itself. If you look back to the Rice Riots of 1979, that was the genesis of the 1980 coup.

EJS: That's true. It's how do we change that perception; that's our challenge. You can only change it on the basis of the record. You can only change it on the basis of the action you're taking. Now, how do we get the mindset to see that, to see the progression and to join in the fight? It's a societal problem. It's not an executive problem.

FP: Journalist Rodney Sieh has been in prison for 35 days now in Monrovia. This has prompted an outcry from Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International. How do you see this situation?

EJS: Please, let's correct the situation. Mr. Sieh has spent a total of four days in jail. He's in the hospital. He's being treated by the government. He's being fed by the government. He sees anybody he wants to see -- his lawyers, his family, any visitor he wants to see. Rodney Sieh is not suffering. We don't like it. We don't want it. We didn't ask for this distraction. This government has promoted freedoms more than any other government and far more than many governments in Africa or anywhere in the world. All we did was follow the rule of law.

What we have missed, and that we will correct -- where the executive can take corrective action -- is the fact that they have all these laws on the books, including defamation and libel laws. We said this to the Human Rights Watch and others: The minute I signed [the Table Mountain] declaration [on press freedom in Africa], you should have assisted our press union to draft the laws to repeal all of those laws, because we made a commitment and that commitment stands today. Now they've agreed to help. So I said to Ken Roth [the executive director of Human Rights Watch], "Why didn't you do this six months ago? Those laws would not have been on the books." He said, "Oh, well, you know, we didn't follow the laws. Well you're right. We should have done it. We are going to help them now." So, I've asked the minister of justice to look into it. They are looking, first of all, at what laws they can use to bring reprieve to the situation. Secondly, more importantly, beyond this case, how do we draft those acts that will repeal all of those laws and have them ready for the legislature for when they return in January?

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