Q&A with Alex Berenson

Alex Berenson’s latest book, THE COUNTERFEIT AGENT, realistically delves into the Iranian threat of creating a nuclear bomb. He introduces some new and mysterious characters, such as Salome, while bringing back all of his main characters: John Wells, Vinny Duto, and Ellis Shafer. Because it is a cliffhanger readers will have to wait to see Berenson’s outcome. However, readers should be satisfied with this book’s ending since it does resolve some issues.

Elise Cooper: Why did you write a cliffhanger?

Alex Berenson: As I was outlining The Counterfeit Agent I realized that I had too much story for a single 400-page novel. I think 400 or so pages is a natural comfortable length for books and I also wanted the challenge of writing a novel that would feel complete on its own; yet, offer a springboard for the next novel. This is the first time I wrote a cliffhanger. Having to wait a year is no different than a TV show, such as Breaking Bad or The Sopranos.

EC: Do you really think Iran is to be trusted?

AB: Iran is a very dangerous, strategic enemy and is no friend of the US. They are a de-stabilizing force in the Middle East. There are three scenarios. First, are the Iranians serious with their intentions to drop the plan for getting a bomb because it is not worth the sanctions? Second, is this just a delaying tactic to buy some immediate relief? Third, is it a complete head fake?

EC: Do you lean to one scenario as opposed to another?

AB: The most likely outcome is that six months will pass and there will be no deal. Then another six months will pass, again with no deal. Unfortunately I cannot wait around to see what real scenario might happen because of the structure of the arc. The next book is also written in this time frame. The time is not stopping for me as I write the next book. I have to come up with a solution to the problem I created.

EC: Why did you decide to write about this subject?

AB: Countries, since 1945, have recognized that nuclear weapons are the ultimate game-changer. A single bomb can obliterate a city and kill hundreds of thousands of people, all at once. A nuclear arsenal can all-but-eliminate an entire nation. Since no nation with a nuclear arsenal has ever been invaded, the stakes of the Iranian nuclear program couldn’t be higher. Because of that, I am a little perplexed as to why those running Iran appear to be backing down. Look at the three previous countries attempting to get nuclear weapons: North Korea, Iraq, and Libya. Only North Korea still has the same regime. So if Iran looks at that presumably they would say ‘we need a nuclear weapon.’

EC: You are not saying we should now consider Iran a nice nation?

AB: No. I wanted to show in my book all the risks. Israel, an ally of ours, is much more at risk. I think they understand Iran as much as anyone, and we must consider their outcries as reasonable. Iran has killed hundreds of our soldiers in Iraq. They used roadside bombs that were devastating to our soldiers.

EC: Lets talk a little about the fictional part of the book, Wells’ love life. Please comment.

AB: The two women in his life, Exley and Anne, realize he is completely unavailable emotionally. I would say Wells has a stronger love for Exley and I know readers want her back. It has been five years and they still want her back. She won’t be in the next book because there is no place for her to pop up. I am thinking how I can put her into a future book. A possibility is bringing them back together in a work situation. Anytime people who had a physical relationship and must work together makes for an interesting scenario. But we must remember for better or worse Wells is like a Navy SEAL. They must pay a high price with their wives and girlfriends back home. Many get divorced and end up alone. I will say that in the next book I am thinking of having a relationship between Wells and Salome.

EC: What makes your books very interesting is that your characters appear realistic. Do you agree?

AB: In this book I really felt I was in tune with Wells. The scene in Istanbul where he feels he is walking into a trap yet he cannot stop himself is essentially foolish. Yet, I think that is a very real decision others would have made. As far as the CIA bureaucrats, I wanted to show how they bet on the wrong horse. While Wells and Shafer pursue their hunches those in power made choices with blinders on. They get locked down to an idea and it’s hard to change their minds. Even Vinny Duto uses his power over Wells and Shafer. While he works with them he uses them and if they get it right he gets the upside.

EC: Besides writing the next part to this story what are you going to do in the next few months?

AB: I am planning a four-day ski trip with an old friend. When you don’t take your family, four days is what you can get away with. Since the baby I ski instead of riding a motorcycle, although I am not sure riding a motorcycle is any more dangerous.