By Don Helin
In Tom Wither’s latest release, ROGUE SENTINEL, Lieutenant Commander Mathews, an experienced Tier One Operator, is sent on a solo mission to capture an American who has joined ISIS, planning operations that have killed hundreds. After an extended close surveillance while undercover in Jordan, Mathews and his trusted NCO, Senior Master Sergeant Simms, attempt to capture the man known as al-Amriki. As they close in, weapons at the ready, they inexplicably receive orders to let al-Amriki go. Why must they let a known terrorist live, and what can be done by Mathews to stop al-Amriki before he kills more innocents?
Wither is the author of two previous military thrillers, Autumn Fire and The Inheritor, both published in 2014. His novels are informed by a lengthy stint in military intelligence; Wither is a 32-year Air Force intelligence professional and 25-year affiliate of the National Security Agency. A veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he provided time-critical information to the Joint Rescue Coordination Center, which led to the safe extraction of downed allied airborne personnel and location data that resulted in the destruction of 25 strategic targets. After completing a six-month analytic training program with the NSA in 1994, he served as an Intelligence Analyst and Senior Intelligence Analyst for the US Air Force, gaining his NSA certification as an intelligence analyst.
Wither recently carved a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk with The Big Thrill about his latest release.
What do you hope your readers will gain from this book?
A greater appreciation for the personal sacrifices and professional dedication required of the men and women who serve our country, in uniform and in the civil service, as well as the measure of courage they demonstrate every day. I also hope readers will appreciate what has become an increasingly serious challenge within our US armed forces—the sadly increasing number of suicides committed every year by the young men and women serving our nation.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
The biggest challenge was weaving a story into the real world events happening as a terrorist organization grew and flourished in two countries, without the plot interfering in the real world outcome, but rather being a “behind the scenes” event that contributed to the eventual end of ISIS territorial control of what they declared as their caliphate. The biggest opportunity was in doing my best to illustrate the ambiguity that is often found in intelligence or military operations, and how the professionals in those fields deal with unexpected events.
What authors have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
I’ve been influenced by James Clavell’s Asian Saga novels, Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers, and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventures. I very much enjoyed the sweeping scale of Clavell’s stories and the depth of his characters, Clancy’s use of military technology to enhance a story as the internet age began to dawn in the 1990s, and the sense of adventure Cussler has brought to his work.
Did any particular incident inspire the plot?
Our involvement in the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State, and my personal appreciation for the risks and courage shown by members of the US special operations and intelligence communities—based on my more than 30-year career in intelligence.
What’s next for you?
I have two major projects in the works at the moment: Paladin Six, about a deep cover agent, codenamed Paladin Six, tracking a shipment of hijacked nuclear material that is just the first move in a larger conspiracy; and Project Janus, which centers on Steven Turner, a computer security and digital forensics expert, whose discovery of unidentified hackers stealing information from major telecommunications companies draws the attention of the Department of Homeland Security when those thefts are connected to the deaths of US intelligence operatives.
When you’re not writing what are you doing (hobbies, family, etc.)?
When I’m not writing, I enjoy watching Yankees baseball, performance driving, sport shooting, researching the US intelligence community, military history, war, and intelligence history, and traveling with my wife.
Please share a favorite jacket blurb.
“While this would be enough to fuel a thriller as timely and horrific as anything Clancy’s Jack Ryan might navigate, Wither’s tosses in unforeseen twists and excruciating subtext that keeps the pages turning faster than the turbine of a drone knifing through the night skies of Jordan in quest of its strategic prey. Wither’s prose is as crisp as the dialogue his characters exchange from both sides of drastically divergent worldviews, each of which is playing for something for which they are willing to die.” – Larry Brooks, author of Deadly Faux
After joining the Air Force in 1987 and completing initial intelligence training at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, he served as a signals intelligence analyst and advisory support analyst during various assignments. A veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he provided time-critical information to the Joint Rescue Coordination Center, which led to the safe extraction of downed allied airborne personnel and location data that resulted in the destruction of 25 strategic targets.
After completing a six-month-long analytic training program with NSA in 1994, he served as an intelligence analyst and senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, gaining his NSA certification as an intelligence analyst.
After leaving active duty for a civilian position with the Air Force as a special projects officer, Tom worked directly with varied elements of the intelligence community, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and other Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence managed special activities. During this period, Tom earned his certification as an intelligence community officer (currently known as the Joint Duty Assignment program) and led signals intelligence analytic teams.
Following his promotion to technical director, Tom advised Air Force senior leaders on the production of signals intelligence and the legal, policy, and technical constraints of those activities. In addition, Tom led the design and implementation of unique signals intelligence processing and storage systems supporting Air Force space and cyber operations during Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, and Inherent Resolve.
Tom also participated in the coordination, targeting, and approval process for Operation Inherent Resolve combat actions to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) with Air Force non-kinetic capabilities, gaining Secretary of Defense level approval for his unit’s intelligence operations to underpin those capabilities.
In addition to his other military and civilian awards, Tom was most recently awarded the Exemplary Civilian Service Award for his work that led to a major degradation of ISIS command and control, the destruction of one of their headquarters facilities, and the liberation of Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS control.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.