Early in the morning in a cozy home office in Boston, IVY member Thomas Waite calmly sits down with a fresh pot of coffee to write about cataclysmic cyber warfare and the annihilation of the world as we know it.
In his bestselling series of thrillers, Waite describes in chilling detail massive and deadly catastrophes in America. His novel Lethal Code features a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” attack by unknown terrorists that brings the country to its knees. In Trident Code, the country (and most of the world) faces a Russian madman, a nuclear submarine, and an environmental Armageddon. Unlike dystopian science fiction, Thomas bases his novel on facts, drawing on a lifetime working in technology, his relationships with leading experts, and his penchant for research.
IVY Magazine sat down with Thomas to talk about cyber warfare, his writing, and more.
Lethal Code is about a cyber war against the U.S. Do you think that really could happen?
Yes, though probably not as severe as in my novel. Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA, warned that we are in a “pre-9/11 moment” when it comes to cyber warfare. The more research you do, the more you just can’t believe how vulnerable we really are. I’m not talking about the Sony hack or breaches of retailers, though those are disturbing. I’m talking about acts far more destructive and deadly. People forget that our ability to access water, energy, communications, transportation, and much more are all connected via the Internet and there are untold vulnerabilities. The potential for catastrophe is enormous.
What inspired you to write?
Growing up I loved reading books by authors such as John le Carré, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum, and others. After getting a degree in English Literature, I ended up working in the technology industry. After I’d built and sold a technology strategy consulting firm, I decided to pursue fiction. My first novel, Terminal Value, was a thriller about a technology start-up. People seemed to enjoy it, so I decided to write a series of cyber thrillers, starting with Lethal Code.
Your latest novel, Trident Code, was just released. Is it also about cyber warfare?
Only in part. With Trident Code, I wanted to take things to a new level. My objective was to create a unique trifecta of cyber, nuclear, and environmental terrorism. I don’t think that’s been done before. I also wanted to create a new archetype Russian villain. Not the classic Cold War type, but rather what I like to call the Code War type in keeping with our cyber age. So I created Oleg, a young Russian hacker with unhinged ambition that I tried to make as creepy, clever, and unforgettable as possible. I hope my readers find him to be someone they love to hate.
What has made your novels successful?
I don’t know of any other authors that combine cyber attacks with other terrorist threats in the same way. That said, for a novel to be successful it must also have great characters. I’d certainly noticed that the protagonists of other thrillers were all male—James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan, and Jack Reacher to name a few. It’s so hackneyed and I didn’t think the world needed another stereotypical hero.
That’s why I created a heroine for my series—Lana Elkins, a former NSA operative that now heads a cyber security firm, who is brave, smart, technologically a superstar, but still feminine, maternal, and human with flaws like anyone else. In addition, there is a saying that a thriller is only as good as its villain. In Lethal Code, the villain is a mystery until the end. In Trident Code, it is Oleg Dernov, the young Russian I hope readers will find completely despicable and never willing to admit they also found him humorous.