I (Brad Meltzer) was a real-life secret agent. I didn’t have the hand-grenade cuff links or the poison-dart pen, but in 2004 I was recruited by the Department of Homeland Security for its Red Cell program.

As they described it – and as The Washington Post later reported – Red Cell was the government’s way of trying to anticipate how terrorists would next attack the United States. To do that, the government brought together what they called “out-of-the-box thinkers.”

As a novelist who writes thrillers with scenes that take place in the underground tunnel below the White House, I was somehow identified as one of those thinkers.

Sometimes I was paired with a psychologist or a philosopher. Sometimes I was contacted alone, via email, and given a target to attack.

I’m not allowed to tell you what the targets were. Or where they were. But I can say that we’d destroy major cities like my hometown, New York. In minutes. And when I went home at night, I felt horrified, because I saw how easy it was to kill us.

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