International Villains and Their Motives

by | Aug 29, 2016 | Karna Small Bodman | 5 comments

by Karna Small Bodman

All this week my Rogue colleagues have been writing terrific articles about various types of villains, from those featured in great thrillers to historical and contemporary leaders who have been responsible for heinous acts not only against their adversaries, but also against their own people.  There is often a fine line between truth and fiction — in fact, rather than “ripped from the headlines” as some novels are described in reviews, there are thrillers that have predicted future headlines.  And with that in mind, certain administrations have invited thriller writers to come to The White House and engage in what we call “Red Team/Blue Team” exercises whereby the writer sets out a threat scenario and the staff must figure out what resources we could use to pre-empt just such a strike  (Note: Brad Meltzer was one of those authors invited to participate).

Having worked in the national security field, I have always been fascinated with the motives of international villains, be they heads of government or outside groups, and  I have tried to focus on many of these motives in my own novels: fomenting a war, re-orienting the world order, capturing territory, regaining an empire, increasing profits or subduing a population. Heavy stuff, right? And yet, when you think about it, these are all things that keep our top national security experts and military leaders up at night!

In my first thriller, Checkmate, I wanted to emphasize the importance of building expanded missile defense systems. For locations, I chose India and Pakistan since both countries have nuclear weapons and have fought three wars — two over the disputed territory of Kashmir.


But first I had to have a villain.  In doing my research some years ago I discovered a little-known (at the time) militant group going by the name Lashkar-e-Taiba. Translation, “Army of the Pure.” (Pure hatred for India that is). In the story, I use their name and write that their motive is to plan attacks on India with cruise missiles stolen from Pakistan with the help of certain Pakistani officers.  Then that country would be blamed, thus fomenting another war. In the ensuing chaos, Lashkar and those officers would take over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

My heroine invents a new technology for the defense of cruise missiles and the challenge, of course, is to use it to prevent that type of attack.  Some time after the novel came out, many aspects of the story came true – which I have to admit rather freaked me out.  For example, remember that horrible attack on the Indian city of Mumbai? Turns out it was planned and executed by none other than the actual group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Ever since then, that militant crowd has often cropped up in the news. (In fact, the “Shoe Bomber,” Richard Reed, was trained by Lashkar!)

The attack on Mumbai

In Final Finesse, the motive is to raise the price of oil and gas to increase the profits for the government of Venezuela by sending a secret team to our country to sabotage pipelines and destroy our energy sources.  But that story was also written several years ago when oil and gas supplied 95% of that country’s income. I was simply imagining what might happen if the prices fell.

Venezuelans trying to buy food in Colombia

And fell they did. This, coupled with complete economic mismanagement has turned a country once blessed with abundant natural resources into a total basket case where their people have to pour over the border into neighboring Colombia to buy food and medicine.

Those thrillers might be called “prescient” but I hope and pray the premise of another of my novels, Castle Bravo NEVER comes to pass. Not here. Not anywhere.

In this story, the government of a former Soviet Republic decides to launch a small nuclear device from a disguised fishing vessel off our West Coast…but not aiming it at San Francisco or Los Angeles, which obviously would be unbelievably devastating. No, their plan is to detonate it straight up in the air — 50-100 miles up.  This explosion would create an “Electro Magnetic Pulse” – EMP — that would “fry” all electronics on the ground. We would have no communications, transportation, sanitation, refrigeration — as one General explained to me, “It would set us back to the year 1910…and don’t think our enemies aren’t looking at this!”

So now, picture yourself sitting in the Situation Room of The White House analyzing possible threats from around the world and endeavoring to figure out the best ways to protect our country from potential villains with motives to harm us.  What motives and scenarios would YOU find most threatening? Think about that and leave a comment below. We would love to have your thoughts. They could be the inspiration for the next thriller.Thanks for being with us today!

Karna Small Bodman

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  1. S. Lee Manning

    I'd heard that novelists were invited in to create scenarios. How fascinating to know that novelists are taken seriously by national security experts. And love the insight into how you created your villains.

  2. KJ Howe

    I also find it fascinating that novelists get to participate in red/blue team scenarios. They certainly have the imagination to create some tricky situations. I believe Nelson DeMille predicted something similar to 911 with his book, THE LION. Thanks for sharing your incredible insights. You've had such fascinating experiences.

  3. Sonja Stone

    Karna, with your seeming ability to write the future, perhaps your next novel should end with world peace? 😉

  4. Karna Bodman

    A novel ending with world peace? Ah, don't we all wish! Seems that the ancient sage Nostradamus wrote out his predictions centuries ago and when analyzed, it certainly did sound like after a gigantic confrontation between the west and the Middle East (amazing) we would have peace for a thousand years. Thanks, Sonja, K.J. and S. Lee for all of your comments! Appreciate it.

  5. Gayle Lynds

    I also like your analysis of villains by their motives. So true, and overlooked. Thanks for a great essay, Karna!