Literature: Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger is the fourth Jack Ryan novel written by Tom Clancy. It is the sixth chronological book, published in 1989 and taking place in 1988.

Several months after the events of The Cardinal Of The Kremlin, in the midst of an election year, the President decides that he must show the voters that he is taking a hard line against drugs. His new National Security Advisor, Vice Admiral James Cutter, takes charge and enlists the CIA in order to conduct offensive operations against the Medellín Cartel. At the same time, Jack Ryan finds himself assuming the position of DDI due to his mentor James Greer succumbing to pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, things soon spiral out of control and Ryan must find a way to stop things before too much damage is done to the government.

The novel is notable for introducing Badass John Clark as a regularly recurring character, after the popularity he enjoyed in The Cardinal Of The Kremlin, as well as Domingo "Ding" Chavez, who would later become the other half of Clark's Badass Duo.

The 1994 film adaptation starred Harrison Ford as Ryan and Willem Dafoe as John Clark.


This novel contains examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Ryan, as in past instances, has the action come to him rather than him searching for the action.
  • Armchair Military:
    • Discussed by John Clark who promises that if the American teams don't survive then the REMF (rear echelon motherfucker) who abandoned them is going to die. He wasn't kidding.
    • Zig-zagged with Admiral Cutter. He does have the necessary naval commands for reaching flag rank but Ryan notes that most of his career was spent in the Pentagon. In practice, Cutter repeatedly is shown to be inept at just about everything except for ass kissing and has no idea how to run a covert operation.
  • Artistic License/Anachronism Stew: In the real world, 1988 featured George H.W. Bush running against Michael Dukakis, since it was impossible for Ronald Reagan, who got elected in 1980, to run for a third term. However, for the purposes of the story, the President in the last two novels was elected to his first term in 1984, theoretically making him either Harold Stassen or Walter Mondale. But this is impossible, since Red October, which has the same President, clearly states that December 3rd took place on a Friday that year, which makes it only possible to happen in one of four years in the post-Vietnam, pre-2000 era: 1976 (Impossible as Ryan would have still been in college at that time), 1982 (Red Rabbit, which takes place before Red October is explicitly stated to take place in this year), 1993, or 1999. This gets more confusing in later novels where Clancy treats the Reagan and Bush presidencies as happening as normal.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Cortez to Escobedo, and subsequently to the rest of the Cartel. It's specifically noted by Ritter that whatever brains the Cartel don't have, they hire. Cortez laments several times throughout the novel that he could easily replace the men he works for and eventually does make moves to do as such.
  • The Big Guy: Julio Vega, who would later become a recurring character, is introduced in this novel, and given his nickname, Oso. A staple of this and later novels is that he's so tough that a hundred pushups a day doesn't generate even a drop of sweat for him.
  • Boring Yet Practical: Invoked by Director Jacobs, who argues that, instead of covert special operations and bombing, good, honest police work can do much more to sink the Cartel. He makes a pretty good case, seeing as how Operation TARPON makes by far the biggest hole in the Cartel's power.
  • Broken Pedestal: When Jack learns about the operation and that it was signed off on by the President, Bob Ritter, and DCI Moore he's pretty lost at what to do. Previously they had been trustworthy Reasonable Authority Figures but were now involved in an invasion of a US ally all for the goal of helping the President get reelected and rebuild the CIA's covert ops abilities to what they were in the 1950s. Fortunately, they all pull off a Heel-Face Turn and manage to rebuild some of Jack's respect by the end.
  • The Cartel: Are the primary adversaries.
  • The Cavalry: After everything goes to hell, Ryan and Clark help organize a rescue for the troops left behind on the ground, with the Pave Low, their MC-130 support, Larson's King Beech, and the Panache all playing big roles.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ritter's safe combination is revealed to Ryan at the beginning of the novel for a very good reason: he uses it to break into Ritter's vault to discover the facts about Operations SHOWBOAT and RECIPROCITY.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Once Cortez discovers the various United States operations against the Cartel, he uses them in order to eliminate various Cartel leaders to solidify his position.
  • Cool Boat: USCGC Panache.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The owner of the Empire Builder had laundered money for the Cartel on a massive scale, and his elimination was due to the Cartel discovering that he had been skimming off the top. The records the FBI discover in his home lead to Operation TARPON.
  • Corrupt Cop: Ernie Braden, a detective in the Mobile police force, was hired by the Cartel to search for and steal evidence prior to the hit being put on the Corrupt Corporate Executive above. His failure to discover the records subsequently result in the Cartel putting a hit on him.
  • Derelict Graveyard: "Bronco" Winters speculates that the Boneyard in Arizona is where the captured druggie DC-7B will eventually be dumped, given that one more old aircraft in storage there won't be particularly noteworthy.
  • Don't Sneak Up On Me Like That: This exact line is said by Clark when the pilot Larson walks up behind him without warning first. Actually incredibly stupid of Larson, since Clark just killed four heavily armed mercenaries.
  • The Dragon: Felix Cortez is this to Escobedo, and is mainly portrayed as a Dragon-in-Chief since much of the Cartel's side of the story is told from his perspective.
  • Driven to Suicide
    • Moira Wolfe attempts suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills, after she finds out that she was used by Cortez for the information that was used to kill Director Jacobs during his visit to Bogota.
    • Leave Behind a Pistol: Admiral Cutter is given the "choice" by Clark of facing trial for flagrant violations of U.S. and international law. He chooses the "easy" way out by stepping in front of a bus. Later novels clarify that Clark did this entirely on his own initiative.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The justification for the plot. Subverted when the methods the government uses to attack the drug trade are shown as clearly worse than the trade itself.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Cortez is constantly feeling this in his employment with the Cartel. He's a KGB trained professional intelligence officer who's managed to compromise the freaking FBI, yet his advice is usually ignored or not even sought out. It's what prompts his coup attempt against the Cartel and detente with the U.S. government.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Averted. John Clark recruits his soldiers from regular U.S. Army light infantry units and then gives them additional training in guerrilla warfare. The reason he doesn't recruit from Special Forces is that the Special Forces community is small enough that people would notice the missing soldiers and start asking questions.
  • Enemy Civil War: Part of Clark's RECIPROCITY operation after FBI Director Jacobs is killed by the Medellin Cartel.
    • False Flag Operation: In order to facilitate the above, Clark uses Navy-dropped stealth bombs to make the Cartel think that their own members are killing each other.
  • Exact Words: Ryan and Murray promise Cortez that he won't be prosecuted. True to Ryan's word, he isn't prosecuted. He's handed back to his former agency in Cuba, where his fate is most likely to be far less pleasant than what it could be under the US criminal justice system.
  • Even Evil Has Standards
    • Cortez has the mindset of a professional intelligence officer, so while he mostly has a lot of Pragmatic Villainy moments, he does show genuine disgust with the methods used by the Cartel to intimidate their rivals (even paraphrasing Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil at one point).
    • Exploited by the Mobile Police Department, who use a combination of this and The Power of Love to convince two armed robbers to murder the pirates who kick off the novel.
  • Every Bullet Is a Tracer: Averted.
    • When tracers are used (particularly in the miniguns on the Pave Low helicopters), it's specifically mentioned that only one out of X bullets is a tracer round, for the purposes of assisting with aim. Given minigun rate of fire, it's also mentioned that it looks like a laser beam at full "rock and roll".
    • This also goes for the SHOWBOAT teams, where it's specifically noted that only the last three rounds in each magazine for the riflemen are tracers, in order to tell them that it's time to reload.
  • Fake Kill Scare: The Coasties get a drug-runner to talk by pretending to hang his collaborator from the lanyard with a hood over his head. A pad of gauze soaked in ether, hidden inside the hood, knocks him out.
  • Fiery Cover-Up : When Clark discovers the remains of Team Banner's men after they run into a Cartel hunting party, he burns the bodies in order to cover up American involvement in the operation. He later confronts Ritter about this, saying that he's never burned the body of a friendly before, and didn't like being forced to.
  • General Failure: Vice Admiral Cutter, by sheer incompetence, manages to escalate the US operations in Columbia to illegal levels. To make matters worse, Cortez discovers the U.S. involvement and then blackmails Cutter into assisting him in his power grab, which involves betraying the SHOWBOAT teams and leaving them to die.
  • Genre Blind: Discussed by Bob Ritter. He repeatedly has to deal with Admiral Cutter making unnecessary changes to the operation, but eventually realizes that Cutter has confused the reality of intelligence work with the glory of fictional spy thrillers. He even points out there's a term for this: Mission: Impossible Syndrome.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • FBI Director Jacobs correctly deduces that the Colombia mission is likely to spiral out of control and will blow up in their faces before too long.
    • Every time the President gives orders to Ritter or Cutter about turning the Colombia operation into a personal revenge mission, he makes sure to be as vague and oblique as possible so the tape recorders he has running will show he never actually ordered any explicit assassinations.
  • "Get out of Jail Free" Card: Largely averted, since, as mentioned by new FBI Director Bill Shaw, none of the order-followers throughout the whole operation actually broke the law since they believed that they were following legitimate, legal orders from above.
    • Bob Ritter, being a veteran of Washington politics, knows full well he needs to cover his ass and so forces Admiral Cutter to provide him with one. Unlike in the film adaptation, this is treated as covering the CIA and its assets in general, rather than just Ritter personally.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Outside of Ryan and a few other major characters, everyone involved gets morally compromised in some way. And while Cortez is evil, he's occasionally shown in a positive light for his competency and skill.
  • Honey Trap: Cortez is said to be a master of this, and demonstrates as such, in manipulating Moira Wolfe into giving him sensitive FBI information.
  • Home Field Advantage: In one case, some Cartel workers manage to escape from Team Knife due to knowing the terrain better and using it to flee.
  • Idiot Ball
    • The Cartel's decision to assassinate the US Ambassador to Columbia, the Director of the FBI, and the head of the DEA displays a tenacious grip on the Idiot Ball. Cortez is the only one that realizes this.
    • This is reciprocated by the United States when they decide to start using the SHOWBOAT teams to hit Cartel processing sites, which essentially is an act of war against Columbia since they're now technically using armed soldiers to kill Columbian citizens inside of their borders. It's also noted that hitting the processing sites is stupid, because there's hundreds of them, and taking out 2 or 3 a night won't have any effect.
  • Informed Ability: In-universe example. Admiral Cutter was appointed as National Security Adviser because he was supposedly an expert on Latin-American affairs. By the time the President realizes that he most certainly is not, it's already too late.
  • Innocent Bystander:
    • After the Cartel kill Jacobs, Cutter's response is to approve a surgical bombing of a Cartel meeting. Of course, the bomb isn't as surgical as he deluded himself to believe, resulting in the deaths of various Cartel heads' family members and servants. This has a direct impact on the election rhetoric, putting even more pressure on the President.
    • When the SHOWBOAT teams commence operations hitting Cartel processing sites, it's implied that many of the peasants who do the dirty work have no other choice to feed their families.
    • Ernie Braden's wife happens to catch a stray round when Cartel hitmen murder him in his front yard, and she later dies in the hospital.
  • Interservice Rivalry: An interesting aversion. Acting FBI Director Shaw and Dan Murray are both uncomfortable with exposing the CIA's operations because the resulting political scandal would likely result in the CIA being crippled as an intelligence agency. This would be a devastating blow to the FBI's war on terror since the CIA is a major, though silent, partner in it and provides vital overseas information.
  • It's All My Fault: Moira Wolfe, on discovering that she was used by Cortez, and that the information she gave directly resulted in Emil Jacobs's death, attempts suicide because of this.
  • It's Personal:
    • Jeff "Bronco" Winters, who pilots the F-15 that takes part in Operation EAGLE EYE, accepted the job because his mother was killed by a druggie when he was a child.
    • When the Cartel discover the implications of Operation TARPON, and that Emil Jacobs would be flying to Columbia to meet with their Attorney General, they make the rash decision to murder him. Of course, this results in compromising Moira Wolfe, the FBI source who gave Cortez the information.
    • In response to the above, the President gives Ritter a "hunting license with no bag limit," which results in the killing of various Cartel heads, as well as the SHOWBOAT teams attacking Cartel drug processing sites.
    • In one scene, Ritter explains to Cutter that John Clark is more than happy to go after the Cartel because Clark's former girlfriend was murdered by a drug-dealing pimp (referring to events that would later be depicted in Without Remorse).
    • More generally, the CIA deliberately select for this trope, picking for their operation military men they feel will be angry about drugs - the Gunnery Sergeant in command of the Recon Marines who received the intercepted drug flights, for instance, served in Vietnam and saw a platoon wiped out by the Vietcong because some of them were doing drugs.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: The Alabama police use some wildly illegal and creative means to get two black felons to murder Ramon and Jesus, the pirates, after their lawyer gets the death penalty taken off the table.
  • Last Stand: The Battle of Ninja Hill, in which fifteen US Army soldiers take on 200 Cartel gunmen. While the SHOWBOAT teams manage to kill close to half of the gunmen and wound most of the rest, only five of them end up surviving, with one of them captured and later killed.
  • Literary Allusion Title: the "Clear and present danger" clause in law. Title Dropped. Interestingly, it is related to the First Amendment freedom of speech provision and has little, if any, relevance to the plot.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Ryan, despite being the acting Deputy Director (Intelligence), is kept in the dark and lied to by his colleagues, and remains mostly in the background until the very end.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: James Greer, Ryan's mentor throughout his CIA career, is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and spends the first half of the book wasting away in a hospital before finally dying. This also becomes Back Story for Clark, who mentions that he also owed a great deal to Greer.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ernesto Escobado is a thinly-veiled stand-in for real life Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
  • Odd Friendship: Alan Trent, who was introduced in Cardinal Of The Kremlin, is first seen in the company of Sam Fellows, a Mormon from Arizona, at the end of the novel when they force the President to throw the election to Fowler.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: In-universe example. Bob Ritter notices that Jack doesn't show up for Admiral Greer's funeral, which is something he would never do. After calling up Cathy Ryan and finding out that Jack also hadn't told his wife he would be, something he would also never do unless it involved a CIA mission, Ritter and Moore realize that Ryan knows about the Colombia mission and is mostly trying to rescue the stranded soldiers. Fortunately, this is what prompts their Heel-Face Turn against Admiral Cutter.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The United States's response to the Cartel for murdering Director Jacobs.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Ryan is only able to do what he can to shut down the operations because of his position as DDI.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Larson shoots out the lock at an airplane strip where Colonel Johns's chopper lands to refuel before heading out to Panache. Though it is slightly justified in that he uses five rounds to do so and specifically aims to separate the lock mechanism from the door.
  • Sinister Shiv: The pirates meet their end in the showers of the Alabama jail, courtesy a couple of these.
  • Smug Snake: Ernesto Escobedo's default attitude towards America and Americans. This eventually becomes his downfall.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: In later novels, it's noted that at the time, Carol Zimmer was pregnant with her husband's eighth child, and was planning to surprise him with it the next time he came home.
    • Honorary Uncle: Due to Buck Zimmer's death, Ryan effectively becomes this, looking after Zimmer's family and making sure they all go to college. It becomes a major plot point in later novels.
  • Swiss Bank Account: The Cartel launder their money through an intricate network set up by an Alabama businessman, which was almost untraceable. However, once it's cracked by Operation TARPON, it inflicts a net loss on the Cartel on the order of half a billion dollars. Keep in mind, these are 1988 dollars, so the result is equivalent to over a billion dollars today.
  • Take That: Clancy wrote the novel after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, and wrapped in elements of the Vietnam War, to highlight what he saw as political operators making mistakes with covert operations for obscure, unjustified, and sometimes illegal goals.
  • The Starscream: Cortez, after the Cartel make the decision to murder Jacobs in response to TARPON, decides to subvert their leadership with the aim of eventually taking over.
  • Title Drop: The drug trade is identified via secret executive order as a "clear and present danger" to national security.
  • Training from Hell: The SHOWBOAT teams train for their mission in the Colorado mountains, where the oxygen level is very low, in order to prepare themselves for operations in the Columbian mountains. They don't try playing the Drill Sergeant Nasty version, though, specifically because the troops all have enough combat experience neither to need such treatment nor to stand for it.
  • Unexpected Successor: Enforced. The sitting President is forced by Al Trent and Sam Fellows to throw the 1988 election, resulting in Bob Fowler being elected.
  • We Have Reserves: Invoked by Cortez when he sends hundreds of Cartel gunmen to eliminate the SHOWBOAT teams based on the information provided by Cutter. In addition to killing the U.S. soldiers, he wants to reduce the Cartel's available manpower so that he can make his power grab.
  • You Are in Command Now: Bill Shaw ends up becoming the new FBI Director upon Emil Jacobs's death.