Sketch May 2014

He Hunted Osama bin Laden, He Breaks Into Nuclear-Power Plants

The unlikely career of Dalton Fury
John Cuneo

Delta Force lore has it that when the Army is filling its elite Special Operations unit, it looks not just to those who are the best, but to those who are the best at blending in. As the onetime Delta Force commander Dalton Fury puts it in his new counterterrorism thriller, Full Assault Mode, the ideal Delta operator is “a chameleon”—someone who looks “as normal as the next guy on the street corner.”

It’s a clear February evening, and I’m scanning the parking lot of a chain barbecue restaurant, looking for Fury. We are supposed to have dinner, if I can just find him—or rather, the person who goes by that name. Dalton Fury is my subject’s pen name; he has asked me not to use his real one in this article. Nor am I to identify the midsize southern town where we are meeting. The man is more than a little shy of attention: when Fury appeared on 60 Minutes in 2008 to discuss his part in the battle of Tora Bora—he commanded the Delta Force team charged at the time with hunting down Osama bin Laden—he was concealed by full special-effects makeup, complete with a Duck Dynasty–style beard.

Given all this, I didn’t bother to ask Fury in advance of our meeting what he looks like. He volunteered that he’s driving a silver Jeep, so I pull up to one in the parking lot. It turns out not to be his. Even his car is hiding in plain sight.

When he arrives he is, in fact, average-looking: Neither short nor tall. Fit, but not in a conspicuous way—not too big, not too thin. White, but again, not notably so; his skin is neither pale nor tan. Middle-aged, in a T-shirt and khaki pants. His voice has the soft imprint of a somewhat southern accent, one that’s impossible to place. If it weren’t for his slightly gray high-and-tight hairstyle, there’d be nothing notable about him at all. I later find myself wondering how I’d describe him to a police sketch artist: Draw a generic man. Yep—that’s him.

“The pulled chicken is supposed to be good,” Fury says as we look over the menu on the wall. The restaurant comes highly recommended, he adds. It’s a big place, with big portions and big smiles and very few patrons. We head for a secluded booth in an empty room. The second we sit down, he starts talking at a rapid-fire pace in a series of military acronyms. When he says “Delta Force,” he mouths the phrase like it’s a celebrity name he doesn’t want the next table over to hear.

Fury has previously published two novels about Kolt Raynor, a maverick Delta Force commander turned maverick mercenary; Full Assault Mode, his third Kolt Raynor book, comes out in May. He is also the author of a best-selling nonfiction book about his experience at Tora Bora, Kill Bin Laden. Unlike your average best-selling author with a book to hawk, Fury is not particularly keen on doing book publicity. He has agreed to talk to me mostly because I e‑mailed him requesting an interview on a topic near and dear to his heart: the security of America’s critical infrastructure—in particular, facilities such as power plants (the plot of Full Assault Mode involves a terrorist attack on a nuclear-power plant). “The threat is real. FYI,” he replied to my e‑mail, by way of granting my request.

Over dinner, we quickly dispense with his backstory: Born in Kentucky, Fury was a military brat, and moved around frequently. He enlisted in the Army at age 19 and spent 15 years in the Rangers, before making Special Ops. He left six years later, in 2005, after a run that included deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Iraq; he wanted to spend more time with his daughters, he explained. Upon retiring, he returned to his family and fell into “consulting,” which has included everything from advising the makers of video games like Call of Duty, to working for a federal contractor charged with testing and improving the security of the nation’s nuclear-power facilities.

This testing involves breaking into the plants for the purpose of finding security holes. He explains to me that the United States has 61 nuclear-power facilities that house a total of 100 reactors. He’s visited every one, he says, some of them more than once. “We got into the protected area of 65 percent,” he continues, taking a last pull off his iced tea. Furthermore, he tells me, he and his colleagues were able to access a sensitive target inside the protected area of 40 percent of the country’s facilities—something crucial to preventing a meltdown (a key water or power source, say). They achieved their final objective—being in a position to perform radiological sabotage—16 times.

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Tina Dupuy is a syndicated columnist who lives in New York City.

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