A book currently on the New York Times' bestsellers list presents a classic example of how fiction can be an ideal way to get at thorny truths.
"All Necessary Force," a novel by Brad Taylor, is an action-adventure yarn that pits America's best warriors against a top-echelon terrorist group bent on surpassing the 9/11 attacks. What makes it especially notable is that the author is a former member of the U.S. Army's most elite unit -- U.S. Army 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta.
The unit, often incorrectly referred to as Delta Force, is so secretive that its active-duty members are forbidden to tell anyone they're part of it. Once a person leaves the organization, he's allowed to say he was in the unit, but he can't say anything about operations he has been on.
Taylor, a career Special Forces officer who recently retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel after 21 years of service, spent the past eight years in Delta. During his time with the unit, he conducted missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and areas that remain classified.
Taylor's experience gives him exceptional insight into the thinking of special operators, as well as the high-value terrorist foes they hunt. Because the men at the tip of America's military spear have to be cloaked in anonymity, misconceptions about them abound.
"Too often in the movies and on television you see these guys that are like, 'If the bureaucrats get off my back and I can use a drill bit in this guy's knee, I could figure out where the bomb is,' " Taylor said during a recent interview.
"The truth is, an operator in the unit has to be somebody who can make a critical decision that will affect national security at the national level. And he's got to have a moral compass to make those decisions.
"They're not a bunch of robots running around. And because of that we select very highly for that [moral compass]. Very, very highly, because most of the stuff we do is not done with somebody standing behind us directing us to stop this or fix that.
"You're doing it on your own. If you can't make the correct moral decision, you are not the guy they want."
Taylor's first book, "One Rough Man," introduces Pike Logan, an exceptionally skilled operator who also is the protagonist in "All Necessary Force." The author took the title of his first book from a quote by George Orwell that says, "People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do them harm."
The killing of Osama bin Laden brought to light examples of such rough men. In that case it was the U.S. Navy's Delta equivalent -- SEAL Team Six.
Taylor, like many others in the special operations community, did a lot of cringing as the media tried to reveal the entire operation step by step. In their tight-lipped world, all that needed to be said was that the terrorist was dead.
"When bin Laden was killed, everybody was calling me and saying, 'Hey, do you want to talk about this?' " Taylor said. "I told every one of them that I would talk about the effect on al-Qaida, and the strategic and tactical impact, but not about the mission, because I wasn't there and it was classified.
"Most of the information that came out about it was kind of ridiculous. There were some classified things that came out, but most of it was just Hollywood stuff.
"On one hand, I think the information that came out shows the global reach of the U.S. and what we can do. On the other hand, that in itself is bad, because then terrorists who think they're safe now think they're not safe, and they may harden their structures and things like that."
Taylor's books are filled with realistic, whiz-bang gadgetry and thoroughly believable scenarios. But he makes absolutely certain none of it is classified or will in any way jeopardize national security or inform terrorists about methodology.
"Before I send something to my editor, I'll send it to guys who are still out there," Taylor said. "I'll ask them if there is anything in it that would make them mad, or if there's anything in it that shouldn't be.
"They always come back with stuff. I learned a lesson early on when I sent something out to them and they came back saying, 'Don't put this, this and this in the book.' I asked them why not, because it was all over the Internet.
"They said, 'When it's on the Internet, it's everybody guessing. With your name behind it, it becomes fact.' I hadn't thought about that, and I took it out."
Taylor is a strong believer in the military axiom "Know thy enemy." To that end, he has studied terrorism for years and currently serves as a security consultant to various agencies on asymmetric threats.
Taylor's knowledge of terrorism allows him to create convincing terrorists in his books. They are not mindless automatons, but ruthless individuals motivated by their own twisted ideologies.
"The terrorists themselves are pretty complex," Taylor said. "I've met a few of them, and you sit across the table from them and wonder, 'Why does this guy want to kill everybody?'
"In 'All Necessary Force' I wanted to show that while they're fanatic and are definitely doing evil stuff, they're not necessarily Doctor Evil running around. Some of them are, no doubt, like [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and those nut jobs.
"But a lot of them are not. They've been swept up in this thing, and terrorists are definitely made, not born. I've tried to show that."
While operating in Iraq, Taylor saw firsthand how young, idealistic men were transformed into terrorists. Often, to justify their involvement in the killing of innocent people, they would see it as a necessary evil from which a greater good would come.
"There's a metamorphosis that goes on," Taylor said of the terrorists. "And I'm speaking specifically of things I saw in Iraq, which is not necessarily the global jihadist movement.
"But these young kids come to Iraq, and they think they're going to be fighting the good fight. Then they get there and they're told to snipe somebody in the back or blow them up with an IED [improvised explosive device] or become a suicide bomber, and there's massive carnage.
"My personal theory is that they look at that and in their own mind they have to make a decision. Either I'm a mass murderer or the cause is just. Most of them will eventually start thinking the cause is just, and they fully believe that they're doing it for the greater good of humanity."
It has been said that one person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist. Because of that, it can be difficult defining what terrorism is.
Taylor's definition of terrorism has five components. The first is that the attack is directed against noncombatant targets. The second is that the target of the attack is not the actual, specific target, but, rather, everybody who is watching.
The third element is that it's done by sub-state groups. Fourth, it has violence or the threat of violence. And lastly, it's ideologically driven.
In the nefarious world of terrorism, things are rarely black and white. In "All Necessary Force," Taylor clearly defines what separates the Pike Logans of the world from the bin Ladens.
"Mainly because of some of the [media] coverage that comes out, I think many Americans have a misguided notion that we have these amoral assassination teams running around the world," Taylor said.
"The truth is we don't do anything that breaks the law, no matter what you see on television. We don't have anybody who is psychotic out there. They're there to defend the Constitution."
Little is known about the selection process Delta prospects are subjected to. Nearly everything in the public domain about this super-secret unit is speculative, and that can be problematic.
"On my first mission into Afghanistan we were in a classified location and were watching CNN," Taylor said. "There was an old unit guy up there talking, and he had absolutely no idea what we were doing.
"But he had a map and pointer and he's saying, 'Here's where they could go, here's where they could launch from, here's what they could do.' He was basically giving our mission away.
"We had to call our people, and he was told to get the hell off the television."
Having made it through the extraordinary difficult selection process, Taylor knows what it takes. Two absolutely essential qualities are maturity and character, and then there are any number of intangibles.
"Everybody likes to talk about how well you can shoot, or how long you can run and how well you can do hand-to-hand," Taylor said. "But if you asked the average guy in the unit what he is, he's not going to tell you he's the best shot in the Army or Mr. Jujitsu.
"He's going to say, 'I'm a problem solver. If you've got a problem you need to solve that nobody else can do, give it to me and I'll figure it out.'
"If the guy is coming into the unit for the wrong reason, he's not going to make it through. You have to be there for the right reasons, because you're not going to get any accolades except from your teammates.
"They're the only ones who will ever know what you did."