The True Facts Behind the Plot of The Butcher's Bill

My latest mystery thriller, The Butcher's Bill, will be published June 30. Though a work of fiction, the plot of The Butcher's Bill, like most of my books, is firmly rooted in facts.

A sequel to my first Linus Schag, NCIS, novel, The Killing Depths, The Butcher's Bill involves one man's attempt to uncover the truth behind the theft of nearly $9 billion in cash during the Iraq War, the largest heist in history and one that has never been adequately investigated.

What follows is the true story behind the fictional story in The Butcher's Bill.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush Administration made a controversial decision. Billions of dollars belonging to Saddam Hussein and his government sat in frozen financial accounts in U.S. banks. After the fall of the Baghdad government, the White House decided to confiscate those funds and use them to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq.

That, itself, was not controversial. How the administration did it was.

Rather than place the Iraqi funds in a holding account and pay contractor bills as they came due, the Bush administration decided convert the holdings into $40 billion in U.S. greenbacks and send it to Iraq by the planeload. Once in Iraq, the cash was handed out to contractors without much regard to receipts for work performed. Some witnesses claim the money was stuffed into duffle bags then handed over to contractors.

While the haphazard distribution of $31 billion was controversial enough, there was an even greater outrage. Nearly $9 billion in cash—$8.9 billion to be precise—simply disappeared, apparently stolen. Any attempt to investigate the theft was blocked at the highest levels of the government.

Graft and corruption plagues every war, but the Iraqi conflict may have seen the most overt war profiteering in history. The Bush administration's excessive use of private contractors for everything from operating mess halls to building bases set the stage for widespread illegal activities. The president's granting of immunity from prosecution to all contractors for any questionable activity only exacerbated the problem.

Contractor-operated mess halls knowingly served rancid food to troops. Construction of facilities for both U.S. and pro-U.S. Iraqi troops was at best careless. Several American service members died when electrocuted by improperly wired barracks. Inadequately constructed plumbing poured raw sewage into newly built building, rendering them inhabitable. (Read more about this fraud here.)

The widespread use of so-called "security contractors"—i.e., armed mercenaries—was the most controversial. These private military companies claimed their personnel were highly trained former military or law enforcement professionals. In fact, many of these security contractors had little or no military or law enforcement background. Many had criminal backgrounds and some were known former members of Latin American death squads. (I know one such contractor who was hired by a security firm even though he had no military or law enforcement background at all. Asked why, if he felt compelled to serve his country as he claimed, he didn't join the army, he replied, "They wouldn't pay me enough.")

Security contractors were responsible for some of the most egregious acts. There were allegations of security contractors smuggling weapons into Iraq, possibly to sell to insurgents. Some were accused of smuggling drugs, which they sold to U.S. troops. Many contractors were accused of killing Iraqi citizens without cause. Only when a group of "security contractors" machine-gunned more than 20 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007 were any of these people prosecuted. (Read more on these abuses here.)

These are the facts behind the plot of The Butcher's Bill.

In the novel, NCIS Special Agent Bill Butcher finds himself in the middle of this byzantine environment when posted to Iraq during the war. A former Navy SEAL, Butcher is a man of high moral standards, with a strong sense of right and wrong, especially when it involves the welfare of serving men and women.

Butcher is continually frustrated when Bush's immunity proclamation prevents him from investigating the myriad acts of profiteering he sees around him. When he is pulled off an investigation into the missing $9 billion in cash, he refuses to give up. Butcher continues to probe the theft even after returning to the States. His obsession with the missing funds will cost him his job and his marriage. When Butcher discovers the truth behind the missing money, it threatens to cost him his life.

Those who stole the money want Bill Butcher dead. The cops want him for murder. Butcher's only hope is his former NCIS colleague and closest friend, Linus Schag.

Torn between loyalties, Schag walks a thin line between doing his job and helping his friend. Working from opposite ends, Schag and Butcher peel back the layers of conspiracy, revealing a criminal enterprise reaching into the highest levels of government.

Taken straight from today's headlines, the plot of The Butcher's Bill ranges from the California mountains to the waters of the Pacific, and will keep readers on edge until its final, explosive climax.

The Butcher's Bill will be available in paperback and Kindle e-book. The Kindle version is available for pre-order for just $2.99. Look for it here.