It reads like a James Bond thriller, but an author's note insists that "every incident in this book is true, and the people are all real."
Writing under the pseudonym Gayle Rivers, the author describes himself as an anti-terrorist killer trained by the SAS, Britain's Special Air Service. The book, entitled "The Specialist," has just been published in Britain and is to be brought out soon in the United States.
On the jacket, it says that Rivers has hunted IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland, killed IRA gunrunners in Europe and the Middle East, assassinated Basque terrorist leaders in their hide-outs in France, led commando raids against Iranian oil installations, carried out covert missions in Lebanon to help protect U.S. Marines and led U.S. Special Forces teams on a mission to assassinate Syrian intelligence officers.
A colorful account of derring-do, the book has generated controversy here because knowledgeable military people have seriously questioned its accuracy.
Brig. M. F. Hobbs, the British army's director of public relations who himself has served in Ulster, said: "The passages in the book that refer to Northern Ireland do not appear to bear any resemblance to reality at all."
Another British officer said that to "anyone who knows how the SAS works on the inside, it rings all wrong."
A ballistics expert, Peter Eliot, was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying: "Everything (the book) says about firearms or ballistics is either wrong or misquoted from technical journals."
Nevertheless, its publishers, Sidgwick & Jackson, and Rivers' agent, George Greenfield of John Farquharson Ltd., are standing by Rivers.
"I have every reason to believe his account is accurate," Greenfield said. "I've checked the story with some SAS sources of my own."
Author's Real Name?
According to the London Sunday Times, Gayle Rivers is the pseudonym of Raymond Brooks, the 37-year-old head of Mesa Corp., a Swiss-based arms firm that has run into financial difficulties. The newspaper said Brooks once volunteered for an SAS reserve unit but failed to qualify for extended service.
Neither the British publishers, Sidgwick & Jackson, nor the American publishers, Stein & Day, will acknowledge that Gayle Rivers is Brooks.
Sol Stein, president of Stein & Day, said: "I am satisfied that Gayle Rivers is who he says he is and did what he says he did."
The American publisher suggests that British newspaper articles that raise doubts about Rivers' story are "disinformation," planted by intelligence agencies that do not want to admit to having used Rivers' services.
Stein said his publishing house plans to bring out the book April 15 in the United States with a first printing of 50,000 copies.
Parts of the book have been serialized in the London Sunday Mail, and the book has been chosen by the Military Book Society in London as its April selection.
Howard Cooley, an officer of the Military Book Society, said: "We bought the book on the basis that it was offered. I am not in a position to judge its veracity. One has to rely on publishers all the time in making judgments like these."
According to promotion material put out by the British publishers, Rivers joined the New Zealand Special Air Force and somehow managed to get to Vietnam, where he was attached to the "U.S. Green Berets," the Special Forces of the U.S. Army.
'An Elite Professional'
It was there, this material says, that "he received the grounding in special warfare that was to carry through to a lifetime of special covert operations as an elite professional."
In the opening chapter, the reader finds Rivers driving his Porsche alongside Lake Geneva. The phone in the car rings; it is a U.S. Marine Corps major calling from Beirut after the bombing of Marine headquarters there.
Rivers is summoned to Beirut and paid $160,000 to lead a five-man Special Forces team in a raid on a Druze apartment building in West Beirut. The mission: to capture or kill three senior Syrian intelligence officers.
To carry out the operation, Rivers says, he and his associates used mountaineering gear and techniques to cross from one building to another, and he says that they killed a dozen Druze and Syrians.
Americans familiar with U.S. operations in Beirut question whether the U.S. Marine Corps or the Central Intelligence Agency, both of which are said to have approved his selection, would call on a Swiss-based mercenary to lead such a raid.
The scene then shifts to Northern Ireland, where Rivers says he was enlisted by the SAS, as a reservist, to conduct operations against Irish Republican Army terrorists moving across the border.
"It's absurd," a British officer who commanded a brigade in Ulster commented. "It's against our law to use reservists in Northern Ireland. . . ."
Military sources said privately that a man named Raymond Brooks did serve briefly as a volunteer in the SAS reserve but failed to qualify for extended service.
Michael Evans, the defense correspondent of the London Daily Express, also identifies Rivers as Brooks. Evans said he interviewed the author of "The Specialist," who told him that some of the incidents described in the Northern Ireland section were a combination of incidents, a composite, to give the public "an idea of the sort of things encountered by the SAS."
Work in Iran
The book ends with Rivers' accounts of work that he said he did on behalf of the Iraqi army in the war with Iran.
The final chapter has Rivers entering the Iranian town of Dezful at the request of the Iraqis in order to place mines and booby traps. According to Rivers, the Iraqis had a "large garrison" in the heart of Dezful, were planning to withdraw and needed Rivers to blow up key installations before the arrival of Iranian forces.
Historians say that the Iraqi army once claimed to have seized and briefly occupied an air base and radar station near Dezful but that it never occupied that city.
Greenfield, Rivers' agent, said that Rivers had published an earlier book in collaboration with a writer named James Hudson. He said it is called "Five Fingers" and is a fictional account of Special Forces missions in Vietnam and China.