An interview with Christopher Reich, author of the new financial thriller The Prince of Risk

Chris Reich. (Credit: Katja Reich)

In an interview with Blaze Books in connection with his new action-packed novel, The Prince of Risk, thriller writer and Glenn Beck favorite Christopher Reich provided the fascinating background behind his book, explained to us the meaning of the aptly named “scoot and shoot,” riffed on globalization and exposed two grave threats to America that he believes are simply not getting the notice they deserve. Below is our interview, which has been slightly edited for clarity.

The Prince of Risk deals with many headline grabbing topics: hedge funds, industrial espionage, terrorism. How did you weave the story together?

Reich: The main thread that runs through them all of course is money, and finance. And these days…nothing really moves unless there’s money behind it. Having said that, I was just drawn in the last few years, and I had finished writing this “Rules” series. I had written three books dealing in the world of espionage. And the intelligence community. And all the while I’d been of course reading about what’s been going on in the financial world. With the people, traders losing billions of dollars and Bernard Madoff stealing billions from his clients, and I just thought it was very ripe territory to go after – to write a book from there. And on the other side with the terrorism I had been working a lot, or have a lot of friends I should say in the FBI and the Secret Service and we would get together just to chat and as I learned what was the current kind of landscape that was going on with their policing I learned some very interesting scenarios that I wanted to put in the book too.

Give us your pitch: why should Blaze readers buy this book for the holidays?

Reich: Well I grew up reading the classics: Frederick Forsythe, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Robert Ludlum. So I was trained in the school of just edge of your seat page-turners. So I write the kind of book that I like to read. The Prince of Risk is just a high-octane, adrenaline-filled thriller that’s based in this world of high finance. And I think it’s just a very exciting and informative read, so I just tell people read the first chapter and tell me if you can stop reading. There’s my pitch.

For context, what was your background that gave you the insights to write this book?

Reich: Well of course I began my career, I was an investment banker a long time ago. I worked at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich for a number of years, then I ran a watch company in Switzerland for five years. And then I quit all that just to become a writer, so I went into being a novelist completely cold turkey. And never having taken a fiction class. Never having written a short story. And I just used the kind of skill set that I developed as a banker which was basically just working really hard and long hours, and applied that to writing novels. And so coming into this book, this is my ninth book, so I have eight books of experience and of practice let’s say in 15 years in the game, but I have to say this: it doesn’t get any easier.

What kind of research did you do on national security in preparing to write The Prince of Risk? How much of the book is based on actual events that have transpired?

This story is based…almost entirely on fact…on events that are taking place in the world today
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Reich: The fun part about the book is that this story is based really almost entirely on fact – on things, on events that are taking place in the world today, taking place in Manhattan, in Europe and in China. So for research I spent on the finance side I was in New York – I made six trips to Manhattan and met with the bigshots in the hedge fund industry to learn about how their business actually works, and as well I worked with – I have some friends in the FBI, so I worked with the FBI counterterror office downtown on around 10th street, made three visits to them to learn about how they handle possible terrorists threats in Manhattan. And so between the two I kind of came up with the storyline for this based on what’s going on in the law enforcement world and the world of high finance.

Your main characters include the hedge fund managing son of a financial magnate and his ex-wife who is a fiery FBI agent. What was your inspiration for these characters? Are they composites of real people?

This character almost doesn’t seem real, and it’s stunning…[she's based] on a woman…in the FBI
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Reich: One of the characters is very much based on a real person. That is the heroine of the story, Alex Forza, FBI Special Agent who runs the task force called CT-26 which is a task force that evaluates all incoming threat messages – you know when they get calls saying “I think I see someone doing something bad,” and people are encouraged to call the FBI now at any signs of wrongdoing – and there’s a lady that runs that (I don’t really want to give her name), but she was really the template for this character. She was such a dedicated and absolute maverick FBI agent. Her whole life really was the FBI. And you know when you see something like that it’s like I will never be able to invent a better character than this. So I tried to work with her and use her knowledge. And I spent time with her seeing how she approached the job. So when you read about her, some people have said when they’ve read the book that this character almost doesn’t seem real, and it’s stunning because she is the realest character. You know this is based on the true life exploits of a woman who is currently working in the FBI. Now the hedge fund manager who is much more of a composite — there really is a type of individual that runs a hedge fund and they are driven, confident to the point of being arrogant, and very intelligent. And usually with a pretty good dose of personality in there. The character of Bobby Astor is really based upon my time spent with four or five men, sadly they’re just men at this point, that run hedge funds valued at between $1 and $15 billion.

In the book, you discuss something called a “Shoot and Scoot?” and claim it is the greatest threat to police forces across the country. Tell us just what a “shoot and scoot” is and why we should be so afraid?

Reich: The term was derived after the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November of 2008, when a team of 15 really hardly trained or ill-trained terrorists landed by boat in the city and basically proceeded to cause complete chaos by dividing into three teams of five armed with machine guns, hand grenades, even lousy cell phones and just picking easy targets and just running around the city throwing hand grenades. So they would shoot and then scoot to the next location. Shoot and scoot. They went to a train station. They burned down one of the great hotels in Mumbai. They went to a Jewish school and picked other targets of opportunity by just keeping moving – shooting and scooting. This is what’s very scary in a city like – and I’ll give you an example. In Mumbai, they shut down the city for three days, they ended up killing about 200 people maybe a few more, but even worse if I may say so was kind of a loss to the economy where we have a city of 16 million people that basically ground to a halt while the police tried to capture these and kill these terrorists. And so the loss in dollars was in the billions. Now translate this into New York City. Were something like this to happen in Manhattan, it would be absolutely catastrophic for the loss of life because we have so many people in such a small area, and in terms of the loss of, when business stops, the loss to the economy. And as I was writing this book, the Wall Street Journal came out with a big front-page article about the NYPD and the JTTF – that’s the Joint Terrorism Task Force…was gaming these scenarios of what would happen if teams of terrorists came into Manhattan and took over a building or took over a school or went into one o the train stations. How would they capture these people and stop the attack as soon as possible…It would be teams of three to ten terrorists moving through the city, well-armed, either taking targets or just shooting and moving and shooting and causing complete chaos and loss of life.

In the United States, we have laws that protect our corporations’ inventions and intellectual property. In your new book, you claim that several countries, especially China, have made it their national policy to steal those secrets. Can you explain? And what can we do about it?

The Chinese have made industrial espionage…a cornerstone of their intelligence strategy
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Reich: This is one of the great kind of crimes being committed against the United States that I am just surprised that people are not up in arms about. The Chinese have made industrial espionage, which means stealing our corporate secrets stealing the design of Boeing’s new wing or Pratt & Whitney’s new jet, or Oracle’s new database or Apple’s new phone…they made industrial espionage a cornerstone of their intelligence strategy and of their domestic economic strategy. I mean they don’t see it as illegal, they see it as patriotic to steal our secrets, and of course not compensate us for it. You see this most visibly with the pirating of motion pictures, intellectual property, you know you walk down a street in Shanghai and you could buy a DVD of ‘Four’ or ‘Superman’ the day after it’s released in America. And so this goes on and the Chinese authorities do nothing. But the point in the book is that the Chinese have really built up intelligence organizations within the country run by their army, run by their spy service to actively dig into our computers to hack our computers, and steal these industrial secrets so their companies can make these products and profit from them. And I think it’s an outrage that we should be much more aware of.

In the book, you mention something called “the Empire Platform?” That sounds very similar to something I read about last year called “the Niagara Platform.” Is it analogous? And, if so, can you explain what it is and why we should be afraid of it?

Reich: The “Empire Platform” is based on the “Niagara Platform,” which is something that is used by many businesses. And that is simply an internet software system that allows the user to control sophisticated business systems from a distant location. For example, they’ll use the Niagara Platform to control let’s say all the security in computers, heating systems in a hospital for example. So from one position you’ll be able to see all the computer work, all the internet stuff that’s going on inside of a hospital, or inside an electrical power plant, or inside a water treatment center, or a dam, or any of these, or a military facility, so because [of] the way the internet works it’s necessary to centralize a lot of these control systems. So the Niagara Platform is the best-used software system that enables someone to control entire units of infrastructure – allows from afar one person to control an entire electrical power plant or a hospital or a dam or something that if you wanted to cause some problems would be very very dangerous to people in the vicinity or people there.

The concept of taking over a system if you’re an enemy and shutting down a part of the grid or causing other chaos: In your experience dealing with intelligence professionals, were these scenarios being analyzed?

Our infrastructure is attacked tens of thousands of times every day
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Reich: Our infrastructure is attacked tens of thousands of times every day by computer hackers from Eastern Europe, China, all over the world. One recent attack that was quite successful was an attack not in America but in Saudi Arabia against ARAMCO, the Arab American Oil Company, where hackers went in and destroyed three-quarters of the hard drives of all the computers being used to control the oil systems of the largest export facility in Saudi Arabia. And it was a retaliatory attack I think to Stuxnet which was of course the software program written by America and Israel which allowed us to degrade and destroy a lot of the centrifuges in Iran. This was an attack, I think it was from Iran that came in and destroyed – practically brought down the biggest export facility to its knees – practically stopped its complete operation and resulted in tens of millions of dollars of damage to its computer and control systems. Another example – our computers, mainframes at the Pentagon, Department of Defense are hit tens of thousands of times every day by people trying to penetrate the firewall and gain access to intelligence documents, what have you, of military planning. Same goes for all major corporations. A funny part in my book, or an interesting part was my imagining that China has a whole building, a whole set of buildings set up where they have kind of ghost corporations that mirror our Fortune 500 corporations. They have their own version of Apple, their own version of Microsoft, their own version of Ford, of General Motors. Where they have groups of executives whose job it is to hack into these computers and find out what our corporations are doing, not only to steal secrets but also to get into their computers and kind of wreak havoc, and try to make it more difficult for us to do our business. So this is taking place every day, tens of thousands of times.

To that end, how do you see Globalization affecting the United States economy over the coming twenty years?

America is resilient and we’re finding ways to grow our economy in a meaningful manner
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Reich: We’ve certainly already seen how globalization affects the economy in positive and negative ways. A positive way of course is the increase in free trade, our access to goods and services which we just didn’t have 20 years ago. The fact that despite the population of the world growing, despite the huge increase in consumers, we’re still able to make and enjoy basically anything we want at prices that we can afford that haven’t really gone up in a long time. The downside is we’re seeing a stagnation in the wage-earning capacity of our lower middle and lower class as we send out so much of this work that we used to do overseas. Globalization: what does that mean? That means for example that a doctor in Bombay can read your x-rays for $5 an hour instead of a radiologist in Manhattan who’s going to charge you $125. So that’s a part of globalization that is sending really good jobs overseas that we will never get back. On the other hand, I do think that America is resilient and we’re finding ways to grow our economy in a meaningful manner. So I think…I’m for globalization, I think that high tariffs and blocking off your economy ends up in the long run not working, so globalization is here and we just need to find a way to profit from it and not let it steal all of our jobs.

Your last three books, the “Rules” series, were a big hit. Glenn mentioned how much he loved them when you were on his program. Why the change?

I was just drawn to wanting to…this world of kind of rich men and women behaving badly
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Reich: My first few books were financial thrillers and as I said I came from that investment banking background. And I’d written these three books and I just saw so much interesting kind of source material out there and in the financial world – so much wrongdoing and malfeasance and skullduggery and just pure avarice and greed, I was just drawn to wanting to go back to this world of kind of rich men and women behaving badly, and big government behaving badly on the stage of international finance.

Besides being an entertaining thriller, did you have a broader purpose in writing The Prince of Risk, or any particular takeaways that you hope readers come away with?

We need to be very zealous in guarding our industry
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Reich: I did. I love writing first, an entertaining, super-exciting book. But if there’s anything you could take away, it’s that we need to be very zealous in guarding our industry; in guarding the hard work that Americans put in to make our country great; in not letting other countries to simply steal our work without compensation. And in this case of course I’m talking about China who so unabashedly kind of rips off America, and I would hope I could open a few eyes and raise our consciousness a little bit more saying we have to stop these guys.