Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger is a political thriller novel, written by Tom Clancy and published on August 17, 1989. A sequel to The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988), main character Jack Ryan becomes acting Deputy Director of Intelligence in the Central Intelligence Agency, and discovers that he is being kept in the dark by his colleagues who are conducting a covert war against a drug cartel based in Colombia. It debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.[1] A film adaptation, featuring Harrison Ford reprising his role as Ryan, was released on August 3, 1994.

Clear and Present Danger
Mass market paperback cover
AuthorTom Clancy
CountryUnited States
SeriesJack Ryan
PublisherG.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
August 17, 1989
Media typePrint (Hardcover, Paperback)
Preceded byThe Cardinal of the Kremlin 
Followed byThe Sum of All Fears 

Plot summary

The President of the United States, who is running for reelection, finds a fierce opponent in Ohio Governor J. Robert Fowler, who has rallied the American public behind his administration's failures in the War on Drugs. This provides National Security Advisor James Cutter with an opportunity to help him initiate covert operations within Colombia with intent to disrupt the illegal drug trade there. Aided by CIA Deputy Director (Operations) Robert Ritter and CIA director Arthur Moore, the plan involves inserting light infantry troops of Hispanic descent into the country to stake out airstrips used by the cartel (SHOWBOAT), which then allows F-15 Eagles to intercept drug flights (EAGLE EYE). In addition, mobile phone communications between cartel management are intercepted through CAPER, which is also the communications arm for SHOWBOAT.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter Panache intercepts a yacht in the Caribbean Sea; its crew finds two Hispanic men cleaning up the vessel after murdering its owner and his family. Through a mock trial and execution, the Coast Guardsmen force the killers to confess to their crimes; it is later learned that the murdered man was involved in a money laundering scheme for a Colombian drug cartel. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) then proceeds to seize the laundered money from several banks in the United States and Europe, which amounted to over 650 million dollars.

The seizure of the cartel money by the FBI infuriates drug cartel leader Ernesto Escobedo, who had ordered the hit on the American businessman. Meanwhile, his intelligence officer Felix Cortez finds out about FBI director Emil Jacobs's official visit to the Attorney General of Colombia, and as a result, Escobedo orders the assassination of Jacobs without informing Cortez. Upon arriving in the city of Bogotá, the FBI director's motorcade was ambushed, killing him as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration head and the U.S. ambassador to Colombia. Enraged, the President authorizes Operation RECIPROCITY, stepping up Cutter's operations and declaring war on Escobedo's drug organization.

Later, a surgical airstrike on a drug kingpin's mansion during a meeting of several cartel members kills everyone inside; however, Escobedo did not attend the meeting and sends Cortez, who was delayed and witnessed the explosion as a result. He later deduces that the Americans have been conducting operations against the Colombian drug cartel, but plays along, planning to engineer a war within the cartel that will leave him in a position to seize power. He dispatches mercenaries to hunt down the American troops, and later blackmails Cutter in a secret meeting into shutting down all covert operations against the cartel in exchange for slowing down drug imports to the United States.

Meanwhile, Jack Ryan, former Marine and the acting CIA Deputy Director (Intelligence) after his boss James Greer was hospitalized for pancreatic cancer, suspects the agency's involvement in the situation in Colombia. His position enables him to be aware of most operations, but he realizes he is being kept out of the loop. After his friend, fighter pilot Robby Jackson, makes an inquiry into activity in the region, Ryan becomes determined to find out what is going on, eventually finding out about the covert operations from breaking into Ritter's files in his office. Outraged, he seeks help from the FBI and later meets John Clark, a CIA operative and former Navy SEAL coordinating CAPER.

Having been previously ordered by the President to shut down all covert operations against the cartel to avoid the political fallout, Cutter does so after his secret meeting with Cortez, and then secretly provides the latter with the coordinates of the American troops in Colombia for him to hunt down. Their meeting having been shadowed by the FBI, Ryan and Clark become outraged; they later team up to rescue American troops left behind in Colombia via an U.S. Air Force helicopter, missing Greer's funeral. Although they suffer casualties from encountering mercenaries employed by the cartel along the way, they successfully extract the survivors — one of them being Staff Sergeant Domingo "Ding" Chavez — and later capture Cortez and Escobedo (the latter of whom is handed over to his cartel enemies) in a raid on the cartel's command post.

Cortez is later returned to Cuba, where he is branded as a traitor by his former colleagues. Upon being confronted by Clark with evidence of his treason, Cutter commits suicide. Ryan confronts the defiant President for not informing him about the covert operations in Colombia; after he briefs the committee, the President deliberately loses the election to Fowler, in order to hide the operations and protect the honor of those involved. Meanwhile, Clark takes Chavez under his wing and recruits him into the CIA.


United States

  • The President (unnamed)
  • Vice Admiral James A. Cutter, Jr.: Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Arthur Moore: Director of Central Intelligence
  • Jack Ryan: Acting CIA Deputy Director (Intelligence)
  • Robert Ritter: CIA Deputy Director (Operations)
  • Emil Jacobs: Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Dan Murray: Deputy assistant director of the FBI
  • Moira Wolfe: Executive secretary to FBI Director Jacobs. Seduced by Cortez in order to obtain information about his boss and the FBI, especially his secret trip to the Attorney General of Colombia.
  • Mark Bright: Assistant special-agent-in-charge of the FBI office in Mobile, Alabama. Assigned to the Pirates Case involving the two Hispanic men who killed the American businessman and his family in a yacht in the Caribbean Sea.
  • Red Wegener: Commanding officer of the United States Coast Guard cutter Panache, nicknamed "the King of SAR (Search and Rescue)"
  • Robby Jackson: Fighter pilot serving aboard USS Ranger
  • Jonathan Robert Fowler: Governor of Ohio and the President's main opponent in the presidential elections, which he later wins


  • John Clark: CIA operations officer
  • Felix Cortez: Chief security and intelligence officer for Escobedo, a former colonel in the Cuban intelligence service (DGI)
  • Ernesto Escobedo: One of the leaders of the Medellín drug cartel
  • Domingo “Ding” Chavez: Staff sergeant for the United States Army, of Hispanic descent and a former Los Angeles gang member
  • Julio "Oso" Vega: First sergeant for the U.S. Army, assigned to Chavez's squad of light infantry troops in Colombia.
  • Captain Ramirez: U.S. Army officer who leads Chavez's squad. Later dies in a battle with the cartel mercenaries.
  • Buck Zimmer: U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant and crew chief of the Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low helicopter used for the covert troop insertions and later for the rescue mission. Mortally wounded by ground fire during the rescue, he later dies in Ryan's arms; Ryan later vows to financially help his family, a Laotian wife and seven children living in Florida.
  • Captain Jeff "Bronco" Winters: U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot assigned to EAGLE EYE
  • Colonel Paul "PJ" Johns: U.S. Air Force officer assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing in Florida, in charge of the Pave Low covert ops helicopters
  • Carlos Larson: CIA operative in Colombia, under cover as a general-aviation pilot and flight instructor who often does business with the cartel


Clear and Present Danger is considered to be a work of dystopian fiction. It talks about the abuse of political and military power, and addresses the dangers of a government bureaucracy where no one can be held accountable for actions implied to be illegal by a democratic society. The book was released around the time of the Iran-Contra affair, which strikingly bears many parallels with the novel. Additionally, it pushes the narrative that the War on Drugs, which was also a major issue during the time of the book's publication, is corrupting law enforcement, and that the status quo is enforced in this struggle.[2]



The book debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and has stayed on the chart for several years as well as its paperback edition.[3] It became the best-selling novel of the 1980s, selling 1,625,544 hardcover copies.[4]


The book received wide critical acclaim. The Washington Post praised it as a “rousing adventure” and “a crackling good yarn”.[5] The New York Times remarked in its review: “The issues raised are real ones, and a jump ahead of the headlines.”[6] Publishers Weekly hailed it as Clancy's best work since The Hunt for Red October.[7]

Film adaptation

The book was adapted as a feature film, which was released on August 3, 1994. Harrison Ford reprised his role from the previous movie Patriot Games (1992) as Ryan, while Willem Dafoe played Clark. The film received positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a rating of 80% based on 40 reviews.[8] It was a major financial success, earning over $200 million at the box office.[9]

As in the previous film Patriot Games, Clancy was less than pleased with the movie due to script changes. He favored John Milius’s initial script, which was written before Patriot Games started production and closer to the book. However, when Donald Stewart was hired by Paramount Pictures to rewrite the script due to Ryan not being the central character, Clancy lambasted the new screenplay as “really awful” and criticized its technical inaccuracies. “First things first,” Clancy continued, “Clear and Present Danger was the No. 1 best-selling novel of the 1980s. One might conclude that the novel’s basic story line had some quality to it. Why, then, has nearly every aspect of the book been tossed away?” Regarding the different ending, in which Ryan testified before Congress about the covert operations instead of privately confronting the President, Ford said: ”We have softened somewhat the political bias [Clancy] brings to the subject, not because we’re bleeding-heart liberals, but because we wanted to divest it of some of its baggage and let it walk on its own two legs.”[10]

In a 2018 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland revealed that they originally opted to adapt Clear and Present Danger for television. Roland then explained: “About a month into it, we realized the reason the Clancy books worked so well was because they were relevant for the time that they were written. So we had to take the spirit of what he did and create our own original story.”[11]


  1. "The New York Times bestseller list for September 3, 1989" (PDF). Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  2. Greenberg, Martin H. The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). pp. 20–23.
  3. "PAPERBACK BEST SELLERS; July 22, 1990". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  4. "Top Hardcover Bestsellers, 1972-1996". Washington Post. June 1, 1997. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  5. "Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  6. "No Headline". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  7. "Fiction Book Review: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  8. "Clear and Present Danger (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  9. "Clear and Present Danger (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  10. Fretts, Bruce. "Harrison Ford takes on Tom Clancy...again". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  11. Highfill, Samantha. "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan: John Krasinski steps out of 'The Office' and into the field". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
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