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In The Pipeline: The dark days of 1984

October 15, 2012|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Ken Goddard )

That a terrorist group would choose Huntington Beach not just as a base of operations, but also as ground zero for one of the most cataclysmic attacks in U.S. history, is hard to fathom. Yet as I read the story, it all seemed frighteningly simple and feasible. How could this happen right here?

For more answers, I reached out to novelist Ken Goddard, who wrote the story I just described in brief. Didn't mean to alarm you, but it was the classic 1984 New York Times bestseller "Balefire" that I was reading (for the third time).

Inspired in 1978 while Goddard was the primary crime scene investigator in Huntington Beach, the story in the book actually takes place on the eve of the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles. Goddard got the inspiration from a lecture by his boss, then-Chief Earl Robitaille.

"Chief Robitaille, who has retired but I think still lives in Huntington Beach, didn't think the HBPD was taking his warning about terrorism in regards to the Olympics seriously, and he was a real expert," he said. "So this concerned him. I was in charge of the force's Scientific Investigation Bureau — I was the chief criminalist then — and what he said caught my ear. And it really scared me. And that's what made me start thinking about writing a story. His presentations to us inspired me, because of how scary they were."

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After learning more about terrorism, Goddard had a sense of what a terrorist might need in the way of resources, but couldn't fathom how one individual could penetrate our security and win. Robitaille challenged him by taking away his badge and credentials, and suggesting he hit the street for some research.

What Goddard observed did more than change his mind. It made him write the novel.

Soon after starting the book, Goddard moved with his wife and daughter to Virginia (he'd lived here since 1979, on Adams Avenue). Then, coincidentally, the book was released at the same time the Olympics were about to start.

That "numbed" him.

"I'd just written a blueprint on how to destroy Huntington Beach!" he said.

Worried that he'd created a primer, or how-to book for terrorists to take down his buddies on the force, Robitaille quick reassured him that Goddard had actually done everyone a service, cops and public alike, by illustrating how easy it would be for a terrorist strike to happen. Robitaille told him that the education the book provided far outweighed any negative. He viewed it as a wake-up call.

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