I chose Dan Brown's Digital Fortress because it is the type of book that I would normally read and because I find this particular subject interesting. The subject of cyber security is a matter that is/should be important to individuals and governments all over the world. The character I chose to write about is Commander Strathmore because he is not everything he appears to be. He begins the book in a controlled, and calculating, yet likeable, persona but develops into a character that is despicable and pathetic at the same time.
Dan Brown creates a character in Commander Strathmore that is central to Digital Fortress. In the beginning, he is a main thread that holds together the operation, TRANSLTR; that thread as well as his character slowly unravels throughout the story to reveal someone who is not what he seemed to be and brings down the whole operation around their ears.
Commander Strathmore on the surface appears to be posses a number of admirable characteristics. He is controlled, intelligent, calculating, and articulate, while he is also loyal and caring. He has been with the agency for a long time, and he is beyond reproach, or so it seems. "But Strathmore's young cryptographers were not the only ones who learned to respect him; early in his career Strathmore made his presence known to his superiors by proposing a number of unorthodox and highly successful intelligence operations" (Brown 24). Later Brown writes, "There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Strathmore loved his country. He was known to his colleagues as a patriot and a visionary… a decent man in a world of lies" (Brown 24). Another clue to his personality is his intense loyalty to Susan Fletcher, the head cryptographer, who he protects from harassment and acts as a father figure for. However, in the end, in his twisted mind, he loves her, and he wants them to be together, something that she has no idea about and is not interested in the least.
In the beginning of the novel, Brown writes a clever foreshadow regarding Strathmore's personality. Early in the book, Brown notes that Strathmore may not be quite as honest and aboveboard than everyone thinks he is. Brown writes, "Led by the deputy director of operations, Commander Trevor J. Strathmore, the NSA's Office of Production had triumphed. TRANSLTR was a success. In the interest of keeping their success a secret, Commander Strathmore immediately leaked information that the project had been a complete failure" (Brown 22). A reader might overlook this hint early in the book, but it sets up the premise that this character could act the way he does later in the novel. It shows a man that is on the edge of breaking, and it is only a matter of time before he cracks completely. Brown continues, "Strathmore looked as bad as Susan had ever seen him. His thinning gray hair was disheveled, and even in the room's crisp air-conditioning, his forehead was beaded with sweat. He looked like he'd slept in his suit" (Brown 25). This shows his dedication to his job, and that he is willing to sacrifice everything for it, even his marriage and other relationships.
The major conflict in the story is between Ensei Tankado and the NSA, or more specifically, Tankado and Strathmore. Strathmore recruited him to work on the TRANSLTR project, which initially was developed to only open certain emails. However, the plans changed. Brown writes, "Ensei Tankado was outraged. This meant the NSA would, in effect, be able to open everyone's mail and reseal it without their knowing. It was like having a bug in every phone in the world" (Brown 33). His final words before quitting his job were to Strathmore. He said, "We all have a right to keep secrets,' he'd said. 'Someday I'll see to it we can'" (Brown 33). This sets up the premise for Digital Fortress, the seemingly implementable program that the characters fight throughout the book.
As the book progresses, it becomes apparent that the Commander is arrogant; believing he knows what is best and keeping information from the Director and the President. Brown writes, "Even in moments like these, Strathmore was clear-headed. 'Have you considered calling the President?' Strathmore nodded. 'Yes. I've decided against it'" (Brown 54). Again, this indicates how he manipulates the people around him for his own gains, and how he thinks he is smarter than everyone else is.
As the novel progresses, the unbreakable code drama unfolds and so as does David's adventure trying to find what may hold the clue: Tankado's ring. While they think that the ring holds the key to the code, Strathmore brings in Susan as an unwitting ally. His behavior starts to worry Susan. Brown writes, "Susan stared at Strathmore in disbelief. It was as if she no longer knew the man she was talking to. He had sent her fiance -- a teacher -- on an NSA mission and then failed to notify the director about the biggest crisis in the history of the organization" (Brown 52). He placates Susan by telling her David is in no danger, which is a lie. He says, "I would never have sent David if I thought it was dangerous.' He smiled. 'Trust me. Any sign of trouble, and I'll send in the pros'" (Brown 73). He draws her in to his plan by using her loyalty and trust of him, which shows he is manipulative and arrogant at the same time. He knows Susan will trust him implicitly, and he uses that trust to thrust her headlong into the situation. He also tips his hand about how he feels about Susan but she ignores the impulse to follow her feelings. Brown writes, "Every now and again Susan got the feeling David wasn't good enough for the commander, that he thought somehow she could do better than a schoolteacher" (Brown 74). Strathmore is crafty and cunning, but it is his arrogance that brings him down in the end. He thinks he can manipulate everyone around him, and that he can outwit Tankado, but it is the late programmer who has the last laugh in the end.
Strathmore begins to feel the pressure of his lies and manipulations and the operation begins to unravel as the author introduces elements that are beyond his control. Suspicious technicians appear and they threaten his plan, so he has to go around them. Brown writes, "Susan was not surprised. Canceling a Sys-Sec duty was irregular, but Strathmore undoubtedly had wanted privacy in the dome. The last thing he needed was some paranoid Sys-Sec blowing the lid off Digital Fortress" (Brown 73). He believes that people will blindly follow him, another hint to his arrogance. Brown writes, "Phil,' Strathmore repeated a little more sternly, "TRANSLTR is fine. If your probe saw something strange, it's because we put it there. Now if you don't mind…'" (Brown 75). He underestimates the tenacity of his employees, and it costs them their lives. He also introduces Greg Hale, another cryptographer who upsets the Commander's plans. Brown writes, "But Susan knew what Hale was doing there. He was the consummate computer addict. Despite the Saturday rule, he often slipped into Crypto on weekends to use the NSA's unrivalled computing power to run new programs he was working on" (Brown 90). Strathmore begins to come unglued as the employees push back. Brown writes, "Strathmore's complexion turned a deep red. 'Mr. Chartrukian, we've been through this. There is no file infecting TRANSLTR!'" (Brown 145). The employees are starting to get in his way and how he tries to square them away. The more he tries to tighten his grip the more things begin to slip through his fingers.
Strathmore is feeling the pressure now, Chartrukian is dead, and now Strathmore goes into self-preservation mode. In his arrogance, he thinks he can still save the day, clean up his mess, and get the girl. "Here's what we need to do.' Strathmore coolly outlined his plan" (Brown 195). He is still manipulating Susan and not telling her the truth. "He could not afford to let Susan out -- not yet. He wondered how much he'd have to tell her to make her want to stay" (Brown 220). He is still clinging to the hope that his plan will work, and he will ride off into the sunset with Susan. "He was the deputy director of the National Security Agency. And today his job was more critical than it had ever been" (Brown 228). By this time, he is delusional and his breakdown has begun.
As the novel heads toward the finish, Strathmore's personality completely disintegrates and in the end, he betrays his two loves: Susan and TRNSLTR. "Who told you that?' he demanded, his voice rough around the edges" (Brown 242). His meltdown continues as the day spirals out of control. "It had been a day of fiascoes. What had started out as a patriotic mission had swerved wildly out…