Clear and Present Danger is a novel by Tom Clancy, written in 1989, and is a canonical part of the Jack Ryan universe. In the novel, Jack Ryan is thrown into the position of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Acting Deputy Director (Intelligence) 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.
When U.S. Coast Guard cutter Panache intercepts a yacht in the Caribbean Sea, the crew discovers two men cleaning up the vessel after murdering a man and his family. Through a mock execution, the Coast Guardsmen force the killers to confess to the crime. It is later learned that the murdered man was involved in a money laundering scheme for a drug cartel.
Upon hearing that the owner of the yacht was a long-time political ally and friend, the President of the United States, who is running for re-election, feels compelled to take drastic measures against drug trafficking; his challenger, J. Robert Fowler, has rallied the public behind the administration's failures in the War on Drugs. The president initiates covert operations within Colombia and a step-up of operations against aircraft believed to be distributing narcotics. Aiding the president are U.S. National Security Advisor James Cutter, CIA Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter, and Director of Central Intelligence Arthur Moore.
The plan consists of four operations:Operation EAGLE EYE uses F-15 Eagles to intercept drug flights. Several aircraft are destroyed and others are forced to land, where the pilots are interrogated for information regarding the cartel.
Operation SHOWBOAT involves four teams of soldiers infiltrating Colombia to stake out airstrips used by drug-trafficking aircraft. They report departure times of aircraft, allowing the EAGLE EYE team to intercept them. Later, the troops attack the airstrips and coca-processing sites. The soldiers are seconded from U.S. light infantry battalions, and are all Hispanic to blend in with the local population.
Operation CAPER is the interception of mobile phone communications between cartel management. It is also the communications arm for SHOWBOAT and the light-fighters' only means of contact with the outside world. John Clark is dispatched with CAPER to coordinate the effort.
Operation RECIPROCITY involves using ground-attack aircraft and laser-guided bombs to attack cartel locations discovered by intercepts. The bombs' casings are made of Kevlar-reinforced cellulose which causes the casing to be consumed in the blast to give the impression of a car bomb.
Meanwhile, Félix Cortez, a former intelligence officer from Cuba employed by the cartel, feigns romantic interest in the aide of Emil Jacobs, the Director of the FBI. The aide unknowingly reveals information regarding the date of Jacobs' official visit to the Attorney General of Colombia. Cortez delivers this information to the cartel, which orders Jacobs' assassination as retaliation for the U.S. seizure of cartel money. During his visit, Jacobs and several other Americans in his delegation are killed.
Jack Ryan suspects the CIA's involvement in the situation in Colombia. As acting Deputy Director of the Intelligence Directorate, Ryan should be privy to most operations, but he realizes he is being kept out of the loop. After Robby Jackson, assigned to the Pentagon, makes an inquiry into activity in the region, Ryan goes to Moore to demand an explanation. Moore is evasive, yet orders Ryan to withhold information about Colombia from a congressional oversight committee.
Cortez eventually uncovers the U.S. operations. He suppresses this information, planning to engineer a war within the cartel that will leave him in a position to seize power. Cortez orders mercenaries to hunt down the U.S. troops, and blackmails Cutter into ending SHOWBOAT, promising the intracartel war will slow drug imports to the States. Cutter's meeting with Cortez is shadowed by the FBI. Clark is outraged at Cutter's abandonment of the troops and, with Ryan, plans a rescue operation with personnel from the FBI and U.S. Air Force.
Clark makes radio contact with two of the SHOWBOAT teams, ordering them to alternate pickup points to await extraction. The other two teams encounter mercenaries and take casualties. Clark makes radio contact with some survivors of these remaining teams—which include Domingo Chavez—then flies into Colombia to retrieve them. Ryan uses an Air Force helicopter to pick up other survivors. Together, Clark and Ryan launch a raid on the cartel's command post, capturing Cortez and extracting the remaining ground team. Due to a hurricane and damage to the helicopter, they land on the deck of the Panache.
Cortez is returned to Cuba, where he is a marked as a traitor. Upon being confronted by Clark with evidence of his treason, Cutter commits suicide. Ryan confronts the defiant president, informing him that despite his classifying the drug cartel as a "clear and present danger", Ryan must brief Congress over the illegal operations. After Ryan briefs the committee, the president deliberately loses the election to hide the covert operations and protect the honor of those involved. Ryan realizes the president has more honor and dignity than he originally thought. Clark recruits one distinguished soldier from the operation, Sgt. Domingo "Ding" Chavez, into the CIA, and becomes his mentor.