The Carlton Group is an organization that appears in the Brad Thor thriller novels, Foreign Influence, Full Black, Black List, Hidden Order, and Act of War.
It is an obscure, private intelligence agency named after its founder, Reed Carlton—a retired thirty-year veteran of the CIA and one of the nation's most revered spymasters. Representing a major shift in counterterrorism's center of gravity, the Carlton Group doesn't fall under the auspices of any politicians or bureaucrats and only a handful of high-level career military DoD personnel know of its existence. It's modeled upon the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, the World War II intelligence agency that was the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. The Carlton Group is composed of patriots who want one thing and one thing only: to keep Americans safe no matter what the cost.
Reed Carlton had watched as bureacracy and inertia devoured what had once been the best intelligence agency in the world. As management became more concerned with promotions and covering its tail, and as the Agency's leadership atrophied, Carlton could see the writing on the wall. By the 1990s, when the CIA stopped conducting unilateral espionage operations altogether, he was disappointed, but not at all surprised.
While there were countless patriotic men and women still left at Langley, the institutionalized bureaucracy made it all but impossible for them to effectively do their jobs. The bureaucracy had become risk-averse. Even more troubling was the fact that the CIA now subcontracted its actual spy work to other countries' intelligence services. They happily handed over huge sums of cash in the hopes that other countries would do the dangerous heavy lifting and would share whatever they developed.
It was the biggest open secret in the intelligence world and it was both humiliating and beneath America's dignity. Once the secret was out that the CIA was no longer truly in the spy business, Carlton knew he had to do something. It was then that he began recruiting former Central Intelligence Agency and Special Operations Forces personnel and stood up his own venture—the Carlton Group.
Intelligence is at the nexus of every major security challenge facing the United States. It doesn't matter if it is al-Qaeda or Hugo Chávez, the need for timely, accurate, comprehensive information is unprecedented. The drive for quality intelligence is paramount in the post–9/11 world. A key group of DoD insiders had seen the need as well. Deeply concerned with the entrenched bureaucracy at the CIA and the political hobbling of the nation's defense apparatus, they sought an organization that would boldly do what the country's politically correct, vote-chasing politicians and constantly-covering-their-cowering-asses bureaucrats were too timid and too inept to attempt.
Frustrated by the CIA's reluctance to do its job, the Department of Defense eventually turned to Carlton to provide private intelligence services in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the Carlton Group's force protection contracts with the Defense Department, the group's operatives performed dramatically well, developing extensive human networks across both countries. They penetrated multiple terrorist cells and delivered exceptional, A1 intelligence that resulted in huge successes for American forces, not to mention the saving of countless American and coalition lives.
Based upon this success, a group of high-level military and intelligence officials decided to bring the Carlton Group all the way inside. They are funded completely from Department of Defense black budgets and hidden from D.C.'s grandstanding, self-serving politicians. The fact that not one single Central Intelligence Agency employee had lost his or her job after 9/11 told the Pentagon all they needed to know about the broken culture at Langley.
Within the Carlton Group, Reed Carlton has assembled a small group of operatives with military and intelligence experience to carry out "immediate action" assignments. In addition to hiring top people from the intelligence world, Carlton also recruits the best talent from the Special Operations community. Using the popular Pentagon catch-phrase, "Find, fix, finish, and follow up," they are responsible for identifying terrorist leadership, tracking them to a specific location, capturing or killing them as necessary, and using the information gleaned from the assignment to plan the next operation. The goal is to apply constant pressure to terrorist networks and pound them so hard and so relentlessly that they are permanently rocked back on their heels, if not ground into the dust. In addition to immediate-action assignments, the Carlton Group conducts clever psychological operations to eat away at the terrorist networks from within, sowing doubt, fear, distrust, and paranoia throughout their ranks like a cancer. It is everything the United States government should be doing, but isn't.