Sanitizing Digital Fortress
One version said he was inspired by reading a Sidney Sheldon novel in Tahiti and the other said he got it when the Secret Service raided the Philips-Exeter campus, an incident that we are unable to confirm.
The Doomsday Conspiracy
Dan's Web site once told readers: "In 1994, while vacationing in Tahiti, I found an old copy of Sydney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy on the beach. I read the first page… and then the next…and then the next. Several hours later, I finished the book and thought, "Hey, I can do that." Upon my return, I began work on my first novel-- Digital Fortress -- which was published in 1996."
But today, the Digital Fortress reference is gone from that page.
Compare the archived page with what is up now.
Secret Service Raids Exeter?
The other version Dan tells for his inspiration can best be told by his own breathless prose:
Digital Fortress, Phillips Exeter Academy, and the true story behind Dan Brown's bestseller...
A prestigious prep school.
A powerful intelligence agency.
A minor indiscretion.
A major thriller.
In the Spring of 1995, on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy, the U.S. Secret Service made a bust...
THE TARGET : A teenage student flagged by a government computer as being a threat to national security.
THE CRIME : Sending E-mail to a friend in which he said he thought President Clinton should be shot.
THE MISTAKE : The same mistake many Americans make every day...believing that what they say in E-mail is private.
In the wake of the incident, Dan Brown, an English teacher at the school, surprised by the government's apparent ability to "listen in", began researching the intelligence community's access to civilian communication"
There is another variation to this in a Q&A at this archived Brown page.
Q: A rather startling event inspired you to write Digital Fortress. Can you elaborate on what happened?
A: A few years ago, I was teaching on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. One Spring day, unannounced, the U.S. Secret Service showed up and detained one of our students claiming he was a threat to national security. As it turned out, the kid had sent private E-mail to a friend saying how much he hated President Clinton and how he thought the president should be shot.
Further down in that Interview we find another interesting statement: "…what I found out absolutely floored me. I discovered there is an intelligence agency as large as the CIA... that only about 3% of Americans knows exists. It is called the National Security Agency (NSA), and it is home to the country's eavesdroppers."
One wonders how he could possibly be floored by learning about the NSA? The NSA figures prominently in Sidney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy, which Dan said he had read in 1993 or 1994 in Tahiti. Didn't he?
In addition, no online newspaper archive has any record of a 1995 Secret Service raid at Exeter. The Manchester Union-Leader did, however, have the following on January 23, 1997:
"Profile Students Threaten Clinton; Computer E-Mail Gets 2 Suspended; Third NH Incident:
"BETHLEHEM - Two Profile High School students have been suspended and their Internet access privileges revoked for the remainder of their high school years after they sent an electronic message threatening the life of President Bill Clinton.
Secret Service Agent Jim Fitton said it is the third e-mail threat made against the President by a New Hampshire juvenile in the past two and a half months. The other cases, he said, occurred in Keene and Salem, one from a home computer, the other from a computer in a public library."
One might think that the Secret Service would have mentioned Exeter.
Can We Find Some Truth Here?
Let's take Tahiti. Well, we know he DID go, at least according to this web site maintained by some very nice people from Georgia. The Georgians said 1993, Dan says 1994, but that could just be a memory thing.
Then Dan says another curious thing: that Digital Fortress was published in 1996. The U.S. Copyright office offers us this:
Registration Number: TX-4-715-459
Title: Digital fortress / acDan Brown.
Edition: 1st ed.
Imprint: New York : St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Description: 371 p.
Claimant: Dan Brown
Special Codes: 1/B/L
Maybe he just doesn't remember writing the book. I have a feeling that if we ever get Dan Brown under oath, he just won't be able to remember very much. Funny about that.