When the Russian President suddenly dies of a heart attack, the new Russian President is sworn in quickly. American intelligence belives him to be a hard-liner, but young CIA analyst Jack Ryan doesn't think so. While Ryan & his boss, Bill Cabot, are inspecting disarmament at Russian nuclear sites, 3 Russian scientists have mysteriously disappeared. Although the Russians have explanations for their absence, none of them are true. In Austria, a strange man - a neo-fascist - has developed a frightening plan to incite a war between Russia & the U.S., using an unexploded bomb from the deserts of the Middle East. When the 3 Russian scientists are later found dead, Ryan tries to trace their path. By this time, the bomb is on its way to the U.S.A - in a cigarette machine! The bomb is placed in a football stadium where the U.S. President is in attendance. Ryan soon discovers the bomb is in Baltimore and alerts Bill Cabot, who gets the President out of the stadium quickly. Minutes later, the low-yield nuclear bomb explodes, killing several thousands! From Air Force One, the President transmits messages to the Russian President, who denies that the Russians have placed the bomb on U.S. soil. But rogue members of the Russian Air Force are in on the sinister plan, and when an aircraft carrier is attacked and crippled by Russian planes, things quickly go from bad to worse. It is up to Ryan to find out where the bomb came from and get that information to the President before SNAPCOUNT - the order to launch ICBMs at Russia - is completed.