The Standards Blog

The Alexandria Project, Chap. 26: Is This the Person to Whom I am Speaking?

Alexandria Project (a Cyber Thriller)

What follows is the the first draft of my first cybersecurity thriller, The Alexandria Project. You can buy the final, and much revised eBook and printed versions, here and at all of the other usual on-line outlets.

Ancient Switchboard OperatorFBI Director Francis X. McInnerney pressed the intercom button on his speakerphone.   “Yes, Mary?”   “Mr. Baldwin for you, Sir.”   McInnerney gave a gasp that was half astonishment and half rage. Baldwin was calling him after nuking an FBI target that morning? He punched the phone ferociously with his index finger and cut loose.   “What the hell do you think you’re doing Baldwin, interfering with an FBI operation on American soil? You’re so far over the line I’m going to get your head handed to you if it’s the last thing I do!”   

“Mercy me, Fran. Why, I’ve been sitting here at my desk, wondering why you hadn’t called. I thought for certain you’d want to thank me for the invaluable support the CIA gave you today in your hour of inept need. And now you’re yelling at me! I’m shocked!

“Can the crap, Baldwin. You had no right to interrupt an FBI operation in process and you know…
 
“Tut, Tut! ’In process,’ Fran? That’s not the way it looked to me. I was watching our video feed live, and I saw Adversego break through your perimeter and make a clean escape. My goodness, that camper was traveling! All your people were running around like ants, and their vehicles were a good mile away. Why, your nearest backup personnel were all the way down in Las Vegas! 
 
“The way we saw it, Adversego was fair game – and if we hadn’t intervened, he would have gotten away for certain. Now, that wouldn’t have looked good for the FBI at all, would it?”
 
No, it wouldn’t, McInnerney had to admit - to himself. And for all he knew, Adversego might have had something else up his sleeve, like a getaway car parked a few miles away. If he had abandoned the camper, how would the FBI have picked up his trail again?
 
“I thought not,” Baldwin said sweetly. “So why don’t we just chalk this one up to a splendid case of inter-agency cooperation on a matter of vital national security importance? That makes for a much nicer story, don’t you think? I’ll have one of my people contact one of yours, and we can harmonize our reports accordingly.”
 
McInnerney fumed in silence and said nothing. 
 
“Excellent! I’m glad we’ve got a deal.” 
 
Baldwin knew he should leave well enough alone. But he couldn’t resist a parting shot. 
 
“Oh - I almost forgot. I’m sending you a copy of our Predator video – it should make a great training tool to help your people avoid screwing up so badly in the…”
 
It was five minutes before the FBI Director felt sufficiently composed to ask his secretary to replace the speakerphone that lay in pieces on his desk. 
  
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Frank burst out laughing.
 
“You just can’t get enough of that video, can you?” his father asked.
 
“You know, I really can’t. Every time I see the look on that SWAT team leader’s face as he vaults out of the way of the Avenger, I just lose it. Maybe we could start a TV show called ‘America’s Funniest Home Security Videos?’”
 
“Yeah, well, there may be some explaining to do down the line about that part.”
 
Jonny Greaves jumps 301 feet to claim 2WD truck record“True. But we wouldn’t have been 800 miles away before they moved in if I hadn’t had a lot of time to kill over the last couple of months. Not to mention a bucket of sensors to play around with. I’ve got to say that I’m going to miss the old Avenger, though. I wonder what made the video go dead like that?”
 
Outside, the Great Plains rolled endlessly past, with nothing to see but more of the same. Things hadn’t been so peaceful 24 hours earlier, however. That’s when Frank first noticed a plume of dust crossing the valley below that eventually became his father’s ancient Land Rover, tearing up the jeep track to his clearing.
 
“Time to move out, Frank – now!” his father had called out as he slammed the door. “The FBI’s on the way, and we’ve only got a few hours’ lead.”
 
“The FBI? How did that happen?”
 
“No clue – all I know is that I got a message asking me to be part of an operation up in this pass. Either your friends at the CIA aren’t your friends after all, or the FBI’s going rogue on them. Which wouldn’t be the first time. Either way, it’s time you got the hell out of here, and not in that camper, either.”
 
Damn, Frank thought. It must have been the call from Marla he’d taken – he should never have let his guard down after being so careful for so long.
 
“How much can your Rover hold? There’s a lot of electronic gear I’m going to need, and there’s other stuff it wouldn’t be smart to leave behind.”
 
“More than enough, but let’s get moving, or they’ll be hot on our tails.”
 
Frank smiled. “Oh, I’m not too worried about that. I think we’re going to have all the time we need.” 
  
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Carl Cummings wondered what lay behind the urgent text message from Marla: “Meet me in front of the Air and Space Museum at 10.” That was all. He could see her now up ahead now, and she didn’t look happy.
 
When he was a few steps away, she saw him and walked rapidly towards – and then right past - him.
 
“Whoa, girl! I thought you wanted me to meet you here?”
 
“Quiet!” She hissed. “Walk a step behind me and just listen.”
 
Well, this was different. Carl adjusted his pace and fell in behind, as she headed towards the curb and then flagged down a cab.
 
“What do you know about a SWAT team trying to capture my father?” she asked urgently?”
 
Carl skipped a step in surprise. “Nothing! Nothing at all, I swear it!”
 
“Well, find out.”
 
With that, Marla slammed the door of the cab and left him standing at the curb. 
  
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Archaic Telephone Operator, c. 425 AD - Courtesy Library of Congress“Mr. Marchand for you, Sir.”
 
John Foster Baldwin paused. 
 
“Gwen, please ask him what it’s about.” 
 
After a pause she was back. “He says it’s urgent news about the Alexandria Project.”
 
Hmm. This might be awkward. Better to deal with it sooner rather than later, though.
 
“Alright, then, Gwen. Please put him through.”
 
“Good morning George, good to hear from you. What’s the news?”
 
“Actually, Sir, I was calling to ask you the same question. I’ve learned through Adversego’s daughter that a SWAT team tried to take him out yesterday. Luckily, he got away, but unless we have a mighty good explanation, we’re not going to have further access to him.”
 
Baldwin thought quickly – so Adversego hadn’t been in the camper after all. He felt a bit queasy – who was it he had blown away, then?
 
“Yes, George, that’s right. I owe you an apology for not telling you sooner, but things were happening very quickly.”
 
“You mean we did try to capture him?”
 
“No, No, of course not – nothing of the kind. It seems that our friends at the FBI, however, decided to get into the act. Luckily, I got wind of their plans just in time. I put a high altitude Predator over the clearing immediately.” 
 
Now what should he say? Did George know how the operation had turned out? If so, how would he explain that?   Then he had a sudden flash of inspiration.
 
“We saw Frank get away before the FBI arrived, so just as the SWAT team made their move, we took the camper out with a Hellfire missile before they could realize he wasn’t inside.” 
 
George was startled. “How will we explain that?”
 
Baldwin was starting to feel in control of the situation again. “Don’t worry, George. You don’t get to sit at this desk without learning how to be quick on your feet.” 
  
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Frank and his father were nearing Des Moines, Iowa. Now that he was off his mountain, Frank and Marla could communicate again, using disposable phones, and he was hungry for news.
 
He hung up and turned to his father. “So here’s the story. According to Cummings, the FBI was trying to make the CIA look bad by hauling me in. Since the CIA knew I was a security expert working for the Library of Congress and had dropped out of sight after being questioned, they could claim the CIA was asleep at the switch. Should I believe that?”
 
His father gave a laugh. “Hell yes! Some things never change. It makes perfect sense, with Congress and the press bashing both agencies for not getting to the bottom of the security breaches. I’m not saying I’m crossing this one off the list yet, but it’s not crazy on its face.”
 
“Oh – and there’s other big news – Marla and Cummings have found an operative that really is part of the ring that’s behind the breaches. Turns out it was a neighbor of mine all along. But they don’t know yet who she’s working for.”
 
Scenic Des Moines, Iowa“So what’s our next step?”
 
Frank mulled that over. “Well, let’s review what we do and don’t know. What we do know, or at least think we know, is that the booksellers weren’t behind anything except the LoC breach. That means whoever is behind the other attacks probably adopted the old guys’ story about exposing the vulnerability of the Internet infrastructure as a cover for whatever they’re really up to.
 
“That means we’ve got two problems to solve: who’s behind the breaches, and what it is they’re trying to pull off. We can try and tackle one problem before the other, or both at once.”
 
“Sounds right. So what’s the next move?”
 
Frank looked out the window and watched the bare fields roll by. “Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? What do you think?”
 
His father chuckled.
 
“What’s so funny?”
 
“Happens it does that a brick wall you have hit.”
 
“For Pete’s sake, you’re not going Yoda on me, are you?”
 
“Happens it does that your best thinking you do when Yoda goes Yoda on you.”
 
“Alright, Alright.” Frank sighed. Might as well start by processing the new information he had to work with. He looked out the window as the news came on the radio, distracting him from his thoughts.
 
“Vice President Henry Chaseman issued a tough warning to the North Koreans today, informing them that any act of provocation would be met with an immediate and disproportionate response from the United States.”
 
Frank jerked to attention.
 
“Turn that up!”
 
His father turned the sound dial, a surprised look on his face.
 
“The Vice President’s warning was in response to a saber-rattling statement made the day before by North Korean General Chan Bok-choy. In that statement, the General announced that the rogue regime would tolerate no restrictions on its nuclear and missile development and deployment activities, and that the previously announced test firing of two new intercontinental missiles would proceed as planned.
 
“The rapid exchange of escalating messages has raised tensions to the highest level between the two nations since the armistice.
 
“Meanwhile, American allies are urging calm, especially while the President remains in critical condition in the coronary intensive care unit of Walter Reed Hospital.”
 
Frank reached over and clicked the radio off.
 
“Well, now I know who we’re up against.”
 
“All ears I am.”
 
“It’s the North Koreans. Ever since I laid eyes on her, my neighbor has reminded me of Kim Jung-Il.”
 
“Well, that's certainly convincing evidence. Are you sure she’s even North Korean?”
 
Find more fun Madman gear at Zazzle:  http://www.zazzle.co.uk/kim+jong+il+gifts“Actually, I don’t know. I mean, maybe not. She always said she was Chinese.”
 
The car drove onward, but Frank offered no further proof.
 
“Truth it is that a North Korean a Chinese is not.”
 
“OK, OK, but still, maybe she really is North Korean. Wouldn’t she hide that, if she really was up to no good? And what if there is a connection between the security breaches and what’s going on now internationally? The North Koreans can’t possibly beat us militarily, at least outside their borders, but security attacks are another thing. If I was an enemy with limited resources that wanted to bring the war home against a much larger opponent, that’s where I’d focus.”
 
“Suppose let us do that you are right. Many types of attacks there are. Which one will they launch?”
 
Frank thought out loud. “I don’t know. But our next step should be to get all the data together that we’ve got and then look for a pattern or discrepancy – anything that might provide a clue and point us in the right direction.
 
“Pull off the highway the next time you see a shopping mall; I want to find a Radio Shack and get a splitter outlet for your cigarette lighter. And if your battery’s old, let’s get a new one, because I’m going to be running a lot of equipment off it.” 
  
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Director Baldwin stared at his speakerphone. George Marchand was asking him to stick his neck out, and that was something Baldwin never enjoyed doing. 
 
It didn’t bother him that Marchand was asking for permission to send Adversego a dump of the hard drive of the computer he had copied. Or that he wanted to provide the CIA’s complete database of networks the Alexandria Project had hacked. He could justify that easily, since if Frank really was a bad guy he would already have access to the same information. But Marchand was also asking permission not to log any of his actions into the Homeland Security database.
 
That made obvious sense, because otherwise the FBI would learn that Adversego was alive, and that would never do. But it would also be a violation of Homeland Security rules, and they both knew it.
 
There was only one way to give that kind of permission, he decided, and that was verbally. After all, if Marchand’s actions later came to light, they couldn’t be denied. But Baldwin’s words could.
 
“Permission granted, George. Let me know if it gets us anywhere.” 
  
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Moon Base Clavius - 2001, A Space OdysseyHigh in the mountains of Nevada, FBI Agent Ralph Johnson was overseeing the painstaking work of the forensics team that was combing through the wreckage of the Solar Avenger, some of whom were setting up lights powered by a portable generator now that night was approaching.  The scene took on an eerie feel, as the klieg lights warmed up and hissed as the wisps of fog rising from the clearing whirled up against them.  Over the dark horizon far away, a three quarter moon began to rise.

They would need to work quickly.  Bureau Chief Burke had made it abundantly clear that the Director of the FBI expected to find a preliminary report on his desk the next morning.

Burke had also conveyed that they had better find out who had tipped Adversego off, or they’d both be looking for new jobs.
 

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Comments

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A sentence currently reads:  "He could figure justify that easily, since if Frank really was a bad guy he would already have access to the same information."  I am having a hard time parsing it ... could a 'how to' after 'figure' be missing, or is the 'figure' superfluous?

Cheers

Minrich,

 

Thanks for catching that.  Originally it was something like you suggest, but when I edited it to make it less wordy I chopped out one fewer word than I meant to - the offending remnant was "figure," which I've now removed.

 

  -  Andy