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The Alexandria Project, Chapter 21: What a Difference a Dong Makes!

Alexandria Project (a Cyber Thriller)

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George Marchand was not at his desk at the Library of Congress. Instead, he was ordering a mixed selection of donuts at The Bakers Dozen, a coffee shop in a small town outside the Beltway. Paying for his purchase, he asked the teenager if they had a restroom. “In the back,” she said, counting out his change without looking up.   George strolled to the rear of the shop and opened the door in the rear wall of the seating area. He ignored the two restroom entrances on the other side, and instead unlocked the unmarked door to their right. Closing it behind him, he found a flight of stairs leading to another door, this time without either a keyhole or a doorknob.    When he arrived at the top, George slid his fingers along the door trim on the right until he found a recessed area. Pushing against it, he felt the trim unlatch, and he swung it open on its hidden hinges to expose a numerical keypad.   After punching in a seven number sequence, the door swung open to reveal a modest sized room containing nothing but a conference room with chairs, and a series of doors set into its walls. Sitting around the table were three men about his own age.    “How come I always have to buy the donuts?” George asked as he walked in, pushing the door closed behind him.

 

George took a seat next to the Director of the CIA, and nodded to his two co-leaders on the Alexandria Project investigation. Each of them, he knew, had entered the conference room through a different door. 

“I guess you’re just lucky, George. You want me to pick up some dry cleaning for you on my way upstairs next time?” one of them said.
 
“Forget it. Anyway, what’s with the face to face meeting?”
 
George hadn’t been to this particular room in a while, but it was typical of the dozen or so secure locations the CIA maintained in the D.C. area. None of them were fancy, but they were convenient to have when the brass wanted to hold meetings with field operatives without jeopardizing their covers. It was easier to concentrate there as well – none of their Blackberries would work with all of the shielding in the walls.
 
The Director replied, “Actually, this isn't a face to face meeting at all. For the record, this is just a social get together. It’s been much too long since we’ve had a chance to enjoy each others’ company and just shoot the breeze, don’t you think? No need to enter this in your logbooks.”
 
George raised his eyebrows and passed the box of donuts around. This was different.
 
“So what’s new?”
 
The Director peered into the donut box and finally settled on one with cinnamon sugar.  
 
“You know, this is my favorite secure meeting room. Best donuts anywhere, and it’s always someone else's treat.”
 
“Anyway, I had an interesting meeting over at Homeland Security yesterday. We covered a lot of ground, and finally got around to The Alexandria Project investigation. Of course our good friends from the FBI were there as well.”
 
Ah, George thought. Now he knew what the topic was. The House Cybersecurity subcommittee hearing had been an ugly exercise for all concerned. It quickly become clear that Chairman Steele’s strategy had been to pit the CIA and the FBI against each other. One of them, he claimed, must be asleep at the switch, so which one was it? With each question he turned up the heat, trying to goad each witness into revealing some detail that would provide him with an opening to attack the other.
 
The CIA Director declined to play the Chairman’s game, but his opposite number at the FBI was more than happy to play ball. Ever since 9/11, the FBI had felt like its domestic turf was being invaded from all sides. Subjecting itself to the authority of the new Department of Homeland Security had been bad enough. But having to share responsibility for domestic cybersecurity with the CIA was over the line.
 
Without ever accusing the CIA of anything, the FBI Director implied that every point of weakness and responsibility clearly lay on the CIA’s side of the equation. How could the FBI protect America if it didn’t own the whole enchilada?
 
After that, Goerge thought, relations between the two agencies must have gotten pretty tense.  He listened with interest to hear what the CIA Director had to say.
 
“It was quite an interesting meeting. Now that I think of it, you might say we picked up right where we left off at the end of the Steele hearing. If I didn’t know that we were all on the same team, I might have even gotten the impression the FBI sees this whole Alexandria Project investigation as their big chance to kick our butts offshore and take our passports away so we stay there.
 
The Director let that sink in for a moment as he dunked his donut in his coffee and took a bite.  Then he continued.
 
“So you might want to keep your wits about you till this situation is resolved. You might even want to look over your shoulder now and then to see if our valued allies over at FBI headquarters are keeping an eye on you as closely as they’re keeping an eye out for the bad guys. It may be that they’re watching us even more closely.”
 
George and the others exchanged sidelong glances.
 
The Director finished his donut and wiped his hands on a napkin. “You know, we really ought to do this more often. It seems like we never have time to enjoy each others' company anymore. And I really do enjoy a good donut now and then.”
 
With that, the Director stood up, and the others followed his lead. A moment later, four doors closed silently behind them and the room was empty once more.   
 
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –
 
Marla Adversego, it seemed, needed a book to read and was having trouble making up her mind. A good mystery novel was apparently what she had in mind, but nothing seemed to be just right. Even after a half hour at Amazon.com she still hadn’t found a book that quite made the grade, no matter how many “people who bought this book also…” links she clicked on and reader reviews she read. Finally she seemed to have found just what she was looking for, and stared at the screen intently, her eyes growing wider.
 
Almost as an afterthought, she punched a few more keys, and bought David Baldacci’s latest thriller to credential her time on line.
 
Closing her laptop, Marla picked up her phone and dialed a local number, and waited for the “Hello?” at the other end.
 
“Coffee?”
 
There was a pause, and then a surprised voice said, “Sure. Where?”
 
Marla gave an address. “See you there in a half an hour.” 
 
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –
 
President Rawlings looked across the broad cabinet table somberly. How old was this particular piece of furniture, he wondered? How many presidents had sat exactly where he did today to decide whether to take a step closer to war or peace? Could he decide as wisely? He laid his hands face down on the table as if to draw wisdom from its grain.
 
But if the table had any wisdom to offer, it wasn’t sharing any of it today. So the President cleared his throat and the subdued chatter around the table rapidly subsided.
 
“Good morning. You all know the first agenda topic for today’s meeting, so let’s get started. General Hayes, please give us the aerial surveillance update.”
 
Brigadier General Fletcher Hayes had never attended a cabinet meeting before, and he was determined to do his job well. More of an academic in the intelligence area than a field officer, he was acutely conscious of the historical precedents for the presentation he was about to give. Which officer, he wondered, had stood before President Kennedy in this same room at the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis?
 
Cuban Missile Crisis diagram used during Cabinet Meetings; now at JFKennedy LibraryHayes rose from his seat, and as he did so, four subordinates stepped to the easels placed around the cabinet table. Each placed a four by six foot satellite photo on their easel.
 
“The picture you see here was taken at 12:00 local time today by one of our satellites over North Korea. What you are looking at is a 10 degree angle shot of launch pad 10 at their main military launch facility. As you can see, there is a missile in position next to the gantry, and the area is clear of any supporting vehicles. From this we conclude that the missile is ready to go, except for fueling. In other words, it can become fully operational on approximately 12 hours notice. 
 
On signal, the assistants placed a nearly identical picture on the easels.
 
“And this is a photo of a missile in a similar state of readiness on launch pad 15.”
 
The General nodded to his assistants, and a new blowup appeared on the easels.
 
“What you see on the left half of this display is launch pad 10 once again, but this time the photo was taken at 16:45 on the same day – just before sunset. The picture you see on the right hand side was also taken just before sunset, but this picture was taken on April 4, 2009. The missile in this picture is the Taepodong-2 missile the North launched with partial success the next day.
 
“Now if you open the folder in front of each of you, you will find a diagram with the outlines of two multi-stage missiles, with the larger of the two superimposed over the smaller. These outlines were created to the same scale, and were produced by measuring the shadows that you see on the pictures on the easel.
 
“As you can note from the scale on the left side of the diagram, the larger of the two missiles is about 20% taller than the smaller. If you look carefully, you will see that this difference results entirely from the extension of the second stage. The third stage appears to be unchanged, with no increase in the size of the payload section.
 
North Korean Missiles with Ranges“Finally, you will note that the silhouette of the first stage is much broader by reason of the addition of a booster rocket on each side of the main launch vehicle.”
 
The General motioned once more to his assistants, and this time they placed a large diagram on the easels that displayed a series of increasingly larger rockets, together with a map with concentric circles centering on North Korea.
 
"Here you see the four largest known missiles in the arsenal of the North, from smallest to largest - the Scud C Upgrade, the Nodong, both in yellow, and the Taepodong 1 and Taepodong 2 - the two missiles in blue.  The map in the upper right shows the presumed ranges of each launch vehicle.  As you will note, the largest circle shows that the presumed range of the Taepodong-2 missile, carrying a conventional nuclear warhead, would reach Alaska.  With a lighter payload, we assume it could reach the Pacific Northwest.

"Our assumption is that the missiles we see on the launchpad now are indeed the Taepodong-3 that Kim Jong-Il claimed a week ago he intended to target at the U.S."
 
The General paused. “Are there any questions so far?”
 
The room was deadly silent. Then the President spoke up.
 
“General Hayes, do we believe that any of the components of the larger rocket are new?”
 
“Excellent question, Sir. Unfortunately, the answer is effectively ‘no.’ The larger second stage is most likely essentially the same as the one used with the Taepodong-2, except with larger fuel and oxygen tanks. Increasing the size of those components presents no new engineering challenges of any significance.  And the size and shape of the booster rockets is an exact match to the solid fuel rockets the North has been successfully launching for years.”
 
“Have they successfully launched mixed solid and liquid fuel configurations before?”
 
“Unfortunately, Sir, the answer is ‘yes.’”
 
“Thank you General. Please proceed.”
 
Hayes nodded to his assistants again.
 
“What you see superimposed over this map of North America are arcs that represent the ranges that we believe a missile of the size of the Taepodong-3 would have, based upon differing payload weights.”
 
The Cabinet members peered especially intently at the map. The first arc approximately followed the line of the Rockies, while the second took in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and Houston. The third arc included the entire United States, except for the bottom third of Florida.
 
“More specifically, these arcs relate to payloads equivalent to 4,000 pounds, 3,000 pounds, and 2,000 pounds.”
 
The President spoke up again. “And how did you select those weights, General? Are they arbitrary, or do they have particular significance?”
 
The General chose his words carefully. “Mr. President, we were using a variety of educated guesses when we chose the weights for this particular purpose. Essentially, they represent a range of assumptions based upon the level of sophistication that the North Koreans may have achieved in the design of nuclear weaponry. 
 
“Depending upon which of those assumptions proves to be accurate, the arcs therefore represent the current capability of the North to deliver a 5 kiloton nuclear warhead to the continental U.S., assuming that their delivery vehicle operates to full design potential.”
 
North Korea's Man of Many Dongs“One last question, General. Have your people formed any opinion on the probable weight of the payload the third stage of these rockets is intended to carry, based on the volume of the third stage?”
 
Hayes paused, and then answered. “Yes, Mr. President, they have.”
 
“And that opinion is?”
 
“Between 1800 and 2100 pounds, Sir.”
 
“Thank you very much, General. I’m sure we’ll be inviting you to join us again soon.”

 
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –
 
Carl Cummings saw Marla sitting in the window of the coffee shop in Alexandria, Virginia where she had asked him to meet her. He paused at the counter to buy a cup for himself, and then joined her. Was this meeting intended for business reasons, or, dare he hope it, pleasure?
 
One look at Marla as she glanced up to greet him answered that question. 
 
“Ah, there you are,” she said. “Have a seat.”
 
Carl sat down. “Any luck?” he asked. 

Marla looked around discretely and then in a low voice said “Yes!” 

 

Carl stirred his coffee and considered his next question. He now knew from Marla that Frank and she were indeed communicating on line, but he knew better than to ask how. Marla was clearly still of two minds over whether to believe him or not and Carl hadn’t figured out yet how to gain her full trust.
 
“How much luck?” he asked quietly.
 
“We’ve got a location.”
 
Carl tried not to show surprise; there were people not far away. “That’s excellent. Where?”
 
Marla did not reply immediately. Instead, she stared out the window. Frank had decided to gamble on letting her work with Carl up to a point, but both of them still felt uneasy. Yes, they needed to catch the Alexandria Project operatives before Frank could consider himself in the clear. And while cyber sleuthing was right up Frank’s alley, physically catching potential terrorists was not. Anyway, so long as Frank stayed in hiding, what did they have to lose?
 
Best to go ahead and take the plunge then. Marla set her coffee cup down and pointed through the window at the Alexandria Antiquarian Bookstore across the street.
 
“There.”

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Comments

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"After punching in a seven number sequence, and the door swung upon to reveal a modest sized room containing nothing but multiple doors, and a series of doors set into its walls. Sitting around the table were for men about his own age. "

 

These sentences somehow do not sound right. One of the "doors" might have been intended as "table"?

 

Winter

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sitting round the table when George entered ... I only counted the Director and his two co-leaders ... enquiring minds want to know if my schooling was wasted!

Minrich,

 

Enquiring minds can count better than tired ones.  Actually, originally it was the Director plus three other guys, but when I changed it to two co-leaders I didn't change every reference I should have.  Thanks for catching that one.

 

  -  Andy