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The Alexandria Project, Chapter 24: The Bacon and Eggs will get you Every Time

Alexandria Project (a Cyber Thriller)

 New to The Alexandria Project?  Find a plot synopsis and guide to the characters here, find the earlier chapters here, and follow the Further Adventures of Frank on Twitter

Slim Pickens, riding The Bomb all the way down in Stanley Kubrick's Doctor Strangelove (1964)CIA Director John Foster Baldwin pressed a button on his intercom.

“Yes, Gwen?”   “Mr. McInnerney for you, Sir.”   The Director gave an inward groan. What the hell could Francis X. McInnerney want?   Baldwin hadn’t spoken to the FBI Director since their grilling by Congressman Steele’s committee weeks ago. And why would he want to? McInnerney had done everything he could to deflect Steele’s wrath towards the CIA, and with some success, too. Whatever McInnerney might have to say, Baldwin doubted he’d like it.  

“Hi, Francis. To what do I owe the rare honor of a personal call?”

Baldwin heard McInnerney chuckle at the other end of the line. “Don’t worry, John, no honor intended. Just following the rules by promptly informing a partner in Homeland Security about an important development.”
 
“So diligent of you to do so.” Now he knew this wouldn't be a welcome call. McInnerney must be calling to gloat about some breakthrough on a matter of joint responsibility.
 
"Yes indeed, I wanted you to be the first to know that we believe we’ve cracked the Alexandria Project wide open."
 
Damn, Baldwin thought. If that was true, the CIA would have to share the glory of its own discovery with the FBI. If only George Marchand had been able to move in a few days sooner. 
 
Then Baldwin had a worse thought – what if the FBI had leapfrogged the CIA and found the hackers behind the attacks?
 
"Congratulations," he said carefully. "As it happens, yesterday we made some progress on that front as well. What is it that you’ve come across?"
 
McInnerney was doubly glad he’d called, then. The Bureau couldn't afford to be scooped by the CIA on this one.
 
"We've found the mole that was working in the Library of Congress, and we expect to have him in custody by the end of the day."
 
"Is that so? And how have you tied him to the exploits?"
 
"Glad you asked, because that's the most interesting part. Now that all the Homeland Security agencies use the same database, we were able to read the write-ups your boys put together about this guy. And apparently we found more of interest in them than your own folks were able to.
 
“Really.”
 
Official Logo of the DHS"Yes, really. It was all there for your analysts to see. This guy Adversego had the motive, the profile, the opportunity and the skills to pull the whole thing off. And then he drops off the face of the earth, after giving your boys the slip using the kind of tactics you’d find in a Grade B movie.”
 
Baldwin had no idea what the FBI Director was talking about, but he didn’t like what he was hearing. All he knew was that George Marchand’s team had captured those responsible for at least the Library of Congress attacks.
 
But McInnerney had more good news to share.
 
"The only hard part to figure out is why your guy George Marchand hushed the whole thing up. Now isn't that an interesting question?"
 
"Actually, Fran, I’m sure that it's not nearly as interesting a question as you may think…"
 
But McInnerney cut him off.
 
"Save it for Congressman Steele, John. Right now I've got a few other calls to make. And the first one will be to him." The line went dead.
 
Baldwin pushed back from his desk and tried to digest the implications of what he had just heard. What if the FBI was about to arrest someone the CIA knew about and could have hauled in themselves? Wouldn't the CIA’s capture of the Alexandria Project conspirators corroborate its side of the story?
 
Baldwin pulled Marchand’s field report out of a file and read parts of it more closely. According to Marchand, the CIA had been led to the Alexandria Project by someone named Frank Adversego, an employee of the Library of Congress. But that information had been conveyed second hand by his daughter, and apparently Adversego’s current location was unknown. 
 
Marchand also reported that the members of the Project were not capable of launching the attacks themselves. As yet, no progress had been made in determining who had assisted them, but Marchand assigned a high probability to the likelihood that the same parties were behind the scores of copycat attacks that were still continuing.
 
Baldwin set the report aside and thought hard. What would he think and do if he was McInnerney?
 
That line of reasoning led him to an unsettling thought. From what he could tell from Marchand’s report, this guy Adversego had fingered the booksellers without explaining how he knew who they were. Perhaps Adversego really was the hacker behind the operation. Maybe he had turned in the booksellers to deflect the attention of the CIA from himself.
 
Yes, Baldwin concluded, that’s exactly what McInnerney would think. Worse, that’s what he would claim, whether the facts supported that conclusion or not. Moreover, once Frank and his computer equipment were in the FBI's custody, what would the CIA have to refute McInnerney’s claims?   
 
The answer, he realized with concern, was exactly nothing, at least for awhile. The FBI would not only claim credit for breaking the case, but they'd also say the CIA was either incompetent or protecting the culprit. No, that wasn’t quite fair, Baldwin realized. McInnerney would say that the CIA was both.
 
The CIA Director was beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable. For all he knew, Adversego really was guilty. Perhaps Marchand's trust in him was misplaced, and the CIA was about to be hung out to dry.
 
Baldwin reached a decision. The FBI could not be permitted to capture Frank Adversego. And George Marchand had to be kept out of the loop.
 

He glanced at the clock on his desk. This would require quick and decisive action.

- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

Frank's Messy Kitchen
Marla unlocked the door to Frank's apartment, and motioned Carl and George in ahead of her. 
 
"Let's sit in the kitchen. It's the only semi-habitable part of my father's apartment."
 
George looked around the room and decided not to comment on Marla's definition of habitability. "So your father says the real hacker is located somewhere in this building, huh?"
 
"Yes, but that's as close as he can get to telling where they are. We'll have to take it from there."
 
"How about it George," Carl asked. "What's our next step?"
 
George shook his head from side to side slowly. "That's not going to be easy. This building has four floors, and there are 24 mailboxes in the lobby downstairs. It’s not as if I can set up monitors in one location and scan every apartment. And even if I could, whoever we're looking for isn't going to have a room full of servers in their living room – all the serious equipment will be far away. So it's not like we can scan for unusual electromagnetic activity, or listen for extra air conditioners chilling a data room. We’ll have to actually intercept data that we can identify as suspicious."
 
"So what does that mean? That we've got to get a court order and tap every apartment in the whole damn building?"
 
"Actually, it could be worse than that. For all we know, whoever we're looking for may be across the street. Maybe they’re just tapping into someone's unprotected WiFi router over here."
 
"So what do we do?"
 
George began to unpack the metal suitcase he had carried in. "For starters, we’ll just hope that we get lucky. I've brought a TEMPEST scanner kit along with me, and maybe it will turn out our target is less careful than he or she should be. Even so, they'd need to be in an adjacent apartment on this or one of the adjoining floors."
 
"'TEMPEST?' What does that mean?" Marla asked.
 
"Nobody knows what the acronym stands for; that’s apparently classified. And actually, you don't hear too much about this kind of technology as you used to, back in the Cold War days of spooks and espionage. With everything running over the Internet now, TEMPEST is pretty passé. Now we just try and intercept it in the cloud. 
 
“Basically, though, TEMPEST is a blanket term that applies to techniques that let you pick up and analyze data that equipment such as computers and printers might be handling without having to directly intercept it at all. Sometimes we might listen for sounds or other mechanical noises, and in other situations we'd try and pick up the electromagnetic emanations that the equipment is giving off, which is what I’m going to try to do here.
 
"Of course, that assumes that the person of interest isn’t using lead shielding, or generating the electromagnetic or acoustic equivalent of "white noise" to obliterate or neutralize what I’ll be looking for. But what the hell, we've got to start somewhere."
 
Marla thought for a moment. "So because you’re not actually tapping a phone line we don’t need a warrant?"
 
Instead of answering, George began humming loudly to himself. Marla decided to let it go at that.
 
Carl was only half listening to them as he wandered around the kitchen, looking at the clutter that was Frank’s everyday life. He noticed something familiar on the counter and picked it up.
 
"What happened to Devil Dog?" he said, holding up a leather collar.
 
Marla snorted. "Lily? My father got Mrs. Foomjoy across the hall to take care of her before he left. And don't be silly. Lily's completely harmless."
 
"So you say," Carl said as he looked at the collar. A rabies shot tag dangled from a split ring, and behind that, a thick silvery disk. Lily’s name was engraved on it, along with Frank's name and street address. What a geek, Carl thought. Instead of a phone number, it also had Frank's email address.
 
Carl rubbed the tag between his fingers, and noticed that the back surface was rough. Idly, he turned it over, and then looked more closely. The rough texture was the result of a half-dozen small holes pierced in the back. He turned the tag over several times, now examining it more carefully.
 
"Say, George, do you have a really, really fine screwdriver in your bag of tricks?'
 
"Sure." He handed Carl one the size found in an eyeglass repair kit.
 
Carl sat down at the kitchen table and placed the tag on edge. Marla got up and stood behind him to see what he was doing.
 
"What's so interesting about Lily's collar?"
 
"I'll let you know in a minute." Carl pursed his lips, wiggling the screwdriver back and forth. Finally he succeeded in wedging the sharp point of the screwdriver into the almost imperceptible line that circled the disk. With a twist of the screwdriver, he popped the two halves of the disk apart. 
 
"Aha! Now what have we here?"
 
Probing carefully with the screwdriver, Carl found that there were two layers of material inside. The first an extremely thin disk of dark metal. Stuck to the middle of one side of the disk was a small metal and plastic structure. A thin wire ran from there to the second layer, which looked like the workings of a digital watch, complete with battery.
 
George was watching intently now as well. "Marla, where do you suppose that collar and name tag came from?"
 
Marla picked up the collar, noting the fancy tooling and red lacing that ornamented it.
 
"It must have been a gift from Mrs. Foomjoy across the hall. My grandmother would never have bought something this gaudy, and gosh knows my father wouldn't have spent a nickel on anything for Lily he didn't have to."
 
"That's that, then," George said, beginning to repack his equipment case. "We've got our target."
 
"But how? And what is that inside of Lily’s tag?"
 

"Wireless microphone," Carl answered, as he reassembled the tiny device. "With an antenna and battery that small, it couldn't have much range. So all signs point to your Dad’s dog-loving neighbor."

- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –

President Obama's National Security CouncilPresident Rawlings scanned the faces around the table as he entered the Situation Room. Yes, the core members of the National Security Council were already seated. He nodded to all as he sat down and got straight down to business.
 
"General Hayes, thank you for joining us today. Please bring us up to date."
 
"Of course, Mr. President." Brigadier General Fletcher Hayes stepped to the easel in the corner of the room. No one to flip charts for him this time; unlike the Cabinet Meeting he had last attended, today's event was for the inner circle only.
 
General Hayes reached into the large portfolio leaning against the wall and pulled out a wide aerial photo. The title at the top read “Demilitarized Zone plus 30 Kilometers North.”   A zigzagging double red line had been added across the bottom of the image, and above it, dozens of triangles, circles and squares. Some of the geometric shapes were red, others black.
 
"The purpose of this first satellite image is to show changes in troop deployments along the DMZ over the past five days, with the black symbols marking the previous positions of significant North Korean forces. The more numerous red ones indicate North Korean positions as of 6:00 EST today. The meanings of the symbols are as follows: each triangle represents a full division, each square represents a tank corps, and each circle indicates an air combat wing.
 
"Two changes are immediately apparent: not only are there significantly more forces of each type within thirty kilometers of the DMZ now than five days ago, but they are also much closer to the line. The only forces of any magnitude not within three kilometers of the 38th parallel are positioned to guard known North Korean command and control positions. Not shown are a large number of new missile and antiaircraft batteries that have also been repositioned to the same purpose."
 
The General placed another photo on top of the first.
 
"In this version of the same photo we have removed the black symbols, and added a new set of markings in green. As you will note, these symbols are grouped in wedges. Each wedge is pointed at one of the areas of greatest troop concentration indicated in red. These green symbols represent divisions of the Red Guard."
 
"My God, General" the Vice President interjected. "If those symbols also indicate divisions, there must be over a million Red Guards within a few miles of the DMZ!"
 
"Actually, Sir, we calculate the number to be closer to 1,250,000. They've been pouring into the area every night for the past three days, and we don't see any indications that these troop movements are complete."
 
There was a stunned silence. The President spoke at last.
 
"General, is there any precedent for a troop concentration of this size along the DMZ?"
 
Topographic map section of the DMZ"I'm afraid not, Sir. While it's true that the game plan is familiar, the magnitude and composition of the forces massing just over the border are unprecedented. In particular, we have never seen such a concentration of Red Guards along the DMZ, or indeed anywhere, since the truce was signed over fifty years ago."
 
"And what is the status of the North's new, long-range missiles?"
 
"Sir, we assume that they are fully operational, except for loading liquid fuel. As we have not yet detected any liquid oxygen venting from the missiles, we assume that fueling this has not yet commenced."
 
"How long would it take to fire the missiles once fueling begins?"
 
"Sir, we estimate approximately ten hours for fueling. Final launch-ready testing should take approximately two hours more."
 
"Thank you, General, you may be seated. I expect we will have additional questions, but you've already adequately illustrated the reason I've convened this meeting."
 
Hayes retreated to his seat, grateful that he would be only a spectator to the difficult and dangerous decision making to follow. 
 
The President spoke again, this time to the Council.
 
"As you can see, we are faced with a fast-evolving situation without parallel since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And I draw that comparison advisedly. As you know, a disaster of unimaginable consequences was only averted by the calm judgment displayed by President Kennedy and his most trusted advisors. As we discuss our next moves, I would like each of you to keep their example in mind."
 
Hayes scanned the faces around the table to gauge their reaction to the President's statement. There seemed to be two camps: those that seemed relieved to hear the President’s words, and those with frowns on their faces. The darkest frown of all was on the face of the Vice President.
 
And no surprise, Hayes reflected. Henry Chaseman was as extreme a hawk as you were likely to find, and as strange a choice from that perspective as one could imagine to have joined the Presidential ticket. Chaseman and Rawlings had become bitter rivals in the year running up to the primaries, badly splitting the entire party in the process. After Rawlings finally sewed up the necessary delegates, party elders cajoled the two into becoming running mates in an attempt to reunite the party.
 
Not that it made a difference to the two men involved. It was an open secret on the Hill that there had been no real reconciliation, and the inevitable impotence of being Vice President had clearly dealt a blow to Chaseman's ego.
 
Hayes turned to listen to the Secretary of Defense, who was speaking in support of the President's message of moderation. But as soon as she was done, the Vice President jumped in.
 
Peter Sellars as Dr. Strangelove (1962)"I'm sorry, Mr. President, but I must emphatically disagree. Of course it's fashionable to talk about what great judgment Jack Kennedy showed back in 1962, but that's only because we don't know how things would have turned out if he'd given General LeMay permission to launch a preemptive strike – or even simply told the Russians he intended to. 
 
"At that time, we had the Soviet Union out-nuked three to one, and they knew it.  They weren’t attacking us – they were testing us.  Now think what the world could have been like if we'd drawn a line in the sand instead of playing cat and mouse at sea. We could have forced the Russians to the table to disarm them then and there, and saved 25 years of Cold War uncertainty and sacrifice. Perhaps we might even have avoided the Viet Nam war."
 
Hayes saw that while some looked uneasy, others were listening to the Vice President with approval.
 
"I say this is the time to call North Korea's bluff. What are we waiting for? For Kim Jung-Il or his son to build 25 more nukes and then blackmail us? We all know our missile defense system is crap. We'd be lucky to knock one out of three of their missiles out of the air if they ever launched a real attack. Is that what we’re waiting for?
 
“And even if I conceded to you your point about the Cuban Missile Crisis, there’s no way we can have any kind of semi-rational negotiation with these lunatic North Koreans. Kennedy had Khrushchev to exchange signals with, but we’re stuck with Kim Jung-Il or whoever is really running the show over there right now.”
 
The Secretary of State broke in. “But what about the missiles? We already know North Korea has exploded atomic bombs. What if they have been able to make them small enough to deliver by missile?”
 
Chaseman shot back: “And what if they haven’t? Should we wait until they have, or act now while we can?”
 
“But let’s say that I concede your point as well. Why should we think they'll have any better luck with these new missiles than they've had with their old ones? The only question in my mind is whether they'll make it off the launch pad without exploding. 
 
“But mark my words – we can't rely on their poor engineering skills forever. Soon enough, the North Koreans will get the bugs out, and then what? How long will it be before they do have a fleet of capable, nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles? One year? Two?
 
Peter Sellars as Dr. Strangelove (1962)"So I say the hell with moderation. I say it's time to strike back, and strike back decisively while we can still afford to do so. If Kim Jung-Il fires those missiles at us, I say we fire ours right back, missile for missile.”
 
Chaseman paused a moment for effect, and then added. “And I say we arm ours with nuclear warheads as well."
 
There was a gasp from more than one member of the Council. The Secretary of State spoke first.
 
"Are you serious?"
 
"Of course I’m serious! The only reason we've never had to use nukes since 1945 is because we used them back then. Unfortunately, it seems like the lesson is getting stale. Maybe it takes a mushroom cloud in the news every fifty or sixty years to keep madmen like the North Koreans and the Iranians in line. And I'd a damn sight rather see that mushroom cloud over Pyongyang than Washington."
 
Hayes saw that the Vice President's forceful logic was connecting with many of his listeners. Like the rest, Hayes turned to hear what the President would say in response.
 

But Rawlings said nothing, because even as they watched, the President of the United States was slumping slowly down into his chair, his mouth slightly open and his eyes staring blankly into space.

Carl can't follow Frank on the run, but you can, on Follow
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Comments

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"Carla unlocked the door to Frank's apartment, and motioned Carl and George in ahead of her. "

 

Should be

 

"Marla unlocked the door to Frank's apartment, and motioned Carl and George in ahead of her."

 

 

Permalink

Carla thought for a moment. "So because you’re not actually tapping a phone line we don’t need a warrant?"

That cursed Carla strikes again, should it be Carl or Marla this time? I vote for Marla - to be in accord with her holding her peace in the next sentence.

Sigh...I got through 23 chapters without doing this once, and now I've gone and done it twice.  I guess I'll have to add a word search to every remaining chapter to be sure that "Carla" doesn't sneak in again.

 

Thanks for catching this, and I'll go do that word search now.

 

  -  Andy