The Alexandria Project Chap. 7: What a Difference a Day (and a Decision Tree) Makes

Our story so far:  At the end of an “interview” with a CIA agent, Frank realizes he may have become the prime suspect in the investigation of the ongoing hacking of Library of Congress.  Now what?  Read the first chapters here, and you can also follow the Further Adventures of Frank on Twitter.

Decision Tree - public domain -  Thanks to PolyextremophileFrank struggled to organize his thoughts as he left the fiasco of an “interview” he’d just endured at the hands of CIA agent Carl Cummings.  Time to be logical, he thought, not emotional.  If he didn’t start getting a hold of himself, at this rate he’d find himself in jail. 

So what should be at the top of the decision tree, he asked as he walked back to his cubicle.  Well, the first gate appeared to be whether Cummings really thought Frank was the culprit.  If no, then Frank could relax, but if yes, then Frank could be in real trouble.  Frank weighed the possibility that Carl was just jerking everyone around, to feel self-important.  Negative, Frank decided.  Everyone else thought the disappearing documents were part of a test, not a real exploit, and Carl would have wanted to keep it that way. 

So that means I’m in trouble, Frank told himself.  See?  I'm making progress already.

Frank forced himself to focus.  So what should the next question be?  I guess that would be whether I should do anything, or not?   “No” means just getting back to work.  That, and trying harder not to do anything stupid.

But what does “yes” mean?

Frank settled back into his cubicle, and sorted through the few alternatives he could imagine.  The only one that seemed to make any sense was for him to figure out who was stealing documents from the Library of Congress and turn them in.  He pursued that thought next.

OK, let’s assume for the moment I might actually eventually catch the bad guys.  What’s the next decision? 

He decided the next question was whether that was a smart move, or another dumb one.  After all, why not just let the powers that be muddle through?

That question had an easy answer: Because the powers that be are a bunch of bungling chowderheads when it came to security.  Look at how often the government had been hacked already, and how infrequently it had gotten to the bottom of it.  All they did was look more and more foolish each time it happened.  Why would the CIA be any more successful this time than before? 

Frank mused on that for awhile.  Was that the end of the decision tree, or was there another logic gate he hadn’t thought of yet?

Maybe, he thought.  Let’s assume that the Feds don’t catch the cracker, and things just keep getting worse.  Chairman Steele’s Cybersecurity subcommittee is already out for blood.  There will be hell to pay if an agency is forced to publicly report – as it now is – that it has not only been hacked, but that it’s still being hacked by someone who leaves their animated calling card behind.  And this at the same time it’s supposed to be proposing a plan to make itself hack-proof!

Gram Stain of Anthrax bacillus - public domain - Thanks to Yuval Madar OK, but still so what?  So what if the CIA never catches the wiley Alexandrians?  If I just keep my nose clean, what can they do to me?  Hell, it took the FBI seven years to find someone who even might have been behind the 9/11 Anthrax scare.

Except….Frank suddenly remembered that the authorities hadn’t taken long at all to leak the name of a suspect who later turned out to be innocent.  Frank found the guy’s name in a few key strokes:  Dr. Steven Hatfill.

The public had been screaming for the FBI to haul somebody in, but the case was almost impossible to solve.  Leaking the name of a “person of interest” had been a neat way to take the heat off the FBI, because the media could be relied upon to take it from there.  And so they had – the newspapers and cable shows had pounced on the poor S.O.B like the pack of jackals some of them were, and made his life hell.  Hatfill had to spend a fortune in court before he was finally able to clear his name – seven years later. 

Frank thought about that for a minute.  Could that have been just an isolated incident, or was it standard practice?  He tried Googling “terrorist scapegoat” and waited for the hits:  3,250,000.  That didn’t sound good.

Pipe Bomb  Training Device - public domain - Thanks to US Dept. of StateFrank remembered the guard who found the pipe bomb at the Atlanta, Georgia Summer Olympics and came to regret it, and decided to check him out.  Sure enough, at first, he was hailed as a hero.  Then, when the Feds couldn’t find the bomber, they let it be known that the hero had become a “person of interest.”  What was his name?

Frank typed “Atlanta Olympics bomb” into Wikipedia, and there he was – Richard Jewell.  Frank clicked on the link and read:

…Early news reports lauded Jewell as a hero, for helping to evacuate the area after he spotted the suspicious package. Three days later, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the FBI was treating him as a possible suspect, based largely on a "lone bomber" criminal profile.

Say what?!  Where have I heard of criminal profiling before? 

For the next several weeks, the news media focused aggressively on [Jewell] as the presumed culprit, sifting through his life to match a leaked "lone bomber" profile that the FBI had used. The media, to varying degrees, portrayed Jewell as a failed law enforcement officer who may have planted the bomb so he could find it and be a hero.  Two of the bombing victims filed lawsuits against Jewell on the basis of this reporting….

Now that was really great, Frank thought.  Maybe Agent Carl had used the Jewell profile as the starting point for what even Frank was starting to think of as his own psychological outline. 

He sat back.  The script seemed to be clear: if you can’t catch the right guy quick, any convenient dolt will do if they match any halfway credible profile.  Then leak his name to the press – or hey, let’s say, a House subcommittee – and just relax.  They’ll take it from there. 

Frank tried to tell himself he was just being paranoid.  But if this was paranoia, how to explain all those “guilty man found innocent” stories that had been flooding the newspapers, now that DNA testing was so cheap?  Just about every single con had been the victim of a tough, very public case and a lazy prosecutor.  Only a lab test could save them.

Except there weren’t any DNA tests to clear you if you were accused of stealing computer files.  Matter of fact, there really wasn’t any way to exonerate you, Frank realized – except by catching the real culprit.

“For Pete’s sake, Frank, will you stop with the drumming!”

Frank looked down at his hands in surprise, catching them in mid-beat.  He grabbed the edge of his desktop to make his digits behave.

“Sorry, Mitch,” he called over the top of the cubical wall.

OK, he told himself.  This is ridiculous.  I’m panicking for no reason.  Carl is probably just a hyperactive wannabe secret agent man making himself feel important.  Get a grip, and just get back to work.

It was then that Frank noticed an almost imperceptible green flicker at the top of his laptop screen.  As usual, his laptop was turned on and sitting next to his desktop computer.  He stared at it and waited.  Sure enough, there it was again.  Someone was watching him using the video camera on his own computer!

Frank’s eyes widened.  How and when had his computer been compromised?  Just about anytime, he realized.  It was always lying out on his desk at work, and as often as not, even when he was at home he was logged on to the LOC system.  It could have happened while he was trading jibes with Carl – or days ago. 

Frank’s head began to spin.  What else had been placed on his computer?  A keystroke logger recording every letter he typed?  And had every site he had visited over the past week been tracked as well?  And what kinds of sites had he been visiting?

All kinds, he realized.  Cracker sites.  Security sites.  Hell, he’d just now been looking up famous terrorist attacks on the Wikipedia.  Anyone who needed a scapegoat could ignore 99% of the sites he’d visited in the last week and tie the rest as tight as you please back into that stupid, lame, profile.

For the second time that day, Frank broke out in a cold sweat.  Whoever was attacking the LOC site was damn good.  They’d left no tracks at all.  Frank doubted the CIA would get to the bottom of this exploit, and Senator Steele’s subcommittee meetings would resume in a week.

Well, that had finally brought him to the bottom of the decision tree, hadn’t it?   Yes, he decided, it certainly had.  He shut down his laptop and his desktop, picked up his coat, and stood up. 

“So – did you drum yourself out of here, Frank?” Mitch asked as he walked by.

Frank gave a dry laugh.  “Yeah, Mitch.  I guess that’s a good way to put it.”

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

 Want to help Frank out?  Give me some input!

1.  Ok, so are you bored or am I keeping you interested?

2.  Should I continue with the technical stuff, or cut it back?

3.  Is it time for Frank to just get a life, already, or does he intrigue you?

4.  Who do you think is behind the Alexandria Project?  (I’ll answer honestly – but I won’t guarantee it will help).

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

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Comments (8)

  1. You are right, the lone hero who rides towards the sunset is a staple of adventure.


    But, in all those stories, the hero does have meaningful interactions with fellow humans. At this point in his life, Frank has no meaningful interactions with other people. Even not with his daughter.


    That was what I was refering to. Frank already "realized", that he could not advance in his job because he was unable to cooperate with this colleges. I assume, that to get this story onwards, you will need to have Frank learn to understand how to get people to cooperate and be productive. He does not have to like them, though.


    But please, please, No Disney. It brings up bad memories of deep, beautiful stories, horribly maimed in their primes. Poor philosophical Pooh Bear will never be the same again.



    • Winter,


      Fear not.  I guarantee that The Alexandria Project exists in a Disney-free zone.  Any Disnoid that may seek to intrude will be summarily humiliated. 


      Come to think of it, it might be well worth dedicating a chapter to just that!


        –  Andy

  2. "It may be that I’ll need to just please one audience over the other, rather than under-deliver to either.  We’ll see."


    This is hypertext. Why assume everything must be in the main story line?


    If you would like to "explain" some technical stuff, but it does interrupt the story line, put it behind a link, pop-up or what else. You do not even have to write everything yourself. Most is already described perfectly in Wikipedia.


    This way, you do not have to assume that everyone reads the story only once. People can easily go back and read a chapter anew. With or without the extra material.


    Then, you only have to decide whether it is worth the extra time and effort to write the extra material. Obviously, this adds the problem that you cannot let the plot depend on stuff not everyone has read. But then, why should the plot have only one level?


    And if your blog allows a setting that will expand or hide text on desire (like the comment section does), you can make it work even easier.



    • Winter,


      I’m doing this already, to a degree, with the multiple links (most to the Wikipedia).  The idea of linking to more text of my own authorship is an interesting one, and worth exploring – thanks.  I’ll have to see whether Geeklog would support this, or whether I’d have to set up independent Webpages.  I think I could just have one long, running blog entry and set anchors in it, sort of like a footnote page.


      The main problem is that this project is already very time-consuming, so it’s likely this would be left to a later date.


        –  Andy

  3. Hi Andy,

    Very nice eNovel you have here. I’m very glad I found it. I am a more-or-less regular visitor of your blog, for some years now, and to be honest: this eNovel is a very great surprise!

    About your questions: except for the last one, I fully agree with Winter (as usual). I, too, like to read technical stuff, so that makes two 😉 And the who-done-it: the daughter, of course.


    • Acarya,


      I’m glad you’re enjoying the story so far. As far as whether Marla (Marla!) could possibly be behind the weird doings, I can say this:  I have considered a variety of different roles for almost every character who has thus far, or not yet, entered the picture (there are more to come). 


      Sometimes the same role has been considered for one character, and then later switched to another, for a different reason and as a result of a different motivation.  That may even happen again.  After all – who really knows?  Maybe not even me, yet.


      If you’re enjoying the story, please don’t hesitate to tell your friends.  The more the merrierl


        –  Andy

  4. 1.  Ok, so are you bored or am I keeping you interested?

    In two words: hells yes. This is one of the most interesting periodical stories (eNovel as it’s been termed) I’ve happened upon in a very long time.

    2.  Should I continue with the technical stuff, or cut it back?

    Please please continue, that’s part of what got me hooked. I’m personally of the opinion that if people are disinterested with the tech-heavy portions they are free to skim over them, while if they weren’t included the people that are interested would be the only ones missing out. (As for Winter’s question:  Do they really try to shoot every suspect?…no, they can’t. Don’t you know all Americans carry at least two guns at all times ;D) Returning to the point, the technical infomation is what drew me to the story as I have a keen interest in tech (especially security related) and I only found the story because of But then again I didn’t know the day the superbowl was happening until it was over, and only because people at my job were talking about it…so I’m hardly what one might consider part of a ‘mainstream’ audience.

    3.  Is it time for Frank to just get a life, already, or does he intrigue you?

    Frank reminds me of myself in many ways, so I feel he already has a life, though it may be one of frustration I’m not sure that there are many other options. Self-imposed isolation is, from what I can gather, reletively common in those with what is considered ‘genius-level’ intellect and is largely related to the fact that ‘average’ people can’t relate to the thought process of geniuses and vice-versa. This probably because people in the top 1% or higher IQ level have the same (or greater) gap in IQ that ‘average’  people have with the mentally challenged. (No offense intended, but it seems unlikely that it will come across that way…)

    To more directly answer the question he very much intrigues me as I can relatively easily relate to his feelings, I assume this is not the case with every reader. But I think most people have at least had an experience where they were subordinate to someone of lesser intellect. Also, Frank’s ‘lack of a life’ is largely a matter of opinion: should one’s life be what one accomplishes (though Frank, as have I, struggles with lack of continued tangible results)  or the satisfaction one gains from their interaction with others. If it is that latter I feel that a great many geniuses would be found lacking. Though it is possible (I think, because I don’t, nor would I want to, have an IQ in the 4-sigma range; I think this would be an nearly unbearable burden unless one was surrounded by others that could stimulate oneself intelluctally) for most people with high IQs to learn to interact with many people amicably on some level. Though I’m not sure were Frank falls on the Bell Curve.

    4.  Who do you think is behind the Alexandria Project?  (I’ll answer honestly – but I won’t guarantee it will help).

    Its hard to say with the facts we have thusfar, but I think it is a person or persons in the same intellectual range as Frank (pardon me stating the obvious here) that are, like most hackers, opposed to the sequestering/hoarding of knowledge. I believe they most probably fancy themselves freedom fighters of sorts and are vehemently opposed to bureaucratic control of information, which they place an extremely high value on…information that is, not bureaucratic control ;). And despite the possibility of an inside job I think the possibility of an outside rival of equal or greater skill is what has Frank so intrigued.

    • Hobomajic,


      Thanks very much for the input, and I’m glad that Frank seems real to you.  I’m not a big mystery fan (or fiction fan at all, for that matter), so I’m not an expert in the genre, but I did listen to a few audio recordings on a recent roadtrip to pass the time.  One was the DaVinci Code, and the other was a Baldacci thriller (Stone Cold).  Dan Brown left me totally disappointed with the absence of any reality to his characters at all.  Baldacci was a bit better, but character development was still more window dressing than substance.


      So while The Alexandria Project clearly isn’t intended to be Great Literature, I’d be bored writing it if the characters didn’t have at least some depth to them. Indeed, for me the plot is more a device to hang the characters on, and Frank in particular, rather than the reverse.


      Regarding your answer to question 4: indeed yes, the culprit, or culprits, or culprits-s, will indeed be smart folks.  🙂


      I’ll  try to keep your interest going forward, and if you think of it, turn your friends on the Further Adventures of Frank as well.


        –  Andy

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