The Call

Harold Cruickshank walked into his Ottawa office at a quarter to six in the morning. A widower, capsule he spent more time at work than he did anywhere else. Though, misbirth work for him didn’t always mean being in the office, apoplectic today it did. The sixty-two year old dropped his Hartmann Legend briefcase onto his desk and walked over to the coffee machine on his credenza. His secretary wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes and he liked to start his mornings with caffeine. He flipped on the machine and reached for the TV remote. It actually controlled two televisions in his office, one was set permanently to CNN and the other to CTV Newsnet. The director of Canada’s Security Intelligence Service had the enviable task of keeping one eye on his country’s affairs with the other warily trained on the United States. And since the Americans hardly ever carried news reports about their neighbors to the north, he needed two televisions for the task. To make matters embarrasingly worse, reporters were sometimes his first and best source of information — much to the chagrin of members of his agency.

His phone rang, it was his secure line. His secretary not yet being in, he picked it up.

“Mornin’ Harold,” the voice on the other end of the phone needed no introduction. It was Bill Marshal, the Communications Security Establishment’s chief. As head of Canada’s equivalent to the US’ NSA, Bill worked very closely with Harold, especially on matters of counter-terrorism.

“Aren’t you supposed to be teeing off at Eagle Creek right about now?” Bill was an avid golfer and always liked to start his week off with a round of golf.

“Yeah, but some COMINT came in at around 4AM and, well, you know how it is.” Like any such agency, the CSE had watch officers on duty twenty-four hours a day. This particular Monday morning was no different, and once the recording in question was identified, catalogued and subjected to a preliminary analysis, it was flagged as High Priority and bumped up to the chief’s office. Of course when dealing with a High Priority signal, “not being in” didn’t matter a whole heck of a lot. You were simply found, and the message that there was something really important needing your attention was relayed. Bill cursed the pervasive nature of modern communications whenever he was contacted during his predawn slumber, or when his golf was interrupted. Then again, his agency existed to exploit the very communications he bemoaned. Such was the mad world he lived in.

“Heh, I hear ya,” Harold replied. Though for all the free time that men in their positions craved, Harold wasn’t one of them. Ever since the loss of his wife, he imersed himself deeper into his work and had nary a regret for its demands on his time.

“You should be getting a fax right about now,” Bill said. He held in his hand a first draft translation of what the analysts said may just be the first satellite phone call placed by the head of Al-Qaeda in years.

As if on queue, Harold’s secure fax came to life and within a few seconds he was holding onto the same document. “Son of a…,” his voice trailed off as he read through the translation. “After all this time and he makes a call to Canada. The boys at NSA are going to go ape when they see this,” he said.

NSA had an alliance with several friendly nations all of whom, coincidentally, could trace their heritage back to the UK. It was called aptly enough the UKUSA community and included Canada’s CSE, Britain’s GCHQ, Australia’s DSD and New Zealand’s GCSB. The agreement was that they’d help one another cover more ground than any one of them could alone and thus, every satellite transmission, phone call, fax, cellphone call, and really any signal that passed through the ether around the world was duly pirated, copied, and fed into Platform, the network that connected the UKUSA community.

“Bill, I think the Prime Minister needs to see this right away,” Harold said, rereading the copy. “If this is real…”

“I know,” Bill cut in. “We’re already putting in a request to ECHELON to back check the contents of this message. This may not be the first. We only twigged to it because of his voice print. There could be others that we didn’t catch.”

“Hmmm,” was all the reply Cruickshank could give. He was deep in thought. Canada had recently started to beef up its HUMINT (human intelligence) capacity. For example, they’d taken full advantage of resulting chaos from the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime to insert intelligence assets into the middle east. So far, they hadn’t done much more than get themselves established. Now, while still in the preperation phase of their assignments, they’d be sent orders to try and confirm the contents of this transcript. Could this be a false flag operation? Was Al-Qaeda sophisticated enough to try and root out foreign intelligence assets by sending a bogus message so easily intercepted? That was something to consider. Or was there something else? “Okay Bill, thanks for the intel. I’ve got to go lock some of my guys in a room and spend some time working on this. I’ll get back to you when we develop anything.”

“Sure thing,” Bill replied. “We’ll keep diggin’ on our end.”

And just like that, Harold’s day went from run-of-the-mill to interesting, and the news networks hadn’t flinched. Wasn’t that something, he thought to himself with a smile.

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