Mark Hannigan was back in his element. For years he was a CIA Case Officer, running agents and networks of agents. He himself had gotten involved in many intelligence gathering operations and was really a well rounded member of the Central Intelligence Agency. Now that he was back at the Company, he began to feel that old confidence returning. The kind of confidence you get when you know what you’re doing because you’ve been doing it for so long. He was truly back home, and now more than ever since he had no other home to go back to. Without his wife and son to go home to, he had nothing but his work to concentrate on. In the past the level of dedication he had for his work caused trouble in the family. A workaholic, he would now work in their memory making it his mission in life to vindicate their deaths by destroying the terroism that took their lives. He knew it to be an uphill battle due to the nature of the beast he chose to fight. It wasn’t like conventional war where army met army on the battlefield and fought it out in relative isolation. No, this was a war with different rules. One that the enemy had dictated for far too long. It was time to turn this thing on its head. It was time to change the rules and put the enemy on the defensive. The challenge lay in the fact that his enemy had no real structure to speak of. Unlike a country who has an economy that pays for an army which has buildings, vehicles and personnel all arranged in a nice, orderly fashion—the better to target and destroy, terrorists organisations are hardly organisations at all. They’re intertwined with the general populace and are very hard to target because of that. What’s more, they have multiple independant cells of people working almost entirely without instruction, and it seems like every time you take one out, three more came in their place. Hence the name of his project: “Hydra,” based on the myth of the Hydra, a multi-headed monster that Hercules defeated by by cutting off its heads and before many more grew back, cautorized the wound.
Of course his approach would be slightly different than the one Hercules took since he wasn’t dealing with an actual beast so much as beastly men. And men had the distinct advantage of a mind which allowed them to do things no beast could imagine. A beast killed out of necessity. Either because it was hungry or threatened. Rare was the animal who killed simply for pleasure, and there were no politics in the animal kingdom. Let alone systems of belief. Men however, had a way of introducing all manner of abstraction to their actions to the point that killing innocents indescriminately became a political or religious act and not mass murder. Or so the justification went. Little did they trouble themselves to find out that—at least those who used religion for their justification—the God in whose name they performed their murderous acts would never have approved of what they were doing. Unfortunately, fanatics have the tendency of developing a severe case of tunnel vision and all they can see is their objective. Regardless of how they get there, or arguments to the contrary. Once their minds are fixed on that goal, not much can divert them. Not even if precious human lives stand in their way.
An advantage of being on the Farm was the acres and acres of land on which one could literally lose themselves. On this particular evening, Mark Hannigan decided to invite his new recruit for a walk on one of many paths leading away from the main headquarters building. Having scarcely signed his name on the several release forms, non-disclosure agreements, and clearance application forms, Nathaniel was seconds away from discovering everything there was to know about Hydra, short of its name. That was a closely guarded secret. Instead, Hydra was currently being referred to as Steel Hat. Its name would be changed on a monthly basis of course, and by a computer who hadn’t the faintest idea what it was generating random words for. The better to conceal the mission’s existence.
“Nate, do you mind if I call you Nate?” Mark asked as they walked along the dirt path. They were sufficiently away from the main building to be able to talk without having people hear. There was of course the risk of bugs—the electronic kind—in the woods, but there was special jamming equipment throughout the property whose purpose was to render most all devices of that sort useless. If there were bugging devices along the trail, then the person on the receiving end of its transmission should only be hearing static. Should. Which was also why Mark was careful to keep his voice to a near whisper.
“Nate’s fine boss,” he said in deference to his new employer.
“Nate. I’ve got something of a confession to make,” Hannigan started off saying.
It’s times like this that you expect all manner of things to come out of someone’s mouth. Nathaniel was half expecting to hear something like “I shot JFK,” or “I’m really a woman,” but that was ridicoulous wasn’t it?
“You’re not actually a part of the SOG,” Hannigan said, looking at Howard for a reaction. He got one.
Nathaniels head snapped left toward Mark just as fast as his neck muscles would allow. The outlandish part of his brain was relieved to find out that the confession didn’t involve his boss’ gender. However the rest of his brain was just a little shocked by the revelation. He wanted to hear the next words to see if he should be disappointed or not. After all, if he wasn’t part of the SOG, maybe he was part of something better. Or worse. It remained to be seen. “What?” Was all that he could say.
“I’m really sorry Nate, but there was no way that I could reveal it to you prior to your accepting the position. I know, it’s a catch 22. I can’t recruit you without telling you what the position is, but I can’t tell you what the position is without compromising the mission. So I told you a half truth that comes pretty close to the actual truth. You are a part of a special operations group. Just not the Special Operations Group. You’ve joined Steel Hat, at least that’s what we’re calling it this month. It’s codeword clearance only. Compartmentalised information. In fact, I’m breaking the law by telling you until your clearnace comes through. But I can’t wait that long, and you’re not going anywhere until then.” Which was true. He’d be spending the next year at the Farm training. Although he was allowed to come and go as he pleased, what Nate slowly realized was that by telling him classified information, Mark had pretty much locked him on base until his clearance came through. Any attempt to leave the base would most likely be frowned upon&8212;with a loaded firearm. “Steel Hat is CIA’s answer to the war on terror. In order to win the war, we need to make the rules. So far, the enemy’s been doing that. Attacking when and where they want, using tactics that are so foreign to our military that they’re practically invisible. All the aircraft carriers in the world can’t stop a suicidal maniac dressed as a civilian from entering a populated place and blowing himself and half a dozen people to pieces. They’ve been winning up until now because we haven’t been playing the same game. They blow up a coffee shop, we throw smart bombs at villages. They blow up a hotel, we throw napalm at innocent civilians. Well, not really, but that’s how it comes accross on the news. What we need to do is a simple application ‘divide and conquer.’ Uhm, are you alright with this so far?” By that of course he meant, “do you want to drop out before hearing more?”
“Yeah, I’m fine with it. Keep going,” Nathaniel replied.
“The only way to defeat them, is to infiltrate their ranks and find out who’s in charge, where they are, and how their organization is organized. I’m talking finances, allies, sponsors, power structure, organisational heirarchy, everything. The more we know, the more effectively we can take them apart piece by piece.” Howard was getting passionate in his delivery. He really believed in this project and it came through in his delivery. It was that much more inspiring to Nathaniel.
“And how exactly do you plan on accomplishing all of that?” Nathaniel was very curious to know.
Mark explained for ten minutes or so. He had a few holes in his plan which weren’t vital to its success but which he’d need to work on and refine.
Well, Nathaniel thought to himself. His career was taking a surprising, but welcome turn. He was eager to get started.
The Central Intelligence Agency has one of the world’s largest video archives and until recently it was all on video tape. This of course was a major problem as storage for an ever growing archive—they taped every news show on every channel, every day—on physical tape required room they had very little of. There was talk of expanding the facilities that housed the archives and the plans were even drawn up, but by the time they got around to contemplating its implementation, technology had advanced far enough for one of the techs to suggest digital archival. This of course sparked another study, which resulted in further plans being drawn up and the realisation that it could be done at a fraction of the cost of expanding the video tape facility. Redirecting the daily video feeds was fairly simple. What wasn’t so simple was the conversion of the literally millions of hours of analog video to ones and zeroes in order to store them on hard drives. The conversion project began in earnest starting from the most recent material backwards. This of course was childs play for the National Security Agency who copied literally everything. It pirated every satellite transmission, telephone call, fax, internet communication, everything. Everything that went through the ether was copied and archived by the NSA. They eavesdropped on everyone, friend or foe alike. Because you never really knew if your friend was really your friend until you listened to him while he thought you weren’t. Suffice it to say, if inter-agency cooperation were better then NSA would definitely be lending a hand to the CIA.
The reason why every news show everywhere was archived was that you never knew who would turn up where. By building an archive of all of that footage, the CIA was basically using reporters’ cameras to see what was going on around the world. Plus, by archiving the information, they’d be able to look back and see who was associating with whom at what time. So for example, say someone ended up being of interest to the Agency, they would simply sift through their archives for matches of that person and then investigate where they were, to whom they were speaking and what they were doing at the time the footage was shot. This capability was a remarkable investigative tool, and the FBI simply didn’t have the budget to undertake such an operation. Which is why Steven Lowery had placed a call with the CIA requesting assistance in identifying a partially discernable face. He’d sent the file containing the image of whom they thought was the planner. His face was fed into the computer and it began churnig over the video archive to find a match.
They’d been living in Montreal for many years now. Upon their arrival they had claimed refugee status which, unlike other countries allowed them immediate asylum in Canada until such time as it could be proved that they didn’t have a valid reason to stay. Of course they knew this and they also knew that the system was so bogged down with refugee claimants and so behind in enforcing its judgments that an individual could go years without ever hearing a peep from the government. Then of course when they got around to you, you simply had to dispute the claim in court and you were guaranteed at least a year’s reprieve due to the legal system being equally bogged down. The government’s inefficiency played against it in the faced paced game of world terrorism. Thus, Hakim and his roommate had lived in Montreal for several years without being hassled by anyone, let alone the government.
And so it was on this particular day that the received a visitor. They knew the day would come, and they knew what it meant for them, but after so long, one grew complacent and began imagining that maybe he’d forgotten and would never come. On top of which, life in Canada wasn’t so hard and it made the weaker ones question the need for such drastic measures.
Hamza sat on the couch looking at their eyes. You could tell a lot from a man’s eyes and right now he didn’t like what he was seeing. These men had grown soft. That was the trouble of sleepers in afluent nations. They began to grow accustomed to the lifestyle and they forgot the hardship from which they came. He needed to steel these men if they were to accomplish the goal that he had in mind for them. He needed reliable men. Men who were single minded and who didn’t ask many questions. Men who followed orders because ultimately they came from God. Didn’t they? Hamza was skilled in such things, though he didn’t like doing it. He felt that he shouldn’t have to remind them of their purpose in life. It felt somehow wrong to have to do it. They shouldn’t need me to bolster them, he thought to himself. Though in reality—andhe wouldn’t even admit it to himself—it weighed on his conscience to persuede a man to run to his death. Better that they should do it volutarily (with a litle guidance) than for him to convince them that martyrom was a good thing.
Perhaps if he outlined his plan and if they saw what a great opportunity this was for the cause and for them to participate in bringing it to fruition. Perhaps then they’d be eager to take part. “Brothers, I have something I want to show you,” he said as he opened his bag. It was a simple leather bag with a handle on top and a flap on one side. Similar to what a college student might carry his books in. He unclasped and opened the flap. He then pulled out several pages of paper and laid them out on the coffee table. His host had to move some of the cups and plates he’d brought out. “Brothers,” he repeated, the better to draw them in. “We are in a struggle. A struggle against evil and roots of it in this world. Look around you, the decadence, the corruption, the godlessness. We live in a world where man hates God and it is up to the faithful to be the instrument of punishment that our God uses.”
It was in fact an apt illustration as the neighborhood in which they lived was run down with crime, prostitution and immoral establishments in evidence throughout. The men were forced to see the signage as they walked by and they had to endure the women standing on the corners of the streets. It was enough to corrupt even the most incorruptible among them. The men secretly saw Hamza’s plan as an opportunity to atone themselves to God for their sins. Perhaps through such sacrifical service they could redeem themselves in the eyes of their merciful God. The more they thought of it, the more their demeaner changed and the furvor of days gone by began to return.
It was interesting to behlod as it seemed like they suddenly began to think the same things together because the look in their eyes changed almost at the same time. And once Hamza saw that they were back from whatever vassilating trip they were on, he knew he could proceed with his plans. After all, he didn’t much care why they were motivated so long as they were. Well, no, somewhere deep down he remembered what it was to believe and to strive to live a better life. That part of him applauded these men for doing what they were going to do on principal. Far be it from him to give his own life for the cause, but it was always moving to see others do it. Or so he told himself though he’d never shed a tear for any of the men—and women!—he’d previously sent to death. He began to go over the plan little by little, keeping the objective till last—partly for shock value, and partly so they wouldn’t be distracted and thus not pay attention to the brief. “Brothers, we strive to change the world for the better, and what other way can we be most effective than attacking the evil at the source.”
Both men just listened to Hamza’s words. They weren’t much on thought and at the moment, Hamza wondered why people who sat there with their mouths gaping open seemed so stupid to him. Well, it didn’t matter really did it. Stupid or not, they served a purpose, and God had a purpose for everyone.
Lowery awoke to the ringing of a telephone, not his alarm and he cursed the interruption. He wasn’t getting his eight hours of nightly sleep and it was beginning to wear at him. At least he was able to jog in the mornings—unless he was woken up at an ungodly hour and forced to get to work early. This may just be another one of those wonderful occasions where he’d have to miss his entire morning routine just so he can cram a few more hours into an what was already an overly long day. He reached for the phone, not even bothering to pick his head up off of his pillow. Maybe they’d hear the grogginess in his voice and leave him alone. He was disappointed in himself for even having thought that thought. He was, after all, a very disciplined man, and when duty called, he had to answer. It was just that he’d been at it for days now and he was starting to get tired.
“Lowery,” he said. By now he’d had a secure line installed in his room. He was getting too many overseas calls from secure locations to be running to the comms van all the time.
“Special Agent Lowery, this is Roger Grayson at CIA video archives. We’ve got a few possibles on your mystery man. I’m faxing the details to you right now.” The secure phone, an STE-III was connected to a not-so-conventional fax machine. Though the fax wasn’t encrypted (the STE handled that), it was TEMPEST tested. Which meant that it didn’t emit any superfluous electronic signals. What most people didn’t know about their electronics equipment was that the majority of the wiring and other components weren’t shielded. Thus they emitted large amounts of electromagnetic information outward in all directions. That meant that anyone with the proper equipment could receive and translate those signals into intelligence information. Computer screens for example were notorious for this. The connection chord acted like a giant antenna, transmitting the signal not only from the computer to the screen but out into the ether as well. So, theoretically—actually in practice, hence the need for TEMPEST in the first place—someone could simply receive your signal and reconstruct the image on your screen thus negating the need to “tap” into your Internet connection, or your actual physical machine. Most government facilities utilised TEMPEST approved equipment, including lowery’s fax machine.
As if on cue the fax began whirring and spitting out thermal paper with what seemed to Steven to be lettering that was just way too small for him to read at four o’clock in the morning. With a deep sigh, he decided to get up for the day and sat up in bed. “I’m getting it,” he said into the phone, “tell me what you have.” He wasn’t patient enough to read the copy.
“Well, we’ve got three possible matches on the subject. One is in an anti-american protest ten years ago in Pakistan. He’s seen off in the background chanting with the crowd. Not too much is descernable from the footage as it’s a three second clip. Two known terror suspects are also on the same newsreel, but they’re nowhere near him and they’ve since been apprehended. In fact one was shot three months ago by firing squad in Pakistan. Death penalty for bombings in Cashmere.”
“Okay, what are the other two?” Lowery said as he tore the paper from the fax machine. He would now be reading it as the lab tech on the other end of the line answered his question.
“The second sighting is in a news report on the annual Haj. That’s the pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan. It must’ve been a fluke because he’s just walking up the street. It’s a low percentile match though, just a profile shot at several yards distance.”
“So he’s a religious Muslim,” Lowery half murmurred to himself.
The lab tech caught that and thought he’d add his two cents, “not necessarily sir. He may have been in town for other reasons. Like I said, the footage is of him just walking on the street. Not worshipping or in a crowd of worshippers. He could have been there for any reason. Pure fluke if you ask me.”
“Hmmm, okay, thanks. So give me the last one.” Lowery figured that the tech had seen enough footage that he knew what he was talking about. But the fact that this guy was there at that time of year did mean something. He just didn’t know what it meant. That was the most frustrating part of investigations. Trying to put together disparate pieces of information to make a cohesive picture of what happened.
“You’re gonna love this. The last one was from just a week ago—”
“Last week?” Lowery nearly jumped. His eyes were wide open now. This meant he was really hot on the guy’s trail.
“Yeah, pretty good resolution too ever since we switched over to direct digital encoding,” you could hear the excitement on the tech’s voice when he described the technology. “This one was even more of a fluke than the last one. The footage was of striking airline workers at Dorval—I mean Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport and you’ve got passengers in the background. Well he’s got a two second cameo coming out of customs. We assess that at a seventy percent probable hit.”
“Okay, thank you mister Grayson.” He said and hung up. He then dialed the comms trailer. “I need the RCMP in Canada.”
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