As I write this week’s installment of Road Kill, the story is becoming much more serious for our yet-unnamed hero. He’s going to be crossing a line that there is no return from. I’m not sure how this is going to end up, but it appears he is going against some pretty high-powered people. I’m enjoying writing this story and I hope you’re enjoying reading it each week. It may turn into a book at some point, but for right now, I’m having fun with the stream-of-consciousness writing exercise that it is.
Please enjoy Road Kill Part 12
Road Kill Part 12
“You want me to hack into the State Department? Are you nuts?”
I was afraid that Clifford Jones would have this reaction. He was a renowned hacker and was known to find his way into law enforcement and financial organizations. This was a big step beyond that. I explained to him what was going on with Project OSCAR.
“So you think that someone high up in the administration is advocating the seizure of oil from a country in the Middle East, but you don’t know who, why, or if it’s anything more than just a plan?”
I explained to him that, based on the amount of traffic and communications, it was likely more than a plan. Other than that, he was correct.
“So why do you want to dig deeper into this? When you weren’t even digging, someone was trying to kill you. Now you want to dig more. That makes no sense.”
I explained to Jones why it did make sense. Someone high up in the government was about to do something that made Watergate and the Iran arms-for-hostage deal pale in comparison. We had sent our military to the Middle East many times over the past couple of decades and had never made the seizure of oil part of our operations. To start doing this now showed a fundamental change in the moral compass of the United States. We had always gone to war with the idea of liberating an area and then helping to rebuild it. Never in our recent history had we seized wealth from an area in which our military was active. This would push us more toward the methods of a place like Russia or North Korea. It pissed me off. This was not how my country was supposed to operate.
“Okay, okay. I get it,” Jones said when I stepped down from my soap box.
Apparently my loud voice and emotion had roused Ben Simpson from his nap.
“What’s this I hear about the Middle East and seizing wealth?”
I had no choice but to fill Ben in. Maybe he would talk some sense into me and prevent me from heading for the point of no return. I told him what I found and his reaction was quite the opposite.
“If this is true, we’ve got to try to stop it somehow. If we don’t, then this country takes a big step to the dark side.”
“You too,” Jones said. “I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but hacking into the State Department is a complex and risky proposition.”
“Are you saying you can’t do it,” Simpson asked.
Jones shot him a look that was enough to scare the retired naval officer.
“Of course I can do it. I’m just trying to justify it. I don’t look good in Orange and I’ve got too many plans for the future that don’t involve living in a cage at Guantanamo.”
“Point taken,” Simpson said.
Jones was convinced. Looking back, I think it was a combination of his patriotism and his need to prove that he could do it. Whatever the motivation, he was on board.
“I’m going to need to buy some pristine hardware and set up a special Internet connection that won’t give away my location. If they trace me, they need to see a different location somewhere far away in the world each time.”
All of this preparation sounded like it would take a while. I knew that we had two days before we had to go meet Mr. Athenos. I made Jones aware of my concerns with the time.
“Oh, I’ll have it set up in the morning. I’ll be into their servers before we go and I’ll destroy the hardware before we leave,” Jones said without a trace of arrogance, only sincere confidence. “You’re going to have to sit with me,” he said looking at me. “Once I get in, I won’t know what the hell I’m looking for and you’re going to have to guide me.”
“What about me?” Simpson asked.
“Since you were like Angus McGyver rigging up your little bunker, I’m going to need you to do some things to prepare for our trip to see Athenos,” Jones said. “I want to trick out the vehicle we’re going to take so that we can take some extra precautions.”
I had the feeling Jones was combining being safe with trying to get rid of Ben while we did our digging. I was fine with that.
“Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll take care of it,” Simpson said.
If he suspected he was being blocked from the investigation, he either didn’t show it or understood why. We agreed that Jones would meet us at the trailer in the morning. Now that I had his agreement to help, I suddenly felt exhaustion trying to creep in. Ben wasn’t fully awake yet and agreed some sleep would be a good idea.
I slept on the couch which was either surprisingly comfortable, or I was much more tired than I thought. I was awakened by a knock on the trailer door. Ben was already up brewing coffee in the kitchenette. He cautiously approached the door. It was Jones.
He was carrying two large cases. He set them on the small kitchen table.
“This is going to be our office today,” Jones said as he opened the first case.
I asked him if he needed help bringing in more equipment.
“This is all I need, a laptop and a satellite modem. The days of large boxes and dishes are over. The key is small equipment that is easily wiped or disposed of.”
Before setting up, Jones gave Ben a set of keys and a printout with some instructions.
“You’ll find everything you need in the trunk,” Jones said.
Ben looked over the list and nodded a few times and then walked out to the non-descript Ford Fusion that was parked near the trailer. Once he was outside and busy with Jones’s list, Jones confirmed what I suspected he was thinking.
“What’s with that guy? Do you think he can be trusted?”
I was honest with Jones. I honestly wasn’t sure. I served with Ben and we had the kind of friendship that endures when people are thrown together. Beyond that, I really didn’t know him that well other than being familiar with his proclivity to not trust authority, a strange trait in an ex-military man.
The equipment he had was generations ahead of anything I saw at The Mother Ship. Jones took almost no time in setting it up. The machine was Unix based and he entered raw commands to move around. Eventually, after about 90 minutes of poking around, he put his elbows on the table and tented his fingers. I thought he had hit a roadblock.
“No. Not a roadblock, a gate. I’ve found the State Department servers. I’m pondering what I’m about to do. I’m going to use some aggressive intrusion algorithms to get in. I think they’ll get in fairly quickly. The key is going to be to get what we need and get out quickly. By the time they know were in, I want to be gone. Once I start the algorithms, there’s no turning back.”
I was amazed at the speed in which he found the supposed classified servers. He showed me the algorithms and they were so complex, I could hardly believe my eyes. I asked him where he got them. The hacker community has a lot of geniuses, but something like this would take a team and would not likely be widely shared.
“I wrote them myself. I had a free weekend when we didn’t have a case and my girlfriend was at a conference and I got bored and wrote these just in case.”
If I were to compare what Jones was telling me, it would be the equivalent of a surgeon saying that he performed two heart transplants during his lunch hour. It was unbelievable. This man truly had some skills that would earn him admiration from the intelligence community, but would also scare the crap out of them.
Jones looked at me and typed in a series of commands. A series of 26 digits started to cycle through on the screen. After about five minutes, the first digit locked stopped cycling. About ten minutes later, the second one clicked into place.
“I’m not sure how long this will take, but I’m suspecting that it will be a while. Let’s heat up some breakfast and wait for the rest of the digits to click in. Then we’re going to have to act fast.”
Jones had brought a brown paper bag with three Styrofoam containers.
“I stopped by the Sun Dog and got three Cajun breakfast specials to go. I hope you’re hungry. You can call Simpson in. I doubt the key search will finish before we eat up.”
I called Ben in and we ate the food. It was a delicious concoction with andouille sausage, mushrooms, hot peppers and tater tots cooked into eggs. I washed it down with some coffee and felt very full and satisfied.
As we were finishing up, I noticed that there were only two digits left in the key search. Jones noticed it too.
“You better get back to tricking out our chariot,” he said to Ben in a friendly, yet clear way.
“I’m on it. It’s actually kind of fun. You’ve spared no detail. I wish you were around when I built the bunker.”
About 20 minutes after Ben left us, the last number clicked into place and the shield of the State Department appeared on the screen.
“Okay, it’s your turn. What are we looking for?”
We had administrator access to the server. This meant I had free reign to look at emails and memos that were stored. I did the obvious. I searched for files with the word OSCAR in them. I made sure the search was case sensitive. I immediately was given a list containing hundreds of files.
You might be thinking that this was way too easy. Remember, the security experts make sure that outsiders can’t get into the classified servers (so much for that plan). Once you are in, all you have to do is think like a technology illiterate user. They are going to store things so that they’re easy to find without any thought given to security.
I sorted the list of OSCAR files by date and copied those that were dated after the image on my computer to a special thumb drive that Jones had brought with him. Once that was done, Jones logged off the computer.
What he did next was both brutal and necessary. He took a small hammer from his case and destroyed both the laptop and the satellite modem. If the government tried to trace the activity back, the machines needed to be not only turned off, but nonexistent.
“Now that we’ve got those files, you’re going to have to go through them. I want to be able to explain to Athenos what we’ve got and why we need to be in the Dark Web poking around. From what I hear, he is a tough customer,” Jones said as he put the remains of the equipment back into the cases.
I told Jones it would take a while. There were at least 1,500 files.
“Well, luckily it didn’t take us long to get them. You have until tomorrow morning around this time to go through them before we hit the road. You might have an hour or two once we’re on the road, but I hope you find something before them. I’d help you, but I don’t want to get any deeper into this than I already am. I try to keep the felonies I commit to a low number if possible.”
Ben Simpson was finished with the work on the Fusion. Jones put the cases in the trunk and drove off. This left me to begin looking through the files. I sat at the small desk with the laptop and began to go back into analyst mode.
Ben had some electronics that Jones had left behind that we would be using as we traveled south tomorrow.
“Jones asked me to get familiar with these. I’m going to grab a quick shower and then get to it. It looks like you have a lot to do,” Simpson said doing his best to not fish for information.
I told him he was right, there was a lot to do and I set to work doing it.
Once I’m in analyst mode, time passes by quickly and I am oblivious to things around me. I remembered Jones stopping by with some dinner and then I noticed it had gotten dark. I was ¾ of the way through. Most if the information was memos and emails. As I plodded through the last hundred files, I finally found something that was key. It was dated just two days earlier and appeared to be a timeline. It was named ‘OSCAR Final Deployment Schedule’.
When I looked at it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a systematic list of chronological tasks showing an invasion of two countries in the Middle East coupled with a schedule for tankers to sail to their ports. The first steps of this were to begin in only three months. This was what I was looking for. Now I had to figure out what to do with it. Who could be trusted? The list was pretty short at this point.