Well, it’s time for another serial. The idea for this tale came from an article in Wired magazine that talked about talented hackers that have been enlisted to work for the government in exchange for avoiding prosecution and prison.
I took the idea a bit further partly based on the current environment of “fake news” and “alternative facts”. It’s going to be a fun story to write as I enjoyed writing this introductory installment.
As always, your comments and critiques are welcome.
Please enjoy Big Brother – Part 1.
Julian Sanders sat at his station hunched over a high-end laptop that was provided to him by the ACA. His current target was an ultra-left-wing celebrity. It was his third one this month. The first two had been successfully taken down. These celebrities made it much too easy. For the most part, all Julian had to do was hack into their phones and home computers and find the damning content that was almost always there.
These technological novices thought that hiding behind an off-the-shelf firewall and a simple internet password was ample protection. It was like slicking through butter for Julian who was a very hot knife. This latest celebrity, a forty-something ultra-liberal television and ‘B’ movie star had stored picture of herself at a nude beach in Greece on her phone. It took Julian less than fifteen minutes to extract the photos. This, along with the video of her giving a lap dance to strangers on a yacht would be about all the ACA would need to ruin her political ambitions.
He could almost visualize the headlines the ACA would provide to right-wing news sources. A Woman’s right to choose – how one aspiring celebrity politician chooses to use her body. Julian felt sorry for this woman, however, and this was a feeling that was creeping into his work more and more lately. In situations like this one, it could be said that someone in the public eye should use more discretion. He also, believed, however, that individuals were under a false sense of having their privacy protected and his agency had no right to compromise that privacy for political purposes.
He had no choice but to do this work, however. It all stemmed back to the presidential campaign that was now six years ago. He was working with a group of fellow hackers to find dirt on the game-show host turned presidential candidate. It was well-known that the man, a good looking unabashed right-wing conservative had skeletons in his closet. After he was adopted by the political machine as their poster boy, however, the skeletons began to dissipate almost as quickly as they could be found.
Julian and his group had been on the verge of releasing a highly compromising video tape of the man cavorting with three hookers in a Beverly Hills hotel room when they were raided by a nondescript group of government commandos from some dark agency in their downtown Los Angeles factory floor-turned loft. The agents were heavily armed and totally silent as they took Julian and five of his comrades into custody.
They were handcuffed and loaded into an unmarked panel van and transported to an unmarked building in Duarte, just outside of Pasadena. Here, they were chained to chairs in a semi-circle waiting for whatever interrogation or torture was in their immediate future. No one had spoken to them about who had apprehended them or what they were being charged with. Theories on who had apprehended them among Julian and his cohort ranged from terrorists to the NSA. Ever since Edward Snowden fell on his sword, what had happened today was something that most hackers feared.
Julian thought his group had taken every precaution. Their location was secret. Their computer network was buried behind multiple firewalls and heavily encrypted to a point that someone would have to know exactly what they were looking for in order to begin uncovering the group. He wondered how they could have been compromised and then noticed the one scenario he hadn’t considered. He had seven people in his group. One member, Stefan Martz, had called Julian sounding like he had pneumonia this morning. Julian told him to stay home and get into a doctor. Had Stefan turned on the group? That was a worry for later. Right now, he feared for his life and that of his team. Their situation was unknown and, when you got down to it, they were just computer nerds that were only savvy when it came to cyber combat. The idea of any kind of physical confrontation was foreign to them.
As he mulled the possibilities over in his mind, two men in suits entered the room and made their way toward the group. The reek of federal agents came off them in waves. Julian told himself he should be relieved, but in these times, he felt very little relief or reliance on his rights.
The two men conferred with each other and then one of them, a forty-something man with impeccable grooming and a strong jaw stepped forward and appeared to assert himself as the leader.
“You people are in deep trouble. It’s the deepest kind o trouble, actually,” he said as his laser beam eyes scanned the group. “You’ve crossed a line. You’ve compromised the safety of a candidate that is protected by the U.S. Secret Service. That is a crime that approaches treason.”
Julian felt two emotions rise in him. First, fear. This man seemed capable of hurting him and the members of his group severely. Something about his aura said that he had done this many times before. The second emotion, which was beginning to dominate, was outrage. What the man was saying was exaggerated and simply not true in certain aspects. It was this emotion that caused him to respond.
“The man is a game show host. We are simply revealing things that he’s done that make him unfit to be president. Certainly, you don’t want this huckster leading our country.”
The response from the agent was swift and severe. He backhanded Julian knocking him and the chair to which he was chained to the floor. He felt a sharp pain in the shoulder upon which he landed. Something had broken and he was powerless to remove his weight from the injured joint.
“Any other questions?” the agent asked.
The room was smothered in silence. One of Julian’s associates, Del Perkins, actually urinated on himself. When the agent noticed, his face struggled into a slight smile knowing that his point had been made.
“Each of you could be facing 25 years to life in prison for your offenses. We’re not talking about country club prisons with tennis courts and spas. We’re talking maximum security federal prisons where you would be integrated with some of the worst prisoners this country has captured. They would just love this bunch. You’d each have your own private bully.”
Julian heard shudders among the group. He supposed that a dark government agency could make him and his colleagues disappear without much fanfare. They had, for the most part, no family ties or friends outside of the group. These things had been prerequisites that Julian had looked for in forming the group.
The agent let what he had said soak in for a bit before he delivered the punchline.
“Of course, there is a way out for some of you. If you have any shred of patriotic fiber left in your pathetic bodies, you can stay out of prison and do a great service for your country.”
As the agent was delivering this message, Julian and his chair were lifted back to a sitting position by the other agent who seemed to barely extend any effort in doing so. His shoulder still ached but felt better without his weight pressing on it.
As he looked around, Julian could see that his colleagues were intrigued by what the man was saying. He was not interested at all and would rather be an example in prison without compromising his principles. That was until the man further clarified the terms.
“This is an all or nothing situation, people. Either all of you agree to serve your country or all of you go to prison. This must be unanimous.”
Julian’s spirit collapsed as he heard these terms. He knew that some of his coworkers would not survive prison. They were the closest thing to family that he had and he felt like he was condemning some of them to death if he clung to his principles.
“I’m in,” Julian said in a near whisper.
The agent walked over to him with a slight look of surprise on his face.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think we quite heard you, Mr. Sanders.”
“I said, I’m in.”
“Well, that’s interesting. The might Julian Sanders, the ringleader of this crew, is the first to crack,” the agent said with a satisfied smile. “Anyone else?”
Julian looked around at his associates trying to convey that they should relent. It worked as, one-by-one, they uttered the same phrase, “I’m in.”
“Excellent,” the agent said. “That was much easier than I expected. Of course, you are just a collection of spineless video game addicts.”
Since that time, Julian and his coworkers had been employed by the ACA, a secret government agency under the direct supervision of the now-president/game show host’s chief of staff. Their mission was to seek out any public figures that opposed the president and, basically, find or fabricate evidence to destroy their lives.
As Julian collected the dirt on the actress turned politician, he still clung to the promise he made himself on that day. He and his group would have vengeance on the ACA and the individuals that oversaw the heinous organization. He just needed to bide his time and look for the right opportunity. Though he and his group were monitored closely at work, they had found ways to plot their strategy in secret after hours. The time for vengeance was drawing near but, until then, they had to keep up appearances by continuing to destroy the lives of those in opposition to the current ruling hierarchy.