IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
New Year’s Day, FBI Headquarters
I was wrapping things up at my desk, a little early at the end of a relatively slow day at the Bureau. I like working New Year’s Day, since my wife and I were divorced a number of years ago. Working on January 1st keeps me home on New Year’s Eve. I don’t need the trouble being out late can cause me. I’m too old.
My private phone rang just as I had locked my desk and turned off my computer. The caller ID glared at me, so when I answered the phone, I barked into the handset, “What do you want?”
“Jack, this is Pete at Homeland Security.”
“I know it is. I don’t want to speak to you Pete. You know that.”
“I know, Jack.”
He stopped abruptly and then asked, “Why don’t you want to talk to me?”
“Because it’s the first day of the year, Pete. It’s a bad omen.”
“Huh, Jack, I never supposed you for someone who is superstitious. Believe me, if I didn’t have to talk to you I wouldn’t. But I need to keep you in the loop on something.”
I sat down and relaxed a bit. “Alright, Pete, what does the Director of Homeland Security have to tell me?” I then emphasized, “Me, the one who holds the second highest office in the FBI and was on his way home to watch the Redskins slip into the hunt for the Super Bowl?”
“Wow,” Pete said, “You sure think highly of your loser football team, don’t you? I’m from San Francisco, Jack. Your Redskins won’t make it past my 49ers.”
“What’s up?” I asked.
“We had a cyber incident this weekend.”
“Annnnd,” I coaxed.
“It’s aimed at our elections, Jack.”
I sighed, took a breath and asked, “Do you want me to stay, so we can do this now, Pete?”
“No, Jack. Next week will be fine. Go home and see if your Redskins can make it past their wild-card game.”
“Thanks,” I said sarcastically and hung up the phone.
As I headed to my car, I was shaking my head thinking about Pete’s call. “Just what I needed, another cyber issue in the midst of another contentious national election.”
And then I thought of what he said, clearly in jest, but about superstition. Pete had always been hostile toward anything religious or superstitious.
“But why?” I wondered.
January 2nd, Election Year, Arlington VA
My day at work was pretty laid back today. The first day back from any holiday I always try to keep it as non-eventful as possible so I can focus on emails. When I am home with Issy, I rarely look at them.
So, I spent the whole day cranking out emails. Most of them are what you would expect. Since I am the religion liaison for my candidate, all of the religious folks who want an audience or want to have some influence with the candidate come through me. Plus, I work at engaging faith-based ministries, of all stripes as well as strengthening my relationships with other ministry people.
Most folks know to reach out to the candidate’s scheduler, but we have a working agreement; unless the emailer is someone my candidate already has a relationship with, religious emails come through me, so I can make an assessment of sincerity.
I hate to admit it, but there are a lot of crazy people who dress themselves up as religious and may be for that matter. But, many do it for the sole purpose of “getting-in” with a person of power, especially a president. So, I spend a lot of time dealing with those.
Finally, I’ve got a lot of emails myself to walk through, having nearly thirty years in the business.
At the end of the day, I met Issy at the top of the Capitol South Metro station. That is where we always meet, to head home together. I love to get there early just to watch her walk. But when I saw her walking towards me today, I could tell something was wrong.
Instead of winking at her and giving her a quick hug, I lightly kissed her forehead, let her put her arm in mine and we walked silently down the escalators.
I know Issy well enough to know not to ask questions until she’s ready to talk.
We live in a nice little multi-story condo just a few blocks off the Ballston Metro exit in downtown Arlington. The nice thing is that it is a short ride on either the Silver or Orange lines, from Capitol South. We really have an easy commute.
When we got home, Issy shared with me only what she was comfortable disclosing. I could tell two things immediately, first her boss had taken off the boxing gloves and wanted to go toe to toe, bare knuckled, over religion.
That didn’t normally bother Issy or me. We both come from families where if you do not make your point clearly and strongly, you’d probably lose your role, or authority, or whatever it was you thought you had.
Playing hardball has never been a problem for us.
The second issue was the problem, which seriously bothered my bride. She was not sure what she could share with me, and so we invoked our rule we have, which says, when in doubt, we shut up.
All night long, the only hint I got about this issue was an off the wall statement she made.
Issy said to me, “Honey, I don’t know why, but all day I have been a little paranoid, no, cautious, yes, cautious about the religious groups which are coming my way.”
January 3rd, FBI Headquarters
My mom texts me once in a while. And I had just read her text when my secretary, Grace, told me Pete Beecham, the Homeland Security Director was here.
“Praying for wisdom for you.” My mom always tries to give me something encouraging. I think she believes she is my own little Zig Ziglar motivator.
Pete entered my office without his usual entourage. And he had an unusually serious face, even angry. I’ve known Pete for years. We’re about the same age and were at West Point together. We even did our first few years of service in the same units until personal interests took us in different directions.
Pete was always the guy who would find something to joke about. “Except when it comes to religion,” I suddenly realized.
As I offered him a chair, he shook his head and asked, “Can we go into the Cage, Jack?”
I hesitated, but only for a moment. I trust Pete, and if he thinks we need extra security for this conversation, then so be it.
“It’ll take a few minutes for me to secure the personnel, but sure. Sit down.” He didn’t.
So, I too remained standing and called my secretary. “Grace, I need the Cage. Secure it for me, please. I’m heading there now with Mr. Beecham.”
Eighteen minutes later we were down in the Cage which is located in the bowels of the FBI building. The Cage is a room which was built to not allow any surveillance, so secrets do not leak out. It’s a difficult room to describe. It sits in mid-air, secured by a non-wire substance. There are air pockets all around the Cage so the reverberation of words die before they reach a place where they can be picked up by cyber sniffing espionage experts.
Since cell phones are not allowed in the Cage, we both left ours in my office safe, usually a no-no, but such is the relationship Pete and I have.
When we sat down, he still held his cache of a few papers in his arm. He looked like a nutty professor. But when he lifted his eyes he said, “We have another problem with religious nuts, Jack.”
I looked at him, nonplussed. In my mind I said, “Pete, various religious nuts have been a problem for over two decades.”
He must have understood my look for he continued, “Jack, I fear these are the religious nuts who want to infiltrate every part of our government with their narrow ideology. When I see them on T.V. and watch them smile, they remind me of that old maxim which says, ‘when they smile, butter won’t melt in their mouth.’”
I didn’t know if I should laugh or tell him to calm down or if I should pay close attention.
He still held his papers under his arm, which were becoming more and more disheveled as he spoke. I chose to not respond yet. I still had no idea what more was coming, which might be actionable, and how I might be required to respond. And why were we in the Cage for something this obvious, like religious nuts?
This too must have shown in my face, for he set his papers down on the table and pulled out one at a time.
They were marked with his own scribbles and notes, which he deciphered as he explained.
“Jack, we are looking at evidence which implies that a cyber-attack is imminent and it has something to do with the Presidential campaign.”
“What kind of evidence, what kind of cyber-attack, Pete, and which candidate?” I asked.
“The evidence hasn’t been released yet, and we are still too early in this investigation for me to tell you what kind of attack, but it appears to be pointed at one of the Religion Consultant’s servers and that concerns me. Haven’t I always told you we cannot let these religious nuts into government, or even have access to our government officials?”
“Pete,” I spoke with a little more sarcasm than I meant to, “Are you trying to tell me you think an Iranian Mullah or a Billy Graham type wants to run this country?”
“You might be more correct than you think, Jack.”
“But at this point, Pete, for all you know, it could be a Junior High kid trolling for fun. Is that right?”
He nodded and stood up. “This is my top priority, Jack. I’ll keep you posted.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t,” I wanted to say.