IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
January 20th, Two Days Earlier, FBI Headquarters
All afternoon was blocked off for this meeting. I didn’t grow up with all of this cyber-stuff, so when I have a briefing which will focus on cyber action, I leave myself plenty of time to ask questions. I don’t want to be rushed.
“Billy Marshall, sir,” the pimply faced kid said, giving me a strong handshake, which shocked me.
He had just introduced himself to me and opened up a notebook on his computer when I jumped in and asked, “First, tell me in twenty words or less, why you’re here?”
He balled up his hands into fists and then started talking, counting off the words as he spoke. I was impressed, for the second time, in my first meeting with this kid. He didn’t stop to think what to say. He just started talking.
“Well, sir, I don’t know if I’m dealing with a genius hacker or an idiot, and the directive says to report anything questionable.”
“That was twenty-three words, sir,” he said with a smirk.
“I like this kid,” I said to myself, smiling back at him.
I then asked, “What was your first hint that there was a problem?”
He stopped and pursed his lips. He was contemplating something. He was acting like he shouldn’t tell me something, so, I encouraged him saying, “Don’t worry, son, share with me honestly, and tell me what you don’t want in my report, and I’ll accommodate you, as best I can.”
He sucked in his breath through his teeth, and mumbled, “That wasn’t a very good promise, sir.”
I chuckled and asked further, “You’re not doing something illegal, are you?”
With that, his eyes became like saucers and he said, “Oh, no, sir. Not at all.”
“Then what’s your hesitation?”
“Well,” he mumbled, “I have a few homemade programs which I use only for. . .”
I laughed and said, “You’re being proactive. I don’t ever fault people for that, son. Billy, right?”
“Talk to me, Billy, you don’t have to worry.”
And with that, this young kid looked at me, as if he were sizing me up. I think he was deciding if he could trust me, so I remained silent giving him the freedom to make the choice he eventually would.
Finally, he said cautiously, “You remind me of my dad.”
I just stared at him curiously, and he went on. “He died when I was thirteen years old.”
We were both sitting, facing each other, and he continued, “He worked for Zig Ziglar enterprises and so when he would teach me, he would use philosophies based on the Bible and Zig.”
The kid chuckled a bit and he said, “The last thing my dad ever said to me was, ‘Billy, always work as if you’re working unto the Lord,[i] so you do everything with excellence, and then,’ then he would put on the drawl of Zig Ziglar and add one of his famous lines, ‘if you’re the hardest working person on the job, you’ll be the last one to be fired and the first one to be hired.’ I never forgot that.”
“Are you telling me that’s your work ethic, Billy?”
He shrugged and said, “Yes, sir, and I’m gonna trust you.”
“You can, Billy. That you can.”
Then he asked, “Do you know Zig Ziglar, sir? I mean, do you know of him? He’s been dead for about a decade.”
I grabbed a little desk plaque I keep in front of me and slid it across to him.
He picked it up and read it out loud, “I’m doing GREAT!” Under those words the plaque had the name of the one who used to say it, “Zig Ziglar.”
Billy chuckled and looked at me.
I said, “I have it on my desk because it always reminds me that what someone says may not always be the truth.”
And then Billy did something that solidified our friendship; he laughed at me. And it was obvious where his laughter was directed, but I wasn’t offended or angered.
He said, “Sir, did you know that Zig was asked about that particular quote?”
I looked at him in surprise and he went on.
“Yeah, one day someone asked, ‘Zig, aren’t you lying when you say you’re feeling great, when you really aren’t?’ And without missing a beat Zig responded, ‘No, I’m not lying, I’m just telling the truth a little early, that’s all.’”
I looked at this pimply-faced kid and immediately had a greater respect for him. He’s sharp and unafraid. I like that.
“You can trust me with your personalization of your company computer, Billy. Now just tell me what you have done, before you tell me what you have found.”
“Basically, I took the NSA computer monitoring system and simplified it.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Imagine that you have a twenty-pound sledgehammer and you are trying to kill a bee. Every time you swing your sledgehammer the bee is moving before you get there.”
“What’s your point, Billy?”
“Well, the NSA system is great for listening to billions of words a day over millions of calls, specifically looking for trigger words or trigger signatures, but I work in an office with a limited number of people with a few specific computers and phones.”
I like the way this kid thinks.
“So, I wrote a program which compares incoming email and text signatures and automatically builds unique algorithms for each person within my responsibility.”
“My computer then tells me when texts and emails received are from a source outside of typical, or standard algorithms, for the particular person receiving them.”
I cut in, “In other words, if a signature doesn’t come from the same source each time, you are triggered?”
He nodded his head and I went on. “But what about when someone sends an email from their PC and then from their cell phone, or even a text from two different phones.”
“Sir,” he said with an air of confidence, not arrogance, “We are the US Government; it is easy to verify, electronically, if a signature is from the same person, even if it is from two different sources.”
He further explained, “It’s more like our credit card companies. They build algorithms based on our purchases so when a purchase is outside the ordinary algorithm it is flagged.”
“Make sense?” he asked. Then he continued, “My way catches the little nuances whereas the NSA program misses them.”
I leaned back in my chair looking up to the ceiling when I sensed him wanting to speak. I lifted my finger which silenced him.
A few moments later, I said, “So, the program you were given to monitor emails and texts was too big and bulky, so to speak, and you made one more economical?”
“Yes, sir, you see, I decided. . .”
I interrupted him. “I got it, Billy. You don’t have to convince me. You had me at, ‘I’m just telling the truth a little early.’”
We both laughed and I said, “Alright, get down to business, what are you seeing that brought you in here?”
He started to speak, and I interrupted him once more, “Give me the simplified version first, and if I need you to expand your explanation, I’ll ask you specific questions.”
He nodded and jumped right in, “Basically, I have noticed incoming emails and texts which have the same signatures but are coming from two different computers and phones which are so diverse they should not be linked.”
“Any possibility these are just spams?”
“That’s exactly what I decided they were at first, but then our employee started communicating with these spams.”
“What do you mean? What kind of communication?”
“Well, sir, that’s what makes me wonder if this is being carried on by a genius or an idiot.”
He handed over a transcript:
Incoming Text: It was great to finally meet you the other day. I’m looking forward to our next meeting.
Outgoing Text: Thank you. Me too.
Incoming Text: BTW, I just talked to the boss. If you’re ready, it’s time to get you two together.
I looked up at Billy. I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, “So what?”
And that’s when he played his Ace.
“The incoming texts were from a throw-away phone registered to Counterintelligence in Warner Robins, Georgia.”
I sat there stunned and spoke under my breath, “Warner Robins Air Force Base Counterintelligence.”
He started to speak but I lifted a finger stopping him, which he dutifully obeyed.
After a while I asked, “Have you seen this incoming signature before?”
“Well, no, I hadn’t, but knowing what to look for, I went back into incoming emails and documents and found two cyber-attacks from someone in the Warner Robins Air Force Base Counterintelligence unit.”
“How serious were the attacks and what kind were they?” I asked.
“Well, in my mind, any attack is serious, but the odd part about these attacks is, I think the hacker was testing the water. As for what kind of attacks, they were a MitM Attack and an SQL Injection Attack.”
“In old man words, Billy.”
“Well, I suspect the hacker was just seeing how far he could get into the server and hard drive of our employee. As for the attacks, the MitM is short for ‘Man in the Middle’ which is what a hacker does when he wants to insert himself between a person and a server, which usually leads to gaining control of that server.”
“In this case, the client is the religion consultant, right?”
“And the other attack you mentioned?”
“An SQL Injection Attack is used by a hacker so he can read sensitive information from the client’s computer.”
Again, I leaned back, and this time Billy knew to not say a word.
“Is there any other outgoing response, other than the innocuous text?”
“No, sir,” he said immediately.
“And the two cyber-attacks came from the same place, Warner Robins Air Force Base, Counterintelligence?”
After a moment I asked, “Who else knows about this?”
“Nobody, our instructions say. . .”
“I know what your instructions say, Billy. I wrote them.”
I stood up and walked around the desk to my fifth-floor office window. I can look out my window and see Pennsylvania Avenue below me with a cross section of The Mall, beyond that.
I often look out at The Mall when I’m thinking. I looked to the right and saw all 555 feet of the marble obelisk, the Washington Monument, and then scanned towards the left to the US Capitol.
I had made up my mind, so I went to the chair next to Billy and sat down.
“How would you like to work for me?” I asked.
“But I already have a commitment to. . .”
I put up another finger. “But you haven’t heard my offer.”
“I’m honored, sir, but I gave my word to work for them through the election.”
I smiled because he gave me a great answer. I didn’t expect it but I’m glad he gave it.
“Is something funny, sir?” he asked with some hesitation in his voice.
“Nothing is funny at all, Billy. I think your dad would be very proud of your work ethic, son.”
He gave a slight nod of thanks.
“When I said I wanted you to work for me, I meant clandestinely.”
He hesitated and I said, “We will work out the details for the remuneration, but right now I have a job for you.”
Again, the slight nod, and I continued. “I need absolute confirmation of who the perp, or perps, is/are at Counterintelligence in Warner Robins and I need to know who ‘the boss’ is. And let’s hope it’s not Bruce Springsteen.”
I stopped and smiled at my own wit. But Billy just looked at me blankly. I wondered if he even knows who Bruce Springsteen is.
“Oh, yeah,” he finally said. “Isn’t he a part of the music genre your generation would call a classic?”
I just ignored him and asked him to meet me at 6:00 pm on Thursday evening.
He hesitated, but then he said, “I can.”
“What’s the matter, do you have a date for that night or something?” I asked sarcastically.
“Well,” he stumbled, “My church meets on Thursday nights at 7:00 pm.”
He hustled to add, “We are only a few blocks up the street though, so if I can get out by 6:45, that should be fine, sir.”
“Hmm,” I thought to myself, “The kid is also a holy-roller. Maybe I made an offer too soon.”
I looked at him with, I’m sure, mixed signals in my eyes.
He assured me, “I’d be honored to serve you in any way I can, sir.”
I slowly nodded my head and said, “This is temporary. Let’s play it by ear.”
He stood and almost saluted, and then he said, “I won’t let you down.”
I nodded to him that he could go and he headed toward the door.
“You can’t leave a fingerprint anywhere, you know,” I said to his back.
“Sir,” he said, looking back over his shoulder, “I’m a computer geek, and I’m very good at ‘geeking.’ Don’t worry.”
After Billy left, I sent an encrypted email to Pete:
Your Warner Robins AFB CI Hacker is confirmed. Innocent text seen in my office from the Religion Consultant shows hacker refers to a ‘boss.’
[i] Colossians 3:23