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General Berienko spoke at some length, his commanding presence dominating the shadowed conference room and the men gathered around the large table. Seated next to the general, Mischa Krushen absorbed everything the man had to say, aware of a degree of unease coming from the group. They were all individuals with varying degrees of influence and power, each one committed to the older values of what had been the Soviet Union and distrustful of the way things were going in the New Russia. Each had a deep-rooted suspicion concerning America, watching the imperialistic moves the U.S. was making across the globe, and fearful that if it was allowed to continue, even Russia might be swept aside by the American monolith. Thoughts of armed confrontation with America was not to be considered within the near future. The downgrading of the once mighty Soviet war machine had removed its sting. It no longer had the mass of machines and men. The fracturing of the Soviet Empire had weakened its threat. It would take some considerable time to build up military superiority to its earlier strength.
When Berienko finished, he indicated that it was Krushen's turn. A rumble of agitation rose from the group as it assessed what Berienko had said and Krushen allowed the moment to pass. He considered his options before he spoke, knowing that the men seated around the table were as committed as he was to Black Judas, but were still nervous as to the outcome if the project was brought into play.
"America has grown fat and greedy since the fall of the Soviet Union. It has reached out and used our demise to swell its wealth and influence. It has done it under the guise of helping Russia reconstruct. Admirableon the surface but by no means a selfless act. The Americans do nothing for nothing. Somewhere there is always the catch. There are those who do it by stealth. They employ others, often Russians themselves, to broker their deals for them. It allows them to infiltrate under a smoke screen. They manipulate or they buy or they bribe. They offer us their gifts like they did to the Indian tribes in their own country. Blankets and beads, trinkets to bedazzle while they stole land and slaughtered the buffalo. Now they do it with fast-food franchises. Burgers, and coffee in paper cups. And the people clamor for more, because they are blind to the larger picture. And all the while the deals go on behind closed doors. For Russian money and oil. Anything the Americans can add to their treasure chest. Nothing is done to halt this greed. Our so-called leaders do little except pretend concern, so we need to make things happen, and soon."
"Mischa, as much as we love the sound of your voice, is there a point to all this?"
The speaker was a stoop-shouldered man with a shock of white hair framing his lined, old face. He was Georgi Bella, a Georgian with a fearsome reputation. He was old-guard KGB, and still a force to be reckoned with.
"With respect, Georgi, I am coming to the point. America wants to dominate. It is as simple as that. Look at the way they made war on Iraq. To get rid of Hussein? His demise was a bonus, something to add to the main prize. First they destroy the country and then return with their people and get money to rebuild. Again this was just a ploy to detract from the main prize. The oil. America would like nothing better than to get its hands on our oil, and they will try every trick in the book to achieve that. They want Middle Eastern oil, as well. To control it. To feed their greedy population and to maintain their war machine. In quiet rooms negotiations go on. Contracts are signed and deals are negotiated. All done behind the scenes by means of manipulation and coercion. The Americans are very good at this kind of thing. They have a sure ingredient that gets them what they want."
"What is that? Fried chicken in a box and bottles of cola?" someone said.
A ripple of laughter followed. Krushen allowed it to flow, easing the mood for a moment.
"Money," he said as the laughter settled down. "America lives and breathes on its fabulous wealth. It is what keeps the country alive. They have so much, yet they crave even more, and what it brings them. Power. Influence. If they can't get what they want by flexing their military muscle, they use money. It makes them believe nothing is impossible for them. But I think it is also what makes them vulnerable. America exists on a knife edge of uncertainty. If Wall Street draws breath, the country panics. At even the hint of a financial problem, shares tumble. The interest rate fluctuates. Millions can be lost in an instant."
"All very well, but how does it help us?" Bella asked.
"By understanding America's vulnerability, we have something to attack. Not with missiles. But by going for the financial heart. By destroying the U.S.A.'s financial power base."
"Black Judas?" Bella asked.
Krushen smiled and tapped the file resting on the table in front of him.
"Exactly. By using this," he said. He picked up the file and let the assembly see it. "We activate Black Judas and put it into operation. It is the right time. America is vulnerable at this moment. The dollar is weak. Hit the U.S. financial base now and we can throw the economy into recession. Use the skills of the Black Judas team to bring America to her knees, then take advantage of that weakness to gain control of the financial markets."
"You make it sound too easy," Bella said.
"It won't be easy, but the rewards could be incredible."
Bella nodded. "That is the part I am interested in. If it works."
"The team we put in place will make sure it works. The day the project goes into operation, the knowledge these men will have gained becomes vital."
"You are talking about individuals who have been in place for almost seven years," Bella said. "How do we know they have stayed loyal? Or were matters like this not included in your master plan?"
"All those things and more were considered, Georgi. An operation such as Black Judas required much planning. Fail-safes were built in. Six men. Three teams of two. We spread them across the American continent. Each team carried codes that would allow it to access Black Judas and bring it online. In reality all we needed were two men to survive. Each one carrying one half of the access code. Their codes will be combined and Black Judas brought online."
Bella nodded. "And have you had these men watched? Are they all still alive?"
"Yes. We have a man in place, a handler responsible for an American turncoat. He also oversees the Black Judas people from a discreet distance. Since they became model U.S. citizens, they have kept up with technology advances and are highly proficient with all forms of computer skills. Probably to such a degree they could walk into any IT environment and make the staff look like kindergarten underachievers."
"And once this project is activated," Bella persisted, "what do we achieve?"
"Hopefully great things as far as we are concerned crippling and widespread breakdowns within the U.S. financial world, meltdown of their administrative databases. For example, their welfare program would crash. Cash benefits that are paid to applicants would vanish. Bank accounts would disappear from computer systems. Even federal accounts would be affected. On Wall Street a virus would engage and spread throughout the entire system, wiping out transactions and losing monies and stock details.
"Our programmers have been upgrading and inserting current data into the Black Judas core for months. Even as we speak they are feeding in even more information, all collected via our own systems, which are extremely versatile. Our team is constantly checking American systems, preparing the way for the day we give the go-ahead. They are permanently monitoring the safeguards and backups that the American institutions maintain to protect their financial world. Taken to the next level, we could conceivably hack into their utility companies and put them out of action. We could turn off America's lights and plunge it into darkness."
"How soon will Black Judas become active?"
"Within the next few weeks," Krushen said. "Final protocols are being written as we speak. Once these have been fed into the core, the project will become viable. Within days of the activation codes being sent out, Black Judas will go online."
What Krushen did not relay to the committee was the information that had reached him from America that there was some kind of operation taking place aimed at dislodging the sleepers. He had the feeling it had something to do with Karl Federov, but until he could prove it he preferred to keep the details to himself. There were incidents that had taken place that concerned Krushen because they involved Black Judas. He had used his power and influence to keep them under wraps, not wanting to alarm anyone. Some members of the committee might panic if they were brought into the picture. Krushen found it easier to simply deal with the matters and say nothing to anyone who did not need to know.
Karl Federov stood at the window, his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his thick overcoat. The concrete apron was awash with rain, a chill wind blowing it in rippling waves across the area. The airstrip had once been a Russian airforce base. It had been home to a squadron of SU-27 fighter planes, each armed with a GSh-30-1 cannon and carrying AA R27 missiles. This base had been one of many that encircled Moscow. Now, like many others, it had been closed because of rising costs and military cutbacks. All, Federov thought with some bitterness, in the name of democracy and freedom. He almost laughed out loud at the falsity of the words.
That foolishness was responsible for the breakup of the Soviet Empire and the emasculating of its powerful military might. The Russia he once knew had become another nation ruled by greed and hypocrisy and all the depravity that could grip a nation. Looking deeper, he could see that little had really changed within the isolated corridors of power. Those in control became stronger and increasingly wealthy. The never-ending struggles to stay in positions of power still existed. Those who had reached the higher levels were constantly having to fight off the ambitions of challengers. Mistrust, divided loyalties, plots and counterplots were the order of the day. It was the time of the wolf, a time when each individual had to ensure his own life and expectations were considered above everything else.
Karl Federov was one of those individuals and had already realized the potential riches Black Judas offered to someone willing to reach out and take an offered opportunity. The potential wealth to be gained by utilizing the Black Judas project would be staggering.
Alekzander Mishkin, Federov's boss, was no exception. The Security Directorate minister had ambitious plans of his own. He was not content remaining in his current position. Mishkin wanted to rise, to attain greater stature. His ministerial appointment had empowered him with wide-reaching authority. It was that authority and the ability to access restricted information that had resulted in Federov discovering the Black Judas file.
Federov had unearthed the secret of the project by sheer good luck. He had been going through old files, long forgotten in one of the basement storage sections in Lubyanka. He had almost passed over the sealed document file. Ready to put it aside, he had paused, something about the package rousing his interest, especially when he saw that it had been filed incorrectly and the stamp on the flap of the cover indicated it had been designated as ultrasensitive. Federov laid the file on the desk, aware that he had discovered something special. When he broke the seal and opened the file and saw the Black Judas legend on the first sheet, he knew he had found something special.
His first thoughts were concerned with how and why the file had been misplaced, but he dismissed the reasoning. Important files had been lost before, mistakenly shelved by some harassed, overworked documents clerk, moved around within the bulk of other files until it became forgotten. The staggering number of files held within Lubyanka's vaults, the bulk still typewritten and photocopied in the old-fashioned way of the ponderous machine that was the state security system, left itself open to mistakes.
Federov spent the next hour going through the stack of documents and photographs. He quickly realized he had before him the entire Black Judas project, from the overseers to the actual operatives who would be living their manufactured lives in America. The six-man sleeper team, awaiting the day when the call would come to activate the operation. Federov was not a man given to excitable expressions. By the time he realized the potential of the documents in front of him, his head was swimming with almost childish delight and he had a smile on his face that was entirely out of context with his surroundings.
He considered his options.
The first involved his superior Alekzander Mishkin. The discovery of Black Judas would realize Mishkin's dream of becoming even more important than he already was. He would seize the moment and use it to forward his own career. Taking control of the project and removing it from General Berienko's control would allow Mishkin to die a happy man. Once Federov handed over the details of Black Judas, any control he had would be taken away from him. Mishkin would become hands-on, wanting to be in charge of every aspect of the project. Federov would be given the task of overseeing the Unit's demise.
Federov found he didn't like that idea in any way. He sat and stared at the Black Judas file, lighting yet another cigarette. The ashtray on the desk was already full of half-smoked stubs. Pushing through his ordered thoughts was an alternative, one that even Federov found exciting, scary, full of risks, but if he managed to pull it off it would ensure his future way beyond his wildest dreams.
Understanding the way Black Judas worked had planted a rebellious thought in Federov's mind. It was based on the "what if" concept. What if he took control of the project and employed it to benefit himself rather than Mishkin? The potential yield from Black Judas was limitless. Instead of destroying the American economy, the project could be diverted to manipulating the financial world for Federov's gain. The more he considered, the stronger his feelings became.
He could do this. He had control of men, and the finances to fund those men.