At twelve, Gideon Crew witnessed his father, a world-class mathematician, accused of treason and gunned down.
At twenty-four, summoned to his dying mother's bedside, Gideon learned the truth: His father was framed and deliberately slaughtered. With her last breath, she begged her son to avenge him.
Now, with a new purpose in his life, Gideon crafts a one-time mission of vengeance, aimed at the perpetrator of his father's destruction. His plan is meticulous, spectacular, and successful.
But from the shadows, someone is watching. A very powerful someone, who is impressed by Gideon's special skills. Someone who has need of just such a renegade.
For Gideon, this operation may be only the beginning . . .
About the Author
Readers can sign up for The Pendergast File, a monthly "strangely entertaining note" from the authors, at their website, www.PrestonChild.com. The authors welcome visitors to their alarmingly active Facebook page, where they post regularly.
Place of Birth:Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education:B.A., Pomona College, 1978
Read an Excerpt
By Preston, Douglas
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2011 Preston, Douglas
All right reserved.
Nothing in his twelve years of life had prepared Gideon Crew for that day. Every insignificant detail, every trivial gesture, every sound and smell, became frozen as if in a block of glass, unchanging and permanent, ready to be examined at will.
His mother was driving him home from his tennis lesson in their Plymouth station wagon. It was a hot day, well up in the nineties, the kind where clothes stick to one’s skin and sunlight has the texture of flypaper. Gideon had turned the dashboard vents onto his face, enjoying the rush of cold air. They were driving on Route 27, passing the long cement wall enclosing Arlington National Cemetery, when two motorcycle cops intercepted their car, one pulling ahead, the other staying behind, sirens wailing, red lights turning. The one in front motioned with a black-gloved hand toward the Columbia Pike exit ramp; once on the ramp, he signaled for Gideon’s mother to pull over. There was none of the slow deliberation of a routine traffic stop—instead, both officers hopped off their motorcycles and came running up.
“Follow us,” said one, leaning in the window. “Now.”
“What’s this all about?” Gideon’s mother asked.
“National security emergency. Keep up—we’ll be driving fast and clearing traffic.”
“I don’t understand—”
But they were already running back to their motorcycles.
Sirens blaring, the officers escorted them down Columbia Pike to George Mason Drive, forcing cars aside as they went. They were joined by more motorcycles, squad cars, and finally an ambulance: a motorcade that screamed through the traffic-laden streets. Gideon didn’t know whether to be thrilled or scared. Once they turned onto Arlington Boulevard, he could guess where they were going: Arlington Hall Station, where his father worked for INSCOM, the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command.
Police barricades were up over the entrance to the complex, but they were flung aside as the motorcade pulled through. They went shrieking down Ceremonial Drive and came to a halt at a second set of barricades, beside a welter of fire trucks, police cars, and SWAT vans. Gideon could see his father’s building through the trees, the stately white pillars and brick façade set among emerald lawns and manicured oaks. It had once been a girls’ finishing school and still looked it. A large area in front had been cleared. He could see two sharpshooters lying on the lawn, behind a low hummock, rifles deployed on bipods.
His mother turned to him and said, fiercely, “Stay in the car. Don’t get out, no matter what.” Her face was gray and strained, and it scared him.
She stepped out. The phalanx of cops bulled through the crowd ahead of her and they disappeared.
She’d forgotten to turn off the engine. The air-conditioning was still going. Gideon cranked down a window, the car filling with the sounds of sirens, walkie-talkie chatter, shouts. Two men in blue suits came running past. A cop hollered into a radio. More sirens drifted in from afar, coming from every direction.
He heard the sound of a voice over an electronic megaphone, acidic, distorted. “Come out with your hands in view.”
The crowd immediately hushed.
“You are surrounded. There is nothing you can do. Release your hostage and come out now.”
Another silence. Gideon looked around. The attention of the crowd was riveted on the front door of the station. That, it seemed, was where things would play out.
“Your wife is here. She would like to speak to you.”
A buzz of fumbled static came through the sound system and then the electronically magnified sound of a partial sob, grotesque and strange. “Melvin?” Another choking sound. “Melvin?”
Gideon froze. That’s my mother’s voice, he thought.
It was like a dream where nothing made sense. It wasn’t real. Gideon put his hand on the door handle and opened it, stepping into the stifling heat.
“Melvin…” A choking sound. “Please come out. Nobody’s going to hurt you, I promise. Please let the man go.” The voice over the megaphone was harsh and alien—and yet unmistakably his mother’s.
Gideon advanced through the clusters of police officers and army officers. No one paid him any attention. He made his way to the outer barricade, placed a hand on the rough, blue-painted wood. He stared in the direction of Arlington Hall but could see nothing stirring in the placid façade or on the immediate grounds cleared of people. The building, shimmering in the heat, looked dead. Outside, the leaves hung limply on the oak branches, the sky flat and cloudless, so pale it was almost white.
“Melvin, if you let the man go, they’ll listen to you.”
More waiting silence. Then there was a sudden motion at the front door. A plump man in a suit Gideon didn’t recognize came stumbling out. He looked around a moment, disoriented, then broke into a run toward the barricades, his thick legs churning. Four helmeted officers rushed out, guns drawn; they seized the man and hustled him back behind one of the vans.
Gideon ducked under the barricade and moved forward through the groups of cops, the men with walkie-talkies, the men in uniform. Nobody noticed him, nobody cared: all eyes were fixed on the front entrance to the building.
And then a faint voice rang out from inside the doorway. “There must be an investigation!”
It was his father’s voice. Gideon paused, his heart in his throat.
“I demand an investigation! Twenty-six people died!”
A muffled, amplified fumbling, then a male voice boomed from the sound system. “Dr. Crew, your concerns will be addressed. But you must come out now with your hands up. Do you understand? You must surrender now.”
“You haven’t listened,” came the trembling voice. His father sounded frightened, almost like a child. “People died and nothing was done! I want a promise.”
“That is a promise.”
Gideon had reached the innermost barricade. The front of the building remained still, but he was now close enough to see the door standing half open. It was a dream; at any moment he would wake up. He felt dizzy from the heat, felt a taste in his mouth like copper. It was a nightmare—and yet it was real.
And then Gideon saw the door swing inward and the figure of his father appear in the black rectangle of the doorway. He seemed terribly small against the elegant façade of the building. He took a step forward, his hands held up, palms facing forward. His bald head was the color of wax in the grey light, his tie askew, his blue suit rumpled.
“That’s far enough,” came the voice. “Stop.”
Melvin Crew stopped, blinking in the bright sunlight.
The shots rang out, so close together they sounded like firecrackers, and his father was abruptly punched back into the darkness of the doorway.
“Dad!” screamed Gideon, leaping over the barrier and running across the hot asphalt of the parking lot. “Dad!”
Shouts erupted behind him, cries of “Who’s that kid?” and “Hold fire!”
He leapt the curb and cut across the lawn toward the entrance. Figures raced forward to intercept him.
“Jesus Christ, stop him!”
He slipped on the grass, fell to his hands and knees, rose again. He could see only his father’s two feet, sticking out of the dark doorway into the sunlight, shoes pointed skyward, scuffed soles turned up for all to see, one with a hole in it. It was a dream, a dream—and then the last thing he saw before he was tackled to the ground was the feet move, jerking twice.
“Dad!” he screamed into the grass, trying to claw back to his feet as the weight of the world piled up on his shoulders; but he’d seen those feet move, his father was alive, he would wake up and all would be well.
Gideon Crew had flown in from California on the red-eye, the plane sitting on the LAX tarmac for two hours before finally taking off for Dulles. He’d hopped a bus into the city, then taken the Metro as far as he could before switching to a taxi: the last thing his finances needed right now was the unexpected plane fare. He’d been burning through cash at an alarming rate, not budgeting at all—and that last job he’d done had been higher-profile than usual, the merchandise difficult to fence.
When the call came he’d hoped at first it was one more false alarm, another attack of hysteria or drunken plea for attention. But when he arrived at the hospital, the doctor had been coolly frank. “Her liver is failing and she’s not eligible for a transplant because of her history. This may be your last visit.”
She lay in intensive care, her bleached-blond hair spread over the pillow, showing an inch of black roots, her skin raddled. A sad, inept attempt had been made to apply eye shadow; it was like painting the shutters on a haunted house. He could hear her raspy breathing through the nasal cannula. The room was hushed, the lights low, the discreet beeping of electronics a watchful presence. He felt a sudden tidal wave of guilt and pity. He’d been absorbed in his own life instead of tending to her. But every time he’d tried in the past, she had retreated into the bottle and they’d ended up fighting. It wasn’t fair, her life ending like this. It just wasn’t fair.
Taking her hand, he tried and failed to think of anything to say. Finally he managed a lame “How are you, Mom?”—hating himself for the inanity of the question even before he’d finished asking it.
She just looked at him in response. The whites of her eyes were the color of overripe bananas. Her bony hand grasped his in a weak, trembling embrace. Finally she stirred weakly. “Well, this is it.”
“Mom, please don’t talk like that.”
She waved a hand dismissively. “You’ve talked to the doctor: you know how things stand. I have cirrhosis, along with all the lovely side effects—not to mention congestive heart failure and emphysema from years of smoking. I’m a wreck and it’s my own damn fault.”
Gideon could think of no response. It was all true, of course, and his mother was nothing if not direct. She always had been. He found it puzzling that such a strong woman was so weak when it came to chemical vices. No, it wasn’t so puzzling: she had an addictive personality, and he recognized the same in himself.
“The truth shall make you free,” she said, “but first it will make you miserable.”
It was her favorite aphorism, and it always preceded her saying something difficult.
“The time has come for me to tell you a truth—” She gasped in some air. “—that will make you miserable.”
He waited while she took a few more raspy breaths.
“It’s about your father.” Her yellow eyes swiveled toward the door. “Shut it.”
His apprehension mounting, Gideon gently closed the door and returned to her bedside.
She clasped his hand again. “Golubzi,” she whispered.
“Golubzi. A Russian salt-cabbage roll.”
She paused for more air. “That was the Soviet code name for the operation. The Roll. In one night, twenty-six deep-cover operatives were rolled up. Disappeared.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Thresher.” She closed her eyes, breathing rapidly. It was as if, having decided to take the plunge, she couldn’t wait to get out the words. “That’s the other word. The project your father was working on at INSCOM. A new encryption standard…highly classified.”
“Are you sure you should be talking about this?” Gideon asked.
“Your father shouldn’t have told me. But he did.” Her eyes remained closed and her body looked collapsed, as if it were sinking into the bed. “Thresher needed to be vetted. Tested. That’s when they hired your father. We moved to DC.”
Gideon nodded. For a seventh grader, moving from Claremont, California, to DC had not exactly been fun.
“In 1987, INSCOM sent Thresher to the National Security Agency for final review. It was approved. And implemented.”
“I never heard any of this.”
“You’re hearing it now.” She swallowed painfully. “It took the Russians just months to crack it. On July 5, 1988—the day after Independence Day—the Soviets rolled up all those US spies.”
She paused, releasing a long sigh. The machines continued beeping quietly, mingling with the hiss of the oxygen and the muffled sounds of the hospital beyond.
Gideon continued to hold her hand, at a loss for words.
“They blamed your father for the disaster—”
“Mom.” Gideon pressed her hand. “This is all in the past.”
She shook her head. “They ruined his life. That’s why he did what he did, took that hostage.”
“What does it matter now? Long ago I accepted that Dad made a mistake.”
The eyes opened suddenly. “No mistake. He was the scapegoat.”
She pronounced the word harshly, as if she were clearing her throat of something unpleasant.
“What do you mean?”
“Before Operation Golubzi, your father wrote a memo. He said Thresher was theoretically flawed. That there was a potential back door. They ignored him. But he was right. And twenty-six people died.”
She inhaled noisily, her hands bunching up the bedcovers with the effort. “Thresher was classified, they could say whatever they liked. No one to contradict. Your father was an outsider, a professor, a civilian. And he had a history of treatment for depression that could be conveniently resurrected.”
Listening, Gideon froze. “You’re saying…it wasn’t his fault?”
“Just the opposite. They destroyed the evidence and blamed him for the Golubzi disaster. That’s why he took that hostage. And that’s why he was shot with his hands up—to silence him. Cold-blooded murder.”
Gideon felt a strange sense of weightlessness. As horrifying as the story was, he felt a burden being lifted. His father, whose name had been publicly vilified since he was twelve, wasn’t the depressed, unstable, bungling mathematician after all. All the taunting and hazing he’d endured, the whispering and sniggering behind his back—it meant nothing. At the same time, the enormity of the crime perpetrated against his father began to sink in. He remembered that day vividly, remembered the promises that were made. He remembered how his father had been lured out into the sunlight only to be shot down.
“But who…?” he began.
“Lieutenant General Chamblee Tucker. An INSCOM deputy chief. Group leader of the Thresher project. He made a scapegoat of your father to protect himself. He gave the order to fire. Remember that name: Chamblee Tucker.”
His mother ceased speaking and lay in the bed, covered with sweat, gasping as if she had just run a marathon.
“Thank you for telling me this,” he said evenly.
“Not finished.” More labored breathing. He could see her heart monitor on the wall, registering in the one forties.
“Don’t talk anymore,” he said. “You need to rest.”
“No,” she said with sudden forcefulness. “I’ll have time to rest…later.”
“You know what happened next. You lived through it, too. The constant moving, the poverty. The…men. I just couldn’t pull it together. My real life ended that day. Ever afterward I felt dead inside. I was a terrible mother. And you…you were so hurt.”
“Don’t you worry, I survived.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course.” But deep within, Gideon felt a twinge.
Her breathing began to slow, and Gideon felt her grasp relax. Seeing she was going to sleep, he eased her hand from his and placed it on the bedcovers. But when he bent down to kiss her, the hand shot up again, grasping his collar with claw-like fingers. Her eyes pinned his and she said, with manic intensity: “Even the score.”
“Do to Tucker what he did to your father. Destroy him. And in the end, make sure he knows why—and by whom.”
“Good God, what are you asking?” Gideon whispered, looking around in sudden panic. “Mom, you don’t know what you’re saying.”
Her voice fell to a whisper. “Take your time. Finish college. Go to graduate school. Study. Watch. Wait. You’ll figure out a way.”
Her hand slowly relaxed and she closed her eyes again, the air seeming to run out of her forever, like a final sigh. And in a way it was; she lapsed into a coma and died two days later.
Those were her last words, words that would resonate endlessly in his mind. You’ll figure out a way.
Gideon Crew emerged from the ponderosa pines into the broad field in front of the cabin. In one hand he carried an aluminum tube containing his fly rod; a canvas bag was slung over his shoulder, two trout inside, nestled in wet grass. It was a beautiful day in early May, the sun mild on the back of his neck. His long legs swept through the meadow, scattering bees and butterflies.
The cabin stood at the far end, hand-adzed logs chinked with adobe, with a rusted tin roof, two windows, and a door. A rack of solar panels poked discreetly above the roofline, next to a broadband satellite dish.
Beyond, the mountainside fell away into the vast Piedra Lumbre basin, the distant peaks of southern Colorado fringing the horizon like so many blue teeth. Gideon worked on “the Hill”—up at Los Alamos National Lab—and spent his weeknights in a cheesy government apartment in a building at the corner of Trinity and Oppenheimer. But he spent his weekends—and his real life—in this cabin in the Jemez Mountains.
He pushed open the cabin door and entered the kitchen alcove. Shrugging off the canvas bag, he took out the cleaned cutthroat trout, rinsed them, and patted them dry. He reached over to the iPod sitting in its dock and, after a moment’s reflection, dialed in Thelonius Monk. The percussive notes of “Green Chimneys” floated from the speakers.
Blending lemon juice and salt, he beat in some olive oil and freshly cracked pepper, then basted the trout with the marinade. Mentally, he checked off the rest of the ingredients of truite à la provençale: onions, tomatoes, garlic, vermouth, flour, oregano, and thyme. Gideon usually ate only one real meal a day, of the highest quality, prepared by himself. It was an almost Zen-like exercise, both in the preparation and the slow consumption. When further sustenance was necessary, it was Twinkies, Doritos, and coffee on the run.
After washing his hands, he walked into the living area and placed the aluminum fly-rod case into an old umbrella stand in one corner. He flopped down on the ancient leather sofa and kicked his feet up, relaxing. A fire, lit for cheeriness rather than warmth, crackled in the large stone fireplace, and the afternoon sun threw yellow light across a pair of elk antlers hanging above it. A bearskin rug covered the floor, and old backgammon and checkers boards hung on the walls. Books lay strewn about on side tables and stacked on the floor, and a wall of shelves at the far end of the room was crammed with volumes stuck in every which way until no space remained.
He glanced toward another alcove, covered by an improvised curtain made from an old Hudson’s Bay point blanket. For a long moment, he didn’t move. He hadn’t checked the system since last week, and he felt disinclined to do it now. He was tired and looking forward to dinner. But it had been a self-imposed duty for so long that it was now a habit, and so at last he roused himself, raked back his long straight black hair with one hand, and slouched over to the blanket, from behind which came a faint humming sound.
He drew back the curtain with some reluctance, the dark space releasing a faint smell of electronics and warm plastic. A wooden desk and a rack of computer equipment greeted his eye, LEDs blinking in the dimness. There were four computers in the rack, of varying makes and sizes, all off-brand or generic, none less than five years old: an Apache server and three Linux clients. For what Gideon was doing, the computers didn’t need to be fast; they just had to be thorough—and reliable. The only brand-new and relatively expensive piece of equipment in the alcove was a high-performance broadband satellite router.
Above the rack was a small, exquisite pencil sketch by Winslow Homer of rocks on the Maine coast. It was the one remaining artifact from his previous profession: the one he simply hadn’t had the heart to sell.
Pulling back a ratty office chair on an octopus of wheels, he seated himself at the small wooden desk, kicked his feet up, dragged a keyboard into his lap, and began typing. A screen popped up with a summary of the search results, informing him he had not been in attendance for six days.
He drilled through to the results window. Immediately he saw that there had been a hit.
He stared at the screen. Over the years, he’d refined and improved his search engine, and it had been almost a year since the last false positive.
Dropping his feet to the floor, heart suddenly hammering in his chest, he hunched over the desk, banging furiously at the keys. The hit was in a table of contents released to the National Security Archives at George Washington University. The actual archival material remained classified, but the table of contents had been released as part of a large, ongoing declassification of Cold War documents under Executive Order 12958.
The hit was his father’s name: L. Melvin Crew. And the title of the archived, still-classified document was A Critique of the Thresher Discrete Logarithm Encryption Standard EVP-4: A Theoretical Back-Door Cryptanalysis Attack Strategy Using a Group of φ-Torsion Points of an Elliptic Curve in Characteristic φ.
“Mother of God,” Gideon murmured as he stared at the screen. No false positive this time.
For years, he’d been hoping for something. But this looked like more than something. It might be the brass ring.
It seemed incredible, unbelievable: could this be the very memo his father had written criticizing Thresher, the memo that General Tucker had supposedly destroyed?
There was only one way to find out.
Midnight. Gideon Crew slouched down the street, hands in his pockets, baseball cap turned backward, filthy shirt untucked beneath a greasy trench coat, baggy pants hanging halfway down his ass, thinking how lucky he was that today was trash day in suburban Brookland, Washington, DC.
He turned the corner of Kearny Street and passed the house: a shabby bungalow with an overgrown lawn surrounded by a white picket fence only partially painted. And, of course, a lovely overflowing trash can sat at the end of the walkway, a fearful stench of rotting shrimp hovering in the muggy air. He paused at the can, looking about furtively. Then he dove in with one hand, digging deep, groping among the garbage as he went. His hand encountered something that felt like french fries and he pulled up a handful, confirmed they were fries, tossed them back.
He saw a flash of movement. A scrawny, one-eyed cat came slinking out from a hedge.
The cat made a low meow and crept over, tail twitching warily. Gideon offered it a fry. It sniffed at it suspiciously, ate it, then meowed again, louder.
Gideon tossed the cat a small handful. “That’s all, kiddo. Any idea how bad trans-fatty acids are for you?”
The cat settled down to nosh.
Gideon dove in again, stirring the garbage with his arm, this time turning up a wad of discarded papers. Quickly sorting through them, he saw they were some little child’s math homework—straight A’s, he noted with approval. Why were they thrown away? Should be framed.
He pushed them back in, dug out a chicken drumstick, and set it aside for the cat. He reached in again, both hands this time, wriggling downward, encountering something slimy, fumbling deeper, his fingers working through various semi-solid things before encountering more papers. Grasping them and working them to the surface, he saw they were just what he was looking for: discarded bills. And among them was the top half of a phone bill.
“Hey!” He heard a shout and looked up. There was the homeowner himself, Lamoine Hopkins, a small, thin African American man, excitedly pointing his arm. “Hey! Get the fuck outta here!”
In no hurry, glad of the unexpected opportunity to interact with one of his targets, Gideon shoved the papers into his pocket. “Can’t a man feed himself?” He held up the drumstick.
“Go feed yourself somewhere else!” the man shrilled. “This is a decent neighborhood! That’s my trash!”
“Come on, man, don’t be like that.”
The man took out his cell phone. “You see this? I’m calling the cops!”
“Hey, no harm done, man.”
“Hello?” said the man, speaking theatrically into the phone, “there’s an intruder on my property, rifling my trash! Thirty-five seventeen Kearny Street Northeast!”
“Sorry,” Gideon mumbled, shambling off with the drumstick in one hand.
“I need a squad car, right now!” shrilled the man. “He’s trying to get away!”
Gideon tossed the drumstick in the direction of the cat, shuffled off around the corner, and then picked up his pace. He quickly wiped his hands and arms as thoroughly as he could on his cap, discarded it, turned his Salvation Army coat inside out—revealing an immaculate blue trench coat—and put it on, tucked in his shirt, then slicked back his hair with a comb. As he reached his rental car a few blocks off, a police cruiser passed by, giving him only the briefest of glances. He slipped in and started the engine, rejoicing at his good fortune. Not only did he get what he’d come for, but he’d met Mr. Lamoine Hopkins in person—and had such a lovely chat with him.
That would come in handy.
From his motel room, Gideon began cold-calling the numbers on Hopkins’s phone bill the next morning. He worked his way through a succession of Hopkins’s friends until on the fifth call he struck pay dirt.
“Heart of Virginia Mall, tech support,” came the voice. “Kenny Roman speaking.”
Tech support. Quickly, Gideon turned on a digital recorder plugged into a line-splitter on the phone line. “Mr. Roman?”
“My name is Eric, and I’m calling on behalf of the Sutherland Finance Company.”
“Yeah? What do you want?”
“It’s about the loan on your 2007 Dodge Dakota.”
“The loan is three months overdue, sir, and I’m afraid that Sutherland Finance—”
“What are you talking about? I don’t have any Dakota.”
“Mr. Roman, I understand these are difficult financial times, but if we don’t receive the amount currently overdue—”
“Look, buddy, dig some of the wax outta your ears, will you? You’ve got the wrong person. I don’t even own a pickup. Suck—My—Dick.” There was a click as the line went dead.
Gideon hung up. He snapped off the digital recorder. Then he listened three times to the exchange he’d just recorded. What are you talking about? I don’t have any Dakota, Gideon mimicked aloud. Look, buddy, dig some of the wax outta your ears, will you? You’ve got the wrong person. I don’t even own a pickup. He repeated the phrases many times, in different combinations, until he felt he had the inflections, tone, rhythms down just about right.
He picked up the phone and dialed again: this time, the IT department at Fort Belvoir.
“IT,” came the response. It was Lamoine Hopkins’s voice.
“Lamoine?” Gideon said, whispering. “It’s Kenny.”
“Kenny, what the hell?” Hopkins sounded instantly suspicious. “What’s with the whispering?”
“Got a fucking cold. And…what I got to say is sensitive.”
“Sensitive? What do you mean?”
“Lamoine, you got a problem.”
“Me? I got a problem? What do you mean?”
Gideon consulted a sheet of scribbled notes. “I got a call from a guy named Roger Winters.”
“Winters? Winters called you?”
“Yeah. Said there was a problem. He asked me how many times you’d called me from work, that kind of shit.”
“Oh my God.”
“He wanted to know,” Gideon-as-Kenny asked, “if you’d called me on your office computer, using VoIP or Skype.”
“Christ, that would be a violation of security! I’ve never done that!”
“Man said you had.”
Gideon could hear Lamoine breathing heavily. “But it isn’t true!”
“That’s what I told him. Listen, Lamoine, there’s a security audit going on over there, I’ll bet you anything, and somehow they’re on your case.”
“What am I going to do?” Hopkins fairly wailed. “I haven’t done anything wrong! I mean, I couldn’t make a VoIP call from here even if I wanted to!”
“There are ways to get around a firewall.”
“Are you kidding me? We’re a classified facility!”
“There’s always a way.”
“For Chrissakes, Kenny, I know there isn’t a way. I’m IT, remember? Just like you. There’s only one outgoing port in the entire network, and all that it allows past is passphrase-encrypted packets from specific nodes, all of which are secure. And even then the packets can only go to certain external IPs. All the classified documents in this archive are digitized, they’re super-paranoid about electronic security. There’s no way in hell I could call out on Skype! I can’t even send out e-mail!”
Gideon coughed, sniffed, blew his nose. “Don’t you know the port number?”
“Sure, but I don’t have access to the weekly passphrases.”
“Does your boss, Winters, have access?”
“No. Only, like, the top three in the organization get the passphrase—director, deputy director, and security director. I mean, with that passphrase you could pretty much e-mail out any classified document in here.”
“Don’t you guys in IT generate the passphrases?”
“You kidding? It comes down from the spooks in a secure envelope. I mean, they walk the sucker over here. It never enters any electronic system—it’s written down by hand on a piece of frigging paper.”
“Problem is that port number,” said Gideon. “Is that written down?”
“It’s kept in a safe. But a lot of people know it.”
Gideon grunted. “Sounds to me like you’re being framed. Like maybe one of the top guys screwed up and is looking for someone else to take the fall. ‘Let’s pin it on Lamoine!’”
“Happens all the time. It’s always the little guys who get shafted. You need to protect yourself, man.”
Gideon let the silence build. “I have an idea…it might be a really good one. What was that port number again?”
“Six one five one. What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I’ll check some things, call you back at home tonight. In the meantime, don’t say anything about this to anybody, just sit tight, do your job, keep your head down. Don’t call me back—they’re no doubt logging your calls. We’ll talk when you get home.”
“I can’t believe this. Listen, thanks, Kenny. Really.”
Gideon coughed again. “Hey, what are friends for?”
Hanging up the phone, Gideon Crew began flinging off his clothes. He slid open the closet door and laid a garment bag on the bed. From it he removed a fragrant, custom-cut Turnbull & Asser shirt, shifted his lanky frame into it, and buttoned it up. Next came a blue Thomas Mahon bespoke suit. He pulled on the pants, belted them, whipped on a Spitalfield flower tie (where did the English get those names?), tied it with a crisp tug, shrugged on the jacket. He massaged some hair gel between his palms and used it to slick back his floppy hair. As a final touch, he combed a smidgen of gray into his sideburns, which added an instant five years to his age.
He turned to look at himself in the mirror. Thirty-two hundred dollars for the new persona—shirt, suit, shoes, belt, tie, haircut—twenty-nine hundred for travel, motel, car, and driver. All on four brand-new credit cards obtained and maxed out for just this purpose, with virtually no hope of being paid off.
Welcome to America.
The car was already waiting for him in front of the motel, a black Lincoln Navigator; he slipped into the back and handed the driver the address. Gideon settled himself into the soft kid leather as the car pulled away, arranging his face, composing himself, and trying not to think of the three-hundred-dollar-an-hour price tag. Or, for that matter, the much higher price tag attached to the scam he was about to perpetrate, if he were to get caught…
Traffic was light and thirty minutes later the car pulled into the entrance to Fort Belvoir, which housed INSCOM’s Directorate of Information Management: a low, 1960s-modern building of exceptional hideousness set amid locust trees and surrounded by a huge parking lot.
Somewhere inside the building sat Lamoine Hopkins, no doubt sweating bullets. And somewhere else inside the building was the classified memo written by Gideon’s own father.
“Pull up to the front and wait for me,” said Gideon. He realized his voice was squeaky with nervousness, and he swallowed, trying to relax his neck muscles.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it says No Standing.”
He cleared his throat, producing a smooth, low, confident voice. “If anyone asks, say Congressman Wilcyzek is meeting with General Moorehead. But if they insist, don’t make a scene, just go ahead and move. I shouldn’t be more than ten minutes.”
Gideon exited the vehicle and headed down the walkway; he pushed through the doors and headed for the reception/information desks. The broad lobby was full of military personnel and self-important civilians briskly coming and going. God, he hated Washington.
With a cold smile, Gideon went up to the woman at the desk. She had carefully coiffed blue hair, neat as a pin, clearly a stickler for procedure—someone who took her work seriously. Couldn’t ask for better. Those who followed the rules were the most predictable.
He smiled and—speaking into the air just a few inches above her head—said, “Congressman Wilcyzek here to see Deputy Commander General Thomas Moorehead. I’m…” He glanced at his watch. “…three minutes early.”
She straightened up like a shot. “Of course, Congressman. Just a moment.” She lifted a phone, pressed a button, spoke for a moment. She glanced at Gideon. “Excuse me, Congressman, can you spell your name, please?”
With a sigh of irritation he spelled it out, making it abundantly clear that she should have known the spelling already—indeed, he was careful to cultivate an air of someone who expected to be recognized, who had only contempt for the ignorance of those who did not.
She pursed her lips, got back on the phone. A short conversation followed, and then she hung up. “Congressman, I’m terribly sorry, but the general is out for the day and his secretary has no record of the appointment. Are you sure…?” She faltered when Gideon fixed her with a severe look.
“Am I sure?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Her lips were now fully pursed, her blue hair beginning to quiver with suppressed offense.
He looked at his watch, looked up at her. “Mrs.…?”
“Wilson,” she said.
He slipped a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. “You can check for yourself.”
It was an e-mail he had concocted, allegedly from the general’s secretary, confirming the appointment with the general he’d already known would be out. She read it and returned it to him. “I’m very sorry, he doesn’t seem to be in. Shall I call his secretary again?”
Gideon continued to glare at her, fixing her with a subzero stare. “I should like to speak to his secretary myself.”
She faltered, removed the phone from its cradle, and handed it to him, but not before dialing the number.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Wilson, but this is a classified matter. Do you mind?”
Her face, which had gradually darkened, now flushed rose. She stood up silently and took a step away from her desk. He put the receiver to his ear. The phone was ringing, but turning to block her view, he depressed the button and, almost imperceptibly, dialed another extension—this time, the secretary to General Shorthouse, the director himself.
Only, like, the top three in the organization get the passphrase—director, deputy director, and security director…
“Director’s office,” came the secretary’s voice.
Speaking quietly and rapidly, and summoning the voice of the man who’d confronted him at the trash cans the night before, he said: “This is Lamoine Hopkins in IT returning the general’s call. It’s urgent—a security breach.”
“Just a moment.”
He waited. After a minute, General Shorthouse came on. “Yes? What’s the problem? I didn’t call you.”
“I’m sorry, General,” said Gideon, speaking like Hopkins but now in a low, unctuous tone, “about the lousy day you must be having.”
“What are you talking about, Hopkins?”
“Your system being down, sir, and the backup not kicking in.”
“It’s not down.”
“General? We’re showing your whole grid as down. It’s a security violation, sir—and you know what that means.”
“That’s preposterous. My computer’s on right now and working perfectly. And why are you calling me from reception?”
“General, that’s part of the problem. The telephony matrix is tied into the computer network and it’s giving false readings. Log off and log back on, please, while I trace.” Gideon glanced over at the receptionist, who was still standing to one side, making a conscientious effort not to overhear.
He heard the tapping of keys. “Done.”
“Funny, I’m not reading any packet activity from your network address. Try signing off again.”
More tapping of keys.
“Nothing, General. Looks like your ID might have been compromised. This is bad—it’s going to require a report, an investigation. And it would be your system. I’m so sorry, sir.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Hopkins. I’m sure we can fix it.”
“Well…we can give it a shot. But I’ll have to try resetting, and then accessing your account from down here. I’m going to need your ID and passphrase, please.”
A pause. “I’m not sure I can give you that.”
“You may not realize this, but in the case of network resets the passphrase is automatically changed, so you’re allowed to release the passphrase internally to IT. If you feel uncomfortable with that, sir, I understand, but then I’ll have to call the NSA for a passphrase override, I’m really sorry—”
“All right, Hopkins. I wasn’t aware of that regulation.” He gave Gideon the passphrase and ID. Gideon jotted it down.
After a moment, with huge relief in his voice, Gideon said: “Whew. That reset did it, sir. Apparently, it was just a hung screen. No security breach. You’re good to go.”
Gideon depressed the key and turned to the receptionist. “Sorry to bother you,” he said, handing her the receiver. “Everything’s straightened out.” He walked briskly out of the building to the waiting car.
Thirty minutes later he was back in his motel room, stretched out on the bed, laptop connected to an unsecured computer in the bowels of the General Services Administration that he’d remotely hijacked. He had chosen to target the GSA—the vast government bureaucracy that handles supplies, equipment, procedures, and the like—because he knew it would be a relatively easy mark, and yet one still within the government security perimeter.
Hopkins had explained—unwittingly, of course—that the INSCOM archive could only send documents to previously authorized IP addresses, and unfortunately most of those were also inside classified perimeters…except for one: the National Security Archives at George Washington University. This private archive, the largest in the world outside the Library of Congress, collected vast amounts of government documents, including virtually everything being routinely declassified as part of the Mandatory Declassification Review: the government’s program for declassifying documents under several laws requiring them to do so. A veritable Amazon of information flowed into this archive on a daily basis.
Via the GSA computer, Gideon sent an automated request to the INSCOM secure archive at George Washington via port 6151, directing that a PDF file of a certain classified document be transmitted out through the same port, authorized via General Shorthouse’s passphrase, to be added to a routine dump of Cold War declassified documents headed for the National Security Archives daily batch files. The file was duly transmitted; it passed through the firewall at the sole authorized port, where the passphrase was examined and approved; and the document was subsequently routed to George Washington University and stored with millions of others in one of the archive databases.
Thus, Gideon had successfully arranged for the erroneous declassification of a classified document and hid it within a huge stream of data leaving the secure government perimeter. Now all that remained was to retrieve the document.
The next morning, at around eleven, a certain rumpled yet undeniably charming visiting professor by the name of Irwin Beauchamp, dressed in tweeds, mismatched corduroys, beaten-up wing tips, and a knitted tie (thirty-two dollars; Salvation Army) entered the Gelman Library at George Washington University and requested a slew of documents. His identity was not yet in the system and he had lost his temporary library card, but a kindly secretary took pity on the scatterbrained fellow and allowed him access to the system. Half an hour later, Beauchamp departed the building with a slender manila folder under his arm.
Back in the motel, Gideon Crew spread out the papers from the folder with a trembling hand. The moment of truth had arrived—the truth that would make him either free, or merely more miserable.
A Critique of the Thresher Discrete Logarithm Encryption Standard EVP-4: A Theoretical Back-Door Cryptanalysis Attack Strategy Using a Group of φ-Torsion Points of an Elliptic Curve in Characteristic φ.
Gideon Crew had studied plenty of advanced mathematics in college and, later, at MIT, but the math in this paper was still way over his head. Nevertheless, he understood enough to realize what he had in his hands was the smoking gun. This was the memo his father had written to critique Thresher, the memo his mother said had been destroyed. Yet it hadn’t been. Most likely, the bastard responsible—believing it too difficult or risky to destroy the document outright—had stuck it into an archive he believed would never be declassified. After all, what American general in the era of the Berlin Wall would have believed the Cold War could ever end?
He continued reading, heart racing, until, finally, he came to the final paragraphs. They were written in the dry language of science-speak, but what they said was pure dynamite.
In conclusion, it is the author’s opinion that the proposed Thresher Encryption Standard EVP-4, based on the theory of discrete logarithms, is flawed. The author has demonstrated that there exists a potential class of algorithms, based on the theory of elliptic functions defined over the complex numbers, which can solve certain discrete logarithm functions in real-time computing parameters. While the author has been as yet unable to identify specific algorithms, he has demonstrated herein that it is possible to do so.
The proposed Thresher standard is therefore vulnerable. If this standard is adopted, the author believes that, given the high quality of Soviet mathematical research, codes developed from this standard could be broken within a relatively short period of time.
The author strongly recommends that Thresher Encryption Standard EVP-4 not be adopted in its current form.
That was it. Proof that his father had been framed. And then murdered. Gideon Crew already knew all about the man who had done it: Lieutenant General (ret.) Chamblee S. Tucker, currently CEO of Tucker and Associates, one of the high-profile defense industry lobbying firms on K Street. They represented many of the country’s largest defense contractors, and Tucker had leveraged himself to the hilt in order to finance the firm. He was raking in huge bucks, but they managed to go right back out the door thanks to his extravagant lifestyle.
By itself, this document meant little. Gideon knew that anything could be counterfeited—or be claimed to have been counterfeited. The document wasn’t an endpoint; it was a starting point for the little surprise he had planned for Chamblee S. Tucker.
Using the remote computer he had previously hijacked at the General Services Administration, Gideon stripped the document of its classification watermarks and sent it to a dozen large computer databases worldwide. Having thus secured the document from destruction, he sent an e-mail directly from his own computer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the document as an attachment. The covering e-mail read:
I know what you did. I know why you did it. I know how you did it.
On Monday, I’m sending the attached file to various correspondents at the Post, Times, AP, and network news channels—with an explanation.
Have a nice weekend.
Chamblee S. Tucker sat behind an enormous desk in the oak-paneled study of his house in McLean, Virginia, thoughtfully hefting a four-pound Murano glass paperweight in one hand. At seventy years old, he was fit for his age and proud of it.
He shifted the paperweight to the other hand, pressed it a few times.
A knock came at the door.
“Come in.” He set the paperweight down with exquisite care.
Charles Dajkovic entered the study. He was in civilian clothes, but his bearing and physique shouted military: whitewall haircut, massive neck, ramrod posture, steely blue eyes. A grizzled, close-clipped mustache was his only concession to civilian life.
“Good morning, General,” he said.
“Good morning, Charlie. Sit down. Have a cup of coffee.”
“Thank you.” The man eased his frame into the proffered chair. Tucker indicated a silver salver on a nearby side table with coffeepot, sugar, cream, and cups. Dajkovic helped himself.
“Let’s see now…” The general paused. “You’ve been with Tucker and Associates for, what, ten years?”
“That’s about right, sir.”
“But you and I, we go way back.”
“We have a history. Operation Urgent Fury. That’s why I hired you: because the trust built on the battlefield is the finest trust that exists in this crazy world. Men who haven’t fought together in battle don’t even know the full meaning of the words trust and loyalty.”
“That’s very true, sir.”
“And that is why I asked you to come to my home. Because I can trust you.” The general paused. “Let me tell you a story. It has a moral but you’ll have to figure it out on your own. I can’t be too specific—you’ll see why.”
“Ever hear of John Walker Lindh?”
“The ‘American Taliban’?”
“Right. And Adam Gadahn?”
“Isn’t he the guy who joined al-Qaeda and makes videos for Bin Laden?”
“Right you are. I’ve come into possession of some highly classified information regarding a third American convert—only this one is far more dangerous.” Tucker paused again. “This fellow’s father worked for INSCOM when I was there. Turned out the man was a traitor, passing information to the Soviets. You may remember the aftermath: he took a hostage over at the old HQ. Our snipers took him down. His kid witnessed it.”
“I recall that incident.”
“What you don’t know, because it’s also classified, is that he was responsible for exposing twenty-six operatives. They were swept up in one night and tortured to death in Soviet gulags.”
Dajkovic said nothing. He set down the now empty coffee cup.
“That’s just background. You can imagine what it was like to grow up in that kind of environment…Anyway, just like Lindh and Gadahn, this fellow converted. Only he didn’t do anything stupid like go off to a training camp in Afghanistan. He went on to MIT and now he works at Los Alamos. Name’s Gideon Crew. C-R-E-W.”
“How’d he get security clearance?”
“Powerful friends in high places. He’s made no mistakes. He’s good, he’s totally convincing, he’s sincere. And he’s al-Qaeda’s pipeline to getting the Bomb.”
Dajkovic shifted in his seat. “Why don’t they arrest him? Or at least cancel his security clearance?”
Tucker leaned forward. “Charlie, are you really that naive?”
“I hope not, sir.”
“What do you think’s going on in this country? Just like we were infiltrated by the Reds during the Cold War, now we’re being infiltrated by jihadists. American jihadists.”
“Now, with the kind of high-level protection this fellow has, he’s untouchable. There’s nothing concrete, of course. This information fell into my lap by accident, and I’m not one to shy away from defending my country. Imagine what al-Qaeda would do with a nuke.”
“Charlie, I know you. You were the top Special Forces guy in my command. You’ve got skills no one else has. The question is: how much do you love your country?”
The man seemed to swell in his chair. “You don’t ever need to ask me that question, sir.”
“I know that. That’s why you’re the only one I’d dare share this information with. All I can say is, sometimes a man has to take his patriotic duty into his own hands.”
Dajkovic remained silent. A faint flush had suffused his weathered face.
“Last time I checked, the fellow was in DC. Staying at the Luna Motel out in Dodge Park. We believe he’s going to make contact with a fellow jihadist. He may be getting ready to pass documents.”
Dajkovic said nothing.
Excerpted from Gideon's Sword by Preston, Douglas Copyright © 2011 by Preston, Douglas. Excerpted by permission.
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