Former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service Adrian Weston is awoken in the middle of the night by a phone call from the Prime Minister. Her news is shocking: the Pentagon, the NSA, and the CIA have been hacked simultaneously, their seemingly impenetrable firewalls breached by an unknown enemy known only as "The Fox." Even more surprisingly, the culprit is revealed to be a young British teenager, Luke Jennings. He has no agenda, no secrets, just a blisteringly brilliant mind. Extradition to the U.S. seems likely--until Weston has another idea: If Luke can do this to us, what can he do to our enemies?
After conferring with both the American President and the Prime Minister, Weston is determined to use "The Fox" and his talents to the advantage of the two nations. But doing so places the boy on a geopolitical minefield. Adrian must stay one step ahead of multiple invisible enemies, all while finding a way to utilize the most powerful--and most unprecedented weapon...
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.18(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.87(d)|
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No one saw them. No one heard them. They were not supposed to. The black-clad Special Forces soldiers slipped unseen through the pitch-dark night toward the target house.
In most town and city centers there is always a glimmer of light, even in deepest night, but this was the outer suburb of an English provincial town and all public lighting had ceased at one in the morning. This was the darkest hour, two a.m. A solitary fox watched them pass but instinct bade him not interfere with fellow hunters. No house lights broke the gloom.
They encountered two single humans, both on foot, both drunk after late-night partying with friends. The soldiers melted into gardens and shrubbery, disappearing black on black until the wanderers had stumbled toward their homes.
They knew exactly where they were, having studied the streets and the target house in intimate detail for many hours. The pictures had been taken by cruising cars and overhead drones. Much enlarged and pinned to the wall of the briefing room at Stirling Lines, the headquarters of the SAS outside Hereford, the images had been memorized to the last stone and curb. The soft-booted men did not trip or stumble.
There were a dozen of them, and they included two Americans, inserted at the insistence of the U.S. team that had installed itself in the embassy in London. And there were two from the British SRR, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, a unit even more clandestine than the SAS and the SBS, the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service, respectively. The authorities had elected to use the SAS, known simply as "the Regiment."
One of the two from the SRR was a woman. The Americans presumed this was to establish gender equality. It was the reverse. Observation had revealed that one of the inhabitants of the target house was female and even the British hard squads try to observe a little gallantry. The point of the presence of the SRR, sometimes referred to in the club as "Her Majesty's burglars," was to practice one of their many skill sets-covert entry.
The mission was not only to enter and subdue the target house and its denizens but to ensure they were not seen by any watcher inside and that no one escaped. They approached from all angles, appeared simultaneously around the garden fence, front, back and sides, crossed the garden and ringed the house, still unseen and unheard, by neighbor or inhabitant.
No one heard the slight squeak of the diamond-tipped glass cutter as it described a neat circle in a kitchen window, nor the low crack as the disk was removed with a suction pad. A gloved hand came through the hole and unlatched the window. A black figure climbed over the sill into the sink, jumped quietly to the floor and opened the back door. The team slipped in.
Though they had all studied the architect's plan, filed with the registry when the house was built, they still used head-mounted penlights in case of owner-installed obstructions or even booby traps. They began with the ground floor, moving from room to room to confirm there were no sentries or sleeping figures, trip wires or silent alarms.
After ten minutes the team leader was satisfied and with a nod of his head led a single-file column of five up the narrow staircase of what was evidently a very ordinary detached four-bedroom family home. The two Americans, increasingly bewildered, remained below. This was not the way they would have subdued a thoroughly dangerous nest of terrorists. Such a house invasion back home would have involved several magazines of ammunition by now. Clearly, the Limeys were pretty weird.
Those below heard startled exclamations from above. These quickly ceased. After ten more minutes of muttered instructions the team leader uttered his first report. He did not use Internet or cell phone-interceptible-but old-fashioned encrypted radio. "Target subdued," he said softly. "Inhabitants four. Await sunrise." Those who listened to him knew what would happen next. It had all been preplanned and rehearsed.
The two Americans, both U.S. Navy SEALs, also reported in to their embassy on the south side of the Thames in London.
The reason for the "hard" takeover of the building was simple. Despite a week of covert surveillance, it was still possible, bearing in mind the amount of damage to the defenses of the entire Western world that had come out of that harmless-looking suburban house, that it might contain armed men. There might be terrorists, fanatics, mercenaries hiding behind the innocent faade. That was why the Regiment had been told there was no alternative to a "worst case" operation.
But an hour later the team leader communicated again.
"You are not going to believe what we have found here."
In the very early morning of 3 April 2019, a telephone rang in a modest bedroom under the eaves of the Special Forces Club in an anonymous townhouse in Knightsbridge, a wealthy district of LondonÕs West End. At the third ring the bedside light came on. The sleeper was awake and fully functioning-the outcome of a lifetime of practice. He swung his feet to the floor and glanced at the illuminated panel before putting the apparatus to his ear. He also glanced at the clock beside the lamp. Four in the morning. Did this woman never sleep?
"Yes, Prime Minister."
The person at the other end clearly had not been to bed at all.
"Adrian, sorry to wake you at this hour. Could you be with me at nine? I have to greet the Americans. I suspect they will be on the warpath and I would appreciate your assessment and advice. They are due at ten."
Always the old-fashioned courtesy. She was giving an order, not making a request. For friendship she would use his given name. He would always call her by her title.
"Of course, Prime Minister."
There was nothing more to say, so the connection ended. Sir Adrian Weston rose and went into the small but sufficient bathroom to shower and shave. At half past four he went downstairs, past the black-framed portraits of all the agents who had gone into Nazi-occupied Europe so long ago and never come back, nodded to the night watch behind the lobby desk and let himself out. He knew a hotel on Sloane Street with an all-night caf.
Shortly before 9 a.m. on a bright autumn morning, 11 September 2001, a four-jet American airliner out of Boston for Los Angeles designated American Airlines 11 swerved out of the sky over Manhattan and slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It had been hijacked in midair by five terrorists in the service of the group al-Qaeda. The man at the controls was an Egyptian. He was supported by four Saudis who, armed with box-cutter knives, had subdued the cabin staff and hustled him onto the flight deck.
Minutes later, another airliner, flying far too low, appeared over New York. It was United Airlines 175, also out of Boston for Los Angeles, also hijacked by five al-Qaeda terrorists.
America and, within moments, the entire world watched in disbelief as what had been presumed a tragic accident revealed it was nothing of the sort. The second Boeing 767 flew deliberately into the South Tower of the Trade Center. Both skyscrapers sustained terminal damage in the midsections. Aided by the fuel from the full tanks of the airliners, savage fires erupted and began to melt the steel girders that held the buildings rigid. A minute before ten a.m., the South Tower collapsed into a mountain of red-hot rubble, followed by the North Tower half an hour later.
At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 out of Washington's Dulles International Airport, also bound for Los Angeles with full tanks, dived into the Pentagon, on the Virginia side of the Potomac. It had also been hijacked by five Arabs.
The fourth airliner, United Airlines 93, out of Newark for San Francisco, again hijacked in midair, was recaptured by a passenger revolt, but too late to save the aircraft, which, with its fanatical hijacker still at the controls, dived into farmland in Pennsylvania.
Before sundown that day, now known simply as 9/11, a fraction under three thousand Americans and others were dead. They included the crews and passengers of all four airliners, almost all those in the World Trade Center's two skyscraper towers and 125 in the Pentagon. Plus the nineteen terrorists who committed suicide. That single day left the United States not simply shocked but traumatized. She still is.
When an American government is wounded that badly, it does two things. It demands and exacts revenge, and it spends.
Over the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency and the first four years of that of Barack Obama, the United States spent a trillion dollars constructing the biggest, the most cumbersome, the most duplicated and possibly the most inefficient national security structure the world has ever seen.
If the nine inner U.S. intelligence agencies and the seven outer agencies had been doing their jobs in 2001, 9/11 would never have occurred. There were signs, hints, reports, tip-offs, indications and oddities that were noted, reported, filed and ignored.
What followed 9/11 was an explosion of expenditure that is literally breathtaking. Something had to be done, and be seen to be done, by the great American public, so it was. A raft of new agencies was created to duplicate and mirror the work of the existing ones. Thousands of new skyscrapers sprang up, entire cities of them, most owned and run by private sector-contracted enterprises eager for the fathomless dollar harvest.
Government expenditure on the single pandemic word "security" detonated like a nuke over Bikini Atoll, all uncomplainingly paid for by the ever-trusting, ever-hopeful, ever-gullible American taxpayer. The exercise generated an explosion of reports, on paper and online, so vast that only about 10 percent of them have ever been read. There simply is not the time or, despite the massive payroll, the staff to begin to cope with the information. And something else happened in those twelve years. The computer and its archive, the database, became rulers of the world.
When the Englishman seeking an early breakfast off Sloane Street was a young officer in the Paras, then in MI6, records were created on paper and stored on paper. It took time, and the storage of archives took space, but penetration, the copying or removal and theft of secret archives-that is, espionage-was hard and the quantity removable at any one time or from any one place was modest.
During the Cold War, which supposedly ended with the Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, the great spies like Oleg Penkovsky could abstract only as many documents as they could carry about their person. Then the Minox camera and its product, microfilm, enabled up to a hundred documents to be concealed in a small canister. The microdot made copied documents even smaller and more transportable. But the computer revolutionized the lot.
When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew from Hawaii to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted during a border check into the human anus. "Back in the day," as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convoy moving through the gate tends to be noticeable.
So as the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases. As the complexities of this mysterious dimension called "cyberspace" became more and more weird and increasingly complicated, fewer and fewer human brains could understand how they worked. Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today's daily computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world has given rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.
But some hackers do not steal money; they steal secrets. Which is why a harmless-looking suburban house in a provincial English town was invaded in the night by an Anglo-American team of Special Forces soldiers and its inhabitants detained. And why one of those soldiers murmured into a radio mic: "You are not going to believe what we have found here."
Three months before the raid, a team of American computer aces working at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, discovered what they also could not believe. The most secret database in the United States, probably in the world, had apparently been hacked.
Fort Meade, as the word "fort" implies, is technically an army base. But it is a lot more than that. It is the home of the fearsome National Security Agency, or NSA. Heavily shielded from unwanted view by forests and forbidden access roads, it is the size of a city. But instead of a mayor it has a four-star army general as its commanding officer.
It is the home of that branch of all intelligence agencies known as ELINT, or electronic intelligence. Inside its perimeter, rank upon rank of computers eavesdrop on the world. ELINT intercepts, it listens, it records, it stores. If something it intercepts is dangerous, it warns.
Because not everyone speaks English, it translates from every language, dialect and patois used on planet Earth. It encrypts and decodes. It hoards the secrets of the United States and it does this inside a range of supercomputers which house the most clandestine databases in the country.
These databases are protected not by a few traps or pitfalls but by firewalls so complicated that those who constructed them and who monitor them on a daily basis were utterly convinced they were impenetrable. Then one day these guardians of the American cybersoul stared in disbelief at the evidence before them.
They checked and checked again. It could not be. It was not possible. Finally, three of them were forced to seek an interview with the general and destroy his day. Their principal database had been hacked. In theory, the access codes were so opaque that no one without them could enter the heartland of the supercomputer. No one could get through the protective device known simply as the "air gap." But someone had.
Worldwide, there are thousands of hacker attacks per day. The vast bulk are attempts to steal money. There are endeavors to penetrate the bank accounts of citizens who have deposited their savings where they believed they would be safe. If the hacks are successful, the swindler can pretend to be the account holder and instruct the bank's computer to transfer assets to the thief's account, many miles and often many countries away.
All banks, all financial institutions, now have to encircle their clients' accounts with walls of protection, usually in the form of codes of personal identification which the hacker cannot know and without which the bank's computer will not agree to transfer a penny. This is one of the prices the developed world now pays for its utter dependence on computers. It is extremely tiresome but better than impoverishment and is now an irreversible characteristic of modern life.