WASHINGTON, D. C. — Tuesday 09:00
“I don't want you to think. I want you to follow orders. When it says monitor only, it means monitor only, not strip search!” Greg Ballentine slammed the phone onto the receiver. He missed the cradle, and the handset ricocheted from his grasp and skidded across the desk. Brian Killough stooped and caught it as it went over the edge.
“Goddamn fucking field agents!” Greg was still shouting. “All they care about is promotion points and bonuses. Shit! Now he really knows we're watching him. We may as well send him a letter: Dear Dunk, we're watching you, so be real careful in whatever the hell it is you're doing!”
Brian quietly replaced the phone in its cradle. “He's up to something, Brian. He's up to something. The son of a bitch is up to something. He just won't quit, god damn him. Fuck.”
This was the second time Brian had experienced his boss losing his composure, and both times had to do with Duncan Harris.
“Brian, make this your baby. I want you to keep on top of Dunk Harris. Get a pen register on his phones ... and get somebody back on that hill behind his house.”
Brian returned to his office, his morale sagging. He wanted nothing to do with Duncan Harris. He reviewed—again—the events of the last few days.
The DEA had gotten lucky in Bangkok. Duncan's picture had been sent to all DEA stations only that morning, and they'd made him getting off a plane from Chiang Mai that evening. A check with the airline revealed he'd boarded at Mae Hong Son. Greg had tried to talk the Bangkok Agent-In-Charge into sending a man to Mae Hong Son to find out what Duncan had been doing, but the AIC had flatly refused. It would be too dangerous for the agent, and politically inconvenient; the Thais didn't want the DEA poking around any farther north than Chiang Mai.
The Bangkok station hadn't tracked Duncan after he had checked into the hotel. The agent who made him was at the airport to develop intelligence on movements of drug figures in and out of Bangkok. He had followed Duncan to the hotel only because the flight was the last of the day from the North and his shift was over—he was on his way home.
Greg had called the Immigration and Naturalization Service and had Duncan's passport record flagged. When an INS agent at LAX inserted Duncan's passport into his passport reader, the terminal identified him as a person the DEA was watching, and the software generated a notification to the local DEA people and to DEA Headquarters.
A fresh young agent on airport duty picked up the notification, which included all of Duncan's U.S. entries since the automated passport readers had been installed. The agent looked at the dozens of entries generated by Duncan's flying, saw the flight originated in Bangkok, and leapt to the conclusion he might have a mule, a drug courier, within his grasp. Grabbing a customs agent, he accosted Duncan as he waited for his baggage and asked him the nature of his trip to Bangkok and his line of work. Duncan smiled and politely informed them that while the law gave the U.S. Customs Service the right to search his luggage and person, it didn't require that he give them that information.
When Duncan's luggage arrived on the carousel, the Customs agent formally detained him, taking him to a small interrogation room. After a thorough search of his bags revealed no contraband, the agent ordered him to disrobe. He complied. Both government agents then took his clothing to an adjacent room for examination, leaving Duncan naked on a chair. The door to the room he was in was not locked—he was not under arrest but not dressed to leave.
Several minutes passed. Duncan had needed to pee when he exited the airplane. Now his need was acute. He saw no reason to suffer simply because the DEA wanted to play games, and he walked out of the room naked in search of a toilet to relieve the prostate-impeded bladder. Fate decreed that the first person he met was a Christian fundamentalist of the female gender. He politely nodded hello; she screamed.
Her scream brought the DEA and Customs agents into the hall. The Customs agent had completed a fruitless search of Duncan's clothes at the moment the DEA agent had finally noticed the MONITOR ONLY directive at the bottom of the notification. They entered the hall in time to see Duncan's well muscled and all-over tan body disappear into the men's room. Hearing the scream, a uniformed policeman covered the hundred and fifty feet from his post in record time. He, too, saw the door to the men's room close behind a nude body.
All concerned, except the Christian fundamentalist of the female gender, convened in the men's room. Duncan remained standing, dribbling, at the latrine, pointing out that he had a medical condition that required him to visit a toilet with regular frequency. The DEA had deprived him of clothing but had not provided him with adequate facilities, and he was sure the law didn't permit them to inflict physical pain. He also chose that moment to inform the DEA agent that Greg Ballentine, the DEA Chief of the Office of Professional Development, was a personal acquaintance. Perhaps the best thing to do was to get Greg on the phone so he could talk to him. Since it was evening, he gave the agent Greg's home phone from memory.
The chagrined DEA agent said that wouldn't be necessary. No contraband had been found; Duncan was free to go. The Customs agent hustled off to get Duncan's clothes. The policeman returned to the hall to mollify the offended Christian. Duncan finished dribbling, shook three times, and waited for his clothes.
Brian Killough worried about his ability to contend with a man who would walk naked into a public hallway.
He started the paper work to put a pen register on Duncan Harris's phone. Greg had said phones. Did Harris have more than one phone? He wrote the paper work to specify all phones to the residence.
Full phone taps were hard to get. Following years of abuse by law enforcement agencies, the courts had clamped down, insisting the requesting agency was not just fishing, but was investigating provable criminal activity. Brian knew no court would approve a wiretap on Duncan Harris; any wrong doing on his part was pure speculation. But pen registers were easy, the courts always approved them; you could go fishing with a pen register. It wasn't a listening device, but a record of all calls over the line, incoming and outgoing, the number they came from, the number being called. Duncan's father and wife had been dealing in drugs, Duncan had refused a drug test, Duncan had traveled to the Golden Triangle; a pen register would be approved.
LEABURG — Wednesday 08:00
Duncan sat at his computer reading the morning's e-mail. There was now a daily exchange of messages between himself and Mr. Li in Bangkok, Li Wah in Honk Kong, and Larry Tanner in San Francisco. All message traffic was encrypted.
Having been made by the DEA in Bangkok and searched in Los Angeles had brought home the size of the DEA's net, the resources allied against him. His detention and search in L. A. was particularly disturbing. Had those agents planted drugs on him, how would he have proven himself innocent?Obviously if they could dose him with drugs, they could plant drugs. When he had arrived back in Eugene, he drove straight from the airport to the University of Oregon library to check the computerized newspaper abstracts. He wanted to know if any DEA agents had been proven to have planted drugs on suspects. He found it had happened, not once, but several times, and he realized those were only the cases where the agents had been exposed.
The realization of his vulnerability to this type of attack made him agree to Mr. Li's proposal. Duncan had left Bangkok undecided, asking Mr. Li for a week to think things out, explaining his concern that transporting illegal aliens into the country would dilute the media attention to his protest. Mr. Li had countered that if all went well, the media would never know, but he agreed to give Duncan a week.
Duncan messaged Li with his acceptance when he arrived home from the library.
The decision was convenient. Mr. Li's people would take care of everything but the flying, and Duncan would have money with which to run. There was a compromise involved, San Francisco would be the target, not Washington, D. C. , but even that could be turned to an advantage; it was a more liberal city.
Li's involvement changed the time schedule. Duncan had been thinking in terms of months to set up the operation, but Mr. Li was under daily pressure, and he had the resources to move quickly. It would be a matter of weeks.
Duncan sent separate messages to Larry and Richard notifying them of his decision, thus stopping Larry from leaving for Bolivia. Richard had decided to stay in Bangkok for a few extra days of play.
Duncan had been home one week and one day, and had settled into a routine. On rising he checked his e-mail, then ran, then showered. He spent the rest of the morning answering e-mail and planning. At noon he fixed himself a light lunch, which he ate on the deck off the kitchen. Finishing the meal by twelve-thirty,he stretched out for an hour in the sun. The weather had cooperated all week. Solar noon came around one-ten, displaced from noon on the clock by one hour for daylight savings time and ten minutes for the location's westward displacement from the center of the Pacific Time zone. Duncan liked being in the sun when solar noon arrived.
At two each afternoon, Duncan left the house for the University of Oregon library. His realtor had instructions to show the house between two p.m. and seven p.m. Duncan had priced the property to sell quickly, and planned to accept the highest offer received by the time of his departure from the country. Duncan spent his library time researching a spectrum of drug related issues and on encryption and related technical issues. He didn't enjoy the former; he liked the latter. He also spent some time looking into the history of immigration into the U.S.
By six he was out of the library and headed home, taking time on alternate days to stop by the weight room at the YMCA for an hour's lifting.
Evenings he spent composing e-mail replies and reading any books checked out of the library. Shortly before retiring, he did a final e-mail check and transmitted his queued replies.
With each passing day Duncan found himself becoming more paranoid. Every time he passed a window, he wanted to look out, to see if he could spot the watchers he believed must be there. He knew a person in camouflage would be next to impossible to see so long as they stayed still. But Duncan had a small advantage; he was color blind—not completely, he saw colors well enough to get an FAA medical waiver with a little cheating—and without full coloration, his visual sense stressed pattern over color. In Southeast Asia he had been able to spot camouflaged watchers by concentrating on pattern changes. He finally gave into the temptation, using his binoculars and standing well back in the shadows of the interior. DEA agents would be as close in as possible without risking their cover. Duncan picked the most likely places, spending several minutes each day with the binoculars trained on the selected areas. He had no success, but the more he tried the more he convinced himself someone was there, and he bought two extra pair of binoculars, positioning the three pair he now had at the best view points in the house.
He also took additional precautions to make his computer secure, moving it to ensure that neither the screen nor the keyboard was visible through any window. Another problem was the radio frequencies generated by both the keyboard and the screen. They could be picked up and decoded by a sensitive receiver close to the house. He posted a question on a Usenet computer security newsgroup asking how to prevent this. A number of messages came back. The answers covered two methods: shielding and generating interference. Given his time constraint and the design of his home, shielding was impractical, but active interference was easy. He purchased a spark gap generator at a scientific supply firm in Eugene and set it beside his computer, turning it on whenever he worked on his plans or communicating. He knew the RF energy from the continual spark would mask anything put out by his computer, and he hoped he wasn't ruining the TV reception of the homes across the river.
Duncan had developed a siege mentality, but he knew he would soon break out. He would transport his drugs and Mr. Li's family to the U.S. in less than thirty days. The final timetable would be determined by events in Bangkok, and Mr. Li's family was working as fast as possible.
WASHINGTON, D. C. — Saturday 10:00
Brian Killough knocked at Greg Ballentine's Georgetown home at exactly ten a.m. Working for Greg had meant many lost weekends, but never before had he been ordered to report for work at the OPD Chief's residence.
Greg welcomed him and led him into the study. One other person was already there. Greg introduced the man only as a friend of the DEA who had information of which Brian needed to be aware.
“Gentlemen, I'm sure we all understand that this is all off the record. This meeting never happened. There will be no notes taken,” Greg said. “Proceed.”
“This information is current as of yesterday afternoon in Oregon. We're using a private contractor; that causes a time lag. The target has two phone lines, a voice line and a line into his computer. The tap is automatic. Our contractor checks it once a day in the afternoon.”
“The target is Duncan Harris,” Greg said to Brian, who thenunderstood why Greg had shown little interest in the pen register printouts. His boss had been getting better information, a full tap ... an illegal tap.
“From the voice line we know the target is selling his house. His realtor calls every morning to check if it's okay to bring prospects to see the property in the afternoon. The target always says yes. Sometimes there's an evening call from the realtor reporting an offer. Nobody's yet offered what the target's asking, but it appears any day now he'll take the highest cash offer. Any offer that involves the target carrying a contract is rejected.
“Also from the voice line we know the target had his stock broker liquidate his investments in this country and transfer the funds to a Swiss account. This came from just one call answered by the answering machine. The broker knew no one was going to be home, said he was leaving the message for the target's return.”
The stranger paused to light a cigarette. Brian waited for Greg's lecture on the common courtesy of not smoking in the presence of others without asking their permission. Greg said nothing, not even betraying any irritation.
“Sounds like your boy is getting ready to run,” the stranger said. Greg nodded and the stranger continued.
“The line into the computer is the interesting one. There's never any incoming calls, and all outgoing calls are to only two numbers. Both numbers are Internet drops in Eugene. One is a local ISP. The other is a national and international outfit.” He stopped talking, started puffing.
“Why would he have two different providers?” Greg asked.
“He's an egalitarian soul“ the stranger replied. “The local provider is a free net. You know, one of those outfits where you pay if you can, don't pay if you can't. Internet access to the underprivileged and all that. He's a charter member, helped raise funds for it, helped set it up. He's probably a good technical man.
We already know that, thought Brian. He glanced at Greg, saw him nodding with a worried look.
“His calls are grouped. He makes at least two early in the morning. The first always comes between seven and seven-oh-five. My guess is he's getting up by an alarm clock, turning on his computer, and checking his e-mail. The second can come anywhere from ten minutes to a couple hours later.”
“The time to compose his answers?” Greg said.
“Yeah,” the stranger said while inhaling. “Then there are another two calls in the evening. When they start is unpredictable, anywhere from seven p.m. to ten p.m. Sometimes the morning or the evening sequence will include a third call, occasionally even a fourth.”
“Why?” Greg asked.
“Okay, the analysis we've been able to do so far show's he's using the Internet for two things, e-mail and sig communication. All of his e-mail is encrypted. The sig communication is plaintext so we can read it and ...”
“Wait, what's a sig communication?”
“Special interest group. Ah, actually the Internet calls them newsgroups. It's like, well, an electronic place, cyberspace if you will, that you can visit to ask questions, leave answers. It's like a bulletin board that's confined to one topic ... well, at least one general topic.”
Brian watched his boss chafe from the computer talk. It was no secret that Greg didn't like computers, didn't care for the technical side of surveillance, the intricacies of encryption.
“There are over thirty thousand newsgroups. Your man has been monitoring four of them.”
“Yeah. You see he's using what they call a news reader, a computer program that navigates through the cyberspace of the Usenet system.”
“Usenet? I thought we were talking about the Internet.”
“We are. Usenet is just one way of using the Internet.
“Jesus,” Greg rolled his eyes.
“No, hold on, I'll explain. The first call he makes—well, that the computer makes—is to pick up any waiting e-mail. Then it goes to each of the newsgroups he's monitoring and checks all messages that have been posted since the last time he checked it. His software picks up a one-line description of each of those messages and then logs off, hangs up.”
The stranger stopped to puff. “Okay, now, off-line, your man composes his answers. He also looks at the descriptions of each of the newsgroup messages and decides if he wants to look at the whole message. If he does, he marks it for retrieval. Then he makes the second call. His e-mail answers are transmitted and he picks up the full text of newsgroup messages he wants to look at. At any point in all this he can respond to these messages—they're usually addressed to everybody—or he can ask questions of everybody... you have to do it a few times yourself to get the flavor of it. The extra calls are when he wants more information.”
“What,” Greg said in exasperation, “is all this telling us?”
“Your man is interested in computer security and encryption, and he's probably going to run to someplace in Southeast Asia, Australia, or New Zealand. I'd guess New Zealand. I think he's deciding. He asks lots of questions, everything from how close a receiver has to be to pick up the radio frequencies generated by computer key presses to what the driving time is from Auckland to Whangamata.”
“Whangamata?” Greg tried to mimic the pronunciation.
The stranger looked around for an ash try. “It's a beach town in New Zealand. I looked it up.” He rose and walked to the fireplace, stubbing out his cigarette on the grating.
“What about the e-mail. Who's he talking to?” Greg asked.
“The plaintext messages he sends and receives involve easily traced addresses. Nothing special there. But the encrypted messages are a different matter. They tend to be long, and they're always sent to or received from anonymous servers.
Greg stared at the stranger.
“Do you know what an anonymous server is?“ the stranger finally asked.
Greg ignored the question, turned to Brian and said, “We need to get the names and addresses, the real names and addresses of everybody he's talking to. Brian, that'll be your job.”
“Ha,“ the stranger snorted as much as laughed. “You're talking about doing something even we can't do.”He stressed the we.
Who is ‘we’, Brian wondered?”
“Shit!” Greg responded. “Alright, what's in the messages?”
It was the stranger's turn to stare. “We don't know. As I said, they're encrypted. “
“But you have copies of them?“ Greg persisted.
“We do. But that doesn't help. Look, it's all very straightforward. There's a plaintext line preceding the ciphertext that gives the name and version number of the software program used to encrypt, and the software he's using is the best available. Drug dealers, tax dodgers, cheating husbands, espionage agents, hackers, hobbyists, businessmen, they all use the same package. MIT developed the algorithm with public money. It's been published all over the world. It's a fucking nightmare. We need to do what France has done. There you have to have government permission to use encryption.”
“You're telling me the U.S. Government can't break a code used by a private citizen with a goddamn PC?”
“Well, there are a number of ways to attack a cipher ...”
“I don't want anymore technical explanations,” Greg said. “What I want to know is what's in those messages.”
“Try the NSA. Decryption is their specialty.”
REFERENCE MATERIAL — none for this chapter