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After the initial flurry of organization, I kept these folks busy every other weekend or so (kinda like it used to be for the national guard). I kept my own elite group busier, if only with training exercises, several days or nights a week. Before long we were a pretty tight unit.

I had already worked with G, and he introduced me to C. And when I first recruited B, she told me about M, with whom she had served two tours. M was trained to pilot UAV combat drones, but lately she was back at home styling hair and raising a kid.

M had three kids, actually, but the older two had lived with their granny since they were born. Only the baby, a spoiled eight-year-old, lived with M. I found the kid hard to fool, but easy to bribe.


In late 2002, one of our wizards presented us with a tantalizing what-if. He owned a startup that had developed a gobsmackingly elegant algorithm for creating and identifying pretty good voiceprints from poor-quality audio. It processed voices acoustically with no regard to the language spoken and no use of keyword recognition.

What if we trained all the phones in the world to recognize bin Laden’s voice? His and his people’s. And whenever a phone anywhere recognized one of these voices speaking into it, it would discreetly send us a text message with its GPS coördinates and call details. And what if phones could be trained to do this remotely by a phone virus? Voiceprint libraries could be updated automatically. It looked as if we had finally found our 21st-century Yankee box cutter.


Because of the firewalls we had set in place, I learned who was in other cells and groups only on a need-to-know basis. Some of our groups included young people at the beginning of their careers. Like young people everywhere, they sometimes let their issues get in the way of their work. On occasion, my team was directed to remind individuals of the confidential nature of our mission. One such action involved a young computer genius in the Pacific Northwest. I sent M out there to investigate (Granny taking the kid temporarily). She reported back a few days later that the genius was a fool for pillow talk. To hear him speak, he was practically in charge of a counterterror task force. M also reported that the real loves of his life were his two Jack Russell terriers.

So I sent G up there to tutor the kid in the art of discretion. G did a Godfather on the pooches, and genius boy woke up the next morning with two little surprised expressions lying on the pillow next to him. End of bulletproof youth.

When M returned, she was very upset. She asked if that had really been necessary. Couldn’t G have simply dognapped them for a few days to make a point? I said I would talk to him about it.

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Credit: Istvan Banyai

Tagged: Communications

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