Author: James Stone
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Purchase at AMAZON.
Cryptographic chips unique to the National Security Agency are found where they should not be. The FBI forms a task force and demands open access to NSA, which they cannot legally have. NSA assigns Ellen Drew, a new recruit from LAPD Homicide. The assignment quickly leads her into a maze of duplicity, treachery, and treason. Lives, everyone’s lives, are on the line as the full scope of the plot emerges.
Moscow pedestrians forced to walk past Number 2 Lubyanka Square generally do so on the other side of the street. It is not that the walkways are better on that side. It is not that the view is better. It is simply that citizens of Russia understand from the depths of their souls that the Russian Secret Police are hazardous to their health. Home to the Russian Secret Police for almost 100 years, the Lubyanka is the seat of contagion, a place to be avoided at all times and under all circumstances. Its current incarnation, the Federal Security Service, FSB, wasn’t believed to be any different from its predecessors.
The normally minimal traffic had been further reduced to the vanishing point by darkness and a snow storm. This was even more so on the small street that ran behind the Lubyanka. No one witnessed a black ZIL limousine turn in at a narrow portal, curtains drawn for privacy. And another. And another.
The parade of quiet limousines disgorged, one after the other, a flow of equally quiet men who slipped into a doorway manned by guards who needed to see no identification. The quiet men made their ways to a top floor cloak room where they divested themselves of their overcoats. An astonishing array of braid and brass emerged. Generals abounded. There were some bear hugs of greeting, and some good humored banter, but they were mostly subdued, out of character for these normally demonstrative men. They waited, grouped together along lines of affiliation, and talked quietly. The director had not yet arrived.
An aide appeared and beckoned them into the adjoining conference room. He indicated that the director had entered the building and was on his way up. The men looked around and counted noses. They could be sure that those already present constituted the totality of the gathering. The director would not have arrived otherwise.
The conference table was in the shape of a long U. Cards were in place for each person. The director’s seat was at the head. The choicest seats were along the outside, at the extremities. The worst seats were on the inside. Those unfortunate to occupy the inside seats felt that they were in a fish bowl. People overlooked them from every direction. They felt especially vulnerable from the rear.
Each arrival looked with mixed curiosity and apprehension to see where he was placed. Some swelled with satisfaction. Others were stabbed with dismay. Those favored naturally felt that their positions had been mandated by the director. The others tried to tell themselves that the director had nothing to do with it, that the cretin who set up the table was at fault. None questioned their positions aloud. They stood at attention behind their appointed chairs.
The director was one of the most powerful men in Russia. As the head of the FSB, he controlled all overseas espionage, including an unknown number of exceptionally trained assassins. He also controlled all domestic intelligence and counter intelligence. Following time honored practice, he had set up a variety of sub-organizations, each with its own head, each intensely jealous of the others. The director balanced each against the other, thus keeping them mostly away from his own throat. Then too, there were always the assassins. Hence, the anxious readings of the entrails of a freshly slain conference table for omens of the future.
The director strode into the room and took his seat without a word. There was a general scraping as the others seated themselves. The director cleared his throat and spoke to no one in particular. “Comrades, the President sends his greetings. He asked me to tell you he appreciates the way in which you are carrying out the business of keeping our homeland safe.”
There were polite smiles and nods. They recognized the opening ploy and flowed with it. The director’s gaze scanned the table and settled on a small, elderly man at the far corner of the table. “Comrade Alyushin, what can you tell us about the American Situation?”
The assembled group looked at Alyushin, the Director of Planning and Analysis, with wooden expressions. They tended to treat him and his staff with contempt. His group was widely viewed as a pasture for those who didn’t have the good sense to retire when they should. However, he and the director were old compatriots, so they would give him a polite hearing. Alyushin removed a pipe from his mouth and spoke quietly to the director as though they were the only two in the room.
“The Americans have severe internal political and economic problems. Their lawmaking bodies keep switching parties, and their current president is widely viewed as having little international affairs sense or strength. Their economy is in shambles, only slightly better than the Europeans. Their obsession with global warming, and other things they call ‘political correctness,’ has made them vulnerable to terrorism and increasing dependence on foreign energy and other natural resources.
The group as a whole seemed to become more alert and more focused on Alyushin. A thinking man might not know where this was leading, but would be sure the director was responsible for the direction. A prudent man would watch and listen carefully.
Alyushin continued, “In short, it appears the Americans are in the worst shape since just before the ‘Great War’ and are basically paralyzed internationally.”
The director looked around the room. “If I have understood this presentation correctly, we have to contend with a country that is seriously weakened, and a president who is not in a position to respond internationally. Does that conform to your understanding?”
There were general nods around the table. No one was willing to disagree until he knew the name of the game.
The director turned to a General of the Army. “Please report on the combat readiness of the Army.”
“Highly satisfactory, Comrade Director. Regular combat divisions are at full strength. All are equipped with the latest combat weapons. Morale is high, especially in the division that recently completed an exercise.”
“Did you use the new cryptographic equipment?”
“We did indeed. It performed flawlessly.”
The director nodded his satisfaction. “You might explain this new system to the rest of the group.”
“Yes, comrade.” The general appeared to gather his thoughts. He began quietly. “What you are about to hear has been one of the most closely guarded secrets of Russia. Until the recent maneuvers, less than a hundred people knew even of the existence of the system. It went by the code name ‘Solid Ice.’ Its concept is no less grandiose than the total security of all Russian communications, from those supporting our diplomatic missions down to the lowest radioman in a rifle squad.”
Murmurs rolled around the room. The general continued, becoming more animated. “I can see that the significance of this breakthrough captures your imagination. With total communications security, we will be able to conduct the most sensitive diplomatic activities without fear of exposure. We will be able to exclude all outside intrusion into our affairs. And, best of all, we will be able to prepare for any military action without revealing the associated troop and logistics movements. I foresee the day, not long distant, when the despised U.S. National Security Agency will be put completely out of business.” The general basked in a round of general applause.
A man in civilian clothes, whose applause had been more polite than enthusiastic, leaned forward and cleared his throat. “How long distant, Comrade? What is the nature of this new miracle, and how fast can it be fielded?”
The general looked modest. “Not really a miracle,” he responded, “just the genius of our mathematicians and physicists. You see, since before the Great War, encryption has been based on the fact that any communication can be represented by a sequence of numbers. Further, the number set can be limited to ones and zeros. Scramble the numbers according to an algorithm known only by the sender and receiver, and the result is difficult to read. Not impossible, until a recent advance by our mathematicians. Our encryption is now unreadable by any practical method, even with the most advanced computers expected to be available in the next decade.”
The man in civilian clothes spoke again. “Assuming I accept that the messages are unbreakable, what prevents someone from watching radio traffic between units and inferring what is happening?”
“Another of our advances. Our new radios hop frequencies at very high rates, so they don’t stay on one frequency long enough to be detected. The same algorithms used to encrypt the core message are used to control the frequency hopping, so it’s doubly impossible to see who is doing what and where, or even that anyone is doing anything.”
“Next,” said the civilian, “how do the systems ensure command and control from the top to the bottom?”
“There, we’ve copied the American concept of combat net radio. Each unit, at whatever level, has its own network. The commander at that level is in his network and also in the network of the next level up. And so on, to the level of the prime minister. Also, we’ve put in a twist that allows higher levels to override all lower levels and take direct control.”
“Next,” said the civilian, “when will the new system be completely fielded?”
“Twelve months. That includes not only the new combat radio, but also all communications by any element of the Russian government. All will use the new master encryption system.”
“Impressive,” said the civilian. “Two final questions. You mentioned ‘practical methods.’ What about impractical methods? And how did the funding for such a program sneak through?”
The general flushed slightly. “It is theoretically possible, given enough computing power, to break any encryption. However, the computing power to attack our new encryption is decades away.”
The civilian stared at the general for a long time. The silence lengthened painfully. At last the civilian murmured, “You are certain? Absolutely certain?”
The director chose to step in at this point. The lack of love between the civilian and the general was well known. “As certain as anything in an uncertain world,” he said briskly, looking around the room. “To answer your other question, no one in this room except me knows how the funding was ‘sneaked’ through.” He turned to the general, eyes cold. “Have the new system fielded within the year. Fully.”
As if on cue, the door behind the director opened, and his aide entered with an arm load of folders. He began distributing them. They were dun-colored and marked “MOST SECRET.” Each folder had the name of a department, or organization, inscribed in the corner.
After the aide had left, the director looked around the room again. No one had opened his folder. “These folders describe projects each of you is to set in motion. Each of you is to return to his organization and began work immediately. Completion is to be one year from now. If you have problems, surface them immediately. No excuses will be accepted a year from now.”
The director abruptly stood and left the room. The others sat for a while wondering whether the meeting was over, wondering also what this new project might be. Finally, someone gathered sufficient nerve to leave. The logjam broke, and the parade of ZILs began quietly carrying their anonymous cargoes into the night.