Tony Giordano, a member of Tom-Tom’s group, was responsible for electronic surveillance. He entered the gray van through the large sliding door. He had just attached a tiny electronic bug underneath the bumper of the Pontiac rental car parked close to Shillelagh’s Irish Alehouse & Pub.
Joe DeCarlo had discussed the importance of the courier with his contacts in London, and they were satisfied with a straightforward proof that the courier would return to the Hilton at Logan Airport. They already knew the courier had First Class reservations the next morning at 9:15 am on British Air flight 238 to London’s Heathrow Airport. British Air was the domain of MI5. They would take it from there.
Tony showed Tom-Tom a thumbs up, signaling that the job had been completed. New members of the team had to go through some training to acquaint them with Tom-Tom’s own sign language. He preferred to wear expensive Bose noise-absorbing headphones during an assignment and listen to the music of Pink Floyd. Verbal communication was an option, but only when absolutely necessary.
Tom-Tom checked one of the monitors in front of him and found the bug to be working. The amount of electronic devices and computer screens was staggering. There was barely enough room to fit more than two people into the back of the van.
During the short preparation phase for the current assignment, they had the choice between various models, starting from a minivan with markings claiming to be a flower delivery service up to large travel buses, but they found that the gray unmarked van was the best choice for the type of neighborhood they were working in.
A cell phone rang and Mike Yang, the driver, checked the caller ID, picked up, and listened.
“Okay, bye,” was his only response to the caller.
He hung up and turned to Tony. “That was Kenobi. He says there is no need to wait for Freddie. Freddie got into some brawl at the pub. Apparently, he bumped into some player at the pool table, and the guy took it personally. Kenobi is on the way to bail him out at the police station.”
Tony laughed and quickly turned his attention back to one of the computer screens. He signaled to Tom-Tom, who had already noticed the increased activity on the screen.
Earlier that afternoon, after the subject had left the apartment, three team members, Ethan Lipinski, outstanding lock breaker, Chris Jankowski, the team’s computer specialist, and Tony Giordano, had gained access to the subject’s apartment while Freddie Reed followed him to the pub.
They were wearing blue overalls and hats identifying themselves as Greater Boston Natural Gas Supply workers. A growling dog greeted the three men when they opened the door. This was a familiar situation for Ethan Lipinski, who immediately pulled a spray bottle from his toolbox and directed a full dose of a fast-acting anesthetic agent in the dog’s face.
Once the dog was sedated, they started searching for the subject’s computer. They found it quickly. Chris powered the system up and examined both the hardware and software configuration. He didn’t bother to install a spyware program, even though he had the means to circumvent any Internet Security program.
He checked the Internet connection and, as he had expected, determined it was high-speed, either cable or DSL. It didn’t matter for his purposes, other than the fact that both connections use an RJ-45 connector cable. He opened his large aluminum box filled with a great selection of tools and computer hardware. He looked for a cable of roughly the same length and color, found one, and used it to replace the original cable.
Despite looking like a regular, off-the-shelf network cable, the one he had chosen had some unique features that, considering the small size of the connectors, were nothing short of amazing. One end of the cable contained a high-frequency transmitter that allowed the team to monitor all data going out or coming in. The other end could scrutinize any computer activities other than Internet data or E-Mail transfer. It, too, contained a high-frequency transmitter, but its design allowed it to pick up signals sent from the CPU to the screen and keyboard, enabling the team to monitor any screen activities and keyboard hits.
Chris checked with Tom-Tom and, after being forced to pause Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother,” Tom confirmed proper operation of the device.
Meanwhile, Tony, with Ethan’s help, had installed several audio and video bugs that would allow them to record any activity inside the apartment.
Before they left, Ethan checked the dog’s vital signs and assured he would wake up in a little while, maybe a bit groggy, but alive.
The whole job, from opening the door to re-locking the apartment, did not take more than fifteen minutes. They had been careful not to touch or move any object other than the Internet cable.
The plan worked well and went according to their expectations. After all, they were professionals. They had done things like that many times in the past, and they took pride in their work.
Tom-Tom turned his attention to the screen recording the subject’s Internet activities. He signaled to Tony who made an entry into the surveillance log.
The entry showed: “00:42 hours – Subject makes reservations for Aer Lingus flight 132, 20:20 hours tomorrow, Coach Class, Boston Logan to Shannon Airport in Ireland. Arrival at 06:15 hours local time Ireland.”
Every entry in the surveillance log was automatically and securely uploaded to a server in the office space Joe had rented about a mile away from their current position at the apartment building. The office building, once rented by a now out-of-business transportation company, had been vacant for several years. One might have thought the current owner would encourage new tenants with lower rental rates, but that was not the case.
The building’s facade and its interior were shabby, and Joe had to sign a two-year contract for a hideous monthly rent. It was against his business ethics to engage in such a rotten deal, but he also knew that he would pass the charge to the Brits. The building was a perfect camouflage, and it served their purposes well.
MI5 had insisted on meticulous communications for all activities involving the setup of the operation. Perfect timing and coordination were of the essence. MI5 had a plan to leak vital information to a known IRA sympathizer, working in an insignificant position in the Military Intelligence Archives. They had used the man infrequently in the past to deliver misleading information to the IRA. They released the latest information as soon as Joe and his team had moved their surveillance equipment into the office building.
The next entry in the surveillance logs was for a rental car. “00:58 hours – Subject makes reservations for Hertz Rental Car located at Shannon Airport – Arrival Hall. Reserved for three days. Midsize car – Ford Mondeo 1.6 or similar. Pick-up time according to Aer Lingus flight 132. See Hertz reservation data attached.”
It was almost time for the next report to MI5, who had insisted on an hourly update, but Joe worried about one issue that was of the highest importance for the Brits.
He sent a message to Tom-Tom via secured and encrypted e-mail.
“Hey, Tom-Tom. The Brits predict the subject will initiate communication with his contacts, most likely in Northern Ireland. Keep your eyes open, and let me know as soon as possible.”
The answer was brief in typical Tom-Tom style. “Will do.”
Joe looked at another of Tony’s entries. “01:16 hours – Subject goes to bed.”
He sat down to write his report and attached the surveillance log. As soon as he had transmitted the information to MI5, he asked his assistant, Bob Delcarmen, to take over for the night, but to wake him should there be unforeseen problems or urgent matters needing his attention. It was time for a few hours of sleep.
The night went by without disruption, and Joe woke up at nearly the same time as the first log entry of the day arrived.
“06:32 hours – Subject gets up. Takes a shower.”
Well, I wish, Joe thought. He didn’t have the time, and the office was not equipped for such a luxury. Ken and Freddie had arrived a few hours earlier, and he sent Freddie to get breakfast from the closest coffee store.
“07:05 hours – Subject fixes breakfast. Reads Boston Globe.”
Joe was not amused. “Taking a long shower, huh?”
Breakfast was acceptable because he was hungry, but he did not enjoy the large coffee he had ordered. It seemed that he was always the one with the questionable honor of receiving the bottom of a pot brewed more than two hours ago. It was, nevertheless, the only source of caffeine at the time, and he made a mental note to purchase a professional coffee machine before the next assignment or to find a location near a Starbucks or Panera Bread. He would kill for one of their Cappuccinos or a Café Latte.
The next update of the surveillance logs was enough to boost his blood pressure, and he forgot about the coffee.
“08:49 hours – Subject leaving apartment carrying dirty laundry and a newspaper. Might be on the way to laundry room.”
The apartment building provided a small number of coin operated washing machines and dryers in the basement.
“Get Nancy down there!” Joe yelled at Freddie, who frantically picked up his cell phone and dialed the number.
“Tell her to take all her laundry and get her ass down there a.s.a.p.!”
At the last minute, and by sheer luck, they had managed to rent an apartment in the building, and they placed the only female member of the team as the new tenant, assuming a young woman in her twenties would appear less suspicious. They made sure the subject saw her moving in.
When Nancy arrived in the laundry room, the subject was already stuffing laundry into one of the washers. A young woman with purple and green hair, multiple piercings in her lips, eyebrows, and ears, and a large tattoo on her clearly visible bare shoulder sat in one of the plastic chairs. She was watching her laundry rotate in water and detergent, and her head wobbled to the music on her iPod.
Nancy said hello to both without getting a response from either, and she started sorting her laundry. It was noisy, and she felt comfortable enough to whisper into the microphone disguised as a diamond necklace hanging from her neck.
“Subject present. Also, punker girl from second floor apartment.”
The subject closed the washer door, inserted six quarters, selected the wash cycle, and pressed the start button. He tucked the newspaper under his arm and left the room while whistling.
“Subject’s on the way to the crapper.”
About a mile away, Joe yelled, “Crapper? What crapper? There is no crapper in the basement!”
Nancy took a quick look at punker girl, who paid no attention to her surroundings other than the rotating laundry, and then she took a step outside to look after the subject.
“Subject is entering basement storage area to the right.”
Joe looked at Ken. “Do we have video bugs in his storage stall?”
Ken looked insulted, but that feeling was quickly replaced by confusion. “Of course we do! But his stall is to the left!”
“Nancy!” Joe was excited. This was the blood-pressure-raising stuff he lived for. “Can you follow him?”
“Negative, Joe!” she responded. “Negative. There’s a heavy, squeaky metal door leading to the stalls. No way I can follow without him noticing.”
“Okay. Stay put. We’ll check it out later. According to the blueprints there is no way out of there.”
Joe nodded to Ken who waved to Ethan to follow him. They disappeared into the adjoining room to change into blue overalls, took their tool cases, and, within minutes, they left the building. They would drive over to the subject’s apartment building and wait in the car until they received the all-clear signal from Nancy.
It took twenty-five painful minutes before the subject returned to the laundry room. He had to step over punker girl’s stretched out legs. Her clothing was now in the drying cycle and it occupied the only two available machines.
“Subject returned,” Nancy called in.
The subject loaded the damp laundry into his basket before he noticed both dryers running. There was another room next door with several rows of clotheslines, not an ideal choice, but it had to do.
“Excuse me, young lady,” he called out to punker girl, who gave him a frown. Without a word, she retracted her feet to let him pass by.
It took Nancy only seconds to think of the next step. “Hey, Joe, call me on my cell.”
The cell phone rang a few seconds later with a ring tone resembling Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Nancy picked up.
“Hi, honey!” she yelled. “Hold on for a second! Lousy reception here and it’s noisy.”
She walked over to the stairs leading to the upper floors where she had both the laundry and the drying room in view and continued to chat with her imaginary friend. A few minutes later, the subject walked by her and took the stairs back to his apartment.
“Subject on the way upstairs,” she said into the phone. “Access to basement storage area is clear.”
Then she hung up.
That was the signal for Ken and Ethan. They left the car with their heavy toolboxes, entered the apartment building, and made their way into the basement area.
Joe turned his attention to the computer screen as new updates arrived.
“09:21 hours – Subject back in apartment.”
“09:22 hours – Subject takes dog for a walk.”
Joe assigned Tony, who had spent the entire night in the gray van, to follow the subject. Only a minute later he received a call from Ken.
“Joe.” He sounded excited. “We found another computer, and according to the heat signature it was used only a few minutes ago! We need Chris down here.”
Joe nodded to Bob who sent the message to the van where Chris had his breakfast on the passenger seat.
“He’s on his way, Ken,” Joe said. “Listen, I need you to get in touch with Tony. He’s following the subject. We cannot afford to lose track of him or, God forbid, make him suspicious.”
“I’m on my way.”
Updates came now in a regular pattern, minute by minute, but the idle time in between was agonizing for Joe. The presence of another computer could only mean the subject had made contact as projected by the Brits, and they would pressure him most unpleasantly to produce the message or at least a trace that would lead to it.
He was sure he had taken all necessary precautions, but to cover all bases he also directed Nancy to keep an eye on punker girl.
Chris called in to report that he had checked the computer, but it had no Internet connection. Otherwise Tom-Tom would have most certainly detected it.
“There is no wireless connection either,” he said. “Could be he’s using a portable device such as a USB stick or something? He may carry it and try to drop it off somewhere.”
“Chris, can you check the hard-drive for residues?”
“Sure, but that will take hours.”
“Do your best, Chris.”
Ken called in a few minutes later. He had established contact with Tony and both were following the subject walking his dog through the nearby park.
Nancy reported that punker girl had finished her laundry and had left the apartment building.
“She’s carrying a large bag, and I know she has a laptop. You want me to follow her?”
“No, she knows you,” Joe answered. “Freddie will take over from here.”
Without a word, Freddie grabbed his leather jacket and took off.
The subject had made it through the park and headed toward the Northern end of Charlestown. Surprisingly, the dog, as sleepy as it was inside the apartment, kept up a decent pace and appeared to enjoy the walk. They were already several miles away from their home.
Punker girl, on the other hand, didn’t have to walk as far. After only a few blocks she entered the local Panera Bread branch, ordered coffee and a sticky cinnamon bun, and sat down at a table where she opened her MacBook to browse on the Internet. She loved the Panera Bread Bakery & Café not only for its coffee and pastries, but they also provided a free wireless Internet connection, a luxury she could not afford at home.
“Damn!” Joe cursed when he read the log entry. “I should educate my people more efficiently on the importance of good coffee! All they know are those shabby donut stores, and that’s all they look for.”
He directed the van crew to move toward the bakery until they had a sufficient wireless signal. The transmitters in the subject’s apartment had only a limited range, and he could not risk losing that connection.
The subject had reached his intended destination, an inconspicuous small building in a neighborhood close to the Mystic River. The sign to the right of the front door pointed to a veterinarian’s office. The subject entered the building, while Ken phoned in the veterinarian’s name and address.
Tom-Tom, who was frantically working to tap into the Panera Bread wireless connection, would not be able to do the same for this location, but Joe was prepared for such a situation. He e-mailed his contact at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington D.C. who would take care of it from there.
Freddie had managed to get a seat from where he could see parts of punker girl’s computer screen, but he had to be cautious not to raise any suspicion.
“Punker girl is checking her bank account. I can see the TD Bank logo.”
He was talking into his cell phone in the manner of a casual conversation, laughing occasionally, then pretending to listen. Tom-Tom had already determined the right IP address of the wireless router and was now penetrating the connection. It was not a serious challenge, but it was time consuming.
The next task would be detecting punker girl’s system in the data stream between the router and the Internet. It was close to lunchtime and Panera Bread is a popular meeting place for business people for whom a wireless connection is a life-supporting necessity away from the office.
Punker girl checked the numbers on the screen and smiled. The money was already in her account, as expected. She took a pen and made notes on her paper pad.
Meanwhile, the subject left the vet’s office and went back the way he had come. The dog was not with him.
“He’s serious,” Joe said to himself. “I didn’t think he would do it, but he was serious about it.”
Punker girl was, as far as Freddie could see, logging on to a shopping web site. Tom-Tom, who, in an unusual move, had put aside the headphones, assured an increasingly nervous Joe that he needed just another minute to get into her connection.
Punker girl made more notes on her pad and then, with a casual, but swift move she pulled the top off the pen and stuck it into the USB port in the back of her computer. She had timed her action with the movement of a large woman, who unintentionally, but much appreciated by punker girl, provided a perfect camouflage for a few seconds. She clicked on the ‘Buy Now’ button underneath the picture of an inexpensive, digital camera. Freddie could see the big, red “40% Off” sign and felt reassured that his presence was, in fact, only a precaution.
The program, executed by the click on the button, was designed to read the data from the USB stick and fragment it. The fragments were individually uploaded to thousands of different IP addresses, and each transmission was disguised to look like it came from a different computer.
Tom-Tom, as a safety measure, had recorded all transmissions through the wireless router, but since he was concentrating merely on punker girl’s computer signature, he did not notice the small, numerous data bursts that looked like single mouse clicking events. Without knowing the exact algorithm, nobody would be able to assemble the innumerable fragments to resemble the original encrypted message.
Finally, much later than expected, Tom-Tom had managed to filter punker girl’s communications out of the router’s data stream. He monitored how she continued to enter her address and credit card information and then clicked the ‘Check Out’ button. It took a few seconds to process the information, followed by a ‘Thank you for your purchase’ screen. Punker girl knew that all the information and possible residues would be thoroughly erased, ensuring there was no trace of the transfer left on her computer.
The USB stick, whose little red LED had blinked frantically during the uploading process, remained dark after the program had sent out a command that would electrically destroy the internal memory chip.
Using the same, smooth movement as before, punker girl reassembled the pen, closed the laptop and tucked both items into her computer bag. With the bag strapped over her shoulder, she went to the ladies’ room and once inside the stall she took the pen, pulled the top off and threw both pieces into the toilet bowl. Then she proceeded by flushing the content twice, making certain they made their final journey into the Boston sewer system.
Meanwhile, the subject had returned to his apartment and started packing a duffel bag small enough to pass as hand luggage.
A few minutes later Joe read the next entry. “12:08 hours – Suspect calls taxi to Logan Airport.”
After that, everything went steady without further excitement. The taxi arrived some forty minutes later, and the subject, carrying the small, red duffel bag, was on the way to the airport. Ken and Tony took on the responsibility to follow him, just as another precaution to make sure he made it to the terminal.
The MI5 had insisted on continuing the watch inside the terminal. Technically, according to their agreement, this could result in an affront with the CIA, but the two agents they had assigned were officially returning to London after a vacation in the United States. They possessed valid tickets for British Airways flight BA0212, departing at 6:05 p.m., but delayed due to ‘technical problems’ to match the subject’s departure time. The tickets allowed them unrestricted access to the terminal. Their sole responsibility was to follow the subject and confirm that he had physically entered the airplane.
Back in the office building, Joe sat down and wrote another report. Despite the smooth conclusion of the day, he was worried. They had been unable to identify a transmission, but it was safe to believe that one had gone out. From the beginning, it had been clear that this surveillance job’s focus was primarily on monitoring the subject’s every move and not necessarily to obtain information vital for the MI5 operation on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. But Joe still felt he had somehow failed his client.
His last hope was that Chris would find something on the computer they had found in the basement. With the subject on his way out of the country, they had taken the computer, and Chris was working on it next door where he had all possible resources to retrieve any secrets from the system.
Joe went over and checked with him. “How is it going here, Chris?”
Chris looked exhausted. “I could be wrong, Joe, but I think it’s a decoy.”
“The system has been used at some time in the past, but there have been no activities during the past three months or so. All I could find is that it apparently had belonged to a Phyllis Thompson. My guess is that she was the mother of a newborn. According to her browsing history, she looked for diapers, baby food, and similar products. All the e-mails were sent to family and friends, and their addresses all check out. There are no dubious attachments or special programs, just the regular stuff. I know what to look for, Joe. There are absolutely no traces of any suspicious activity.”
Joe nodded, tired and disappointed, and he tapped Chris’ shoulder.
“Good work. Thanks, Chris. Just stay around for the final meeting, and then we’ll all go home.”
He went back to his office, but instead of finishing his report, he sat in his chair, put his feet on the desk, and relaxed. He let his mind wander to anything but the current surveillance operation. During his years as an FBI agent, he had learned to free his mind under any stress condition and the renewed energy, more often than not, was enough to spark an idea.
It didn’t fail this time, either. He got up and called Nancy.
“Hey, Nancy,” he said. “The guy did his laundry, right? And he hung it up, right?”
“He never came back to get his clothes.”
“Yeah, but didn’t he say he’s on a suicide mission? Why would he want his clothes when he’s ready to die?”
“The way I see it, being killed is a possibility, not an absolute. Do me a favor and check on the clothes. Maybe, someone is picking them up, and maybe that someone can lead us to the other computer he used.”
“Hold on, Joe. I’m walking down the stairs as we speak.”
It was a long minute before she spoke again.
“It’s all gone, Joe. It’s all gone.”