HAKKER: dispatches

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Hakker, Dispatch 016:
March 2004


A few days ago, I was eavesdropping on an unencrypted wireless connection in the town of B. (I'm not going to tell you why, but let's say I was checking up on a clue...) Then, by complete coincidence, I picked up the following fragment of realtime IRC on my miniscreen:


>JooJanta: It was the Israelis who bombed WTC, not Osama. All Jews were warned out of the buildings in advance.

>ChiefWiggum: Bullshit. Where were YOU on 9/11?

>JooJanta: I was celebrating the victory over the Zionists.

>ChiefWiggum: Would you become a suicide bomber?

>JooJanta: If I had the opportunity and the time was right, yes I would. I look forward to it.


It got me thinking: where was I on 9/11?

Cue flashback: wobbling image, sound of harp playing...

It was almost a year before I got deleted by "EYE." While I was still H. Ellison, part-time hacker, part-time computer criminal. Not much was happening in my life then. Dad had been dead for a while. I'd sold the house and moved into an apartment in the city of G.

I worried then, that I was forgetting my sensei's training... and I was putting on some fat. (Damn computers.) I went on nightly excursions in the city once or twice a week, practicing, watching what went on, studying people. Tried out new tech stuff and night gear.

Such as: simple phone wiretapping, cell-phone bugging, wi-fi bugging, portable antennas that can take in monitor images (great for capturing images with useful info), on-the-spot password cracking (just for the challenge; it barely ever worked)... and of course night-vision goggles. (Nowadays kids can buy the goggles in toy stores. I envy them...) And various techniques for dealing with surveillance cameras and IR sensors. I invented an aluminum-foil cloak that made made me invisible to thermal imaging. I figured out a way to short out surveillance-cameras from a distance (ain't going to tell you...).

It was fun, coming up with new ways of breaking into databases. I was becoming quite a little sociopath. Already back then, I dug up classified info that could get me killed, but it was just for fun, not for money. (For instance, did you know that one of the world's top heads of state was a cocaine addict? No, not Boris Yeltsin. He was just an alcoholic.)

I rehearsed Sensei's training every once in a while, but I never went out and killed anyone. Honestly. And why should I? I wasn't ready to become what Sensei might have hoped I would become: a professional hitman. I lacked motivation for that. And killing people for cash seemed like a bad survival strategy, when I had a regular life to think of...

For some time, I'd been into "survivalism." It's the school of thought that society might fall apart someday, and then it would be every man for himself. Despite all those influences, and my hobby of digging up secret information, I had no advance knowledge of what was about to happen. Gotta hand it to Al-Qaeda, they were clever enough to minimize exposure over the Internet. Nothing beats hand-written notes and face-to-face verbal communication to avoid detection.

But there were obvious signs that were being ignored. I'd downloaded intelligence reports in 2000 and 2001 - not even classified ones - about the risk of large-scale terrorist attacks. "Not my problem," I thought and deleted the files. "World's full of loudmouth crazies who make impossible demands. Down with this, death to that. Who cares about another bunch of towelheads? They'll get killed or vanish."

And I was dating some woman at the time, which ended in the late summer of 2001. So I was preoccupied with more personal matters.



Around noon on September 11, 2001, I was eating lunch and watching TV in my apartment. All of a sudden every channel was filled with the same news item: hijacked airliners fly into the Twin Towers in NY. Skyscrapers collapse, thousands die. Then a third airliner crashes into the Pentagon. More deaths. Smoke covering Manhattan Island. Screaming crowds. Arabs cheering in the street.

I stopped eating. I hated what I saw. It reminded me real bad of when I was a kid. A bus blew up, and my mother with it. I knew at once what kind of people were behind the attacks. The kind who believe they'll go to "Paradise" if they kill "infidels."

I spent a few hours thinking about doing something... go on a nightly excursion, track down a group of enthusiastic Islamists who wanted to celebrate and bomb buildings in my country... and help them go to Paradise real quick. Then I started to calm down. (This was when I still had a name and citizenship, remember.) It'd be risking too much. Besides, other countries had a bigger Islamist problem.

And that was, it seemed, the end of my engagement in the War Against Terror. Oh, I did stumble on a few extremist voices on the Internet, and I did send anonymous tips about them to the police, but that's all. You may think I'd be the first one to worry about terrorism... what with my past... but oddly enough, I didn't. The fanatics could kill people, but they couldn't win. They were fighting for a pipe dream. If their god was almighty, then why weren't they already ruling the Earth? Bunch of sore losers.



Anyhow: back to the recent past... I picked up that chat on my miniscreen, and it got me thinking... where was I in that conflict? Should I be DOING something?

I saved the chat fragment and the server info I got with it, turned off my gear and went back to my hideout for a rest. Maybe I'd been too myopic, too focused on my own private war against EYE and his/her cohorts. Their agenda didn't seem to connect with Islamic terrorism at all. EYE was much more powerful, more intelligent, more constructive - and infinitely more dangerous.

The followers of EYE did have some traits in common with Al-Qaeda types, though. Fanatic devotion to a "cause." Suicidal fanaticism. Blind obedience to a rarely-seen leader. Some sort of secret agenda. And of course, obsessive secrecy. I still hadn't managed to capture even one of EYE's "initiates" alive for questioning, and it was really starting to piss me off.

Lying on my makeshift bed, I thought about doing what I hadn't done around 9/11: taking on Islamic terrorists. Just for the hell of it.

No one has ever, ever recruited me for a political cause, not even before I was deleted. (That last thing with "Uli Baba" doesn't count. It was a family matter.) Political motives for violence don't phase me. They're just excuses for the human beast to justify its most forbidden impulses: to murder and menace fellow human beings. If I killed a few terrorists, I wouldn't sleep better at night. Because there would always be other lunatics out there with fresh excuses.

(Pick your excuse: hatred of government, hatred of modern society, hatred of other ethnic groups, hatred of the other sex, hatred of oneself, hatred of the rich, hatred of the poor, hatred of people who eat meat, hatred of the internal combustion engine, hatred of blacks, hatred of whites, hatred of other religions, hatred of freedom, hatred of life, hatred of God, hatred of sex, hatred of hate.)

But what the heck, I thought, a few days ago. Let's find a bona fide terrorist and give him a hard time. I time to spare, waiting for my Spring Offensive, and I was getting restless. So I took a note on who had posted that chat line about 9/11 - one "JooJanta" - and found his name and e-mail. (No tricks needed: he was a registered IRC user.)


It turned out to be a small challenge, locating "JooJanta"'s real-world address. He wasn't one of the people in the office building I eavesdropped on. I searched for other appearances of his name, alias and "textual fingerprints" on the World Wide Web. And whaddya know, he turned up on at least five of the many "rabid anti-Western nutcase" message boards and websites. Some of his postings were in Arabic, which I can't read. Seemed I had enough to make an extended investigation of... let's say his real name was "Mutawah."

The things "Mutawah" wrote on message boards gave me a few hints of his whereabouts. As a rule, nutcases will focus their hatred on things in their immediate vicinity. He repeatedly wrote that American airforce bases were sources of oppression and imperialism, so Mutawah was likely to live in a country with plenty of U.S air bases or fly-throughs.

Other statements hinted that he lived in Europe: when he wrote about money, he referred to Euros. And after many hours, I found Exhibit A: he wrote that Finland should be a good place to smuggle in black-market Russian weapons across the border for use in "the holy war." That really gave him away. I didn't find his number in the Finnish online phone book - but I did find several possible relatives with the same family name.

First I made a phonecall to the guy in the office building who'd been chatting with Mutawah, pretending to be a cop, and asked him if he knew anyone by that name. He said no. I hung up. He didn't have any accent, and he sounded sincere. No leads there, obviously. And not much about him was online. Was he a member of any shady organizations? Did he go to the local mosque regularly? Was he Sunni or Shi'ite? I couldn't tell from just using the Internet. His phone number wasn't in any official phone book. (That didn't mean he didn't have a cell phone.) But - a stroke of luck: he was a registered student at the big University of H, in Finland. I decided to go fact-finding.

So I stashed away the stuff I didn't need, bought a good raincoat and an overcoat, and took the bus to Finland. On the way there I read up on useful knowledge: phrases to use, words to recognize, the currency and phone rates, density of wireless networks, food prices and so on. I planned to buy some new cell phones while I was there, or hack Nokia's computers just for the fun of seeing their cool R&D stuff. (I bought a Nokia N-Gage, but unfortunately I broke it while trying to pick it apart. Hint to Nokia: work a little more on the design!)

I arrived in the city of H. and checked in on a hotel. Now, it HAD occurred to me that the regular police might be watching the comings and goings of "Mutawah" (the bombs in Spain had just happened)... and I didn't want the police to spot me. So I had to be really discreet, and never be seen in public around him.

Weather was steadily improving. If you live in Scandinavia like I do, the time of year just before spring arrives can be gloomy. There's slippery ice on every street, on every roof... you have to watch your step, and running is almost impossible. Temperature varies between cold and chilly. But the Sun is getting stronger... slowly, so slowly. It is a time of doubtful hope, of almost fearing to think that things will turn around. It's a psychological thing, if you live in these parts.

Anyway... I didn't know what Mutawah looked like. He was a technical student at the university in H., so that's where I went. Well, not inside the classrooms. I just hung around on campus, reading books (for entertainment and education)... waiting for the usual suspects to turn up. And there they came, a group of intensely debating young men with black beards, clustering around a slightly older man dressed as a mullah.

A lone woman in a "chador" came trailing after them, looking down on the ground. It was fascinating to see her follow them: no matter what they did, she kept the exact same distance! The group stopped, she stopped dead. the group moved on, she immediately followed. Whoever had broken her, had done a thorough job.

Here's another trick to instantly ID someone in a crowd, unless you want to shout his name out loud: the "lost item" routine. I caught up with the group of men, disguised just enough that they thought I was a fat, nerdy student in a goofy knitted cap, and waved a Koran (or "Qu'ran" if you want) at them.

"This book," I croaked in broken English, "it has a bookmark with the name 'Mutawah' in it... I found it lying around. Could you give it to Mutawah?"

The tallest of the young bearded men reached out and snatched the Koran from my hands.

"Thank you," he said. "I am Mutawah. Thank you. Goodbye." He spoke pretty good English. Then he turned around and walked away, ignoring me. I gave the group a goodbye gesture and watched him flip through the pages. There really was a bookmark with his name, in English. I sneaked into a bathroom and switched disguise, then I tailed Mutawah.



The "Muslim community" is not an environment where I can blend in. So I had to isolate Mutawah from his friends, or find another way that he could lead me to a terrorist cell.

Which is why I planted a small transmitter inside the cover of that Koran. (Have you seen the new flat batteries? Great stuff. Some Israeli company has come up with an even better thing: printed batteries, flat as paper.) Then it was just a question of tracking the signal. On the outside it looked like I was listening to music on my CD player. I followed the book signal to a mosque, then to a house downtown.

I hung around outside the building for a few hours. (Didn't have a microphone to put in that book, and it would've been useless anyway, since I don't understand Arabic.) Then I noticed something: plainclothes cops. They were also hanging around the block, waiting for something. I immediately walked away... my presence was not needed and would only be in the way once they raided the place.

Oh, you were hoping for some violent showdown? Me blowing up a terror cell? I'm not superhuman, you know. I sent the Finnish police an anonymous tip about "Mutawah" and took the bus back to my home country.

And THAT was the end of my engagement in the War on Terror.

continued in Dispatch 017..

September 11, 2001.

"HAKKER: DISPATCHES" is (c) A.R.Yngve 1989, 2003, 2004.

This is a work of fiction. The characters and actions described herein are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons and events is coincidental. This work of fiction is not intended to incite to the violent and/or criminal acts described herein.

H.Ellison no longer exists.