Chapter 1


Ayda Khoury

Maryland City, Maryland

I should be in Vienna, getting the secure communications suite ready for the U.S.-Iran negotiations. Instead I’m in low-rent suburbia, waiting a few days longer to give a deposition at my little brother’s custody hearing, assuming he and Dad even show.

Or I could at least be at work at NSA Headquarters in Fort Meade, instead of at the computer in my tiny studio apartment, missing the next bus to the office because I’m trying to find location data leaked from my little brother’s Instagram account, or from the geographic-targeted ads that show up in a handful of his mobile games.

Mom and I know a couple of things. Samir and Dad are not at Dad’s new condo, and Samir hasn’t been to school in a couple of days, I assume because my dad’s afraid of custodial counter-kidnapping. Samir won’t answer any of my texts or emails, and if I ever get to see my brother again, I’m going to kill him for walking out of Mom’s house and getting willingly into Dad’s car.

Mom called me afterwards and just cried for an hour, and now she’s on speakerphone on my particle board computer desk, asking me, “Why don’t you use that tracking thing you talked about at the conference?”

“Because it’s illegal, Mom.” Mom wants me to use the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, a unique ID number associated with Samir’s phone, which I have to admit I wrote down when Dad bought it for him, to track the cell phone and find out where Dad took him.

Last year, she patiently sat through two rehearsals of my DEF CON talk, and laughed in all the right places, but I think she still doesn't understand how resource-intensive that process is. I'd need the NSA's equipment to do that, and I've seen plenty of people go down for using Agency resources for LOVEINT, spying on their boyfriends, their girlfriends, their exes.

“Don’t give me that. You did what’s-it-called, Operation Payback like your father.”

I do not want to hear about how I’m like him right now. She’s the one who was always telling me not to get involved in Dad’s Anonymous operations, but it was the only thing we had in common. She asked me, back when I first learned to DDoS, why I’d want to use what she called terrorist tactics, like anyone could compare denial of service to bombing a building. She said there were no good reasons to do evil, only the sin of relevance deceiving people into thinking there are.

 “Okay, how about ‘the office is full of Internal Affairs; I will get caught right now?’”

The Agency is in full crisis mode after the Snowden leaks, as though the domestic spying program had surprised anyone but us. I joined the NSA to rek blackhats and protect the good guys, not spy on my countrymen, but I did what I was told, and now the chief counsel is advising us all to keep our heads down, let the Director face the upcoming Congressional hearing on our behalf, and let it all blow over. Despite everything I said about the evil of the domestic program, right now I would love to use the Agency superpowers to find Samir. But I’m paying the custody lawyer bills, and I can’t afford to be fired like the rest of the LOVEINT-convicted skiddies.

“Did you message him on X-Box Live?”

“Yes.” Though I didn’t expect or get an answer. If he’s logged in at Dad’s, he’ll have the sense to expect Dad to see his messages.

There’s only silence from Samir’s app data, nothing to indicate he’s even logged in, in the last three days. Most likely Dad’s had the sense to take the phone away and stick it in a metal case. I cracked Google for the NSA, but Dad makes me look like a brand-new script kiddie. He’d definitely have remembered to get Samir’s phone out of the equation.

A little Anonymous methodology might help, though. I log onto the #AnonOps Internet Relay Chat channel to see if rootcrysis is online. I could PM him and ask if he’s gotten his Blackphone yet—I’m still on the waitlist—and figured out how to own it from the outside, like I know he’d do right away. Dad’s got a Blackphone, and likely hasn’t turned his own phone off, even if he took Samir’s.

No rootcrysis in the #AnonOps IRC. No Dad, either, unless one or both of them is here under a different pseudonym than their usuals. The #AnonOps chat is derailed this morning by an internal debate on what constitutes freedom of information versus reckless endangerment, and a link to Par:AnoIA, the Anonymous-flagged answer to WikiLeaks, shows why.

After all the Snowden leaks, the latest leak to rock Washington isn't even about us at NSA. Private e-mails from the CIA's Chief of Ankara Station in Turkey are posted on Par:AnoiA, full and unredacted. They give away one of his Turkish assets and the chief of station's own pseudonym, the intentionally unmemorable 'Alexander Hart'.

This is a false-flag, types a user named Cmd+Ctrl. We dont get people killed.

I log off. “I’ll try again later, I promise,” I tell my mom. “I’ve got to get to work.”