Chapter 8

 

Ayda Khoury

Maryland City, Maryland

 

I have IRC tabs open watching the AnonOps channel shitstorm over who posted the name of someone that was in-country. Cmd+Ctrl posts the link to Alex Hart’s Facebook page in the chat channel, and I get to see Hart again, smiling in front of tourist attractions, and wonder if he’s already dead because I picked the wrong option, trying to find him ourselves and feed information back to the Agency instead of going to Turkey.

Grounds is arms-dealing to mass killers in the name of fighting Assad. It’s been taken down but damage is done. No one thinks Hart is my fault. It’s the domestic spying scandal. I’m the scapegoat for their fake liberal guilt. It’s primary season, time for them to look busy. WTB sympathetic rep.

Maybe I can’t buy a rep at a price I can afford, but the image of Omar trading game gold for one House Representative and sending him to me to keep in my inventory makes me smile a bit.

Whereas you only have real liberal guilt. Is it your fault the NSA can't write a TOS? Let's write one. Terms of use of the United States. You are hereby granted a nonexclusive, limited license...

While Omar looks for Brooke Kinman’s login and sends me his service’s instructions for working around the Agency’s two-factor authentication, I take Kolda’s advice. I look up voting records and histories for the members of the House Intelligence Committee. I’m already worried about myself, as though Samir didn’t have to talk to me through a cutout and Farah hadn’t pitched me to find Alex Hart. It should have taken me longer to revert to selfish type. A day, at least. A week. A lifetime.

It's the stupid smiley face, I type to Omar. Nobody remembers Don’t Be Evil.

The presentation slide with the diagram of how we hacked Google, complete with hand-drawn evil smiley face was leaked as part of the Snowden cache, kicking off the trial by press that’s turning into a trial by Congress. I’d met him, briefly. And not shared my password with him, unlike some other unfortunates. He was cute, until he turned out to be an egomaniac who wanted to be known as a hero, or maybe a hero who let the press feed his egomania.

I tell myself his motives were wrong, and I sided with the NSA over him and called for his head too, because that’s what it cost me to fight for Mom and Samir, and I may be a hacktivist but I’m not a traitor, but he wasn’t the Alex Hart leak, and he redacted names. A spy’s spy to the end. Even if he was a contractor like Farah.

Maybe Snowden did, I admit.

We'd go to Russia and kill him, types Omar. The sacred will of God is not codified in an executive order here.

You’d do it to piss off Russia.

Our enemy and Qatar’s, still wielding Middle Eastern armies to fight Cold War battles with us, this time in Syria.

Found it! types Omar. He gives me Brooke’s password, and the IMSI list for good measure, along with the ancient BusinessWeek cover, the malicious smiley face with the Don’t Be Evil caption in Google colors. He remembers Don’t Be Evil.

Nobody can not be evil, he types. The best you can do is not be especially evil, with whatever talents the nature/nurture lottery gave you.

A minimum standard at which I failed miserably on several counts. Stop, destructive, do something useful. I examine the IMSI list.

Didn’t they take the battery out of his phone? Omar asks.

I’m not looking for him. I’m looking for El-Shafei the Intercessor.

Shit. You do not have small targets. If you want a counter-hostage though, I’ve got good news, Al-Manar is here covering Friends of Syria.

They let them in?

Al-Manar is a Shi’a news station. Called The Beacon in Lebanese, it’s the press arm of Hezbollah. Real news, sports coverage, lots of propaganda, some TV dramas I’ve watched but don't quite understand. My parents can speak Lebanese, but I speak Fusha like I learned in church and college. I talk like a textbook and not like I come from anywhere.

Zara bint Hussein is here, says Omar. Under false ID, but I’m not giving her away. She’s just as hot in person.

Zara bint Hussein’s podcast is audio only.

Don’t be a creep. And we don’t take hostages either.

What do you think the prisoner exchange industry is?

No seriously, what is she doing there? Doesn’t Al-Manar think they’re all a bunch of terrorists?

The answer to what they’re doing there is obvious, though. Giving cover for travel to the team that kidnapped Alex Hart.

It’s for the podcast, says Omar. The blood of the martyrs cries out for peace and so forth. Did you see the new one?

Zara bint Hussein’s reportage for Al-Manar is mainstream for the Hezbollah Party—which is to say anti-Israeli, anti-American Resistance politics—but her podcast is all incisive domestic policy coverage.

Omar listens to it, for the lulz, he says, like watching bad campy horror, and because his government owns one of their competitors, Al Jazeera. I listen to it for work and to practice parsing colloquial Lebanese. I was kind of a fan.

Last one I heard was the garbage crisis, I say. It was good, too. It was about the government treating everywhere outside Beirut as irrelevant and dumping its trash in Naameh without holding up its end of the landfill deal. The comments on her Twitter were vitriolic in response, pointing out that the Hezbollah Party held Parliament seats and hadn’t fixed the garbage problem either, accusing them of neglecting domestic politics in Lebanon while they fight Iran’s battles in Syria.

She’s posted a new one. She rhapsodizes about Vienna as a victory for God. She might burst into song at any moment. Why are you negotiating with people who kidnapped your officer again?

Hezbollah is not Iran, I tell him. It’s Lebanon. Honestly, with its own press, army, and social services, it may hold Parliament seats, but it’s basically its own state.

You mean like the US isn’t the Free Syrian Army?

Apparently we’re not. We weren’t invited, remember? Looks like they’re nationalists after all. I want an operation—you and me, not Anon—something of the Party’s we can threaten if they don’t release him. Gotta outweigh Hart’s own intelligence value.

Well I mean, obvs we threaten to dox El-Shafei.

In Omar’s room at DEF CON, over my first ever alcoholic drink, while we statted characters in incredibly granular Eclipse Phase, I broke one of the very few rules of Anonymous: “thou shalt not reveal thy identity.” I told him I’d been part of Anonymous’s Operation Payback until it turned into Avenge Assange, who really didn’t deserve avenging, and Omar said he did Avenge Assange, because if we only protected the right to trial of people we liked, they weren’t really rights, they were earned privileges. And you can’t earn rights.

I fell for him a little bit and he let me kiss his body and didn't make me kiss him on the mouth, and we played Eclipse Phase tipsy, which was great, because how else do you play a preference-utilitarian AI and a virtue-ethicist psychosurgeon uplifted octopus?

We agreed about the rules of piracy. Piracy is a political action. It’s a real weapon that does real damage. It is for acquiring things that are not for sale, protesting outrageous price, or protesting TOSes. If you pirate something to try it out and you like it, you buy it to encourage the making of more. That’s just good consequentialism.

He told me he’d been one of the Anons who did Operation Intifada. I had too. Because you’ve got to fight the bogeyman, even though the Stuxnet malware the Israelis used against Iran was a really impressive piece of work, and you have to admire design like that. We took shots at government sites during the Gaza airstrikes, but Israel’s military signals intelligence section, Unit 8200, shut everyone down hard.

We’d both been part of the Persian Bay project, giving away hacking and anonymization advice, tricks for uploading files through the Iranian firewall, a running list of the best Green Movement activist twitter accounts during Ahmadinejad’s stolen election.

Identifier phrase for next time? he asks.

For thematics, how about “I will use my powers for good…”?

Works for me. I think in light of the Agency accusations, you should get mirror image, “I will not be evil.” Tell me if you find El-Shafei!