Plot Synopsis - Spoilers
#KillAydaKhoury is almost a War on Terror-era spy thriller played straight, but is emphatically not about religious fanaticism, based instead in the Cold War literary tradition of competing national interests.
It’s the eve of the nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, and a known Hezbollahi has just kidnapped American CIA station chief Raoul Felice. Iran denies all financial and political involvement with their proxy’s actions and claims the terrorist El-Shafei is acting on his own as a rogue element.
U.S. negotiator Jack Kolda is Felice’s old friend from the last time they spoke to the Iranian government—the hostage crisis that became the Iran-Contra scandal. Kolda isn’t letting Felice go without a fight, but neither is he letting terrorist intervention ruin his political triumph, the Iran nuclear deal. He needs to find Hart, quickly and quietly. Kolda turns to the agency scandalously known for its ability to track anyone, the NSA.
Former Anonymous hacktivist Ayda Khoury joined the NSA to be a white hat, but after the domestic spying program and scandal, she doesn’t feel like one. Kolda’s offering her a chance to be a hero by tracking down a kidnapped spy. Ayda reaches into her bag of tricks and pulls out an exploit for tracking cellular phones by their International Mobile Subscriber Numbers. She can tell Kolda where Felice and El-Shafei were before El-Shafei pulled the battery out of Felice’s phone, but will have to find another way to find out where they are now.
Ayda turns for help to Omar, her former lover and officer of the nominally friendly Qatari intelligence service. Unknown to Ayda, Omar has been ordered to scuttle the U.S.-Iranian negotiations at all cost. El-Shafei has unwittingly done most of the work for him. All Omar needs is to convince the American public that El-Shafei was under orders from Iran, and keep Ayda from finding Felice before the negotiations begin. So Omar offers to help Ayda verify El-Shafei’s connection to Iran, which he faithfully does. Then, hiding behind the mask of Anonymous, he leaks the information, posts Ayda’s chat logs and internal presentation slides linking her to the American domestic spying program, and doxes Ayda.
Kolda thinks this is a perfect opportunity. Ayda, an angry former privacy hacktivist, doxed and scapegoated for domestic spying, is an obvious choice for a false defector as bait for El-Shafei. Kolda piles Ayda with false information seeded with enough verifiable truth to look good for El-Shafei and Hezbollah, and sends her into the cold with a promise: Compromise El-Shafei, find out where he’s keeping Raoul Felice, and CIA will help her get her life back.
El-Shafei takes the bait, but demands Ayda prove her intent to defect. He’s gotten information from the captive Felice that American Hellfire missiles are being transported into Syria from Turkey through the Bab Al Hawa border crossing. Hoping to protect his allies fighting in Syria from a fiery death, he drafts Ayda into helping him destroy a border crossing many have tried to bomb and failed, the Bab Al Hawa. Alone with El-Shafei and watched too closely to warn her service, Ayda becomes a complicit victim in the bombing of a border crossing.
Ayda concocts a clever lie, telling El-Shafei that there were no Hellfires, that the United States had a falling out with the rebel terrorist group controlling the Bab Al Hawa, and that the United States wanted them dead and El-Shafei did their dirty work for them. Ayda uses this claim to blackmail El-Shafei into releasing Felice. She won. But now she’s a wanted terrorist who can’t go home.
Omar offers her an escape—defect to Qatar, be debriefed—like a friendly defector, he promises, not a prisoner, and he and his service will protect her from both the United States and El-Shafei.
Ayda accepts Omar’s plan, makes a desperate run from El-Shafei’s grasp, and into the waiting arms of the Qatari-Saudi alliance, who are still trying to prevent the impending death of U.S. reliance on them to counterbalance the regional power of Iran. Omar, the Qatari intelligence service, and their Saudi allies, want to know everything Ayda can tell them about how to compromise the secure communications methods she and the NSA had prepared for the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations.
El-Shafei is far off-script according to Iran and his home country of Lebanon. Iran still wants the nuclear negotiations to succeed, which means they have to be seen to stop El-Shafei. When the Hezbollah Party and the Iranian government disavow El-Shafei’s actions and declare him a wanted terrorist, he has nowhere to run.
Kolda has his negotiations back, now being held in Tehran, and he has a plan to pitch a potential high-value asset for CIA—El Shafei.
El-Shafei needs somewhere to escape to, and Jack Kolda, the negotiator who dealt with Hezbollah in the past, is starting to look like the best of several bad options. But Jack Kolda wants his agent Ayda back, and she’s being interrogated by Omar. If he wants sanctuary from the Americans, El-Shafei will have to rescue Ayda.
El-Shafei gets help from Ayda’s old friends in Anonymous to locate her, tracks down and confronts Omar and his men, and rescues Ayda, but Omar escapes, and he’s still got one more trick up his sleeve.
Omar, who leaked Felice’s identity as chief of station to El-Shafei and doxed Ayda, knows the ugly truth behind Kolda’s determination to see the Iran deal through. Before the negotiations began, and unknown to the American President and Secretary of State, Kolda had received a lucrative offer from an oil firm with a private military contractor arm--contingent on his closing the deal, ending the economic sanctions, and acquiring the company the right to exploit oil reserves in Kavir, Iran.
As Ayda and El-Shafei run to Tehran for Kolda’s protection, Omar blackmails Kolda with proof that Kolda broke the embargo. Omar threatens to leak the information, which would send Kolda and everyone under his protection home in handcuffs. Omar’s demand is that Kolda scuttle the negotiations, make unreasonable demands Iran will not meet, and prevent the deal from being signed. Meanwhile, Omar threatens Ayda, reminding her that she has enemies from all sides; the Americans, the Hezbollahis, the Saudis, the Qataris, and the sympathizers with every side. He threatens to dox her family in Lebanon, exposing them to the kind of violence that befell the family of a prominent Hezbollah critic.
As Kolda arranges to get himself replaced as lead negotiator on the nuclear negotiations and admits publicly to the Kavir oil deal, falling on his sword on international television, Ayda uses her old private channel with Omar to make him a bitter mirror of the offer he had made her--defect to the United States, be debriefed, and live captive but safe forever after, or be outed as the architect of the anti-American operation that used Anonymous as a private army to tear down the first round of Iranian nuclear negotiations. She reminds him of the assault, harassment, arrest, and exile she faced, and promises him the same. Anonymous, she reminds him, would not like to find out they had been made a tool of a state intelligence service.
Omar refuses. Summoning the courage to face Anonymous IRC for the first time since her doxing, Ayda reveals to her Anonymous former friends that Omar had exploited them to kill the Iran deal for the Qatari intelligence service. She gathers allies in IRC to shut Omar down, but now Anonymous knows they were used as a blunt instrument by a Qatari spy, and they promptly tell Hezbollah and Iran who to blame.
Trying to flee Lebanon, Omar is stopped at a blockade and pulled from his car by Hezbollah.
Ayda gives a last tearful interview to the press and returns to the United States to face Congress.