The Cyber Directive Imperative, by Tom Clancy


NSA Agent Rachel Jefferson, a Black woman, stepped onto the small elevator in an anonymous office building in downtown Chicago. She typed her three digit passcode onto a hidden keypad, and then began her swift descent into the sub basement where the hidden Cyber Ops Center was located.

The doors opened, and she was face to face with a large, square-jawed man in black fatigues holding a Heckler and Koch MP5K sub machine-gun chambered in 9mm with a single point sling and ‘red dot’ close range scope.

“I will need to see and check your badge.” he said in a polite but stern British accent. He was on loan from the Special Air Service, the premier British counter-terrorism unit. Like a true professional, he always checked her credentials, even though they had been throwing back ‘pints’ at the bar only a few nights previously. That night, she had impressed him and his mates with her knowledge of the color of the famed boathouse at Hereford, which she had worked out of while chasing Jihadists a few years ago [Editor’s note: See “Direct Impingement: Queen’s Rook” for more details].

She pulled her badge out of her purse and presented it for inspection.

“I notice you’re carrying a Colt .45 M1911 on your hip. Guess you really want to make sure they stay dead, huh? I’m a pretty good shot with mine, we should go to the range together some time.” His eyes widened. Clearly he was impressed by her knowledge and good taste in firearms.

She took her badge back and entered the Cyber Ops Center. It was nothing like in Hollywood films, where serious looking people in suits ran back and forth in the dark with a bunch of big maps and screens on the wall. Here, in the real world, they rarely shouted and were allowed to wear jeans twice a week.

Frank, one of the section chiefs, walked up to her. “We got a few hits off the ‘Nux this morning. We think it might be North Korea.” He was referring, of course, to the slang term for ‘Linux’ which is a software app that is popular among hackers. Many of their most important leads came from off-the-shelf commercial software such as that, rather than government programs and equipment that their adversaries had countermeasures against. Try telling that to Congress when it’s time to get funding, she thought.

“Keep an eye on it. I need to go brief the brass about the latest malware zero-day code.” “Roger, boss.” Ten minutes later she was in the briefing room, addressing several General officers from the Pentagon, department heads from all the three letter agencies, and an aide who would report her briefing directly to the President.

“As you can see on the screen, the zero-day code looks like a regular website.” she said. “But just like a surgeon, a skilled Cyber Ops hacker can look INSIDE the ‘patient’ to see the infection within. A surgeon uses an X-ray machine, but we use a little trick called ‘Inspect Element’. See what happens when I deploy Inspect Element on the site.” She right-clicked, and scrolled to the option, and left-clicked.

The room gasped as the website seemed to split apart, showing the secrets lying within.
“At first glance, the code appears normal, but when you scroll down… then you can see the site of the infection. See, the text is red. That’s how you know.” There was concerned muttering throughout the room. “Who is responsible for this, Agent Jefferson?” a general asked.

“It’s supposed to look like the Russians… but I believe Jihadists are to blame. America’s oldest enemy.” and She was referring, of course, to the Barbary Pirate War, when Islamist ships would capture sailors on the high seas for ransom. Marine Lieutenant Presley O-Bannon had marched across the desert into Tripoli to put a stop to them, which was later enshrined in the opening line of the Marine Corps Hymn. Rachel’s father had told her that story before bed every night for twenty years, because his dad had been a supply clerk in the Marines at Camp Lejeune during the invasion of Panama. The President’s aide stood up, smoothed her dress, and spoke out in a deep baritone (she was transgender).

“Do you have anything to back up this allegation? The President will want hard evidence!” She boomed. Good for you, Rachel thought, impressed that such a diverse person commanded so much respect. As far as Rachel was concerned, so long as your sole loyalty was to the United States of America, you were alright in her book. “The proof ot it’s right here now.” Rachel ‘scrolled’ it with the text down and also with the computer mouse’s scroll wheel. “You see this squiggly text right here? That’s not computer code… or English. Or Russian. It’s Arabic. We think it might be a verse from the Koran. We’ve sent it to our experts for further evaluation.” “The Koran, that’s the Muslim holy book!” one of them said, eyes wide. They all of course knew that Muslims are a peaceful people, but all it takes is a few bad apples to spoil thousands of years of civilization and stuff.

“Agent Jefferson, you have our full backing. Get to the bottom of this, whatever it takes!”
“Aye aye, ma’am. Semper Fidelis!” Rachel said, smiling with the thrill of the hunt in her eyes.