Home' Technology Review : March April 2007 Contents TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
These were the cutups in middle school, the teenage
pregnancies, the try-everything-once crowd. A little
older now, a little more God-fearing and respectful
of real realities. Solid.
After the initial urry of organization, I kept these
folks busy every other weekend or so (kinda like it used
to be for the national guard). I kept my own elite group
busier, if only with training exercises, several days or
nights a week. Before long we were a pretty tight unit.
I had already worked with G, and he introduced
me to C. And when I rst recr uited B, she told me
about M, with whom she had ser ved two tours. M was
trained to pilot UAV combat drones, but lately she was
back at home styling hair and raising a kid.
M had three kids, actually, but the older two had
lived with their granny since they were born. Only the
baby, a spoiled eight-year-old, lived with M. I found
the kid hard to fool, but easy to bribe.
In late 2002, one of our wizards presented us with a
tantalizing what-if. He owned a startup that had devel-
oped a gobsmackingly elegant algorithm for creating
and identifying pretty good voiceprints from poor-
quality audio. It processed voices acoustically with
no regard to the language spoken and no use of key-
What if we trained all the phones in the world to
recognize bin Laden s voice? His and his people s.
And whenever a phone anywhere recognized one of
these voices speaking into it, it would discreetly send
us a text message with its GPS coördinates and call
details. And what if phones could be trained to do this
remotely by a phone virus? Voiceprint libraries could
be updated automatically. It looked as if we had nally
found our 21st-century Yankee box cutter.
Because of the rewalls we had set in place, I learned
who was in other cells and groups only on a need-to-
know basis. Some of our groups included young people
at the beginning of their careers. Like young people
everywhere, they sometimes let their issues get in the
way of their work. On occasion, my team was directed to
remind individuals of the con dential nature of our mis-
sion. One such action involved a young computer genius
in the Paci c Northwest. I sent M out there to investi-
gate (Granny taking the kid temporarily). She reported
back a few days later that the genius was a fool for pillow
talk. To hear him speak, he was practically in charge of
a counterterror task force. M also reported that the real
loves of his life were his two Jack Russell terriers.
discretion. G did a Godfather on the pooches, and
genius boy woke up the next morning with two little
surprised expressions lying on the pillow next to him.
End of bulletproof youth.
When M returned, she was very upset. She asked
if that had really been necessary. Couldn t G have sim-
ply dognapped them for a few days to make a point?
I said I would talk to him about it.
In early 2003, our weekly "News-to-Use" included
three disparate bits of intel that, when put together,
made an intriguing picture: (1) Pakistanis in the tribal
regions were sneezing; (2) a 60-year-old DoD skunk
works project had borne fr uit; and (3) dandelions
can make you high.
(1) Ambrosia, commonly known as ragweed and
native to North and South America, hitched a ride to
Europe in the 19th century. The joy of hay fever has
been spreading across Europe ever since. Apparently,
the winds of recent wars have carried ragweed farther
east, where it has found a suitable niche in the valley
ecosystems of northern Pakistan bordering Afghani-
stan. It s been found in Waziristan province as well,
and as far south as Quetta. We requested specimens
and seeds from an expat cell, and what we received
seemed to be a cross between A. artemisiifolia, the
most widespread species in North America, and A.
dumosa, one that thrives in the Sonoran Desert. The
Pakistani species was said to be a particularly noxious
weed that pumped out clouds of pollen.
(2) Since World War I, the U.S. Ar my s Edgewood
Arsenal and its successor unit have explored the use
of chemicals in warfare, conducting open-air nerve-
gas tests in Maryland and even dosing unsuspecting
soldiers with superhallucinogens. Their perennial
hobbyhorse has been a reliable tr uth ser um, or at
least one better than the problematic sodium pento-
thal. In recent decades much of the unit s preliminary
work has been outsourced to civilian researchers. In
2003, there was buzz of a breakthrough: MDMOEP,
a phenethylamine compound and kissing cousin of
MDMA (or ecstasy). Dubbed Tr ue Confessions, it
was said to induce a state of abject self-reproach. Sub-
jects were anxious to unburden themselves of their
life s misdeeds, and they actively sought out receptive
listeners, including parties they might have injured.
The drug was tested on volunteers and was said to
be safe, with no lasting side e ects. What a boon to
the war on terror! If only it had been ready in time to
avert the Abu Ghraib mess. In any case, the U.S. Ar my
Chemical Corps swooped down on the private lab that
had made the discovery, con scated all records, and
reminded all involved of the Patriot Act.
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