0's and 1's: Book 1 CBDT (Cyber-Bullying Defense Team)
Learning the location of the meeting was not the hard part, since dad never locks his computer despite being a bank examiner with at least $10 billion dollars of client information in his computer at any time. He's good at his job, but he really should invest in a biometric fingerprint lock for his laptop.
The hard part was getting to the place the meeting is being held, City Hall, without being seen or identified in any possible way. If I am going to do what I need to do, it has to be completely off the grid.
Luckily, the meeting was at night, so I had extra cover and no one really pays attention to a teenager with a gray hoodie riding his bike at night as long as he is on the road. Of course, if they caught me, it wouldn't be a huge deal, but my plans would be ruined as I'd leave behind an incident log and video surveillance. I needed to create a recursive program that would affect city based traffic and other cameras to repeat intermittent intervals of 30-90 seconds of previously recorded video as I passed to cover my trail. It needed to effect nearby cameras up to a 3 block radius, which would cause any search of an origin point to be a 10 mile wide net. To enter City Hall without notice, I used a simple modified key fob to open a side door and the recursive program will keep the cameras rolling backward.
Jack Bauer would eat his heart out for how I got the mayor's attention, along with two other people I wanted to get into a private meeting. My dad's smartphone has a self-deleting app for daisy chain based search that would connect to the nearest Bluetooth-enabled device until it reaches the target's phones. Once the app was in, I set up a private message for each of the participants from each other's phones to meet immediately after the conference has ended to discuss some developments they'd rather not share. I timed my arrival to be approximately 5 minutes after the primary meeting was over to avoid contact. My private meeting would be in city hall's empty kitchen area, since this meeting was not a catered event.
I didn't have to wait long in the kitchen as my three guests arrived. Other than Mayor Chance, Chief of Police Paul Wayne and Federal Judge Henry Thatcher walked in. The Mayor and Chief of Police had perplexed expressions until they saw me. Judge Thatcher nodded slightly in acknowledgement. I knew Judge Thatcher would have anticipated me to come to this event one way or another, so I had left a little hint in his message to indicate it was me who was the real messenger. I referenced his love of "Golden Graham" cereal, which was actually Ryan's favorite. It also allowed me to add an extra level of inducement. If the three met and realized it was not one of them, who sent the message, then Judge Thatcher would ask them to join him. Ryan always said his dad knew how to read in between the lines, so I was betting on him to be my ace.
As for Mayor Chance and Chief Wayne, I had met them a year ago, when the press did a story on me and Ryan for being the youngest people to be featured on Fortune Magazine. There was a big fancy lunch for us with many speeches from people I never even knew existed. Mayor Chance seemed really proud and supportive, giving Ryan and me room as we were being suffocated by gay rights advocates. I guess it was probably like old freedom riders watching President Obama step across the podium to accept the oath of office. When big changes happen, people who fought so hard to create it just can't help but gaze in wonder as their dreams are finally realized.
Too bad, all the dreams of mice and men are usually for naught as reality sets in to a new struggle.
Judge Thatcher was the first to address me, "Hunter, why did you ask us to come here? It's an awful lot of cloak and dagger to go through."
I took a huge breath and began, "Sorry, I needed to speak with all three of you at once, both for what I am about to reveal and what I am hoping to create with your approvals. I do not believe your current measures or your discussed measures tonight will be of use to the LGBT teens that you want to protect."
Chief Paul Wayne frowned at me and snorted, "Young man, we have seen bullies before and we have fought them back. This is not news to me or to Mayor Chance. I grew up black and gay; you don't go through that without getting a few licks from people who think they are better than you, because they are of a paler skin tone or a superior moral authority. We can endure it as we always have."
Mayor Chance gave a cordial nod towards me, "Thank you, Mr. Douglas, but I do not believe we need your help in this matter."
Judge Thatcher scowled at both men, "Guys, my son's partner is standing in front of you right now and he went to a lot of trouble to get your attention. I know we've spent the last two hours arguing back and forth on ads and school enrichment programs, we're tired and miserable. I know you want to go home, but please hear him out and give him just a few more minutes of your time."
I smiled at him and started again with a firmer tone. I can't fuck this up. "Thank you, Mr. Thatcher, and I just want to tell you Ryan could not have asked for a better father than you. What happened to him has hurt me a lot, but I know you are probably in just as much pain. Mayor Chance, Chief Wayne, there is more to Ryan and the other kid's stories than bullying. They weren't pushed around, beaten, or attacked in the normal sense that has been seen in your generation. We are dealing with something I don't think either of you have seen before. You can't hope to stop this kind of slaughter with ads, marches, or information alone. Their deaths were caused by coordinated attacks, not random bigotry."
Mayor Chance's jaw dropped and Chief Wayne cleared his throat quickly, "You are making a very strong accusation. Do you have proof of whom or what coordinated these attacks on these innocent kids?"
I brought out my iPad Air and began the presentation, "We all have seen traditional bullying: teasing, harassment, and sometimes violent actions by lone wolf students. While effective as scare tactics in campaigns of moderate terror; they also create negative public reactions and can be traced back easily to individuals and groups." I let the point stand as I turned to my next page. "However, what we are dealing with today is something a lot worse. Cyber Bullying is what popular media calls it, but in these attacks, it was more akin to terrorism than your standard school age bullies. Imagine a constant attack on a person without knowing who they are and where they are attacking from. There is no defense by moving away from them or trying to ignore them, because once they fix you as their target of information attacks, there is no escape."
Mayor Chance chimed in. "Wouldn't traditional ad campaigns reduce this? Heterosexual school age kids by in large are good decent human beings, who are just taught bad lessons. Positive reinforcement could fix the problem at its source. The baseline is not new; it's just a new type of attack."
I shook my head, "Only if this were the work of kids alone, Mayor Chance. Again, traditional thinking is that bullying occurs between kids. Cyber bullying has no limits between ages. Ryan was targeted, because he was smart and had a moderate profile alongside me as rising stars among the gay community. However, his background psychological indicators would show he was more susceptible to these forms of attacks, which I am guessing these guys use as a litmus test on who are good targets. These other kids were also targeted for similar reasons. Someone must have hacked into hospital databases and stole the standard psychological evaluation form data."
Chief Wayne spoke up next, "Are you telling me you have identified adults, who are doing this against kids. That's fucking ridiculous. Why would they do that?"
I nodded in agreement with his disgust, "The question of why is answered by "how" they actually are able to do this." I slid my fingers to the penultimate slide with the people I had identified, "All these people were involved with Ryan's accounts being hacked, his text messages, and the false threats of a bombing. They tried to hide their activity using proxies and mirror sites, but I was able to perform a deep net search on their activities. It took a long time to dig through the old data; I had started doing this when Ryan was first hacked, figuring it was some random jerks from school. The more dead ends I found, the more I realized these people were not just random bullies. After Ryan died, I worked on my app to give warnings prior to hacking, which also gave me multi-point IP's to extrapolate locations based on the beta versions that the recent victim's cell phones obtained. When I knew who they were, I easily figured out their internet traffic logs. They are all part of a social network, the Christian Initiative to Secure Society, as online members. Each person I identified possessed a unique set of skills and held tasks like an assembly line from information hacking to data corruption to forging credentials."
Judge Thatcher spoke up this time with alarm and anger, "Hunter, are you telling me some fundamentalist crackpots killed Ryan? Why didn't you come to me with this information? I swear I'll burn these people down to the ground!"
I wish it was that simple. "Judge Thatcher, if you take a look at my chart, all these people are "connected" to this organization, but are not "official" members. The leaders have strong anti-gay opinions, but they don't have any physical links to these people. Also, there are millions of members on this network and most of them are harmless. Beyond that, the laws of the United States, including RICO conspiracy laws, would never reach the leadership of this organization. This is what I mean; we're seeing a new front open on the fight for gay rights and in fact basic human rights. If I had to guess on why this front was open, I'd say it was due to people like you, Mayor Chance and Chief Wayne, we've gained a measure of physical authority and acceptance, which cannot be shaken loose through traditional means. Instead, attacking the weakest and most vulnerable of our community would make the most sense. I'd use the analogy of lions and antelope herds. If a herd is too strong to attack directly, you go after the weakest first to reduce the numbers until you progress onto bigger targets. By attacking gay teens, who have the least experience and the most volatile emotional states, they can grind us out by attrition."
Mayor Chance became crestfallen as the reality set in, "How do you deal with that? Hunter, I understand what you mean now, this is a major threat, but we're late to the game and I just don't see how we could fight back those lions. We could warn people, but without direct evidence, it is likely that we would be sued for slander. They've insulated themselves against recourse and without physical proof the voters would never believe it anyway."
Chief Wayne was defiant, "Judge Thatcher, give me a warrant and authorization to do a wiretap, we can build a case and take these guys out. They're hiding behind imaginary walls; we got to take them down a notch. They'll slip up eventually, we'll have them."
Judge Thatcher, having regained his composure, sighed. "Hunter's right, there is no way we can prove that these people were linked with this group. We can't even arrest the individuals that Hunter identified based on forensic information and data analysis, because none of that is actually allowed as evidence. Paul, if you try to get a wiretap or forcibly question these guys, their lawyers will call foul and say you are being a gay activist. The voters will demand your head on a platter for use of police powers in a politically motivated assault against a religious organization. They'd be right, too, since only a portion of their members or loose affiliates are committing these atrocities. They created this thing to promote thorough deniability, while maximizing their attack profiles. I've served my country as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, but I never thought I would see the day when our own people would act like terrorists, hiding behind innocent civilians to commit their crimes. What has happened to this country, what has happened to us? Most of us aren't extremists, but we're being ruined by extremism."
Looking around at their dismal expressions, I knew this was my time to pitch, "What we need is a counter strike group of computer savvy individuals. Where they use hacking and disinformation, we will repair and use truth to fight back. Dedicated individuals who would be enough to match them move for move. I think gay teens with the right psychological and technical aptitude probably would be the most ideal subset as we're the ones facing these guys directly and are closer to the potential victims."
Mayor Chance looked at me in amazement, "I like your idea, but why not adults with more computer skills and experience in law enforcement?"
I knew this question would come, "There's two reasons. First, we're dealing with people who are technologically capable of hacking into most standard systems and most likely have kept tabs on law enforcement in case their links were ever tracked. By utilizing outside resources like me, they won't be able to anticipate us coming after them. It'd be like the lambs going after the wolf. Second, without disrespect sir, this is our fight. It is our friends, family, and loved ones who are being attacked. We've got more at stake and more to defend than a CSI tech or a beat cop running down leads."
Judge Thatcher walked across the room and placed an arm on my shoulder, "Hunter, what you are asking is impossible. We're the adults in charge of your safety and your well-being. If we agree to your terms, you'd be putting yourself and people like you in grave danger of reprisal attacks."
I had thought of a contingency for that as well, "We won't be known by anyone, except you. Mayor Chance should launch his new campaign to fight bullying as a smokescreen for recruitment of our team members. Psychological and technical testing in the form of scenarios and games will be used on a special website I would add to your main site as a secure redirect. People who have the right profile will be offered an anonymous invitation to a secure chat area, where they will be offered the choice to join. Once accepted as members, they'll never know other members' identities, nor who you are or who I am. This will keep all information compartmentalized and secure. Also, I'll pay for all the equipment and do the technical build out, so there is no funding question from state or local officials. I've got relative freedom with a massive R&D budget that could afford additional expenses of a million dollars without questions."
Chief Wayne nodded, but then shook his head, "Kid, it's a good idea, but you can't arrest people. If I am not wrong, you are still in high school and under 18 years of age. Even if I deputize your team, it would be a bad precedent."
I turned to Chief Wayne, "We don't need to arrest anyone or enforce the law. We're merely performing information gathering and civic engagement in that respect. Or more precisely, you might think of us as Rangers. My dad is a big science fiction fan and he got me into this show about a futuristic space station that becomes the center of a big war. Before any lasers were fired though, these people called Rangers would gather information and intelligence for the leaders to make decisions and plan their next moves against some really nasty aliens. What I am suggesting is that we become your "Rangers". We'll try to keep the peace, but not enforce the peace. We will operate within the laws of this city and the country at large, but we will remain independent of any current law enforcement activity. We are an agent of the police, not a member of the police."
I butchered a few direct quotes, but I could see they all got my idea as Chief Wayne acceded, "If that's what you want, I'd appreciate the help at taking down these scumbags."
Mayor Chance shook his head in agreement, "The anonymity will keep you guys safe, the separate funding source will also help as the city budget wouldn't be impacted, and it sounds like you have come up with all the contingencies already."
We finished the meeting very soon afterwards. Judge Thatcher offered me a ride home, but I told him that to keep this meeting completely off the grid, I would need to head over to an underage party that started 30 minutes ago and probably would be stopped in an hour due to intoxication issues. Judge Thatcher winked at me as he understood that I had created a suitable alibi for this night's events. Not only will there be no evidence of me going to city hall; there would be considerable evidence that I was still going through grief over Ryan and taking dangerous steps into teenage alcoholism. The same group that went after Ryan would not view me as a threat, just like I planned.
If you like this story, please feel free to send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org