In a colossal auditorium with funky blue lighting, giant video monitors and a sound system fit for a rock band, a tall, thin, well-dressed man stood back stage at the Moscone Conference Center in downtown San Francisco. He walked out to thunderous applause by the audience of IT security Managers at the RSA IT Security Conference.
Featured Speaker: Michael Horniday, Chief Innovation Officer, Google, read the title on his oversized name badge as it caught the bank of overhead lights and cast a blinding reflection out into the audience of several thousand before him.
Michael employed all his charisma to captivate his audience, using stunning visuals and animations to accentuate his points. He highlighted his message with funny stories about the celebrities he had come across in his journey throughout his career. He cracked jokes and interacted with the audience to keep attentions squarely focused on him and his presentation.
“First, Social Networking is no longer about being just social,” he said. “It is about revolutionizing the way human beings communicate, share knowledge and interact throughout their daily lives. The same 20-year-old who grew up chatting and texting superficial stories about parties on the weekends will become a 30-year-old business professional with more meaningful content to share with the world. And they will continue to use the latest human interaction tools to express themselves, make sense of the quadrillion tid-bits of information available and manage their lives using technology.
“Social Network technology, Multi-Dynamic Communications and Lifestyle Management tools will change the way in which people think of themselves as part of a group. A person’s network will start to define who they are more than their allegiance to their employer, their university, their fraternity, even their country and their religion.
“The power of these networks will make or break corporate entities. They will determine the success or failure of new product launches. They will build up new celebrities and tear them down overnight.
“They could affect the outcome of elections and wars. They could bring down an oppressive regime by galvanizing and organizing the subjects. We have seen this happen already.”
Michael referred to riots that took place in Tehran in 2009 and Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 where the demonstrators communicated using Twitter to inform each other where the riots would take place and warn each other as to where the riot police were.
“Look at what is happening right now, as we speak, in Iran and Syria,” he continued. “As much as the governments try to shut them down, technology always finds a way to shine through.”
Michael predicted that when these technologies are finished bringing down dictators and corrupt governments, they will help establish more peaceful relations between different groups including greater collaboration, sharing of ideas and melding of ideologies as understanding grows through shared knowledge and awareness
His second point addressed the rumor that “Privacy” as a concept and a desired state would be dead by the turn of the decade. He described a new concept of selective or tiered privacy that will define the upcoming generation.
“Applications that provide comprehensive and sophisticated privacy controls that can segment different groups of friends and contacts through a wide variety of defined and ad-hoc attributes, will gain popularity and success,” he said. “People will seek out and require increasingly less privacy with their closest and most trusted networks. As their circles expand, they will want detailed control of what they do and don’t share with their various social connection bands. Privacy is not dead, but the concept of one-size fits all privacy will disappear, replaced with a higher premium version of privacy management and control.”
“The next war - World War III - will not take place on land, nor in the air, nor on the water … nor on the Moon,” he joked. “It will take place in cyberspace. No terrorist organization will ever have the resources to truly bring us down through brute force. Sure, they can bomb our bridges, shoot civilians in a mall and poison some water supply somewhere. They can even detonate a nuclear bomb in some major US city. But, as horrific as that may sound, we can handle events such as those. We have resources. We have people. We have technology. And we still have a sense of indignant patriotism that drives us to recover and emerge stronger than before we are attacked. Look how well we have bounced back from September 11th. Yes, it was a devastating blow and anyone who lost a loved one will never be fully recovered from their loss. But as a country, our economy has bounced back. Our military might is as strong as ever. And our intelligence and defenses are that much more in tuned with the new tactics of our enemies.
“The next World War will consist of cyber attacks on our businesses, our banks, our power supplies, our transportation systems and our government. Organized terrorist hacker networks will work on behalf of our enemies and invade our social networking sites. It is happening today.”
Michael referred to a phenomenon that occurred in late 2010 when WikiLeaks published a quarter of a million communications between US foreign diplomats and leaders in Washington and how highly organized networks of hackers nearly brought down Amazon.com, American Express, Apple’s iTunes and several other major Internet staples as well as several US government servers in protest of the jailing of the WikiLeaks founder.
“It won’t be long before terrorists realize how much less resource intensive cyber attacks can be compared to use of human assets for physical attacks,” Michael said. “You think the Egyptians made effective use of technology in rising up to end the 30-year reign of their former President Mubarak? You haven’t seen the full power of human communication unleashed through these technology tools yet.
“If you need any further evidence of this phenomenon, go find Hillary Clinton at the Palisades Mall and ask her what she thinks of the power of rogue social intelligence.
“If Social Networking sites can already affect our election process and they can help oppressed citizens unite and revolt against their corrupt leaders, then these cyber terrorist activities represent the biggest threat to world peace. That’s where you as IT security experts and thought leaders need to focus your energies and attention. World War III is already happening. We’re pitted against Russia and China, Iran and North Korea as well as ISIS and the remnants of Al Queada. And we need to draft each one of you as soldiers fighting for the preservation of this movement toward open communication, sharing and organizing of people’s lives, hopes and dreams, while also shutting down those with intentions to harm the peace and stability of our society.”
As Michael exited the stage to thunderous applause, his assistant Clara thrust herself into his field of vision. She shoved his iPhone into his face and spoke rapidly to the point where Michael couldn’t decipher her words.
“Your sister has been calling, pinging and facing you,” she shouted over the din of the crowd as she nudged him into a private room backstage.
“Is she safe?” his face glossed white, despite knowing the risks. “Is she exposed? Is my cousin with them?”
“Don’t worry,” Clara answered. “He’s in the air now.”
Jeep Zendawi sat in his 2009 Ford Focus, 500 yards from the driveway to the Johnson family home. He had pulled over into a dirt road on the back side of one of the neighbor’s unused and overgrown fields. With the seat arching back at a sharp angle, he stared out at the poorly paved street, watched each passing car and jotted notes in Arabic into a pocket-sized reporter’s notebook.
A large cedar tree and several fully bloomed hydrangea bushes blocked his vehicle from direct view of the modest farmhouse with its three-sided porch and big oak tree out front. He snapped hundreds of photos including shots of Melanie entering, exiting, watering her flowerbeds, walking with her children, playing in the yard with them and even through the windows as she made beds, folded laundry and brushed her hair in her bathroom mirror.
A small piece of ornately designed carpet rested across the dashboard. Jeep closed his eyes, rocked slightly and prayed his third Salat of the day. He had thought about waiting to return to his apartment, but he had a lot to accomplish and he had to get in his prayers when he could. He would martyr his life in the service of Allah today, so he figured he could make his Salahakba in his car to ensure that he complied with his obligations.
The laws of prayer required a clean, pure environment and he had spent much of the morning detailing his car until it shined inside and out like a new purchase, fresh off the lot.
He would complete his fourth Salat as the sun ebbed across the sky in the comfort of the mosque downtown. And his fifth and last would come well after midnight in the burning kitchen of his enemy as she and her family screamed in agony.
He opened his eyes to observe every car that passed. His instructions called him to watch them for three days and make note of the vehicles and people that visit the Johnson home. From his iPad, he logged into their Wi-Fi, accessed a virtual private network that his handlers in Syria had generated, and hacked their e-mail. He read notices about school events, confirmations of purchases they had made, social activities and updates between family members. More importantly, he reviewed details of their schedule and their whereabouts throughout the day. Access to their e-mail and calendar program, as well as various social media sites, enabled him to know when they would come and go, who would be home at which times and where the Senator would be on any given date.
He had visited the street several times over the past few days, each time driving a different car that his uncle had arranged for him to use. In each of his drive-by visits, he counted the cars and gauged the rhythms of Melanie Johnson and her three kids. He memorized the layout of the yard and the distance from the driveway to the front porch. From his partially obscured parking spot, he made a mental map of the position of the windows and the surrounding shrubbery.
At night, he rode his bicycle 20 miles from his apartment in West DesMoines, along various country roads all the way out to Churchville, just to confirm that the eldest daughter regularly returned by her midnight curfew after evenings out with her boyfriend. One night, he watched them from behind the Oak tree on their property as they ambled onto the front porch, moved just out of view from any of the windows and kissed goodnight with her hand on his cheek and his hand just below the little yellow bow in the small of her back.
He could have struck down the entire family at any point. He had their security code. He knew when the black Crown Victoria would be there and when it would pull out at the same time each day and turn right, moving away from his perch. In fact, he could get so close to the house that he could probably slip right behind Melanie Johnson as she carried in her groceries and hack her and her three children to death in a matter of minutes.
They would leave Senator Johnson alone, wiping out his family and leaving him to live out his life punished by the agony of his loss. The charred remains of his broken home would serve only to remind him of his wicked blasphemy in promoting the false holy man who dared preach his forbidden words in the most sacred of Muslim places.
As he recited the opening of the Koran in the front seat of his American-made vehicle, he thought about each phrase as the divine word of God. His whole life, since the age of seven, he had recited God’s divinity. But he had rarely parsed them apart and tried to better know God through his own words. He felt scared to even attempt knowledge of God’s will. Questioning God’s words was punishable by death. And he had come so far in following the path set out for him; it would be a tragedy to falter at the last minute. But he would soon join Allah in his good graces and wanted to show true faith when he arrived.
“Perform God’s will and he will reward you in Jannah,” Jeep thought to himself. “He will reap a full harvest of pungent fruits and unending sweets. I will be with the angels and my departed family in the presence of Allah and Mohamed.”
The words in the Koran spoke of righteousness and love. They pointed out the path to a worthy life as humbly accepting the word of God and treating fellow men with respect and kindness. The great words spoke of piety and living a virtuous life in peace and harmony with his brothers. He felt proud to be a follower of Allah in the Kindred Brotherhood. And he felt pity for the millions of lost souls that could never understand how to live a good life as a follower of Islam. Like a sickness or blight, he understood his role in wiping out the impurity of his enemy. God had a purpose for him. His existence would have meaning. He would be blessed. All his life had lead up to this shining moment of glory. He closed his eyes again and recited his next Rakah, praising God and asking for strength to carry out his mission.
Jeep recalled his upbringing in the streets of Damascus and his brothers who had fought against the Jews and their settlements in Muslim lands. He recalled his parents, both killed in an American bombing of his sister’s wedding – a mistake the evil American President would later admit.
“A sin against all faithful Muslims,” Jeep thought.
His sister survived the blast, but her prospective husband did not. She went on to live with his uncle Abud, as his wife and conceived a child by him, his nephew, Sriram. Both he and his uncle left his sister behind to pursue their mission. Their glory would ensure her safety and prosperity. The Iman, Al Khomeni Massaad, would take the young boy under his wing and teach him their beliefs. He would instruct the boy to live a faithful, obedient life and to conduct acts of goodness, following God’s will. He would learn to fight and kill those who do not believe. He would know no other creed or variance from the path of righteousness as Iman Massad would guide him from his youngest age.
Like Jeep, his nephew, young Sriram, would know only the purest of thoughts and values about right and wrong. He wished his nephew could know of his honorable deeds that his destiny would drive him to accomplish tonight. He hoped Sriram would someday have the glorious opportunity to fulfill God’s divine wishes like he would.
The Iowa sun dipped below a short foothill behind the Johnson homestead. The two older children had returned for the day. Melanie had left her home to walk to the bus stop where she would escort her youngest daughter home with the help of the infidel town preacher man. The kitchen light blazed against the orange sky. The two girls’ heads moved back and forth across the bay windows in the front of the home, settling in by the dining room table to start their homework. Soon the orange blaze from the kitchen window would illuminate the midnight sky.
He would not strike yet, though, not until the sun retired fully and all the lights in the home extinguished. The Senator would spend the week at a conference in the American Capital city. And while he engaged in American gluttony with the enemies of Islam, his family would burn to hell - where Allah wished them to perish. Jeep’s glory and fate would come to fruition tonight. He would live forever in paradise as a reward for his piety. And the Iman would care for his family.
Senjeep smiled satisfactorily to himself as he pulled out of the dirt road.
“The world of Allah is such a place of good.” He thought to himself. “Thank you, oh father, for showing me the way.”
Missy Davidson had never seen such vast, flat fields. They stretched as far as she could see down Route 28 south of DesMoines without a tree or a house in sight. She chomped on a dark chocolate Dove bar while skimming through an AP feed of news about the shooting in New York.
“Ok, here it is,” she leaned forward in her seat, catching the taut seatbelt. “The latest update from Homeland … Two dead. One considered a suspect … the other a victim. The alleged victim - the driver - killed from inside the car, shot through the back seat. The passenger, who is being labeled as a ‘person of interest’ escaped. Reports say that the car stopped in the middle of the intersection and was approached by an assailant on a motorcycle. There was a shot inside the car that killed the driver followed by a shootout in the street. That’s where the assailant was found face down. He’s in his 40s, had a firearm called a Glock. Oh, and get this, he was missing a finger on his left hand. They’ve shut down several blocks and are going door to door looking for clues.”
“So, we have two dead,” Jameis recapped. “The driver was the victim, but not necessarily the target? The passenger was the target, but not a victim. And the attacker didn’t actually kill anyone.”
“I guess so,”
“Iowa,” Jameis moaned. “Why the hell are we in Iowa?”
The Assumption Church in Churchville lacked inspiration. It looked as much like a bomb shelter as a place of worship with its plain brick exterior, simple white columns and odd-shaped spire that appeared to have been sheared off at the top. It sat next to some sort of combination gas station, deli, grocery and fishing supplies store. A bank and a post office graced the opposite side of Main Street. In the middle of the narrow two-way road, a yellow traffic light blinked incessantly marking the intersection with West Street. Through a narrow grove of trees, South Street ran parallel to the center of town, making a sort of horseshoe from East Street, which continued north to Norwalk and south to a place called Clanton Creek.
“The original church, built by a guy named Churchman in the 1850s burned down,” Missy read from Wikipedia, the only website she could find to mention the tiny town. “In the 1930s, they started to build the new church and had to stop because they misjudged how tall to make the steeple. Apparently, there is a town ordinance that limits all structures to 37 feet or less.”
They parked in a dirt lot next to the building and entered. The single room had an organ in one corner, a series of candles in red glass jars in another. It looked like it seated no more than 50 people. Their steps echoed across the altar as did their voices asking the air if anyone was there.
They exited a side door and walked to the store.
“No, the pastor is not there today,” said the clerk. “He’s my uncle, Father Francis. He delivers the paper to my mom every afternoon and has lunch with her, right over there at her house. Then he meets Mrs. Johnson at the bus stop right over there on East Street and walks with her and her daughter, Charlotte, to her home around that bend. Ms. Johnson is like his right-hand man at the church. She organizes all the community events, bible studies, pot luck dinners and other programs like that.”
“Have you seen your uncle recently?” Jameis asked.
“About two hours ago. The bus just passed through. He’s probably coming up Main Street now. If you look out the window, you may catch him.”
A powder blue Ford Focus passed by the store as Jameis and Missy thanked the clerk and made their way back to their car.
Senjeep Zendawi stopped his car, pulled to the side of the road just before the intersection as the bus sped off toward Martinsdale. He took out his notebook and made his last entry that the enemy and her daughter had met at the bus stop on schedule and as expected for the last time in their lives.
As the blue Ford took the left turn onto East Street and disappeared into the opposite direction of the yellow bus, Jameis and Missy observed Melanie Johnson and the pastor standing by the corner in deep discussion. The young girl played in the dirt with a stick, getting her cute pink sundress dusty.
Aside from the four buildings on Main Street, there were no other people or cars. They could not avoid the awkwardness of their deliberate walk toward Melanie and Father Francis, who stopped speaking abruptly and stood rigidly at the side of the street. Melanie stepped a half stride sideways to block her daughter.
“Father Francis,” Jameis spoke in a soft tone to gain a comfort level with the pair. “My name is Jameis Thomason. This is Missy Davidson. We are from the Christian Science Monitor. We are reporters covering a story.”
The pastor eased slightly. Melanie remained guarded.
“I can’t believe any newspaper would want to come here for a story.”
“We are covering the bomb that went off at the University of Northern Iowa,” said Missy.
At the mention, Melanie’s eyes flared. Jameis and Missy both noticed but did not signal each other as to alert Melanie they had recognized her emotion.
“Are you just getting local opinions?” the pastor asked. “Because you sure came far out of your way for that.”
Jameis hedged. He wanted to drop a bomb of his own, figuratively, of course. He had planned to get the pastor alone and ask his question. But something about Melanie’s reaction and the description of her involvement in the church changed his thinking. He wanted to hold out, gain more trust and ask at just the right time.
But he decided instead that a more aggressive approach might catch them off guard and force the conversation. With Pulitzer-worthy stories popping up in the Middle East, here in Iowa and simultaneously in New York, he had no time to waste in getting right to the point. He had already missed out on so much of the story between his meager resources, his potential gross misjudgment in wasting time by flying to Iowa and the incessant presence of CNN at every step. He decided to go for broke and play his Ace.
“We wanted to find out more about the man from your parish,” he said.
“What man is that?” the pastor asked. Melanie’s flared eyes shifted from caution to fear. Her cheek quivered slightly, and her face flushed red like mercury.
“Come on Charlotte,” she said, hastily taking her daughter by the hand and giving her a soft tug. “We have to get home and work on your schoolwork. Let’s leave the reporters to interview Father Francis.”
Missy looked past Melanie at the priest. Her phone buzzed in her pocket – her brother. She didn’t answer. She couldn’t at that moment. Jameis turned toward the Senator’s wife.
“I thought you might want to stay and talk to us,” he said to her. “We would like to find out more about the man who spoke at the university.”
Melanie moved past them, apologizing for her abrupt departure. Father Francis started to say that they did not know anything about a man who may have spoken. But Jameis spoke right over him.
“Ms. Johnson,” Jameis called out to her. “We would like to know more about him … the Holy man.”
Missy repeated the phrase “Holy Man” quizzically to herself. The pastor stammered quietly and stepped toward Jameis to intervene. But Jameis took another stride toward Melanie Johnson.
“Ms. Johnson,” he said. “Is it true? Is it really him? Is it Jaio?”