The Bitcoin Refuge in KL

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Ollie Handwell tracks down the world's most devious and dangerous threats against USA national security. Diverted to Kuala Lumpur (KL), he uncovers a catastrophic plot veiled by Black Net encryption.

Mystery / Thriller
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

E. W. Farnsworth

Oliver “Ollie” Handwell was still seconded by his Chief of Police to the CIA as the lead on the DDO’s special interagency team for worldwide Bitcoin transactions. He now found himself globe-trotting non-stop to combat Bitcoin-related crime affecting US national security. His team had just completed a successful mission in South Korea, and on the way home the team was ordered by the red-haired CIA Deputy Director for Operations to stay overnight in Anchorage, Alaska and wait await further instructions. Ollie was not pleased. He had been looking forward to seeing his fiancé Stephanie Branch, the woman with the seaweed-green eyes and radiant auburn hair, but their meeting was now on hold indefinitely--again.

From his quaint, comfortable room in the Old Anchorage Hotel, Ollie called Stephanie just to say hello. He told her that he could not tell her where he was or where he was going next, but he wanted to let her know that he was safe and that he loved her and to find out if she was okay too. They talked for over an hour, grateful for the opportunity. Stephanie told Ollie that she still liked her work prosecuting criminals for the DA—in fact, she had won a big case just yesterday, but she missed Ollie sorely. She hesitated at this point as if she were trying to keep herself from weeping. She told Ollie that she had finished embroidering their two new brown suede cryptocurrency shirts and she had added embroideries for four more new cryptocurrency coins that she had discovered. Ollie told her that he had a gift of ginseng root to share with her, and she laughed and told him that was perfect because the root was a famous Asian aphrodisiac. He laughed with her and said they’d have to see what ginseng could do for them that they hadn’t already figured out all by themselves.

That night in his lonely room in Anchorage Ollie thought through his many adventures while he had been working for the CIA—particularly his missions in Bangalore and Seoul. From the start in 2012 Bitcoin had been an international movement, and it had a political as well as an economic basis. The Bitcoin idealists still touted Bitcoin as a panacea for numerous problems in the world, but the practical use of Bitcoin and altcoin for all sorts of crimes and mischief made headlines and encouraged ventures in money laundering, buying and selling illegal drugs, weapons and human trafficking, espionage, bribery and graft. It was now pretty well known among the cognoscenti that the Tor or Dark Net was not always as secure as it was originally touted to be. It was generally now suspected that no encryption was safe from the code breakers at NSA or GCHQ. It was still thought to be true that the BlockChain was an excellent validator, but its size was increasing to unwieldy proportions for most computers. All Police Officer Ollie Handwell knew for certain was that the Internet was the circulatory system for Bitcoin, that human malefactors were the brains behind Bitcoin crime anywhere and that he missed holding Stephanie Branch in his arms and rocking her side to side as the assistant DA rested her head on his chest.

The next morning the DDO sent an encrypted email directing Ollie’s team to fly back over the Pacific, this time to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where a large-scale Bitcoin exchange operation was siphoning funds to ISIS terrorists in Syria. Ollie’s team’s mission was to validate that the operation was funding ISIS terrorists, identify the IPs and players who were sending and receiving funds and terminate the operation and the kingpin players with extreme prejudice. Ollie and his team became energized about this mission because they all uniformly hated ISIS, which was a group of masked hoodlums infamous for their hostage taking, beheadings and atrocities against both humans and humankind’s cultural treasures. Ollie’s team knew that KL was potentially going to be a difficult environment because of the ambiguity of its all-Muslim leadership in their statements about Jihadists--and ISIS in particular.

The CIA country team provided physical security, a safe house and technical as well as operational support for Ollie’s team. Alexandra “Sandra” Jones, the Agency’s blue-eyed, blonde section chief, met Ollie’s team personally at the airport in her Agency minivan and drove them to their safe house. There Sandra briefed the team about her findings. She said that two shadowy figures, a man Ali Khobar and a woman Fatima Hilali, were the kingpins of the Bitcoin-for-terror operation. The pair lived lavishly in the international style pretending to be a married couple in the three-star Hotel Sentral Kuala Lumpur. There since their arrival in Malaysia, they had played host and hostess to nearly all the key paymasters of the Jihadist underworld.

Sandra then showed Ollie surveillance photos of Khobar and Hilali, who looked like paradigmatic, smart jet setters on an indefinite spree in KL. Each had formerly been involved in operating his own, apparently legitimate web-based Bitcoin exchange that had simply vanished overnight, and each was believed to have absconded with all his investors’ Bitcoin. Oddly, none of the investors in either exchange had filed suit or otherwise complained, so the Malaysian authorities were nonplussed about how to proceed legally against these known international criminals. They had not broken any Malaysian laws, and their countries of origin had not requested their extraditions.

From what Sandra told him, Ollie surmised that Khobar and Hilali had never run legitimate Bitcoin exchanges in the first place and that their businesses were always fronts designed from the start to launder terrorist funds. As he saw it, the pair had shifted their separate operations to KL to unify their operations, meld their assets to move up the Bitcoin food chain and move closer to the Malaysian donors within their funding operations.

Sandra told Ollie that his guesses were as good as hers. She had for months monitored Khobar and Hilali’s hotel room, which she had wired, and watched what their hotel’s cameras showed because she had tapped into the hotel’s security camera system. Ground surveillance teams of the Agency and the KL undercover police covered every move the man and woman made in KL. From their movements, Sandra’s people had created a map of terrorist financiers throughout KL, and she gave this to Ollie’s team in a file on a memory stick that also contained a file with the IP addresses for all computers known to be in the terrorist-funding network.

Within three hours Ollie’s team had used the data and imagery on the station chief’s stick to establish a near-real-time electronic picture of terrorist funding operations linked to Khobar and Halili’s IP. This they projected on a large screen display in their makeshift cyber command center. The team also established patterns of activity and used their algorithms to predict the next likely events. Like a vacuum cleaner, Ollie’s team began to harvest all data and information from the computers in Khobar and Hilali’s apartment and the data from the IPs with which the two Jihadist operatives’ computers were communicating.

Ollie was not surprised that--where they were known--the locations of the terrorist-funding IPs ranged widely across the nations of the “Islamic Crescent” from Morocco to Malaysia, including Saudi Arabia and Yemen. When his teams and their respective, remote support teams had completed their initial traffic analysis and composed their visualization of the data, it was clear that funds flowed inward from nearly all the IPs on the network to the IP in Khobar and Hilali’s hotel room and that funds flowed outward from there to IPs in only four locations: Syria, Norway, the United States and Australia. By far the greatest outflows went to the Syrian IP, which corresponded to a known ISIS IP. That validated the DDO’s suspicion about the fundamental purpose of Khobar and Hilali’s KL IP.

The amounts of Bitcoin flowing from the KL IP to the ISIS IP were not small. The NSA support team independently confirmed other inflows to the ISIS IP as well as significant outflows from the ISIS IP to the IPs of ISIS’s supporters elsewhere in the world, all on the Tor or Dark Net. So for a supposedly “decentralized, borderless terrorist movement,” ISIS was clearly very centralized in its acquisition and management of Bitcoin.

Ollie and Sandra had long discussions about what the discovered ISIS funding patterns meant, and they combined their conclusions in their daily SITREPs to the DDO, who had her own small HQ team working in tandem on the problem. The key question in Ollie and Sandra’s minds was whether it was wise to terminate a surveillance operation that was giving the Agency a daily mother lode of data about terrorist funding. The DDO’s response to their line of questioning was to fulminate and then reiterate verbatim her original mission instructions to “take the terrorist network down immediately after all the terrorist principals had been identified.” She emailed that she expected Ollie to take the network and personnel down as soon as practically possible with no further questions or excuses.

Ollie reviewed the intelligence he had gathered, and he decided that he had enough intelligence to do what he was ordered to do, so with his team he wrote a plan for termination of the funding network. Ollie and Sandra decided that a snatch of Khobar and Hilali should precede their termination because of what the Agency might glean in the process. So with the country team, they devised how and when the two principals would be snatched, interrogated and terminated. They also discussed at length what they should do about all the identified Malaysian IP nodes and the terrorist funders that used them to communicate with the hub KL IP. This was a knotty problem because they didn’t know how much ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups had penetrated the Malaysian intelligence and police apparatus. In an Islamic country, it was extremely perplexing to sort the Islamics from the Islamists since the one could become the other in an instant, and they all shared any information coming from an infidel.

Ollie and Sandra decided they’d wait until they’d taken out the central node before they gave the Malaysian authorities the intelligence they’d gleaned about terrorist connections in their own country. Sandra said that she’d have to embed the information in a larger collection of data so that the Agency didn’t divulge sources and methods of intelligence operations. Ollie said he’d have to leave apprehending the perpetrators entirely up to her and the local authorities, but he reiterated that his team would render all those IPs inert permanently as part of his active cyber attack. Sandra understood him and agreed but warned that once the IPs failed, the funders who owned them would probably flee.

So at the appointed hour two days after they received the DDO’s redundant orders, Ollie’s team disabled all IPs definitively located in Islamic countries on the terrorist-funding network, including those in Malaysia, after seizing any Bitcoin and altcoin the computers contained beforehand. In an inspirational move, Ollie’s team had replicated the IP for the KL node of the terrorist funding network so that it would not appear to have been damaged. That way it would continue to receive donations until the Islamists sorted out what was happening worldwide and realized that Khobar and Hilali were no longer managing their critical Bitcoin funding node.

Simultaneously with the cyber attack the CIA Malaysia country team snatched Khobar and Hilali from their hotel room and rushed them to an Agency-controlled psychiatric clinic where experimental implementation drugs and syringes were on hand and interrogators were ready to begin their black work. So by the end of that first day, ISIS in Syria had permanently lost its key hub computer in Malaysia and all the stream of Bitcoin they were used to receiving from the KL IP. That ISIS terrorist organization now had one fewer lucrative node on its vast, multimode funding network. Generous contributions were still flowing to the surrogate KL node, but thanks to Ollie’s team, no Bitcoin were flowing to ISIS in Syria from the original source any longer or from the surrogate KL IP.

The interrogation team’s elicited intelligence from Khobar and Hilali was never divulged to Ollie’s team because according to Agency rules they had no need to know it. That game could be played both ways, so Ollie quietly directed his team to continue to monitor still-active ISIS-funding-related IPs in Norway, the US and Australia. Ollie was particularly alarmed about the US IP because the flow of Bitcoin was complex and indicated that ISIS operations were either imminent or in the late planning stages. He noticed also that world news had reported that ISIS had posted a list of names with pictures of 100 key military personnel in the US who were to be targeted and killed by ISIS terrorists within America. Ollie wrote a separate memo about the possible connection of the US IP and ISIS funding of assassinations within the US, and he emailed it to the DDO. She responded only with a curt, “Thanks.”

Two days after they had been snatched, Khobar and Hilali were discovered by KL police. They had apparently died of heroin overdoses in a single bed in a small hotel in Changkat Bukit Bintang. In a press briefing police reported the two decedents were known scammers who had fled their home countries and entered Malaysia under a cloud. Subsequent to this briefing, the international press mused about the lures and dangers of heroin, adultery and crime in the Islamic community of KL. Investigative reporters began to trace Khobar and Hilali’s backgrounds, but no one reported their activities raising funds for the ISIS terrorists.

Of course, the KL police had been quietly informed by cut-outs for the Agency as to where to look for the two dead bodies that they found, and they were given the doctored data package incorporating the lists of known terrorist funders throughout Malaysia. At the same time as the Malaysian authorities received this priceless intelligence and before Malaysia began arresting the funders of terrorism throughout their country, the DDO directed Ollie’s team to ex-filtrate from Malaysia and return to the US. So Ollie’s team packed and departed from their safe house. Sandra drove them to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to catch the earliest flight to the US. As they approached the airport, Ollie asked Sandra to mail a postcard picturing the Petronas Towers. The card was addressed care of the DA with the message, “OH [heart sign] SB.” Sandra smiled and nodded that she’d mail the card. She didn’t need to ask Ollie what his code meant, but she clearly approved of the agent’s sentiment and told Ollie that she was not a little jealous of SB.

Back in the States, Ollie was directed to report to the DDO as soon as possible. She was interested in learning more about his thoughts on the matter of ISIS in America. Ollie told her that he had only two data points at present—the Bitcoin connection of the US IP to the now-terminated KL IP and the news accounts of ISIS’s threat to activate sleeper ISIS terrorists in the US to kill 100 military targets. The DDO pressed Ollie on why he made the connection between the IP and the threat. Ollie answered that the exchange between the US IP and the KL IP the Bitcoin went both ways. That meant that the US IP was sending and receiving Bitcoin. Nearly all the other nodes on the terrorist funding network had been one-way conduits. You could tell that some IPs were donor IPs and others were receiver IPs. The receiver IPs were getting Bitcoin as payment for doing something, presumably acts of terror. So, Ollie said, the US IP could be receiving Bitcoin to fund assassinations on US soil.

The red-headed DDO listened skeptically to what Ollie told her, and he expected her to explode at any minute and go off at him in one of her fabled tirades. Instead, she nodded and directed him to set his team’s command center in a room she had assigned for their use. It was a very secure room next door to her support team’s room on the Second Floor here at CIA HQ. She assigned Ollie’s new mission the caveat Open House. Its purpose was to trace the use of Bitcoin to fund ISIS terror attacks in the US. She mumbled something about how sometimes you have to go halfway around the world to find out what’s happening in your own backyard. She then stopped and looked hard at Ollie for a moment before musing that what they would be doing was not legal if it were traced to the CIA, so Ollie was going to be acting as a police officer again though he’d technically still be seconded to the CIA and leading his team.

Ollie thought that might be all to the interview with the DDO, but she excused herself, went to her safe, opened it and took out five sheets with a cover that lay on top of other papers there. She handed it to Ollie as she sat back down at her desk, and she asked him to read it silently.

The document was marked, “CIA DDO Eyes Only,” on the cover. It was the translation of the transcript of a statement made by Ali Khobar minutes before he was terminated with extreme prejudice. The man had bragged that no matter what they did to him personally, the Bitcoin had already been transmitted to the man who would distribute Bitcoin to the 350 men and women of ISIS who lived already in the US. Their Jihad, he said, would incite the Islamic Revolution within the Great Satan of America and begin the purification process from the inside. He ended his statement, “Allah is great.” When Ollie finished reading the text, he gave the five pages back to the DDO, and she put it back in her safe and locked it.

“Now you know why I’m giving you this mission. You never saw what I just showed you. You will never mention it in any way. Find this man and I’ll get a Presidential Finding to terminate him with extreme prejudice. Find the IPs associated with this man’s IP and get me a list of all those who supposedly are being funded by him. Move as fast as you can, and ask for anything you need. The Director does not know about this mission of yours because he must have deniability. If you can establish a foreign connection to the man or if you can establish that the man will be out of the country, let me know ASAP because that will change everything. I know what you’re thinking: Why not use the KL connection? Why not use the transcript I showed you?

“I’ll tell you. It’s because the Islamic and Islamist connections go right to the top of this country. You weren’t tasked to find a US connection in Malaysia for a reason you didn’t know, couldn’t know—you did find one but you did that on your own. As for the transcript, no one can know that we performed implemented interrogation on a Muslim for any reason whatsoever. If we divulge the transcript, we blow our sources and methods sky high, and we risk provoking the same higher-ups who have Islamist sympathies.”

“So, Ms. McCaw, I’m a policeman again for this mission. Does that mean that I must now abide by the rules for policemen in this country?”

“That, Officer Oliver Handwell, is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. Report often, but only when you’ve got results. Here’s your access card to your team’s new room on the Second Floor. You’ll have to sign for it right there. Thank you. So get your team to work at once. And if you want to have your fiancé join you for two weeks, you can voucher her expenses along with yours. That’s all.”

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