Richard Curtis leaned toward Shawn and whispered in his ear: "You really have friends in high places."
Richard stood up and walked to the podium to address the joint FBI and Secret Service task force.
"Good morning, everyone. You all know Shawn Douglas by reputation. We have gone through his reports and notes in great detail with our original team. But as of today, thanks to the president's request, he is officially a member of this team. Shawn, can you give us an update on your latest findings?"
Richard waved his hand to welcome Shawn to the podium. Shawn ignored Richard's frown and walked up to the front of the room with a wide smile.
"Thank you, sir," said Shawn with a nod of his head and a slight smirk toward Richard. "I am glad to be part of this team. As you know, our un-subs are not professionals. They have left us a series of sloppy clues, starting with the pseudo-anonymous online forum posts that originally caught my attention, and then re-using one of their email addresses to sign up for an encrypted chat service. It's my belief that they're currently planning another attack, a larger one this time—"
Richard stood up. "I just want to be clear, Shawn. You have no proof of this hunch yet, correct? This task force was set up to investigate the terrorist event of July 11th, not to track leads on any future attacks. That's the FBI's job. Right now we're only halfway through investigating the tips and leads we have around the July 11th attack." Richard sat down smugly.
"Correct, I have no proof, sir. However, even though we're not dealing with the most sophisticated un-subs, I believe our good leads have run dry on the original attack. They got lucky. While you have been investigating the remaining open leads, I have been working on the assumption that there will be another attack. The service that the un-subs are now using has proven difficult to crack. The NSA has been unable to decrypt all the traffic and figure out what our un-subs are planning. So I went to Portland and asked the service's creator, David Alexander, for his cooperation. He is an extremist libertarian hipster type and wouldn't budge. He told me he would rather shut down the entire service than compromise the security of its users. So we're looking for ways around him. We tapped the backbone Internet connection to both his house and the cloud servers he is using. We already had a significant presence in the cloud, so that wasn't hard. However, his system is decentralized and full of fake messages that they call spoof spamming, which makes tapping any one user's messages particularly difficult. Our techs have been trying to get the full registration list from his servers, but haven't succeeded yet."
One of the men in the back of the room raised his hand. "Have you looked into whether David Alexander is part of the terrorist group? Maybe the service is just a cover."
"Yes, we have tapped his cell phone, email, and bank accounts and we're physically surveilling him. He recently repurposed his service to encrypt emails as well as chat. He has been testing it on his own email account, which made it particularly difficult to see who he has been in contact with. However, our NSA found a flaw in his implementation that let us see meta-data. He seems like a normal guy, for the most part. He is up to his neck in debt and is about to be evicted from his apartment, which makes it unlikely that he's part of a terrorist group. But we haven't ruled it out completely yet. We're exploring all the angles and will keep you updated when we get our next big break."
Richard stood up again and made his way to the podium.
"Thank you, Shawn, for your update. Let's continue with Special Agent Abanks and his update on the progress with the latest leads."
The meeting dragged on for another hour, reviewing dead end after dead end. Occasionally, one of the men in the room would ask a question, but for the most part everyone stayed quiet. When the meeting ended and everyone began shuffling out of the room, the man from the back of the room came up to Shawn and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Mr. Douglas, you do good work. I've been impressed with your reports. I'm glad that they got you roped in. Special Agent James Benny." James reached out his hand with a smile.
"Thank you. Please just call me Shawn."
"Shawn, I'd like to help. I know some of the guys on this task force are pretty anal about politics and protocol. A few of them are pissed that you're on the team. But the only good leads we have in this case have come from you. I couldn't care less about protocol, I just want to see the motherfuckers behind this in jail before they hurt anyone else. Can you give me the list of all the people David has been in contact with lately? It seems weird to me that he is refusing to help—I want to work on the assumption that he is not part of the conspiracy and try to disprove it."
"Sure, but if you think he is a terrorist, wouldn't you want to prove it, not disprove it?"
"It's a CIA technique called the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses. If you try to prove that there are only white sheep, you need to account for every sheep in the world to make sure. That's a lot of work. But if you want to disprove that only white sheep exist, you only need to find one black sheep."
"I see, so you want to try to disprove that David is innocent."
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The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerMystery / Thriller
2016 WATTY AWARD WINNER - HQ LOVE THE TERM SHEET is a fast-paced technothriller about entrepreneurship, startups, encryption, and the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy. Its complex characters explore thought-provoking...