FF 1 - The Lost Hours

Gatac 2018-06-02 10:11:10
A cheeky little flashforward to summarize the posts that vanished in the server move.
Gatac 2018-06-02 10:11:45
Blacksite Romeo, Undisclosed Location
Not too far in the future...

The door to the interrogation room opens, a solid ker-chuck of the lock that brings Operations out of her revelry. She is looking - well, not so great. Sweatpants, a drab gray t-shirt and three days with as many hours of sleep will do that to you. In walks yet another blond-haired, blue-eyed suit with a file folder thick as a board and a sloppy tie on his 500 dollar suit.

"Joshua Crowe, Special Investigations," he says, plopping down a digital recorder on the desk before he even sits down.
"Good for you," Operations counters. "Wild guess, you're here to get some answers?"
"You're a quick one, aren't you," Crowe replies. Without further ado, he draws out the chair across the table from Operations and sits down.
Operations holds up her cuffed hands. "You brought a key, I assume?"
"Why, are you out of lockpicks?" Crowe asks.
Operations grins. "It's cute that you think I need lockpicks."
"Why don't you just waltz out, then?" Crowe asks. "Because I'm pretty sure you don't need a gun...or a boat either, for that matter."
"I like the decor," Operations says. "Really like what you boys have done with the place. Also, as your predecessors reminded me, we're all on the same side." She tugs at the chain of the cuffs, rattling it along the steel bar running smack down the middle of the bolted-down table. "Aren't we?"
Wordlessly, Crowe reaches into his pocket, draws a set of keys from it and unlocks the cuffs. As Operations rubs her wrists and settles back into her chair, Crowe starts the recording.

"Okay, for the record, this is interview 3 session 1, pertaining to the missions of Diamond Team. Interview is conducted by Agent Joshua Crowe. State your name for the record, please."
"Operations," Operations replies.
"Subject continues to refuse to answer to or use her name of record," Crowe says. "For brevity's sake, we'll just go with that, if it makes you more comfortable."
"Sure," Operations says.
"Special Agent Acuna has previously spoken to you about the events of Operation WHITEWATER -"
"Your term, not mine," Operations cuts in.
"What do you prefer?" Crowe asks.
"It's a direct through-line from STEADY RESOLVE, so the Amsterdam excursion belongs there."
"Let's humor each other with the names, shall we?" Crowe says.
"You spoke to Agent Acuna about how you ended up in the royal palace with your team. The relevant part is how you stopped the terrorists there. Agent Blake determined that there were three likely sites the enemy operatives would try to target with explosives. How did he arrive at that conclusion?"
"What are you implying?"
"I'm implying you brought a newly-formed team into a volatile situation," Crowe says, "and then one of them pulls an entirely accurate 'guess' out of nowhere. Did you not question that?"
"Wildcard doesn't recruit unknown factors," Operations says. "Diamond Team was made up of exceedingly competent agents. If one of my agents makes a 'guess', they're more than likely right. I don't have to understand the process, I just need to trust it."
"Trust is a four-letter word in your line of work..."
"I don't see it that way," Operations says. "Don't confuse trust with naiveté."
"Moving on," Crowe says. "How did your team handle this 'guess'?"
"Barstow used the warphone to suborn the palace's security systems," Operations says. "He took a route through the ventilation system while Lagarde and Blake disguised themselves as KMar officers."
"That involved unleashing black-market cyberwar equipment on the Dutch White House equivalent, then using an improvised chemical weapon against law enforcement personnel," Crowe says.
"Nobody was seriously hurt."
"Yet. What about Mason? Your favorite loose cannon was alone at that point."

Operations shifts in her chair.

"That's not accurate," she says. "He was with the ambassador's protection detail. When he spotted one of the terrorists disguised as a member of palace security -"
"Another 'guess'," Crowe cuts in.
"No, observation of the target's behavior," Operations counters. "Mason's eye for detail saved a lot of lives."
"And got him and the rest of the team in just as much trouble."
"He followed the operative backstage, but couldn't get past the royal family's personal quarters with their second line of security," Operations says.
"I understand he ran into Constable Hesselink again," Crowe says, "and she helped him get upstairs and follow the target to the old wing of the palace."
"She proved instrumental in dealing with the events of the evening."
"Yeah, yeah, I've seen the movie."
"The book was better," Operations counters. "Both Dutch PR bullshit, of course."
"Mind your language, please. So, what happened in the old theater hall?"
"Mason and Hesselink confronted the terrorist just as he was preparing to set up the charges on one of the three critical locations," Operations explains. "RoI came prepared to the party. They had the explosives and a weapon for their operative, all ready to go."
"And yet, Mason and Hesselink managed to kill him in the ensuing gunfight."
"That is correct," Operations says. "Palace security intervened and secured the scene after the fact, but Mason was the one who ended the threat."
"Just for completeness's sake," Crowe says, "the explosives secured there were not wired with an XM-430 main systems board?"
"In contrast to the other two devices, yes. We didn't understand the significance at the time."

Crowe sighs.

"Speaking of that, you made the discovery that XM-430-type devices were deployed when..."
"When the rest of the team breached a room containing two terrorists disguised as KMar who were preparing an ED disguised within a serving cart. Lagarde and Blake managed to overwhelm the enemy operatives, then Blake disarmed the device."
"He also removed and destroyed the XM-430 board," Crowe says. "On whose orders?"
"AiC Griffin gave the order."
"You wouldn't have?"
"I was busy."
"Doing what?"
Operations smirks. "That's classified."
"For reference," Crowe says, "this briefing is accessible only with codeword clearance WILDCARD -"
"This was a WILDCHILD matter," Operations cuts in.
"I see," Crowe says. "Carry on."
"Then they joined up with Barstow, who brought them to the second bomb site -"
"Wait, didn't you just say they were at the second bomb site?"
"No," Operations explained. "They were at the place where the second device was being prepared. It was apparently intended to go to another location, namely into a room where the sealed-off chimney could still be reached."
"So if your team had the second device taken care of before it got where it was supposed to go," Crowe asks, "why go there after all?"
"Do I really -"
"Pretend you're explaining this to a congressional panel," Crowe says.
"Fine," Operations says. "At the time, we had no way of knowing how many devices they would deploy. Per Blake's calculations, the terrorists had already used up more of the untagged SEMTEX at that point than had been stoled from the Russian arsenal. We couldn't take the chance that the enemy had built redundancy into their planning, especially given the grade of logistical sophistication the attack displayed."
"All right," Crowe says. "So they go to the room, check it. What do they find?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," Operations says. "At that point, it looked like we were actually two for three. But that didn't account for the third bomb site, and even then, we would only be preventing them from bringing the building down, not whatever else they might have done. My team pushed on, down to the basement. That's where things got really hairy."
"Okay," Crowe says. "I realize this is a lot of ground to cover, Operations. Five minute break?"
"Sure," she says. "I take my coffee black."
"The CIA knows how you like your coffee."
"Of course you do."
Gatac 2018-06-02 10:12:10
"Okay, this is interview 3 session 2, pertaining to the missions of Diamond Team. Interview is conducted by Agent Joshua Crowe, I'm still talking to..."
"Okay. So, you said the security team arrived at the old theater hall after Mason and Hesselink took down the enemy operative. What happened?"
"They took Mason into custody and rendered emergency medical aid to Hesselink."
"Because of the gunshot to her leg?" Crowe asks.
"What did Mason tell them when they questioned him about what had just happened?"
"He's ex-SOCOM, been interrogated by the best," Operations says. "What do you think he told them?"
"Non-sarcastic answer, please," Crowe says. "Remember, congressional panel."
"He told them nothing that would compromise either his own identity, the mission, or WILDCARD at large," Operations says. "But he did manage to get facetime with Major van Roemburg."
"RoI's inside man," Crowe adds. "And there, Mason made another 'guess' about van Roemburg's allegiances?"
"Actually, that came from Hesselink," Operations says. "After the Dutch were done interviewing Mason and van Roemburg left to 'evacuate the royal family' -"
"For the record," Crowe says, "subject is making the air-quotes gesture."
"Yes, if anyone who hears this doesn't already know, van Roemburg's plan was to use the chaos as a pretext to evacuate, but really he was going to take the royal family hostage and escape through the secret tunnel from the palace."
"We'll get to the tunnel later."
"Indeed. Anyway, as Hesselink told it, she'd been treated at their medical station for her wound and been interviewed by van Roemburg, too."
"And she guessed he was dirty?"
"Based on who had the opportunity to get everything in place for the attack, yes," Operations says. "That was enough for Mason. He tried to make contact with field ops -"
"- using an unsecured line," Crowe cuts in. "Agent Mason's predilection for prepaid phones has been noted, despite the security implications."
"Well, it was what he had to work with. Field ops did advise him to get back on comms."
"Precipitating that Mason smash his way out of the interview room and brutalize two members of the security team on his way to his confiscated gear. And another one on the way to the basement later."
"Extenuating circumstances apply, I'm sure."
"This isn't a trial -"
"- right -"
"- we're just talking about the facts as we know them, right?" Crowe says. "So, Mason was back on comms at that point." He sighs. "Subject nodded to that remark."
"Field ops advised him that certain irregularities with van Roemburg's finances and social media profile had been noted by CIA automated analysis, but it hadn't crossed the alert threshold yet. If we hadn't looked him up specifically, it likely wouldn't have been discovered until well after the fact."
"Did you consider at the time that the enemy might be aware of how to subvert our intelligence analysis tools?"
"At the time? I honestly don't remember. I was certainly getting the impression that we were up against someone serious."
"Like Fractal? You haven't mentioned their involvement at this point. Nor the activities of Sage 13's group."

Operations taps on the table.

"Sage 13 was off our radar at that point," Operations says. "Fractal's operative was in the basement, though. Her communication with Barstow indicated that she was pursuing more terrorists disguised as KMar, who were getting the third device into position."
"You call her the 'operative', but at that point you were already aware of Valentina deSilva -"
"We'd be jumping ahead too much if we get into that situation, I think," Operations cuts in. "Forget about that for a second. What's important is that the Fractal operative took out the terrorists and then acquired their explosive device. Blake talked her through disarming it."
"I have a note about that," Crowe says. "Agent Blake suspected that...the Fractal operative was stringing him along on the phone?"
"Initially, yes," Operations says. "Blake recognized several things: one, that she was dealing with the second XM-430, two, that she thought she knew how to disarm it but played along with Blake's instructions to disguise that knowledge, and three, that her disarm procedure would have been incorrect, due to the terrorists tampering with the XM-430 setup. He probably saved her - and the building - from an inadvertent detonation. That was the last we saw of her - or the XM-430 - in Amsterdam."
"And the implications of all that?" Crowe asks. "I mean, you must have been asking some tough questions about Fractal at this point."
"My team had more urgent problems to handle. After taking care of one of the terrorists wounded by the Fractal operative, the team converged on the wine cellar, where van Roemburg had taken the royal family. Mason and Hesselink arrived just as van Roemburg eliminated his second-in-command."
"For the record, although Captain Tanis died, he was subsequently cleared of all suspicion that he might have been in on the scheme."
"Which was a great comfort to his family, I'm sure," Operations replies. "So, van Roemburg was holed up in the room with the royal family at gunpoint."
"And your team was just outside, waiting to breach," Crowe says. "Do you know why van Roemburg waited there instead of making good his escape?"
"Mason used a phone camera to record some video via a ventilation grate," Operations says. "This told them two things that weren't visible from the lone security camera in the room: one, van Roemburg was on the phone with someone, presumably RoI."
"You didn't find out?"
"The phone was smashed in the breach and the Dutch never did end up sharing whatever intel they got from it."
"Okay. And the second thing your team discovered?"
"The king had a concealed weapon he was getting ready to draw from its hiding place. Diamond Team had no choice but to breach immediately."
"How did that go?"

Operations taps on the table again.

"It was close," she said. "Between keeping both van Roemburg and the king from getting a shot off, the boys had their work cut out for them. Hesselink ended up shooting van Roemburg in the chest as a last resort."
"Van Roemburg survived, though."
"Everyone survived, royal family included," Operations says. "Van Roemburg got first aid, the royals were safe with Hesselink, Diamond Team exfiltrated via the escape tunnel. I call that a pretty good outcome."
"Talk to me about the escape tunnel, then."
"It was a direct route to the Dutch government continuity facility under Amsterdam," Operations says. "At that point, still due to van Roemburg calling for a lockdown, the city center of Amsterdam was cut off in a police perimeter. The team made their exit to an underground car garage from the bunker, commandeered a government vehicle and sweet-talked their way past the perimeter."
"You advised them to proceed to the airport at best speed."
"They creatively reinterpreted that, yes," Operations admits. "Their field interrogation of van Roemburg at that point yielded the Tuma thread, though."
"You also ascertained that he had knowledge of PALE RAINBOW," Crowe adds. "For the record, 'Tuma' refers to Asim Tuma, a low-level RoI wheeler and dealer whose relevance you slowly uncovered through the following operations."
"Correct, but emphasis on the slowly - van Roemburg didn't know a whole lot other than that name." Operations sighs. "RoI was pretty good at firewalling their patsies off from their core operations."
"Sometimes, all you need is a name," Crowe says.
"But every time, you need luck," Operations adds. "Anyway, they left van Roemburg for the Dutch and made their way to the airport. At that point, we departed the country at best speed, discussed our options and decided that Hamburg was the place to go next."
"Leading to Operation SWITCHBACK."
"Yeah," Operations says. "We're gonna need more coffee for that one."
"Then let's take five here."
Gatac 2018-06-02 16:44:42
"Interview 4, session 1," Crowe says. "More on the missions of Diamond Team, specifically Operation SWITCHBACK. Interview is conducted by Agent Joshua Crowe, subject continues to be...Operations."
"You're looking a bit tired, Crowe."
"Let's skip the niceties. Hamburg. How did you get there?"
"We took the plane, of course," Operations says.
"Subject is referring to the Wolfhound-type support aircraft. Agency property, I might add."
"This is where you tell me off for not standing down?"
"This is where I note you didn't stand down, despite clear orders from the Agency to cease all direct action missions in EU territory."
"That's what Final Action Authority is for."
"You're supposed to use it with discretion," Crowe says.
"I did."
"Moving on. Your objective in Hamburg was to infiltrate K Group's Black Vault data storage facility, acting on Agent Blake's discovery that RoI was keeping a digital dead drop there."
"That, and stopping whatever RoI was planning in the city."
"Another 'guess'?"
"An entirely accurate one, again," Operations stresses. "If we had known about the G7 summit beforehand, we would have made that our priority."
"Well, that choice was taken out of your hands. Your arrival in Hamburg was noticed by Section 9, a division of Europol."

Operations sighs.

"We took a gamble on an ISA stash," she says. "Turns out the Germans were watching."
"Prior agreement with the ISA, no less," Crowe says. "Another thing you didn't know."
"I'm not going to pretend that we went into Hamburg with a good plan. We didn't. But we were on a schedule and without Agency support, we had to make do with local resources." She pauses. "Frankly, after Amsterdam, I was also worried that the local station might have been compromised. I wasn't about to walk into that again, not until the Agency had some time to vet operations in Europe more closely."
"Compromise of Agency assets is not the topic here. That's a different investigation."
"Of course. You've got 'top men' working on it."
"For the record, subject is indicating -"
"For God's sake," Operations bursts out. "They're in congress, they're old enough to remember Indiana Jones. And we did get to gathering some intel. Do you need me to break that down for you?"
"Ahem," Crowe says. "Actually, we have an action transcript filed by Agent Lagarde. I'm attaching it to this interview. Would you please read this and tell me if it is accurate?"

A file is slid across the table. Operations scans the pages.

"For the record, subject is reading the file now."
"Yes, thank you," Operations says. "And...still reading."
"Please indicate when you are finished and then answer my question."
"Finished," Operations says. "Yes, this is accurate. Didn't expect anything else from Lagarde."
"Were you aware of his...particular condition at the time?"
"I was not. Anyway, the transcript has most of our planning on how to get into the Black Vault, as well as Blake's research on the local Muslim community, so I won't repeat that. I should add that Blake also got his surveillance of K Group started early. The routing data for the connection he followed gave us a rough location of the harddrive within the vault."
"You were aware of Mason's contact with Alira Holden, too?"
"Like I said, we don't recruit unknown factors," Operations says. "At that stage, she was still halfway around the world. It wasn't the time to intervene."
"Right. So, what isn't in the action transcript?"
"Mason's approach of Abdul-Alim Shareef Hanania, under the persona of an enforcer for Prince Khoury of the House of Saud." She chuckles. "Called himself Mr. Spader."
"For reference, James Spader plays a character on a TV show called 'The Blacklist'..."
"He does."
"Mason likes the show?"
"I didn't ask him about that. Anyway, Mason made contact, and it turns out that Hanania was indeed tied to RoI's plot. Mason managed to request an undercover meeting with their local operatives."
"Leading to his confrontation with Elias Senai, then of Section 9."
"I wouldn't call it a confrontation. More of a...terse introduction."
"Whatever you call it, this gave you notice that you were on Section 9's radar. How did you react?"
"By setting up a meeting with Section 9 field leadership. Where I met with Mandy Wiesner, laid out the mission and arranged a visit at their HQ with Diamond Team for the day after, as a sign of good will. I still maintain that was the right move."
"No, that's what you eventually did. I am asking you, how did you react in the moment? Immediately after you got the news that Mason had been contacted."


"Are you refusing to answer the question?"


"Subject is, uh, indicating that she won't answer this question."
"For the record," Operations says, "I'm flipping off Agent Crowe."
"So, you'd like to take a break?"
"If you could find it within you."
"Okay, let's take five." Crowe sighs. "Please put down your hand."
"Only because you asked nicely," Operations replies.