.farsi and farsi 2.0 by MK Alexander: What to do about Iran's nuclear program? The CIA has a clever cyber-war program to shut them down... But things never go according to plan. Meet Aydin Llewelyn, computer genius, deadbeat and accidental spy. Can he and his ex-girlfriend make it to Tehran and save the day? Find out in this fast-paced, amusing, twisty tale of travel and intrigue... In part two of the Farsi Trilogy the story continues as Aydin and Parveen try to make their way home but get side-tracked by a surface-to-air missile. Meanwhile, Iran is forever changed by cyber-war... and is forced to face the dawn of a new world.
Sometime after evening prayer, there was a call on the land line. How odd, he thought and reached for his reading glasses. He squinted at the incoming number and recognized it as a call from Datatek, probably from Abbas. “Yes, what is it?” Bijan said into the receiver. “Yet another virus, or a cyber-attack? I’ve told you to call—” he cut himself short when interrupted. “A what? A data spike? What does this mean?” He listened to the man on the other end of the line. Abbas was incomprehensible as always, though this evening, there was a certain edge to his voice. “Alright, calm yourself. I’ll come over and meet with you...” he paused. “Call Nassir and tell him to come as well...” he paused again and then spoke quite slowly and deliberately, “Nassir Razmara, Captain of the Guard.” Bijan managed a slightly sarcastic tone and listened again. “Tell him if he does not come, Bijan Divani, his elder, his Deputy Security Chief will have his head. And I mean it. You should have called me much sooner than you did, I believe.”
Bijan hung up the telephone with a slight feeling of disgust and anxiety. “Arh, the blasted internet... I hate the whole business. Cyber-police indeed... and that damn Razmara, a conceited fool...” His thoughts went negative. “I should have retired years ago or chosen a different career entirely.”
“What was that, dear?” His wife called from the other room. “I wasn’t listening.”
“Nothing, my sweet. I have to go out for while. Don’t wait up.”
“Did you get your message then?”
“The man from the telecom company... He called earlier. Said something was wrong with the mobile phones. Mine seems to be working fine. I just talked with my sister, not an hour ago. Didn’t he call back? It sounded quite urgent.”
“Where was I when he called?”
“How should I know? I was in the kitchen preparing supper.”
“Did he leave his name?”
“Mostafa... or Masoud, maybe.”
“Ah yes, Masoud Haranzi from the Telecom. I know of him.”
Bijan walked across the living room and gave his wife a kiss on the forehead. “What are you watching, my sweet?” He stopped to listen for a moment. “It sounds like Turkish.”
“Yes, a Turkish comedy... a new television program I’ve never seen before.”
“It doesn’t seem too funny.”
“Oh, but it is. You see this man has spilled his water bottle in the rug shop and all the dye is smearing everywhere. The carpets are ruined. He is trying to prevent the shopkeeper from seeing the mess by all means.” She chuckled along with the laugh track.
“The proprietor should not be selling such inferior merchandise.”
“That’s the whole point. That’s what makes it so funny. And the shopkeeper is a woman.”
Bijan grunted, “Pablum...” and rubbed his close cropped beard. He sighed and went to the bedroom to change back into his street clothes. His wife came in and stood by the door.
“How is your leg this evening?”
“Yes, I thought I saw you limping. Does it hurt?”
“My leg has felt the same for twenty five years, since the war. It’s fine.”
“I think some days it is worse than others.”
“As you say... Thank you for caring, my sweetness,” Bijan gave his wife a tender kiss. “Perhaps this old wound aches because I feel something terrible is coming. The portents are not favorable.” Bijan paused thoughtfully. “Why are we even in the computer business in the first place?” he asked himself more than his wife who wasn’t really paying attention. “Information for the masses, constant headaches for me.” She was already back in front of the television.
At just forty-six years, Bijan Divani was the old man in the technical division of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. There wasn’t a person under him more than twenty-something. His reading glasses were a sore reminder of that. And his attitude was quite different as well. He was flexible. They were rigid. He saw shades of gray. They saw only black or white. He was alive when there was a Shah. They were not. He liked to read history. They did not. Of course he was no more than a boy, but he remembered what Iran was like long ago, and he remembered what his father said about the Shah.
They were not even born yet. He knew this regime, however god-fearing, was temporary in the grand scheme of things. In Persia, rulers rose and fell with startling regularity. For them, there was only one rule, one power and it was correct, and it was eternal, and it was god’s will.
“I need a car to the Datatek building,” Bijan said into his cell. “Yes, thank you. I’ll be out front in five minutes.” A car was waiting at the entrance of his apartment. It was a chilly spring evening when Bijan stepped into the back and closed the door.
“Datatek?” the driver asked.
Bijan gestured an affirmative. It was a short trip to the north side of Tehran and he was in no mood for conversation. He watched the city passing from his window. It seemed quieter than usual, he thought. Traffic was less. Something bad was coming too, Bijan could tell, though he couldn’t explain why. A bit further along the road Bijan noticed that the driver was somewhat erratic. He was having some trouble staying on course and this prompted a sudden suspicion. Bijan slowly moved to the edge of his seat and peered over the driver’s headrest. Sure enough, the man was texting on his phone.
“Good god, what do you think you’re doing?” Bijan admonished. “Texting and driving? Keep your attention to the road.”
“Sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”
Inside the modern offices of Datatek, Bijan Divani met with Nassir Razmara, a stalwart officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Abbas had been unavoidably delayed, came the message. Having these two men in the same room unattended, was perhaps not the best idea. There was of course a natural friction between the two: Bijan reported to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, while Nassir was responsible for other mandates. They were also men of different generations. And they did not like each other personally. Nassir considered Deputy Divani to be just shy of a traitor, certainly, a throwback to an earlier age. A veteran, it was true, but not a man at all in tune with the Islamic Republic. For his part, Bijan could not understand Nassir’s intense adherence for everything halal, everything permissible. How can someone so young, think so monolithically? he often asked himself. It was true, Nassir held a position of considerable power in the current regime, but to Bijan, the man was a buffoon and a very poor judge of character as well. For now, thanks to the MOIS and the complicated security apparatus, Bijan was in charge. Nassir was bound to the hierarchy.
“You are here without your usual entourage tonight?” Bijan said more than asked. “Your posse...”
Nassir bowed his head politely.
“Nor your usual swagger...” Bijan said no less harshly. “A matter to discuss before Abbas arrives. I am still not understanding what happened to you last night.” Bijan went on, “You say someone struck you. But who? Who would do such a thing?”
“I cannot say, perhaps a confederate of the American spy.”
“How are you sure he is American?”
“Ali Zahabi himself confirmed it.”
“Confirmed it, or told you so?”
“It was his statement of the facts.”
“I do not trust Zahabi entirely, nor his information. I believe he is expedient at best. And at worst, well, I shall not say.” Bijan paused to consider. “And Ali called this American a spy? You are certain?”
“Perhaps he did not use that word. But I am quite sure—”
The older man cut him short with a glance. “Actually, I do not trust this Uncle Ali at all.”
“He has proved reliable in the past.”
“I’m not at all sure that is even true.”
“What about the Mossad agent he gave to us?”
“That is one he gave to us, but how many remain at large? Was not his name mentioned when the physicist was assassinated last year?”
“And yet you trust this man. I would venture to guess that he was an ardent adherent of the Shah, back in the day. Hardly the sort you would befriend.”
“He is a fervently religious man.”
“Perhaps.” Bijan paused again. “I have had my eye on this Uncle Ali as well. He travels abroad quite frequently.... I believe him to be craven—motivated only by avarice.”
“I disagree. Ali has proved very useful to us... aside from being a foremost translator, he has frequently lured dissidents and exiles into our hands. And he is ever-watchful for moral transgressions.”
“I will not dispute your diligence in protecting us from immoral behaviors. But your penchant for dissidents and exiles is your calling, not mine. I am only concerned for breaches in security. I have no idea why you wish to hunt down people from a generation ago. Why such vehemence against them? They are a spent force. It strikes me as a kind of misplaced vengeance. The days of the Shah are long over.” Bijan rubbed his beard. “Do you tire of enforcing halal doctrines?”
“Not at all.”
“And what about Ali’s nephew, Khalil, is it?” Bijan asked.
“No one of consequence. A distant relative by marriage. He is a student, a sullen sort, if you ask me, and seemingly, not very intelligent.”
“A student, yes, a computer student who works at the University and at the national network. Hmm... another coincidence.”
Nassir could think of nothing to say.
“But finish your story... You were struck unconscious and then you were found in an alley, smelling of whiskey. It would not be the first time someone in your posse has been caught drinking.”
“Drinking? I would never do such a thing. I take my faith seriously.”
“I know you do, Nassir.” The deputy eyed the younger man over his glasses. “And yet, that is how you were discovered. If you do not drink, then someone went to great efforts to discredit you, eh? It naturally leads me to believe Ali was directly involved in this... In your...” Bijan turned in his seat when he heard the door opening. “Ah, Abbas, you are here at last.”
“I am very sorry for being late. Things are not going well at all.” A slender man, wearing a stiff white shirt and dark slacks entered the room and sat, hunching his shoulders nervously. “Not at all well.”
“Tell me, Abbas, from the beginning, what is going on?”
“Pardon me...” No sooner had the man sat when his cell phone rang. He listened intently and then barked into the receiver, “No, no, re-route the servers to the main facility.... If you must... Alright.” He looked up at Deputy Divani again. “Apologies, my phone will be ringing too much this evening, though it can’t be helped. You must excuse the interruptions.”
“Yes, yes, from the beginning then, Abbas. I need to hear in layman’s terms what is going on so I can best inform the Council,” Bijan said rather impatiently.
“I will explain the best I can. If I get too technical feel free to stop me...” Abbas took a breath. “It is not a cyber-attack, not from an external source. That much has been determined.” The slender man looked at his phone before continuing. “Our internal military networks have not been effected in the least. There is no virus per se, certainly not the flame virus. Our firewalls are holding. State secrets are still secret. All the military and scientific networks are completely safe, completely isolated from everything else... Of course, also, the centrifuge program is unaffected. No access at all. We’ve learned our lesson.”
“It appears that the public sectors have opened up somewhat.”
“The regular internet.”
“It started as a trickle. A few open proxies appeared. And well, bandwidth… client traffic, began to rise. We decided to shut down certain shared servers and restart them. There was a minor disruption, but now many of our monitoring programs and our filters seem to have been bypassed.”
“Ah,” Nassir said with disgust. “Why are we in this business at all? Providing internet access to the masses. This is insane.”
“We are not in this business at all, as you say, Nassir. We are in the business of security which means we must keep abreast of these developments to ensure understanding.” Bijan turned to face the slender man. “What has caused this, Abbas?”
“Sabotage, I fear. Treason and treachery. Sadly... a person who works here at Datatek.”
“You have a suspect then?”
“A suspect? He is more than a suspect. He is the person responsible for all this, I am sure.”
“Who is it then?”
“Kazem Zarif. He is more or less in charge of setting up the national internet. He has an office here at Datatek, and one at the University. Though he hardly sits in either one.”
“This Halal Network, is it now fully operational?”
“No, no, it is a massive undertaking... there are still many months until completion.”
“And where is this Kazem now?”
“That’s just the thing, he is no where to be found.”
“I know this man, Kazem Zarif,” Nassir interrupted. “He is of the highest character. A zealot when it comes to appreciating everything halal, including the new national network. It doesn’t seem possible that he could be a traitor.”
“You’ve met him then?”
“Well no, only on the telephone. But we have spoken together many, many times.” Nassir paused awkwardly. “And it is a voice you are not likely to forget.”
“Meaning what?” Deputy Divani persisted.
“He has an odd, almost mechanical voice…”
“I agree,” Abbas concurred, “his voice is quite distinctive.”
“And what is your opinion of the man, Abbas?” Bijan eyed the stiff-shirted man with a glance. “He seems to make you nervous.”
“What do you mean?”
“You shift in your seat every time his name is mentioned. “Is there something you are not telling us?”
“Of course not, though I will point out that Kazem is a strange sort of person. You must have heard that he is disfigured, horribly disfigured. His face was burned as a child. He sees no one in public unless he has to, and usually wears a hood or a veil.” Abbas paused and let go a subtle grimace. “He works odd hours when no one is about, or more often than not, from his home... I will say Kazem is a genius, I suppose: a computer Ostad. He is our best protection from viruses, an expert, he is. But, a driven man, exacting, and perhaps not very good with people.” The slender man hunched his shoulders. “Let there be no mistake, he is to blame. We have traced all this mischief to his terminal, to his pass code.”
“Mischief?” Bijan boomed.
“A poor choice of words, Deputy—” Abbas began to explain but interrupted himself. “Excuse me again...” He reached for his cell phone. “Yes? No... well, then shut down the server and restore the original configuration files. They are stored on the University servers. No, no, if you must. Call a fellow named Khalil, he will help you.”
“Pardon, Abbas. Did you just mention the name Khalil?”
“Yes, Khalil Hussein. He works as the University liaison.”
“That is the second mention of him tonight, and the third mention of the University. Surely something is going on there.”
“Well, the campus is a central hub. All our back-ups are located there and it is the epicenter of the national internet. This is where the Halal Network is being tested. And... this is the source of the incursion.”
“Tell me Abbas, have you talked with Masoud Haranzi at the Telecom?” Bijan asked.
“I work for Datatek, not the Telecom,” Abbas protested sharply.
“Nonetheless, did you speak to him or not?”
“I have indeed. He is in the same sad shape as me. The mobile phone network is working too well.”
“What do you mean by this?”
“I mean all the monitors and the filters that are set in place, indeed, even the billing programs, have all but shut down.”
“Shut down? How?”
“It is a bit complicated. To manage usage... and billing, we have out-sourced this task to the Hindus.”
“Yes.” Abbas hunched his shoulders. “There was a usage spike earlier this afternoon and it overwhelmed their network. They were forced to close the monitoring programs down... temporarily.”
“What does this all mean?”
“Basically, it means telephone calls are virtually unmonitored.
“Text messages as well?”
“Nothing else... oh, well, one curious thing. The video cameras on the central system are no longer operating.”
“The various video feeds, traffic, surveillance, security cameras... they’ve all shut down.”
“Isn’t there a camera set up at the campus?” Nassir asked.
“Yes, yes, I believe there is... and it is not on the grid.”
“On the grid?”
“On the central grid. I believe there is a direct line to there. It may be working.”
“A moment, please,” Bijan spoke up. “I will want to clarify this entire situation before we begin spying on anyone... We are quite sure this is not a foreign incursion?”
“And the mobile phone network, behaving like your computers. This is not a coincidence, I think.”
“Do you think this a prelude to an American military action?” Nassir asked, rather alarmed.
“No. That is doubtful. The politics are not aligned for such an event. On either side.” Bijan rubbed his beard unconsciously. “Simply, it is my job to assess all this as a security threat. We may at some point have to pull the plug. I will need to talk to Masoud Haranzi at the Telecom...”
“Are you meaning to shut everything down? Entirely?” Abbas asked, not quite believing the idea.
“It may come to that, but it cannot be my decision.”
“But how could the Council act so swiftly?”
“They can, and they will, if the need is genuine.” Bijan paused to look at both men severely. “For now our first task is to find this miscreant Kazem Zarif, and have him detained.”
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