In ancient Greek mythology, Angelia was the goddess of messages, tidings, and proclamations.
But to the international intelligence community, Angelia was a Top Secret cyber war technology that could destroy nations. In a few short months, the struggle for this devastating weapon would inflame the Middle East, and bring the world to the brink of war.
Ninety minutes before his presentation with Eleftheria Karounos was to begin, Tom Iliopoulos stood outside the rear entrance of the Palamas building holding a small duffle bag when a catering van approached and then backed up close to the steps. Iliopoulos signaled the driver with a brief “stop” motion to stay in the van. He continued to smoke a cigarette, scanning the vista around him as it was disappearing into the deepening twilight. The only people he could see were a couple of young lovers strolling away from him hand-in-hand as he exhaled his last drag and flicked away the remaining butt. He beckoned the driver to come ahead then, and the man behind the wheel killed the engine and opened the squeaky, old door. Without a word, he strode to the back of the van and opened the door.
Iliopoulos and the driver each took one end of what appeared to be a large catering cart and lifted it gently out of the van and onto the ground. The driver disengaged the wheels’ braking mechanism, and both men guided it up the ramp to the door of the building.
They took the freight elevator to the third floor and then pushed the cart down the hallway to the lab. While riding in the elevator, both men donned disposable, clear plastic gloves. Most of the labs and offices in the building were dark and empty at this point, with only an occasional sound of someone locking up, followed by their retreating footsteps echoing down the hallways. Retrieving his key from his pocket, Iliopoulos quickly opened the outer door to the lab. Then the two men pushed the cart through the doorway, and Iliopoulos closed it behind them. In the small reception area between the outer and inner doors, Iliopoulos dropped his duffle bag on the floor. He punched in his five-digit code on the mechanical keypad at the inner door and opened it. He and the driver pushed the cart into the lab, and the driver lit a very dim electric lantern he had carried inside his white apron, setting it on the floor.
Iliopoulos set to work unplugging and gathering up computer CPUs and disk drives. At the same time, the driver unlatched the side of the catering cart and dragged a large, black plastic body bag from inside. The corpse inside the bag was selected to mimic the body of Iliopoulos in every important detail. The local Mossad technicians had even redone the dental work to match any records on file related to Iliopoulos, and there weren’t a lot of those since Rosen’s alias had only existed for a few years. The body had no identification papers on it, and Iliopoulos tossed his wallet to the driver, who placed it into the rear pocket of the corpse’s slacks. The corpse was dressed in Iliopoulos’ jacket, which fit a bit tightly over a shoulder holster containing an MP-433 semiautomatic pistol. It was positioned as though it had fallen backwards from a standing position facing the northernmost wall of the lab. In that wall was a medium-size fireproof wall safe where backup disk drives were kept to prevent the loss of important research records. When he had placed the CPUs and disk drives from the lab in the catering cart, Iliopoulos stepped over the body and opened the safe. He removed the external hard drives and placed those in the cart as well, leaving the safe wide open.
Then the final component of the catering cart, a canister about the size of a typical office paper recycling bin, was removed. This was a larger explosive device, already fitted with an RF receiver. When detonated, the device was designed to ignite all of the flammable materials across the lab, even as it blew out the windows and the inner door. If all went as planned, it would appear some terrible accident had engulfed the lab just as Iliopoulos was retrieving something from the fireproof safe. The great tragedy would be that Iliopoulos and the ostensibly protected backups of critical research materials would all be destroyed by one enormous fire. If anyone sifted through the debris looking for salvageable computer drives, they would never find them. And in the unlikely event that anyone realized several CPUs were missing from the wreckage, that discovery would come only after many weeks. Since he was supposed to be dead anyway, any suspicion cast in Iliopoulos’ direction wouldn’t matter much.
Iliopoulos and the driver then retraced their path to the catering van, reloaded the cart, and fixed the braking mechanisms. The driver took both sets of the clear plastic gloves with him.
The entire process took about thirty minutes from the arrival of the van to its departure. Iliopoulos walked casually across the campus to his small dormitory room where he changed for the presentation. By six thirty p.m., he was back in front of the steps to the Nomiki building, ten minutes early for his rendezvous with Karounos.
Eleftheria Karounos was doing post-doctoral research at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, researching signal processing for encrypted communications. While the university had no particular interest in this specific field, the program funding was quite attractive, and like all Greek institutions in recent years, the university could not afford to ignore significant sources of revenue. This relative abundance of funding had sprung from the advent of cyber warfare, especially since the trouble in America following September 11, 2001.
Karounos was a dark-haired and bespectacled woman of twenty-eight, not unattractive, and most often described by friends and family as cute but rather dowdy. She had very little social life; she loved her research, and the interchanges with colleagues satisfied her social interests. At five feet ten inches tall, her body was more angles than curves. Karounos maintained a slightly stooped posture that did nothing to cause any significant interest in potential suitors. As long as funding continued to flow to her work, she was satisfied with her life. And at that moment, it seemed to her as though funding was likely to continue.
Karounos had no interest in cyber warfare or even in cryptography for that matter. However, she did love research and was fascinated by the possibilities of changing the medium of telecommunications. During her doctoral studies, she came across an obscure article written by an information technologist at Boeing titled “The Quantum Universe: An Information Systems Perspective,” and it started her down a mental path that changed her perspective forever. It postulated that the fabric of the universe at its most fundamental level is information and that information adequately and correctly configured comprises mass. The relationships between mass, energy, and information became her mental laboratory, and they led her to devise breakthroughs in the construction of materials that were themselves not only containers of information but actually comprised of information. When some of her work became known to the scientific community at large, the telephone of the dean of the Informatica Department at the University of Athens began to ring. That was about thirty days prior, and as a result, many of the intellectual and scientific leaders of related industries were assembling in Athens to listen to a presentation by Karounos and Iliopoulos, her research partner.
Iliopoulos had a burgeoning reputation in the field of thermoelectric materials science. Essentially, he was on the forefront of developing materials that converted thermal energy—heat—into electrical energy. Karounos and Iliopoulos had met only six months earlier as part of a Friends of Athens event. A few months hence, they decided to partner in order to work on a research project related to self-sustaining computers. Their project involved using a very small amount of solar energy to power laptop computers. After the initial kick-start from solar energy, the computers then generated sufficient internal heat from their own processes via the thermoelectric materials inside the computer structure itself to make additional external electricity requirements practically nil. It wasn’t quite a perpetual energy machine, but it was closer than anyone had ever come.
Yet this area of research was really only of passing interest to Iliopoulos. His real interest was in the work of his fellow researcher, and his purpose was to learn everything possible from her just as quickly as he could. Iliopoulos’ name was an alias. Born Steven Rosen, Iliopoulos was recruited by the Mossad while he was a student at one of Israel’s Haredi secondary schools. He demonstrated a facility for science and languages early in life, and his mother was Greek. The result was an olive complexion and a natural affinity for the Greek language that made him an excellent choice for his assignment in Athens.
He was dispatched to Athens University following the completion of his work at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, to continue in his studies and, more importantly, to get close to Karounos. When Iliopoulos had obtained everything he needed, or when he had obtained everything she could provide, he had known that he might be ordered to kill her. That time was now at hand, and he was relieved he had not received a kill order. Evidently Tel Aviv had decided against terminating her life at this point; they rarely vacillated about such things. A different course had now been plotted, and the plan was about to unfold. He would disappear with the critical information, and no one would ever come looking for him after tonight.
It was a beautiful spring evening in the bustling Athens neighborhood of Ilisia. The campus of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens was uncharacteristically crowded, as visiting faculty members from a wide array of international partner universities arrived for the conference on Thermoelectrically Powered Computing Paradigms. Representatives from Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, Aalborg University in Denmark, the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control in France, the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, the Technische Universität Berlin in Germany, the Instytut Chemii Bioorganicznej Pan W Poznaniu in Poland, and many other institutions were there. Other participants included Greek government officials and several representatives of leading research and development corporations such as RTI International, Tellurex, and Sigma-Aldrich.
Among the VIPs attending the presentation that evening was Dr. Kenneth Brystol, a physicist and entrepreneur of some renown and CEO of the Brystol Foundation. Brystol was always scanning the landscape of scientific research to identify potentially world-changing technologies, and he had demonstrated an uncanny knack for finding them. The Brystol Foundation, headquartered in the Washington, DC, vicinity of Virginia, maintained an ongoing portfolio of about ten such technologies at all times. Many of them were obtained by convincing the US government that they were vital to national security, and that the Brystol Foundation was uniquely qualified to complete the development of the technologies and turn them into strategic advantages for the United States. Brystol had traveled to Athens for this event to see the presentation by one of the Athenian researchers, Karounos, who was working in a very specific area of computer-based telecommunications.
The Chinese, the Russians, and even the North Koreans had developed substantial capabilities in cyber warfare, and the United States had found itself on the defensive. After Chinese MSS operatives managed to introduce a computer virus into one of the defense networks at the Pentagon, the US Department of Defense began to issue laptops to its employees that had all USB ports and print capabilities disabled, and banned the use of flash drives in the Pentagon. The situation was ludicrous. One result of the debacle was that rivers of revenue opened up from the coffers of the US government and several of her allies, which branched out into many streams of research and development into all types of anti-hacking hardware, software, and skills. As the Americans’ capabilities in this field matured, it also occurred to the CIA and the Israeli Mossad that their newly developed tools could be an effective offensive weapon. Working together, the two organizations used cyber warfare to set the Iranian nuclear development program back by more than five years.
The presentation that evening was titled “An Analysis of Thermoelectric Opportunities in Polymers and Composite Materials.” While it wasn’t on a par with a major cinematic release, the presentation had generated a real buzz in the scientific community. Of course, attendance was also boosted as a result of the venue. Athens was a spectacular tourist destination, and most attendees would undoubtedly take advantage of the trip to visit the Parthenon and many of the other local landmarks. Between the commercial attractions and the cuisine, few destinations were more attractive to academics and professional researchers who were typically locked up in classrooms and laboratories every day.
The presentation was, as is often the case in similar situations, designed to provide only information that would be discovered by others over the next six to twelve months. While groundbreaking, it would provide only a marginal boost to those seeking to accelerate their own R&D efforts. Still, it would serve to enhance the image of the university, further establish Karounos and Iliopoulos in the eyes of the scientific community, and assure financial sponsors their money was well invested. The real value of the ongoing collaboration between Karounos and Iliopoulos was in a technological offshoot the two of them simply referred to as “our side project” when speaking privately and never referred to at all when speaking to anyone else. Iliopoulos had nudged Karounos gently into this project over the last few months, mining the information and mental models she had constructed carefully, bit by bit. He now had a working approach to the problem he was sent there to solve, and he was convinced he had plumbed the depths of Karounos’ intellectual capabilities to assist him. It was time to move on.
The presentation was held in the university’s OIKONOMIDOU Auditorium, housed in the Nomiki building. The Nomiki building and the Palamas building, containing the computer lab used by Karounos and Iliopoulos, were directly across from one another, with the central courtyard of the campus separating the two structures. Mature, graceful cypress and olive trees surrounded the campus, and the courtyard was adorned with fountains and statues consistent with many such university campuses across the industrialized world.
Karounos and Iliopoulos were listed on the agenda as “discussants.” The session chair was Professor Jürgen Bleckhaus from the Technische Universität Berlin. Bleckhaus was much better known in international circles as a speaker on various scientific matters than as a real contributor to serious science. He was frequently seen on BBC and Das Erste as the guest expert on various science-related matters that surfaced in the daily news. Bleckhaus was a portly man in his fifties, five feet seven inches tall, and weighing about two hundred and sixty-five pounds. His international travel had provided him with a wide array of opportunities to sample cuisines from around the world, and Bleckhaus was not one to pass by an opportunity of any kind.
Karounos had told Iliopoulos that she would be rehearsing her part of the presentation in her apartment and established a meeting time for them just outside the Nomiki building twenty minutes before the session was called to order by Professor Bleckhaus. They had decided it would be best to arrive in the room together.
Karounos was only five minutes later than he was, which barely gave him time to finish a cigarette. Karounos was dressed in a burgundy gown with her hair fashionably piled atop her head, making her large horn-rimmed eyeglasses and fluorescent-light pallor the only remaining semblances of academia about her appearance. Her neck was longer than Iliopoulos had noticed before, and a flickering memory of an American film star from the 1960s was illuminated in his mind. Her last name had been Hepburn—was it Katharine? No, that was not right. Audrey. It was Audrey Hepburn. Again, Iliopoulos was grateful he hadn’t been ordered to kill her.
“El, you look ravishing,” he said to her and watched her blush as he took her arm and escorted her up the steps.
“I feel ridiculous,” she confided by way of response but gratefully leaned on his arm. Clearly, walking in heels was not something with which she had much experience. The gown was slit to a point just above the knee, which made things easier, but the marble steps were still a challenge. “At least it will be over soon.”
Yes, Iliopoulos thought, it will all be over soon. And then you will never see me again.