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The Silicon Jungle

The Silicon Jungle: A Novel of Deception, Power, and Internet Intrigue

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    The Silicon Jungle
    Book Description:

    What happens when a naive intern is granted unfettered access to people's most private thoughts and actions? Young Stephen Thorpe lands a coveted internship at Ubatoo, an Internet empire that provides its users with popular online services, from a search engine and shopping to e-mail and social networking. When Stephen's boss asks him to work on a project with the American Coalition for Civil Liberties, Stephen innocently obliges, believing he is mining Ubatoo's vast databases to protect the ever-growing number of people unfairly targeted in the name of national security. But nothing is as it seems. Suspicious individuals--do-gooders, voyeurs, government agents, and radicals--surface, doing all they can to access the mass of desires and vulnerabilities gleaned from scouring Ubatoo's wealth of intimate information. Entry into Ubatoo's vaults of personal data need not require technical wizardry--simply knowing how to manipulate a well-intentioned intern may be enough.

    Set in today's cutting-edge data mining industry,The Silicon Jungleis a cautionary tale of data mining's promise and peril, and how others can use our online activities for political and personal gain just as easily as for marketing and humanitarian purposes. A timely thriller,The Silicon Jungleraises serious ethical questions about today's technological innovations and how our most confidential activities and minute details can be routinely pieced together into rich profiles that reveal our habits, goals, and secret desires--all ready to be exploited in ways beyond our wildest imaginations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3814-1
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Shumeet Baluja
    (pp. 1-2)

    August 28, 2009. Present Day.

    “Is that your friend on TV,baba?”

    He glanced up from the game they were playing to look at the news report flashing on the TV screen. He caught a glimpse of Sebastin’s face before it disappeared. It never ceased to astound him that his son, Adam, only six years old, could play checkers so well while paying such close attention to all that was going on around him.

    “How do you know about him, Adam?”

    “I heard you talking toummiyesterday,” Adam replied with a mischievous grin. “You said you were going to...

    (pp. 3-9)

    January, 2009.

    “Stephen, report to Allison’s office immediately,” the intercom blared. Stephen automatically walked past the all-natural sodas, recycled paper products, and the latest lawn and composting supplies toward the back of the store. GreeneSmart, Silicon Valley’s humungous and freshly rebranded “Earth-aware, all green” answer to large retailers like Walmart and Target, was about to open its shopping doors for the day. When it did, for Stephen, it would be more of the same—rushing to respond to the countless calls for computer, e-mail, printer, network, fax, and telephone support from every corner of the building.

    He instinctively made his...

    (pp. 10-12)

    March, 2005.

    Molly Byrne, age twenty-three, Cameroon, Africa. Seven months of applications and three months of training—yet, what the Peace Corps training had least prepared her for was simply feeling overwhelmingly isolated. Forty-two days into her assignment in Cameroon, and friends were still hard to find. The only person who treated her like anything but a novelty item was Sandrine, a beautiful fourteen-year-old girl with eyes that no National Geographic magazine cover could ever do justice. Sandrine had befriended her on her first day. Sandrine and her one-year-old son, Francis, were as close to friends as Molly had.


    (pp. 13-18)

    February, 2009.

    “Why do you need another computer again, Molly?” Trisha asked as she stepped into position behind the electronics center at GreeneSmart. “I’ve had mine for two years now, and it’s doing fine. If you ask me, there are plenty of other things to spend money on.”

    “I know, I know. But it’s for my research project. Anyway, just let me know later today if you find something back here that I can afford. I need to get one quickly.” Molly scooted away to ensure she made it to her own station in the children’s clothing department before her...

    (pp. 19-25)

    September, 2002.

    In 2002, Atiq Asad would have described himself as a modest man. He was rapidly approaching a tenured professorship in UC-Berkeley’s Computer Science Department, his students were obtaining positions in the most highly regarded and prestigious academic institutions in the country, and his research in the emerging field of data mining was winning accolades and honors from his peers. There was good reason to be proud, though he would never talk about any of his accomplishments aloud for fear of being too boastful.

    On average, Atiq received about one call per month from recruiters at startup companies in...

    (pp. 26-27)

    March, 2009.

    “Rajive here,” the voice on the other end of the telephone line announced.

    “It’s Sebastin, from ACCL.” The line went silent. “Hello, Rajive, you there? This is Sebastin Munthe from American Coalition of Civil Liberties, ACCL. Hello?”

    Rajive finally spoke. “Yes, Sebastin. I know who you are. You’re weeks late, again. I need you to be on time for this to work.”

    He was doing Rajive a favor, not the other way around. It was frustrating working with him, barely worth the meager amount they were paying. “Do you want the update or not?”

    Silence again.

    Sebastin continued,...

  10. WORKING 9 TO 4
    (pp. 28-32)

    March, 2009.

    Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. It was the sort of visit that one actually brought cameras to and literally wrote home about. Few visitors were allowed in through the guarded gates without an explicit invitation. But, today, over 600 potential interns were being herded around the “grounds,” as Ubatoo’s campus was called, and taken on guided tours through all the usual tourist stops created for just this sort of thing. At every stop, whether in front of one of the five-star cafeterias, or in front of signs with names designed specifically with tour groups in mind (“World Operations Monitoring,” “Cyber...

    (pp. 33-38)

    March, 2009.

    The computer screen had come to life. Stephen could no longer hear Lynn or anyone else talking. Having been assigned to the data mining group, he now stared at the screen intently, puzzling over the first task:

    Data Mining Task 1: Predict the Future

    At Ubatoo, we strive to know our users better than anyone else. Last year, we launched a series of cell phones with the ability to browse the Internet on-the-go. To help our users, we would like to predict what they are going to search forbeforethey type it. How good are you at...

    (pp. 39-46)

    March, 2009.

    Half of Stephen’s shift had already ended by the time he woke up at 1 in the afternoon. Thirty minutes later, he was in the children’s department at GreeneSmart, on his way to find Molly. She was the only person he wanted to see.

    “Well?” Molly asked anxiously, as she peered from behind a clothing rack. “How was—”

    “It was incredible. I haven’t had to think that hard in years. The people there were so smart . . . 600 of us were there . . . just working, hacking away on these ridiculously difficult problems. It...

    (pp. 47-52)

    April, 2009.

    “So what do you think of my new thesis title?” Molly asked as she crawled into bed next to him. It took Stephen a few minutes to wake from his sleep enough to focus on the piece of paper dangling a few inches from his face. “It’s my eighth tweak this morning,” she added, seeing his eyes open.

    “It looks impressive,” he said, squinting at the title. He had promised yesterday that he would be a sounding board for her latest thesis plans, though he hadn’t expected it to be before he got out of bed. He read...

    (pp. 53-60)

    June 1, 2009. Start of Intern Season.

    Stephen didn’t mind the extra few minutes in the car. Today was the first official day of his internship. He knew enough about himself to recognize that once he started at Ubatoo, he would not be able to avoid, even if he wanted to, the irresistible ease of falling back into his old habits: no sleep, too much caffeine, and a complete lack, and even disdain, of “balance.” He would happily neglect everything else in his life for his work. He had done it before in college, in grad school, in his old...

    (pp. 61-69)

    June 1, 2009.

    Two-wheeled razor scooter, flames painted on the handles, driven by an unidentified emaciated Indian guy with really big hair—heading straight for the table. He stopped inches from Kohan’s boots and smiled as he looked over the cowboy. Without dismounting the scooter, he said, “I’m Jaan Ramamurthi—your sponsor. Follow me.”

    If there was such a thing as “royalty” in the data-mining community, Jaan Ramamurthi certainly qualified for that distinction. Although there may be fewer people in the world who recognized Jaan compared to the other more widely known royals found in castles and the tabloids, the...

    (pp. 70-74)

    May, 2006.

    They had rented out the entire restaurant,Il Fornaio, in Palo Alto, and everything was on the house. There would be no talk of money tonight, unless it was at least a million or more. It had been almost eight years in the making and this very restaurant was where it had begun. This was the location of the final meeting the four of them had held—where these four friends cemented their business plan and fortified their resolve to quit their regular jobs and take a chance with founding a new company. It all took place in...

    (pp. 75-80)

    June 2, 2009.

    “Good God, Stephen. That sounds horrible,” Molly said.

    Stephen had stopped by GreeneSmart to see her on his way into work. He realized only after he’d begun telling her about his first day that everyone might not see it in the same light he did. “No, no. It wasn’t horrible, it was amazing. I can’t believe how much we did in one day.”

    “You’re worse than I am. I’ve lost you to Ubatoo, haven’t I? We’re never going to see each other, are we?” Molly said, enjoying her dramatic words and exaggerated swoons.

    “We’ll see each other...

    (pp. 81-84)

    June 5, 2009.

    Two thick envelopes rapidly found their way through the miles of inter-office mail stations onto the desks of Aarti and William. The envelopes proudly displayed the Ubatoo logo and the words “Welcome Aboard,” for anybody and everybody to see. Aarti and William were offered full-time jobs the day after their diet pill breakthrough was officially deemed a success. Advertisements for “miracle pills,” “diet of the year,” and “no exercise needed, burns the fat for you” were reaching the most susceptible demographic faster than ever, and the meticulously targeted audience was vigorously buying everything they were selling with...

    (pp. 85-88)

    July 7, 2009.

    Pink. It was rare to see anyone who works at Ubatoo blush. Topics usually didn’t veer that way. But there Yuri was, turning shades of pink to match the color in question, a noticeable variation from his usually stark white complexion. His to-the-point words and lack of any intonation didn’t confess his emotions, though his face certainly did. Yuri succinctly replied, “Pink. That’s people searching for porn.”

    Though Yuri frequently accompanied Stephen and Kohan on their nightly walks around Ubatoo’s grounds, the attempts to coax him into joining the conversation weren’t met with success. Yuri Wegovich remained...

    (pp. 89-91)

    July 7, 2009.

    Stephen’s daydreams didn’t wander to things he didn’t possess or conquests he hadn’t yet made. Instead, he imagined himself on a TV show replete with a prime-time audience scrutinizing his every move, and wondered, what would they think? Would they need a narrator to understand him or would his actions say enough? Now, in particular, he questioned how even a narrator could justify the last two and a half wasted years. What could possibly be said, except that he had been tired. Exhausted. Burned out.

    He came into the GreeneSmart-years spent, and in his time there, the...

    (pp. 92-99)

    July 9, 2009.

    The Touchpoints group grew steadily under the auspices of Atiq and Jaan. In the months since Stephen had entered the intern programming contest, nine new scientists had been hired onto the team—an astounding number for any group in such a short time. Atiq had taken Xiao’s admonitions to heart. He wouldn’t face them again.

    The team of Atiq and Jaan was well known in academic circles and was the envy of what few competitors Ubatoo had. Almost every university professor and their students were vying for a chance to join Ubatoo, and in particular its data-mining...

    (pp. 100-104)

    July 10, 2009.

    All told, since starting pre-kindergarten at the age of four, Molly had been in school for twenty-four years (minus the all-too-brief stint in the Peace Corps) of her twenty-seven-year existence. But none of her coursework in anthropology and political science had prepared her for this. Molly needed to create a web site.

    As with any task she undertook, Molly had done more than her share of planning and homework before she began. Her first step in finding subjects to observe for her thesis was to ensure that she found all the right tools to create a web...

    (pp. 105-109)

    July 11, 2009.

    What makes a young boy living in London care about Americans in Iraq? Most kids don’t watch the news, don’t care about politics, and probably couldn’t find Iraq on a map. But on a message forum discussing America’s involvement in the Middle East, a boy, who went by the alias truthAndDare28, typed the following message on his cell phone because he did not have access to a computer; he was fifteen years old at the time:

    Posted By: truthAndDare28

    Posted: Jun 18 2:23 am

    Location: London

    they wont move because they stuff their fat faces with lard...

    (pp. 110-112)

    July 20, 2009.

    Judging from the flashing lights, news cameras, and roar of the crowd, the event could easily have been mistaken for a Hollywood movie premiere. The first sign that it wasn’t such frivolity was the abundance of police officers in full protective gear. The second was the color of the skin of the people waiting in line to enter. The 1,500 tickets to tonight’s event had been sold out since they went on sale two months ago, even before Mustafa Kawlia was given permission to enter the U.S.

    Only a single entrance of UCLA’s Royce Hall Auditorium was...

    (pp. 113-116)

    November, 2008.

    Academic aspirations took a backseat to Xiao’s desire for fame and wealth. He never found the need to hide his ambitions; rather, he made them known at every available opportunity. In his interview withForbesmagazine, when for the first time he entered the ranks of the Forbes World’s Wealthiest 400 people, among the questions the interviewer asked him was, “What is your biggest regret?” Xiao answered, without missing a beat, that it was being interviewed for an article about the World’s Wealthiest 400 people and not the World’s Wealthiest 100. And the executive board members of Ubatoo...

    (pp. 117-121)

    July 12, 2009.

    Yuri was a rock star. That’s the only way to describe his meteoric rise in status among the interns just five days after first showing his demo. News of his tying in the real-time activities of what Ubatoo’s users were doing with the strikingly high-resolution images of people’s homes and apartments spread like wildfire. Interns waxed poetically, presumably as close as they ever came to being English majors, about the beauty of what Yuri had done, and even delved a bit into philosophical discourses about the future devious and deviant possibilities.

    It had become a favorite pastime...

    (pp. 122-128)

    July 13, 2009.

    Whether it be for “show and tell” day at your local kindergarten, finding just the right caterer for your daughter’s wedding, or the going rate of enriched uranium in the underworld of Russia’s black markets, Ubatoo was the right place to find answers. Search for anything, find the best results the Web has to offer, see some ads, maybe click them, and then repeat, every day, many times a day.

    Through the years, almost 87 percent of all the searches in the U.S. and over 49 percent of them worldwide flowed through Ubatoo in exactly the manner...

    (pp. 129-132)

    July 13, 2009.

    “How are you enjoying being a manager, Jaan?” Atiq asked over a boiling cup of milkyTeh Tarik—pulled, frothy, black tea—made by special request for Atiq by one of Ubatoo’s sous-chefs from Malaysia.

    With the countless recruiting trips and press interviews, it had been several weeks since Jaan and Atiq had a chance for their usual one-on-one meetings. “Managing is not for me, Atiq. I don’t know how you do it. Personally, I’d rather be left alone. I’ve been working on my new project for a month now, but being a manager is really slowing...

    (pp. 133-137)

    July 15, 2009.

    Within days of the now infamous “JENNY Discovery,” a bulletin board was erected in Jenny’s honor (this bulletin board was real, physical, and tacked to the wall). Although easily misconstrued as inhumane torture for Rob, it was actually created by the other interns to serve as Rob’s public, cathartic, emotional therapy. Its initial incarnation was simply a place for push-pinning printouts of all of Jenny’s e-mail that had even the hint of being, or being misconstrued as, sexy. However, within hours of it being put up in the intern pit, and every intern having read the e-mails,...

    (pp. 138-142)

    July 15, 2009.

    Skipped heartbeats or not, the decision not to get more coffee was a bad one. Despite his best intentions to complete his work, the lack of company and the many sleepless nights proved too worthy an adversary. After an hour, Stephen gave up trying to work and decided to call it a night. He stumbled home in a daze, his body still jittery from the fading caffeine, and his head defiantly drooping low, ready for sleep. With each step, his feet fumbled as they found every pebble that had made its way onto the sidewalk.

    When he...

  31. A FIVE-STEP PROGRAM: Hallucinations and Archetypes
    (pp. 143-149)

    July 16, 2009.

    Stephen woke to an empty apartment dappled with morning light. A note was waiting next to him, instead of Molly.

    Some really nice results just this morning! Looks like traffic is finally picking up. Thanks for all your help. Whatever Andrew did worked! More traffic and people posting on my site than I could have imagined. Let’s try to talk tonight. There’s so much to tell you about. We haven’t talked in days.

    Love, Molly

    He held the note in his hand for a few seconds. If his imagined television audience could have seen the intensity of...

    (pp. 150-153)

    July 16, 2009.

    “Stephen! How are you? Give me a second. Let me clear out my office. I was just finishing up a meeting,” Sebastin said enthusiastically as soon as he recognized the caller.

    “I can call back later . . . ,” Stephen said. As he was accustomed to at this point, nobody stuck around to hear his last words. He was talking to himself again.

    About a minute later, Sebastin returned to the phone after ushering the others out of the room. “Alright, the room’s empty. I have the files you e-mailed me open on my screen. So...

    (pp. 154-159)

    July 16, 2009.

    Five thousand people. This was far more than Sebastin had anticipated, and 4,000 more than he needed. One thousand would have met his expectations just fine.

    This assignment was thankfully coming to a close. It had taken months to get the information—much longer than he had predicted. Soon, he would hand over the list to Rajive, get paid, and be done. Then, he could go back and concentrate on what ACCL was really about, ensuring the right to free speech, to a free Internet across all demographics, conquering the “digital divide,” and things that he and...

    (pp. 160-165)

    July 16, 2009.

    The deep bass and blaring horns of swing music kept the noise level of Xiao’s Ballroom high. Waiters and waitresses made their way speedily through the crowded room on roller skates, shuttling hors d’oeuvres and drinks to all the gathered engineers and salespeople.

    Thankfully, Stephen found at least one familiar face in the crowded auditorium; Aarti was standing by herself watching the spectacle around them. Still on a high from his conversation with Sebastin, Stephen wasted no time in telling Aarti about his project and his results.

    He spoke too fast and too loud. He hadn’t even...

    (pp. 166-170)

    July 16, 2009.

    The “rally the troops” meeting was over well in time for dinner. Tonight, because Stephen was dining alone, there would be no negotiating or deciding by committee about where to eat. He selected the Delhi Café. It was a cafeteria he rarely went to since almost no one ever agreed to walk that far across grounds. But this evening he was in the mood to walk outside; last night’s anxious sleep and the non-stop work today were taking their toll. Even more than the work, the phone call with Sebastin had taken a lot out of Stephen....

    (pp. 171-177)

    July 17, 2009.

    “I have so much to tell you about,” Stephen bellowed as he opened the door into the apartment at exactly 12:30 a.m., a full two hours earlier than usual. He had meant to get home even earlier, but as usual one thing led to another, and he wound up staying on grounds far later than he had anticipated. Not hearing anything, he asked with a slightly quieter squawk, “Molly, you still awake?”

    He dropped his keys as he fumbled to extricate them from the lock. As groups of them tumbled out of the keychain, landing with noisy...

    (pp. 178-182)

    February, 2004.

    It is rare for an outsider to see the elaborate processes in place at a university to decide which of the next year’s student candidates are worthy of acceptance. When talking about graduate students, this process takes on monumental importance. At the end of a graduate student’s studies, she is forever a representative of the school. By bestowing that student with a piece of paper declaring her a Ph.D., the academic institution stands behind that person, and professes that the student is now worthy of being a peer to its own best and brightest faculty members. Given the...

    (pp. 183-187)

    July 17, 2009

    The rundown hotel room was even worse than Sebastin had imagined—the windows were barred shut, the air conditioner broken, and the stagnant air stifling. He sat waiting on its musty bed, motionless, the scorching sun baking the tiny room. Succumbing to the heat, Sebastin’s imagination steadily incinerated his grasp on his surroundings. The smell of the hundreds of sticky grungy bodies that had doubtless occupied the room before him was permanently embedded in its walls. No amount of cleaning, if it had even been considered, would ever dissipate the stench.

    Restless and agitated, Sebastin moved to...

    (pp. 188-194)

    July 17, 2009.

    Stephen’s eyes opened as the morning light began trickling into the darker corners of the room. His blurry eyes focused first on the dirty glass from the night before. It was partially filled with a forgotten mix of rum, coke, and melted ice water. He heard the familiar tap-tap of a keyboard nearby. As he drowsily willed himself to an upright position, he found himself still on the couch where he had fallen asleep a few hours earlier. “Did you sleep at all?” Stephen asked, spying a blurry Molly, still hunched over her keyboard in the same...

    (pp. 195-200)

    July 21, 2009.

    “Thanks so much for meeting me. It’s been a long time since we’ve met in person,” Sebastin said to Stephen as they sat down at the “Pieces of Pi” restaurant in San Mateo, a half hour from the Ubatoo grounds. He hadn’t seen him since the party, which seemed years ago. The bandage on Sebastin’s forehead covered the stitches. He just hoped it didn’t start leaking again. Even then, he thought to himself, it would be entertaining to see how Stephen handled the blood.

    “It’s great to see you again,” Stephen stated automatically. Although he had agreed...

    (pp. 201-206)

    July 24, 2009.

    With only a few weeks left before the official end of their internships, the overwhelming majority of interns were getting increasingly anxious about their prospects of receiving a full-time offer. Every meeting an intern had with their sponsor came with anticipation and a hopeful but nervous stomach full of butterflies. Every meeting was a chance to hear good news. In reality, though, this almost never happened, notwithstanding the summer’s anomalies: Aarti, William, and Yuri.

    Stephen was in a unique position among the crop of interns. He was the only one who had led a company from inception,...

    (pp. 207-211)

    July 28, 2009.

    Four days later, a rational justification of the idea remained elusive. Nonetheless, that hadn’t stopped progress. First, he committed himself to the project, despite any lingering trepidation. Anything else he had considered was too small, too incremental. And hadn’t he just promised himself to work only on projects that mattered, and that he could be passionate about? Second, the fact that the algorithms and programs required to make the idea a reality were within his grasp was a strong motivation to continue.

    The full potential of what he was going to create was as exciting as the...

    (pp. 212-219)

    August 5, 2009.

    A graph is a graph—a bunch of dots and a bunch of connections between them. How hard could this be? Stephen was days behind schedule. Creating the graph and finding the data to populate it was easy. Ubatoo had the infrastructure ready and the profiles and the right connections were easily extracted from its databases. But the problem was that Stephen wasn’t versed in the latest algorithms to tackle such massive graphs. There were so many parameters, or virtual “knobs,” to tweak: connectivity constraints, damping factors, evidence cutoff thresholds . . . and the list went...

    (pp. 220-222)

    August 6, 2009.

    “They changed it,” Stephen called out, panicked.

    A few hours before its scheduled time at 7 p.m. in Palo Alto, the ACCL meeting was moved to 835 Parkstone Way in Milpitas. Though the new location was only twenty miles southeast of the original, the street was an enormous distance from the safe immaculately manicured lawns and stately homes of Palo Alto. The home at 835 Parkstone Way was a tiny single-level grey house on a street with other equally small houses, and more broken cars than kept lawns.

    Stephen had driven Molly to the house early, but...

    (pp. 223-231)

    February, 1996.

    An outspoken traditional Indian man owning a dusty store that supplied farm equipment and homemade curry mixes to local farmers in a tiny town outside of Grand Forks, North Dakota . . . Stories don’t start out with less likely scenarios. But that was Rajive’s father, a first-generation immigrant from Lucknow, India. Like any well-raised dutiful son, especially any dutiful only son, Rajive did not ever seriously consider going too far from his hometown—even when the acceptance letters from universities around the country arrived in his mailbox. The tuition was too much of a material burden, and...

    (pp. 232-235)

    August 6, 2009.

    Time: 8:04.

    Stephen’s right hand tightly clutched his keys, waiting for the clock to mark 8:10. He would go in the house then, no excuses, no more waiting. Repeatedly, he fingered the tips of each key, trying to distinguish the sharpest. With each, he pressed it savagely into his left arm until he was certain that any more pressure would draw too much blood. He had to find just the right one—the one that could plunge the deepest into someone’s neck if it came to that. Heknewit was all impossible. Molly was just in...

    (pp. 236-240)

    August 6, 2009.

    Crashing from an adrenaline high, tired and ravenous, neither Molly nor Stephen was ready to go back to their apartment after the meeting in Milpitas. When the Ubatoo buildings appeared on the horizon, both agreed it was a good night to stop at one of Ubatoo’s cafeterias. It was past 9 p.m., and thanks to their nerves, neither had eaten anything since that morning.

    With food and loaner laptops in hand, they found an empty conference room and immediately hunkered down into their own private worlds in silence. It was almost 11:00 before Molly looked up at...

  48. ONE WAY
    (pp. 241-243)

    July 29, 2009.

    “Rajive here.” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded tired.

    “Rajive, it’s Sebastin.”

    “Sebastin, where have you been? We were about to call out the troops to find you. Are you okay?”

    “Listen, Rajive. I’m not sure.”

    “Did you get the list from Ubatoo?”

    “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about . . . What if I can’t get it . . . I mean . . . for the price you’re paying?”

    Rajive’s breath was barely audible in the moments he spent deciding what to say. “We’re paying as much as...

    (pp. 244-250)

    August 10, 2009.

    “What the hell is Sebastin doing? He was supposed to have checked in with us how long ago? And I’m just finding this out now?” Despite his anger, Alan Mayer’s voice was barely audible over the drone of the two airplane engines swiftly pulling them closer to California.

    “He’s done this before. It’s never been a problem. He’s always come back to update us, every time,” answered Rajive.

    “So, if there aren’t any problems, why am I on this plane headed to California?”

    “He missed the final delivery. We suspect he’s already obtained the list of names....

    (pp. 251-261)

    August, 2008.

    An enormous number of people had found their way onto “The List.” When people talked about being on a watch list, what they usually meant, though they likely didn’t know it, was eitherTIDE, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or the FBI’s domestic terrorist watch list. Although TIDE, maintained by the NCTC, had been repeatedly subject to newer cleverer acronyms, the main characteristics stayed constant:

    1. You don’t want to be on it.

    2. If you’re on it, you probably don’t know it.

    3. There were many reasons you could be put on it and only a tiny number of reasons...

    (pp. 262-266)

    August 11, 2009.

    “I hate California,” Alan would mutter to himself four times today.

    Today was not going to be a good day. It wasn’t often that Rajive and Alan made it to California, and when they did, the least they hoped for was good weather. That was not to be; a storm advisory was in effect. For Californians, it meant there was an unanticipated severe thunderstorm and that they should probably not venture outside. For those from any other part of the country who may be visiting California at the time, it meant there was an ever-present, and occasionally...

    (pp. 267-272)

    August 11, 2009.

    Alan had plananed his shouts better than he had known. As he had yelled to Becky to find Stephen, he had no idea that Stephen was sitting in his cubicle, only twenty feet away from Atiq’s office. Stephen had overheard the yelling and the commotion. So had the rest of the interns, as well as about a dozen of the other full-time employees, including William and Aarti, who had stepped out of their offices to investigate.

    Andrew was the first to speak to Stephen, “What’s going on? Is that really the FBI?”

    “I have no idea why...

    (pp. 273-279)

    August 11, 2009.

    Waiting outside Atiq’s office with three stoic guards arranged around the door and Xiao pacing back and forth was a nerve-racking experience. Stephen couldn’t imagine how it could possibly get any worse inside the room. Xiao was an accumulation of nerves and energy waiting for the moment to explode. Between taking calls on his cell phone and having his assistants sprint from their offices every few minutes to ask him questions or remind him of missed meetings, Xiao would glance expectantly at Atiq’s closed door. Other than Becky delivering lunch as she had been ordered, Atiq’s door...

    (pp. 280-283)

    August 11, 2009.

    Stephen had been separated from Atiq when they were escorted from the Ubatoo grounds. At approximately 8:50 p.m., Atiq and Stephen found themselves in the parking lot of a nondescript office building forty minutes by car from Palo Alto. Stephen thought he saw signs indicating it was an FBI building, but wasn’t sure, and wasn’t going to ask. Before Stephen was allowed to exit the car, he glimpsed Atiq being escorted inside. He hadn’t been able to look Atiq in the eye when they spoke at Ubatoo; it was good they weren’t together now.

    Unlike the movies,...

  55. FOR ADAM
    (pp. 284-287)

    August 11, 2009.

    No more putrid stench of those who had been there before him. No more vision of bodies in rooms. It wasn’t the Bellagio, but it was good enough. Ninety miles outside of Las Vegas in a dump of a casino near the Valley of Fire Park—home for the next several days.

    Sebastin sat in the lounge with the waitresses in their skimpy slutty uniforms. They watched him as closely as he watched them, they made sure he was taken care of—all the drinks he wanted and all the attention he desired. He had been generous...

  56. FAITH
    (pp. 288-290)

    August 12, 2009.

    The moment Atiq was allowed to leave, he rushed back to Ubatoo. He arrived there at approximately 10:30 a.m., bleary eyed with no sleep, frazzled from his night of questioning, and more terrified than he wanted to let on. The first stop was Jaan’s office.

    When Jaan saw Atiq, he jumped up to offer him a chair and something to drink. Atiq looked ready to collapse with every shallow breath. But he did his best to remain standing, determined to attend to all the emergencies that were surely going to need his attention today.

    “Not now, Jaan....

    (pp. 291-297)

    August 12, 2009.

    At 1:30 p.m., Rajive received a call from Atiq urgently asking him and Alan to come back to Ubatoo. Atiq had more information to share—important information. It had been a long night for everyone—Stephen, Atiq, and Molly, as well as Rajive and Alan. Since the time Atiq had left, Rajive and Alan had spent hours reviewing notes, debriefing the agents who had scoured ACCL and interviewed its personnel, and fending off reporters that had already whiffed the scent of a blood orgy in the making.

    Earlier this morning, after learning about Molly’s encounters from the...

    (pp. 298-303)

    August 12, 2009.

    It had now been more than twelve hours since Molly had last communicated with Stephen, and that was only via a short text message. The questioning she had endured, all told, had lasted more than seven hours. Her web site and its posts had been thoroughly scrutinized, with her dutifully sitting by and providing any insights when she could. Then, a new set of agents were brought in to uncover all she knew about the meeting she had attended, the one purportedly organized by ACCL. Nobody in the room believed that ACCL organized the meetings, but she...

  59. SAHIM
    (pp. 304-308)

    August 19, 2009.

    Seven days alone. Seven days and finally clarity had come. But who to tell? Who would believe her? Molly turned to the only place she could. She posted a message on her web site, She needed everything these forums provided, support, a place to be among friends, and a place to be heard.


    Have you all been watching the news? It seems that everyone is convinced more than ever that Ubatoo has been leaking their information to terrorist groups. Absurd. Do not believe it. I have many friends who know the accused person, Stephen, and...

    (pp. 309-312)

    December 25, 2009.

    “That’s a pretty mean look you’re giving the coffee machine,” she said.

    A small yelp escaped Stephen as he whirled around to find Aarti smiling at him. He figured the office was completely empty today. “What are you doing here?”

    “Same as you, I imagine—might as well come into work. Not much else to do. My travel schedule seems to have been taken care of for me.”

    “Yeah, I know. Coffee’s terrible here,” Stephen replied, waiting for the antiquated vending machine to dispense its $0.75 of acrid sludge. He slammed the vending machine, hoping to convince...

  61. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 313-314)
    Shumeet Baluja
  62. Know More
    (pp. 315-316)
  63. The Privacy Policy of a few organizations, in their own words (as found in April, 2009):
    (pp. 317-318)
  64. References
    (pp. 319-334)