All military strategy must be based on deceit.
Thus, when you are in a position to attack, you must seem powerless. When you use force, you must appear weak.
Sun Zi, The Art of War, sixth century BC
United States, Langley, CIA headquarters.
Lorna Green was returning to her office on the fourth floor of the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia. She had now been heading the Asia Bureau of the Agency’s Intelligence Directorate for 10 months and was beginning to settle in that monumental building.
She stopped by the bank of drinks dispensers and got herself a piping hot coffee served in a plastic cup. Then she helped herself to a few biscuits from an adjacent tray and began to nibble them as she flicked through the Washington Post. She always had difficulty firing up in the morning and this little ritual was something she needed. As she walked down the corridor five minutes later, she crossed some department colleagues who greeted her with marked respect and courtesy. This statuesque short-haired blonde with no known male companion had an intimidating effect on them. The gaze of her steely eyes had the power to freeze all those it fell upon.
Faithful to her custom, she was wearing a dark trouser suit that day. In fact, no-one recalled having ever seen her in a skirt or dress. What little makeup she used was limited strictly to a light touch of colour on the eyelids, which only served to emphasise the hardness of her looks.
She was not displeased with her new assignment. It was a handsome promotion that rewarded her unfailing efforts of the previous years at her India posting, where her role had been acknowledged as instrumental in tightening rapports between the United States and India. She had been particularly skilful in exploiting the chronic crisis with neighbouring Pakistan to build up a relation of trust with that great country. In fact, it was largely thanks to her that there were now regular exchanges of information between the CIA and the Indian government’s Joint Intelligence Committee. The deal was effectively that the US Agency would share some of its well-sourced information on Pakistan’s political situation and nuclear capabilities in exchange for discreet support of American policy and much-needed cooperation in the strategic matters. She had spent many long months in the Indian sub-continent, sparing no effort to achieve this goal. The resumption of peace negotiations with Pakistan had been her greatest reward for her single-minded commitment. In fact, the best part of her career had been spent abroad, out in the field.
Her return to the USA was thus a welcome break and being in Virginia was almost like settling back home. Her family was from Maryland, just across Chesapeake Bay. She was born in Baltimore, where she spent all her childhood, and did her first degree at Maryland State University.
Lorna entered her office, already dreading to find the usual pile of reports, news bulletins and summary briefing memos which she would have had to wade through. She would invariably be interrupted by some of those officers convinced of having uncovered a plot here, a conspiracy there…
‘Sally, would you mind getting me a coffee, please?’ she pleaded, before stepping into the battleground.
‘Good morning, Lorna. Sam Juarez’s been asking for your since seven thirty this morning. He seemed desperate to see you. It looks like he’s come across something in China,’ came Sally’s reply as Lorna made her way wearily to the coffee dispenser, her uncombed hair betraying her natural ineptness at early morning starts.
‘Okay, I’ll call him. Thanks Sally.’
She opened her e-mail inbox. Watching the lines of bold characters pop up in succession, she noticed that China seemed to dominate the subject fields. ‘That’s rather odd,’ she thought as she began to tap on the keyboard.
If China had once been America’s ally during the Cold War, it was now it’s bugbear since the collapse of the Soviet empire. The CIA could not afford to lose track of this new giant, watching that it did not start encroaching on America’s domination. This constant concern had charged the relations between the two countries with complexity and ambiguity. The mutual mistrust between them reached its apogee in 1999 with the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The Agency curtly dismissed this incident as a ‘mapping error’. The political chill between the two giants reached a new peak when it came to light that Chinese intelligence services were operating on American soil, giving rise to the big spy scandals of the late 90s. Tensions had reached such a point that the Department in charge of watching China had more than doubled in size over the past five years. And it was still undermanned. Lorna had to take on new analysts and poach staff from both the Europe and Latin America Departments. The focus of most of the CIA’s resources had now shifted from the ex-Soviet Union to China.
There was a gentle knock on the door.
A male figure appeared through the gap. It was Kowalsky, a senior analyst to whom in Lorna assigned the role of coordinating the intelligence teams in their missions to China. He could write and speak Mandarin at least as well as a Chinese office clerk.
‘Hi there, Mike! Have you heard from Stenton recently?’ she asked, remembering she had meant to call him herself. She in fact wanted Val Stenton to give her a roundup on the situation in China. She had worked with him before in the Philippines and liked his keen sense of vision.
‘I’m expecting his daily brief at around ten.’ Without seeking Lorna’s permission, Kowalsky unfolded before her a double page bearing a graph.
‘Look. This curve shows the stock levels of hard disk drives in China.’
‘Don’t you and your team have anything better to do with your time?’ retorted Lorna with icy sarcasm.
‘If you’d just take a closer look, you’ll see their factories have been churning them out by the truckload in the past two weeks. According to our estimates, their stocks are approaching 35 million units…’
‘Maybe these hard disks are intended for those digital video recorders you now plug straight into your TV. You know, the things that are now replacing VCRs.’
Kowalsky let out a grin, relishing the occasion to show off his team’s painstaking work.
‘That’s exactly what the Chinese authorities said when we asked them – digital video recorders!’
‘Well then, it looks like an open-and-shut case. Now, shall we get back to some useful work?’ she continued in the same punishing tone.
‘Except there’s one little snag…’
Lorna was now getting impatient. The last thing she wanted was to waste her precious time talking about disk drives!
‘You see, HDDs for video equipment work differently. They are made to write short bursts of data at frequent intervals…’
‘Well, what about it? Can you get to the point, Mike. Please! I’m busy here.’
‘Listen, according to our techies, these drives won’t do the job. The Chinese authorities are giving us bullshit. And we’re trying to gather why they’ve been stockpiling those units over the past three weeks.’
‘Okay, you’ve got a point here. 35 million disk drives, did you say?’
Just then, her secretary popped her head through the door.
‘It’s Sam Juarez. He insists on seeing you.’
‘Tell him I’m coming, Sally. I’m just finishing a highly important matter concerning hard disk drives, would you believe!’
Kowalsky winced. He hated his boss’s cutting remarks.
‘No, but seriously now, Mike my old friend. Can you see me going over to the CIA Director saying: ‘Hey, Mister Big Chief, we’ve just learnt China’s stockpiling hard disk drives on its soil – it looks like we’re heading for a repeat performance of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis! We must demand that China dismantle its entire stock!’ Do you see my point, Mike?’
‘Lorna, insisted Kowalsky. We may not know what they could possibly want with those disks, but we shouldn’t just brush this aside. Who knows, perhaps the authorities out there have ordered 50 million computers to be fitted out in the weeks to come…’
Resuming her seriousness Lorna began to think about it.
‘Okay, dig into it, Mike. But I want nothing but the hard facts. You got that?’
After these words, Lorna got up suddenly, prompting Kowalsky to take leave in a like manner.
Sam Juarez and his team in charge of sifting through photos of China were waiting for her in the Satellite Image Department’s meeting room, tucked away in the basement.
With his shiny balding head shimmering under the flickering lights of the monitors and his small round tinted glasses, Juarez looked the exact caricature of what she imagined analysts to be.
‘Hi, Sam, what’s going on?’ she said by way of greeting as she stepped into the room, making her way towards the coffee urn.
The analyst had loaded his database with views he had carefully selected from comparisons with hundreds of photos. Before even starting, he gazed at her with a peevish look, as if he knew beforehand that his work would be slammed once again.
‘Over the last two weeks, we’ve been seeing military activity in China. We’ve compiled a set of aerial photographs picked up by our satellites in the past ten days.’
He reached over for a remote control and switched on an enormous video projector housed in a console dominating the centre of the room.
‘Here we have here a shot of the Qingdao naval base. It’s the Chinese Navy headquarters for the northern sector, which covers the Yellow Sea.’
Sam tapped a series of shortcut keys on the server’s monitor in front of him to zoom in on the area of interest.
‘On this shot, we can make out the five submarines at berth. This is extremely odd. Those two over on the right are Ham class nuclear propulsion attack submarines, and those two across on the other side are Kilo class vessels bought from the Russians, while the fifth one just behind is a Ming. And in this large artificial dock we can see five 051 and 052B type destroyers and three frigates. But what’s most interesting is the activity we’ve been observing around all these vessels. In the following set of photos taken at two-day intervals, we see crates of equipment brought in by truck being loaded on board.’
‘It looks like they are receiving supplies. I’m afraid I can’t see anything exceptional in that,’ snapped Lorna, who had learnt to be wary of Sam’s alarmist interpretations.
‘Not on a scale like this! I’m willing to stake my reputation here: there’s something real weird going on. We watch the Chinese navy all the time; we know every cog in their works. They always proceed in large manoeuvres spread over several months. But the movements we’re seeing have nothing to do with their normal exercises. This is a much more focused and specialised operation. There’s a sense of urgency, too.’
He moved on to the next photos.
‘We are seeing the same sort of activity in the port of Ningbo, to the south of Shanghai, harbour to the Eastern Fleet,’ he commented. The two vessels you see are Sovremenny Class destroyers they recently bought from the Russians. And just below to the left we notice no fewer than eight frigates. Note all those vehicles scurrying around,’ he said moving his pointer to scattered darkish shadows on the photo. ‘I’ll spare you all our data on the Jianggezhuang submarine base, which has been the scene of several sea trials, and which all indicate there’s something unusual in the way their submarines are geographically deployed.’
He cast sideways glance to the Asia Bureau Director and noticed with a certain satisfaction that her haughty airs had gone. The accumulation of facts was beginning to bear fruit. With a tinge of anxiety appearing in an otherwise composed voice, she suddenly asked:
‘Could there be a link between these manoeuvres and the fact that China is currently stockpiling millions of computer hard disk drives?’
Stan looked at her blankly. He would never understand that woman’s mind. But Lorna Green’s expression reflected her growing perplexity at the different facts converging in her mind.
‘Did they declare a state of alert?’
‘No, officially everything’s normal. We don’t have anything that would explain all these activities at their naval bases.’
‘So, what are we to conclude? Taiwan?’
That was indeed the most logical conclusion. Sam had been expecting this query. He fished around among the files and folders on his screen and double clicked on a slide show of a scenario for a Chinese invasion of the island.
‘China has about 600 ground-to-ground missiles pointed at Taiwan. China currently installs 70 new ones each year. But we’ve recorded no tests on these missiles outside the normal routine. If they were to attempt a landing on the island, they’d need intensive air coverage, but we haven’t seen their air force conduct any preparation exercises for it. Finally, they’d need literally hundreds of amphibian vehicles and, again, everything’s quiet on that front.’
‘So, they’re not after Taiwan? Is that what you’re trying to tell me, Sam?’
Lorna was showing signs of restlessness. She began to pace the room up and down in a state of agitation.
‘It all looks the other way round… as if it’s China that’s bracing itself for an attack from outside: an aggression that would come from the sea.’
Lorna Green remained pensive for a few seconds. Her eyes were riveted on the photos displayed before her.
‘From whom would the Chinese fear an attack? The North Koreans? I doubt it. Japan, South Korea? Clearly not. India, the Philippines? That’s getting crazy! India? They already have enough on their plate with Kashmir and Pakistan. As for Russia, that’s plain impossible. What about an enemy from within?’ she asked after a pause. ‘Did you consider an uprising, a scission within the army, or a military coup?’
‘No, there aren’t any worries from the army. Believe me, we’re very well informed on that score.’
The chief analyst for Chinese matters had no doubts on the matter. The CIA had countless informers and knew all the goings-on within the Chinese army. Communications were routinely intercepted, unfathomed and analysed. The daily life of the People’s Liberation Army held little mystery to the keen eyes of the Langley observers. The CIA had a number of its insiders posted at different echelons of this great Chinese war machine. Lorna knew it all too well. She was in copy of all the summary briefs on the intimate workings of the PLA, and nothing could get through un-noticed by the American services.
‘So who, then?’ she asked with exasperation.
She somehow knew the answer was there, staring at them in the face, simple and obvious. It was a gut feeling that never betrayed her.
The country was getting ready for an anticipated aggressor. But the latter could not be any of its neighbours, nor come from inside. This was no riddle, it was a job for a first-class sleuth. As in all good detective novels, the murderer was likely to be the least suspected character, either because he had been considered dead in one of the earlier chapters or because the culprit was… the narrator himself!
‘I think I know who the Chinese are fearing an attack from.’ After saying these words, a smug smile appeared on Lorna’s lips. What’s more, she had scored a point over these blasted analysts who were paid to think of these things.
‘Who do they see as a threat then?’ asked Sam with a hint of defiance in his voice, his face showing marked interest.
‘Us !’ answered Lorna, stretching out the syllable in a deep voice.
‘Us?’ he echoed incredulously.
‘They’re fearing an American attack! Can’t you see that?’
‘And why would they imagine America is about to storm in on them? We aren’t in a state of crisis with them. How could they possibly see a reason for us to attack them?’
‘No, you’re right. We don’t know why we would possibly want to attack China, but apparently they seem to.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Gentlemen, I believe China is preparing a dirty trick. And it’s already anticipating our retaliation to it. That’s what it is!’ she let out triumphantly.
Lorna did not give the analysts present the time to let this revelation sink in. She had already turned her heels and left the presentation room. It was time for her to fly off immediately to Beijing and get to the crux of this matter. She went up to inform Doug Chandler, the director of the CIA.
18 August, 1:50 a.m.
Santana Song stuck his head out of the office window and took in the atmosphere of the street. Despite the late hour, the incessant din prevented him from concentrating, much as he needed to. The room had no air conditioning and he was stifling under the humid heat.
The upper storeys of the frontages in his view were adorned with the garish multicoloured neon signs of shady hotels where the rooms were let by the hour. He could also see the luminous signs on the ground floor, occupied by massage parlours, each with their sordid little room where young girls whose body odours, scarcely disguised by heavy sprays of cheap scent, lent a friendly hand to relieve impatient visitors. This was the rock-bottom service, dispatched in less then ten minutes for 50 yuans. His gaze then fell on a fruit seller’s stall, then on the outdoor tables of a small restaurant. This working-class district of Beijing never slept. It was constantly animated, bristling with life right through till dawn, when the daytime population took over from the night owls.
That was Song’s unofficial ‘office,’ remote from his appointed one at CIA headquarters in the south wing of the American Embassy building, a fortress protected by high concrete walls. It was his own cubby-hole where he felt more at ease to concoct his underhand schemes. There, in the heart of these seedy streets, his demeanour, reminiscent of a 1930s Shanghai hoodlum, went by unnoticed. He would retire there several times a week to shut himself off from the curious looks of the Agency staff.
Song had just gone through the last batch of documents that Cheng had handed over to him. The accountant obviously put quantity before quality. He had already taken hundreds of photos of items lying in secretary’s office: internal memos, screen displays, dockets… Everything he could lay his eyes on – except interesting material. This pathetic little gigolo was not getting up to very much. He had become the secretary’s official fiancée and Bao Yutai, the head of the Regulations Department, regarded him somewhat like his son-in-law… That very idea brought Song into a fit of convulsive laughter. You just had to laugh sometimes in this business. And second rate underlings like Cheng were his favourite clowns.
He was about to pass on to the next photo when his brain instinctively sent him a signal to freeze. There was something. There, on the far edge of the desk, near the LCD monitor, was a printed sheet on which he could only just make out the title: ‘Project for the Deployment of a National Operating System for Home and Office Personal Computers.’ He clicked impatiently on the zoom-up symbol and scrolled the screen to bring that document into full view. It bore the ‘Ultra Secret’ stamp mark: the highest level of secrecy in China apart from the ‘Defence Secret’ category reserved for military information.
At last, the long-awaited moment had come! The constellation of clues building up for over a month were now all pointing in the same direction! China was finally going to kick itself from its inertia: it was going to make the big decision everybody had been waiting for. It was going to make a giant leap into the unknown! But Song systematically and painstakingly plucked away each one of those clues as they came to him, so as to pass on just a mush of data to the CIA. Song wanted the Agency to think everything was normal in the Standards and Regulations Bureau: ‘Nothing to report’ as his brief would state. He deleted the tell-tale photos from the image folder he was preparing to send to his CIA chief. And, as usual, there would be little to say about Bao Yutai’s activities.
Now, he immediately had to inform his superiors that the big day was coming closer…
Beijing, CIA Bureau
‘Something’s brewing up in China and I want you to find out what!’ Lorna Green was now pulling out all the stops. The head of the CIA’s Asia Directorate went to task the moment she set foot in Beijing. Forget the idea of a quick tour of the Forbidden City. In any case, she did not care much for Asian art in general. Although she felt quite at home in Gwalior, Konarak or Mysore, and even in the tiny remote villages of India, the local architecture here, with its flamboyant colours and bright red columns, left her stone cold.
‘Gentlemen, I repeat, there’s something going on; here, right under our noses – or should I say your noses – and you’re not even aware of it! Wake up, for goodness sake!’
The meeting was being held in an elegant 19th century decorated room in the west wing of the American embassy building.
Stenton was slumped in a large tan leather armchair. He was trying to defend his team.
‘Lorna, this country’s a dark horse…’
She gave him no time to finish. Her innermost feelings were telling her there was something bubbling under the surface.
‘How can you be so damn naive? This country is a past master in the art of intrigue. Surely you don’t need me to tell you that.’
Val Stanton knew Lorna too well to get ruffled. His female boss held no secrets for him. He knew everything about her: her over-inflated ego, her bossiness, her attraction to women… But after having clashed and finally accepted each other, they had developed mutual feelings of esteem and respect. She was curt and had little time for tact, but no one could deny her outstanding reasoning abilities and unfailing cool headedness.
‘According to our latest intelligence reports, China is conducting uncommon military exercises. We’ve come to the certain conclusion that something is happening out there in the shadows, something different and unprecedented, and which could well take us all by surprise.’
‘Like a terrorist attack?’
‘Yeah – something like that. But its nature and form might be new…’
Stenton massaged his forehead. He too was having those vague feelings that something was amiss, but refrained from bringing them up for lack of tangible arguments to back them. He summed up the facts surrounding the situation.
‘Lorna, we keep track in real time of all of China’s activities in each of its key technology sectors: high-tech, space, biotech’s, nanotechnologies, electronics… China’s ruthlessly and methodically trying to catch up on its technology lag and aiming to sever all its links of dependency on the Western world. We’re keeping close tabs on this situation and making sure China isn’t getting its hands on the most sensitive technologies. Now, we’ve seen nothing suspicious on any of these fronts in the past few months, other than…’
‘Other than what?’
‘As I was about to say, other than a campaign of attacks targeted at Microsoft…’
Lorna was familiar with this affair.
‘There’s nothing new in that. China has for years been comparing its dependency on Microsoft to its enforced importation of opium back in the 19th century. It’s nothing but propaganda, of course, but they did try last year to replace Microsoft software with their own home-grown product. Mind you, that’s fair enough. After all, you can’t blame them for wanting to safeguard their military and governmental communications as they see fit.’
‘Sure, but here the offensive seems to be shaping up.’
‘Your’ referring it to the so-called ‘Lin Zexu group’ our Tokyo Bureau uncovered, right?’
‘Correct. Over the past six months, we’ve been picking up reports on a number of very high level meetings involving heads of ministries, state institutes and commissions – all on the subject of the supposed threat Microsoft poses to China. Just run off-the-mill stuff, I suppose you’ll say. But, what is less so, is the shroud of secrecy that surrounds these meetings. There were no minutes drawn up for any of them. Their agencies are always very vague and all the initiatives seen to pop up spontaneously from different places.’
‘And where are you up to in your investigations?’ asked Lorna.
‘We’ve concentrated them on the Ministry of Information Industries. These meetings can all be traced back to the same character: Bao Yutai, the director of the Regulations Department. We’ve managed to follow a thread to one of the most enigmatic heads of counterespionage, a certain Zhou. His name appears on two documents detailing the organisation of some of these meetings. This Zhou could well be very dangerous.’
‘To get to the bottom line, do you believe China’s planning an anti-Microsoft offensive?’
‘Nothing indicates that it is. All the information gathered out in the field among decision-makers, business circles, industry, i.e. from all the people who actually run China today… well all this information shows that the priority of priorities for China now is stability, maintaining the status quo. They don’t want to interfere with the markets. It may be one thing for certain nationalistic circles do want to fight against the so-called American opium, but for industry and business to rally to their cause is quite another. I repeat, there is nothing whatsoever today signalling anything hostile towards Microsoft. And you can’t have better proof of that than the extension and deepening of our discussions within the scope of the GSP.’
‘That’s the governmental security program set up by Microsoft, right?’
‘Correct. The Chinese have just given it a new thrust. They’re no longer just wanting to analyse the software’s source code. Since two weeks ago, they’ve been adopting a much more open and friendly attitude. At the outset, GSP was grounded in suspicion. Now all that seems to belong to the past. The Chinese are currently seeking to introduce Microsoft’s digital rights management architecture into their own computers! This DRM, as it is generally termed, can be used to manage MP3 music files. Now that’s what I call significant progress and a mark of confidence.’
Lorna remained immersed in her thoughts for a few moments. All this was indeed going in the direction of stabilised relations.
‘Now tell me, the team our country sent over for this GSP business is here to customise Windows and integrate security modules developed by the Chinese. Is that right?’
‘Right. It’s a positive sign to which Microsoft feels strongly about.’
However, Lorna green would not be so readily taken in.
‘Hey, Stenton, d’you happen to know if those Chinese software modules are the work of that Professor Mok Mengma, the father of their computer security… you know, the one who received a medal?’
‘No, they weren’t from Mok’s team… These security routines were in fact developed by another state institute.’
‘And don’t you smell a rat?’
‘Now that you tell me, it does sound a little odd. But Microsoft’s bosses and their team seem happy with it. And they ought to know! There’s no doubt in their mind the Chinese want to co-operate.’
Lorna continued to muse. All this did not wash.
‘And didn’t you tell me you identified a spy among the Chinese delegation?’
‘Yeah, a Chinese girl. We didn’t see anything unusual in that until our thread on that girl took us all the way up to the supposed brains behind that anti-Microsoft campaign, namely the mysterious Zhou.’
‘Is that girl dangerous?’
‘Difficult to tell, but we’re watching her closely, if only because she’s struck up a relationship with one of the Microsoft techies; their star computer scientist, apparently.’
‘When you say relationship, you mean more than just friends, huh?’
‘For the time being, we gather their relationship is… let’s say… platonic. But we alerted Microsoft to it and suggested they send that guy away somewhere. They followed our advice and posted him off to Shanghai for a week or two. But now he’s back in Beijing as a result of the new developments under way.’
‘I don’t like this one bit. Who is this scientist?’
‘He’s a computer wizard. Don’t worry, he’s perfectly clean. We’ve been through his psychological profile, his relations, his activities. Nothing to report.’
‘You got his file? Let me have it.’
Stenton tapped briefly on his keyboard and the printer in the corner of the room kicked into action. He got up, picked up the three typewritten sheets that rolled off and handed them over to Lorna. She pulled out a pair of glasses from the breast pocket of her jacket, unfolded them and placed them methodically over her nose.
‘Tom Bailey. So that’s his name.’
‘Yes, they call him Tom.’
Her face instantly whitened a shade.
‘Did you see who his father was?’
‘That Tom… he’s Geoff Bailey’s son…’
No one dared ask for an explanation, but Stenton’s expression seemed to show he had grasped the significance of this parentage.
‘You sure? Well, that would be a coincidence! Yeah, sure I remember that lefty anti-Vietnam War militant.’
To the two fifty-somethings, that name obviously did more than just ring a bell, but they didn’t dwell on it. Lorna paced round the room. She was racking her brains to find a link, but it failed to come up. She halted in front of Santana Song who was leaning nonchalantly against a wall.
‘You’re the one who’s following Tom Bailey, right?’
It was her first meeting with that Eurasian. She felt an animal repugnance to him which she struggled to cast aside and hide. If Stanton had chosen him, she thought, it must have been for very good reasons.
‘We don’t exactly follow him 24/7, nor the girl either,’ explained Song. ‘But it was through her we managed to work our way up to Zhou, one of the counter intelligence chiefs.’
‘If I’ve got this right,’ continued Lorna, ‘that Zhou could be the brains… or one of the brains… behind that ‘Lin Zexu group’. And not only that, but you also let that girl seduce the star member of the Microsoft team, a certain Tom Bailey who’s none other then the son of… Now, gentlemen, don’t you think it’s all beginning to stink rotten?’
The two men clammed up. Stenton had an unwavering confidence in Song, his henchman always at hand to dig behind the scenes without ever arousing the least suspicion…
‘I want you to put an end to all this. Tom Bailey is returning to United States tomorrow.’
‘Lorna, that’s impossible,’ Stenton tried to plead. ‘There’s no way Microsoft would ever agree to that! As far as they’re concerned, very high stakes are placed out here in China. They simply cannot afford to lose the Chinese market. I had the utmost difficulty in persuading them to let Tom Bailey go to Shanghai for three weeks. Kathleen Morse, the woman in charge of Microsoft’s GSP commission, is under pressure to defend her company’s interests. If the Chinese were to adopt Microsoft’s version of their ‘Next Generation Secure Computing Base,’ or NGSB, which handles the digital rights management on PCs, then they would have achieved a decisive advance in their relations with China. They’re prepared to go to great lengths for this and are running an impressive public relations campaign to prepare the ground.’
Lorna remained silent.
‘It looks like the presence of one of their intelligence agents among the delegation doesn’t bother them all that much, so long as at the end of the day they get China to collaborate with them in the long term. That Lao Jin girl is no doubt a highly competent computer scientist.’
‘Yeah, but a highly competent computer scientist collaborating with the Lin Zexu group.’
Song cut in with a point.
‘The only thing we know is that she has links with counterespionage.’
‘I want you to tell Kathleen Morse that we’re granting this Tom Bailey one more week in Beijing. One week. Not more. Have you got that?’
Lorna was uneasy. What was going on in the dark had ramifications way beyond the fate of Microsoft in China. How else could she explain the fact that China was placing its army in a state of near alert?
‘We must follow up all clues, even the most unlikely ones.’
The two men exchanged puzzled glances.
‘That’s impossible, broke out Song. It’s up to the market to decide, as the Chinese now like to remind everyone! They can’t force a billion of their people to use a new operating system when they’re already used to Microsoft!’
‘Now let’s imagine that they decide to impose this measure using the stamp of authority?’
‘No way,’ insisted Song. The logistics behind such an operation would be way too complex. They’d need to convert 100 million PCs all around the country. I can’t even begin to imagine the palaver involved. If I were in the place of the Chinese leaders, I would rather give up writing with pictograms than replace windows…’
Lorna paused a few seconds to think.
‘Would it help your imagination a little if I gave you a stock of 35 million hard disk drives?’
Ge Yong turned up at the huge warehouse in Wuhan, central China. It was one of the main hard disk drive storage sites the CIA had identified. According to a number of coherent sources, around 8 million units were being kept at that plant.
The building was surrounded by an impenetrable electrified fence. All incoming and outgoing traffic through the single security gate was carefully checked by uniformed guards.
‘Sir, I’m afraid we need your identity.’
The polite formulation had something comical, coming from the burly, tight-jawed guard blocking the passage.
‘Sorry, I’m Ge Yong, a buyer for the Lenovo company. I have an appointment.’
Lorna Green had briefed him the day before. She had been entertaining doubts ever since her meeting with Stenton and Song. She was now wary of the latter to the highest degree, right from the moment she suddenly realised that it was the Tokyo Bureau that discovered the existence of the ‘Lin Zexu group.’ This may not be a proof of guilt, but at least one of incompetence.
Ge Yong immediately felt the cold throb of adrenalin pumping through his body. A tingling sensation ran all over his skin. Lorna Green had this knack of always catching him off guard. He was a sleeping agent in the Bureau’s network, waiting to go into action at the drop of a hat, and she had summoned him. Lorna warned him of the sensitive nature of that mission.
‘The members of the Beijing Bureau haven’t been informed. They are not to know of this,’ she repeated, without volunteering any more explanations.
Ge Yong had to wait for well over a minute before the security barrier finally swung open before him, accompanied by an okay nod from the guard. His cover apparently had the hoped-for aura of credibility. Being a buyer prospecting for China’s number one PC manufacturer was evidently a good key for opening doors. All the more so as he had secured a visit to discuss a special confidential order for 800 000 disk drives. The declared purpose was to negotiate prices and delivery schedules.
The assistant to the sales manager received him in a small office and wasted no time in boasting the company’s policy of flexibility and speed of response. Ge Yong listened intently to the assistant’s awkwardly delivered prattle, which she obviously reeled off to every visitor to highlight the company’s merits. Cueing in on a brief pause, he interrupted her, brisk and businesslike.
‘We are here to do business. I’m quite happy with your prices but I’m much more concerned by your delivery dates. When can you send us the first batch?’
‘The sales assistant looked embarrassed.’
‘Unfortunately, the earliest date I can propose is… mid October…’
‘Mid October! Why that’s a long way off. It’s plain impossible. How come that you, one of China’s largest wholesalers, are taking so long,’ continued Ge Yong as he pulled from his pocket a folded sheet bearing a printed table of figures.
‘We have very large orders to satisfy and our stocks are currently very low. It’s the same situation everywhere. There is a dearth of hard disk drives all over the country, and that situation’s been going on for the past three weeks,’ added the saleswoman defensively.
‘I wish to visit your workshops… Can that be arranged? You are properly equipped to pre-write software on your disks, I presume? I would like to make sure of your site’s quality control levels for myself.’
The young woman turned apologetic.
‘I’m afraid that’s impossible… our installations are closed to the public.’
He put on an irritated expression.
‘Perhaps I should remind you, madam, that Lenovo is no small customer of yours. So, allow me to insist. I demand to see where your disks are kept and the lines on which you install the software on them, failing which I see no alternative but to report to my head office that your company does not seek the custom of Lenovo!’
She took fright. Muttering a renewed apology, she suddenly went away through the door to ask the manager how to proceed. She came back a few minutes later, asking Ge Yong to follow her. The manager had consented, as an exception to its best customer, to let one of its representatives visit their own installations.
As she passed in front of him, Ge Yong watched her tall slender figure advance gracefully along a series of corridors, each protected by security doors at which they briefly halted as the girl swiped her magnetic card through the reader. They finally reached the entrance to a large room where the director was standing, ready to show them in. Inside, Ge Yong immediately spotted dozens of white-bloused young girls rhythmically picking up hard disk drives from yellow basket-trays and placing them in small black antistatic envelopes.
‘Mr. Ge Yong, I am very pleased to welcome you here at our packaging plant. Normally, we never let visitors into this area, but we are making a special exception for you as a representative of our largest customer. You can consider yourself very privileged indeed.’
He uttered the last sentence with noticeably less warmth, betraying his vexation at having to bend the rules through intimidation.
Ge Yong put on his best affable air and bowed respectfully at the director, attempting to convey extreme gratitude. Then he quickly turned his gaze back to the room, trying to take in as much as possible. The yellow box-trays were fed by a conveyor belt a few paces to his right, loaded in an adjacent room. He edged his way towards the upstream end of the conveyor, while pretending to show interest in the director’s flow of speech. A double swing door suddenly flipped open a few metres in front of him. For a brief moment, he caught a glimpse of the other side before his view was closed off by a trolley entering through the opening. The doors closed again. It was just enough for Ge Yong to notice that it was an enormous warehouse with long lines of shelving neatly stacked with identical yellow box-trays, each presumably full of disk drive units. He had to check that out. Turning his heels to the director in mid sentence, he darted straight to the doors and thrust each hand against a respective panel. He was in luck. They were not blocked by the door opening mechanism. Under his force, they both slammed opened in unison.
‘Ha Ha, so that’s where you store all your disk units!’ he exclaimed as innocently as he could.
‘No, Mr Ge Yong. No!’
Too late. He had clearly seen them. Thousands of pallets in countless lines, each stacked several metres high, brimming with yellow box trays full of disk units. He did a quick reckoning. There must be literally millions of units.
The director put a hand on Ge Yong’s shoulder and pulled him back inside.
‘This place is absolutely forbidden… It’s in a highly controlled atmosphere.’
He had turned red with fury and surprise.
Without losing his cool, Ge Yong asked with a false air of surprise:
‘But how come you’re so long in delivering when you’re warehouse is chock-full. I was under the impression that your stocks were low!’
Ge Yong did not even bother to listen to the director’s muddled explanations.
‘Oh, one last thing, I’ve absolutely got to visit your pre-installed software test installations. You do, of course, still want to work with Lenovo, don’t you?’
The director was fuming, torn between the urge to call security to throw him out on the spot and the fear of losing his best customer. They advanced in rapid steps, first through a room in which several hundred disk drives aligned along rigs advanced to a station that injected the software directly into them, and then the quality control room. Here, operators could be seen dipping at random into an array of advancing disk units, picking one for a series of visual inspections and manipulations.
‘What’s the software you’re putting into them?’ he asked.
‘That all depends on the customer,’ the director replied curtly. ‘Most of the time it’s Windows and Microsoft’s office suite.’
Ge Yong moved up to one of the women working at a test station.
‘Now, this disk drive, for example… is it loaded with Windows?’
‘Come back here immediately!’ snapped the director.
Ge Yong paid no heed and continued looking over the woman’s shoulders. He had just enough time to see a screen display come up on the monitor before her. From the graphics and icons, it was obviously not a Windows software. The shrill sound of a whistle suddenly burst from behind him. The director was calling the security guards. Ge Yong continued to scrutinise expectantly at the screen. After a few short seconds, he felt his arms been grasped by two hefty uniformed men. Stiffening his legs and bracing his body, Ge Yong tried to overcome their pulling force for a few moments. It was then that he saw four white letters starting to scroll along the screen and stop at the centre: CNOS. It was the last thing he could note before being manhandled and frogmarched through the plant buildings. The director was shuffling along almost sideways in ridiculous steps, trying to keep abreast along the corridor while turning to face the ousted visitor.
‘Mr Ge, I’ll have you know that I know some of your superiors very well, and I shall give them a detailed report of all this… this is an inadmissible intrusion!’
The escorting party continued on its way to the exit.
For Ge Yong, it was mission complete. The plant director could curse him till he was blue in the face, call for an enquiry, he could not care less. He now had some accurate information with which to brief Lorna green.
A book by JF SUSBIELLE – Translation by Dominic KING