Stephanie's Mad Infowar

Rain fell on the tiny white house, undercover the maple trees and a tempest of toad croaks. Its garden was decorated with daisy, cornflower, and jasmine. Old and downtrodden 9705 Samford Road seemed like a set piece right out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but it was Stephanie's childhood home.

Back from Texas, it had been too long since she was last here. The place barely had any secure internet connections. The old television set couldn't even get MSNBC. It was out in the middle of nowhere, but she didn't mind. The privacy of her old shelter was a data-haven of nostalgia. Her memories were on replay.

She could remember back to 1997. Angela and Chelsea would bike over every weekend. They were real mavricks, doing a lot of top secret girl things. They always called her boss, colonel, and captain. Things were perfectly swell, until that nerd, Juile Rubin, ruined everything.

Mom heard about it on her way from the bank to the market to get beef. Did Stephanie really try to smuggle 15kg of toffee from out of the school staff room? Wrapped inside an Armani coat, she was secretly proud of her daughter; leading such rogue rebels, not at all like her orthodox monarchist grandparents!

“It's so unfair, Mom! That Juile tattled on us!”

Her mother took the kiwis out of her black bag to slice up later with a steak knife, and put the package of veggie salsa dip onto the kitchen rack. “Are you sure it was her? What about Tony Poe? He's the artful dodger of the neighbourhood.”

“No way, definitely not him!” Stephanie said, though she would later find out he did have a few screws loose.

Mom walked into her archives and fiddled with the buzzer on her mixmaster, clearing the white noise to tune into the Weekly World News. “Well? Then what about Stanley?”

“But Mom, even Alica and Rita think Juile did it!” Stephanie could not just get over Juile, disdainfully recalling her mantis-like eyes, her tiger-like arms, and a big brown mole on the tip of her nose.

“No sense in mouthing a lot of spookwords, dear.” Her mother leafed through her editions of Fukuyama and Marx, lined up on the bookshelf next to an atlas, a dictionary, and a collection of 2600 Magazine. “I mean, why call her an enemy of the state when you haven't even done a proper investigation first?”

Tired of her Mom's zen attitude, Stephanie stomped off to see her Dad in the basement. He was messing around with his tools, listening to Bach and Elvis back-to-back on bootleg tapes and other niche things. He was so entirely different – a real cowboy.

“Oh honey, I know exactly what you need. A little satellite imagery will put all your problems right into perspective!”

“But Dad, I didn't even tell you what was wrong yet.”

With a sweep, a rip, and a zip, Dad went straight to work. He wasn't much for chatter, football, or golfsport wasn't really his forte – but he went to Harvard and had a talent for lock picking. He used that meta-hacker and military intelligence by chaining together a little recon mayfly out of some lacrosse equipment, a beanpole, 2.3 oz. of nitrate, a zipgun, two satellite phones, a blowpipe, a quarter-pound of plutonium, and some old Nike sneakers.

Dad was proud of his kilo class invention as it stood there on the platform in their backyard. He always dreamed of making $400 million in gold bullion quiche, or at least a lot of cybercash. Inspired by the CipherTAC-2000, he called it “Unit 5707.” Perhaps it would be one his of many trump cards in life. But Stephanie didn't like it. It looked like garbage and smelt of sardine.

“Okaaay,” she said nervously. “So what's it do?”

“Just watch!” And Dad, with the wizardry of Merlin, made a wire transfer on the covert video machine. With a jack, a small flame, and a sound like a few flashbangs, a fissionable component made a blow out like a mailbomb and it lifted off into the ionosphere! Its trajectory arc could have jumped Yucca Mountain!

Too bad it didn't actually work. Where did it end up? By Stephanie's guess, maybe Honduras, Tokyo, or Tangimoana Beach.

“Thanks anyway, Dad,” she sighed. His little skytel recondo doohickey had no bearing on her Juile Rubin situation, but it did give her some ideas. Devilish and evil ideas. She lowered her jaws and grinned her fangs with a wry smile that could kill the president. She had chosen exactly what to do.

She pranced down the road, around the blocks of concrete, past Bletchley Park, and careful not to trip over the speedbump. She passed by her neighbour's pet canine named Bubba, a pseudonym for Bubba the Love Sponge, who had curly fur and fox-like features. She climbed up through a pine gap like a gorilla from South Africa and took a stakeout in Juile Rubin's backyard.

Under the indigo shadows, she began her clandestine eavesdropping. She tip-toed across the grass like a ninja with all the superpowers of Chameleon Man. She could see that petty little Juile in her room through the window, watching Aladdin and some Pixar movies. She crept over to the door and by peering in the keyhole she found the most curious enigma.

Inside was a white yankee playing blackjack. He looked dead and had a snuffle like the flu. What could it be, Stephanie wondered. Was it a porno? Was he hurt by his ladylove? Or was it just too much on his credit card?

That's when she saw it. Cocaine! Oh yes, this little interception would work just nicely for Stephanie. But, he must have heard her! Sensing a domestic disruption, he reached for his flintlock gun!

But by the time he made it outside, nothing was there. A badger in the woods, he thought.

The next day, when Juile made it to school, all her friends had turned against her. She went through all her contactsMorgan, Monica, and Wilma – but nobody would give her a fish even if she begged. Wondering what this anonymous threat could mean, she soon suspected that bunch of redheads, Angela, Chelsea, and Stephanie! Ooh, that Stephanie! They worked the schoolyard like the mafia in the illuminati. With strategic planning, they whispered about plenty of offensive information, and their gossiping propaganda spread like a virus.

“If you want to tell me something, you should say it to my face!”

But Stephanie, with a calm expression that wasn't very explicit, looked to her two advisors to advise her. After a small chat with her duo of a National Information Infrastructure, Stephaine turned around and said to Juile, “I don't know what you're talking about, you big fake.”

And that is what sparked it. The girls all around the schoolyard engaged in information warfare! Juile called Stephanie and her friends a bunch of pornstars! Angela called back about how Juile's dad was such a Playboy! It was a class struggle, with the Grade Fives against the Grade Sixes, and a secret service of spies and subversives teaming between them. The teachers on yard duty, the school's Field Security Division, didn't even have a clue of the terrible mindwar going on – they thought the schoolyard was one of many peaceful Edens in the world. If they had heard even one fraud that the kids used on each other, they would've thought it about the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

“I hate you!” Juile cried as Stephanie went on a long oratory to assassinate her character. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, you... you.. Lamma!”

A hush fell on the girls. Stephanie was agape at the audacity of this new rail against her.

“That's right! A lamma! Really hairy with big buck teeth and a long neck! That's you! You're a lamma!”

This type of verbal asset was too ridiculous to even think. Stephaine thought Juile must be really desperate, but then, all the other girls started giggling.

Lamma, lamma, lamma,” they spoke in a singsong voice. Even Angela and Chelsea were singing along. “Lamma! Lamma! Lamma!”

They all encircled her and kept singing. What new kind of information terrorism was this?! Stephanie tried not to let it bother her, but her firewalls were too weak. It was beyond hope. She wanted to cry. She wanted to escape. She wanted her dad to show up with the van and to take her far away from here. To Panama! To Mexico! To Kosovo!

And Stephanie's dad kind of did, in a way. After hitting the fritz long ago, his terrible Unit 5707 finished flying in from 52 52 N - 03 03 W and made a grand re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Like a fantastic firefly and in direct opposition to any weather forcast, it came crashing down right into the schoolyard with a big explosion. Chaos and crypto-anarchy soon followed. The police rushed to take over and clamped down the danger zone like Area51. School was cancelled for a week.

When it all settled down and they got a reprieve from the anarchy, Stephanie apologized to Juile, swearing on her honor as a Templar. Since then, they became the best of friends, and even went to the Yukon together. But it didn't last, for when Stephanie became a competitor in the corporate security world, Juile had her long-awaited revenge by emptying out her treasury.

To this day, she still hates that nerd.

“Echelon” was a signals intelligence system created by the United States military during the Cold War. Its software is shared using the 01946 UK-USA Security Agreement between the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It was first used for telecommunications espionage on the Soviet Union.

In 01998, hackers outside the military hierarchy were able to confirm the existence of Echelon and its modified use in tracking email, SMS, and internet file transactions. It was one of the first instances since the fall of the Berlin Wall where the United States government (and by extension, the others also within the 01946 agreement) was found using military signals systems as unwarranted surveillance on its own population during peace time. Perhaps they didn't want it to go to waste?

The same group of hackers were later able to attain a sizable list of the hit words that would send Echelon's sniffer systems into alert. That list was selectively leaked onto various internet cryptography websites.

Seeing no other recourse, in 01999, various cyberspace freedom groups formed a netwide “Jam Echelon Day” on October 21st of that year, where as many people as possible would take the list of keywords and violently spam their own email systems. The basic idea was to make internet surveillance impossible through a targeted and automated overload using a high amount of red herrings. While it was reported that the National Security Agency's computers did “inexplicably” crash for one day several months later, the efforts were proven ineffective and could not be sustained.

It turned out, Echelon did not only look for keywords, but also searched them used within actual context and not merely nonsensical listings. Since then, many avant-garde online zines have used the list as a word game where writers would include as many words from Echelon's vocabulary as possible while writing something completely non-sequitur as far as political espionage is concerned. Websites who did then publish these spook-laden stories did receive an increase in the amount of robotic web traffic on their servers, indicating that they were indeed courting the attention of robotic surveillance systems, but interest in mass-spamming these items did not surmount.

The question of the authenticity of the list is a mysterious one. It is possible to very easily write it off as an unintentional prank by a conspiracy theorist, but it actually does contain a few codewords and acronyms specific to the United States Intelligence world. Aside from that, many of the blacklisted words are self-referential to the very act of surveillance in some way, as if they were monitoring for people who suspect they were being monitored. One actually hopes it is not authentic, for if it was, in the World Wide Web's earlier and simpler days, the policies of the United States government looked more like a squirrel arguing with its own tail.

Wordlists are an inherently farcical means of monitoring and censorship, subject to the fashions and whims of petty politics and language. I can only recall the days when my high school tried in vain to censor the internet access in a similar way, just to find out that becoming fluent in a language like French or Japanese would bypass just about all of their English-only filters. The English-only nature of this list suggests that Echelon was aimed not at actual foreign or enemy states, but rather the domestic enemy and the general public. As a common Canadian, I will not claim to understand the oft-incomprehensible motivations of the world hegemon, but why subject your kinsmen to the same dark glare you give your enemy? Trust issues? If you can't do that, then is there nowhere in this cold and dark world you can truly call home?

This list is now more than ten years old and is probably no longer reflective of the surveillance systems currently in use. If Echelon is still an active component of internet surveillance is an open question, as these systems are not publicly disclosed. However, recent leaks such as those made by Edward Snowden suggest that the surveillance complex has moved on to programs such as PRISM, dealing less with disperse probing and more to do with direct access to centralized data centres, which all the private sector proprietors of said data centres all suspiciously deny any existence of. An additional Snowden document from 02008 tells of XKeyScore, which polls HTTP data directly using FQL (federated query language) and data mining techniques. More work is probably done in some form of deep-packet inspection as well. But even if Echelon itself might be retired, the frequent appearance of "TOP SECRET//COMINT//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL" in Snowden's leaked documents indicate the continued presence of the 01946 UK-USA Security Agreement, so perhaps the mechanisms which Echelon operated within still remain.

If wordlists do continue to exist, they probably only come in last of a long tool chain of information espionage.

This short story uses 240 out of 1530 items on the list. (With some repeats.)

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Meade, SEAL Team 6, Honduras, PLO, NSA, terrorist, Ft. Meade, strategic, supercomputer, $400 million in gold bullion quiche, Honduras, BATF, colonel, Treasury, domestic disruption, SEAL Team 6, class struggle, smuggle, M55, M51, Physical Security Division Room 2A0120, OPS, 2A building 688-6911(b), 963-3371(s). Security Awareness Division, (M56), Field Security Division, (M52), Al Amn al-Askari, Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), Binnenlandse, Veiligheidsdienst, Komitet, Gosudarstvennoi, Bezopasnosti, Federalnaia, sluzhba, besopasnosti, GCHQ, MI5, Kill the president

(Show All Words, Highlight Used Words, Show Only Used Words)

Source: McCarthy, Kieren. "What are those words that trigger Echelon?." The Register [United Kingdom] 31 05 2001, n. pag. Web. 26 Jul. 2013.

Note: If I had to guess, these keywords were probably stored within a stack-based data structure or a similar kind of vector or linked list. Stacks store the most-recently added item earlier in the list. This means that those words that appear later in the list were likely added to it before the others. It is for this reason why “kill the president,” a rather obvious choice for a spook word, appears last.

- July 02013

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