Adventure Contemporary Crime

Caught in the Middle

You can call it spy-craft, operations, or technology surveillance, but all too often it’s more precisely called luck—dumb luck.  At least that is how James Bright assessed his recent experience—dumb luck; but he would take it.  He remembered his first FBI course in clandestine operations.  The syllabus cover had a picture of a shiny red apple.  The second page was a rotten wormy apple core with the statement, “today’s apple is tomorrow’s core.”  Such was the nature of operations.  For all the assistance provided by electronic, DNA and scientific surveillance, observation and luck played equal if not a greater part in investigations.

            James’ current case was a typical.  The unexpected call came in to the FBI from senator  Grubbs’ wife.  She reported that she was troubled by her husband’s behavior and that her conscious would not let it pass as it had become a chronic pattern of behavior.  James met with Marjorie Grubbs at a local park.  To be safe, he had his own team present making sure that the meeting was private and unobserved.  He carried double recording devices on his person as well as having remote cameras recording the meeting.  “Alvin is just not himself.  He’s always been secretive and that’s expected for a senator, but recently he’s had behaviors that are, well—questionable.  He and that phone are inseparable.  That’s not unusual, but I can hear some of the conversations in the middle of the night that appear to be with Asians.  And Alvin is talking about payments--large payments that are to be hidden.  He doesn’t want to be associated with them and he has said words I heard like, ‘plausible deniability, off shore accounts and payments must be through an intermediary.’” 

            Grubbs was a second term senator who was rumored to be a political as well as a sexual player and as such might be expected to have high level conversations, but Ms. Grubbs was specific that these conversations were on his personal phone.  James was inwardly questioning her motive when she also stated she was curious regarding his calls due to his increasing proclivity for sexual exploits outside of their marriage.  James always wondered what drove informants to come forward.  While a few were motivated by patriotism or ethical dilemmas, there was usually a more personal reason, and here it was.  James presented the case to his superior.  It was a hard sale.  “First of all, this is just the here-say of a jilted, jealous wife.  Secondly, the apparent evidence is contained on a personal cell phone.  You are, no doubt, aware of how difficult it is to get into a cell phone.  What we can do, is get a warrant to surveil Grubbs.  If there is anything there, his behaviors will eventually betray him.”

            Surveillance began, and became apparent that Grubbs was a man of a maddeningly routine existence.  From his arrival at work to his daily stroll by the tidal basin with a brown-bag lunch on a park bench while feeding pigeons and squirrels.  After a week, the team was ready to call off the operation when James reviewed the footage one last time.  He again took his findings to his superior, “There, there, do you see?”

            “What?  What am I looking at?”

            “The girl, the girl with the stroller is stopping to adjust her child’s blanket.”

            “Okay, look at her closely, and now look at this next cut.  It’s the same girl, but no stroller this time.  Just a raincoat, umbrella and a brown paper bag.  Do you see the case? More importantly, do you see Grubb’s lunch bag.”  And there it was, perhaps there was an exchange, at least a probable exchange.

            “James, It’s not enough.  Grubbs is like Teflon; everything slides off of him.  If we have an open investigation it will be political suicide for the president’s party.  I think you’re on to something, but you have to get more.  If we could only legally get our hands on that phone.”

            “What if it accidentally came into our possession?”

            “Accidentally you say?”

            “Yes, what if we can arrange an accidental situation to acquire the phone? Then we would have possession and could retrieve the info before he realizes an accidental switch. Then we can return Grubbs' phone either with apologies if he notices a swap or secretly if he is unaware.  That might work, but I’m sure Grubbs has password security on his personal phone.”

            “We can work with that.  As improbable as that is.  Remember when a stoned Hunter Biden dropped off a computer loaded with incriminating data at a strip mall repair shop.  If the election had gone differently the Biden clan would still be in a federal facility, but it sure wouldn’t be the White House.”

            The operation was as carefully planned as any super-secret action requiring split second timing.  Grubbs’ driver dropped him off at the senate wing of the Capitol Building.  His brief case in hand, he and his entourage made their way up the steps. The line through the scanners was arranged to be more congested than usual.  A guard made an excuse and apology for the delay.  Grubbs entourage got separated in the crowd as they tried to shield their charge from lookey-loos and the press who had been informed that Grubbs would be available to answers their questions.  Simultaneously, agents including James were directly in line if front and behind Grubbs.  They had Grubbs squarely in the middle of their sights. As he was in line for the scanner, his personal phone rang.  Marjorie was calling as prompted and sounded more bothered than usual.  He had begun to speak to her with a calming voice when he had to put his phone in a tray as he passed through the scanner.  James had passed through before and his identical phone, now also placed in the tray, his phone also had Marjorie’s voice on a three-way call. The men passed the scanner.  The comely female agent immediately following Grubbs exhibited a staged scene.  Alarms sounded and she seemed flustered as she began to revealingly disrobe to remove any metallic materials including her bra underwire.  As she attracted attention, James accidentally spilled the contents of the tray.  He profusely apologized, picked up the two phones, handed one to Grubbs and kept the other.  Grubbs handled the whole event with equanimity since TV cameras were present he would never risk making a scene. He resumed his conversation with Marjorie.  James carefully handled Grubbs’ phone so as not to disconnect Marjorie’s call and hurried to the techy who handled it as though it was the Hope diamond.

            James’ supervisor summarized the operation. “So, you accidentally acquired Grubbs’ phone while he was in the middle of conversation and did not disconnect.  The phone is open and the contents are available without password protection.”

            “Yes sir, that is correct.”

            “Has Grubbs discovered the switch yet?”

            “Senate has been in session today.  He will likely discover it sometime today unless we can get it back to him without his knowledge.”

            That operation wasn’t a problem.  First, the contents of the phone were copied.  Since it was, by appearance, James phone, that was allowed.  Then, the bogus phone was removed from the breast pocket of Grubb’s overcoat in his office and the original returned

            An unseasonably warm afternoon with bright sunshine allowed the surface of the tidal basin to sparkle.  Grubbs sat on his usual perch by the water taking an occasional nibble of his sandwich, but being sure to give the pigeons and squirrels a generous share.  He seemed totally unaware of the intensive surveillance he garnered.  Three cameras and a coterie of agents were hidden.  The agents were becoming impatient.  Grubbs would soon be leaving the area to return to the Senate Office Building.  Then she appeared.  She was almost missed; now wearing a nun’s habit.  A solo nun was unusual since they usually appeared in pairs, but not unheard of.  Still, facial recognition was unmistakable.  She approached and almost passed the bench, then turned and spoke to Grubbs as though pronouncing a blessing.  The passing of a flash drive from Grubbs would have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been anticipated.  

            James approached Grubbs flashing his FBI credentials.  The faux nun was quickly walking away, but was similarly apprehended by a female agent.

            Grubbs had the expected response.  “What’s the meaning of this?  Do you know who I am?  Who are you and what is your badge number?  Where are the Capitol Police?”  The tirade of threats continued till he was placed in a squad car and given his Miranda rights.  He then clammed up after asking for his attorney.

            James began the interrogation.  After presenting the evidence for selling influence, peddling top secret information to a number of adversarial nations, and frank treasonous activity, Grubbs’ only response was that the evidence had been illegally obtained from confidential resources.  

            James response was, “You really should be more careful with your cell phone.  When you’re between two federal agents, you need to be careful with your phone.  And when you’re juggling the affections of multiple women, you should be more prudent. You might say that you were caught in the middle.”  

            James didn’t know where the case would go.  Like all politicians, he was as slippery as an eel and had friends in both high and low places.  He felt pride in having done his job well and in some small part continuing the security of the nation.  All in all, not a bad day.

November 15, 2020 01:52

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