Love, American Style
Kabul, Afghanistan - 14 / 6 / 02
I was once again delayed in finishing my journal entry due to work and mass chaos. I did not go to bed till five this morning after a phone call from lawyers for CBS. Now why would lawyers be calling us in Afghanistan you may ask? Well here is the story of what has transpired here in the past few days. A story of a love-struck warlord, a hapless freelance journalist, the FBI, CBS, lawyers, and little ol' me.
Four days ago, CBS was approached by a freelance reporter with a computer which can only be acquired in bombed out camps in the Afghan countryside or by FBI agents in Minnesota. The only difference is that in Afghanistan, no one has to wait for a court order to look at the computer. Apparently this piece of electronic hardware was given to her by an amorous warlord to win her affections. She in turn informed the FBI of her booty, and they apparently showed little initial interest. After the rebuff, she brought the computer to the CBS house to see what kind of arrangements could be made concerning gleaming information off the database.
My initial impressions of this situation were quite similar to what I was feeling when last time I was in Kabul when I was given the "pleasure" of working with Jack (who as you remember provided us our first scoop, the al Queda training tapes). Jack, the crazy ex-Special Forces spook, created a real state of apprehension and nervousness - above and beyond those one has when dealing with a shady character. Now as an engineer it is not my in my nature to question what kind of work I am doing. My job is to solve any technical issues which may arise and to solve them. It was decided to copy the files on the hard disk and place them onto CD-ROMs in case the computer was no longer made available. Through the laborous efforts of various technical support personnel, I was finally able to link my computer to the computer of ill-repute and burned them onto CDs.
Soon after I finished my Herculean task, we began to get word that the FBI had a change of heart and REALLY wanted to take a look at the locally acquired computer, so much in fact, that they had gone through all the trouble of gaining a subpoena for the freelance journalist. Upon learning of this new predicament, lawyers were quickly contacted in New York on how to RSVP the invitation. After careful deliberation, and upon learning that the FBI already knew that copies of the computer existed in CD-ROM form, it was decided that everything should be handed over to the government.
Now this is where it became a bit of a tricky situation for me in particular, and also a hard lesson on why one should not pretend to be a hacker. In the process of copying the files, I left numerous tracks leading back to my computer. This could be interpreted as either my computer was used by a terrorist, or someone snooping. Deciding not to appear as the former, it was decided to inform the lawyers of the developing situation.
The reply from New York soon made me realize just how deep I had gotten into a life of intrigue. Since I was now in possession of information important for national security, there were two possible outcomes for me. One was that my computer would be confiscated; the other was that for the time being the computer was safe in Kabul. However, there was the fear that as soon as I left the country, there would be the risk of the computer being stolen while I made my way through Muslim countries. To rectify that problem, I would be placed under Federal protection during my journey back to the States, including a free flight on a military jet. It was decided that in the morning, the original computer the FBI wanted and the CD-ROMs would be taken to the embassy and that the Feds would be informed of my involvement.
About this time I began to shutdown amidst visions of me in a nice orange jumpsuit with silver bracelets, and it was now six in the morning. I went to lie down, but afraid of a repeat of the Elian Gonzalez incident, I made sure to sleep in a different room. I awoke at noon to the CBS crew hurriedly packing to go to Pakistan to cover the suicide bombing in Karachi. Noticing that no one was spirited away during the night, I was told by the producer to talk to the freelance journalist who provided the original computer about the situation. Apparently when the journalist went to the FBI that morning, they were a bit cavalier about the situation, but they did take notice of my computer. From what I learned, and as it stands now, the federal government does not necessarily care about me and I can go to any third world country I choose, but my computer on the other hand cannot. Upon my departure from Afghanistan I will be escorted, orange jumpsuit et all, back to the United States where I can retrieve it from one of the local FBI branches near my home. All in all, I think I have faired pretty well so far, but deep down I do not believe this saga is over. If there is no correspondence for two weeks, you know what has happened.
- Mike Brandenburg