Friday, October 16, 2009

Chapter 12. Dead Air

There was a problem.

The signal coming from the high-rise complex in Teheran had suddenly disappeared. The most likely reason was that the local FM station had gone off the air. The nano chips that were broadcasting the target’s location in response to being excited by the local FM carrier would not broadcast if that frequency suddenly shut down. With all the triple-A, the bombs, the missiles coming in, it was not surprising.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” shouted Alon. “I didn’t even know you guys were using my concept.”

“What can we do?” asked Jael.

“I have to think,” pleaded Alon. “Give me a minute.”

Avi and Danny just glanced at each other. Jael wanted to take Alon’s head, rest it on her chest and comfort him. But right now they were all soldiers and they were professionals.

“When did the signal stop?” asked Alon.

“About 3 minutes ago,” said Danny. “It stopped, started and then stopped again.”

“Is there any way we can tell if the grid is up in the vicinity of the tower?” asked Alon.

Danny scratched his head, “Wow. Let’s see. Maybe we could get a satellite to look. Thing is, it’s daylight. There won’t be much lighting in use anyway.”

Alon had a idea of what was wrong. “Let’s do it. Let’s see what we can see.”

“Mr. President, we’ve lost the signal from Teheran,” announced Morrell.

“No!” Obama sounded deeply disappointed. “Mike, what can we do?”

Admiral Mullen had anticipated that there could be problems - although losing the signal was way down the list. “Well, we could turn back. We could keep going and hope the signal returns before we get there. Or, we could continue on and attack the last point we saw him and hope he’s still there.”

“Fuck.” The President spat the word out.

“Mr. President, we have plenty of time to make up our minds. The Israelis are probably working on the problem right now. Plus, the Chinook isn’t going to enter Iranian airspace for a half hour and then it has about an hour flight to Teheran. It’s not going to get shot at, so let’s be patient. That’s my recommendation.” concluded Admiral Mullen.

“Any other ideas?” Obama polled the group.

“I say, pull ‘em back.” declared Vice President Biden. “For Chrissake, you’ve got enough on your plate. My God, when you get in front of the cameras today they’re going to be all over your ass with all kinds of questions. This is going to complicate things so much more. Just let it go.”

“Hillary?” asked the President,”What’s the diplomatic point of view?”

“Joe’s probably right about this. It gets very complicated,” He didn’t show it, but Clinton’s acquiescence clenched Obama’s decision. The remaining opinions were gathered for show.

“Jim?” The National Security Advisor was a bit more circumspect.

“Mr. President, I’ve wanted to nail that bastard every day, ever since my first day of service in the White House. It’s the bullseye as far as I’m concerned and I think the American people would feel the same way.”

“Anyone else?” No one volunteered.

“Keep ‘em going,” ordered the President.

Ben-Tzvi and Peled were studying satellite feed of high resolution live images of Teheran and the Borj-e Milad, the Milad tower, the tallest structure in Iran and the location of the radio transmitter that should be pumping out a signal at 99.9 megaHertz and was not.

“Danny, I have some archival images from the same time yesterday and the lights aren’t glowing on the electric signs in the area,” said Avi. Peled had noticed something himself.

“Traffic lights are not working, Avi. The grid is down, the transmitter’s off the air because there’s no power.” reasoned Peled.

“Don’t they have a backup generator?”

“Probably. But there’s not much we can do about it.”

“Anybody speak Farsi?” asked Jael.

All three shook their heads. “What’re you thinking? asked Ben-Tzvi.

“Well, there’s gotta’ be someone in the station, probably a very junior person. I mean if you have any authority you have a key to the local shelter. I think we could talk someone through troubleshooting the problem if we could get someone.”

“I’ll make some calls,” said Peled.

Uri Oren was just north of Kuwait when his radio squawked.

A voice spoke in Arabic, “Sabaah al-khayr, Yusef.It was the traditional morning greeting, ‘The sun is rising.’

“Sabaah al-nuur,” replied Oren as Shirani. ‘The sun is risen.’

The speaker’s voice was familiar, he was a friend from Mossad. But Uri was on the way home. Why the need for cover now?

The Arabic continued, “I want you to know that your paperwork is not correct on the Karachi shipment and the accounting office wants you to contact them.”

The code had been passed so Oren played up his response, “I provided the paperwork to them and they could have said something when I delivered it. I am tired of their complaints. They lose all my paperwork and then they blame me. I will contact them, but then I will speak personally to the manager in Karachi upon my return, inshallah.”

“You do what you must, Yusef. I am just a messenger.”

And Oren terminated the conversation. He climbed out of his captain’s chair and walked back to a bulkhead where a clipboard hung carrying a sheaf of paper that looked like a collection of bills of lading. Oren leafed through them and found the Karachi delivery. On the surface, in the upper left corner, was a sort of bar code, a mottled black and white splotch. Oren took out his cell phone and shot a photo of the blotch. He opened an application on his phone called “QR Quick” and in a heartbeat the application converted the unintelligible blotch into a 6 digit number punctuated by a decimal point. It was a radio frequency. Oren returned to his seat, reached toward the center panel on the massive Airbus and dialed the six numbers on his radio transmitter.

He then threw a switch on the panel that was unlabeled. It put a digital converter online that encrypted Uri’s transmission and decrypted the incoming signal.

“This is Oren.”

“Uri, we need a Farsi speaker who can take charge of a situation in Teheran. There’s a radio station off the air and we need it back on the air fast. I’ll patch you through to the project team leader Danny Peled and he can explain.”

“Peled? I know him.”

“This is Peled.”

“Danny, this is Uri Oren. How are you?”

“I’m good Uri. I thought of you when it was proposed we get a Farsi speaker. You’re the best.”

“Good enough, I hope. What do you need?”

“Uri, we need to get the Teheran FM station at a frequency of 99.9 back on the air. We need you to call the station, Irib Payam, and get anyone there to work with you to get them transmitting.”


“We can patch you in.”

“Who is there, who am I asking for?”

“We don’t know but we’re guessing that management has fled. The station’s in Milad Tower and I’m sure they would think they’re very vulnerable there.”


“Are you ready?”

“Yes, we can ring it now.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

There were some strange electronic sounds coming through Oren’s noise-canceling headphones, not surprisingly, as the connection was made between the Airbus over Kuwait, to Jerusalem to Teheran and back to the Airbus.

The sound of two tones, then a pause, two tones, then a pause, then suddenly there was an answer.

“Salaam!” called out an excited voice.

“I must speak to a manager,” ordered Oren.

“There is no manager here. Who is this, please?”

“I am Mohmmad Soleimani,” said Oren with a heavy dose of hubris and dismissiveness, “I am the Minister of Information and Communications and I want to know why you are not on the air? It is the duty of any employee of the Ministry to maintain communications. That is in the directive that has been sent to every State facility and a directive you have signed. Do you remember making that commitment?”

“Yes, of course.” The poor man had never been asked to sign anything but he wasn’t about to get his bosses in trouble.

“What is your name and what is your position?” demanded Oren.

“I am Amin Mahmudi, I am a technical assistant.”

“I see,” said Oren as though he was unsure. “Yes, you are here on the loyalty list. I can call upon you to help the Islamic Republic?”

“Yes. Whatever I can do,” pleaded Mahmudi.

“The you must get the station back on the air immediately.”

“There is no electricity to the building.”

“But there is an emergency generator, Mahmudi. May I call you Amin?” asked Oren in an attempt to ingratiate himself.

“But of course. Minister Soleimani. I do not know of a generator, however.”

“It is probably in the basement, Amin. You must get to the basement and search for it.”

“Very well. I will set the phone down...”

“No wait. You must not do that. Do you have a mobile, Amin?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Is it working?”

“Let me see.” There was a brief lull in the conversation as Amin reached into his pocket and flipped open his Nokia phone. “Yes, It has a strong signal.”

“Do you have a good charge in the battery?”

“Yes, it is good.”

“Then give me your number and we will hang up and I will call you back immediately.”

“It is 3 zero 4 zero 6, 6, 4, 7, 3.”

The line was disconnected in Jerusalem, as the new number was punched in, Peled spoke to let Oren know they were with him.

“Dialing, Uri - stand by.”

“Salaam, Minister.”

“Salaam, Amin. Are you on your way?”

“Yes, I am just to the lobby. The steps are behind the main desk right beside the elevators.”

“I can picture where you are, of course.”

“I am entering the stairway.”

“Stop. Right where you are. Do not allow a door to close.”

“Oh, ahh, I am sorry, Minister. I fell trying to catch the door. I am in the doorway.”

“Can you move?”

“Yes, but I have cut my ankle.”

“Do you have a jacket. Your wallet. Do you have a wallet?”

“A wallet? Yes.”

“Use it to block the door. You must be certain that the doors do not close and lock behind you.”

“I see, yes. I would not be able to get back to my post.”

“That’s right.”

“It is very dark, Minister. I am afraid I can’t see anything.”

“Of course. There is no power, it would be dark.” Oren was disheartened for the first time since the conversation began. But, he was a very resourceful man, it made him a perfect candidate for the Mossad. He simply had to draw upon those resources.

“Is there anyone else in the Tower?”

“Yes, there is my sister and there was woman in the lobby as I ran through.”

“You must go see if she has a mobile. And if you see anyone else get them, too. Go!”

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