Inside the NSA

Jefferson clicked through his dashboard. The protest had around 30,000 people who had promised to go, with a margin of error of 15,000. Not high-quality numbers, there, but it was an “underground” protest, so that was to be expected. It was unregistered, and the anonymous organizers had instructed participants to meet at separate locations before converging on a location “to be determined”. Aha, they had gotten more clever.

Well, no matter. The organizers were working through a Gmail address, which meant that Google knew where they were. So Jefferson just looked up the Gmail address, and set off a request to Google for all the locations that the Gmail address had been accessed. Almost instantaneously, a map appeared on his screen, little pin points everywhere the email address had been accessed. Looked like it was mostly on the MIT campus in Cambridge.

Oh, but these were some smart kids! They only accessed it at the library. A dead end?

“I wonder if MIT has open-access computers, or if they have to log into an account…” Jefferson muttered to himself.

“Did you say something?” Brad asked. Stupid Brad. He sat at the desk across from Jefferson, and every time he opened his mouth a wave of smell blasted Jefferson in the face. Oh, for the days of cubicles. Why did they need an open workspace anyways?

“Just talking to myself, Brad. None of your concern.”

Brad looked hurt, and his mouth got real tight. Jefferson got nervous. He had already been written up this month for sexual harassment (as if it was a crime to ask a girl out, or to put flowers on her desk), and he couldn’t afford to be written up again. And Brad was the type to complain to HR. Jefferson was sure of that.

“But if I come across a problem I don’t know how to solve, I’ll definitely ask you!” Jefferson said, with a big, fake smile.

“Thanks, Jeff!” Brad said, and smiled. Jefferson’s blood boiled, but he resisted the urge to correct him. He needed to focus.

Oh right, the library computer. He sent MIT a request for the user account that accessed the library computer on May 4th. Annoyingly enough, a pop-up appeared on his screen, asking him to verify his information. The nerve of these stupid universities. He typed in his name, password, and checked the box. A spinning wheel appeared on his screen.

Jefferson waited. And waited. It had been 30 seconds and nothing happened. He got up from his chair, stretched, and walked over to the coffee machine. He had developed a serious caffeine addiction since starting his job. He was up to 8 cups a day now. It wasn’t that he was tired, it was just the only break that was permitted by his company now that smoking in the fire exit was banned. Stupid government contracting rules.

By the time he walked back to his seat, his timer was up, and he needed to log back into his computer. When he did, though, the information was up on his screen: jliu06. Bingo! He sent a new request to MIT, asking for information on username jliu06. A screen popped up:

“James Liu, class of 2021, 321 Faneuil Hall.”
And set! That was that. He sent the information onto his boss, stood up, and casually slipped his phone in his pocket. Time to head to the 5th floor bathroom before anyone could drop any more work on him.


James looked at the screen of his computer. An email account was open, filled with spam emails. It was exactly how he had planned it. To anyone else in the library, it looked like he was just another MIT student, struggling with a mountain of tasks. But he wasn’t. He was starting the Green Revolution. Just 15 more minutes, and he’d send out an email. Just one email, to one server. That server had one purpose: to send out a mass text to 30,000 people. They would all converge on City Hall, and then march to the Legislature. And then? Well, who knows. Maybe they’d take it over, sit in and refuse to leave until a new law was passed. He hadn’t decided that yet. Hell, he never thought he’d get this far.

Just 15 more minutes. 14, now. His hands were sweaty, and he dried them on his jeans. He nervously checked his phone for the time. Yup, same as the computer. Both read 3:01. 3:01 was 301 was two times 150 plus 1. Just 14 more minutes. He clicked on the internet browser, then clicked out. Too risky. He should just sit tight for now.

There was a noise behind James, and he spun around in his chair. It looked like some middle-aged couple arguing.

“You’re a bitch, Margaret!” the man yelled, his face purple with rage. The library somehow became more silent.

“Well, you’re an asshole!” the woman yelled back.

“I’m a what?!”

“An asshole!”

And at that, the man lunged at the woman, knocking her to the ground. As soon as she hit the ground, the man, surprisingly agile, jumped on top of her and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her and yelling.

James sprang up from his chair and ran over to the couple. He couldn’t stand by and watch this happen.

“Stop!” James shouted. “Stop it!”

Amazingly, the man stopped, and got off the woman. She stood up too. James suddenly became aware of a presence behind him, and turned to see a large police officer staring down at him. The library was silent once more.

“James Liu, you are under arrest for cybercrimes. You have the right to remain silent,” the policeman said.

“Under what charges?” James sputtered, his stomach dropping. Did they know? But they shouldn’t have arrested him. There was no legal precedent. And his protest! The protesters wouldn’t get a message! James frantically felt his pockets for his phone. He must have left it on the table when he got up, though…

“Child pornography,” the policeman boomed. “Your digital information is now being downloaded as evidence. Please come with me.”

Behind the policeman, James could see men in windbreakers at his computer station. He had nothing to say, and he hung his head. Behind him, he thought he heard the sound of soft rustling as phones were taken out of pockets, to broadcast his shame throughout the Internet.


“Child pornography, Jefferson? Are you serious? You can’t just accuse someone of downloading child pornography.”

“You said that I needed to find some reason to keep him in jail for a day and to confiscate his computer. That’s what you said. I found a reason!” Jefferson protested.

His boss scratched his beard furiously.

“When I said a reason, I meant like downloading music. Not child pornography! You’ve ruined that kid’s life!” his boss said.

“Well, they’re not going to find any pornography, unless the kid has actually downloaded some. He’ll be let go. No harm, no foul.”

“And all of his classmates will think he’s a pedophile, and they’ll put that on the Internet, and it will never leave him. It’s a permanent mark, Jefferson. Do you get that?”

Jefferson resolutely set his jaw and said nothing. No matter what he did, he got criticized. There was no point in arguing anymore.

“Jefferson, I’m putting you on a Performance Improvement Plan. This is really unacceptable. You don’t get to make mistakes like this.”

Jefferson nodded, tears rising to his eyes, unbidden. Blindly, he walked to the office door, flung it open, and strode out into the hall. Fuck this job.

Behind him, his boss sighed. Some days were bad, others were worse. This was such a shitty job. He needed to relax.

“Martha, hold my calls for the next 15 minutes!” he called out. He didn’t wait for a reply. Pressing a button, the walls of his office turned opaque. Then he typed into his dashboard: J-E-S-S-I-C-A A-L-B-A. He clicked through to her computer, then to her photos folder.

Well, he thought to himself, the job isn’t all shitty. And he smiled.

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