The smoking of cigarettes was not the only thing that was unusual about this government facility. The facility was an anonymous looking "big box" stuck on the back of a Coast Guard facility. It was ostensibly an IRS data storage facility. The employees kept to themselves. There is no such thing as "good" attention from the IRS. Nobody pestered the staff for information or to ask them out on dates.
Furthermore, the rooms were separated by four layers of drywall and a full Faraday cage. Each sheet of drywall was individually adhesive-bonded on butyl rubber blocks and each room had powerful, stand-alone HVAC units. That is 5000 pounds of drywall for each room and incredible amounts of white noise. Somebody was very serious about keeping whatever happened in Keokuk, in Keokuk.
Jim asked, "What do you want to talk about today? Siberia? Soviet air defense doctrine? Logistics of POL?"
Jim and Stan had both noticed Pete's interest in the cigarettes. They knew that they were in for a bitch session. You get to know somebody very well when you spend eight month, two hours a day totally devoted to interviewing somebody...and the remaining 8 hours of your work day analyzing everything they said.
"This bores me. When do I get my Hooka lounge in Eugene?" was Pete's lead off.
"Maybe when you stop sounding like Boris Badenov from Bullwinkle." was Jim's retort. Jim spoke Russian with the precise enunciation of a person educated in St Petersberg while his English betrayed his origins in a Pennsylvania, Pollack steel-town. He pronounced "Boris" in the Russian manner, "Boor-Reese"
"Central Dispatch identifies a penetration. Three fighter groups are scrambled. Two are vectored by Central Dispatch to block access to the most likely or valuable targets. The third is vectored to intercept.
The intercept team is to out-number the estimated number of intruders by at least three-to-one. Central Dispatch updates the optimum intercept coordinates as more information develops.
All teams are to achieve maximum operational altitude at full military power and then proceed to their stations."
Stan asked, "Why do the teams operate from maximum operational altitude?"
And that is how the debriefing of defectors was handled. The same questions were asked over-and-over by different teams of interrogators. The answers were transcribed and reviewed the next morning. Often, errors were introduced into the transcripts to "test" his reliability. Other times, the shabby quality of the interpreters introduced glaring errors.
Pete sighed. "Fighters operate at maximum operational altitude to provide Central Dispatch with maximum discrimination between friendly and foe. Fighters operate at maximum operational altitude to minimize exposure to Surface-to-Air missiles. Fighters operate at maximum operational altitude to activate their look-down radar."
Stan looked at his notes. "Would you like a cigarette?" he asked.
Nicotine is the preferred drug of soft interrogations. It is the only addiction that can be reinforced fifty times a day. The flip side is that it is the only drug that can be withheld fifty times a day to good effect.
Pete shrugged. Camels were much better than nothing and they were certainly better than the Virginia Slims that Tanya on Team Two smoked.
Part of the debriefing protocol was to immerse the defector in vintage, US TV programming. That included cigarette ads. Soviet pilots adored Gunsmoke, Bonanza and admired Hawkeye Pierce's alcohol still. They craved manly cigarettes. Propaganda has never been done better.
Stan continued after the cigarette was lit and Pete had inhaled. "Why does the radar on your fighters only have "look-down" capability?"
Pete was a radar expert. He had defected to Keflevik with a second-tier fighter. Pete graduated with a Master's Degree from Moscow State Technical University. He placed second in his class and his thesis, A Method for Efficient Synthetic Aperture RADAR Transformations of 3X2-D data into Optimumized Trajectory Cones, subtitled With Compressed Communication protocols between data collection points put him in the elite with regard to desirable defectors.
Pete's thesis was elegant in its simplicity. It created the theoretical basis that enabled the launch of three Surface-to-Air missiles which would act like three eyes. The missiles would communicate back to the brain in the last missile launched. The brain calculated the path of the target through space and ignored flares and all other distractions that did not stay within the limits of the target's performance envelop. The brain guided the three missiles to three different intersections with the target at quarter second intervals. A good pilot might avoid the first missile. A great pilot might avoid the first two missiles. But the maneuvers required to avoid all three missiles would peel the wings off the plane.
Pete had unrestricted access to the planes that were being used to test RADAR upgrades. The test flight took off without incident on the day he defected. One of his wingmen experienced a fuel pump warning light 150 miles over the Barents Sea and turned back. His other wingman's weapon controls would not activate when Pete went radio-silent and turned his plane west. Neither event was an accident.
Our side was less interested in Pete's plane than in what he knew and the scuttlebutt he had heard.
Pete replied, "You know why our fighers have look-down capability. Central dispatch coordinates the battle. Our central dispatch radar has more capability than you are aware of. Our fighters only need look-down capability."
Stan said, "Tell me about the capability I am not aware of."
Pete deflected the question. "Maybe after the plastic surgery, when I can really believe you intend to make good on your promise of the Hooka bar." That is how debriefing went. Nobody has to teach a shark to swim. Nobody has to teach a Russian to play verbal chess.
Stan said, "As a fighter pilot, would you like to have full up-down-sideways-fore-aft capability? Can't you imagine a time when that might be handy?"
Pete replied, "Of course we would love to have that. But we cannot package that amount of capability into a plane."
Stan said, "We keep coming back to that, don't we. You are still using tubes. Why is that? We know that you are capable of making very high quality integrated circuits."
Pete replied, "We will be using integrated circuits. Someday. And then we will kick your ass out of the sky because Russian pilots are much better than American pilots."
Stan pressed on, "But why aren't you using them now?"
Pete said, "Clearly, it is because we have not solved The Problem."
Every defector said the same thing. "We have not solved The Problem."
The art of debriefing is to look for patterns. And to look for patterns within patterns. And then to look for even the slightest deviations from those patterns and to pursue those dangling thread to the other end.
"Da Prroblem" was a major riddle. We had no clue what they meant by this universal "Da Prroblem"
The interrogator's dilemma was that questions reveal much to the person being interrogated. Good interrogators condition the interviewee by always asking questions that the interrogator already know the answers to. They do this over, and over and over again. And one question in a thousand might be a question where we are not sure of the answer.
The best information is volunteered.
A direct question reveals too much. Some defectors were plants. They scurried back to Mother Russia.
Stan said, "Ahh! Yes! The problem. It was difficult, but you know we have great technology. We solved it."
Pete said, "You know, as a matter of professional interest, I wish you would tell me how you did it."
Jim changed the subject, a fact not completely lost on Pete. "Tell us about the Siberia. Why are there so many RADAR stations in Siberia?"
****"There are some things that just do not add up for us." Jim said shortly before their two hours were up. Everybody was tired and raggedy.
"Your phased array RADAR transmitters are carved from the side of a mountain and you feed 230 Megawatts of power to them. Clearly you don't know shit about amplifiers, otherwise you could run your radar with one-thousandth of the power and one-hundredth of the area."
Pete flared up. "You think Russians are clowns, buffoons. You think we make electronics with big hammers like blacksmith? Our electronics are big for a reason!" Pete's Russian accent became thick when he became agitated.
One trick of interrogation is for the questioners to remain absolutely stone-faced. The person being questioned becomes emotionally volatile when deprived of validation of "affective" listeners. Emotional volatility impairs judgement.
Pete snapped back, "Your arrogance has made you stupid! You are a small people and trapped in your small way of thinking."
Stan was dismissive. "Yah, right. You went with big because your electronics are big and inefficient."
Pete threw back, "It takes a big array and much power to pump 1.33 Megahertz signal."
The earbuds in Jim and Stan's ear lit up. "What the FUCK?!?!" Pete's statement had gotten somebody's attention.
"Why would anybody uses 1.33 Megahertz unless they were limited to electronics they recycled out of a box of Crackerjacks?" Stan said, his voice dripping with disdain.
"What is the wingspan of a B-52? We turned them into Theremin devices and have fingerprinted every plane you have in inventory. Did you know that many of your planes have corroded rivets attaching the shear panels to the spars? Yes. We know that from the attenuation of the signal. We wish you would do maintenance on your planes. It would be a great convenience to us."
Jim intervened. "Hey everybody. Let's just chill. Let's kick back and have a smoke before we shut down for the day. I am out of smokes, Stan, do you mind sharing?"
Turning to Pete, "Can you really do that? Man, if I were a Russian I would worry about the ones with the weak return signal. I might not be able to track them."
Pete calmed quickly. That is one great advantage of nicotine. It is FAST. Smoke trickling out of his nostrils he decided Camels were not that bad. "Not to worry. We did tests and we think the ones with the bad rivets will not be able to withstand limit maneuvers. It is a hell of a thing when your opponent knows more about your assets than you do. No?"
The next week
"Our analysts are puzzled by these vertical lines across the face of your phased array radar installations. What are they?"
Pete said, "They are negative resisters."
Once again the voice in the earbuds lit up..."What the hell is a negative resister?"
Jim casually asked, "It has been a while since I was at University. Why don't you refresh my memory on negative resisters."
Pete relished the role of the pedantic professor. "A resister is a device that passes increasing amounts of current as the potential, the voltage, increases. It stands to reason that a negative resister is a device that has decreasing amounts of voltage as the amount of current increases. In fact, at zero current it has infinite resistance."
The earpiece said, "There is no such thing."
Stan scoffed, "There is no such thing."
Pete arched one eyebrow. "There are several in this room."
Jim and Stan both registered surprise.
Pete pointed upward with the cigarette he had been nursing. "The light tubes."
The room was illuminated with eight foot long, fluorescent light fixtures.
"That is a curious thing. Why do your radar need 'negative resisters'?" asked Jim.
"Lightening strikes. Many lightening strikes in the mountains. Regular lightening rods are conductors and mess up field-and-waves. Negative resisters do not. Then we figured we could use them to shield our radar from the problem. You know they work in reverse... We installed capacitors to energize them to protect the array."
Jim asked in an amused kind of way, "If they solved the problem for the land based radar, why didn't you just apply them to the radar in the planes?"
Pete said, "Too fragile. It is the sensors, you know. We can armor the CPU and filter the power. But the sensors must be sensitive. Hard to armor from EMP pulse from Tactical Bomb. Gas filled glass tube too fragile for combat and used too much energy to transmit signal.
****"The Problem" was that Soviet offensive doctrine included an integrated strategy of using Tactical Nuclear devices. Their planes used vacuum tubes because the Electromagnetic Pulse would destroy traditional integrated circuits. The Soviets assumed the US had the mirror image of their doctrine and that we had somehow found a way to armor the integrated circuits in our planes.
We had not. We smugly assumed that NOBODY would be insane enough to initiate the use of nukes, potentially triggering MAD. Our planes would fall from the air like so many sets of car keys when the silicon based devices in their avionics and engine control systems were turned into sand. The planes that were on the ground would stay on the ground.
Our military (and congress) collectively soiled their pants.
According to the version of the story that I heard, within a week teams of men wearing cheap, gray, polyester suits were paying visits to the Deans of every research University in the US.
They asked a few simple questions. "Do you have any professors capable of performing research on fiber optics? How many grad students can they manage? How soon can their other projects be mothballed or handed off to other faculty? If cost is not a constraint, how much money will your institution be able to absorb before it becomes counterproductive."
And that is how fiber optics went from a curiosity to being the commodity that is probably delivering this story to your device.
I was surprised by the interest in the short fiction published earlier this week. I decided to give it another shot. I want to hone my ability to write dialog (which intimidates me) and I want to present the idea that fluorescent light tubes have unique properties that might make them valuable to armor electronics against voltage surges and EMP.
All characters in this story are fictitious. 'Pete' combines the first two names of Pavlov and the last name of a journalist in Moscow. Jim and Stan are throw-away names. I made it all up...I don't need to be visited by men wearing cheap, gray, polyester suits. Really.
But if "Pete" were real, his net worth is now somewhere north of $23 million....well run Hooka lounges attract profitable enterprises the way magnets attract nails. He is twenty kilo heavier and has more massive cheekbones than when he defected. And his voice makes him sound like he could be Jim's twin brother.