What do you do when ‘right action’ conflicts with your job? (This is part of a series related to my novel, “Burnout Fever”, which is available for the Nook reader and app. Catch up from the links listed here or here.”)
Part 6 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
Ron’s doodle was beginning to look like a mobile, so he scribbled it out and started over. The momentary distraction from ignoring the meeting he was in was timely, though, because someone was calling his name.
“Craig. I asked for your assessment.”
He looked up. The balding section chief at the head of the table had the stern look reserved for a repeat offender. “Oh. Sorry, Mr. Kulya. I was re-evaluating what I’d observed.”
“And? You’ve attended two of their meetings, now. This practice we’re doing is essential to developing your field skills. You may not get much time to infiltrate a suspected terrorist cell before you have to make action recommendations. What did you find?”
Having a double life was beginning to birth complications. He’d called himself Ron while spying on the founder of Constitutional Evolution, and the persona was accreting a semblance of reality when he thought supportively of them, as had happened while doodling. He shook off the dissociation and cleared his throat. “They’re not like the others, sir. They aren’t in it to push a cause.”
Kulya shrugged. “That’s not what I asked. Your objective was to get close to the leader and learn where he was driving. Either they’re a potential danger or they’re not. Anti-terrorism resources aren’t cheap. That’s why we have to focus them on people and groups that have the potential for disruption. Two meetings is all you get. Do we target them or not?”
He looked at the other neophyte spies around the table, people he’d been training with for months now, and wondered if any of them were wrestling the same conundrum. He liked Derek Boa, and thought that his group were akin to the patriots who had laid the groundwork for the existing constitution in old Philadelphia. But having revolutionary thoughts was not the same as advocating the violent overthrow of the instituted government. It wasn’t treason.
“I’m not sure, sir. They’re not advocating any particular cause, or agitating against any agency or policy. They’re not even particularly interested in who’s in power.”
“Then what are they about? Is it some kind of cult?”
“No, sir,” Craig said defensively. “It’s not a cult, though their leader is rather charismatic. He’s well-suited to motivating the people they do attract.”
“Motivating them to do what? This wasn’t supposed to be a difficult assignment.”
“To think for themselves, really. To investigate ideas that could help them…” he trailed off.
Kulya was losing his patience. “Help them what? I assume from the name that it has something to do with changing the constitution. Are they agitating for a constitutional convention?”
Craig thought for a moment. “No. Not specifically, although on my first visit they did discuss whether the changes they envisioned could be made without one.”
“Changes. Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. How do they want to change the government? What do they think is wrong with it?”
He glanced at the scribbled-over doodle. “Balance, I suppose. They’re convinced there are some missing bits. Checks and balances that ought to be added.”
“They want more government?”
“In a way, yes. At that second meeting I went to, for example, they were using a mobile – a real string and cardboard one – to play with the whole structure of the federal government. Just before I left, they were about to add the press itself, like a fourth branch. Only thing was, they insisted on talking about it like it was…” Craig broke off, suddenly remembering the man’s Russian heritage, and cringed. “… like Pravda. They even marked it C.C.C.P.”
Kulya smiled at the reaction. “So. What? Are you saying these people are communist sympathizers?”
“No. Of course not. It was their idea of irony. They’re not exactly thrilled with the way the press has behaved lately.”
“That’s a good start, Craig. What else don’t they like?”
“Hmmm.” He closed his eyes briefly, and reviewed the pizza-and-pop chat that he’d walked in on a few weeks earlier. “State Governors being ignored by Washington was a hot topic. They seem to think that enough governors ought to be able to override an Executive Order, a law passed by Congress, or even a Supreme Court ruling.”
Several trainees reacted audibly.
Kulya’s stern glare ended the chatter abruptly. “Advocating the willful disobedience of all three branches of government by elected officials sounds pretty dangerous to me. Okay, then. So let’s assume they’re classed as high risk. What’s the correct course of action? Anyone?”
A woman at the far end of the table raised her hand.
He nodded at her. “Kelly?”
“Distract the leader. Keep him too busy with personal crises to concentrate on the cell’s activities.”
“All right. How would you do that?”
She held his gaze for a moment before answering. “That would depend on how he makes his living. If he ran a small business, we could covertly sabotage it, make sure his plans kept falling through, drive him into bankruptcy.”
“And if he was a wage-slave? Someone else.”
‘Ron’ wondered what Boa did for a living. He didn’t recall hearing about that over pizza.
The soccer fanatic to Craig’s left spoke next. “Well, if he worked through a job shop, we could float spurious accusations to get his contracts pulled. Or if he was a direct hire, pump the rumor mill. Once that takes hold, office politics will do the rest.”
Kulya cut off discussion. “Okay. So we’re agreed there are lots of ways to distract the leader. And that might be sufficient if this group was organized for command and control. But what if it wasn’t? What if the people he’s collected are confident enough to work on their own, if it didn’t matter if he wasn’t available? What do you do then?”
Craig was beginning to feel like a double agent, a spy for Constitutional Evolution scoping out the tactics that might be used against them. Earlier, when they were talking about a group that someone else had infiltrated, he had no qualms about taking action against them. The prospect of blocking efforts that he agreed were dangerous even invigorated him. But doing it to people he’d privately decided to support was a whole different matter.
Kelly got the floor again. “If someone else just takes over for him, we just change our target.”
“I suppose you could, but the pattern might be noticed. Any other ideas?”
She shrugged. “Stir up dissent within the group?”
“Now you’re starting to think about guerilla tactics. Good. But how do you carry it out? With this strategy, you can’t simply insinuate rumors. You’d have to get directly involved. Go undercover.”
Craig nervously raised his hand. “Wouldn’t that mean ingratiating yourself to them? Being part of their team, as it were?”
“Sure. But only up to a point. You’d have to find a way to not be part of any action they’re planning, or you’d open the agency to scrutiny for interfering in domestic affairs.”
“Well, as far as I can tell, Derek Boa’s group doesn’t plan on conducting actions of any kind, unless you include talking about their ideas. Maybe even to congress.”
“They’d be relying on the First Amendment’s protection of political speech, then, but subversive speech can still be treason. Especially these days. It’s treacherous ground. In this situation, you shouldn’t have any trouble staying in their midst until they’re about to cross that line. Of course, if your objective in being there is to sow dissent, you’ll still have to keep from being found out. Free-speechers can still be vicious.”
“Mr. Kulya?” It was Kelly again.
“Yes? Did we miss something?”
“I think so. You’d asked what we’d do if the target group wasn’t command and control. What did you mean by that?”
He scanned the young faces at the table. “How much do you know about the I.W.W.?”
Craig blurted out, “You mean the Wobblies?”
“Otherwise known as the International Workers of the World. What do you know about them?”
“Only that the government shut them down early in the 20th century. And that they studiously avoided having leaders. What about them?”
Kulya looked thoughtful. “A group like that is extremely dangerous. If they have no leadership, and they’re all acting in concert, stopping them is like trying to dig a hole in water. That’s why the government had to shut them down.”
“How did they do it?”
“Attrition. By building up the organized labor movement, the American Federation of Labor. A union with strong leadership can be controlled. The new unions sucked the air right out of the Wobblies.”
Craig’s ‘other self’ was paying strict attention. The I.W.W. knew how to overcome an organized enemy. They had a strategy that frightened the most powerful government on Earth. He’d be returning to Boa’s group, one way or the other. But no matter what he did now, he was certain that it would be as a double agent.
[Afterward: The story continues in “Wobbly Premise“]
Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack