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March 27, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Six

By Ron Singer

Chapter Six
Cape Town, Saturday, May 10, 2025.

"This is where we stand, folks," Bob Martinez stated. Actually, they were sitting, at a long conference table in the safe room of the U.S. Consulate. As Neugeborn had explained to Robinson while they were waiting in the lobby for Martinez and Yamamoto to arrive, the safe room was a windowless cement-block conference room in the basement, shared by several American security agencies, including the FBI. The room was swept for bugs every night, and entry was via voice recognition technology.

When Bob and Ms.Yamamoto came bustling in, Neugeborn led them all downstairs to the safe room entrance. Robinson mischievously requested that he be the one to try to gain access. Surprised, Martinez agreed, and the prankster failed to fool the sensor with his "Mrs. Doubtfire" voice. But his real voice worked.

While the foursome were helping themselves to coffee from the machine, Bob and Fred were still laughing, but Ms. Yamamoto turned a cold eye on Fred, and asked, "Who's your friend?"

After they had all sat down, at the far end of the long table, Bob took charge. "Let's get started, folks. The purpose of this meeting is to bring John and, to a lesser extent, Fred, up to speed about the recent activities of Redux and of —we're pretty sure— his silent partner. Mitsuko?"

Agent Yamamoto spoke from handwritten notes on a yellow legal pad. "Right. We know that Redux, or his enabler, uses sophisticated techniques to rob banks —that is, to rob the insured accounts of the banks' biggest customers. Thus far, the 'take' has been roughly 20.1 million, U.S.

"To explain how they do this, I'll need to give you —Fred and John, that is— a short primer on the role of A.I. (I assume you both know what that is.) Bank robberies, both cyber and those IRL —in real life— employ several types of technology, including devices that eavesdrop on ATM screens, robots that can try out thousands of passwords in a few seconds, and even social media. Bob, have I time for a short anecdote?" Martinez nodded, and Ms. Yamamoto continued. Like any good comedian, Robinson noted, she narrated her anecdote with a straight face.

"About ten years ago, a bank robber disguised as a construction worker crowd-sourced a hiring call so that, just as the robber emerged from the bank, hundreds of unemployed, identically outfitted job aspirants showed up at the pretend-site, which was nearby. This ploy confused the police long enough to allow the perp to escape. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but he was never caught. I assume the reason was that he was smart enough not to boast of his success, or to make conspicuously large purchases."

Pausing to allow her audience to savor the story, Yamamoto ticked off an item on her pad, and continued. "Turning now to the methods that Redux and his partner have actually used, there are several. Online withdrawals, through what we call "spoofing," is one. The spoofer calls the bank from a phone number that seems to be that of a client —the technical details are complicated— and by providing minimal information, such as the last four digits of the victim's social security number, he can withdraw money from the vic's account, to be deposited in one or more dummy accounts. Information like the four digits is readily available, either for a small fee on the dark web —the digital black market— or from a Facebook profile, where it's free." She glanced at Bob, who was busy reading phone messages.

"I'll wrap this up with one last example. In 2013, the self-proclaimed "Cutting Sword of Justice," and other Iranian front organizations, hacked many of the major U.S.-based banks, so that the customers couldn't access their accounts. Most of us in the trade assume the motive was malice, rather than greed. They were stopped, but not caught." She ticked off a few more items on her pad, and then said, "That enough, gentlemen? Bob?"

Martinez stood up. "Thanks, Mitsuko. Fred? John? Questions? Comments?" Neugeborn shook his head, and Robinson assumed that he did have questions, but was giving him, the outsider, "first dibs."

"I have a question that's also a comment," Robinson said. "In other words, a rhetorical question. It's based on what Ms. Yamamoto just told us about the "Sword of Justice' hack. Assuming the primary motive of Redux and his partner, or enabler, is greed, does that rule out other motives, such as malice ... " Lowering his voice, he added, " ... including revenge?"

Martinez fielded the question. "Yes, and perhaps, John. Greed, for sure. Malice, including revenge, perhaps. As usual, you're a step ahead of the rest of us. Since they used the block book to lure you to CT, and since the bank robbers are the same people as the forgers, what you're really asking is whether the robberies have anything to do with you, since you were the one who killed the Original?"

"Correct, Bob. But I'm also asking if the targeting of specific banks may have anything to do with Geistmann. Obviously, they're not copycatting his IRL heist. There was only one of those, I think, the one in Florence. Am I right, Fred?" He glanced at Neugeborn, who nodded an affirmative. "No, I'm not asking if the copycat is literally imitating Geistmann's bank robbery. I'm asking if there are any signs that the robberies, themselves, are part of a contrepasso, as there always was for Geistmann." Robinson was alluding to Geistmann's symbolic, tit-for-tat justice, a la Dante.

Martinez shrugged. "That sounds like a question for Pablo, John. Mitsuko? Fred? Care to guess?"

Martinez was referring to Pablo Markowitz, erstwhile Chief Psychologist, FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU). Yamamoto and Neugeborn both shrugged, and Robinson left it at that. As he had thought the previous night, it was too soon to tell. But he impulsively thought of another item to add to his mental "to-do" list. When the time came to prepare a preliminary profile of Redux, he should consult not only Pablo Markowitz, but Professor Sandor Podgorny, of the University of California. "Sandy" Podgorny was the originator of "deep profiling." Back in 2008, Podgorny had refused to participate in the hunt for Geistmann, because he had smelled a mole among the hunters. (As it had turned out, there had been three moles.) But that was then, this was now.

Those thoughts spawned another. Of the three moles, one was dead, and another, incarcerated. But the third mole had since been turned. By the time Robinson was tracking Geistmann for the final time, in 2019, Diodur Fedoruk was working for the FBI. Was he, still? Robinson made a mental note to ask Fred, since Fedoruk might have some useful ideas for tracking Redux. Of course, he might also have retained a deadly grudge against Robinson. Just possibly, Fedoruk was Redux's enabler —or Redux, himself!

Martinez recalled Robinson from his reverie. "John? Still with us?" Then, since no one had anything more to say, he chuckled, and adjourned the meeting. Robinson noticed that the CCTF Director had grown a double chin.

"Lunch?" Fred suggested. Robinson agreed. Neugeborn knew a nearby place that he said was good, a fish-and-chips café only a short Uber ride from the Consulate. When they arrived, Robinson deflected his lingering feelings against eating sea creatures, left over from Two Oceans, by asking Fred a childish riddle, one that George and Amy had both long since outgrown.

"What do physicists like to eat for lunch, Fred?"

Instead of playing along, Neugeborn gave Robinson the stink eye, and gestured to the big sign above the entrance: COMMUNITY FISH & CHIPS. Robinson could have made sure Fred got the joke by saying, and perhaps even spelling, "fission chips," but he did not bother.

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-12-12
Image(s) are public domain.
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