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January 30, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Eleven

By Ron Singer

Chapter Eleven
Cape Town, Saturday, May 17 - Friday, May 23, 2025.

Since the FBI file on him was so thin, in part because Samir Gupta's birth name and the details of his early life had yet to be unearthed, Robinson struggled blindly with his draft of the second profile, which he decided was too fragmentary, fanciful and disorganized even to merit sending to Podgorny and Markowitz. In fact, the second "draft profile" was really a bunch of notes.



-- Geistmann's factotum, the techie Samir Gupta, organized the Asheville settlement, as well as "Joe" and his mother's subsequent move to Bangor, Maine, both designed to evade Geistmann's enemies. (The earlier move, from Stockholm to Hawaii, antedated Samir's work for Geistmann.) ...

-- In the course of these two American resettlements, Samir became the first person Joe could regard as a friend, of sorts, although they had not yet spent much time together. In many ways, the two could not have been more different ...

-- Now that they are in Cape Town robbing banks, having also designed the block-book forgery, one of them may suggest that they further recapitulate Geistmann's exploits. Perhaps, Iosub would choose the targets, and Samir would decide whether they were technically feasible and, if so, devise plans to carry them out ... .

-- Samir might also act as a check on his partner's wilder imaginings. If Iosub had suggested they recapitulate Geistmann's in-person Florentine bank caper, for instance, Samir might have replied with something like, "Computers are safer than guns."

Since, however, Samir could conceivably be an acolyte of the Unabomber, there was a possibility he would copycat the Unabomber's methods ...

-- Samir must realize that, at some point, the principle of collateral damage will come into play. Would that stop him? ...

-- Samir's principal motive for entering into the compact with Iosub was, most likely, a mixture of fun and profit. Since Geistmann's murder, in 2019, Samir had retained several fairly lucrative accounts, but Geistmann's must have been a gusher. The "fun" part refers to Samir's evident passion for cyber-crime ...

-- He might also want to see whether Iosub, whom he likely regards as "a gutless wonder," might blossom, in the course of their partnership. Since Samir presumably believes in education ...

Having made these preliminary notes (some of which repeated points from the draft profile of Iosub), Robinson knew he needed much more information before he could understand Samir in a way that might lead to his capture. So he stopped writing. But, of course, he could not stop thinking.

He asked himself, "What motivates computer hackers?" He knew a few of the common answers: money, playfulness, vanity, and an anti-establishment attitude (very pronounced in the Unabomber). He also knew that hacking was normally a youthful passion, abandoned when the hacker reached a certain age, and took on conventional responsibilities. But, he wondered what the psychodynamics were in people who never stopped hacking (such as the Unabomber and Samir Gupta).

Robinson recalled a more specific motivation he had read about in The Journal of Asian Political History. One reason so many Indians seemed to excel at Computer Science, as well as other sciences, and mathematics, was that the country's brightest students still suffered from the legacy of the colonial era, when subject peoples were discouraged from studying Law and other such disciplines, which the British regarded as stepping stones to dissent. They did not want the educational system of the Raj to spawn a million Gandhis. Might this have backfired, and become a reason so many Indian cyber-scientists have embraced cyber-crime?

Out of ideas, at least for the moment, Robinson put himself in the hands of Google. A perfunctory search found a short list of the motives of hacking lifers that seemed possibly relevant: "financial gain, revenge, or simply to spread havoc." Had Geistmann been born a decade or two later, might he have become a "black hat" computer hacker? Probably not. Spending his days hunched over a keyboard would not have appealed to the man. Yet the exploits he did choose were the stuff of computer games. Now, there was a thought!

Again, Robinson realized that he knew nothing of Samir's personal background — not even whether "Samir Gupta" was his real birth name. Another quick Google search revealed that many Indian doctors and other professionals bore this name. Perhaps, the name had reflected parental aspiration. Or Samir might have chosen it, as a nom de guerre, for its association with success.

On Friday, May 23, before he had received responses to his draft profile of Iosub from either Sandor Podgorny or Pablo Markowitz, and before he could waste any more time on Samir's profile, an incident occurred that precipitated Robinson's hasty retreat from Dodge City (aka CT).

While he was working on something, or other, for RAM, a package in a plain brown paper wrapping was delivered to Room 207. From the postal markings, it had apparently been forwarded from the library at Columbia. The size and shape of the package suggested it might contain a pair of shoes. Just before it was delivered, Robinson also received an email on his (unencrypted) Smartphone, which seemed to come from his wife (jwolfe-rob@edsvces.org). The message read:

John, dear. You should soon be receiving a package from me that contains equipment to promote your well-being (new running shoes!).

Go well, John.

(signed, Judy)

Fortunately for him, Robinson smelled a rat: the message and package did not compute. So he quickly called Fred Neugeborn and Bob Martinez. Half an hour later, there was a very loud bang, as the local FBI Bomb Detonation Team opened the package at a waste ground out on Route 16, just before the turn-off to the airport.

Immediately thereafter, Fred called Robinson back: "You were right, John, the thing could have blown your legs off! Let's meet here at 13:50. Bob and Missy will be there, and Bob will be bringing another surprise guest."

Robinson replied that he would be there, and called for an Uber. An hour later, they gathered in the safe room at the Consulate. Present were Fred and John, Bob Martinez, Mitsuko Yamamoto, and the "surprise guest," whom Robinson had heard of, but had not yet met.

The guest was a striking woman who looked to be no more than twenty-four or -five. Introducing herself to him as "Lyudmila Santos-Oliveira, Technology Specialist, F.B.I. Cybrcrimes Task Force," she was skinny and of medium height (5'6" or 5'7"). She affected Goth style —multiple piercings, short, spiked purple hair— but also wore an incongruously conservative pants suit similar to Ms. Yamamoto's. When Martinez introduced the newcomer, she offered Robinson a firm handshake, and said, "I've heard a lot about you, Doctor Robinson."

"Likewise, Ms. Santos-Oliveira," he replied.

In 2019, he had heard of this outre' woman, under her nom de guerre, "Pasteis Patsy." Martinez had told him about the raid on a Brazilian hackers' nest that had disrupted Geistmann's supply-chain communications, possibly leading to his death. Bob had also mentioned that Patsy had been turned into a key asset. But it had never occurred to Robinson that. six years later, she might still be working for the CCTF, or that she might be called in to help sort out the present situation.

"You can call me 'Patsy,' John," she said, with a straight face. "Later on, if we become friends, the name may change again, to 'Pee-Pee.' But no urine jokes, please!" They exchanged polite smiles. He liked this playful young woman.

When they had all been sufficiently caffeinated, and were seated around the long table, Martinez stood up, signalling that he, rather than the VICAP Director (Fred), would be running the meeting. Skipping any prelims, and patting Patsy's lower back (which provoked a frown from Yamamoto), Martinez passed the baton to the punk-techie, who caught it at full sprint. Patsy S.-O.'s English had a faint, unrecognizable accent that Robinson reverse-engineered from her name and background: it sounded like Russian-inflected Brazilian-Portuguese. Her voice was high and squeaky.

"A few facts, folks ... " She spoke without notes. "One: an unauthorized person has been inside our old friend, Monsieur Geistmann's, Forensics file. Two: it looks like this person stole his DNA sample and substituted a sample drawn from an unknown male. Three: An electronic fingerprint left on the file tells us that the perp was a Bureau mole working for the person we identified six years ago as Samir Gupta, at that time Geistmann's number-one technician. (We know the identity of this mole because the fingerprints of all Bureau agents are on record.) Four: Thanks mostly to Bob's ingenious bugging device, I think that I may now know quite a bit more about this Mr. Gupta. Some of you know about the device, but for the uninitiated, it alters the interface of a phone in such a way that calls from the phone are covertly redirected to the Bureau —to us. At that point ... But I digress. Getting back to Mr.Gupta ... "

This opening provoked a soft roar at the table. Robinson's wheels were spinning fast. The motive for the DNA substitution must have been to mislead Ceban's trackers into believing (as he, Robinson, had already believed) that Geistmann was not Iosub's biological father. What would be the point of the deception? To reduce the probability that Iosub was the block-book forger/bank robber/would-be office bomber. In short, to muddy the waters.

Before the hubbub could subside, the door to the conference room was thrust open by the the Duty Officer, who had presumably used his voiceprint. Robinson knew that this man, tall, stout, and wearing the FBI uniform (black suit, polished black shoes, regimental tie), would not have interrupted, except for something very urgent. Robinson's mind flashed back to the 2008 JOLETAF meeting at the University of Virginia, and to an FBI meeting right here in Cape Town, in 2013, each of which had been similarly interrupted. This time, the D.O. addressed only him.

"I'm afraid, Dr. Robinson, that your office has just been the site of another explosion."

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-01-16
Image(s) are public domain.
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