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September 25, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Twelve

By Ron Singer

Chapter Twelve
Cape Town, Friday, May 23, 2025.

When they had all piled into a Consulate van, and the driver had sped to the UCT library, they encountered a large local Police and Fire Department contingent. Neugeborn flashed his I.D., and they raced up the marble staircase to the second floor. They were met by RAM, whose expression was grim. He pointed down the hall to the smoking, rubble-strewn threshold of Room 207.

"The package must have been a red herring," he said.

Then, Fred spotted a colleague from the FBI Bomb Squad emerging from the rubble. A short, wiry man, he wore a white hazmat suit and was waving a wand that looked like a Geiger counter, over the debris-covered threshold of Robinson's destroyed office.

"Any ideas yet, Bruce?" Neugeborn asked.

"Yep. They used a logic bomb. Must have been triggered by multiple phone calls from this office to a single number. Whose office is —was— it?"

Robinson stepped forward. "Mine," he said, and introduced himself. Bruce removed the helmet, revealing a red buzz-cut. They exchanged nods, rather than handshakes.

"Had anyone visited your office recently, Dr. Robinson, who could have planted an explosive device?"

"Well, let me think a moment." He realized that, aside from RAM, he had had no visitors, for several days. So he said, "No visitors. But it could have been a cleaner, or maybe the guy who delivered the shoebox with the first bomb."

Bruce frowned. "Yep, might have been the messenger. Another question. Who did you call more than once today, Doctor Robinson?"

"Whom," thought Robinson. "Dr. Mzamene," he said.

RAM stepped forward and exchanged nods with Bruce. "Three calls, right, John?" he said. "First, to ask about some work we were doing; second, to say you would be going to the Consulate for a meeting about a mysterious package. With these people ... " He gestured to the FBI contingent. " ... And third, to let me know you were leaving for the meeting."

"Confirmed," Robinson said.

Patsy Santos-Oliveira spoke up. "So, everybody, we can probably trace how the bomb worked, possibly even figure out exactly where it was detonated from." Fred introduced her, by name and title, to Bruce, who looked as if he found it difficult to process the young woman's Goth-businesswoman look.

"How do you do, Ms. Santos-Oliveira," he said.

"Mr ... " she replied, with a curt bow


Robinson noted that Bruce had not tried to pronounce Patsy's name authentically, and guessed his motive was to avoid the appearance of condescension —or the reality of making a fool of himself. Bruce's forebears may have made wagons. He continued. "We already have a pretty good idea, Ms ... ."

"Just call me 'Patsy,' okay, Bruce?" she interrupted.

"Thanks. The preliminary forensics have given us some ideas about the device, itself, and about the probable mode of detonation. As I said, it was a logic bomb. And so far, it looks like the work of a sophisticated hacker with very good access to the dark net. He used a trip wire to keep us from geolocating him, and ... " He turned, and addressed Neugeborn and Robinson directly. " ... Do you guys know about trip wires?" They both nodded, and he rumbled on. "I think our bomber may have studied under one of the masters, like ... "

Patsy could hold her tongue no longer. "Like Albert Gonzalez's Shadow Crew —I used to work for them, myself, before this guy ... " she gestured to Martinez " ... caught me."

At that point, Bruce, Bob and Mitsuko Yamamoto all chimed in, talking over each other, and each contributing a name or two to an enumeration of cybercrime orgs, so that the rest of the list reminded Robinson of a fugue from a Bach Mass. An updated Bach fugue, performed in the hallway of the UCT library. The set for the performance should also include the smoking ruins of Room 207.

"Or the RBN —Russian Business Network— Cedar Planet, Superzonda, Trojan Citadel, Innovative Marketing."

Patsy went solo. "And don't forget the Mexico City ROI crowd. I used to date one of them. The guy always wore a chauffeur's uniform."

Robinson knew from a journal article that Patsy referred to a gang of airport kidnappers who used pretend-chauffeurs with placards to snatch tycoons. If he recalled correctly, their acronym stood for "Ransom of Individuals." He wondered if their MO might have taken over the life of Patsy's fuck-buddy, if the guy still wore part of his costume (hat and jacket, presumably), while they did the deed.

He then recalled his own reception at CPT thirteen days before, feeling retroactively relieved. That memory prompted him also to remember that Judy's deadline was less than two weeks off. Then, he realized something else, something monumental: he didn't really care.

Was this the onset of a delayed mid-life crisis? Or had the crisis been going on ever since he killed his hobby (Geistmann) five years ago? Or maybe, even, since 2008, when he first embarked on the path that ultimately led to the idol-icide. That would have put the onset of his MLC at forty-five, a much more respectable age. Presently a youthful (they always say that) sixty-five, he was ashamed to think he was only now embarking on his MLC. Maybe, the onset of senility would be marked with a sports car and a hairpiece. Oh, well, they also said seventy was the new fifty. Or was it the new ... whatever.

Obviously unaware of Robinson's frenetic mental background noise, Patsy Santos-Oliveira and Bruce had segued into a duet. Ignoring who sang what (as Robinson did), these were some of the lyrics:

" ... at least fifty large cybercrime corporations ... malware to rob User-ID's and P-words, to mimic keystrokes ... micro-thievery: instead of The Big Heist, steady income stream, less chance of apprehension ... 'freememium' pricing schemes ... rating systems: Rank My Hack ... employee incentives: win a Ferrari from your friendly Eastern European cyber-mob ... digital drive-by's to punish snitches ... "

Bruce desisted, and Patsy launched into a new solo aria: "In the favelas near Rio, like the one where I was working, when Roberto here busted me ... " (Did her strange facial expression mix lingering resentment with nostalgia?) " ... they sell —we sold— DVD's with programs to steal credit card numbers and user-ID details. We operated just like a corporation, with a CEO, CFO, Middle Management —I was in R & D, myself— not to mention sales targets, an employee rewards program, customer rating scales —we usually came in at around 4.7 to 4.8— and bulk discounts, tech support, etc. Just like any large, legit IT outfit."

Not to be outdone, Bruce followed with his own aria, delivered in a pleasing bass-baritone: "Did you know they teach both cyber-skills and cybercrime skills in prisons? One legendary British lag even used what he learned in the classes — legit classes— to hack into the prison's main computer system." ("Big balls," sang Patsy, sotto voce.) "Not all that unusual, really. As the eminent techie —legit techie— Videk Wadha wrote, "A key ingredient in innovation is the ability to challenge authority and break rules."

Finally, unable to resist, Missy Yamamoto added to the musical hysteria an aria of her own, in a rich, loud contralto. Enjoying her performance, playful Robinson mentally dubbed it, "The Crowdsourcing/Crowdfunding Song." It comprised prelude, recitatif, and coda.

"Good people," sang MY, "have you heard how cybercriminals use crowdsourcing? Ingenious, yet when you think about it, yet practically obvious. Examples are legion: sex workers soliciting customers; voting registers trolled to identify crowdsource victims; free porn offered to effect CAPTCHA evasion; legit crowdsources hacked."

She sang, or sailed, on. "Then, too, mobs of singers and dancers have been C.-S.'d to loot department stores. And there is no chance that apprehended crowdsourced players will rat out the others, because they don't know who the others are! And I'm sure you've heard the one about the bank robbers —IRL— who crowdsourced mobs of would-be construction workers. When the police arrived at the SOC, everyone was wearing the same gear. Presto, the perps had disappeared!

"And listen to this other famous example. About a decade ago, Germany's Chaos Computer Club used crowdfunding to put together a huge grand prize for hacking the un-hackable iPhone 55. The winning method was notably ingenious —genius, even. The meister-hacker took a high-rez photo of the fingerprint oils of a legit 55 user. He/she then photoshopped that image, and inverted and printed it. Finally, he/she added glue to the print, and held it above the touch-ID sensor. Presto, the 55 was unlocked!

"Is it any wonder," she sang on, "that people like us can't catch thieves like those? The pay grades offered by government (sheepishly eyeing Bob), and even by private sector cybercrime fighters, are not even in the ballpark! Also, by the time we recruit a snitch —sorry, Patsy— our foes have already invented more sophisticated methods! The CCTF needs constant infusions of young blood."

("Transfusions," Robinson silently corrected.)

Yamamoto signalled the end of her long aria with a sweeping, seated bow to her colleagues around the table. Like all the others, Robinson could not help applauding. She bowed again, after which people stood up, stretched and, one by one, began to drift out into the hallway.

Everyone looked both amused, and anxious to apply what they had heard to the task at hand. But Robinson had the feeling that the gaudy details of the remarkable operatic display gave him and, he assumed, Fred, only an irrational sense that it would be easy to catch the forger/robber/bomber.

Was any of this showing off really relevant? What stood out for him from the bizarre meeting, with all its twists and turns, was the DNA substitution engineered by Samir Gupta, in order to make everyone think Geistmann was not Iosub Ceban's real father. Robinson was left with a "was he, or wasn't he" question.

Lingering a moment longer in the hallway, he eavesdropped on a fascinating colloquy between the two female stars of the show, Yamamoto and Santos-Oliveira.

Y: Yo, Patsy, beware the boss! I saw him playing grab-ass when he introduced you.

P: Ta, Yams. But not to worry. Roberto is just another inept, harmless male in a position of authority. I've hung with him long enough to know that.

Y: Really? I've heard he's polyamorous.

P: A parrot-fucker, no less! But who gives an f.f.?

As he and the women headed for the staircase, Robinson chuckled, not so much at Patsy's quip as at his own sense of having witnessed an illustration of a mot attributed to Ovid: "Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis," meaning "Times are changed; we also are changed with them." Had he just witnessed the modern F.B.I. in action? For a few more moments, he remained where he was.

Then, with a spring in his step, he walked back to campus, where he joined RAM and Peter in RAM's office. The trio soon left the building for a late fish lunch. (When in doubt, eat!) Robinson had about two weeks in which to recover from the bomb mess and to decide whether the bomb had been intended to maim, kill, or just to warn him. He also had about two weeks in which to decide whether his next stop should be New York.

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-01-23
Image(s) are public domain.
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