Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Recreational wiretapping 101

Yes, it's been a while again. So, where have I been this time? I have a good excuse! I've been doing my part to contribute to national security. Well, me and my tech specialist - the next door neighbor's kid, Carver.

You see, I was thinking about this whole flap over "domestic spying" wiretaps while watching "24", and BAM! Like a Reese's peanut butter cup commercial, two great things came together. I have to credit Jack Bauer with the inspiration that made me realize that while the government might get into all kinds of hot water for tapping phone calls, a private citizen might be able to do all kinds of tapping without any FISA warrants at all. My duty was clear.

It's been an arduous process. The first hitch was that I have no earthly idea how to go about tapping international calls. That's where Carver comes in. Carver assured me that he's "teh ubar h4x0r" (I think that's some kind of technical degree) with "MAD skillz" (certification?), and could probably get the project started with an Atari 2600, a rotary telephone, some duct tape and my broken microwave oven. That and a quick trip to Radio Shack later, our phase one gear was under construction. My job was to stay out of his way and keep him supplied with frozen burritos.

I wasn't going to be satisfied that my microwave was sacrificed for a good cause until I heard voices speaking something other than English, so we made this the stage one goal. Working after school and weekends, Carver hit that milestone in just two weeks. When voices thick with some sort of eastern bloc accent suddenly came blaring out of the array of piezo buzzers, a panicked-looking Carver assured me that it was most certainly not a Russian military command and control radio frequency that I was hearing. I'm not sure why he assured me of that since I never suggested that it was, but it looked to me as though he'd managed success at last.

It was time to move to phase two. It seems that we were able to more or less randomly break into international traffic, and to target something more specific we'd have to continue developing our equipment. Carver's new laundry list included everything we'd need to enhance the frequency separation response matrix. Or respond to the matrix separation frequency. Or something. Anyway, this time he needed a distributor cap, two salad spinners, an iPod Nano and an aluminum Christmas tree. With that and a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 (apparently, it's an excellent contact cleaner and electrostatic something-or-otherer), it was still going to be somewhat hit-or-miss, but he assured me we'd be able to consistently hit calls from within a 200 mile radius of any point on the globe when he was done.

My job was to identify a locale in the world to start tapping. Ideally, this would be the sort of place where ideological strife was bubbling to a point that would probably be producing terrorists. I'd be looking for a place characterized by widespread civic unrest with a concentrated Muslim citizenry. Free and democratic countries were clearly out of the running, we were after a place whose citizenry was subjected to leadership that no ballot box could touch. After just a couple hours with the CIA World Fact Book and Google News, I'd found the perfect hotbed of extremism! But that was just the start - with a target region selected, I now needed to be able to understand what the parties of the calls that we'd be monitoring said to each other. It was time for me to learn French.

Three more weeks passed while I studied, and finally Carver announced that it was time for the phase two equipment test! We huddled around what he insists on calling the "Carvomatic X", and I gave him the target location. He spun the rotary phone dial in several rapid sequences, bent a couple pieces of wire, and unfolded one of the salad spinners until we got audio. Glory! It was in French!

The array of piezo buzzers had been replaced by the front dashboard speaker from a '73 Catalina, so this time we were able to make out some acoustic details aside from the voices. I'm not exactly certain what it is or where it was from, since I'm having some trouble with the translation (I swear, French was designed for people without teeth), but it sounded like it might have been picked up on a microphone - speakerphone, maybe? There were several voices participating, most of whom seemed to be gathered together in the same room. I had the impression that the room was a 55 gallon steel drum, though Carver says that's not true. It only sounds that way because of the 2600, which we're upgrading to a Nintendo 64 next week.

I'm going to keep working on the translation until either I get it finished, or we do another call. This one just doesn't seem very terroristy, but we could luck out on the next one, so I'll just use this to improve my skills for now. BUT ANYWAY - I was so excited about our success that I just had to blog it! So here's a portion of the partial transcript (so far):

Male #1 ("Corbin"): I demand that my faucet dispense tapioca pudding! I have a right to tapioca pudding! Except when I get tired of tapioca, then I want chocolate.

Female #1 ("Amelie"): Yes! Mousse! We demand respect for our pudding faucet rights! Where is it's lawyer? We must have the contract.

Male #1 ("Corbin"): No, wait! I also want tiramisu.

Several overlapping voices: Yes! Yes!

Unidentified male #1: And hot and cold running custard!

Unidentified male #2: Soft-serve ice cream!

Unidentified youth #1: Tiramisu akbar! [4 or 5 other youths repeat]

Unidentified female #1: I have a right to eclair filling on tap!

Several overlapping voices: Yes! Yes!

Unidentified female #2: C'mon, try to be realistic. Non-dairy whipped cream maybe, but eclair filling?

Unidentified male #3: We must stop working, stop others from working, and then break and burn things until we get a fair and just dessert contract!

Female #2 ("Carine"): Yes. You should all get your just deserts, I'd like that. Just let me get a green card first.

You can see that the implications for American port security are unclear, but when the analysis is complete I'll pass along a copy as an anonymous tip to DHS. I'm so stoked! I can't wait to bust our first terrorist operation! Anyway, that'll probably not happen until after the phase three equipment refinements. For that, Carver says he needs a rectal thermometer, three cartons of Marlboro reds, a bag of peyote buttons and a one-year World of Warcraft subscription. I think he's working me, but the kid gets results.


Blogger John said...


Though, I have to admit... I knew where you were heading about 1/3 of the way in ;)

4:31 AM  
Anonymous Valerie said...


Très drôle!


4:38 PM  
Blogger andy said...

Very nice, Doug. Very nice.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I'm a patriot.

11:24 PM  
Blogger andy said...

I know you are a patriot. As a matter of fact I just read a book that somewhat reminded me of your writings.

It’s The American Democrat by James Fenimore Cooper. Yup, the same bloke that wrote the novels. The introduction by H.L. Mencken is worth the price of the book!

I’ve been purchasing a few books from them, and thought I’d pass along to you if you have not heard about them.

They also have another site here that has tons of stuff on line that you can read. Right, like all you need is another thing to do!

Sorry, had a broken link, did some deleting, etc. Can that kid that built your "machine" perhaps help me?

9:08 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Can that kid that built your "machine" perhaps help me?

Sometimes, I think the Carvomatic X can do damn near anything. Done.

The Cooper book sounds intriguing. I'm finishing one book, the Cranky Neocon of Six Meat Buffet just sent me another that I really want to get into very soon, and I'm actually working insane hours for a welcome change, so I can't say when I'll get to it. But I'd like to get to it, and think I will eventually. Thanks for the links!

7:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home