An Intelligence Contractor's Christmas
by R.J. Hillhouse (December 2008)
Day One. Partridge in a Pear Tree:
During the night-shift at the NSA, Booz Allen contractors
suddenly have their online Christmas shopping interrupted when
Booz Allen's proprietary counterterrorist data-mining algorithms
note an unusual spike in internet chatter of persons of
interest using the term partridge in a pear tree.
Their NSA Contracting Officer's Technical Rep is alerted.
Day Two. Two Turtledoves:
At the NSA, SAIC contractors discover a positive correlation
between partridge in a pear tree and two
turtledoves. The NSA notifies the CIA. CIA analysts who are
new to the job due to high Agency turnover do not recognize the
turtledove / partridge-in-a-pear-tree pattern, but
speculate that the combination of phrases indicates that a
terrorist plan may have gone operational. The White House is
Day Three. Three French Hens:
Sources on the ground in Paris are unable to corroborate
indications of French involvement. Officers in the National
Clandestine Service suspect the French hens are a false-flag and
secretly hope that the Russians are back in the game. Due to
strong political pressure from the White House, CIA analysts
concede that the Iranian involvement cannot be ruled out.
CIA interrogators at a black site in Burkina Faso send a cable to
Headquarters requesting permission to gut slap an al
Qaeda detainee who may hold valuable information.
Day Four. Four Calling Birds:
At the behest of the Administration, AT&T, MCI, Sprint, and
Verizon all hand over their calling data to third-party data
warehousing companies that do not face the same legal
restrictions as the telcos, creating a rendition program of sorts
for data. The data warehousers frantically sift through calls.
CIA interrogators at the African black site are frustrated when
Headquarters requests more details about potential information
that could be acquired from the detainee if he is
slapped. They curse the lawyers and compose a response.
A senior contractor overseeing facilities management at the site
quips that they should suggest the detainee may volunteer
information about five golden rings, but he thinks the
kids running the interrogation would never get the joke. The 26
year-old case officer in charge of the interrogation cables
Headquarters that the detainee likely holds information about
five golden rings.
Day Five. Five Golden Rings:
New NSA intercepts discover persons of interest
discussing Five Golden Rings. With this new development,
CIA analysts suspect that terrorists are plotting to use five
dirty bombs to irradiate large areas of US metropolitan areas.
The Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service is
excited that one of the black site detainees may know about the
golden rings. Over the objections of his Assistant General
Counsel, the Deputy Director approves the slap.
Day Six. Six Geese-A-Laying:
A blogger who monitors al Qaeda internet sites and chat rooms
contacts the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to
alert them to a suspicious discussion among al Qaeda sympathizers
about six geese-a-laying. The ODNI passes the intel
along to the CIA and NSA, and as word of the sites spread among
Intelligence Community members, the sites are slammed with new
visitors from overt beltway bandit IPs in northern
Virginia and Anne Arundel county in Maryland. Suspicious al Qaeda
webmasters shut them down.
Meanwhile at the black site, a CIA interrogator trained in
enhanced techniques, slaps the al Qaeda detainee. A CACI
green badger interpreter with no formal training in
interpretation misinterprets the terrorist's mumblings as
The interrogators cable Headquarters with the raw intel and
request permission not only to attention shake the
detainee, but to apply sleep deprivation techniques, justifying
the request with their suspicions that they might receive
additional information about possible Indian involvement, which
may actually turn out to be Iranian since both words
start with I, end with n, and
have between six and seven letters.
Day Seven. Seven Swans-A-Swimming:
NSA contractors Raytheon, Booz Allen, and SAIC have all picked up
chatter about seven swans-a-swimming. SAIC analysts at
the National Counterterrorism Center rack up billable hours
trying to reconcile this with CIA intel concerning the seven
swamis. Raytheon analysts at Defense Intelligence insist
that the seven swans-a-swimming indicates that seaplanes are
bringing the dirty bombs into the country. With strong pressure
from corporate and the DoD, which has been pushing for funding
for a satellite-based seaplane early warning system proposed by
Raytheon, Raytheon green badgers at the ODNI push hard
for the seaplane analysis and win out. It is included in the
President's Daily Brief.
At the Pentagon, with the support of DIA's General Clapper, the
Air Force claims it should be the lead. The Navy argues that
since the swans are swimming and not
flying, clearly this requirement falls under their
command's area of responsibility. The Marines stand at the ready,
prepared to toast and roast, then eat
the swans, whether in the air, land, or sea.
All the while, CIA case officers at the black site stare at the
detainee, waiting on a response to their cable. Junior officers
are afraid that if they don't put the detainee to bed soon, they
may be accused of torture and face possible legal
actions. Just to be on the safe side, they offer a can of Red
Bull to the detainee. The Office of Medical Services on-site
physician takes the detainee's blood pressure.
Day Eight. Eight Maids-A-Milking:
The Department of Homeland Security alerts TSA agents to be on
the watch for breast-feeding mothers who may have terrorist
involvement. It issues alerts to local authorities.
With an attack on the Homeland seemingly imminent, a Fusion
Center in Sacramento is used to circumvent various federal
privacy laws. In a piecemeal version of Total Information
Awareness, federal, state, and local databases are fused with
private marketing databases. Contractors search through billions
of records from phone and credit card and internet search
companies to find breast-feeding behavioral patterns suggestive
of terrorist involvement. They come up with an additional 226,351
persons of interest in the Golden State. The FBI and
local authorities work overtime to investigate all leads. None
turn up anything actionable, but the 226,351 persons of
interest are added to the TSA's No-Fly list anyway, just as
a precaution. As a result of the extra additions to the 600,000
strong list, holiday air travel is snarled.
At the black site, a cable is received approving administration
of sleep deprivation. The 26 year-old case officer in charge of
the interrogation is relieved that his decision to push the
envelope with the Red Bull has not endangered his
career. He's secretly proud to be carrying on the tradition of
the Agency's bad boys and starts calling himself
Captain Bull, after the legendary bat-wielding Beirut
interrogator known as Captain Crunch.
Day Nine. Nine Ladies Dancing:
Fearing more sexual harassment training seminars, analysts
throughout the Intelligence Community dismiss intercepts
concerning nine ladies dancing and omit all references
to them from their reports.
Day Ten. Ten Lords-A-Leaping:
The same day that the phrase ten lords-a-leaping is
correlated with the previous NSA intercepts, ten members of the
British House of Lords are killed in Baghdad by a suicide bomber.
They were on their way to observe the British pullout in Basra
under the protection of a Blackwater PSD team. Blackwater claims
that it was not allowed to fire upon a rapidly approaching white
Toyota containing the explosives because the vehicle did not fit
the suicide bomber profile as outlined by the State Department's
acting head of Diplomatic Security. At a well-attended press
conference, the Iraqi Minister of Interior charges that
Blackwater was negligent and should have known to fire upon the
occupants of the suicide vehicle. He holds up a twisted, charred
bumper that he claims was from the VBIED. Plastered to it is the
damning yellow bumper sticker: How's My Driving? Call
1-800-Al-QAEDA. International headlines claim Blackwater is
responsible for the British Lords' deaths because its operators
should've correctly identified the VBIED. Congressman Waxman vows
to hold Blackwater accountable for its unforgivable lack of
Meanwhile at the black site, sleep deprivation is proving to be
ineffective, so a cable is sent to Headquarters requesting
permission to waterboard the detainee.
Day Eleven. Eleven Pipers Piping:
Outsourced analysts at the CIA and Department of Energy are
convinced that the latest NSA intercept, eleven pipers
piping, is a thinly veiled reference to aluminum tubes.
Aluminum tubes could really only be used in a centrifuge
enrichment program to develop atomic weapons, they explain. Under
pressure from the Vice President's office, it's determined that
the earlier information from the CIA's detainee program about
seven swamis was misinterpreted. It's now thought the
seven swamis were an indirect reference to seven
Pakistani nuclear scientists working with Iranians on nuclear
The black site interrogators receive permission to waterboard the
detainee. Before the procedure begins, the lead interrogator
collapses from the stress that he will end up in front of
Congressional committees and in court for his actions. The
detainee is horrified at the sight of his interrogator crying in
a fetal position. He's convinced that something so horrific is
about to happen to him that he breaks before they can position
the Saran wrap over his mouth to protect him from
drowning. The detainee explains that al Qaeda is now working with
Iran to help them with their nuclear weapons development program.
He confirms every suspicion of his interrogators. The black site
cables Langley with confirmation that the seven swamis
swimming was actually seven Pakistani nuclear scientists
assisting Iranian WMD development.
Day Twelve. Twelve Drummers Drumming:
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the world wakes up to New York
Times headlines, U.S. Says Ahmadinejad Intensifies Quest for
A-Bomb Parts. On the same day, twelve top Administration
officials appear on Sunday morning talk shows.
On Meet the Press, Cheney claims that Iran is "trying, through
its illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he
needs to be able to enrich uranium – specifically, aluminum
tubes." Condi Rice appears on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf
Blitzer and warns that "we don't want the smoking yule log to be
a mushroom cloud." Then she recites the evidence in the reverse
order in which it was gathered: "Twelve drummers drumming, eleven
pipers piping, ten lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight
maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five
golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two
turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree."
Blitzer pauses for a commercial break.
Meanwhile at the black site, the CIA contractors and
interrogators are watching CNN via satellite and realize what
they've just done. The contractors fire off a cable to their
corporate headquarters, explaining what's happened and their
indirect role in the folly.
But corporate is ecstatic.
The employees at the black site, and everyone even remotely
associated with their chain of command in the firm,
all receive special Christmas bonuses
(a reimbursable expense on their contract). Their company stock
in their 401(k)s quadruples in value due to
increased business thanks to the war with Iran. This
happy holiday is truly a season of joy!