It was hot, and noisy, as Michael Avery picked his way through the
late-afternoon crowds clogging Athens’s famous Plaka district.
Behind him, two Diplomatic Security Service agents mixed with
the throng. A block over, a contingent of heavily armed Marines and
an NSA communications expert followed in a nondescript van. There
should have been a drone, but things had moved too fast.
Avery, the U.S. ambassador to Greece, had been told to come
alone. The White House, though, had other plans. Too much was at
In his white polo shirt and blue blazer, Avery looked like any other
upscale Westerner visiting Greece during the height of the tourist season.
He even carried a backpack casually slung over one shoulder. But
unlike the other backpacks around him, his contained an encrypted
laptop, complete with a wireless modem and sophisticated remoteviewing
He was passing a small outdoor café with a dramatic view of the
Acropolis and the ancient Parthenon atop it, when his cell phone rang.
“Stop there and take a table,” said a voice with a heavy Greek accent.
“You know what to do next.”
Yes, Ambassador Avery did know what to do next. A thumb drive
with a final set of instructions had been delivered to the embassy that
morning. The instructions indicated that the drive could be used only
once and that any attempts to copy or crack it before the appointed
time would result in all of its data being destroyed.
Avery sat down at a table and, after ordering coffee, removed the
encrypted laptop from his backpack and powered it up. The drive
glowed as it was plugged in. Within moments, a private-message screen popped up, and the words Good afternoon, Mr. Ambassador.
Thank you for coming. appeared.
Back in the van, the NSA communications expert could see in real
time exactly what the ambassador was seeing, thanks to the laptop’s
remote-viewing application, and he began trying to locate the source
of the transmission.
Are you prepared to transfer the funds? appeared next.
How do we know the merchandise is authentic? typed Avery.
One word was returned: Watch.
The ambassador’s screen split into two separate windows. Next to
the dialogue box, an image came up, titled JFK/ATC. He discreetly
tilted his head and spoke toward the microphone sewn into the lapel
of his blazer: “Are you getting this?”
“All of it. So is Washington,” replied the tech in the van. A satellite
uplink was beaming everything to the States for verification.
Avery pressed the mini-earpiece farther into his ear as he anxiously
awaited word. Seconds later, it came.
“Verification complete,” the tech said. “Mr. Ambassador, you are
looking at a live picture of JFK’s Air Traffic Control system.”
Knowing what might happen next sent chills down Michael Avery’s
spine. His hands shook as he typed the following message: We are
ready to proceed.
One by one, aircraft started disappearing from the screen.
Forty-five seconds later, the NSA man’s voice came back over the
ambassador’s earpiece. “JFK is reporting a major ATC system malfunction.
They’re losing track of all their inbound aircraft. The merchandise
Initializing funds transfer, typed the ambassador as he began the predetermined
sequence. The green status bar seemed to take forever.
When the Transfer Successful message finally materialized on the screen,
aircraft flying in the New York area began reappearing on ATC radar.
Simultaneously, a third window appeared on the ambassador’s laptop.
In it, he could see a live picture of the device the United States
had just paid so handsomely for. As the image widened, he could see the Parthenon in the foreground.
“We’re on it,” said the Marine commander over Avery’s earpiece as
the van took off to claim the merchandise.
The ambassador continued to watch the feed as a pair of hands
came into view, picked up the device, and secreted it inside the nearest
trash can, as agreed, for pickup.
“Sir,” said one of the Diplomatic Security Service agents as he approached
the table. “There’s a car waiting. We’d like to get you back to
Avery nodded and was just about to shut down his laptop, when he
noticed the camera from the Acropolis being moved. There were jerky
flashes of legs and feet as someone hastily repositioned it to overlook
the road below. Seconds later, the white embassy van with the Marines
and the NSA tech entered the frame. The camera followed its
How the hell did they already ID the van? Avery wondered. “Are you
seeing this?” he asked the lead Diplomatic Security Service agent.
The agent looked at the ambassador’s screen.
“Why would they want us to watch our own guys?” Avery
The agent raised his sleeve and spoke into the microphone.
“Beachcomber, this is Point Guard,” he said. “Be advised, someone
is filming your approach. You have been compromised. Repeat. You
have been compromised.”
But before the men in the white van could respond, the entire Plaka
district shook with what sounded like a giant knife tearing through
the fabric of the afternoon sky. The ambassador watched, aghast, as
the video feed showed a shoulder-fired missile slamming through the
windshield and the van exploding.
The lead DS agent didn’t waste any time. Grabbing the ambassador
and the laptop, he and his partner sped Avery out of the café and
down the closest side street.
All around them, people rushed out of the shops and restaurants
to look up and stare at the plume of black smoke rising from the Acropolis.
As the ambassador and the DS agents turned the next corner, they
could see the embassy’s dark armor-plated BMW. The street was
completely abandoned. “Faster!” the lead agent yelled. They were almost
Reaching the car, the lead agent flung open the rear door. As he
began to shove the ambassador inside, a motorcycle screamed down
The DS agents reached for their weapons, but it was too late.