This arti­cle is part 14 of 17 in the series The D.C. Reunion

“Mikel, why don’t we quit lying to each other?”


“I’m not gullible enough to believe that our meet­ing at the air­port was pure cir­cum­stance.  I know quite well that you’re here to watch me and to pos­si­bly kill me if I attempt to det­o­nate the EMP device.  Although that cock-and-bull sto­ry about being a secu­ri­ty con­sul­tant was pret­ty good, and you’re cer­tain­ly qual­i­fied to do that kind of work. 

“I know I’ve been fol­lowed ever since I left England, although I feel sure I gave the MI‑6 guys a run for their mon­ey by going through Bermuda instead of com­ing through Canada.

“So how about we just be hon­est with one anoth­er and get all this cloak-and-dag­ger crap behind us so we can enjoy the city while we’re on some­body else’s nickel?”

Panghurst was so upfront about things, there did­n’t seem to be much use in deny­ing what was appar­ent­ly so obvious.

“Wow, Armin.  This is quite a sur­prise.  I real­ly thought we had you fooled but we should have known that some­one with your expe­ri­ence would see through this lit­tle cha­rade.  You’re right about it all.  I expect we’re being watched right now, either by some­one else here in the restau­rant or some­one try­ing des­per­ate­ly to see us through the restau­rant win­dows since you asked to be seat­ed away from them.”  I had to smirk a bit at that point, visu­al­iz­ing some agent try­ing to find a van­tage point on the street to watch us while not being so obvious.

“Truth is,” I con­tin­ued, “that I real­ly had­n’t fig­ured out how I was either going to stop you det­o­nat­ing the device or find out from you where it’s locat­ed.  I’ve been play­ing this whole thing by ear ever since you got here.”

“No need, Mikel.  I’ll let you in on a lit­tle secret.  The whole thing’s a hoax!”

“C’mon, Armin.  You don’t real­ly expect me to believe that, do you?”

“Honest injun, as you Americans like to say.  Oh, there was a device, but it’s not here.  Never has been.  Never will be.”

“Now I think you’ve revert­ed to lying, Armin.”

“Not a bit of it, ol’ boy.  Here’s what happened.

“You’ve prob­a­bly been told that Milikan and I both have grudges with our gov­ern­ments.  This is true.  And Milikan did set out to build this EMP device you’ve heard so much about, but it did­n’t work.  Well, it did work, in a way.  Milikan man­aged to cre­ate a device that would fit into a suit­case.  And it only weighed about fifty-five pounds.  And it DID pro­duce an EMP effect.  But only to a radius of about fif­teen feet.  And it need­ed a con­stant sup­ply of pow­er to be able to do that.  So, it nev­er had the capa­bil­i­ty to take down a huge net­work, much less one with a five-mile radius.”

“Then how did the intel­li­gence ser­vices pick up on this overblown sto­ry of its capa­bil­i­ties?” I asked.

“Milikan and I put out the sto­ry through clan­des­tine sources where we knew it would even­tu­al­ly leak back to the high­er ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment.  And it worked.  Everybody start­ed going berserk.  ‘Freaking out,’ as you would say.”

“But to what end?  Why make up a fab­ri­ca­tion like that with­out a purpose?”

“Oh, we had a pur­pose, all right.  Frankly, our orig­i­nal intent was to do what the device was pur­port­ed to do.  The Brits and Russians are def­i­nite­ly on our shit list and we would have loved to bring them to their respec­tive knees.  But, when we found out that the device would­n’t work, we came upon the idea of pre­tend­ing that it did.”


“Because we knew that, even if we could­n’t cre­ate the hav­oc we intend­ed, we could still make the gov­ern­ments and their intel­li­gence ser­vices look stu­pid and incom­pe­tent by hav­ing them chase us around the world look­ing for some­thing that did­n’t exist.  And they did — and it’s cost them a huge bun­dle doing so.  We’ll win in the end any­way because Milikan’s exper­i­ments did cre­ate some­thing, some­thing that many gov­ern­ments will be try­ing to acquire, and they’re going to have to pay through the nose to get it.  So Milikan will get rich any­way… and I’ll get a piece of it, enough to live in com­fort for the rest of my life.”

“But why would the gov­ern­ment — any gov­ern­ment — want some­thing that did­n’t work?”

“Don’t you see, Mikel?  It did work!  At least on a small scale.  And with enough mon­ey and per­son­nel, it’s pos­si­ble that some­one can get it to work the way it was intend­ed.  Imagine how much lever­age a gov­ern­ment would have with a weapon like that.  Something capa­ble of par­a­lyz­ing a coun­try or gov­ern­ment for a sus­pend­ed peri­od of time, with no phys­i­cal prop­er­ty dam­age, no deaths or injuries, just a mas­sive shut­down of every­thing electronic.

“And we’ll not only have our revenge by becom­ing rich.  We’re also going to release all this data to Wikileaks so the whole world will know how two guys man­aged to dupe the most pow­er­ful gov­ern­ments on the planet.”

“No gov­ern­ment would be like­ly to pay you for some­thing like that after you’ve shamed them the way you describe.”

“Oh, we won’t spill it all until after we’re paid.  And the infor­ma­tion has already been placed in a way that it will be revealed regard­less of what hap­pens to us.  So, we’ve got a bit of insur­ance as well.”

“Well, it seems you’ve got the whole thing planned out pret­ty well.  If I can believe all this.  But if it is all true, why did you both­er to come all the way to Washington?  You could have just leaked all this and bar­gained with­out going this far.”

“I want­ed a vaca­tion.  And Milikan was will­ing to pay for it.  And stretch­ing out the whole caper sim­ply sucked in more intel­li­gence resources and made them expend more mon­ey try­ing to stop it.

“Call it ego or hubris or what­ev­er, but we just want­ed to see every­body sweat it out a bit longer.  And it worked beautifully.”

“I guess it did.  I can tell you that the locals have real­ly been beside them­selves for a while.”

“That’s good to know.”

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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