The chief has always fostered an air of independence, particularly when it comes to data analysis. Understanding what motivates your staff is the key to success, and often the reason why our enemies fail. A climate of fear, of unspeakable retributions if the results turn out less than expected, will either lead to over exaggerated results or operational paralysis, where everyone avoids colouring outside the lines at all costs.
Problems arise however, when the outside world seeks to impose regulations on the service in the interests of accountability. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the general public is far happier knowing that agents have used public transport and supersaver returns, rather than say, paying for the army to helicopter in some nice gentlemen from Hereford to have a motivational chat with a group of unsavoury individuals.
I have been asked to accompany Alan, whilst he discusses a request for up front expenses with the accounts team. Anything to do with ongoing or major O.p’s goes through the chief or head of section, as this is one of Alans fishing trips, we have to go begging. In any other organisation these would be discouraged, however Alans little side projects have a habit of bearing fruit.
It’s very difficult to speculatively fish if every time you cast the net you’re expected to provide a receipt. What we’re really after is up front travel expenses and a little look the other way money.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one, Alan has been trawling through boxes of rubbish that we acquired from an Iraqi tip. In the 100th box, he found a series of punch cards, the type the Soviets used to use in their Fialka M-125 code machine. I only know that because Alan told me, in painstaking detail, anyway it turns out that this obscure, now obsolete machine, has near mythical status for cipher nerds. But the thing that really peeked his interest was the cards, these machines were last used in ’89, but the cards he found dated from 2006, three years after the fall of Saddam, something to do with the acid content of the paper, I am not really sure, there was mention of chemistry or something, to be truthful i zoned out for most it.
The upshot is that Alan suspects that someone is using a former Soviet code machine, in an area of the world that could well do without that sort of thing. Here’s the problem, we have a machine we acquired after the fall of the Berlin wall, but unfortunately it was damaged. The only manual we have is from 1978 and for a previous model, and to add insult to injury some of the pages are missing. Now there is one in the Russian Naval museum in Sevastopol, having being made obsolete, the K.G.B. kindly donated it in 2005. We’d like funds to go sight seeing.
“You say you’d like to go and visit a museum, in Sevastopol of all places, yet your claim is for twenty thousand pounds, can you explain ?”
I decide to cut the chase and get straight to the point.
“….er it’s for miscellaneous travel expenses and bribes.”
“…BRIBES…out of the question.”
“….Well, being as we were going all that way, we’d thought we’d sort of borrow an exhibit, …for a while…. , a code machine to be precise. Security aren’t just going to let us walk in and have a play, hence the look the other way money.”
“Let me get this right, you want to walk in to a museum in Sevastopol and ask them, sorry bribe, the security to use one of the exhibits, out of the question.”
It turns out the accounts department are about as enamoured with the cipher machines as the rest of us, and after Alan explained why we couldn’t just repair our own, they gave authorisation for the money just to make him go away.
“But why did you ask for so much, by my calculations….”
“Alan, if those turn out to be recipes for falafel, I’m not coming back empty handed.”
“I can assure you they’re far more important than that.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, firstly I’d like to say that great honour it is to be here today and to be able to present to you, the 25th Annual nuclear symposium, a complete working matchstick model of the Russian VVER-1200 nuclear reactor. It really is great, it’s got little L.E.D’s and moving bits, anyway it was kindly donated as gesture of international cooperation by the Sebastopol Russian Naval Museum, isn’t that great.
Note – Alan has a recipe for spiced apricot felafel if anyones interest.