Sunday, 1 April 2018

Dead Nodes (NBA)

Julian Assange made the papers again this week, when the Ecuadorian government cut off his internet access. Assange made a written commitment not to use the Embassy's internet connection to say or do anything that might harm Ecuador's relationship with other countries. As a moderately intelligent three-year-old might have guessed, Assange couldn't keep his online mouth shut. This has happened before, when Assange's posts during the American 2016 election prompted a shutdown. His internet access was restored December that same year.

I have some sympathy for the Ecuadorians. It can't be easy playing host to WikiLeaks' founder, but you do have to wonder what on earth the Ecuadorian Government thought would happen when it restored Assange's internet access.

Question: what does NBA's Conspiracy do with dead nodes?

In this context, Assange is the dead node. He's never going to have the same influence he enjoyed when WikiLeaks was at its height, in 2011 to 2015. He's the equivalent of an ageing rock star convinced that if he only loses a few pounds and cuts down on the booze he can still manage a full international tour. Those days are behind him. Moreover he's lost his freedom. Even if he somehow finagles a way out of the Embassy, wherever he goes now he's a marked man. That doesn't make him inconsequential. He's still a symbolic draw for many people, and WikiLeaks still exists. But the Assange that was is never coming back.

Let's suppose the Conspiracy backs Assange, or someone very like him. That suggests a Node at National level at least, possibly Supranational depending on circumstances. Let's further suppose that, due to a combination of events, this Node becomes much less relevant to the Conspiracy because it has been compromised in some way. In Assange's case, it was the pressures that forced him to take refuge at the Embassy. What next?

First, the obvious choice:

This is not always the optimal choice. The information and skills the dead node possesses could still be of use, and it would be wasteful to break a valuable asset. If the Node is politically or socially visible, as Assange is, then it may be very unwise to terminate it. There's bound to be an official investigation, and in the case of someone like Assange, at least half a dozen unofficial ones. Every espionage agency in the Western world will want to know why Assange choked on his soup. The Heat mechanic doesn't apply to the Conspiracy, but if it did this would be a massive Heat gain.

There is always demotion. In a sense, this is what has happened to Assange. He still has resources and time to work on the things that interest him, but he no longer has the influence he once enjoyed. This can work well, but only if the Node is willing to cooperate. It has to be content to slide into irrelevance. Assange clearly isn't interested in that option. There is always the risk that the Node will break ranks and spill secrets, or do something unfortunate in a desperate bid to regain lost status. This option works best if the Node has some weakness the Conspiracy can use to keep it quiet. A dependence on narcotics, or blood; a beloved family member; a secret. Anything that can keep the Node docile will be useful.

However anything the Conspiracy needs can be used against it. Say the Agents discover that the only thing keeping Assange-lite obedient is his blood dependence. Given his location, it can't be easy smuggling in the special substances he requires. If the Agents were to starve Assange-lite for a few days by intercepting the courier, then he might go off the rails. This could have all kinds of interesting consequences for the Conspiracy. Imagine what might happen if the revealer of secrets started spilling the Conspiracy's hush-hush intel.

The alternative is promotion. A saying has been attributed to various members of the German high command, in the years between the World Wars. It goes like this:

I divide my officers into four classes as follows: the clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid. Each officer always possess two of these qualities.

Those who are clever and industrious I appoint to the General Staff. Use under certain circumstances can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be got rid of, for he is too dangerous.

A dead node has proved itself stupid. The question then is whether or not it is industrious. If so, then the Conspiracy will cut it loose. If lazy, then a case could be made for kicking it upstairs. The Conspiracy, like any bureaucracy, is bound to have a number of high echelon positions which boast grand titles but carry no significant authority. Head of Research, say, where all the real work is done by subordinates. Or Vice Chancellor in charge of records. Anything that gets the Node to a point where it has no power to directly affect, and therefore threaten, the day to day running of operations. Since it's lazy, it won't interfere with the smooth workings of whichever department it's promoted to. Everyone goes home happy.

Assange-lite is too industrious to be dealt with this way.

There's one other option: burn it.

This is exactly what happens to player characters. Dumped and discredited by the agency that once supported them, the agents now wander the shadowy world of espionage on their own. The same can happen to Conspiracy assets. This works best on low-level Nodes, which don't have access to any important information. There's no point burning someone who can burn you back, after all.

If desired, a variant of the Black Program Badass archetype could be used for a player character who was once in deep with the Conspiracy. The Director might consider giving the character extra bennies in exchange for a pre-existing psychological disorder - PTSD, say, in exchange for supernatural Network contacts. But be careful not to give away the store, or cripple a new character.

Renfields denied access to blood, dhampires and ferals who once had status, hackers and financiers and other lackeys - all can be flung aside. The Conspiracy will probably feed supernatural former assets to the hunters, or straight into a mincing machine, but Renfields and humans can be dealt with subtly. Make sure their criminal history is given to the right people, or stuff their hard drives full of kiddie porn and wrap them up in a big red ribbon for the authorities. Betray gangs to rival gangs, or let the hitman's enemies find out who's been carrying out all these assassinations. If death is the preferred option, make sure the body's found in compromising circumstances. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, say. That way any inconvenient last testament hidden on a hard drive is less credible when it surfaces.

This would be a useful way of dealing with Assange-lite. Make sure there's enough evidence of wrongdoing to taint any evidence he might come up with, then let him go. Possibly dangle the carrot of reinstatement if he somehow redeems himself, but never be so foolish as to actually bring him back into the fold. What's done is done. Never look back.

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

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