Chapter 18: Bureaucracy
Three thousand kilometres from Norway, a taxi driver was bringing two customers from the airport across the city. He had repeatedly tried to ask where they were from with his broken English, and had even tried to speak to them in his native language, but his passengers didn't seem to speak German or they were too busy to give an answer. The traffic in downtown Vienna was relatively light at that hour of the morning and he would soon bring them to their destination, a famous landmark building. They passed in front of the semi-circle façade and entered by the main entrance. Inside, they were stopped by the security guards, had their briefcase scanned, and they themselves were subjected to metal detectors. At the desk, they were asked for their names, passports and contact person within the building, and they had been admitted without any difficulties.
They had met their contact at the last General Conference in September the year before. He was the type of man that, although he had been working for a big organization such as this, had his own agenda. He had been working for many UN organizations around the world since his early thirties, relocated many times to three different continents, increased level and position each time, and pocketing his relocation grants which he generally had used to invest in real estate in his country. Having been hired before 1990 meant he had a permanent position. He could screw up for the next ten years until his retirement and still wouldn’t likely be fired and, if he was, that meant a large severance package and a nice retirement. He was here for himself alone, and although he was drawing a professional United Nations salary, to him, the organization time had no value. Even as his visitors were passing security, he was busy sending and receiving e-mails from businesses and governments abroad. As his phone rang, he looked at the time and logged carefully off his private e-mail account and closed the browser, making sure to delete the history and clear cookies.
On the way down to the entrance lobby, three people greeted him, but he only smiled and saluted one. He had barely looked at the other two—little G’s, he thought, not worth his effort. He didn’t care much for G’s which were mostly local low level General Service staff, without any value to him other than making copies and printing reports. He always fraternized upward with the P’s and D’s: The professionals and the directors. He was a P5 himself, the highest level of professional in his organization and at the final step which meant that his salary equalled that of Director level. He didn’t care much becoming a D. He didn’t need the extra headache and wasted time working for someone else. His position was allowing him all the free time and information he wanted, but more importantly, he was happy to be ignored sometimes for weeks at a time, giving him ample freedom to work on his own things. Like most professionals at the UN, he had diplomatic immunity and his license plate pretty much allowed him to park anywhere. The police in Vienna were too fed up to give tickets to people who would never pay them anyway.
After a security guard had reached their contact on the phone and validated their identity, they were issued visitor badges and showed a sitting area inside of the gates.
Right on time, their contact had arrived at the security desks to take them to their meeting.
“Hi, it's a pleasure to see you again,” greeted their contact. “Everybody is ready for you upstairs. Be ready to answer some hard questions. I am telling you this as a friend. The Americans and the British are demanding answers, especially why two private citizens have been allowed to continue entering... and most especially after you specifically told the committee during our last phone conference that they weren’t permitted to go in anymore. Also, they are demanding why it has taken years for this information to come to our attention.”
After walking down the corridors to the conference room allocated for their meeting, the two visitors gave each other puzzled looks. They murmured to each other in their own language, making sure that their contact couldn't hear them. “What, they went back?” said one. “But I was sure that our people weren't able to get in anymore?” said the other.
“It doesn’t matter; they are now in the project and collaborating fully,” said one, in English this time, thinking that if their sovereign had consented it, it was no one’s business to question it.
“I doubt that’s how the others will see it,” their contact informed them.
As they arrived to the meeting place, he opened the door and introduced the people around the table in a clockwise manner; twelve representatives from different countries and employees of the International Atomic Energy Agency were seated all around the table and a few more sat on chairs along the wall. The representative from the United States was introduced to them last. He had a severe look on his face that reminded them of the never-smiling security guards in their country. He was in his 50s, and they could see that his hair had left him long ago. His name was James Barrel, which somehow fitted pretty well with his stature.
Finally, the visitors were introduced to the panel: Mr. Arne, representing the royal family, and Mr. Franken, representing the government of Norway.
“First, let me say that this meeting should have taken place three years ago. I will save you the trouble of having to justify yourselves by saying that governments and United Nations agencies such as this one are not above delays, miscommunications and deliberate attempt at slowing things down,” Barrel explained, looking all around the table, driving his point across to whom it may concern. “Let's just recap for the entire panel the chain of events as we understand them and have the recent events since our last phone conference a month ago. This will take a while so bear with me and feel free to jump in at any time if I am inaccurate,” he added, looking at the Norwegians as he started his account of the facts.
“Three years ago, an oil rig prospecting for natural gas in the northern part of Norway discovered a submerged complex starting nine metres below the water and made of a material so hard that it dulled their diamond drill bits. Two scuba divers were sent to investigate and immediately discovered that the structure was powered and was generating energy that prevented rusting of its outer shell, which I’m told is widely used on ship fleets around the world. They then returned to the surface and laid down the facts during a meeting where engineers and oil drillers were present. They made a total of three dives that day and, on the third dive, they entered what we now refer to as the Facility. After spending more than an hour inside, they toured the place a little before ending their dive without telling anyone what they had experienced. That very day, the controller on board the oil rig reported their findings to the proper Norwegian authorities in a Telex stating that an unknown structure at the bottom of the fjord prevented them from drilling at their location, and that it should be investigated as it had stopped a diamond drill bit and that wasn’t normal. But the clerk who received the communiqué labelled it as ‘low priority’ and filed it.” At that, Barrel had coughed to indicate his malcontent and continued.
“A few weeks later, the two divers took leave and spent their first three days in there, mapping and cataloguing the things they discovered. A few more excursions like that occurred during the rest of the year in 1997. In January 1998, Eirik Olsen quit his work and remained in the Facility until recently, living like a hermit. I have to admit that he did a great job documenting everything they discovered. He managed to decipher a lot of the pictograms and he even took hundreds of photos and recorded the voice and sounds on tape. He also had the presence of mind of leaving all that information in the Facility to prevent people from finding out its existence. As for Jack Tomas, he tried to get a working permit but was refused and was forced to leave the country and only returned two times as a tourist. He left Norway mainly because he had to continue supporting his daughter. If it had not been for her, he would have remained in the Facility trying to take pieces of equipment out. He explained in his interrogation that the door structure, which according to what he told us, is more like an energy barrier or a force field than a real door. The report also says that if you try to leave with a piece of “Builders” technologies made or replicated or replicated manmade equipment, we’ll go into that later. The force field blocks the object from going through. That is good for us too, because it prevents Facility equipment to be discovered by the public,” explained Barrel as he wondered how Eirik had not gone mad, alone in the vastness of that underground complex.
Barrel took a sip of water and continued. “Finally, two months ago, another clerk looking through the files, finally decided to bring it to the attention of the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, which in turn passed on the information to us, at last, thanks to the code of ethics of the Norwegian government and the King’s court. At that point, the Norwegians invited Mr. Olsen to Oslo and he spent two days in the company of government investigators from both civilian and military agencies and no less than the Crown Prince himself, who took the lead in debriefing him. Eirik told them everything he knew willingly to be assured that he would be an integral part of the people that would eventually be selected to study the Facility. The King gave Patronage to the Facility that very week, and because Eirik Olsen had always respected the King and the Crown Prince for what they represented, he was made head of research.”
“On our side, I have to admit that we were a little less diplomatic with Mr. Jack Tomas—by we, I mean the United States government, who had arrested him and detained him until he told them the truth, which they already knew from the Norwegians. They didn’t want to consider his assistance at first, but Mr. Olsen, having the King’s ear, gave enough political leverage to bring him back in the game,” concluded Barrel and waved to the two Norwegians.
“That would be a fair assessment,” claimed Arne. “There is, of course, a complete list of all the equipment and their known functionality and energy emission in the brief that we have provided you. But please understand that we are primarily here to discuss the reactor that powers the Facility. You should understand that although the King believes that the United Nations should take charge of the research and exploration of the Facility, it remains clearly on Norwegian soil and therefore under Norwegian control,” Arne insisted, who was by nature, extremely polite and well mannered being a noble himself and having being at the employment of the royal family for three decades. Initially, he had disagreed with the government and ultimately the King for placing the administration of the Facility in the hand of the United Nations and for involving the United States in what was clearly a Norwegian discovery. But the King had made his case and Arne was there to represent him, not to voice out his personal opinion.
“First, let me thank all of you for your effort and your secrecy for the past two months. This Facility is, likely, the most important discovery in the history of mankind—The End. That being said, let’s define the rolls here. IAEA’s purpose is only to assist and weigh the impact of the Facility’s technology on people and the environment. We are not there to influence or actively participate in the governance of this project,” reassured Barrel looking at everyone in turn. “Let me reassure you that when I was in Washington last week, the Clinton administration reiterated that they wished the project to be headed by the United Nations and respect the rules of the UN, not taken over by Americans. It is not a Hollywood blockbuster movie.”
At that, a man stood up and lifted his hand, signalling to Barrel to let him know that he would like to take it from there. He had bushy black hair and as he raised his hand, people could also see thick black hair all the way to the tip of his fingers, the kindness in his face, and the wit in his deep, black eyes. “I’m Mr. Saxena, I’m from the East Indian country office of IAEA,” he said with a distinct Indian accent. “To elaborate on what Mr. Barrel was saying, the rules at the United Nations vary, but in this case, the vote on any matters will be based on the country’s size and budget contribution; of course, as it is often the case, the United States may have enough votes to veto anything. However, organizations may make other arrangements in their charters. Here, we have already been informed by the Norwegian that everyone will have an equal vote and only the host country will exercise their right to veto a proposal if it conflicts with their security and sovereignty. Only the project power source concerns the IAEA’s members,” added Saxena. “I’m assuming also that this new organization or at least its mission is not to be made public as we have done in the past when a secret programme requires anonymity in order not to incite panic among the general population. But, of course, the decision to make it public or not will rest in the hands of that new organization and its Council,” and with that explanation given, he sat back down and let the next member speak.
“Hello everyone, I’m Wong Yi, I’m the IAEA officer responsible for what is referred to internally as “Broken Arrow” or, more officially, the Nuclear Ordnance Commodity Management. We are responsible for the safe recovery of lost or stolen nuclear materials. We also help in the disposal of nuclear waste,” explained Wong, a good-looking Chinese woman who would have been remarkably more beautiful if not altogether stunning had she not been making too much effort to look like her male colleagues to fit in. “I have spent the better part of a month cumulating data and contacting our member states in the hope of finding which country could have made and maintained your ‘Facility.’” She had known from the beginning that no one had the expertise to make something like that and that it was pointless to ask, but she did it because it had to be done.
“I can assure you that this is no submarine. We have all seen the video from inside the structure, and this place is roughly the same square footage as the Pentagon,” observed Yi. “Yet it seemed to be powered by a single source located at its very bottom. I have to admit that my search has produced no results. I have also read all the notes written by Mr. Olsen in the past three years and we are not any closer to determining who built it, when, or why. All I can tell this panel today for sure is that they seem to have no negative effect on the people inside and outside of the Facility. Actually, unless you are underwater centimetres from the outer shell, it doesn’t register on any equipment we know of.”
“Our scientists have yet to determine if the power source is nuclear or not,” confirmed Franzen. “We have covered about 90 percent of the corridors, but almost all rooms are inaccessible to our personnel. We have managed to open some empty rooms and get close to the power source, but we have no direct access to it or the rooms around it. Mr. Olsen has managed to invite a few people as he put it, but we are no closer to understanding why some people can and other can’t access certain rooms. No patterns or algorithms have yet been devised to explain it.”
“That is indeed the main problem we have, besides the language issue. We have yet to determine what makes some people capable of opening some rooms and some can’t enter the rooms even after they have been opened by others,” added Arne.
“Maybe you need expertise and people better equipped to deal with that type of technology,” Wong said.
“We agree in principle that we could use more time and more outside help,” agreed Arne. “But that is not the purpose of this committee or the IAEA, although it is a good platform to begin discussions on how to proceed and present the structure of the new organization to the member state for approval.”
The meeting continued for about three hours at which point it was agreed that IAEA inspectors would return to Norway to try to determine how the power source worked and if possible, who built it by finding out the type of energy used. One of the technical staff in the meeting had mentioned that it was easy to determine where a nuclear bomb came from by analyzing the type of uranium used and comparing it to known uranium deposits around the world. At that, Barrel had almost laughed telling the engineer that he was willing to bet the last remaining hair on his head that the power source was most likely not nuclear.
In return, Norway would continue the study of the Facility with the help of a new United Nations organization. Specifically formed, headed, and funded primarily by the United States, Canada, Norway and Great Britain, but no country would have the right to veto any changes except Norway, the host country. The objective of this organization would be to learn all they can about the technology, its potential value, try to take equipment out of the Facility and discover its origin. The organization would operate in secret, but based on the United Nations’ rules since the system was proven and endorsed by all countries involved. Indeed, everything discussed would require the signature of the representative of each member states and the same was true for the selection of the Council members, a group of seven people selected from various United Nations organizations and the countries represented in the initial charter.
After the meeting, the two Norwegians headed to the dining hall accompanied by their contact and chose a table in a far corner to have some privacy.
“You have made the right choices today. Norway has a proud tradition, but the time of the Vikings’ conquests have long since passed and the Norway of today is that of a small and peaceful nation not interested in being in the world’s spotlight for that sort of thing. Also, why would you want to spend your money for this? You need to recover from your glorious Olympics,” observed their contact. “Let the Americans pay the bills, take the risk, and you keep the good that will come from it.”
“We were expecting this outcome even before we left Norway. Our sovereign is a student of history. At our last meeting, he reminded us of many things the British and Americans have involved themselves in, spent a lot of money, and worked hard on. They lost countrymen in order to build something in someone else's country and then later returned control to the rightful government which had allowed them to get involved in the first place,” explained Arne. “The prince, being also present in that meeting, listed as examples Hong Kong and the Panama Canal as two great successful stories.”
“I'm glad you understand. It seems to me that your order of business will be to manage to get access to all the rooms in the Facility. It is paramount to the success of the project,” replied their contact.
“Mr. Olsen’s involvement in these matters has been invaluable. It seems that he is the only one who has the ability to enter the main central room or the Command Centre as most call it. He can, from there, invite some people to enter but not all, and none so far have been able to access it on their own,” responded Arne, knowing he was not really answering the question. “That’s not really practical, but we have not been able to find the solution to this problem yet,” he added.
“We have been made aware of someone currently backpacking through Europe that could be a valuable asset to you,” their contact informed them. “I have to admit that I was a bit surprised myself by the recommendation, but my people assured me that this individual is a genius, and although he has no formal education, he has an uncanny ability with computers. He might be able to help you if you let him.”
“In my work, I have learned that you need to keep an open mind,” concurred Franzen. “How do we get in touch with that individual?”
“Return home and, when everything is ready, I will have him brought to you along with other scientists and professionals we are recruiting,” answered their contact. “As for us, the next time we meet in person, it will be in Norway. I’m considering letting them appoint me to this project. Besides, my time at IAEA is drawing to an end. Staff can’t work for the organization for more than seven years and I’m months away from the end of my contract and force relocation within the UN system.”
“That would be a good thing. We need someone who can understand the economical reality of such a discovery,” concluded Arne.
And who is not bound by the rules of politics and morality, thought their contact.
They all stood at once and shook hands, then left, knowing what had to be done.
Over the rest of the week, the members discussed at length the protocol for security and hiring rules for the new staff. Also, the temporary Council had already requested that a member of the UNDSS, the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, be flown-in from New York to advise the security on-site and to organize transportation to the Facility. Everything was happening very fast by UN standards to the amazement of Mr. Barrel, who had once commented during his departure dinner from another organization, that if more than fifteen percent of his requests were completed during the course of a year, it was a good year. His statement had essentially burned all his bridges at UNICEF, but it had saved him a few sessions at the therapist.
In addition, to facilitate matters, one of the first external projects would be the design of a ramp to allow staff to enter and exit the Facility without the need for scuba equipment, and an old oil platform would be found, made to look anew, positioned on top of the Facility to allow the landing of helicopters, and justify the comings and goings of the personnel. An old rig was an unfortunate scar on the fjords of Norway, but villagers were used to seeing those and would have less chance of attracting suspicions than personnel landing on the shore, entering a small building and not getting out of there for weeks.
The overall service staff responsible for transporting supplies, secretarial work, maintenance and logistics would be composed of local Norwegians as it is often the case with UN organization where the local General Service Staff is often taken from the country it is based. The rest of the professional staff would be comprised of international experts hired from within the UN system and from private and the public sector in different fields of science required by the project.
The security would be ensured by an American military consultant firm, at least at first. As for the General Director or Facility Director, it would also be an American, a Colonel which served for more than twenty years with the United Nations. Surprising even to him, his appointment had been agreed by all without protest or votes.
For the more important staff and the emergencies, a private military jet would be used; the United States would be glad to provide the service. Besides, they had an entire fleet of them and wouldn’t even notice if one just disappeared.
Barrel would be reassigned to the new organization as soon as a replacement would be found and knew that it would be only a matter of time until he would have to give yet another departure speech and endure a few more parties before having to relocate to Oslo.
The new entity had no name yet and no formal address, but thanks to the sense of urgency that everyone felt, the project was well on the way.