Although Ensei Tankado was not alive during the Second World War, he carefully studied everything about it‑particularly about its culminating event, the blast in which 100,000 of his countrymen where incinerated by an atomic bomb.
Hiroshima, 8:15 a.m. August 6, 1945‑a vile act of destruction. A senseless display of power by a country that had already won the war. Tankado had accepted all that. But what he could never accept was that the bomb had robbed him of ever knowing his mother. She had died giving birth to him‑complications brought on by the radiation poisoning she’d suffered so many years earlier.
In 1945, before Ensei was born, his mother, like many of her friends, traveled to Hiroshima to volunteer in the burn centers. It was there that she became one of the hibakusha‑the radiated people. Nineteen years later, at the age of thirty‑six, as she lay in the delivery room bleeding internally, she knew she was finally going to die. What she did not know was that death would spare her the final horror‑her only child was to be born deformed.
Ensei’s father never even saw his son. Bewildered by the loss of his wife and shamed by the arrival of what the nurses told him was an imperfect child who probably would not survive the night, he disappeared from the hospital and never came back. Ensei Tankado was placed in a foster home.
Every night the young Tankado stared down at the twisted fingers holding his daruma wish‑doll and swore he’d have revenge‑revenge against the country that had stolen his mother and shamed his father into abandoning him. What he didn’t know was that destiny was about to intervene.
In February of Ensei’s twelfth year, a computer manufacturer in Tokyo called his foster family and asked if their crippled child might take part in a test group for a new keyboard they’d developed for handicapped children. His family agreed.
Although Ensei Tankado had never seen a computer, it seemed he instinctively knew how to use it. The computer opened worlds he had never imagined possible. Before long it became his entire life. As he got older, he gave classes, earned money, and eventually earned a scholarship to Doshisha University. Soon Ensei Tankado was known across Tokyo as fugusha kisai‑the crippled genius.
Tankado eventually read about Pearl Harbor and Japanese war crimes. His hatred of America slowly faded. He became a devout Buddhist. He forgot his childhood vow of revenge; forgiveness was the only path to enlightenment.
By the time he was twenty, Ensei Tankado was somewhat of an underground cult figure among programmers. IBM offered him a work visa and a post in Texas. Tankado jumped at the chance. Three years later he had left IBM, was living in New York, and was writing software on his own. He rode the new wave of public‑key encryption. He wrote algorithms and made a fortune.
Like many of the top authors of encryption algorithms, Tankado was courted by the NSA. The irony was not lost on him‑the opportunity to work in the heart of the government in a country he had once vowed to hate. He decided to go on the interview. Whatever doubts he had disappeared when he met Commander Strathmore. They talked frankly about Tankado’s background, the potential hostility he might feel toward the U.S . . . his plans for the future. Tankado took a polygraph test and underwent five weeks of rigorous psychological profiles. He passed them all. His hatred had been replaced by his devotion to Buddha. Four months later Ensei Tankado went to work in the Cryptography Department of the National Security Agency.
Despite his large salary, Tankado went to work on an old Moped and ate a bag lunch alone at his desk instead of joining the rest of the department for prime rib and vichyssoise in the commissary. The other cryptographers revered him. He was brilliant‑as creative a programmer as any of them had ever seen. He was kind and honest, quiet, and of impeccable ethics. Moral integrity was of paramount importance to him. It was for this reason that his dismissal from the NSA and subsequent deportation had been such a shock.
* * *
Tankado, like the rest of the Crypto staff, had been working on the TRANSLTR project with the understanding that if successful, it would be used to decipher E‑mail only in cases pre‑approved by the Justice Department. The NSA’s use of TRANSLTR was to be regulated in much the same way the FBI needed a federal court order to install a wiretap. TRANSLTR was to include programming that called for passwords held in escrow by the Federal Reserve and the Justice Department in order to decipher a file. This would prevent the NSA from listening indiscriminately to the personal communications of law‑abiding citizens around the globe.
However, when the time came to enter that programming, the TRANSLTR staff was told there had been a change of plans. Because of the time pressures often associated with the NSA’s anti‑terrorist work, TRANSLTR was to be a free‑standing decryption device whose day‑to‑day operation would be regulated solely by the NSA.
Ensei Tankado was outraged. This meant the NSA would, in effect, be able to open everyone’s mail and reseal it without their knowing. It was like having a bug in every phone in the world. Strathmore attempted to make Tankado see TRANSLTR as a law‑enforcement device, but it was no use; Tankado was adamant that it constituted a gross violation of human rights. He quit on the spot and within hours violated the NSA’s code of secrecy by trying to contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Tankado stood poised to shock the world with his story of a secret machine capable of exposing computer users around the world to unthinkable government treachery. The NSA had had no choice but to stop him.
Tankado’s capture and deportation, widely publicized among on‑line newsgroups, had been an unfortunate public shaming. Against Strathmore’s wishes, the NSA damage‑control specialists‑nervous that Tankado would try to convince people of TRANSLTR’s existence‑generated rumors that destroyed his credibility. Ensei Tankado was shunned by the global computer community‑nobody trusted a cripple accused of spying, particularly when he was trying to buy his freedom with absurd allegations about a U.S. code‑breaking machine.
The oddest thing of all was that Tankado seemed to understand; it was all part of the intelligence game. He appeared to harbor no anger, only resolve. As security escorted him away, Tankado spoke his final words to Strathmore with a chilling calm.
“We all have a right to keep secrets,” he’d said. “Someday I’ll see to it we can.”