LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Face of a Nation

After a long 11- hour flight from the Philippines (at the other side of the globe relative to the US), I arrived groggy at the Los Angeles International Airport. I waited impatiently for my papers to be updated by the Immigration, US Custom and Border Protection ( I can't remember the agency's real title).

Lining up waiting for my turn, I wathced the TV for advisories. From the TV tube came a black person barking orders to visitors how to fill up the declaration papers. You need to declare foods, agricultural products and money more than $10,000 before entering the US. This is one way to protect the nation from unknown diseases. From the TV announcement again was a white person talking about border patrol and then a hispanic lady adding some comments. The advisory ended with a slogan saying " US Custom and Border Protection, the face of our nation".

I then realized, the face of the US nation is actually faces ---because the U.S. is a melting pot of cultures. When it was my time to be interviewed, it didn't bother me that the officer didn't spoke perfect english. Officer Nguyen is Asian, specifically Vietnamese. It didn't bother me when he didn't understand my english telling him I'm a graduate student in analytical chemistry.

Since I was beaten by the long travel, I made some mistakes filling up the papers. Out of boredom, officer Nguyen jokingly asked me with authority on top of his Vietnamese accent, "You don't want to make mistakes in chemistry right? You don't want to mix things that will explode?". Of course I will not. But because probably of my accent, he heard otherwise, and I insisted I'm an analytical chemist, who detects traces of the dangerous materials instead of making it.

After the officer stamped my papers, took my fingerprints and photo, I was out to get my bags from the carousel, preparing for my other ordeals: another 4-hour flight to Chicago and then a 2-hr flight to Florida, my adapted State. It will not surprise me to see the many faces of the United States along the way, in the airport, the coffee shop, and intersate 95.

No comments: