Packet Rat: The Rat schemes to keep his able-bodied geeks

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

A few weeks of digging trenches in Qatar's hardpan to bury fiber conduit was enough to renew the wired one's enthusiasm for the finer things of life'air conditioning, indoor plumbing and the absence of sandstorms.

Sun-blistered, sandblasted and a bit wiser, the cyberrodent headed stateside after his month of tiger team duty helping the Defense Department with its digital barn raising.

He managed to snag better accommodations on his way home, bumming a ride on a cargo plane in exchange for an hour-long tutorial on the Defense Message System for a freshly minted supply lieutenant.

When he rolled into his agency's network command center a few days later, still smelling of sunscreen and blister ointment, he almost wanted to kiss the government-issue floor covering. Then he noticed he was alone.

'Where is everyone?' he shouted into the darkened network operations bunker.
An acolyte crawled out from under a desk. 'Oh, it's you,' he sighed in relief. 'All clear,' he shouted toward the rear cubicles.

A ragtag crew of junior network technicians began emerging from air ducts, raised floor panels and empty server crates.

'What's all this about?' the whiskered one queried as he did a mental roll call. The center did seem a bit short-staffed for a Monday.

'Well, uh, sir, we thought you were with one of the marauding gangs.'

The Rat stared. 'What gangs? What are you babbling about?'

Another wirepuller spoke up. 'The Homeland Security Department's been coming through and snatching up unsuspecting IT pros. We lost four last week.'

The Rat had read on the way home about Democratic California Rep. Zo' Lofgren's concern that the department would suck up talent from other agencies'especially the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But from his somewhat detached location in Qatar, he hadn't known things had gone this far.

Brain drain, however, did seem possible what with Homeland Security's smart border project, the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology, which proposes to automate the tracking of foreign nationals.

He suspected the department and its contractors would have to look hard to find enough security-cleared warm bodies who are expert in bioinformatics, wide area networking and application support.

Then the Rat told himself that his underlings were merely exercising the paranoia he had instilled in them about outside recruiters snatching them off the street. Healthy paranoia, after all, had proved valuable in promoting retention during the dot-com bubble.

But the wirebiter decided he wouldn't put it past secretary Tom Ridge's crew to start sending IT recruiters into cybercafes and electronics shops to track down quarry.

'Looks like it's time to circle the wagons,' the Rat sighed. 'Everybody, choose a buddy.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at

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