The Director called a general staff meeting. All hands on deck. He gave everyone a few minutes to grab coffee and bring it into the conference room.
“All right, everyone,” he said. “I know this has been a rough few months for us. The phone tapping, computer tapping, video game tapping. They know all our tricks, and soon they’re going to shut us down and we’ll left to gathering evidence the old fashioned way, sitting up in a tree with binoculars. I don’t want to go back to that. Do you?”
Everyone shook their heads.
“Good. We need to come up with a new way of spying on people without them knowing. Something we’ve never done before. Yes, esteemed colleagues. It is time for nostril bugs.”
Over the next few weeks agents fanned out across the country, in search of people sleeping so that bugs could be implanted in their nostrils. People sleeping on subways, park benches, and commuter trains were easy. Even libraries snagged a few sleepers. But the real difficulty was breaking into people’s homes late at night and implanting the bugs while they slept. More than one agent tried to go down the chimney.
But before long the entire population was walking about with tiny electronic sensors in their nostrils. Like the bugs in cell phones and computers, these nostril bugs recorded data and then transmitted it back to headquarters. But unlike the bugs in cell phones and computers, these nostril bugs did not record communications. These bugs recorded smell.
The Director’s dream was to map the entire country by smell. An internal memo had once mentioned that a certain group of mischief-makers liked to eat pizza the night before a big event. So whenever the detected that there was a cluster of nose sensors picking up the scent of pizza, agents would immediately surround the area and detain everyone for questioning.
After the fiftieth raid on a student council meeting, the Director decided to alter the strategy.
“Forget the pizza rule,” he said. “It’s yielding too many false positives. Let’s focus on another smell.”
Another internal memo mentioned that the groups liked to meet in basements. So whenever they detected a cluster of musty or moldy smells, agents would surround the location and detain everyone for questioning.
After the hundredth raid on an innocent poker game, the Director knew that once again he had to change focus.
“What’s done is done. Enough playing around. Time to go for the jugular.”
He ordered all agents to focus just on the smell of instruments of sudden disaggregation. It was so simple, so obvious, that he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it at the very beginning of the nostril project.
The agents waited on the edge of their seats for the smell clusters to appear on the big screen. But the clusters never came. They checked the parameters for incorrect calibrations. They checked the software for glitches. They banged the side of the big screen. Nothing.
“Maybe there is no more mischief!” the Director exclaimed. “Hey, we did it!” he shouted and put his palm up for someone to high five. Then he saw the news flash.
An attack on a series of lawn ornaments had taken place. The news footage showed bits of miniature windmill and terracotta clay gnomes littering a suburban street, with homeowners standing around in their bathrobes, crying and hugging each other.
And then they showed a picture of the group claiming responsibility for the attacks. The members were wearing masks over their eyes, and clothes pins on their noses.
The Director looked around the room, wondering who had leaked the nostril program and endangered the welfare of the nation. But he knew it was useless. There was no single unwarranted invasion of privacy that could stop these kinds of activities for good. You just had to keep coming up with something new.