Every Reasonable Possibility

Image: Activision / Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare








Q: Good afternoon. Thanks for coming in.

A: You’re welcome.

Q: OK, are you comfortable? You need anything – coffee, water…?

A: I’m OK.

Q: OK then. Are we – yes? OK, we’re ready. (cough) Can you identify yourself for the record please.

A: Detective Lieutenant Marco Alvarez Perez, Federal Police of Mexico.

Q: Thank you, Detective Perez. Can you tell me why you’re here?

A: Because it’s the least bad option.

[six second silence]

Q: Detective…

A: I’m sorry, what’s your name?

Q: You can call me [redacted].

A: OK, [redacted]. What do you want to know?

Q: We’re hoping that you can shed some light on the events of the last few months for us.

A: [laughs] Shed some light? Wow. You’re new at this, aren’t you?

Q: I’m sorry?

A: I mean, I can’t see your face, and I’m guessing your voice isn’t really your voice either. But you’re new at this.

Q: I don’t see… I mean, I’m the one…

A: It’s fine. I don’t mind. We’re all new at some point.

Q: Can you start at the beginning – where were you on December 1, 2024?

A: I was at home.

Q: At home?

A: Sure, at home. Here’s the thing, [redacted] – maybe you’re new, or maybe you’re just confused. And there’s a good reason why you’re confused – none of this makes sense.

Look, I’ll start from the beginning. The election wasn’t particularly contentious – sure, there was some squabbling, and some people in the opposition suggested that votes were being bought. Frankly, some votes probably were being bought – that’s how it goes. But the election wasn’t close – even if there are some dead men’s ballots in the boxes, the guy who won almost certainly would have won anyway.

So no one was really expecting much during the inauguration. The usual self-regarding speeches and general public drunkenness, but nothing more. That’s why I was at home – it wasn’t considered a national security emergency, so they didn’t cancel leave or call everyone in.

Q: Go on.

A: I was watching on the livestream, and the inauguration turned into a nightmare. Before the President-elect even emerged onto the balcony, there was this – humming noise. And before you could even begin to figure it out, the whole sky was full of drones. And this wasn’t a psychological display – wait, why am I telling you this? This was the biggest story in the world. You can’t possibly be this wet behind the ears.

Q: We’d like you to go through your experiences with us. It’s important to have the background.

A: Sure, fine. Anyway, I was in the Army – I know the difference between PSYOPs and an assault. This was an assault. There wasn’t any display – just stealth drones swarming and taking on their targets as soon as they were within range. Brutal, but effective.

Q: The palace was defended, though.

A: Sure, it had one of your surplus laser air-defense systems – I think the English acronym is LAWS? There’s an irony for you. You sold us that one as part of your counter-narcotics programs. Because nothing scares a narco like stationary laser turrets mounted outside the presidential palace, right?

Anyway, it wasn’t enough – not even close.

You know, I’m just old enough to remember a time before everything was live-streamed. When watching something ‘live’ meant that you were getting a feed off a couple of national broadcasters, who could cut things off if they got dicey. Put up a nice title card and some patriotic music until they could figure out what the hell was going on, right? Doesn’t work like that anymore. So I – and everyone else in the country – saw all of what came next.

To be fair – if I can be fair to a mass of single-minded machines engineered only for death – murdering civilians didn’t really seem to be part of the plan. They were focused on the palace’s defenses; methodically wiping out the LAWS turrets and the guard positions and then pouring through holes in the wall created by sapper drones.

But machine precision has never been matched by human discipline, and the livestream caught – in excruciating detail – every civilian trampled by the panicking multitudes, every soldier firing wildly at the drones and hitting only the crowd, and every drone methodically picking off any armed personnel whether or not they were fighting back, and whether or not someone else happened to be next to them at the time.

It was like… I don’t know.

Q: Like what?

A: Like in 1969, if Neil Armstrong had gotten off his spaceship with the whole world watching, and the Moon had just opened up and eaten him. That’s what it was like.

Eventually the swarm largely made its way into the palace, the crowd fled into the surrounding streets, and the clamor of survival was replaced by the groans of death. There was no data from inside the palace, thanks to the blanket transmission ban, but the livestream picked up flashes and dull thumps from within for a few more minutes. And then – silence.

Q: So what did you do next?

A: I went into the office, that’s what I did next. What the fuck else was I going to do? I’m a policeman. It was that or sit at home.

Sorry about my language.

Q: It’s OK. Please go on.

A: I live on the outskirts, and everyone was fleeing the city. So it took me a good four hours to get to headquarters. By then, the death toll already stood at nearly a thousand, with more casualties being reported every few minutes. They’d confirmed the newly inaugurated President, nearly her entire Cabinet, most of the military leadership, the head of the federal police and the Chief Justice – all dead. Mexico City hadn’t seen this much bloodshed since 1848, when you guys came south.

I mean, look, we haven’t fought a war – a real war – in a long time. Sure, we’ve got the occasional student uprising, and you know how much trouble we’ve had with the drug gangs. But we didn’t – we don’t – have a model for this. On 9/11, you guys all said, ‘Oh, this is Pearl Harbor again!’ Nobody has attacked our central government really since we had a central government to speak of.

Anyway, there was, at least, a contingency plan. During the Inauguration, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs had been kept away from the center of the city, and was quickly sworn in as President by one of the remaining Supreme Court justices. So at least there was that.

Q: So who was giving the orders?

A: Well, the federal police leadership had come through pretty much OK – we’d lost a couple of dozen guys, mostly from our tactical units, at the palace. But the Director and the senior staff were all offsite, so they’d survived. That became a problem later on – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I didn’t expect to be drawn into the investigation. I’m Internal Affairs, and the rule with Internal Affairs is that everyone hates you. So there are two kinds of jobs we get – boring ones and ones that end with you digging your own grave. Some of my colleagues coped by being complete pricks. Some of them even live to retirement.

Q: Is that what you do?

A: No. I’m inoffensive. Practically invisible. Up until then, it had worked out pretty well.

Q: So what happened?

A: Apparently there had been a big meeting – Director and all the unit chiefs. Director saying all the usual macho things – country is under attack, it needs us, and so on and so forth. Exactly what you’d expect. I was still in the car on the way down. So when I got there, my boss – head of Internal Affairs – pulls me aside. She tells me, there’s going to be an investigation run personally by the Director, but I’m going to be running my own investigation. Because no one knows who the hell did this or why, but we can’t rule anyone out.

Q: Why you?

A: Because my inoffensive strategy wasn’t working anymore. Or maybe it had worked too well. Basically, I think she figured I could be in the right places and ask the right questions without anyone getting wise. Or maybe I’m the sacrificial lamb.

Or, you know, both.

Officially, I was being seconded to the investigation. Unofficially, I was keeping an eye on the investigation, because literally everyone’s a suspect at this point, right?

Q: What were the first steps taken by the investigation?

A: Well, like you’d expect, we hit the obvious targets first. By the end of the first day we were raiding the Unity movement’s headquarters. It was crap – a total power play. Unity are a bunch of idealistic kids. Sure, they do some hacking and once in a while one of their offshoots gets an idea about violently inspiring the precariat and takes a shot at a mayor or something, but they’re basically just college kids. They’re bad at violence. This wasn’t them.

But they’d pissed someone off, and we had their address. So we lined up half a dozen tactical platoons, blacked them out, kicked their doors down and arrested everyone inside. Killed a couple who resisted, too. At least the tac team commander said they resisted.

Q: You didn’t witness this?

A: Witness what, cowboy? My job is asking questions. I was an intelligence officer in the army, and I’m an investigator in the police. I’ve never gone in for that macho crap. Leave it to the robots and the guys who want to be robots. I was sitting out in one of the APCs, listening to the radio. Heard yelling and a few gunshots. That was it.

Q: And you’re sure they weren’t responsible for the attack?

A: As sure as anything. We found two ancient, busted 3D mills in their HQ. A couple of drones rigged to carry protest banners and loudspeakers. Old stuff. They’d have been better off throwing water balloons.

Look, maybe they did it – but if they did, they did a hell of a job acting like they weren’t capable of it. Not that it’s done their leadership any good, mind you.

Q: How much more time were you there?

A: That’s the thing – as soon as the Unity raid was over, it was like it hadn’t happened. Took the arrested kids to jail; let most of them out the next day. Leaders still haven’t seen a trial. But in terms of suspects, we’d moved on before we got back to headquarters.

Q: So who was the next suspect?

A: The Badger – head of the Monterrey Cartel. We found him very quickly. Either someone upstairs already knew who he was, or you guys did. But of course you wouldn’t know anything about that. Anyway, these guys, these narcos – they all have this image of, I don’t know, Robin Hood. Want to believe – want you to believe – that they’ll go down swinging, and take half the state with them. It’s crap. You know where the Badger was? At home. Watching soap operas and making his way through a family-sized bag of corn chips by himself. When the tac team knocked the door down, he looked up and said, ‘Can I finish this episode?’

Q: That wasn’t the official story.

A: Of course it wasn’t the official story. The official story is that he was found in a whorehouse, giving it to the oldest, ugliest woman in the place, because the real story wasn’t quite humiliating enough. Not exactly a psychic masterstroke.

Q: Did you get to interrogate him?

A: Sure, after they’d dosed him with enough truth pheromones to kill a horse. He was loopy. Look, this guy was responsible – personally responsible – for something like a thousand murders. Dozens of cops, a few of my colleagues. I don’t really have any problem with what they did with him afterwards. But I don’t think he did this. Why would he? Half the Cabinet was in his pocket, and he had enough of his people in the federal police that he knew we were nowhere close to arresting him. Plus all his major rivals had been pretty well sidelined by the previous administration. So why throw rocks at the wasp’s nest if you already own it?

Q: So what did he say to you?

A: He kept talking about the dragons coming down from the sky and burning the crops.

Q: … dragons?

A: Yeah. Like I said, they’d dosed him pretty heavily. Probably overdosed. It was clear they didn’t intend on keeping him alive much longer. Maybe he said something more useful to the investigators who spoke to him before I did, but I never saw anything from the first round.

Q: Did you ask to see anything from the first interrogation – the tape, transcripts, interrogator’s notes…?

A: Sure. Technically I was providing a second opinion to the investigating – what’s the term you guys use for it – ‘red teaming’? They told me I could see the files when their investigation was complete.

Q: And it’s not complete.

A: It remains open, yes.

Q: What happened next?

A: Well, by this point – as you know – things were pretty well going downhill. The leftist movement in Yucatan and the south didn’t take kindly to what we did to the Unity leadership. Also, they were in a position to take advantage of the chaos. So they occupied civic buildings, blockaded local police forces and declared a general strike. The Army pretty much declared war on them – machine gunned some protests, disappeared some protest leaders. Well, you know what happens when you turn guns on a peaceful protest movement – your student union leaders are suddenly guerrillas. No surprise there. What was surprising was how quickly they took to it – normally under those circumstances you go from protests to violent protests to scattered murders. These guys went from peaceful protest to mounting complex ambushes on Army patrols in a couple of weeks.

A: So you think they were an insurgency in waiting, basically.

Q: You know… thirty years ago, that would have been the only explanation. Or that they were a sleeper cell for some kind of worldwide militant group. But there hasn’t been a worldwide leftist guerrilla movement since the 70s. And I really can’t see a bunch of communists in Yucatan teaming up with the Islamists, can you?

A: It’s hard to imagine.

Q: Exactly. No, I think it’s just gotten a lot easier to get really good at war really quickly. Thirty years ago you either learned by trial and error or you had someone training you. How many realistic war games are there? How many GoPro clips of convoy attacks and ambushes from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Turkey and Venezuela have been made? We’ve got algorithms that look at those and develop strategies and counter-strategies just based on historical modeling – you sold those to us. You think those are hard to find? We haven’t had the monopoly of violence for a long time; now we’ve lost the monopoly of being good at violence. You have, too – you’re just more insulated from the effects, so you haven’t figured it out yet.


Q: Did the outbreak of the insurgency have an impact on your investigation?

A: It led a lot of my colleagues to the conclusion that the leftists were behind the initial attack. A lot of the investigators who were working the cartel angle and the political-conspiracy angle were pulled and sent south.

Q: But you weren’t convinced.

A: Well, we’d also had a break in the investigation – we found one of the drones intact. Most of them had self-destructed, but this one had gotten lodged behind a statue on the front of the National Palace. Apparently the impact had dislodged the detonation mechanism, so it didn’t blow up the way it was supposed to. So we finally had some useable physical evidence.

We’d done a pretty good reconstruction of the drones that had taken part in the attack, of course, but this just confirmed it.

Q: Confirmed what?

A: That these things were not very big.

Q: And that matters because…?

A: Because small drones have very short ranges. And the range is even less if you load them down with weapons and jamming gear. Our tech guys looked at this one and weren’t that impressed. It wasn’t high-tech stuff, really – 3D printed frame, cheap electric engines, minimal sensors and comms gear – just enough to not bump into its friends. The tech guys estimated that given its payload, it couldn’t have been launched from more than a couple of kilometers away from the palace.

Q: But there must be tens of thousands of buildings within that radius.

A: Indeed there are. But that area is all well-covered with CCTV and other sensors. The best guess we had from our reconstruction was that the swarm that attacked the palace contained at least six hundred drones. If they were all launched together – a fair guess, given that they all arrived at the same time and that they don’t have the capacity to hang around waiting for stragglers – it would have taken a minimum of twelve tractor-trailer trucks to carry them all. I can assure you we would have seen twelve tractor trailers traveling together and stopped them long before they started launching dozens of drones each.

Q: You said the whole area that they might have come from was blanketed with CCTV coverage. Why weren’t they picked up when they were taking off?

A: Best guess? They had a blind spot somewhere in the coverage and took off, then all went up to a few hundred feet before descending on the square. Our cameras and surveillance gear mostly points down, not up – it was designed to look for human criminals, after all. But the problem with that theory is that to launch six hundred drones that size, you’d need at least a dozen tractor-trailers, and that definitely would have been picked up by our cameras. So we’re back to the beginning, where we don’t know anything for sure.

Q: The other possibility is that the CCTV network was hacked. Did you look into that possibility?

A: Did we look into that possibility? Of course we did, but I really don’t think…

Q [crosstalk]: And what did you find?

[Long pause]

A [quietly]: I don’t know.

Q: Excuse me?

A: I don’t know.

Q: You… don’t know.

A: Let me ask you, my inexperienced friend – how long have you been doing this for?

Q: I’m sorry?

A: You’re not a cop. You’re not a professional investigator. I don’t know what you are – diplomat, solider or spook. I don’t even know what the line is between those things are anymore.

I’m a cop. Our job is what it’s always been – we start with bodies and work backwards until we have answers. The tools change; the crimes don’t. It’s not a complicated line of work, and a lot of the time it’s not an honest one. But it’s a living, and I thought until very recently that I was pretty good at it.

So imagine this – you spend you whole life getting progressively better at asking the questions and getting to answers, despite the best efforts of very smart, very bad people to prevent you from doing so. As you get better, you get entrusted with bigger and bigger cases, and the people working against you get smarter and worse.

And then one day, you have the biggest case, the biggest question, of your entire career. And all that skill you’ve built up over time, all your investigative strategies and tricks, end up tying you in knots and pointing you towards answers which are at best laughably incomplete and at worst, terrifyingly impossible.

Beyond everything else – do you know what that does to your pride? It kills it. And not just your pride. I’ve never believed in an orderly, fair and just universe – I’d be pretty bad at my job if I did. But I do believe, did believe, that events follow their own screwed-up, selfish logic. This doesn’t.

Q: Can we get back to the CCTV footage?

A: Yeah, here’s the thing. If it was faked, it was done absolutely perfectly. And yet there’s no other explanation. The drones don’t come from a direction – they come from every direction. There’s that buzz in the air and then they’re just everywhere. Except that’s impossible. They didn’t have the capacity to launch, circle the site without detection and then converge. They must have started from every direction. But, as I’ve explained, that’s not possible – we would have detected a single launch site, so you can be damn sure we would have detected 600 launch sites.

That leaves us with conclusions that are wholly impossible. Either every piece of data we have – every cell phone feed, every video, every audio recording – was simultaneously and perfectly faked; or the attack was carried out by an actor who executed a nearly-perfect attack and has yet to claim it or capitalize on it in any measurable way.

Q: We… it’s been argued that even if a single actor couldn’t have pulled this attack off, a coalition of actors could have. Narco money financing leftists, with operational expertise borrowed from global jihadis, for example.

A: Excuse me, but that’s crap. Your intelligence agencies have been feeding each other these spiraling lies about ‘the crime-terror nexus’ for decades now, and they don’t make any more sense the more you tell them. Sure, if you take the most effective aspect of a variety of groups and glue them together, you can build a Frankenstein’s monster capable of any terrorist atrocity. But you’re building an answer to suit your question. That’s not how this works. You think the student lefties are going to work with a bunch of sexist, homophobic narcos and apocalypse-worshipping jihadis? Come on. They don’t hate us that much. And by the same token, you think the death-lovers are going to turn over any aspect of their operational planning to a bunch of jargon-spewing, pot-smoking college kids?

Q: So who do you think did it?

A: I think the drones did it.

Q: Right, but… who ordered… if that was the case, who were the drones working for?

A: Maybe they weren’t working for anyone. Maybe they’re possessed.

Q: You can’t be serious.

A: Why not? I don’t mean by supernatural spirits. I mean possessed by ghosts in the machine. Maybe somewhere in the suburbs there’s an automated factory churning out drones to the tune of some demented algorithm that hates humanity, or thinks we’re simply not relevant anymore. Maybe the answer is so complicated, so inhuman, that we simply can’t understand why things happen anymore.

Q: …that seems unlikely.

A: You think I don’t know that? You think I’m happy to have reduced every reasonable possibility to zero without getting any closer to a solution? If I had a better explanation I wouldn’t be talking to you, and if you had a better explanation you wouldn’t be asking me. But we’re having this conversation because neither of us knows, and because I know you’re going to tell the people you talk to that I don’t know, and maybe that means I can live through the chaos that my country has become. And because, despite all evidence, I think you guys might have the best chance of figuring it out eventually. But I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t knowable and we’re just wasting our time here.

[long pause]

Q: Do you have anything else you want to add?

A: Only… that I thought it would go differently.

Q: This interview?

A: Everything.


Dr. Jacob Parakilas is assistant project director for the US Project at Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, in London. His research has largely focused on American foreign policy and international security issues. He has worked at Action on Armed Violence, the World Security Institute, the Arms Control Association and the US Department of Homeland Security. He can be found on Twitter at @JParakilas.