A Higher Echelon


Production code
January 5 2003
Written by
John Eisendrath
Story by
Teleplay by
Directed by
Guy Bee

A Higher Echelon is the 11th episode of Season 2 of Alias, and the 33rd episode overall. After completing his first mission with Sydney, Marshall's life is placed in mortal danger. Meanwhile, Ariana Kane suspects Jack as being the prime suspect in the disappearance of Sloane's wife. Vaughn learns the truth about Jack's involvement in the murder of CIA agent Haladki and Sydney confides in Francie about her feelings for a fellow co-worker.

Plot Overview[]

Sydney reveals her mission regarding the Echelon system to Will, and believes that Marshall is safe with the CIA. Marshall is actually being tortured by Suit and Glasses, who demands to know where the Echelon operating system is located. Under threat of death, Marshall later agrees to use his photographic memory to rewrite the Echelon code.

At the CIA, Vaughn tells Syd that Marshall was abducted by an associate of Cuvee. Although an extraction team is searching for him, Sydney feels that Marshall is her responsibility. The larger issue is that before he was abducted, Marshall e-mailed Cuvee's copy of the Echelon access program to SD-6.

At SD-6, Sloane reveals that Marshall's email was broken into packets of data that were routed to SD-6 via ISP's around the world. An error in Vietnam prevented several data packets from being transmitted, however, so Sydney and Dixon are to travel to a government facility in Ho Chi Minh City to retrieve the data. Sloane feigns concern for Marshall and contacts SD-4 for a replacement. Sydney's CIA countermission is to switch the actual data with corrupted files.

Sydney tells the CIA that Cuvee would just have to reverse-engineer the software to get back online. However, an access point is also needed to gain entry to Echelon. If they could find it, they can prevent Cuvee from using it — unfortunately, they can't find it. Vaughn says that Irina believes she can find the back door. Her terms are that she gains unrestricted access to Echelon. She says that the CIA technicians will find that the security system is like quicksand. Kendall rejects this notion.

Back at Credit Dauphine, Jack finds Ariana Kane going through his office. She downgrades his network privileges and revokes his security clearance pending the outcome of her investigation into Emily's situation. Jack has the CIA forge hard evidence that he was in Taipei and Istanbul on SD-6 missions during crucial periods in Emily's disappearance and death.

Disguised as a businesswoman, Sydney makes a presentation in Vietnam during which she flashes a strobe light that renders the audience unconscious for 3 minutes, allowing her time to access to the server room and obtain the data. Finding the hard drive bay empty, Sydney runs to the repair room but Dixon beats her there and discovers the correct hard drive before Sydney can switch it.

Sydney returns home; Sloane now has everything he needs to access Echelon. Meanwhile, the CIA has halted the search for Marshall because an extraction team was killed during a sweep in London. Francie casually mentions Sydney's crush on Vaughn to Will. Later, Will meets with Vaughn, who hires him as a CIA analyst — his cover is that he's a journalist for Trade Roads magazine. Will tells Vaughn that Syd cares for him and wants him to respect that.

With SD-6 gaining access to Echelon in 12 hours, the CIA can't crack Echelon — as Irina had cryptically noted, they encounter a virus called Quicksand. Kendall finally agrees to let Irina have a try. Kane shows Sloane a forensic report indicating that Jack checked out a weapon on the day that Emily was murdered. Furthermore, brain matter was found in the gun barrel. Sloane gives her permission to run a DNA test.

As Marshall is writing the code he pings SD-6 to inform them of his Mexico City location. Sloane wants to notify an extraction team, but Sydney and Dixon request the mission.

Jack meets with Ariana in a meeting monitored by the CIA. She demands his cell phone's SIM card and asks who Steven Haladki is. Vaughn quickly scribbles an ID number on his SIM card and switches with Jack. Jack explains that Haladki had been in league with Irina, and therefore had to be murdered. Jack hands her the card and leaves quickly. Ariana notices ink on her fingers.

Disguised as clubbers, Sydney and Dixon set up a surveillance feed and locate Marshall. Marshall shows his finished program to Suit and Glasses — it's an old-school Pong game. Sydney arrives just in time to prevent Marshall's execution but they're soon trapped in the upper stories of a skyscraper. Marshall breaks a window and "rescues" Sydney with the parachute lined in his jacket — the one he keeps because he fears commercial air travel.

Irina finds the access point and prevents SD-6 from entering Echelon. Vaughn explains to Sydney that it didn't make sense to bring Marshall to the CIA after what happened with Sloane. Jack confronts Sloane at his home, stating that Kane needs someone to blame and is setting him up. He gives Sloane leads, trusting that he will not be framed. When Jack leaves, however, Sloane calls Kane, informing her that Jack just left his house.



Special Guest Star[]

Guest Starring[]

Special Appearance By[]




  • Although credited, David Anders does not appear in this episode.
  • This the first appearance of 'Suit and Glasses' since Almost Thirty Years.
  • During the audio commentary for Almost Thirty Years, they said 'Suit and Glasses' would be in a wheelchair this season.

Aliases Used[]



  • "Serious JuJu" by Sammy Hagar
  • "Noche De Toxinas" by Kinky
  • "Weapon" by Matthew Good Band -  Changed in Netflix version
  • "All I Wanna Do" by Jude

Allusions and References[]

  • Marshall's line "My name is Marshall J. Flinkman, and I'm here to rescue you," is a conscious allusion on his part to the scene in Star Wars where Luke meets Princess Leia and says "I'm Luke Skywalker, and I'm here to rescue you."


  • Dixon: I speak nine languages, techno is not one of them!

  • Kane: (to Jack) I have to admit, I'm impressed. I've rarely found a record as well-documented as yours. You couldn't have been more thorough if you tried.