Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How stupid can intelligence be?

NPR today confirms something I had read much earlier in the Snowden affair but could hardly credit; although I was keeping an open mind, because my reading of the history of intelligence agencies is that the term is the all-time oxymoron.

Snowden just downloaded America's secrets onto thumb drives. This is the digital-age equivalent of the great investigator I.F. Stone's comment that the government publishes everything it knows, somewhere, and all a reporter has to do is find it.

I am no expert on computer security, but long ago (about 30 years) I spoke to a consultant that the newspaper I was working on had hired to make our computers secure. (He didn't, at least not from the kinds of hijinks that go on in newsrooms. I could tell you stories.)

We were just shooting the breeze, it wasn't an interview, and I mentioned that I had read somewhere that secure computers had their USB-ports epoxied so no one could use them.

"Not any more," he told me."We have digital locks that are more secure."

I was more polite than people in those days were accustomed to find me, so I didn't tell him he was an idiot, but I did mention to the boss that I didn't believe the guy was reliable enough to pay.

A lot has happened since then, but intelligence experts are still leaving thumb drives open. Can you say Stuxnet?

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