Hillary, hackers, threats, and national security

I got a point-blank question in the comments earlier this week: Did Hillary Clinton’s home-made mail server put national secrets at risk of being hacked by our enemies?

Depending on the enemies, maybe marginally. But not enough that any security professional that I know of is worried about it. Here’s why.

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Remembering 11 September 2001

I was on my way to work when they said on the radio something was wrong. The details were scarce, but an airplane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Then the other. And as I was pulling into the parking lot, the news came that one of the towers had collapsed.

The day didn’t get any better as it wore on. I remember it well. Looking back at what I wrote on that day, some details faded over the decade, but my recollection of most of the day is vivid. I can tell you more about that day than I can most of the days of the past week.

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A Syrian-American’s view of current events in the Middle East

Rany Jazayerli is a Syrian-American dermatologist, baseball fan, writer, and blogger. Not necessarily in that order. I’m familiar with him because he writes about the Kansas City Royals a lot. But every once in a while, he writes about something else.

His perspective on Egypt is interesting. It’s not what we’re used to hearing here in the States, and for that reason alone, it’s worth reading. You’ll probably find yourself agreeing with parts of it and disagreeing with parts of it, but there’s a very good chance a lot of what you’ll read will be things you’ve never heard before.

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The rock, or the hard place?

I have to confess I’m paying minimal attention to technology these last few days. I’ve been watching the goings-on in the Middle East. I saw the headlines that Intel’s newest chipset is buggy, but that won’t go down as the biggest news of 2011. A revolution in Egypt stands a chance. And it could have a domino effect.

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Do Christians hate soldiers? No!

I’ve seen the question come up on Digg more than once: Why do Christians hate soldiers?

The perception undoubtedly comes from the protests at military funerals. Unfortunately, there’s a small fringe group from Kansas that’s giving the perception that Christians hate soldiers.

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No, Pat Robertson\’s comments aren\’t \"very Christian.\"

Venzuelan vice president Jose Vicente Rangel is now calling Pat Robertson a terrorist and saying his statement that the United States should assassinate neo-communist, neo-Mohammedan Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is “very Christian.”

I’m not comfortable with the evangelical Christian label, but people frequently make me wear it. Statements like this are a big reason why I don’t like the label.

Most Christians will say they know Christianity when they see it. And this isn’t it.Hugo Chavez isn’t the reason gas costs $2.61. He’s part of the problem, but so is George Walker Bush. And it’s not right to kill someone just because he doesn’t want to lower his price on something you want. By that logic, it would be right to kill every store owner that isn’t Wal-Mart.

The problem is there’s something wrong with every major source of oil in the world right now. There’s instability in Saudi Arabia. The problems with Iraq should be self-explanatory. The rest of the Middle East is torqued off about Iraq. Russia is pumping the oil out as fast as it can. Our offshore operations have been pounded by the weather. Venezuela is mad because, well, Hugo Chavez looks at history and sees that the United States has a bad track record with Latin American countries. It also has a bad track record with oil-producing countries. Then he realized that Venezuela is both. If I were Hugo Chavez, I might be a little bit scared too.

Meanwhile, China is sucking down oil as quickly as it can because we outsourced all of our manufacturing there so we could pay 10 cents less for trinkets at Wal-Mart. It takes energy to make that stuff and ship it over here. The same energy we put into our gas guzzlers.

It’s not Chavez’s fault the entire Middle East hates us. Chavez didn’t cause the hurricanes, and Chavez didn’t sabotage the Russians. Chavez didn’t make us empty our factories and ship everything to China, and Chavez didn’t hold a gun to our heads and make us buy cars that get 9 miles to the gallon, and he doesn’t hold a gun to our heads and make us drive 15 miles per hour over the speed limit every day. We did (and do) those last three things on our own accord, and now we’re paying for it.

Most of these problems are beyond our control. We can’t control the war in Iraq. To a certain degree Bush can, but there’s little reason for him to do so. He wanted this war; he doesn’t have to buy his own gas, and he doesn’t have to worry about re-election. He has what he wants. Nobody can do anything about the weather, and while the war rages, nobody can do anything about the Middle East.

The only factor you and I can control is our fuel consumption. Sales of Toyota Corollas are at record highs, which is a step in the right direction. Not everyone can afford a hybrid, and not everyone who can afford one can get one. The next-best thing to do is to buy Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics.

The Bible very clearly says that killing outside of war is wrong. Pat Robertson needs to read Exodus and Deuteronomy a bit more carefully before he opens his mouth next time.

I’m not sure what the Venezuelan government wants us to do about Pat Robertson. Our laws allow him to say whatever he wants to say. So there isn’t a lot that we can do about him.

Except we can stop listening to him. And, come to think of it, that is an awful lot.

What’s wrong with Iraq this time around

Iraq was about all we talked about at work today, before the grisly incident of today became public. Actually I should say other people talked. I didn’t do much but listen.

This is about all I have to say.Last time around, I wouldn’t say we were above reproach, but there was something very different. Last time around we were liberators. George Bush went on the air and told the Iraqis we treated their prisoners with kindness. We stood in stark contrast to Saddam Hussein. We got in, did our work, then got out. We fought more like Israel than like the United States of the late 20th century.

Whether we were justified in going back in and going after Hussein isn’t an argument I want to broach. Someone asked me several months before we did it what I thought. I said I knew we were going to have this war. It was just a question of when, and how long.

It’s been a lot longer than the last go-round.

The stories of brutality to prisoners ignited controversy. Who’s responsible? Was it justifiable? As I listened to people arguing about it, I tried to place myself in the role of a soldier guarding these prisoners. Let’s say a superior told me to do something to them. If I’m the one doing the smacking around, it doesn’t matter if I was just following orders. The guys in the Nazi death camps were just following orders too. They have a conscience. They’re guilty.

But the Nazis worked in fear of retribution, you say.

Do you think our soldiers had no fear of retribution if they didn’t carry out orders? Doing the right thing might not get you killed on the spot in the U.S. military, but do you think it might keep you from getting promoted? Do you think you might be the one picked to go into harm’s way? There’s still plenty of room for retribution in today’s U.S. military.

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk. It read, "The buck stops here."

Today it’s not very clear where the buck stops. It’s pretty clear who those Islamic militants blame. All of us.

So what’s the right thing to do now?

Part of me wants to go back to George Washington. Washington warned against getting too tangled up in international affairs. World Wars I and II were different–we were dragged into those. Kicking and screaming all the way, in the case of World War I. We haven’t fought many good wars since those.

Part of me says it’s a different world today, and it’s not realistic to be the world’s only superpower and ignore international affairs.

Part of me asks what I would do if I were Donald Rumsfield or George W. Bush.

Well, I’m a Promise Keeper. One of the Promise Keepers’ mantras is that the man is responsible for what happens in his house. Even if someone else in the household does it, the man had something to do with it, so he has to bear some of the responsibility. That same attitude goes into the workplace, and any position of authority.

Frankly it keeps you honest.

If I were Secretary of Defense, I think I would have to step down. Not because I want to, and not necessarily because people were calling for me to. The reason? To send a message.

So, what of these militants who did this despicable and, frankly, disgusting act?

Some will call for a war on Islam. That’s not the way to show what freedom is all about. If I may go back to my childhood for a minute, when I was growing up, I was always told I was representing more than just myself. I was representing the orgainization I belonged to–be it the Boy Scouts, or the school I went to. So I needed to show people what those things were all about, through my actions. I didn’t always do it perfectly, and I still don’t. But I can honestly say that I did at least try.

Through our actions in the Middle East, we need to be showing these people what Freedom–yes, capital "f"–is all about.

We sure did a better job of that in 1991 than we’re doing now. Sometimes I wonder if we’re trying.

So what if we change our ways? Will we win them over? Not tomorrow we won’t. Freedom isn’t free. In this case, it’s starting to get really expensive. But I think it might have been cheaper if we’d done it right from the get-go. Don’t get me wrong: Either way, it would have been a long and painful process. But maybe it would have taken one century instead of twelve.

We got our man. We got his obvious successors. We didn’t find what we were looking for. We accomplished some worthwhile things, but we kind of look bad too.

I think we have to decide whether we are willing to pay the escalating cost, or go back to George Washington.

A left-leaning perspective of the new enemy

I spotted an editorial in the Washington Post this weekend:

My friends in the peace movement who dissent from this country’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks have another take on what must be done to free us from terrorism and restore security. Look, they say, at what America is doing to make people fly planes into buildings. They cite our “miserly” $6 billion foreign aid budget to help the world’s poor vs. more than $300 billion “for the power to kill.” Rather than crusade against wickedness, America should halt the arms trade, lift sanctions against Iraq and curb the CIA, they argue. Correct, they demand, the 50-year imbalance in the U.S. stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“the most important source of hatred for the U.S. throughout the Muslim world”). Embrace the United Nations, the Kyoto agreement on global warming, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Law of the Seas agreement and an international war-crimes court. To quote one author, “Until we take responsibility to try to lift up that which is good in us and cast out that which is bad, the scourge of terrorism will continue to torment us.”

Sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to quite cut it with al Qaeda.

Author Colbert King goes on to say that short of wiping Israel off the map, converting to Islam and instituting a Taliban-like totalitarian government, nothing we do will satisfy Islamic terrorists like al Qaeda. For them, killing innocent (read: children and non-American or non-Jewish) people is a means to an end, and any means is justified.

He doesn’t offer a solution, but he puts up an awfully good argument that those who seek only to appease our enemies in the Middle East won’t solve the problem and will more likely make it worse.

Worth a read, whatever your political bent.

That Middle East oil rumor

You’ve probably seen the e-mail circulating around about what companies buy Middle Eastern oil and thus could be indirectly funding terrorism.
That e-mail came up in conversation today, and then I remembered the Truth or Fiction Web site, which I’d stumbled across while researching the story of Butch and Eddie O’Hare. When I’d first seen that e-mail, I went to the Department of Energy web site to see if I could, as it said, “easily document” who was buying oil from countries that don’t like us very much. I didn’t find anything.

They did. And the e-mail rumor, based on their research, has the numbers wrong but is mostly correct about which companies are buying oil from the Middle East and which ones aren’t, even if it was wrong about the number of barrels (and sometimes they were off by a factor of 10).

The question is, will it do any good? Economic boycotts have worked in the past–take a look at the early days of the Civil Rights movement for an example–but you have to really want it, want it enough to stick to your guns. Based on the rumor, I bought all my gas at Phillips 66 for months, figuring I probably wasn’t doing any harm and might be doing some good. But my last couple of tanks have come from the Mobil station that’s on my way to work. There are a couple of Phillips stations not far out of my way, but they are out of my way.

That’s pretty typical. These days, we’ll talk tough, and we’ll even act tough for a while. But more often than not, ultimately what wins out is what’s cheap or convenient. That Mobil station is close and on the way, so it couldn’t be any more convenient, and it always seems like it’s the first station to lower its prices and the last to raise them. So I’ve been buying there.

I probably should start driving that extra mile to buy somewhere else. There’s a Citgo close by too.

Oh, and by the way… Next time someone forwards you that Pepsi can Pledge of Allegiance rumor, tell them to stop circulating it. It was Dr Pepper, not Pepsi. I can’t say anything with my dollars there. I don’t know that I’ve bought anything from either company in the past year because I almost never drink soda.

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