Don’t be too impressed with Snowden’s “ethical hacking training”

I saw this new headline regarding Edward Snowden, discussing his NSA hacking training. Don’t be impressed.

For several years, I lived in that same world Snowden lived in. I’ve gone out of my way to avoid mentioning this, but from 2005-2012, I was a consultant. I worked for several different companies, due to contracts changing hands and companies merging, but my client was the United States Air Force. And from 2011-2012, I even had direct dealings with the NSA. I attended NSA meetings in the Washington, D.C. area. I received NSA training–in person–in a security discipline called threat modeling. My job was to represent NSA to the Air Force three weeks out of the month, and represent the Air Force to the NSA on the fourth week.

Just don’t ask me anything about UFOs. Unlike some people, I didn’t snoop around on classified networks. Whenever possible, didn’t look at the data at all. If I had to look at data, I preferred to look at dummy data. If I actually did look at real, honest-to-goodness classified data, it was because I needed to know that information to do my job. I was a pretty good contractor, I think.

I also know about this training that Snowden put on his resume. Read more

Rob O’Hara on phreaking, Tesla coils and modems

Rob O’Hara posted a podcast about phreaking today. He explains in layperson’s terms how the phone system was controlled by tones, cites it as an example of security through obscurity, and he talks about his own first-person experience subverting the phone system. He was far from the only one who did that.

Read more

The craziest thing I’ve read in a long time

I thought the craziest story I’d read this year was a UFO enthusiast’s account of his hunt for a wrecked 1960s vintage spyplane so top-secret you’ve probably never heard of it.
Then I found a link to the story of a teenager who had plans to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard. (Click the printer-friendly link at the bottom of the first page if you want to read it.)

I lived such a sheltered life… Read more

The giant homo sapien conspiracy against me

I’m confused, I’ve finished my book (reading one, not writing one–that’ll be the day), and I’ve found I’m in no mood for P.J. O’Rourke. Meanwhile, my readers are egging me on.
It’s part of a plot. I can tell. It’s part of that huge homo sapien plot to take over the world. You gotta watch them homo sapiens.

I learned yesterday than I’m no good at plotting. I’m no good at conspiring. This surprised me. You see, at the age of 23, my next-door neighbors decided the whole world was a huge conspiracy–though they weren’t quite smart enough to figure out that it was the homo sapiens behind it, but you’ll find that out soon enough–and somehow, even at my very young age, I’d managed to rise to the very top of that conspiracy.

They didn’t get out very much. They also happened to believe that the X-Files was really a documentary. You see, constitutionally, the government is required to disseminate that information. So they dress it up like fiction. That way, they’ve fulfilled their constitutional duty in an underhanded way. But really smart people (like them) could see through the whole thing.

Well, I’m not sure if they actually ever said that, but I sure did get sick of listening to UFO conspiracy stories. I can’t remember if they ever went so far as to try to tell me the X-Files was real.

I came out of that experience feeling like I had connections and conniving ability, like I could conspire if I really wanted to.

So as a friend and I started to weave this vast conspiracy, this person asked me a question that let all the air out of my balloon: What if [the person we were conspiring against] already has plans?

Dang it. I didn’t bother finding that out. I just assumed this person had nothing better to do than to fall into my carefully laid trap, which I’d been carefully laying out… because… I… No, not because I didn’t have anything better to do. I had lots of better things to do. I just didn’t want to do them.

Why doesn’t anyone believe me?

You’re in on that homo sapien plot too, aren’t you? You gotta watch them homo sapiens. They’ll take over the world if we’re not careful.

But I just went off on one of my really long digressions. Or maybe it was two of them. So, Steve DeLassus takes offense at me using the word “litter” and implying the trademark “White Castle” in the same sentence. Obviously, Steve’s forgotten one important thing. I’m a transplant to St. Louis. I’m not a native. I’m native to Kansas City. And let me tell you something about Kansas City. White Castle went to Kansas City… and flopped. No grace about it. We’re talking a big, messy belly-flop right onto dry, hot pavement.

Evidently, in Kansas City people wondered the same thing I did the couple of times I’ve had occasion to eat a White Castle. I wondered whether the little cardboard box the thing came in would taste better than the smelly, greasy thing they tried to pass off to me as a hamburger. I know it would be easier on your digestive tract and on your arteries.

White Castles are obviously a creation of the homo sapiens. But not even their most carefully laid plot could save them from the discriminating palates of Kansas City. Good on them. The Kansas Citians, that is.

The St. Louisans aren’t doing such a good job of staving off the plot. White Castle isn’t even a St. Louis creation.

Which leads me, somehow, to Bruce Edwards’ question. Evidently, where he used to live there was a chain of White Castle clones. We had one of those, in Columbia, where I went to college. It opened up the first semester of my freshman year. They bought a tiny drive-thru, painted it pink, and hung out a big pink-and-green sign that read in neon-style letters: Grill ‘n Chill. Their specialties: cheap belly bombers and thick milkshakes. The student newspaper I was writing for at the time reviewed it. “Completely unoriginal,” the reviewer said. I never bothered to check it out. To me, it seemed like cloning a Yugo. Why bother? Not that I had much of a chance to check it out. Within a couple of months, the venture went belly-up, and the atrociously colored pink building stood there vacant for years, a painful reminder of the failed venture. Well, I guess it wasn’t so painful if you remembered your sunglasses. I used to have a neat pair of black wraparounds. I think one of my ex-girlfriends took them. She never did like them. I think she was a closet homo sapien. That would explain a lot about her. Like how she walked upright, breathed oxygen, communicated using spoken words… I never did try to sneak out with any of her genetic material–you know, a bit of hair, or some nail clippings–to test, but I’ll bet she was carbon-based too.

And there I’ve gone, and taken the question and made it all about me. What, do I look like the guy on a date?

I blame the homo sapiens. They keep distracting me. They’re all around me. They’re everywhere, you know.

Anyway, back to the question, which I hadn’t even finished writing out when I got so rudely sidetracked: Some of his coworkers offered him $100 plus the price of the (ahem) food if he could eat 100 belly bombers in a 24-hour period. Bruce asked how I’d respond to an offer like that.

Well, I’m thinking that in exchange for three meals at Smokestack BBQ in Kansas City and $100, I might be willing to think about the sight and smell and taste of 100 belly bombers. But one would have to seriously raise the stakes for me to eat 100 of the wretched things over the course of a day. I get sick to my stomach if I take my vitamins too early in the day.

And that has absolutely nothing to do with homo sapiens. Which surprises you, I’m sure. I know it surprises me.

So, no, I’d tell my friends they could spend all weekend getting acquainted with their toilets if they wanted, but I sure wouldn’t be joining them.

Steve then made the smooth (as a gravel road) transition to the subject of Pepsi and toilets. About a year ago, Steve got one of those annoying forwards that clog up everyone’s inbox (if that’s not a homo sapien plot, I don’t know what is) that was something like 25 things you didn’t want to know about cola. It talked about how you could dissolve a nail in a can of Coca-Cola inside of a week, and other weird stuff. Well, I had a two-liter of Pepsi in my fridge. I’d had company over, and whoever it was only drank one or two glasses, leaving me with most of a two-liter that I had no intention of drinking, because when I want caffeine, I generally want coffee. One of the claims of the message was that a can of cola would do a very nice job of cleaning your toilet.

Now, knowing that if I read it on the Internet it must be true, I took the advice to heart. My toilet was badly discolored because I’m a bachelor and out to impress no one–or I figure if I’m going to impress someone, it won’t be with my toilet. Now, it’s never been as bad as that “worst toilet in Scotland” scene in Trainspotting, but I thought I had a pretty formidible test for that quantity of Pepsi. So I poured it in one morning before I left for work.

I came home about nine hours later. I stirred the contents of the bowl around with my toilet brush, but couldn’t get a good look at the interior. I guess it was a little cleaner. But I decided to let it sit a while longer.

Finally, around 8 p.m., I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had two choices: abandon the experiment, or use the sink. I’m not that much of a bachelor. (I’ve managed to fight off some of that homo sapien influence that so pervades our society these days.) So I flushed the toilet. And you know how they talk sometimes about “ring around the toilet?” I definitely had one of those. But the dirty part was the top of the bowl.

So forget about those fancy-dancy, high-fallutin’ blue things you hang in your toilet. Once every couple of months, buy yourself one of those 59-cent two-liter bottles of generic cola. Take it home, dump it in the bowl before you go to work, and let it sit. It’s cheaper than those blue things and it’s a whole lot easier than scrubbing. Does a better job too. And it’s better for the environment too, since there’s no poisonous bleach involved. Moby would be so proud of me.

I’m sure those homo sapiens don’t want you to know that.

Conspiracies, conspiracies everywhere

The topic of the day yesterday was Timothy McVeigh. I’d forgotten that yesterday was his day–I saw the lead story on The Kansas City Star announcing McVeigh was dead yesterday morning when I went to read up on the day’s events.
McVeigh raises a lot of uncomfortable questions. So let’s go back to a year after the Oklahoma City bombing, because that was when I got my wakeup call.

I was a crime reporter for the Columbia Missourian, a flaming liberal little daily newspaper in, frankly, what would be a worthless little town if it weren’t for the University of Missouri being there. But Columbia is situated in the middle of nowhere; aside from Columbia and Jefferson City, Central Missouri has no good-sized towns, and those two “cities” are cities only by Missouri standards. St. Louis has suburbs bigger than either of them. Central Missouri is backward, or rural, or backward and rural, depending on where you go.

Well, a guy by the name of Don Albright drove to Columbia one night and got drunk. He was pulled over, ticketed, and charged with driving while intoxicated. Albright maintained it was his constitutional right to drive drunk. Actually, he said his constitutional right to travel was being violated. “A driver is for hire,” Albright told me. “A traveler is a private citizen.”

I had a very long conversation with Albright. Albright was one of the biggest conspiracy theorists I’d ever talked to. He believed the United States was still technically a collection of British colonies; that there are actually two United States of Americas; that the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and the Kennedy Assassination were all directly linked and part of the same conspiracy, and other bizarre beliefs. Another belief he shared with me was the New World Order, a belief Timothy McVeigh shared.

He was also militant. He took out liens on judges and prosecuting attorneys. And, on the first anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Albright, along with others, threatened to attack government buildings as well as press organizations that didn’t “tell what was really going on.”

By this time, I was on Albright’s black list. One of his friends anonymously called me one day and told me to watch my back, so I took the threats seriously. I consciously avoided the newsroom, courthouse, post office, and police station that day. Fortunately, nothing eventful happened.

I suspect Albright’s motivation was primarily racial. During that single conversation, he brought up plenty of racial overtones. When we investigated him further, what we discovered was a person who didn’t want to accept any responsibility for his own past.

Albright had numerous supporters in and around Columbia. I spoke with a number of them outside the Boone County courthouse on the day of one of Albright’s scheduled court appearances. The only one who would give me his name was a guy by the name of Hobbes (I think his first name was Ken). An older woman, who would only go by “Mrs. Hobbes,” (I assume she was his mother), talked to me a little bit less. They were certainly fundamentalist Christians. They gave me pamphlets, a Constitutional Driver’s License (whereby I could grant myself the right to travel the nation’s roads freely), a copy of the Constitution, information on how I could secede from the United States and become a sovereign citizen, and other materials. But they sang exactly the same song Albright did, though Albright appeared to be racially motivated.

In 1992, while a senior in high school, I met a conspiracy theorist of another feather. He was a fervent believer in the writings of George Adamski, a UFO author who claimed he had been visited by beings from a yet-undiscovered planet in the solar system. Adamski, as I recall, had been widely discredited in the 1960s. But this guy’s beliefs (I don’t recall his name anymore, unfortunately) fit these others like a hand in a glove. He, too, spoke of the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission, and other oddities.

So… There are plenty of kooks like McVeigh out there. Some of them, like the last one I mentioned, are quirky but harmless. Albright, I believe, could be extremely dangerous. And, interestingly enough, although each type begins with a different premise at heart, they all come to nearly identical conclusions.

The common thread is that none of them trust the government and none of them fully understand the world around them. That’s fine. I don’t trust the government and I certainly don’t understand everything about the world around me. You can do one of two things when that happens. You can just accept that you don’t know everything and you never will know everything, and just try to understand the things that interest you or the things that affect you as best as you possibly can.

Or you can explain it all away as a giant conspiracy. Of course you can’t be the one that’s messed up. The rest of the world around you is messed up. And they’re doing it on purpose!

Time for a reality check.

Hard Fact Number One: Members of the hard left are every bit as disillusioned as members of the hard right. Most of my college professors despised Bill Clinton every bit as much as I did. They were liberal. We’ve got people on the hard left who can’t get what they want. We’ve got people on the hard right who can’t get what they want. [observation]Isn’t that called compromise?[/observation]

Hard Fact Number Two: It’s difficult to get people to cooperate with one another. It’s even more difficult to get organizations to cooperate with one another. If you spend any length of time within an organization of any considerable size, you begin to wonder how it keeps from unraveling just because of internal politics. And these are people who share the same interests! Want an example of how conspiracies are so difficult? Fine. Here’s one: Oracle and Sun and the United States Government against Microsoft. Remember how they bungled that one? And why? None of the parties could figure out what exactly they wanted on their own, let alone what they wanted collectively.

Conspiracies can happen. But they’re rare and generally short-lived.

McVeigh killed 168 people. Or, at the very least, McVeigh participated in the killing of 168 people. We don’t know if he and Terry Nichols acted alone. Probably not–there was a John Doe No. 2 who was never found. But McVeigh did kill innocent people, and he did it willfully and he expressed no remorse.

Yes, the United States Government is partially responsible for that. The Clinton administration did a lot of detestable things. Part of that was because Bill Clinton is and was a hopeless idealist, and he surrounded himself with the same types of people. They didn’t know how to handle people who didn’t share their worldview. And most of them probably didn’t forsee the possibility of a McVeigh-like backlash to Waco and Ruby Ridge. Holding the government accountable for those actions is necessary. Not handing the presidency to Al Gore is a good start, but that’s only a start. And the country was bitterly divided over that.

If you want to take that argument to its logical conclusion, who was it that put that administration in office? Hint: If you live in the United States, scroll up to the top of this page, get a good look at my picture, then go look in the mirror. You and I did that. But you didn’t vote for him, you say? Neither did I. Fifty-seven percent of us didn’t. The problem was, the 57% of us who wanted someone else couldn’t agree on the someone else to put in office, and we paid the price. But the fact is, most of us don’t care. So, since we put this government in place, aren’t we also responsible for its actions, especially when we refuse to fundamentally change it?

But blaming the United States Government for Timothy McVeigh’s actions is childish. When I was in fifth grade, another kid named Benji used to act up and then blame his poor behavior on the outcome of the 1985 World Series. There is no difference. Benji wasn’t mature enough to deal with his disappointment about the baseball season in a socially responsible manner. Timothy McVeigh wasn’t mature enough to deal with his disappointment with the government’s behavior in a socially responsible manner. The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t make Benji misbehave, and the U.S. Government didn’t make McVeigh blow up that building. The victims of McVeigh’s atrocity deserve better than that kind of logic.

Yes, the government is partially responsible because McVeigh’s actions are the consequence of some of its own actions. And the government’s job is to clean up its own mess. I’m not convinced it’s totally done that. But McVeigh was guilty, and he even admitted his guilt. The U.S. Government did what its laws call for it to do. So it actually owned up for once.

Don’t get used to it. Except for it only partially cleaning up, that is.

And, like it or not, McVeigh is now a martyr in some circles. Actually he’s been a martyr since the day of his arrest. But there’s a grain of truth in McVeigh’s beliefs. Our government is out of control, it’s irresponsible, and it’s not accountable to anyone.

But that’s our fault. Our government is supposed to be accountable to us, and as long as our Congressmen send plenty of pork back home, we keep them in office. And we vote for our presidents whimsically. The government knows that as long as they give us bread and circuses, we don’t care about much else.

And if we want to keep this kind of crap from ever happening again, we’re going to have to start giving a crap about more than just food and entertainment.

I’m not holding my breath.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux