Thanks, General, for Making us All Hacked Off!

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans   I can’t stop reading these articles about ex-CIA spy chief, General David Petraeus, not because of the affair, which seems so mundane that you wonder what came over his biographer and paramour, Paula Broadwell, to send anonymous email bombs to potential rivals, given how buttoned down these two were.  What is titillating about this mess is all of the articles about emails and the total lack of privacy they provide to everyone out there.

For example, we have always known that Google was a window to the world because they never erase anything.  It turns out, according to Nicole Perlroth in the New York Times, they do erase logins after 18 months, though I’m not sure what they do with your emails.  It turns out that Yahoo does the same thing, though I’ve known people who had Yahoo addresses believing that Yahoo didn’t keep the emails forever.  Now I wonder what is true?

Paul and David’s reported strategy for deceit was to create a shared Google address and never actually send emails, but leave the potential messages in the “draft” folder.  This seems to have been the preferred method of the famous “shoe bomber,” which is why we pointlessly take off our shoes for TSTA in US airports, though almost nowhere do we do that in the rest of the world.  Would Mr. CIA director now have known that or was he just too new on the job after only a year?   On the other hand it turns out that the much maligned and largely abandoned Google Talk feature, which before the improvements in Skype was my go-to free telephone system around the world, actually does erase your messages if you hit “off the record.”  Who knew that really worked, except maybe my daughter who used to have that on her Google Talk.  What was she hiding?

All of this reminds me of the CIA, Secret Service, and FBI ganging up on President Obama as he came into the White House in 2008 and insisting that he had to ditch the Blackberry.  Now it turns out that almost everyone has done so, but once again (see above), how did Petraeus miss that story?  For that matter who got fired in the CIA tech department for letting the CIA freaking director use a computer or any kind of electronic device that wasn’t encrypted and totally unhackable?  What kind of a rinky-dink operation are we running over there?  Are they letting drones run the whole shop now?  Although it’s probably not them, but an even greater hubris at the top that insists on keeping the Blackberry and their own personal computer and so forth.  I know I’ve mentioned before of National Urban League President Marc Morial’s refusal to use email or Blackberry while he was Mayor of New Orleans.  Turns out Marc might be the man to look for to run the CIA, rather than some four-star general.  Didn’t anyone learn from watching “The Wire,” that you need to buy and burn cheap cell phones from neighborhood bodegas, and, hey, that might not always work either!

We were all talking the other day about an article we read recommending a million ways that you could hide your passwords.  It didn’t long for all of us to admit that we would mainly be hiding them from ourselves, since any and every time any of us had tried to get fancy we had ended forgetting the passwords.  And, tell me who doesn’t use free wireless in airports and elsewhere?  No one!  When you find those hotspots that keep you from paying roaming charges on cell phones and whatever else you are using, you are singing hallelujah, not hiding your devices.

And, if you thought the only thing that really protected you was the law, then Joe Nocera of the Times nailed this issue squarely with several arguments that actually cited the law and made it starkly clear that this was a “fig leaf” for the FBI, since inevitably we will find out that Paula Broadwell maybe ex-military, but she’s no OG brandishing words like a pistol.  She may have braced up the Tampa women (who one columnist cites as Kardashian-like), which I don’t think was likely to have been a compliment, but clearly they just went into the favor bank with an FBI buddy and a bureau with no boundaries.

It’s open season.  If you have something to hide, you might should sent a letter, since at least it’s still a crime for someone to rifle through real mail with a real stamp.  Or, put a message in a bottle since the frequency of storm surges in our climate crisis seems likely to put the note on our doorstep almost as fast as the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service!