Sanjay Bloomberg writes from New York: Guy on the Amtrak told me the White House reckons the Chinese are hacking into emails and even got into Obama’s screens a couple of times. Considering that most US presidents have the Oval Office bugged by their own people, I couldn’t quite see what the big deal was. But the US President and other members of his Administration, except, probably, the Vice President who just lunches most days, do have important things to say and they’d be lost if told to quit texting and emailing each other.
No good saying never commit anything to screen that you don’t want others to read. Again that’s OK for us mortals and Vice Presidents. For the good folk in high office it’s a much bigger deal.
My Amtrak friend tells me something quite scary: Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, can no longer use her email because even her own department cannot safeguard her security. It gets better – or worse, depending on your position in these matters. Napolitano’s predecessor, Michael Chertoff, was told not to use email because it could be hacked and his boss, George W. Bush, was never allowed even close to a screen throughout his entire two terms as President. And that’s why he couldn’t tell Saddam, in a personal message, that his days were numbered.
So that’s scary but in a crisis Americans always go crazy in response to scary. This is why the Senate is blocking a Cyber Attack Counter Measures Bill. Can you believe that? Cyber attacks pose, we are told, the single biggest threat to national security and the Senate wants a deal before it lets through perfectly sane and very urgent legislation.
But could the Senate, without knowing it, be right? We are all witnesses to the fact that that IT is developing at a pace never before seen in the transfer of science to technology. So none of this should surprise us. But in an age when every major situation that could and does lead to instability and even revolution is immediately known through social media of iPhones etc., we should give three cheers for the hackers, Chinese or not.
I suppose we really do need to know what governments and leaders are planning and leaking to us. It at least keeps them in line. Like hell it does.
Long before we learned to email and Google – for most of us only in the past ten to fifteen years – we used a pen or pencil. We also used eye-ball to eye-ball talk. Talk could be cheap after all. Cheap in the sense that voice-to-voice does what texting and email cannot do. It picks up uncertainties in tone. It spots lies and truths or at least reflects doubts. It’s easier to get a done deal on an impersonal laptop or iPhone message. Harder, face to face – remember those days?
The bigger message is not for Presidents and Secretaries of Departments. It’s for us. The guy on the Amtrak said his office had just ordered all staff never to put a token X after their signatures. HR claimed it may be misinterpreted.
A friendly (that means meaningless) X will now get you two to three days in the state correction centre and the recipient $250,000 in shock compensation – especially if ugly or mixed up.
Maybe the President should sign his emails Barak SWAK. Maybe it will make the Chinese hacker blush. Maybe it will be the only worthwhile line he or she picks up that day. Maybe the whole thing’s gone crazy. All this stuff was supposed to make life easier. Instead, we’re getting frightened. No wonder ET went home. XX