I guess the BBQ food coma lasted longer than expected… Actually, work has just been insane. But I’ve carved out a cozy nook from which to bring you the next installment in my “How to win the war on terror in 10 incredibly difficult steps” rant…
The next major offensive on my list is in cyber space. There’s just no getting around the fact that this is the 21st Century, and with the dawn of the Internet age comes an entirely different style of combat. How many movies have you seen in which the local law-enforcement-challenged hacker is recruited (essentially by threat of life-long incarceration or being disappeared) into playing for the good guys and overthrowing the other even-more-evil other hacker? I could cite dozens (but I won’t). Well, add a dose of realism, and that’s essentially what I’m advocating.
In the same way that we need to pull out all the stops to get more native-Arabic-speaking spies into the game, we need to press the best and the brightest minds in computer science into service in the cyber war. Here are a couple concrete, immediate things I’d have them doing…
First and foremost, we need to drain the bank accounts of anyone and everyone that’s funding terrorism. If Iran’s government is converting oil dollars to terrorism dollars, then lets hack our way into shutting that down. If the local mosque has a fund-raiser that dumps money into an offshore account, where Terrorist Joe can get to it, then drain the account dry. Not easy, but doable — assuming we’re willing to invest some hard work, creativity, technology and tax dollars. Theh icing on the cake would be bringing some of this cash back home to pay for this and other things I’m suggesting (such as alternative fuels research).
Now of course, we have espionage laws to consider and we have to worry about violating the national sovereignty of nations we might have to hack our way into. But we can deal with all that. As to the first part, these are not US citizens’ bank accounts we’re talking about, so we should have some latitude. And to the second, as long as we can keep the ever-willing-to-reveal-anything-to-anybody-no-matter-how-damaging-it-is-to-the-country media away from it, I vote we keep it a secret. Feel free to violate Saudi Arabia by hacking their state-run banks, as far as I’m concerned.
Mine Calling Patterns Data
If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, it is. This is exactly the NSA program we put in place after 9/11 to establish a database of calling patterns in the US and from the US to foreign interests. USA Today blew the whistle on the program earlier this year, claiming that it violates the almighty right to privacy (more important than anything but free speech and the right not to feel bad in America today), but I don’t really think it does. Here’s how it works…
Phone companies are ponying up their databases of call records to the NSA. These records do not include audio information or transcripts of the content of the phone calls — just that a certain phone number connected to another phone number at a certain date and time for a certain length of time. If the NSA discovers that a certain phone number is associated with a known terrorist or person of interest or someone for which a warrant can be issued to investigate, then they can map the number to a name, and figure out who that person is and who they’ve been talking to. The biggest function of having established this database is that the information is close at hand. If Joe, living in Cleveland, is found to be a terrorist, it takes hours to connect Joe to all the people he’s been talking to, not the days or weeks it used to (while the government solicits a bunch of records from the phone companies and rushes to analyze them).
This isn’t violating my privacy, or yours. So my phone records (which numbers were called from my house and when) are mixed in with the 2 trillion (that’s 12 zeros) other records on file since 9/11?! So what. It’s not even like those records have my name on them until I’m found to be connected with Joe. But instead of thinking of it this way, privacy advocates make the immediate assumption that because we’re closer to a world where the government could maybe someday potentially know something about me, my rights are automatically being violated. I disagree.
Track Internet Usage
The same thing that the NSA is doing for phone calls… I say we start working on an analogous approach to the web and email. Much harder problem, I know, but we should start. The Internet is evolving anyway. IPv6 (a new standard for how Internet addresses work which will require new protocols for web and email communication) is coming. Let’s get some Big Brother hooks into the protocols, so that given the right warrant, I might have the ability to begin to track you down if I suspect you’re planning on blowing something up.
Obviously, there are again privacy concerns, and I’m certainly not suggesting that they aren’t important. But we have to stop being reactionary every time there’s a step made toward better information access. I don’t want Big Brother breathing down my neck either — I wouldn’t want them listening to my calls or reading my email, for example — but mining connections to find patterns, then getting warrants if they need to act on those patterns feels perfectly legitimate (and important in fighting killers) to me.
Hire the hackers. Use their smarts and some cool technology to get the money and track down the bad guys. What’s not to like?