Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Weinergate and National Security


Rep. Anthony Weiner's now infamous (and creepy) tweeting incident has been monopolizing news coverage for the past week. While it may seem silly and insignificant, it should draw our attention to the broader issue of cyber-security.  Last week, U.S. officials announced that Gmail accounts of top U.S. officials had been hacked - by China.  
"Thursday, U.S. officials revealed that hackers in the Chinese city of Jinan were responsible for a crude "phishing" effort specifically targeting the Google email accounts of hundreds of top U.S. officials... 
"...That the attack originated in Jinan is significant because it's one of seven command centers of the Chinese military, with a special designation as a center for Internet work. It has been caught in other attacks against the U.S. government."
This is not the first time China has hacked Google.  At least twice before, attacks originating in China have been detected by Google - one in 2009 prompting Google to shut down its search engine operations there. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Google says senior U.S. officials, Chinese activists and others were targeted and tricked into disclosing their Gmail passwords with "bad actors" based in China:
"Stewart Baker, a former homeland security official in the Bush administration, said he suspects the ultimate goal of the hacking may have been to use the email accounts as a stepping stone to penetrate the officials' home computers."If you can compromise that machine, you may well be able to access the communications they are having with the office,'' said Mr. Baker."
One problem is the increasing tendency of public officials to use private e-mail accounts for government business that they wish to shield from public records laws,  like the Freedom of Information Act:
"If all White House officials were following rules prohibiting the use of personal email for official business, there would simply be no sensitive information to find," said Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and a frequent thorn in the Obama administration's side. "Unfortunately, we know that not everyone at the White House follows those rules and that creates an unnecessary risk."
And so we have Rep. Anthony Weiner, with his loose thumbs, tweeting his private parts for all the world to see.  Accidentally.   The 46-year-old married man meant to send his privates as a private message to a college co-ed but somehow slipped up and sent it to all his Twitter followers. Then he lied and claimed he was "hacked' and proceeded to participate in an elaborate conspiracy theory about the alleged hacking, allowing the sordid story to marinate for a week before finally confessing that they were indeed his privates and he was the one who tweeted them.   As a joke.  Ha ha.  

Today, Weiner held a press conference where he apologized for his "hugely regrettable" lapse of judgement and took responsibility for his actions.  Which means, of course, he's sorry he got caught and  he won't be that stupid again. 

Except that he's a United States Congressman.  And while the fact that Weiner is a pervert is troubling enough, the national security issues are even more troubling.  Weiner's fumbling thumbs likely have access to sensitive intelligence information.   He's on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which ironically, on the day before Weiner held his creepy media blitz, held a hearing on Protecting the Electrical Grid: The Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act.  These hearings focused on the threats of cyber attacks on the power grids and testimony mentioned several times the vulnerabilities of Google.  

A 2008 National Review report documented multiple instances of cyber espionage and terrorism traced to Chinese sources, including the 2003 blackout in the Northeast, the largest in the country's history.  It was originally blamed on some overgrown trees in Ohio, but later traced to hackers in China.  The article states that the threat is not just from the Chinese government:
“There’s a huge pool of Chinese individuals, students, academics, unemployed, whatever it may be, who are, at minimum, not discouraged from trying this out,” said Rodger Baker, a senior China analyst for Stratfor, a private intelligence firm. So-called patriotic-hacker groups have launched attacks from inside China, usually aimed at people they think have offended the country or pose a threat to its strategic interests. At a minimum the Chinese government has done little to shut down these groups, which are typically composed of technologically skilled and highly nationalistic young men."
And Rep. Anthony Weiner, who has no idea with whom he is exchanging naked pictures and having sexually charged conversations on any give day, and has admitted he has poor judgement, has access to information about our power grids and infrastructure defense systems. 

James Madison, in Federalist 61 gives this advice across the ages:
"An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once, by all prudent people, as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly. His more friendly neighbors may pity him, but all will decline to connect their fortunes with his; and not a few will seize the opportunity of making their fortunes out of his. One nation is to another what one individual is to another; with this melancholy distinction perhaps, that the former, with fewer of the benevolent emotions than the latter, are under fewer restraints also from taking undue advantage from the indiscretions of each other. Every nation, consequently, whose affairs betray a want of wisdom and stability, may calculate on every loss which can be sustained from the more systematic policy of their wiser neighbors. But the best instruction on this subject is unhappily conveyed to America by the example of her own situation. She finds that she is held in no respect by her friends; that she is the derision of her enemies; and that she is a prey to every nation which has an interest in speculating on her fluctuating councils and embarrassed affairs."
This perceived instability in a U.S. leader and his threat to our national security is sufficient reason for him to be removed from office....immediately, before he damages more than just his own family and credibility. 

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