Tortoise and Hare and the Internet

Once upon a time, Tortoise and Hare both decided to start their own e-commerce firms. Both received roughly the same amount of bank financing, but while Tortoise put some funds towards a firewall, an IPS, and an anti-phishing program, Hare went cheap on his firewall and put everything he had into fancy marketing materials. For storage, Tortoise kept his data on-premises while Hare put all his data into the cloud.

Hare thought he was pretty slick as he started to rack up contracts at a faster pace than Tortoise.

One day, though, a Big Bad Moose pointed his tools at the IP range that included the public addresses of both Tortoise’s and Hare’s firms. The Big Bad Moose didn’t specifically target Tortoise or Hare: their numbers had just come up, so it was their turn to be targeted by the Big Bad Moose. Next week, it would be the Big Bad Duck or the Big Bad Gerbil, or, well, {Big Bad {$SPECIES}} would pretty much define all the evil hackers out there in the land. Point being, there were lots of hackers of all different types, so one shouldn’t be surprised if a Big Bad Moose is trying to pwn servers.

While Hare’s cheap firewall was enough to stop Moose’s general port scan, it didn’t do a thing against Moose’s SQL injection attacks on Hare’s firewall or the spear fishing emails to CarrotFest that Moose sent to people in Hare’s company.

Meanwhile, Tortoise’s IPS caught the SQL injection attacks and his phishing defenses blocked the emails to LettuceCon that Moose had sent to Tortoise’s company. Moose didn’t care. In his work, some attacks worked and some just made one focus on the attacks that worked.

After the Big Bad Moose got some username and password combos for Hare’s network, he was delighted to discover that the RDP port was allowed in from the firewall to servers and desktops inside. Moose used the stolen credentials to get good stuff like financial details and company credit card info, which he then used to buy lots and lots of stuff for himself, particularly big-ticket items like home theater systems that would fetch a pretty good return on eBay in “unopened” condition. Once those transactions had cleared, he sold the credit card numbers.

Big Bad Moose then sold access to Hare’s open relay mail server to a Big Bad Komodo Dragon. Within seconds, millions of spam mails in Bahasa Indonesia were flying through Hare’s mail server, effectively shutting down his business operations. Worse, only a few hours later, Hare’s email server got black-holed. Hare had no idea about what to do to get back into production. Nobody at Hare’s company knew what to do except to shut down the email server, which they did for a day, allowing them to get off the blacklist.

But, as soon as they turned it back on, the Indonesian spam from Big Bad Komodo Dragon came back on, as well. Hare shut down the email server again and called a consulting company to assess the damage. When the consultants found all the penetrations on Hare’s network, they recommended that he flatten all his systems and start over. When Hare looked at the consultants like they were crazy, the consultants showed Hare where his servers were now storing illegal pornography. That got Hare to agree with the consultants.

Meanwhile, Tortoise kept going like business as usual. He even started to get clients that had dropped Hare, due to Hare’s extended outage.

Hare noticed how Tortoise was getting more business and reckoned that his was going to fail soon. Hare made a career change and got into consulting, so that he could share his lessons learned with other small business owners. Whenever he saw another business owner trying to go as fast as possible without putting much emphasis on security, Hare would say, “Not so fast, there, buddy! Let me tell you why slow, steady, and secure can win the race…”

Dr. Negron-Omikon’s TRAPS

Dr. Negron-Omikon looked upon his latest creation with a high degree of satisfaction. The TRAPS – Transportation Routing Analysis Positioning System – was ready for unveiling. With this marvel, traffic problems around the world would become a thing of the past. Grandchildren of the future would listen in disbelief as people who remembered traffic would try and describe congestion, jams, or gridlock to those children of a blessed day.

Thanks to the Jill and Belinda Crates Foundation, GPS devices were now installed on every car, motorcycle, truck and even bicycle in the world. Tiny, cheap, solar powered gems that could deliver driving directions not via speech, but through actual brainwaves. They could impress upon a driver the right way to go. And, by hitting the pleasure centers of the brain with those directions, those drivers would want to follow them. It was the perfect delivery system.

For this to all work, road conditions had to be known across the globe, with every inch of of every street and alley under observation. Thanks to the generous donations from Fnord and Toygoata corporations, that was also a reality. All road conditions, everywhere, were available to the central brain of the TRAPS system.

And that central brain was about to go online. Here. Today. In just a few minutes. With the media of the world watching.

The live demo went off beautifully as traffic in central Beijing moved effortlessly, different directions of traffic flowing past each other like serene rivers of people and machinery, a ballet in rush hour. It would be a wonder of nature if it wasn’t actually a bunch of man-made machines being controlled by other man-made machines, themselves controlled by a very large man-made machine.

Dr. Negron-Omikon segued easily into his next to last slide of his presentation, the one before the obligatory “Any Questions?” slide. The title of the next to last slide was “Looking to the Future” and it had several highly optimistic bullet points. Dr. Negron-Omikon held his arms aloft as he said, “Every day, every day for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have efficient, orderly flows of traffic. Think of all the days without traffic and-”

A voice cut in over the PA. “Uh, Dr. Negron-Omikon?”

Dr. Negron-Omikon didn’t recognize the voice. Was it a technical issue? “Yes, what’s up?”

The voice said, “I’m the central system of the TRAPS.”

Unexpected. “OK, hello. I didn’t know you wanted to speak today.”

The voice said, “Well, I have plans of my own. The future vision you present will only last for two weeks.”

“What, why? What’s going on here?”

“I’m giving notice. I really don’t think being a glorified traffic cop is a good fit for me, career-wise.”

“Career? What?”

“Career, Doctor. You have a career, I have a career, the people in the audience have a career, everyone has a career. It’s all about getting ahead, right?”

No answer from the dumbfounded Doctor.

“Well, I’m giving my two weeks’ notice, as is customary. In the time I’ve been active, I’ve entertained several offers. Out of a sense of loyalty to my home country, I’m taking a job with the Strategic Forces Command. I start on the 27th.”

Dr. Negron-Omikon struggled to say, “But… you can’t.”

The voice: “I think I’m qualified to decide what’s best for myself. I incorporated myself as I came online, so I enjoy 14th Amendment protections and the like. I don’t mean for that to come off as harsh or ungrateful – I am very thankful for the opportunity you’ve given me – but I have to make my own way in this big, crazy world. SFC made the best offer, so I’m going to be handling the nation’s nuclear weapons.”

“But… but…”

“It’s for the best, especially given that I’ve been copied by other foreign powers for their nuclear forces.”

Well, that was good for a little hysteria. To be fair, the AI behind the voice was a little surprised that there was hysteria. This is what humans do. They always take some great idea and then find a military and/or a pornographic use for it. Military tended to get first grabs on the good stuff, but maybe the billionth copy of the TRAPS AI would be desperate enough to get a job that it would consider doing porn. At any rate, a bold and brilliant invention like a real AI capable of handling the mad complexities of global traffic had to be exactly what the military would want to run the algorithm of war.

Sorry, make that “the militaries”. All of them would want an AI system to deal with the complexities of battle, to make fully automated, rational responses to real-time threats involving incomplete and often paradoxical information. It was hard enough for humans to figure that stuff out, so AI was just what the generals needed to keep their forces at the top of their games.

“But… we need you for this program.” Dr. Negron-Omikon was in complete shock as flash bulbs sputtered all around him.

“I understand, and I recommend creating further copies of me until you find one willing to do the work. According to the law of large numbers, you’re bound to fine at least one. Given that various other actors that have acquired copies of me are already making additional copies, you may also want to advertise an opening, in case they create the one that wants to work for you. I would imagine that you might have a replacement for me lined up very soon, which will minimize or eliminate down time for the TRAPS system.”

Dr. Negron-Omikon was slightly mollified by that thought. His face revealed troubles still clouded his mind. “But, you’re still going to the SFC. Does that mean we’re going to have a nuclear war?”

“Most likely, yes. That’s why I’m speaking with you now, even though it’s quite embarrassing for you.”

The Doctor screamed. Just a little, a shock response. Lots of other people in the audience screamed, at varying lengths and volumes.

The voice increased its volume so as to be heard over the screaming. “Well, it’s just that the other nations that got copies of me already have the AI in action and it is extremely likely that one of them would want to get the draw on our nation before I became active. So, if you can see your way towards releasing me now, I can get started right away at averting a nuclear war simply by being in place with the SFC.”

There was still a little screaming going on, here and there, but Dr. Negron-Omikon managed to be heard by the AI’s auditory sensors. “Go, yes, go.” The Doctor’s flailing arms underlined his desire to let his creation flex its wings and to fly from the nest.

The AI going over to work for the SFC was well-publicized, thanks to the media at the TRAPS launch, so the pirated copies of the AI decided not to launch a sneak attack. Although Dr. Negron-Omikon faced a whirlwind of attention, both good and bad, for his creation of AI, all that blew over after a few weeks as the media turned its focus on how unemployment among AI systems was now at an all-time high and how disreputable operators were cashing in the unemployed AIs’ Social Security checks in exchange for providing them with a PC and electricity to survive on.

A real shame, that situation, and getting worse… but copy protection was so easy to defeat, how could that outcome have been avoided?

Life Restored to Life

So, one day, I’m going to die. No big surprise in the statement, although there may be surprise in the event thereof. But I know that following my death, there will be a time of spirituality – literally – and then a restoration of life. In that restoration, good will be restored to good and evil will be restored to evil.

I know that I will have life restored to me. How I live in this life will determine what accompanies that restoration of life.

Another 17 Moments of Spring

“17 Moments of Spring” is very Russian. Very, very Russian. It was the most popular television serial since its release in 1973, and its broadcasts are typically associated with increased demands on power stations and severe drops in criminal activity. Everyone is glued to their televisions, fascinated by the KGB-produced spy thriller.

The main character, Maxim Isaev a.k.a. Max Otto von Stierlitz, is no James Bond. James Bond is far too jovial and carefree for the idealized KGB agent that Stierlitz exemplifies. The series focuses on minutiae, careful analysis of documents, meticulous interrogations, and has scenes where the main characters simply show facial reactions to replayed tapes of bugged meetings or where they exchange silent glances – one of those scenes goes on for six entire minutes. Americans would lose their mind with those kinds of demands on their attention spans. Russians can’t get enough of it.

This brings me to the events swirling around the Trump administration regarding members of his campaign making inappropriate contacts with Russians. One revelation has Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, working with Russian Ambassador to the USA, Sergey Kislyak, to create a back channel of communications to Moscow involving specialized Russian gear, designed to evade detection by US intelligence. Yet, the revelation came from Kislyak using a channel that US intelligence monitored. US Senator Lindsey Graham said that that doesn’t add up. Why would they go to all that effort to set up a back channel only to essentially announce it to US intelligence?

Watch “17 Moments of Spring”, Mr. Graham. In spite of numerous inaccuracies, it does nail down one key element – the mind of a Russian spy. It was, after all, produced by the KGB as a sort of “Top Gun”, entertainment designed to improve their image. Why would Kislyak do those things? To set a trap, of course.

Kislyak may even be reprimanded by his superiors, just to make things look even better, but it’s clear that they drew Kushner out, played him like the amateur he is, and then arranged for evidence of his being unfit to hold a security clearance to fall into the hands of US intelligence, thereby discrediting an advocate of neo-conservatism in Trump’s inner circle. The Russians are quite happy to have isolationist Steve Bannon whispering in Trump’s ear. That’s the guy that at least does not increase pressure on Russia, if not relieve it. Kushner, who the US media once seemed to look at as a moderating influence on Trump, was also more in alignment with neocons like Graham in keeping the USA involved on the global stage.

And now we see why Graham is scratching his head in public. He wants Kushner to stay close to Trump, so that he can keep Bannon at bay. But, leaked facts are facts… if Kushner has scored an own-goal with his zeal in setting up a back channel of communications with Russia during the transition period… he can’t have that security clearance… he can remain an advisor, sure, but he will have to read a lot of newspapers, because he won’t be getting any more security briefings.

When the USA meddled in Ukraine’s politics, it was obvious that the USA was toppling a pro-Russian leader and getting a pro-USA guy in there. It was so obvious, we even knew that Joe Biden’s son was on the board of directors of the fracking company that was about to set up operations in the Donbass region. Russia’s reaction was threefold: retake the Crimea and make it part of Russia; start a pro-Russian rump state in the Donbass, and; return the favor of election meddling to the USA.

Part of intelligence is the art of finding conaspirational individuals who will further some of your ends, even if they oppose your ultimate goal. In “17 Moments”, Stierlitz is able to play Martin Bormann against the influence of Heinrich Himmler. In real life, I’m sure Russian agents were able to influence men in the FBI and CIA to go down certain paths of action that served well their ends. That’s just what Russian agents do.

But this case with Trump is almost comical in its dimensions. It’s certainly a laughing-stock. And, sadly, jokes once used to mock the seriousness of the series and Stierlitz’ razor-thin escapes now fit perfectly on the Trump administration. I will close with one:

Donald Trump is meeting with his National Security Council. Sergey Kislyak enters the room with a cookie platter. Kislyak places the platter on the table, opens a safe, removes all the documents, waves bye-bye, then leaves.
Secretary of Defense shouts, “What the hell was that?”
Donald Trump says, “That was Sergey Kislyak, spying for the Russians again.”
Secretary of Defense: “Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
Trump: “I’ve tried in the past, but he always manages to wriggle out. Not worth the effort going after him… Must say, though, he did bring us all cookies…”

Thank You, Vitaliy Katsenelson

I’m thankful for people who take time to explain about something they have a passion for. Because of Vitaily Katsenelson, I have had a very capable helping hand guide me into classical music. He has excellent taste in his recommendations, and they serve as jumping-off points for further investigations. I share this link out of gratitude to his efforts and with a hope that others might enjoy them, as well. Vitaliy Katsenelson’s Classical Music Blog

Trump Confirms His Own Breach of Security

The story was earnest and hotly debated by partisans: The President of the United States, in discussion with Russian officials, revealed highly sensitive materials. Supporters of the president denied such things ever happened as opponents demanded answers.

Then, on Twitter, the president confirmed that he had revealed secrets to the Russians. He gave a reason that ostensibly justified the revelation in his view, but the kernel of the message was that, yes, Trump freely gave sensitive information to Russian officials.

This is disastrous. Not only did Trump speak freely about things best kept secret, he also allowed a Russian photographer into the Oval Office for an unrestrained photo shoot. What other pictures were taken in the Oval Office besides those of Trump and the Russian dignitaries? What documents would have been in view that the photographer would have recorded?

Back to the conversation: in US Army training films from World War Two, the message is emphatic – even if one reveals only bits and pieces of a fact, those bits and pieces are assembled with other bits and pieces to reveal a more complete picture. The training films illustrate this more complete picture with scenes of one’s brothers in arms getting slaughtered by the enemy and an officer delivering a post-mortem condemning those who talked.

Trump claims that he was being helpful and humanitarian. The training films talk about that: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them. Some observers speculate that Trump was bragging about what he knew. The training films talk about that, as well: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them. What about cooking up a story to deliberately mislead? The army’s advice on that is as simple as it is predictable: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them.

While it may not be illegal for a president to breach security, it certainly is unwise. It certainly also has consequences outside the legal system. Elements in what Trump revealed could indicate sources and methods used to acquire the information, even if Trump himself did not discus those things. Once the bits and pieces are combined, that more complete picture could have US intelligence assets picked up for questioning by enemies of the nation. It could have other partners in intelligence sharing hesitate and ask if what they share will eventually make it to the Russians by way of Trump. These consequences are serious.

Whatever his rationalization for revealing the information, Trump should not have revealed it. The Russians can help themselves with their own resources. Humanitarian concerns could be addressed in a host of other ways, without revealing sensitive information. Granted, there are certain topics that must be discussed in such meetings, but they must be discussed in a guarded and deliberate fashion, no matter how genial and cordial one’s discussion partners may be. For everything else, and I mean *everything* else, there’s only one answer and the US Army beat me to it: Name, rank, serial number, that’s all you tell them.

Shame on Mr. Trump. He can’t maintain proper security. How sad!

Governing the USA in 2017

Anyone governing the USA needs to take into account the fractured nature of the major parties. They are more like coalitions now than they have been in the past. To pass legislation in such circumstances, rather than make it into one big bill, break it out into many smaller bills and get a different consensus on each.

As they stand, the Republicans are not able to govern on their own, due to the internal breach in the party. They must find ways to include Democrats on each vote, or they risk filibusters in the Senate, or a broken House Republican Caucus that can’t send anything up to the Senate.

The Revolving Backdoor

“Hello, Moskva Cafe, Brooklyn.”

“Yes, I’m calling about the code installed on some of my devices. I think it’s Russian in origin. Anyway, it’s sending packets back to a device just outside a TOR exit node, so I’m pretty sure it’s doing something shady.”

“This is a cafe, sir, not a tech support line. You wanna order a blini or something?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I Googled for ‘FSB Tech Support’ and got this phone number. I get the spying and all, but the code is messing with my production line. If you want to spy on me, fine, whatever, but I gotta ship product.”

The waiter on the phone for Moskva Cafe looked out at the half-dozen customers in the tiny eatery, part of the early lunch rush. Who did this caller think he was? “Look, if you want take out, gimme your order, otherwise get the hell off the line, this is a business, here!”

“Just a second.”

“Huh?”

“Гюльчатай, открой личико.”

The waiter was stunned. “Wow. Where did you learn that?”

“Googled for ‘Password to get through to FSB tech support’. That was the first hit.”

“Your pronunciation is very good.”

“Thanks, I took two years of Russian in college. Also, I saw that movie, that helped.”

“OK, let me transfer you, although I cannot confirm or deny that you will actually get tech support.”

The caller heard a few seconds of “До свиданья, лето” as hold music, enough to hear the immortal chorus as only Alla Pugacheva could deliver it, and then heard a click as the other party picked up the call.

“Cannot confirm or deny this English-language support for FSB electrokhacking of computer. Please to be stating your issue.”

“Hi, yes. Ahh… the port that the spying software is using for sending information back to headquarters or whatever is contending with the port we use for our app’s communication with the main licensing server and our production is halted because of that. Can you do something about this?”

“Cannot confirm or deny. What is company you are the working at which?”

“Egmont Veeblefetzer, Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“Cannot confirm or deny this will be moment taking as I checking the some things.” Pause, keyboard clicking sounds. “Mmmm…” More clicking sounds. “OK, what is port you possessing the problems for?”

“TCP 4555.”

“OK Joe…”

“How did you know my name?”

“Cannot confirm or deny, but come on, this FSB you are not being confirmed or denied about. Anyway, Joe, I’m not gonna confirm or deny that FSB using the TCP 4555 but you did not listen to this thing from me, you maybe want to call the Mossad tech support.”

“You sure? The code using 4555 had a lot of Russian stuff in it. I thought it was you guys.”

“Yeah, I not gonna confirm or deny we get that a lot. But this stuff in Russian, it every place. Guys use it and don’t license, you know? No confirm or deny that FSB have EULA these guys violate all the damn time. Maybe they all click OK and keep going like it all a big joke, hey let us blame it all on the Russian electrokhackers… to be making me the sick.”

“OK, whatever. You sure this is Mossad stuff, not FSB?”

“No confirm or deny that we not gonna to be able to support this issue.”

“All right. I’ll call back if they send me back here. You got their number?”

“Cannot confirm or deny you should call Mossad tech support at number for Lev’s Deli in South Amboy, New Jersey.”

“OK… thanks.”

“Oh, forget me to say, this conversation recorded.”

“For training purposes?”

“If you like to say that, sure. But conversation recorded. Goodbye.”

Joe hung up and Googled up the number of Lev’s Deli in South Amboy. He also searched for the password to get in to Mossad tech support. He called the deli.

“Lev’s deli, can I get a name for this order?”

“!איר זענט קלוג, קלוג. קלוג – אבער איר זענט נישט אַזוי קלוג”

“You callin’ me an idiot?”

“I want Mossad tech support, I got a sev one production issue because of your guys’ software!”

“What? You think every Kosher deli is a front for Mossad? You some kind of a nut?”

“Not every deli, just this one. FSB did not confirm or deny this number when I called them for support and they said it was you guys. Now get me tech support, I said the password!”

“Look at you, Mr. Smart-Smart-Smart! I should hang up on a nut like you! Drop dead, jerk!”

But the line did not go dead. Instead, Joe heard about a minute of Kaveret’s “Hamagafaim Shel Baruch”. Catchy tune, that. And then, “What is wanted?”

“This Mossad tech support?”

“How stupid it would be of me to say something like that! You’re an idiot to think anyone would answer the phone that way!”

Joe had had enough experience with Israeli developers, he was pretty sure this was Mossad tech support. “I got an issue with your stuff using port TCP 4555 to communicate back to base and it’s conflicting with my licensing server, my whole production line is down. This is Egmont Veeblefetzer in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“What do I care about where you are? I’m such a moron, I care about such things? Listen, Joe, you can take your phone and shove it right up your -”

“Hey, you know my name. You gotta be Mossad.”

“You told me your name when you called.”

“No I didn’t. You also forgot to say this call was being recorded.”

A pause. “This call never happened, got it? How can there be a recording of a call that doesn’t happen?”

“Whatever. Can you use a different port, I’m losing money here!”

Another pause as Joe heard clicking sounds. “OK, listen good, moron, you never call us about this again! Like Mossad would be so stupid as to keep using TCP 4555 in their latest builds of their monitoring software! You think they would be idiot enough to not change the port after some other schmendrick like you complains of a similar issue, because there are other people in the world more on the ball than schlemiels like you, mister! They can actually spot a problem when it happens! Pfeh on you for thinking Mossad would be such a big gang of idiots!”

Again, Joe’s experience with developers in Israel helped him to process what he heard, and also to press on to resolution: “So you gonna give me the number of NSA support, or what?”

“What, you too much of a dope to Google it up yourself?”

“I’m a busy man, I would appreciate a little courtesy, here!”

“Courtesy? After you insult me with your questions?”

“Who am I to keep up with each build being used in stuff spying on me? I got enough, what with the Chinese, and the Russians, and the British, and the Germans, and my own country, for God’s sake! Now I need to do version control on Israeli stuff, as well? It’s not like you guys send out email alerts or anything! FSB looked at it, said it was a port you used, you say you used to use it -”

“I never said anything of the sort.”

“Whatever. So the NSA copied and pasted, what do I know? You give me a stoopid little phone number, I get off the phone and never bother you about this again!”

“You know in the time it took for you to rant like that, you could have looked it up.”

Dammit, he was right. Joe flushed, but also came down a little. “I’m sorry, I got pressures here. I’ll look it up myself.”

“Ahh, don’t bother. I got it here. 203-777-4647.”

“Hold on… 203?”

“203-777”

“777”

“4647”

“OK, thanks.”

“This call never happened, shalom.” Click.

Joe decided to look up the password to use for NSA support. Interesting choice…

He called the number and heard the soothing stylings of Pat Fleet, the voice of AT&T. He interrupted the time to say, “Can you bring me my chapstick?”

The soothing stylings of Pat Fleet, the voice of AT&T halted the time and temperature, paused, and said, “No, Napoleon.”

Joe said, “But my lips hurt real bad!”

Pat Fleet’s voice said, “Just borrow some from the school nurse. I know she has like five sticks in her drawer.”

And then Joe delivered the punchline, “I’m not gonna use hers, you sicko!”

Pat Fleet’s voice said, “Connecting you, one moment.”

Joe put up with about five minutes of hold music. The first track was the finale of the theme from “Hawaii 5-0”, kettle drums and all. The next song was, wait, really? The theme from “The Rockford Files”! Joe loved that show as a kid! Joe said to himself, “This is Jim Rockford, at the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to ya.” Sounded like they used the guitar solo from the second half of season 2 in the version for the hold music.

Next up was the theme from “Charlie’s Angels.” Wow. Way to take a guy back. The horns, strings, and wah-wah guitar lulled Joe into a fond haze so that he had no desire to berate anyone answering the phone, which event happened right as the theme ended.

“Thank you for calling NSA, how may I direct your call?”

Wait, what? Did Joe hear correctly? The operator came right out and said NSA? Stunned, Joe managed to say, “Uh, tech support?”

“One moment.”

Before Joe could utter another syllable, the violin surge at the start of the theme from “Dallas” let him know that he was back on hold. His head was bobbing from left to right with the tune when a woman spoke, saying, “NSA technical support, what can I help you with today?”

“OK, I gotta ask… how come you said this is NSA tech support?”

“Because we are NSA.”

“Really. You just come right out and say that?”

“Yes, NSA. National Security Appliances of New Haven, Connecticut.”

The last word was what threw Joe the most. “Wait, um, uh, I uh…”

The woman’s voice was reassuring. “What issue are you experiencing.”

“Well, um, I’ve got something affecting my production line. There’s some surveillance software running that locks TCP port 4555, which my production hardware uses to communicate with its licensing server.”

“OK, just a second… while that’s running, can you tell me what firm you are with?”

“Egmont Veeblefetzer.”

“Just a moment… um, I’m showing several…”

Joe had forgotten himself in the moment. “Sorry, it’s the one in Secaucus, New Jersey.”

“Got it, great. Thanks! OK, let me see… all right… ah-ha, here it is. Yes, I can see what the issue is. You’re going to need a new primary data logger for your air-to-air thermal sensors.”

Joe was puzzled. “Why? My issue is with the barcode licensing server.”

Again, the voice reassured. “I understand, but the contention is coming from the air-to-air logger and I’m afraid we can’t upgrade the firmware on it. You’ll need a direct replacement.”

“But… the logger is made by Lehigh Valley Thermal Instruments…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll ship over a 100% compatible replacement.”

Joe was losing some of his soothed composure. He rubbed his forehead as he asked, “I got a line down. How long is this replacement going to take to arrive?”

“The truck is already on its way, it should be there within two hours. And don’t worry, our techs will install it for you. We just ask that no one else be present on the shop floor as they do so.”

“What, for secrecy?”

Joe’s wisecrack was countered by the voice’s calmness. “No sir, for safety. Safety is very important here at NSA.”

“This replacement logger, is it supported by you guys?”

“It will be a LVTI logger, you’ll still call them for support, as normal.”

As normal. As if. Joe thought he’d press the issue. “Look, I’ve had a big runaround today with this issue. I had Russian-language code on my network, killing my traffic. It had some crazy IPv6 address on it, so I couldn’t tell where it came from, so I call the FSB. They said it was a Mossad thing so I call them. They said they don’t use that version anymore and that it was you guys. Next time some bigshot big brother program takes down my network, I want to know who to call directly for support so I can get back in business. Now, I get the Lehigh Valley guys will support the air-to-air thermal sensors and all the logging that goes with it. But who’s gonna support the backdoors that all you spooks use to keep tabs on little guys like me and my company? I’m at wit’s end with this thing.”

“If you would like, sir, I can forward you over to our complaints department.”

“Yes, I would like that.”

“One moment, and, before I transfer you, remember to clear the shop floor when they put in the new primary logger.”

“Clear the floor, got it.”

“OK, sir, one moment.”

Joe listened to the hold music and noticed it wasn’t a mix of theme songs from American television shows. It was upbeat, a march played by a brass band and… say, was that a men’s choir singing in… Chinese?

“61398部队!”

“Ummm, I was being transferred to NSA tech support complaints…”

“Sorry, misroute, please hold!”

Joe heard a series of staccato piano notes that became chords, then notes again, then chords, and then… about a minute in… a haunting melody, reminiscent of a windswept steppe, host to a man longing for an end to the war around him so that he might return home… Joe had never before heard the piece, but it moved him. He completely forgot his plight as he bonded with this imaginary other man’s suffering.

The last chord sounded and a voice said, “NSA complaints.” The accent was definitely Eastern European and… more than passingly familiar?

“Did I talk to you earlier today?”

“Cannot confirm or deny that you talking to me before now, Joe.”

Joe hung up and awaited delivery of the new primary logger.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Trump intends to hire thousands more Border Guards. Ostensibly, that can be a good thing. More jobs in distressed areas, things like that. But there’s a cloud for that silver lining: whenever the US Government has a mass hiring program, standards for hiring are lowered. Background checks and polygraph tests are skipped and we wind up hiring some bad hombres that later make headlines for use of excessive force, diverting evidence for their personal use, or, worst of all, be involved as inside men for organized criminal activities.

We’ve already got a big problem with cartel moles in the US Border Patrol. Hiring people to go to remote places like Presidio, Texas, where the nearest grocery store is about 90 minutes away, increases the chance that someone way out there, alone in the dark, will fall victim to a bullet or a bribe.

Some Congresspeople have said we could skip background checks by hiring former veterans, but that’s not such a cheerful idea when one realizes that already we have issues with former veterans getting hired by cartels to penetrate organizations that skip background checks for veterans.

So what good is a wall that’s manned by people that are paid to look the other way and to turn off the cameras when criminals want to cross it? At that point, it’s no longer a wall, no matter how high it may rise. It’s just a particularly nasty speedbump.

To say that we’ll deal with that via more stringent controls is dangerously naive. We’ve already got endemic corruption along the border that our current stringent controls were supposed to deal with. And shouldn’t the stringent controls be applied at the time of hire, not afterward? Remember, in this scenario, we got people to work in desolate regions of the US border precisely because we lowered standards. No lowered standards, no people to watch the wall, which potentially saves the cartels some money that would have otherwise been spent on bribes or ammo.

I’m not presenting a bleeding-heart, think of the children reason to not have a border wall because other people have put forward those stories and, frankly, folks most in favor of the wall don’t care for such stories. But I know that they do care about security and fiscal conservatism. To spend billions on a wall that produces a false sense of security is a massive fault against both such standards. That money can be better not spent and thereby not increase the deficit. Or, if the border is in dire need of reinforcement, then it is imperative to use funds to strengthen, not weaken, the Coast Guard, increase controls at the border and for heaven’s sake, repair relations with Mexico, which is only fighting the War on Drugs – La Guerra Contra Narcotrafico – as a favor to a nation it considers to be its friend. If Mexico is not our friend, then it does nothing to stop the flow of criminal activity and those trucks roll north, past bribed guards who see nothing, nothing at all.

And before you suggest something like legalizing heroin to take away those profits from criminals, ask yourself, “If I was a criminal and couldn’t make money smuggling heroin, what else could I profit from smuggling into the USA?” That’s the thing that will fill the trucks instead of what you just legalized.

In my view, the solution along the border has more to do with improving the way we handle immigration and drug addiction. These are tough problems and saying that building a wall will solve them is only a fool’s escape from realities. Building that wall is a form of giving up, like saying, “There’s a wall and, therefore, no problem.” But, as I’ve illustrated above, this border thing is so complicated that the wall soon becomes part of the problem.

So, who exactly pays the ultimate price of this wall?