After an almost two-year absence from the border region I returned to Cd. Juárez in late 1998. I had been working on an Internet project for a European company. In the late 90’s, the Internet was nothing like it is today and for many the Internet was some abstract thing on a computer. For some it still is. I wanted to continue my Internet work and as the European project was winding down I figured that I was perfectly positioned to land clients in the El Paso-Cd. Juárez area. I was very wrong.
Almost immediately I was stymied by the analog mentality that the Internet was not a serious business tool. Many business owners did not understand the Internet, and to be fair, not many people understood it as well.
Around 2000, I was still struggling to explain the Internet. I was selling my services to one company out of hundreds that I met to explain my vision of the Internet and how it would help their businesses by buying my services. It is then that I thought a political online portal would be a good way to showcase what the Internet was and was going to be. Because of the timing of an El Paso mayoral election, I launched the elpasopolitics.com portal. That morphed into the elpasometro.com, the elpasofourm.com and the elpasotribune.com. Those morphed into my blog, the elpasonews.org.
Initially, my only plan with my online political portals was to use them as examples of what could be done on the Internet. However, somehow I was very ineffective in convincing business owners that the Internet was the future. I cannot tell you how many times I was told, but we already have the Internet. Our address is “firstname.lastname@example.org” was something I heard so much that AOL became a word a detested.
For me, back then an AOL account was synonymous to the worst application of the Internet any business could employ. The use of AOL, as a business tool, and for that matter, as a communications medium declined to the point that it was extremely rare for me to send email to an AOL account, except for a very few who refused to give up the AOL account for one reason, or another.
It had been years since I came across a professional using an AOL account.
Imagine my surprise, no my shock to learn that John Brennan, the CIA director still uses AOL as an email account.
For those of you that may not be aware, John Brennan’s AOL account was supposedly hacked by a 13-year old boy. At this point, all we know is that someone that claims to be 13 years old hacked into Brennan’s AOL account by using “social engineering” techniques. The New York Post first broke the story last week and since then various other news sources have confirmed that federal investigators are looking into the allegations.
The New York Post reported that someone, alleging to by a 13-yar old boy, had hacked the account. According to the Post, the child proved his bonafides to the publication by posting specific language on a Twitter account. The New York Post has stated that they do not know who the alleged hacker is.
About the only thing we know is that the CIA’s chief, John Brennan, still uses an AOL account for email.
Although there have been allegations that secret communications may have been compromised there is no proof of that, as of yet.
However, Brennan has acknowledged having and using an AOL account for email.
I am at a loss for words as to how it is possible that the United States’ director of the CIA still uses such an obsolete, and more importantly, unsecure email communications system. I am shocked for many reasons but they all center on the reason I even started my online political projects – technology, or better, the lack of a clear understanding of technology.
Sigint (signal intelligence), humint (human intelligence gathering) and intelligence operations have dramatically changed because of the Internet. Processing data, automation and technology have given rise to new methods and access to better secrets. Technology has created new problems in intelligence operations and opened up new access to governments and individuals alike. Tor, an anonymity system for accessing the Internet and communicating, was created by intelligence services so that spies could communicate through the Internet faster and more securely.
Although Tor sessions cannot readily be accessed to read the contents, Tor users easily stood out among the network traffic allowing investigators to quickly identify potential spies. To remedy this problem, the US intelligence community released the Tor system to the community through the National Research Laboratory in 2004. The more individuals using Tor, the harder it is to find spies in Internet traffic. The basis for Tor was developed by two mathematicians, Michael Reed and David Goldschlag, working for the United States Naval Research Laboratory in the late 90’s.
Obviously secure communications are paramount to keeping the government’s secrets.
You would assume that the leadership of the CIA would clearly understand this. You would be wrong because John Brennan has proven that the reason for the many failures of secretive operations almost always centers on human stupidity.
Rightly, or wrongly, I will always blame AOL for my inability to gain the traction I thought was possible when I first embarked on Internet related business services. John Brennan’s use of AOL as an email service just reinforces that for me.
If, after the investigations are concluded, it turns out that a 13-year-old conned Verizon to release Brennan’s account information by answering “security” questions and that Brennan used AOL to transmit secret documents, then I will never again believe that the CIA is the omnipotent secretive organization that replaces governments and disappears individuals at the whim of a government bureaucrat.
Not that I ever did believe such a thing.
In the meantime, if I ever hear again the three letters AOL it will be entirely too soon.