Every fleeting thought is a pearl
And beautiful people stampede to the doorway
of the funniest fucker in the world
They’re here to help you
Satisfy your desire
There’s a bright future for all you professional liars
– “How To Be Dumb”; Elvis Costello
I know, I know: it’s hard to believe The Wall Street Journal (which I like to refer to, for childish reasons of my own – because that’s just the way I roll – as The Wall Street Urinal) would publish a story gratuitously critical of Russia. But on October 28th, 2014, a day which will live in infamy, I’m afraid that’s exactly what they did. For shame, Wall Street Urinal (thanks for the tip, Cartman).
“Hacking Trail Leads to Russia, Experts Say“. Mmmmm… I’m sure we’re going to want to look at that claim in some detail – but first, let’s talk a little bit about experts, because it is a timely discussion topic which has come up on a couple of occasions already, and it needs a bigger forum. Quite simply, we have arrived at a period in the history of our joint existence on the big blue marble when Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo could be an expert whose opinion was eagerly sought by journalists, if only he had a laptop, knew how to find the Google search screen, had an opposable thumb and didn’t wear mittens all the time. H.L. Mencken, who had a considerable amount to say on the preoccupation of the American people with elevating to iconic status those who are most like themselves, must be beaming beatifically from his grave. “A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin“, said he. More touchingly – and he could turn his hand to romantic and touching, for he was among the most capable writers of his generation or any other – “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.” My own favourite, which for some reason always makes me think of Alexey Navalny; “An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.”
But the one for which he is best known, and which is the most widely quoted – “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
We’re a little too late to mark the arrival of that glorious moment – by about 13 years – but this phenomenon had a much wider application that just the office of president. Simply put, almost nobody who speaks English as their mother tongue has any regard any more for expertise earned through a lifetime of practice in one’s craft. No; the west – or at least its voice, the western press, is gaga for “reality journalists” like Brown Moses, the Englishman and life-sized dildo who leapt from obscure failed administrative drone at a nonprofit to “one of the world’s foremost weapons experts” in less than a year. Or Rami Abdelrahman, the one-man-show who is The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, which he runs out of his Coventry home with a laptop and a couple of cell phones. The United Nations consults him, and regularly and uncritically reports his casualty figures in the Syria conflict without checking anything, although he gets his numbers direct from Syrian activists with a vested interest in pumping up the body count so NATO will intervene, in horror. He and Brown Moses share several things in common – neither has any training at all in their present “field of expertise”, neither completed post-secondary education and both broadcast a narrative that has western governments liking the cut of their jib. In Mr. Abdulrahman’s case (actually his name is Osama Sulieman, just as Brown Moses’ name is actually Eliot Higgins), he is subsidized by the European Union.
Anyway, before we range too far afield to find our way back, let’s look at the Wall Street Journal article. Just keep in the back of your mind that the “experts” who say the trail leads straight back to the Russian government might well be a couple of college dropouts who spend the rest of their time playing World Of Warcraft.
Security wizards FireEye, a cybersecurity firm based in California, discovered “a sophisticated cyberweapon, able to evade detection and hop between computers walled off from the Internet” in a U.S. system. This brilliant piece of sleuthware, we further learn, “was programmed on Russian-language machines and built during working hours in Moscow.”
Stupid, stupid Russians. They went to all the trouble to bore and stroke that baby until it was humming with super-secret code power, and then pointed a trail right back to the Rodina by writing their code in Cyrillic. And, moreover, betrayed themselves even more convincingly by writing all this code during working hours in Moscow. Or Aman, Jordan, which shares the same time. Or Baghdad. Or Damascus, or Dar es Salaam. Djibouti. Nairobi. Simferopol. Or perhaps the code was written by somebody outside working hours. Is there some evidence that compelled investigators to think the work of writing spy code has to be done between the hours of 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM?
Their confidential report is due to be released Tuesday, so I guess we’ll have to wait to find out. Oh, wait – no, we won’t, because they told the Wall Street Journal (the world’s biggest fucking blabbermouths), and they posted a link to it. They’re calling this mysterious group “APT-28”. Because “Dirty Moskali Masterminded By Putin”, while it looked great on the cover, cost more to print – and we all have to think about costs these days – and sort of lacked the techno-wallop they were looking for.
I don’t want to spoil the report for you, because it is a ripping read, but I have to say up front that a lot of the circumstantial evidence which causes FireEye to blame this snooping on Russia is summed up in an assessment by one of their managers – a former Russia analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense, by a wonderful coincidence: ” “Who else benefits from this? It just looks so much like something that comes from Russia that we can’t avoid the conclusion.”
I see. Well, by God, that is evidence, no denying that. It just looks like Russia. Probably because they were stupid enough to code in Cyrillic, even though almost everyone codes in English regardless where they’re from because almost all programming languages are in English, because most popular frameworks and third-party extension are written in English, because Cyrillic characters are not allowed when naming many functions and variables, and….gee, I’m sure there was something else….oh, yeah: and because using Cyrillic would be a dead giveaway that the source was Russian, and it would be indescribably stupid to write a brilliant code that it would take a top-notch security hired gun to find, and then leave the root code in Cyrillic. The article is at pains to imply the Russians are the world’s most clever hackers. Sure hope they don’t find out how stupid it is to write their code in Russian, or they might really start achieving some success.
But this sneaky program was written during working hours in Moscow, and the information it sought to exploit would only be of interest to the Russian government; that’s how FireEye broke the whole thing wide open, and they’ve been onto the Russians for seven years, ever since they prefaced their invasion of Georgia with a cyber-attack on Georgia’s systems, and ultimately made Saakashvili eat his tie.
Hey, I can think of somebody else who is interested in as much information as it can get on U.S. governmental inner workings, policymaking and current financial situation. Israel. And what do you know? Jerusalem is only an hour off of Moscow time. I’m not suggesting it must have been Israel instead of Russia – perish the thought. But I hope I have adequately expressed my contempt for the doughheaded theory that it must have been Moscow because sneaky writers of dirty code adhere to regular office hours. Just sayin’.
Incidentally, the United States Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) has never been enforced against Israel, and in 2012 an amendment was introduced which (paraphrased) reads “The Attorney General may, by regulation, provide for the exemption..[if the AG] determines that such registration…is not necessary…”
After all, Israel has a long and colourful history of spying on the United States. In the early 80’s the FBI investigated AIPAC for long-running espionage and theft of government documents relating to the United States – Israel Free Trade Pact: because Israel had a purloined copy of the USA’s negotiating positions, the story goes, the USA was unable to exploit anything to its advantage because the Israelis already knew what the Americans would concede under pressure: “A quarter-century after the tainted negotiations led to passage of the US-Israel preferential trade pact, it remains the most unfavourable of all U.S. bilateral trade agreements, producing chronic deficits, lack of U.S. market access to Israel and ongoing theft of U.S. intellectual property.”
Defense department stuff? Sure, they were interested in that, too. In 2005 Larry Franklin, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman were indicted in Virginia for passing classified documents to a foreign power (Israel, although they danced around who it was by referring to it as simply “a Middle Eastern Country”) which were tremendously useful to Israel in its attempts to maneuver the USA into war with Iran on its behalf. Franklin plead guilty and received a 12-year prison sentence which was later – incredibly – reduced to 100 hours of community service and 10 months in a halfway house. All charges against Rosen and Weissman, lobbyists for AIPAC, were dropped in 2009. The United States government claimed it did not want classified material revealed at trial. So dangerous, not to put too fine a point on it, that it was better to let the criminals who had given that classified information to a foreign power go free without punishment than to risk Americans learning it who had no need to know.
Nor was that the only instance. Johnathan Pollard, an analyst with U.S. Naval Intelligence Command, was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment. That sentence has waffled back and forth, largely due to intense efforts by agencies of the Israeli government to get it commuted, and currently stands at release just about a year from now. Israel acknowledged that Pollard had spied for that country on its ally in a formal apology, and the Victim Impact Statement hints that the information which was passed endangered both American lives and the USA’s relations with its Arab allies. Details were never made public, and remain classified. However, as the referenced article points out, Israel today enjoys real-time intelligence sharing with the USA, so I guess spying on America is not really all that important after all – what’s FireEye ki-yiing about?
U.S. Navy submariner Ariel Weinmann was arrested and detained as a spy for Israel in 2006 when he reportedly deserted from his unit (USS ALBUQUERQUE) taking with him a laptop computer which held classified information. He was believed to have met with an agent of a foreign power in Vienna and in Mexico City. Initial reports said that power was Israel. Later, after the allies had time to get their heads together and agree on a cover story, Time Magazine broke a story which put it out there, with no substantiation whatsoever, that the foreign power implicated had actually been – wait for it – Russia. He probably had just become confused because Jerusalem and Moscow have almost the same working hours. Weinmann is apparently not Jewish, by the way, the name is of German extraction, or so his father says. He was alleged, by his father, to have been upset because of the USA collecting intelligence information on its allies. So, if you’re still following the storyline, Weinmann – after a naval deployment to the Persian Gulf where the Navy upset him by collecting intelligence information on its allies – stole a laptop containing classified information which presumably proved his case, and disclosed that information to…Russia. Uh huh. A nation which is not only not an ally of the United States – pretty damned far from it, in fact – but one which has no serious naval profile in the Persian Gulf. I feel kind of like I’m running on a giant pretzel.
More recently, in May of this year, Newsweek announced despairingly that Israel will not stop spying on the USA, and the USA will not make them stop. In this article, which accuses Israel of constantly maneuvering to steal American technology and industrial secrets, Israel’s espionage activities are described as “unrivaled and unseemly”. Comically, Israeli Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui retorted angrily, “Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period. We condemn the fact that such outrageous, false allegations are being directed against Israel.” No word on whether his nose immediately grew so rapidly that it put the reporter’s eye out, because Israel has already admitted to and apologized for espionage activities in the United States before.
Which brings us back to FireEye, speaking of Pinocchio. FireEye, frankly, needs a big break. Its stock is sinking as other Threat Detection commercial security companies muscle in on the market, and in May was down 65% from a 52-week high, while investors were getting impatient to see some success.
A success like this one, in fact.
Let’s go back a minute to the giddy summary by the FireEye executive cited earlier. “Who else benefits from this? It just looks so much like something that comes from Russia that we can’t avoid the conclusion.”
You know why the conclusion is unavoidable? Because the malicious code is specifically engineered to point in that direction. Who would do that? Russians who meant it to be undetectable?
You tell me.