Sometimes, Duck and Cover Just Doesn't Seem Like Enough

03/17/2006 01:50 pm 13:50:33 | Updated May 25, 2011

Some days, you just feel like the guy sitting on the sidewalk, looking up terrified into the massive gun barrel of Clint Eastwood asking, "Do you feel lucky today, punk?"

There was bad news reported this week on the security front. It's not what you think.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Government Reform held an oversight hearing to present the results of their study evaluating [pdf] "whether federal computer operations are prepared for a major cyber-attack."

The Department of Homeland Security got an F. For the third year in a row. Now, again, read this closely. This is the Department of Homeland Security - and they got an F in computer security. For the third year in a row.

Okay, I can see them getting drunk the night before the first test, stumbling into class with a hang-over to take the exam and failing. Yes, it's irresponsible, but they're a new organization, and you know how kids are. But surely when they brought their report card home to get it signed, they'd have been admonished, "Now, son, you are the Department of Homeland Security, you can do better. Security is your last name. We expect you to pull yourself up next year and get at least a C."

They had all year to study and cram and improve, just to get that C. And then they got another F. And then another one. Three F's in a row. In computer security. For the Department of Homeland Security. (Sorry for the repetition, but some things just bear repeating. Or are too unbelievable when you read them only once.)

You can't completely blame the Department when put in context of the entire Federal government - which received a D+. It simply didn't receive the inspiration it clearly needed. That said, the Feds themselves are pretty upset because they would have received a C- if only the DHS hadn't pulled down the whole curve.

As I said, it's not what you think. Here's the scary thing, now - that wasn't the bad news.

On March 12, the Chicago Tribune published an article, "Internet Blows CIA Cover." Now, understand, they weren't referring to a specific, single agent - they meant the whole freaking CIA. Robert Novak looks like a piker compared to this. One agent? Ha! A mere bagatelle. Child's play. A drop of overflow from topping off your gas tank. Though more combustible.

How combustible? How's this?

"When the Tribune searched a commercial online data service, the result was a virtual directory of more than 2,600 CIA employees, 50 internal agency telephone numbers and the locations of some two dozen secret CIA facilities around the United States."

The article notes numerous personal, home details of one particular employee, adding "The CIA asked the Tribune not to publish her name because she is a covert operative." This was extremely responsible of the Tribune - although because Robert Novak writes for the city's competitor, the Sun Times, the Trib was probably just trying to show him up. It's a reasonable guess, however, that many enemy operatives wouldn't be quite as gracious.

CIA Director Porter Goss is admirably quoted as being ""horrified." This clearly isn't a problem that just occurred on his watch. It's the sort of gaping fissure that can only have been around for a while. That Goss is "horrified," recognizing that you can only fix a problem if you acknowledge it exists, is encouraging at hopefully addressing the mess.

And obviously the mess has to be dealt with. (Sorry, I was about to say, "addressed," but drawing attention to "address" seems inappropriate.) And it's a big mess. As the article quotes a senior U.S. official about the way the Tribune found this information, "I don't know whether Al Qaeda could do this, but the Chinese could."

Thank goodness. Imagine if it was a country to whom we were their biggest debtor. (Suggestion to U.S. government: don't default on your loan.)

All this brings to mind another movie reference. The Nazi "dentist" played by Laurence Olivier, looming over a terrified Dustin Hoffman strapped into a chair, pushing a whirring drill closer towards the young man's defenseless head, and menacingly asking - "Is it safe?"

So? Is it? Do you feel safe today, punk?

Hey, look at the bright side. You're not a CIA agent.