Press Parrots Cybersecurity FUD From Former NSA Boss Without Mentioning Massive Conflict Of Interest

from the do-some-freaking-research dept

Not this again. Nearly three years ago, we wrote about the growing hype around "cyberwar" in the US government -- much of it being pushed by one Michael McConnell. News reports love to cover McConnell's fear-mongering about how the internet is at risk. He used to always talk about "cyberwar" but that term went out of fashion, so lately it's all "cyberattacks" and "cyberterrorism." The reason the press loves McConnell is that he's a former head of the NSA (under Clinton) and director of national intelligence (under George W. Bush). What those reports don't like to mention is that since leaving the government, McConnell has a very cushy job as Vice Chairman of Booz, Allen, Hamilton. Booz Allen is a company that regularly seems to do $100 million+ deals with government agencies, many of them related to cybersecurity. You think that having a former NSA director running around scaring agencies about how they're at risk of "cyberwar" or "cybersecurity" isn't useful for business?

And yet, it seems that time and time again when we see McConnell's name, reporters completely fail to mention this particular conflict of interest. Instead, they report his claims as if they're fact, despite the much simpler and more obvious fact: no one has died from an internet attack. Ever. None. Zero. Zilch.

Take, for example, this News.com article by Steven Musil. And then let me know where either of these points is made. You can't, because they're not in there. McConnell's connection to Booz isn't mentioned. Nor is the fact that "cyberthreats" are still as dangerous as a ghost story.

Instead, he throws in a couple scary scary quotes from McConnell about how we're getting close to a cyber-9/11 or a cyber-Pearl Harbor without pointing out that plenty of people think such claims are completely overblown. Also, we've been hearing about this for years now, and while it's been quite profitable for McConnell, there's been no evidence that such a threat is really any closer. But, boy does it make money for government contractors. This isn't to pick on Musil in particular -- plenty of reporters seem totally taken in by McConnell's old job and seem to throw any skepticism (or the ability to do a basic Google search about his current job) out the window. But if we keep seeing it, we're going to keep calling it out until people realize that maybe there are motives there beyond what McConnell says.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Rikuo (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 1:45pm

    I thought "real journalists" were the only guys to be trusted when reporting on a story?
    Mike, you may not call yourself one, but you're far more of a journalist than these sad excuses.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

    Herd to believe that the former head of the NSA and director of national intelligence knows what he's talking about. I mean, it's not like he's in a better place to evaluate those threats than someone like Masnick. Oh, wait.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 3:00pm

      Re:

      Right, and I suppose the fact that his paycheck and job depends on governmental agencies believing his doom-saying about the 'cyberpocolypse' means he's always going to provide a fair and balanced threat assessment to the people he's trying to sell to...

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 3:51pm

        Re: Re:

        Clearly, the term Conflict Of Interest is for the little people and does not apply to those in the Good Old Boys Club.

        Employees of corporations with government contracts routinely have to fill out statements detailing any and all potential conflicts of interest and swear that they will abide by the corporate guidelines for ethical behavior. Perhaps the big wigs are given a free pass in this regard.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 4:24pm

        Re: Re:

        Well, if that isn't the case, why isn't he being challenged by the current head of the NSA and director of national intelligence. Let me guess: You think they're getting "kickbacks" too?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 4:52pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Maybe you missed that part where this guy has a financial interest in everyone thinking that the sky is falling.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 5:24pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Well, if that isn't the case, why isn't he being challenged by the current head of the NSA and director of national intelligence. Let me guess: You think they're getting "kickbacks" too?

            I hadn't ever in my life ever considered that ever, im glad you mentioned that food for thought, no doubt others will eventually see your post and wonder, "what does he mean"

            Thankyou very much, i will now go online and google various combinations of kickback and other wordly combinations

            Oh lookie what i found a List of federal political scandals in the United States
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_federal_political_scandals_in_the_United_States

            Than kyou patriot for your part, i never would have known without you
            Thankyou

             

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          That One Guy (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 5:09pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You really think the NSA is going to go out of their way to contradict someone who's claims they can use to justify their actions?

          Also, just to be clear, I didn't mention anyone getting kickbacks, I just said that this guy's job and income depends on people buying into the fearmongering, giving him plenty of incentive to sell that snake oil with all he's got.

           

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          JMT (profile), Dec 9th, 2012 @ 4:34pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          WTF? You don't think McConnell's fear-mongering plays right into the NSA's hands too? Really?

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2012 @ 10:18pm

      Re:

      Yeah, and he also has lots of relevant experience as chairman of Booz, Allen, Hamilton! Good thing journalists bring that up too.

      Oh.

      Wait.

       

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      F!, Dec 12th, 2012 @ 4:28am

      Re:

      Head of NSA's job is not to evaluate 'threats', the position is a figurehead to talk spin at press conferences and spread FUD & mis/dis-information.

      Apologies if the truth is a shock to you. I suppose we all need to learn some time.

      Never trust the government. Never. McConnell may believe the lies he spews. He may be as naive as you. Many people are better qualified for his position (if weren't merely a propaganda mouthpiece), yet would never take the job because they know they'd have to sacrifice their soul.

      There is a reason he's getting paid the big bucks. It's not a terribly pleasant truth.

       

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    Gwiz (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 2:18pm

    *** Off-Topic Alert ***

    Just wanted to mention I really like the redesign of the comments. I wasn't sure at first, but the lines to left of replies are SOOOO helpful. Before you did that I can't count the times I would have put my cursor at the edge of comment and scroll up with the rollerball to find what it was replying to. Kudos.

     

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    Divide by Zero (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 2:29pm

    Works for a company names Booz. Does that mean he's drunk all the time? Would explain a few things.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 2:29pm

    Instead, they report his claims as if they're fact, despite the much simpler and more obvious fact: no one has died from an internet attack. Ever. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada you left out Nada.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 2:32pm

    Hanlon's razor

    What if, years ago, McConnell watched one of his grandkids playing Second Life, saw digital recreations of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, and became terrified that the "cyberworld" that he only vaguely understood was on the verge of erupting in war?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 2:54pm

    'McConnell's connection to Booz isn't mentioned.'

    is Booz spelt correctly? it could be why information is missing!

     

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    gorehound (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 3:08pm

    Corruption is nothing new in Government.We see more and more of it.Maybe someday it will bite those assholes back and it would be nice if it happens sooner than later.

     

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    Richard Hack (profile), Dec 7th, 2012 @ 4:00pm

    There's no such thing as "cyberwar"

    First, any "cyber" anything done by one nation state to another is going to be either "cyber-espionage" or "cyber-sabotage".

    Second, no nation state is going to attack the US with "cyber-anything" that causes loss of life or even short or long term critical infrastructure damage because that would result in an immediate or subsequent military strike by the US at that nation state, by definition. The US would not respond over the Internet - that's ridiculous on the face of it.

    The same applies to every other nation - except those with no credible ability to threaten the US, such as Iran. Which is why Iran is not engaging in any cyber attacks on the US, despite the US media spin of various incidents. Iran can't afford to because the US is just itching for a war with Iran and Iran can't afford to provoke one.

    Which means "cyberwar" is in fact merely a "cyber" dimension to an actual physical war. Which means absent that physical war, there will be no "cyberwar."

    Which means for the most part that any "cyber" conflict is going to be relegated to espionage - or in the case of things like Stuxnet, sabotage from one major power to a much weaker power who can't effectively respond due to the threat of actual physical military attack.

    All the hype about China's "cyber-threat" is also irrelevant because all China's hackers are doing is stealing corporate intellectual property in an attempt to "level the playing field" in economic terms. Which frankly I think is just fine, given how long China was kept down by Western interests. Paying the West back for the Brits pushing opium seems reasonable to me.

    Not to mention that anyone who thinks the US isn't engaged in large-scale industrial espionage against other countries, as well as the European Union, is just naive. Further not to mention that the US uses its military and economic power as a bludgeon on most of the nations of the world and has done so for the last hundred years, a history which is far worse than any "cyber-spying" of industrial processes.

    A little "cyber-payback" is perfectly justified.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 6:03pm

    Anyone noticing how many "Sheep safe, says Wolf" stories there have been recently? It's like our media doesn't actually want to be informed and instead just takes any kind of feel-good ideologies the government spews at them.

     

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    F!, Dec 7th, 2012 @ 10:41pm

    Cyber-war is real

    The only problem is that the term is being applied inappropriately.

    The real cyber war is the military/industrial/corporate efforts to censor & regulate the free and open internet. This is a very real threat.

    What the military defines as cyber war is a chimera, a red herring to derail public dialogue.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2012 @ 7:52am

      Re: Cyber-war is real

      The term war is being mis used

       

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        F!, Dec 9th, 2012 @ 12:19am

        Re: Re: Cyber-war is real

        "The term war is being mis used"

        I see your point and I agree on a technical level, but in the language of popular media what we have is very much a 'war on the internet', in the same way that 'class war' is war.

        It's an expression describing how 'moneyed interests' (for lack of a better term) are censoring & regulating the internet with the goal of disempowering and oppressing the population worldwide, preventing society from achieving progress in the way of self-governance, economic stability, human rights, etc.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2012 @ 8:35am

          Re: Re: Re: Cyber-war is real

          Well put.

          Other more war like operations - the war on drugs, the war on terror have failed to accomplish their stated goals and have caused massive collateral damage in their wake.

           

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