Current Event: OMG, The Real World Is Actually Like the Spy Movies

By justine at 5:37 pm on January 30, 2009 | 1 Comment

Today’s Seattle Times reports of an Oregon ex-CIA agent who had been selling the identities of other CIA agents to the Russians – from his jail cell.  Not only am I surprised that he had already been convicted (in 1996) but managed continue, but also that “the spy wars between Russia and the United States did not stop with the end of the Codl War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.” (!!!)

The story reveals security problems both on behalf of the government, and on behalf of this former agent, Harod Nicholson. On the government’s behalf, we are reminded that all security is based on some level of trust – and with a large program like the CIA, it is hard to ensure that every agent can be 100% trusted, now matter how hard they are screened. Nicholson clearly should not have been trusted. As for Nicholson, he had been sending secret messages through his son, which his son then physically traded with Russian agents for cash. What tipped the US government to this process? They didn’t figure out exactly what was said in the messages, but the rise in communication between the two, and the son’s frequent international travel tipped them off to the fact that something was going on. Strange messages – like biblical verses – started appearing in their letters. Sometimes, it’s not that the entire message leaks, but external information can tip an outsider to the fact that *something* is going on – and then they can make a pretty good guess as to what.

For us as students, this is a reminder that Security, while not only fun to pretend we are lock-breaker hackers like in the movies, is actually relevant to real lock-breaker hacker secret agents, who are not in the movies, but real. While our only personal exposure to security may be adding a password to our email, or at the most crucial keeping our Social Security Nubmer and Bank Accounts secret, there are reasons that extremely strong security is necessary. For those in the CIA, they don’t worry that someone is trying to decrypt their messages, they know that someone is trying to decrypt their messages. They don’t hypothetically consider trust, and then tell their best friend their passwords – too much is on the line.

I guess I’m finally convinced that security really really is valuable.

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    Comment by gertanya

    January 30, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

    Ha-ha:) Don’t forget that we (Russian spies) are everywhere. Don’t trust anybody, look around!!!
    By the way, I was also surprised that Russia was interested in the names of American agents. This is an example that there is no useless information. Even if you don’t need this information now, it’s still good to have it. May be one day you will want to use it. This suggests that even people who are close, have to keep there secrets. There are a lot of funny and not funny stories about how girlfriend/boyfriend or wife/husband found out the other person password to email/bank account etc. They didn’t need this information much when they were together. But then the story tells us what happened when they broke up or divorced. That knowledge came in use and not in a nice way. So, the lesson is: Be suspicious! Don’t trust anybody!:)

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