New FBI chief Robert Mueller's testimony before the US Senate during his confirmation hearing last week, to the effect that he had no understanding of key-logging technology, sounded very wrong to us.
We were hoping that he was just exhibiting naiveté when, under questioning from US Senator Maria Cantwell (Democrat, Washington State) about the FBI's prosecution of mobster Nicodemo Scarfo, Jr. by means of a black-bag job involving a key logger, Mueller claimed that he's "not familiar with that new technology, and [had] not had occasion to use it in [his] district."
We figured that little gem had to be either a bald-faced lie, or evidence of his technical incompetence and consequent unfitness to lead the FBI in the 21st Century.
Naturally, we all prefer honest incompetence to active deceit, and we were hoping that the second explanation would prove right; but we're sorry to report that we've got evidence that Mueller actually knows a great deal about key-logging technology.
If we consult the following advisory from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University, we find that Mueller contributed to a report on the legalities of installing key-logging technology on a network.
The bulletin advises systems administrators that because key logging could be controversial (as the courts had yet to rule on its legality), it would be best to put a prominent banner warning users and intruders alike that their comings and goings will be monitored.
The bulletin is dated December 1992, revised September 1997. Clearly, Mueller has been well acquainted with the technology he told Congress he knows nothing about.
Obviously, in order to offer legal advice about key logging he would have to understand the technology quite well.
And even if he was splitting hairs during his confirmation, i.e., speaking of a very specific implementation of key-logging technology which he himself hasn't yet played with, he's still deceitful.
He might have been a man about it, and declined to answer on grounds that the technology in question is currently being tested in the courts -- that is, in the Scarfo case. At least he would have shown some spine. But by fobbing off the question with a lie, or with a split-hair statement calculated to mislead the Senate, he demonstrated that he's afraid of tough questions, and eager to take the coward's path out.
It's a sad symbol of his brand-new tenure, and a most horrible way to start it. ®