Red Alert Every few months some naive twinkie in the mainstream press re-writes the government's urban myth of terrorists slithering through cyberspace, preparing to blow up a small city with the awesome power of the computer mouse. Lately the frequency of these press infomercials has been increasing, most likely in response to a Federal PR campaign supporting Dubya's sales pitch for a new Department of Homeland Defence, a piece of bureaucratic window-dressing engineered to produce a nation-wide illusion of safety.
For a little historical background, the mother of all such cyber-terror FUD stories is this one by USA Today's Andrea Stone. It's the government's script on cyber-terror, perfectly reproduced and unbiased by any evaluation, skepticism or research by the author.
Recently it's been déjà vu all over again. Just over a week ago we had a hysterical item from the Washington Post predicting mass death and destruction from al-Qaeda operatives remotely crashing planes and opening flood gates from secret bases in Internet cafes throughout the world.
A few days later, ABC News re-wrote the article, as mainstream outlets like to do with sexy/scary stuff like cyber terror.
That same week we had a warning from the Business Software Alliance, which told us that a lot of "IT Pros" are worried about this Internet terror thing (so it must be true), heavily propagated by CNN.
Today we find new FUD by USA Today, in which, ironically, an old and fully discredited rumor of al-Qaeda using steganography to share their diabolical plans on Web sites is resurrected and passed-off as news.
The reporter (or rather government propagandist), Jack Kelley, tells us that, "lately, al-Qaeda operatives have been sending hundreds of encrypted messages that have been hidden in files on digital photographs on the auction site eBay.com. Most of the messages have been sent from Internet cafes in Pakistan and public libraries throughout the world."
A painfully familiar claim for which the author provides not one scrap of evidence, yet expresses as an established fact. We like the way he uses location (his in Islamabad and the criminal images' on eBay) for that extra ring of authenticity.
"The volume of the messages has nearly doubled in the past month, indicating to some US intelligence officials that al-Qaeda is planning another attack," Kelly warns. His sources, predictably, are all anonymous 'officials'.
He's merely rehashing a New York Times FUD piece written just after the 9/11 atrocity which says exactly the same things, and offers exactly the same disgraceful level of evidence, only with some quotes from identifiable people.
The Times piece undoubtedly came from a 'we found terrorist stego' publicity stunt by financially strapped outfit iomart.
Now, with the current struggle on Capitol Hill to approve Dubya's new Gestapo, it's essential that the man in the street be frightened and confused by a torrent of 'news' pointing to incomprehensible threats which only Big Bro has the knowledge and skill to protect him from.
Look for a lot more of this cyber-terror drivel over the next two months -- or until the Department is created to the administration's satisfaction, or until Enron, Harken Energy and Halliburton cease making headlines. ®