Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"The Director," A Sobering Tale Of Cyberterrorism

Veteran journalist and author Joseph C. Goulden reviewed David Ignatius' The Director for the Washington Times.

About halfway through a first draft of this review, a sobering thought brought me up short: My criticisms of the underworld of online hackers and data thieves were apt to cost me retaliatory computer grief for years to come. So I shall take the coward’s way out. If you are among that band of technological bandits, and do not care for the way you are depicted, go after David Ignatius, who wrote the book, and not the guy reviewing it.

In a sense, “The Director” is even more frightening that the usual intelligence fare of Cold War nuclear sword-rattling or terrorism plots out of the Middle East. Those who are regular readers of Mr. Ignatius' commentary realize that he is perhaps the best-informed journalist writing today about intelligence and national security. Thus, when he sounds a klaxon alarm about the dangers of cyberterrorism, he is not making things up. He is describing a clear and present danger.

Mr. Ignatius is a rare columnist who does hard reporting rather sitting in an office and sucking his thumb. He devotes the same energy and skills to his fiction, and several of his nine novels were based on actual events.

To set the stage for “The Director,” in a prologue, Mr. Ignatius walks us through an annual hackers’ convention, DEF CON, held in a Las Vegas casino. This event really exists, and as Mr. Ignatius writes, “It was a school for mischief.” The multipage program lists lectures: “Hacking Bluetooth connections on phone,” “Hacking RFID tags on cargo containers,” “Controlling automobiles remotely through their electronic systems” and so on.

At the center of the chilling novel at hand is an idealistic high-tech businessman named Graham Weber, who is tapped to bring the Central Intelligence Agency out of slothful years of scandal and official misconduct.

However, on his very first day on the job, Weber is confronted with a more immediate problem. A young German man with a shaved head and scruffy clothes, ears adorned with metal studs — “a normal adult’s bad dream” — comes to the U.S. Consulate in Hamburg with a warning: Hackers have broken into CIA’s communications system. “Your messages can be read,” he tells a CIA officer. “They are not secret.” He gives her proof of the intrusion.

Thus, Mr. Ignatius plunges into a high-tech thriller that is essentially a cram course in how to foul up a communications system (although I trust that some of the details are fuzzed enough to deter readers from creating chaos on their own). The crowning moment is the hacking of the Bank of International Settlement in Basel, Switzerland, which serves as a clearinghouse for the world banking system — and which is viewed by many moon-howlers as “a compendium of all the mistakes and conspiracies of the twentieth century,” as one hacker muses.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:


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