The Reset Manifesto
CopyrightÂ© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
“George, would you find the funeral director? I’m getting a headache and I’m tired of waiting.”
George stepped out of the waiting room and headed to the entrance of the funeral parlor assuming that the director would be there to greet people. He ran straight into the Vice President, although it would be more accurate to say that he ran into the Secret Service agent protecting Vice President Dan Porter. He found himself getting directed towards a wall.
“Stop it. That’s Georgie Moore!”
The agents kept him from hitting the wall and got him back on his feet. George looked at the Vice President bewildered by the use of a name he hadn’t used since he was twelve. Dan Porter braced him by the upper arms in a sign of real affection.
“My God, Georgie. You’ve grown into a fine young man.”
“Do I know you? Know know rather than just know ... you know...”
“Your Dad used to bring you to my Dad’s place in Virginia back when you were five or six years old. I’d take you out fishing on the dock while our dads talked business.”
“That old house on the river?”
“I had forgotten all about that.”
Sunset comes late in the evening during the middle of summer. It was nearly eight thirty and a bare trace of the sun was just hovering above the horizon. Peter walked across the huge yard of a century-old Virginia house. There was a lawn chair parked under a monster oak tree. He took a seat and waited. He hoped that it wouldn’t be a long wait.
A green six-wheel gator pulled up into the long driveway. The driver stopped before he’d reached the far end. He backed it onto the grass beside the road. A young kid got out and headed over to Peter. There was a scowl on his face.
“Yes I am if you look at it from a very loose interpretation of the law. However, strictly speaking I am not. Trespassing is encroaching on another person’s land despite signs, statements, or barriers denying permission to enter the property. No signs, no denial of permission.”
“Get off our land.”
“Now, I would definitely be trespassing if I didn’t leave.”
“No. Your father wants to talk to me.”
“My father is traveling.”
“Your father was supposed to be traveling, but his trip was canceled.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“I don’t do appointments on first contacts.”
“Does he know you’re coming here?”
“Surprise visits are more fun.”
The kid studied Peter.
“Haven’t you ever been to a surprise party?”
“Then you know what I mean.”
The kid outweighed Peter by forty pounds. He was about to grab Peter and haul him off the property when his father’s car pulled into the driveway. His father slammed on the brakes upon seeing the gator parked next to the road. He was yelling the entire time he was getting out of the car.
“How many times do I have to tell you to put the gator back in the shed before you start visiting friends.”
Peter raised a hand.
“I’m not a friend of his. He’s trying to chase me off your place. In fact, I’d say that he was about to get physical.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to give you my condolences on losing your job.”
“Who told you?”
“That’s not important although everyone has known that this day has been coming for a while. You can’t write a book which is that critical of your employers and keep your position.”
“I haven’t even tried to publish it yet.”
“I know. That doesn’t mean that a lot of people haven’t read it. You’ve really rocked a boat filled with people who really hate rocking boats.”
“I should have waited, I know, but I was in a hurry.”
“That isn’t important. The important thing is that I’m here to talk to you about a job.”
“It will be months before I’m officially released from my duty.”
“Yes, but you’ll be on leave that entire time with nothing to do.”
“I’ll finish my book.”
“You’ll die doing so,” Peter said.
“Is that a threat?”
“No. It is a logical consequence of poking a lion with a stick. The most powerful and deadly entity in the world is the United States Military/Industrial Complex. Of course, you know all about that. Your book is an exposé of how tightly coupled our government, businesses, and the military are. Every chapter you write is another poke of a stick.”
Colonel Porter turned away from Peter and said, “Danny, put the gator up and get into the house. I’ll be up there in a while.”
“He’s a nice looking kid. I understand he’s hoping to go to West Point in a couple of years.”
“I might be ruining his chances with my book.”
“That’s why you need to come work for me.”
“What will I be doing?”
“Rewriting your book.”
“I’m not rewriting my book. That would be whitewashing what’s happening.”
“I’m not asking you to whitewash anything. Right now, your book describes a very sick patient by enumerating the symptoms of corruption. That’s only half the story.”
“What’s the other half?”
“Identifying how the patient can be cured. That’s what I want you to work on.”
Although he had some notions as to what could be done, they were pretty draconian and would never happen. He was curious what this kid would suggest, “Give me a for-instance on what could be done.”
“That’s well outside my area of expertise but I’ll take a quick shot at it. There’s the practice where high ranking officers in charge of major projects for new equipment are offered very well paying positions upon retirement in a civilian job with the companies with whom they are doing business. The expectation is that they will argue persuasively on behalf of the company when it comes to funding issues before retirement and know who to arm-twist in the government after joining the company.
“Now it could be argued that having an officer committed to a project is a good thing and should happen. It also could be argued that the officer will have insights that would benefit the company, and the project, upon his retirement. Those are points that are well and good, except there’s a fundamental corruption there: the watchdog is being fed by the burglar.
“Add into the mix politicians who are getting credit for bringing business into the state they represent when defense contracts are signed. They have no interest in making sure the money is well spent, only that it is spent within their state.
“The result is a number of overpriced projects focused on dubious missions.”
“You’ve just described the problem, you haven’t provided a solution yet,” Colonel Porter said.
“I haven’t even finished describing the problem. One would like to suggest that things get done a different way. The companies build a product with their own money and then try to sell the result to the government.
“The problem with that is that a company can’t afford to commit billions of dollars for development of a product of dubious marketability. If the military doesn’t buy your fighter, you’re out a ton of money. You can’t run a business that way.
“You can’t force an officer not to accept a good job upon retirement. That’s un-American. Forced unemployment — no way. Besides, we would be losing some very valuable expertise if that were to happen.
“You can’t force the politician to refuse campaign contributions from those companies or not to use business brought into their state as a way of remaining in office. That would be political suicide and politicians aren’t that stupid.”
Colonel Porter found nothing in this discussion that wasn’t covered in his book. “So you said I’m supposed to work on a solution to this problem. Based on the way you’ve laid it out, there isn’t one.”
“I’ll admit that at first sight, it looks like a Gordian knot, yet there’s one thing at this center of the triumvirate of government, business, and military. Money. It’s right there holding everything together. Money for reelection. Money for profit. Retirement money for influence. All that money is getting spent and none of it is going towards a final product: a weapon of war.
“Now you’re left with a different problem. How to attack the misuse of that money in the middle. One answer has been to make a contract cost-plus. Unfortunately, the budget swells with ‘auxiliary expenses’ and you get people on the project who aren’t necessary just to make the profit higher. The costs go up to ensure that the profits go up.”
“That’s exactly what happens.”
“Spending the money isn’t the real problem, it is making a profit. No profit means no influence peddling, no contract inflation, and no ‘artificial’ retirement jobs. The argument that a defense company needs a profit to grow doesn’t really hold water. That whole ‘it’s got to grow or it’s dying’ theory can be examined a different way. The government must spend ever increasing amounts of money to keep these companies fed. That’s the definition of a parasite: a parasite grows by consuming the nutrients of the host.
“The relationship has to move towards being symbiotic rather than parasitic. Both government and company have to grow in a healthy way, together. You can’t send young men and women off to war as a way of improving the bottom line for some corporation. That’s blood money.
“As I said, I’m not an expert in this area. You are. You might be able to shoot my solution to pieces. Good for you. Have at it. Stomp it into the ground. I’m asking you to come up with something better, because we need it. You know we need it.
“We haven’t won a war in more than sixty years. How is that possible? The American military goes into some small country and can’t defeat the locals after being there for a decade or more. There’s something wrong there. Are our generals that incompetent? Is the system rigged for failure? All I know is that it’s broke. We need to fix it.”
Colonel Porter was silent. His career was shot. He was getting retired out and no one wanted to hire him. He knew that no one would publish his book. The money interests against it were too strong.
“How will we do this?”
“Peter! I’m so glad you called.”
“Is something the matter?”
“I’ve been missing you.”
“I’ve missed you more.”
“No you haven’t. I’ve missed you more.”
The conversation remained at that level of depth. Both participants were pleased.
Bora Polat was the son of a banker. His father wasn’t just any run of the mill banker. He was a major player in the Ziraat Bankasi, the largest and oldest major bank in Turkey. Bora had worked there for seven years in charge of computer security. He was a widely recognized expert in the field and, among those in the know in the banking industry, he was one of the best. When the opportunity to work for one of the largest and most important banks in the world came his way, he jumped on it.
Bora and the man who would be his boss, if he were hired, were walking down a hallway from the entrance to a meeting room where he was to be interviewed. He was supposed to make a presentation detailing his experiences in dealing with security threats in the past.
“As you know, we have 4.5 trillion dollars in assets to protect.”
“Everyone knows about the Federal Reserve.”
“Yes, well ... we want to improve the security of communications among the twelve branch banks and the headquarters in the Eccles Building in Washington.”
“You’ve had problems?”
“No. We want to prevent problems.”
“Good. I’m a firm believer in preventive measures.”
He glanced in an office and stopped. “Hold on one moment.”
The man guiding him frowned. Bora ducked into the office. He asked the secretary, “Could I have a tissue? I seem to have a smudge on my glasses.”
“Oh, sure. Here you go.” The woman handed him a tissue from the box on her desk. He accepted it and made a production of cleaning his glasses.
“Thank you very much. Nothing bothers me as much as a smudge on my glasses.”
“No problem,” the woman said smiling at the handsome man.
Bora joined his escort back in the hallway. The man walked along beside him with a frown. He didn’t appreciate the guy making the detour like that while discussing what the job would entail. He felt it showed a certain degree of disrespect.
In the conference room there was the typical computer setup with a cord to a projector. The computer was on.
“Why don’t you load your presentation while we’re waiting for the others to show?”
“With pleasure,” Bora said.
He sat down in front of the computer. He slipped a USB stick into the computer and started transferring some files onto the desktop of the machine. He brought up a PowerPoint presentation and rapidly paged through the slides. The man who might become his boss watched him at work pleased by what he was able to see of the presentation.
Bora stepped away from the computer for a second and then asked, “Do you mind if I use an air mouse?”
“Go ahead. I thought we had one around here, but I don’t see it.”
Bora plugged another USB stick into a USB port of the computer. He stood over to the side and pressed a few buttons. The presentation paged forward and backward. Satisfied, he said, “I’m ready.”
It was a few minutes later when a number of people trooped into the room. Bora recognized many of them from past conferences. It was a rather small community of real experts and they all knew each other, if not personally then by reputation. They exchanged head nods.
There was a short introduction in which a high-level summary of his résumé was presented to the attendees as part of introducing him to the audience. Bora stood there listening with a smile on his face looking calm, cool, and professional. He would glance over at the screen on which his presentation was being projected. The page with his name and title of his talk was slowly changing colors. It was a rather interesting effect.
“I’ll turn it over to you now, Bora.”
He moved to stand in front of the projected image of his presentation. With a negligent wave at the screen, he said, “Good afternoon everyone. I am Bora Polat and I had prepared a presentation designed to impress, but I’m not going to use it.”
Everyone looked at him blankly.
Bora walked over to the computer and sat down. Using the mouse attached to the computer, he clicked on a small square on the introductory slide. Much to everyone’s surprise, a command window popped open. He typed a couple of commands in the window and sat back.
“You’re in what?” one of the people asked.
“I’m in your accounting system. You were just hacked.”
A couple of people in the room chuckled. They all knew something that apparently he didn’t know. Boy was he going to look foolish.
“That machine isn’t connected to anything.”
“The USB stick isn’t a thumb drive, it’s a WiFi dongle. I connected to your wireless network. My program broke into it. I used a login for one of your managers to access the accounting machine. It’s wide open to me.
“You’ve been hacked and you watched me do it.”
One of the people went up there and grabbed the keyboard. After a couple of commands, he turned to the others and said, “He really did it.”
“How did you get the user name and password so quickly?”
“The secretary had the password on a yellow post-it note on her monitor. I memorized it while getting a tissue to clean my glasses. The password belonged to either her or her boss. It belonged to her boss whose name was on the door of the office. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what his user name is.”
He sat back and looked at a room full of unhappy people. They were all top-shelf security folks and things like this weren’t supposed to happen on their watch, much less when they were actually watching. He had given direct evidence of his knowledge finding two vulnerabilities in just a walk from reception to the conference room and ten minutes in the conference room under supervision. Not one of them could argue that he had cheated — there wasn’t cheating in this business. Hackers either got in or they didn’t. It was their job to keep the hackers out. Other candidates who had been contenders for the job were relegated to the basement.
“You’re hired. Let’s go to my office and talk salary.”
Two hours later, Bora was seated in the back of a limousine that was taking him to his hotel. He pulled out his cellphone and posted a message on an obscure bulletin board. The message read, “I am in. VladsBane.”
It was an announcement to a small group of elite hackers. They were the best of the very best and a member of their team had now gotten into one of the most powerful banks in the world.
Several states away, Peter replied with a message on the bulletin board, “Good work. IvanNoobie.”
“Can you tell me why a cancer drug that has been around for sixty years and is synthetically manufactured costs $14,000 a dose?”
“Good answer. Why does that drug only cost $200 a dose in France?”
“The economics of medicine are different between here and there. Ours is for profit. Their insurance companies aren’t allowed to make a profit. Ours are allowed to make as much profit as they can. Their drug companies operate at cost with moderate profit; ours are bloated with a huge profit. We have a legal system based on greed, they don’t.”
“My calculations tell me that it costs about ten dollars to make.”
“You’re a little low, but not by much.”
“The system needs to change.”