Latest to join the ranks of encryption-nazis, along with en vogue bashing of Bill Gates, is Robert Novak, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and regular on CNN’s Capital Gang. Writing in a June 28 column "A high-tech defeat," Novak drags out the tired boogeyman of "international drug lords" and "drug cartels" to explain why the DEA’s Thomas A. Constantine and the FBI’s Louis J. Freeh should be able to listen to our conversations at their leisure. The fact they can’t is all the fault of Bill Gates ("the world’s richest man," Novak darkly notes) because "encryption devices sold by his company and used by international drug lords are so powerful they cannot be deciphered by law enforcement." Gee, fancy that.
The satire is all the richer once one realizes that Novak may believe his own moronic bilge. Let’s summarize the plot and the cast of bit players.
First we have Bill Gates, an evil plutocrat who is being taken to task for not selling shoddy-enough products: his software actually runs on some computers, and his encryption devices can’t be broken by Beavis and Butthead.
"As Gates knows, no computer is big enough to break Microsoft’s new codes," warns Robert Novak, crusading journalist, moral conscience of the nation, and also secretly-paid Microsoft PR agent whose primary task is to promote the notion that some of Microsoft’s encryption products are actually secure.
Next, we have "career cop" Thomas Constantine, the ring-leader of a gang of pirates whose main job is to protect the high profit margins available to approved dealers of illicit drugs by busting the competition and thus restricting the supply. Constantine has in recent years graduated to international bank theft as noted in a previous issue of Liberty ("The Money Laundromat," November 1995).
Then there are the Freehstone Kops, who (headed by a panty-waist in elevator shoes) are actually scared of real criminals, and so prefer to content themselves with monitoring the conversations of widows and orphans, and others they can easily pick on. In recent years, the Kops have adopted the motto that "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em," and (according to detailed journalistic accounts and court filings) become heavily involved in protecting the drug trade in locations such as Montana. However, part of their operation has now fallen apart, apparently because they weren’t using Microsoft’s "powerful" encryption products.
Now for the plot complication. Are you ready? The evil Drug Lords, who work hand-in-hand with Bill Gates to provide a paycheck to the Con and the Kops, have discovered—prepare yourself now, are you ready?—LEVEL TWO ENCRYPTION. Their billions in drug profits had not previously allowed the Drug Lords to reach this plateau of enlightenment, but now with the aid of the sinister Bill Gates they have gotten their mojo working.
Crusading moralist Novak explains: "Freeh and Constantine are desperate. Wiretapping is law enforcement's biggest weapon, authorized by court order 1,329 times nationwide in 1998—72 percent for drug cases. No longer able to infiltrate the narcotics apparatus, the DEA depends on eavesdropping.
"But intercepted conversations now are interrupted by a steady buzz, signifying that intelligible conversation is encrypted. What experts call ‘level-one encryption’ could be decoded, but the drug lords have turned to ‘level two.’
" ‘And we can't break it,’ Constantine told me. ‘There's no big computer in Livermore [Calif.] or in New York City that you can take your staff to and say, "Take the buzz, and make it into words." It's just that encryption is ahead of the power of the decrypt.’ The agents need the key supplied by the manufacturers."
Closely pursued by a STEADY BUZZ, Con and Kops go in search of the sacred keys. After many adventures and close calls, the pair of lovable rogues rescue a sexy blonde, Helga, 19, whose bits were previously held in bondage to Microsoft’s powerful codes. She gives them a list of computer manufacturers: Compaq, Dell, Apple, IBM . . . .
"You left off Microsoft," Con points out suspiciously.
"Microsoft doesn’t manufacture computers," Helge explains with a flutter of her eyelashes. "We need the keys supplied by the manufacturers, remember?"
Their team is soon joined by Novak, the crusading journalist and Jesus of juju. He hastily delivers the latest news: ". . . the Senate and House Commerce committees last week approved bills to end export controls over encryption systems to which law enforcement and national security officials have no access. That would give the big drug cartels, now based in Mexico, worry-free communications with their U.S. operatives."
"But wait," Helga says, puzzled. "If the Drug Lords can ship tanker loads of drugs across the border, why is it they can’t smuggle a few floppy disks, containing powerful encryption programs, or just buy them overseas—or even learn to use the Internet?"
"Hush!" commands Novak. "You are giving away national security secrets that they"—he indicates Con and Kops—"are not permitted to know."
In his June 28 column, Novak quotes Constantine about Bill Gates and his colleagues: "Their No. 1 concern is to make money. They don't live in a neighborhood where their mother is shot and killed by dope peddlers in a gang war."
Funny, Edgar Bronfman—who sells a legal drug called alcohol—doesn’t live in one of those neighborhoods either. Come to think of it, neither does Louis Freeh or Thomas Constantine. In fact, I’ll bet Robert Novak’s mother wasn’t killed by a drug dealer, any more than Bill Gate’s was. Let’s face it: Freeh, Constantine, and Novak are all getting paid to do what they do. They’re all in it for the money.
Keep that in mind the next time you read a column by the evil plutocrat, cryptologically-illiterate, Big-Brother advocate, and purveyor of buzz-words Robert Novak.
J. Orlin Grabbe is the author of International Financial Markets, and is an internationally recognized derivatives expert. He has recently branched out into cryptology, banking security, and digital cash. His home page is located at http://www.aci.net/kalliste/homepage.html .