Category Archives: Computers

FBI findings in email case no real surprise

I wasn’t surprised by the news that the FBI did not find cause to pursue criminal charges involving the handling of emails by Hillary Clinton when she was serving as Secretary of State.

After all the political attacks that followed the recent report of the State Department’s Inspector General, I took the time to read the unclassified, public version of the IG report (“Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements“). It was actually quite interesting, in a weird way.

First of all, despite all the political rhetoric, the investigation wasn’t really about security leaks or mishandling of classified information, although there was discussion of potential cybersecurity issues behind departmental policies.

Instead, the IG was focused on the Federal Records Act, which spells out policies for the retention and archiving of government records. The investigation looked at whether email records were captured by the departmental mail system for archiving, as required by the Federal Records Act and other policies.

…laws and regulations did not prohibit employees from using their personal email accounts for the conduct of official Department business. However, email messages regarding official business sent to or from a personal email account fell within the scope of the Federal Records Act if their contents met the Act’s definition of a record.

Both Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton used private email systems for their own communications, according to the report.

Powell told investigators he used the private email system to communicate with “principal assistants, individual ambassadors, and foreign minister colleagues,” and Powell’s representatives said he did not retain either electronic or printed copies of those emails.

Clinton produced some 55,000 pages of printed copies.

In a letter to the Department, her representative stated that it was the Secretary’s practice to email Department officials at their government email accounts on matters pertaining to the conduct of government business. Accordingly, the representative asserted, to the extent that the Department retained records of government email accounts, the Department already had records of the Secretary’s email preserved within its recordkeeping systems.

The report noted that the records requiring long-term preservation were a small part of the total email traffic.

“…the Department believes that the majority of the millions of emails sent to and from Department employees each year are non-permanent records with no long-term value.”

The Inspector General noted that the State Department was not unique in experiencing difficulties in complying with the evolving records retention policies.

According to a 2010 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, most agencies do not prioritize records management, as evidenced by lack of staff and budget resources, absence of up-to-date policies and procedures, lack of training, and lack of accountability. In its most recent annual assessment of records management, NARA identified similar weaknesses across the Federal Government with regard to electronic records in particular. NARA reported that 80 percent of agencies had an elevated risk for the improper management of electronic records, reflecting serious challenges handling vast amounts of email, integrating records management functionality into electronic systems, and adapting to the changing technological and regulatory environments.53

The report also touches on the reasons that Clinton and others turned to private email systems–“antiquated” government technology.

…in a June 3, 2011, email message to Secretary Clinton with the subject line “Google email hacking and woeful state of civilian technology,” a former Director of Policy Planning wrote: “State’s technology is so antiquated that NO ONE uses a State-issued laptop and even high officials routinely end up using their home email accounts to be able to get their work done quickly and effectively.”

The IG report primarily addressed the need for “an appropriate method of preserving emails that constitute Federal records.” There was no discussion of possible crimes even hinted at, and the only documented case of unauthorized access by a hacker or outside party involved a State Department computer, not one of the primary email systems.

The report’s overall conclusion is pretty mundane.

Longstanding, systemic weaknesses related to electronic records and communications have existed within the Office of the Secretary that go well beyond the tenure of any one Secretary of State. OIG recognizes that technology and Department policy have evolved considerably since Secretary Albright’s tenure began in 1997. Nevertheless, the Department generally and the Office of the Secretary in particular have been slow to recognize and to manage effectively the legal requirements and cybersecurity risks associated with electronic data communications, particularly as those risks pertain to its most senior leadership. OIG expects that its recommendations will move the Department steps closer to meaningfully addressing these risks.

It seemed to me that if there were any hints or suggestions of potential criminal law violations, they would have been noted in the Inspector General’s report. The absence of anything of this kind appeared to be a strong indication that the subsequent FBI probe would come up empty. And that’s exactly what has now happened.

My MacBook Pro power adapter failed

This is just a little consumer hint.

MacBook Pro power adapterYesterday morning, I finally noticed that the wire leading to the MagSafe end of the power adapter for my MacBook Pro 13″ laptop was in the process of breaking. It certainly didn’t look safe to run power through. Oops. If you take a closer look at the photo, please disregard the layer of Duke’s fur spread out across the table top. I had hoped it wouldn’t show up in the picture, but unfortunately….

Anyway, a quick online search found many people complaining that these newer adapters aren’t as resilient as the earlier models, and frequently fail at the same point that mine did.

I’ve got several older power adapters from previous Mac laptops, but they don’t fit the current model. Different plug where it hooks up to the computer. It looked like my only choice was to buy a new one from the Apple Store, which carries a hefty price tag of $79.

But then I made a discovery. Browsing around on the Apple website looking for info on a new power adapter, I saw mention of a $9.99 adapter that lets you use an older power adapter on the newer models, and I ordered one, sight unseen. Picked it up later in the day. It’s just a tiny bit of metal. You plug your older adapter into one side, and plug the other side into your newer computer that requires the MagSafe 2 plug.

It provides more power than necessary for the smaller 13″ laptop, but I think these Mac laptops can handle it fine. At least I haven’t read about any flaming failures when using the larger adapter on this model.

Now I’m digging through old boxes looking for the power adapters from other earlier computers as additional backup.

UH Manoa among campuses hit by anti-Semitic flyers

The University of Hawaii at Manoa was among the college campuses across the country where anti-Semitic flyers were printing out in department offices.

A copy of the flyer was found after printing out from a networked office printer in the UH-Manoa Women’s Studies Department Thursday morning, It was reported to campus officials, and campus IT staff were trying to trace its origin through the IP address recorded by the printer.

According to published accounts, the flyers campus networks had apparently been hacked, allowing the unsolicited printing.

According to the website,

The flyers turned out in printers at Smith College in Northampton, Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, as well as Northeastern University in Boston, DePaul University in Chicago, Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and the University of Southern California, said Robert Trestan, executive director of the New England Anti-Defamation League.

The flyers urged people to “join us in the struggle for global white supremacy.”

They include a link to a neo-Nazi website featuring a headline, “Total Fascism”.

Trump’s torturous rhetoric

Donald Trump’s stunning advocacy of torture is the latest sign that the candidate has gone off the dangerous edge of his own flat-earth platform. He, and much of the rest of the GOP field of presidential candidates, appear hell bent on confirming the world’s worst possible views of what Americans are like.

Of course, torture is illegal. It’s considered illegal under U.S. law, and under our international obligations. And the fact that Trump doesn’t mind trumpeting his own more sadistic tendencies is a dismal indication of how low American political debate has fallen.

Here’s just a bit of the reporting on and reaction to his pro-war crimes campaign.

Trump and Cruz idiotically refuse to face the facts about torture,” from The Guardian via Raw Story.

There was once a consensus that torture was immoral; even today, any sensible person knows torture is of little use if you want accurate information. Yet the current crop of Republican presidential candidates have been trying to outbid one another with promises of barbarism: Senator Ted Cruz confirmed that he favours simulated drowning, which he classifies as an “enhanced interrogation technique” (EIT) that falls short of torture. (The Spanish Inquisition was rather more honest, and called it tortura del agua.) “The Donald” immediately trumped his rival : he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”.

Trump’s call to bring back torture alarms professional interrogators,” McClatchyDC.

Hard-nosed interrogators who say they’ve thwarted terror attacks in the United States by extracting key information from suspects have a message for Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, who’s vowing to bring back waterboarding and even harsher questioning techniques if elected president:

Don’t do it.

Trump’s Impeachable Offense,” truth dig.

First, the federal Torture Act stipulates that if an American soldier, CIA officer, or anybody else acting on behalf of the government waterboards a prisoner, he risks up to 20 years imprisonment. The McCain-Feinstein Amendment Congress passed last year reiterated the ban on torture, including waterboarding.

Second, our country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Waterboarding a prisoner is against international law and could subject the torturer — or the person ordering or approving the torture — to international sanctions, including prosecution in international courts.

CIA would refuse to comply with Trump’s torture order, former officials say,” Newsweek via RawStory.

Former CIA and FBI interrogators have said publicly that such measures not only violate Geneva Convention prohibitions on torture, but are not as effective in the long run as breaking down prisoners with other techniques. Frazier Thompson, who heads the federal unit that interrogates key terrorism suspects, added his voice to that message this week, telling NPR that “rapport-based techniques elicit the most credible information.”

Normalizing torture one interview at a time,” Digby’s Hullabaloo.

I’m sickened, literally, whenever I hear Trump say this stuff and get huge cheers. but why wouldn’t he? The media doesn’t see it as a problem. At this point I don’t know what depravity Trump could recommend to deal with terrorism that would make the press confront him to his face. It’s true they did get worked up about his making fun of a disabled reporter, which was revolting, so that’s promising. But they have a ways to go.

Draft-Dodger Trump Said Sleeping Around Was My ‘Personal Vietnam’“, The Daily Beast

In a 1997 interview with shock jock Howard Stern, Trump talked about how he had been “lucky” not to have contracted diseases when he was sleeping around.

“I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world. It is a dangerous world out there. It’s scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam-era,” Trump said in a video that resurfaced Tuesday on Buzzfeed, “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

What do you think about concerns over Twitter’s slowing growth?

Do you use Twitter?

A lot of reporters have found it to be a very useful tool.

But is it about to be overtaken by other platforms? The financial press is pointing to some red flags.

The high-profile social media company’s latest financial report showed no growth in new users during the most recent quarter, and well behind earlier projections for the full year.

This has financial analysts fretting over the company’s future.

According to one recent article:

User growth remains stagnant, interaction is flat and, while revenues are up quarter over quarter, the company continues to lose money.

A Wall Street Journal column points to fine print in the “forward looking” portion of its financials, which has been quietly adding new future risks onto the public record (“For Twitter’s Troubles, Read the Fine Print“).

It notes:

Twitter adjusted its language around future risk. It now says that there’s the possible risk that its user base and engagement “do not grow or decline.” That phrase was swapped in for “do not continue to grow.” It also added a new possible risk that “Twitter’s strategies, priorities or plans take longer to execute than anticipated.”

As the column notes, “subtle additions to forward-looking statements can provide clues about what might eventually balloon into a bigger problem.”

But as Twitter users, what do you think? Does Twitter play as great a role for you as it did a year or two ago? Where does it sit in your list of useful applications and sites?