News we aren't supposed to know
I’m writing this post on Wednesday evening here in California. Normally I wouldn’t point that out but in this case I want to put a kind of timestamp on my writing because at this moment we’re at the end of the second day of a concerted attack by the UAE Electronic Army on various DNS providers in North America. If you follow this stuff and bother to check, say, Google News right now for "UAE Electronic Army", your search will probably generate some Facebook entries but no news at all because -- two days into it -- this attack has gone unnoticed by the world at large. My last column was about fake news. This one is about real news you never hear about.
We have a great example of such news this week in the Yahoo one billion account hack. Sure, it’s all over the web but it happened in 2013. Are we really supposed to believe that one billion user records were stolen from Yahoo and it took three years for somebody to notice??? The story is that law enforcement officials came across the stolen data, or some of it, and took it to Yahoo for verification. Maybe, but having written these stories for 30 years I think it is much more likely that somebody already knew about the breach and simply chose not to say when it happened. This is not to say that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer knew or didn’t know about the breach, just that shit happens and often isn’t reported if jobs are perceived as being on the line.
It’s very likely that word of this breach or another has floated around Yahoo for years. But since nothing bad seemed to be happening as a result, well the people who knew may have decided just to forget about it. We’ll never know.
So there’s knowledge and then there is knowledge and in this era where plausible deniability seems to be so important, which type of knowledge you have can make a difference. Some types of knowledge, apparently, are too volatile to even be remembered. There are some things we just choose to ignore… unless, like Yahoo, we can’t.
I’ve come across this phenomenon before, right in these pages. Two very specific examples come to mind. First is a column about energy policy I wrote in October, 2010. Here’s the money graf, a quote from one of my best friends in the world:
During the summer of 1973 I worked on a tow boat on the Mississippi River. Every 10 to 14 days, we’d load our barges on the Gulf Coast and deliver petroleum products to some place in the Midwest. That was the summer of the big gasoline shortages. As we would travel up and down the Mississippi, we’d pass an Exxon tow. It would have eight barges (a double unit) fully loaded, or about 10 million gallons of gasoline. The tow wouldn’t be moving, it would be tied up in a quiet spot on the river. Each trip we find more tows tied up. Shell, Texaco, Exxon, Amoco were all doing it. One day they announced in the news how much gasoline would be used in the USA in a single day. I made some quick calculations and realized we had passed a month’s supply on our last trip.
I went on to explain. "In 1973 U. S. oil prices, thanks to price fixing by the Texas Railroad Commission, were already the highest in the world at $5.50 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate -- the global standard. World oil prices were around $2 per barrel and going down. Until the OPEC embargo, that is, when, with the assistance of the big oil companies as described above, an oil crisis was created from nothing. World prices went from $2 to a peak of $43, sending every drilling rig in the world back to work and over time doubling U. S. oil production to almost 11 million barrels per day until demand crashed and the price of oil dropped back to a low of $8. That was still higher than $5.50, but recovery to an inflation-adjusted version of that peak $43 price took another 25 years".
Where was this news in 1973? Didn’t the local sheriff notice all those barges tied-up? Didn’t the local newspaper editor? Didn’t the TV news copter pilot in St. Louis or New Orleans? Why didn’t anyone put this together? Those of us who remember 1973 knew how panicked we were as a nation listening to Richard Nixon -- Richard Nixon (that should have been a clue) -- tell us through our TV sets to turn down our thermostats and drive at 55. Didn’t Nixon know the truth?
To heck with 1973, why wasn’t this news picked-up in 2010 right from this page? That column was read by more than 300,000 people including most of the top news organizations in America. Why wasn’t it picked-up by one of them?
If this seems to you like old news and not worth rehashing, please note that Rex Tillerson, our next Secretary of State, spent his entire 40+ year career working for Exxon, starting in the mid-70s. Did he know about the manufactured energy crisis? Was he told about it over beers after work on some Friday night in Oklahoma? Did he understand that his company helped engineer a geopolitical crisis that helped create the mess that is today Middle East politics? How will those events and the attitude of his lifetime employer inform his performance as Secretary of State?
The other example that comes to mind was from one of my old PBS columns back in 2004 titled Fred Nold’s Legacy. That column and 650 more were recently taken-down by pbs.org and I am trying to acquire them for my archive here. Until I am successful in that you can find a copy at archive.org. That column explained how the Reagan Administration created policies in the Department of Justice that made inevitable our current U.S. prison crisis and its economic repercussions for African-American and latino communities. Worse still, the Department of Justice was told this would happen and chose to ignore advice it had, itself, commissioned.
That story is completely true and I have told it to anyone who will listen (including both the New York Times and Washington Post) for the last 20 years to no effect at all.
Some news is just too uncomfortable I guess.
So what news is there right now that people know and aren’t saying? Maybe I’ll get a little jump on this year’s predictions.
For those of us who are Americans there’s a shit storm coming and it has everything to do with President-elect Donald Trump. Forget the parts we can see, let’s try to anticipate the parts we can’t yet see. The players here are Republicans, Democrats, Russians, hackers, and of course Donald Trump.
Nobody so far claims to have hacked the Trump Organization, itself. The Russians probably did it at the same time they were hacking the GOP and the DNC. After all, they hacked John Podesta’s Gmail account, why not Trump’s.
But he doesn’t use a computer.
Yeah, right. But somebody sends email for him.
Supremely confident, Donald Trump may think he can’t be hacked. He’d be wrong.
While I mention Russian hackers here, that’s not really what I find interesting. What I find interesting are hackers who are not state sponsored. What if Trump was hacked by, say, Anonymous? If it didn’t happen before the election I’ll guarantee you it has happened since, if only out of spite. What would they find? Trump is completely clean? If they did find something, why haven’t we heard about it?
Hackers aren’t the only group that might be willing to drop some dirt on our President-elect. What about the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies Trump has so far done little but insult? What about rogue employees at the IRS? Again, what would they find and why haven’t we heard about it?
I’m guessing January 21st will be a big news day.