Belmont Club

God Help Us All

Erin Kelly and David Jackson of USA Today report that “the massive hack of background check records at the Office of Personnel Management compromised the data of 21.5 million people — five times more than were affected by an initial breach, the agency announced Thursday.”  The details of everyone who has applied to the Federal Government in the last 15 years have been taken:

When the hack was revealed early last month, OPM officials said personal information from the personnel records of about 4.2 million current and former federal employees had been breached.

That number did not include the victims of a second, related hack into the background check forms of people applying for jobs that required security clearance. OPM officials said Thursday that an interagency investigation of that data breach concluded that sensitive information — including Social Security numbers — was stolen from 21.5 million people.

The victims of that second hack include 19.7 million people who applied for a background investigation, as well as 1.8 million others who were not applicants. The non-applicants were primarily spouses and cohabitants of the applicants, and their personal information was included in the background check forms the applicants were required to complete.

The breach is likely to have affected any federal applicant over the past 15 years, and perhaps longer.

The Department of Homeland Security has assured everyone it is on the malefactor’s track and they will let the public know who the guilty parties are in due course:

The federal government has a “leading suspect” in its investigation of two information technology system breaches at the Office of Personnel Management that compromised the sensitive data of millions of people.

“We have strong evidence about the identity of the actors behind the breach,” said Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson at a July 8 event. “But we are not prepared to publicly identify those actors at this time.”

Johnson said there are many different factors that influence whether or not, and when, to identify the actors behind an intrusion.

The situation might be grounds for despair were it not for news from overseas: China Shows How to Destroy a Market.  Barry Ritholtz describes how, by distorting the Shanghai stock exchange trades, the authorities in Beijing may have precipitated the greatest financial catastrophe in recent Chinese history, arguing that their “fixes” only made things worse. The New York Times says the Party’s aura of omniscience has been battered by its manifest stupidity:

BEIJING — Yu Xilin was obsessing on China’s plummeting stock market when he tumbled off his bicycle. But the accident did not sway his focus. While recovering in the hospital on Thursday from surgery for a broken ankle and shoulder, he was using his smartphone to track his shares.

“The government departments that are supposed to be monitoring the stock market aren’t doing their job properly,” Mr. Yu, 55, the director of a provincial cultural exchange office, said by phone from his hospital bed in the northwestern city of Xi’an. “This will affect the image of our leaders. Investors are very upset.”

Even if China’s stock markets end their dizzying falls — and analysts say there is still room to tumble even after a respite on Thursday — the sense of supreme control that once cloaked the Communist Party leadership may take longer to recover.

The mistakes of the Chinese have been matched in recent months by the blunders of the EU and financial insanity of the Greek Government who have acted like two well matched morons vying to make things worse.  Somehow foreign states have managed to screw things up as badly as the Federal Government.  While the OPM has been shooting America in the foot its great power rivals have been busy driving over a cliff.

“Greece already has a humanitarian crisis, and we’ll have to prepare for a harder aftermath if a deal collapses,” Nikitas Kanakis, the president of the board of directors of the Athens chapter of Doctors of the World, a health care charity, said Wednesday. “I’m not sure how proud we should feel about letting social destruction return within Europe.” …

Cargo containers of food, some medicines and other daily necessities are beginning to pile up on the docks at Piraeus, the international seaport outside Athens, because capital controls make it difficult or impossible to pay the shippers.

It appears that the world is having an outbreak of stupidity. In the imbecile olympics, America may well emerge best off by ironically being the least competent at being incompetent.  For example it is distracted right now by the problem of hauling down a 150 year old flag from a defeated government from several state capitols.  Someone said on Twitter that when he boarded an airplane in Paris everyone was preoccupied with the Greek exit, but when he alighted in Atlanta everyone was talking about Donald Trump. This lack of focus may allow the others to pull ahead in the race to the bottom.

This happy state of affairs may not last long however. OPM director Katherine Archuleta has announced plans to “fix” the system sending a shudder of fear through the IT community.  OPM thinks all it needs now is more money to defeat the designing Chinese, which they’ve requested from Congress.

Efforts to fix cybersecurity problems at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) may be doomed because the agency is moving too quickly and ignoring some best practices, an auditor said Thursday.

Even before two recently disclosed breaches at OPM, agency director Katherine Archuleta pushed to improve cybersecurity at the agency, which still runs several mainframe systems.

But a “massive” agency-wide effort to update decades-old systems is not following proper IT project management procedures, including a cost-benefit analysis, and the agency does not have a firm estimate on the cost of the project, said Patrick McFarland, OPM’s inspector general.

Until the new mega-fixes are in place, proposals have been floated to return the entire system to paper. “The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have figured out how to keep the security clearance process going while the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP) system is offline for cybersecurity fixes:”

Under the new interim procedures, OPM and ODNI said the applicant must provide hard copies of forms SF86, SF85, SF85P to the sponsoring agency, but not to OPM or ODNI.

“When the e-QIP has been restored, the applicant will re-enter his or her personal information history into e-QIP so that the required investigation may be completed through the regular process,” the memo said. “Agencies shall maintain a list of all investigations initiated using these interim procedures and the subsequent date the investigations are processed through e-QIP when e-QIP service is restored.”

Reverting to paper may actually improve security.  Consider why this might be so.

The great benefit of paper clearance forms (and one might add, paper ballots) is that it limits the ability of bureaucrats to play games with data.  The lower tech medium puts the kibosh on all the plans, mandates and improvements they are just dying to implement. All that gender stuff is hard to implement when you’re faced with a stack of paper reaching to the ceiling, besides making the information harder to leak, misuse or steal.  It disempowers the bureaucrats.

The fact that reverting to lower tech may actually improve security suggests that lack of money isn’t the problem, nor are the shortcomings of computer hardware. The biggest shortage plaguing the elites today is a deficit of intelligence. They are a menace to themselves and to the public; and are not even smart enough to know how dumb they are.

The reason why reducing OPM to low tech paper may help things is akin to why taking the Bugatti keys away from an irresponsible teenager prevents an accident from occurring. “Just take the skateboard kid. It’s really all you can handle.”

The Founding Fathers understood this. They believed that government should be limited to the minimum necessary size and the Federal bureaucracy restricted to enumerated powers to keep them out of trouble.  The skateboard is all they can handle. Unfortunately lesser men and women have been improving things ever since. Maybe there’s some truth to the surmise I once heard:  “given the stupidity of humanity its continued survival can only be explained by either of two things: Divine Providence or the guidance of space aliens.

God Bless America or God Help Us All.

Recently purchased by readers:
A Mathematical Nature Walk, Hardcover May 10, 2009 by John A. Adam
A Short History of Nearly Everything, Hardcover by Bill Bryson
A Week in Winter Audio CD, Audiobook, by Maeve Binchy
Code-Name Downfall, The Secret Plan to Invade Japan-And Why Truman Dropped the Bomb Hardcover by Thomas B. Allen
The Dadly Virtues, Adventures from the Worst Job You’ll Ever Love Hardcover by Jonathan V. Last
The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day, The Big Red One at Omaha Beach by John C. McManus
The Joy of Not Working, A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked- 21st Century Edition Paperback – by Ernie J. Zelinski

Possibly worth buying:
The Normandy Battlefields, D-Day and the Bridgehead Hardcover by Leo Marriott
Shadows on the Koyukuk, An Alaskan Native’s Life Along the River
Drinking with the Saints, The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour Hardcover by Michael P. Foley
Operation Ivy Bells, A novel of the Cold War Kindle Edition by Robert Williscroft

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club