It’s Probably Worse Than We Think

Several years ago, I had the privilege of attending the FBI Citizens Academy. The classes expanded my knowledge of the agency, and some of the challenges our government faces in the effort to keep our secrets.. secret.
One class met at the Oak Ridge National Labs, in the building that houses one of the fastest computers in the world. Security was very tight. We were not permitted to drive onto the property- agents took us in shuttle vehicles. We were on a list of approved visitors, and had to show credentials to be able to enter the site. Obviously, no cameras or recorders, no usb sticks.. no nothing.
The computer was amazing. We met in a room with a screen the size of the side of my house… and it had striking detail. On the screen was an aerial photo of The Presidential Innaguration. And on that huge screen, you could easily see individual people…in a photo that ran the length of the Mall.
Later, there were speakers who briefed us on the scope of the FBI mission at Oak RIdge. The number of agents is classified. Many of the assignments are secret. But, in the light of the alleged Russian hacking of several American computer networks, I figured I would try to give you some idea of the extent our enemies work to compromise our military and industrial secrets. I’m going to be as general as I can, to protect anything that remains confidential in the ruse.
FIrst, China has long employed a factory like building in which scores of computer experts work night and day to exploit American soft spots in cyber security. But sometimes, it only takes human frailty to get inside.
We were shown transcripts of an email conversation between an operative in China ( or an effort by several assigned to the same case).
The target was a scientist in Oak Ridge, who worked on nuclear research and development.
The attacker was a “female”.
One day, the Oak Ridge expert received an e-mail… asking if it was the e-mail of the professor who published a paper titled ” [name not released]”. “Why yes’, came the answer … and the game was on.
Over a long period of time, the espionage continued, with messages of flattery and ingratiating statements. And conversation between the two apparently grew somewhat intimate.
Investigators believe the professor might have actually been talking to several people on the other end of the e-mail line. Possibly a supervisor or maybe a psychological operations officer advising them on how to lure their quarry.
Eventually, the nuclear professor’s sense of secrecy and mission completely collapsed, and he agreed to take a trip to China to meet his new soulmate.
That is when the FBI decided to intervene. Nobody could say what might have happened to the nuclear expert had he made the trip to China.
But his life collapsed in a shambles. He had a family here. ANd he lost his credentials and clearance to work at any national security job.
It was easy, and played on the most common currency in the world… the ego.
That’s a real story. I saw the transcript.
For a while, I worked as a subcontractor at Lockheed Corporation at Y-12. We were warned about using the computer, that there were tracking programs operating in real time, and investigators would often check the individual computers on a random basis, overnight. We were not told how the FBI was made wise to the effort to lure the expert to China.
That was several years ago. Technology changes every week, so I would imagine there are more sophisticated attacks mounted every day, plus the age-old Mata Hari lure.
My story is an account of what happened above ground. I would imagine the cyber attacks on the Internet and other avenues are legion. And if our government is telling us that it’s bad… it is probably worse.
As if 2020 didn’t have enough to worry us into the New Year.


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