Easter eggs, antitrust and the CIA

It’s so perfect I can’t believe no one has thought of this already. The federal government should drop the antitrust suit against Microsoft in exchange for Bill Gates agreeing to take over the Central Intelligence Agency.
    The CIA desperately needs someone with technological savvy.  Microsoft wants the feds off its back. There you have it.
    Someone in a high place ought to recognize that espionage is done via computer these days. The nation’s top spook shop is still living in the Mata Hari era. Gates is just the guy to bring them into the present and beyond.
    Recently, the CIA announced the results of its investigation into the activities of its own former Director, John Deutch. It seems Deutch had been very sloppy about security, storing some super-sensitive top-secret documents on his regular home computer. Really serious, "for your eyes only" type-stuff. And the computer was a Macintosh for crying out loud.
    That same computer, the report revealed, was also used to access internet porn and girly-picture sites, though not by Deutch. He apparently wasn’t home at the time the computer in question was used for this purpose.
    A tech tip for prying parents : In the file listing (usually called Windows Explorer) of your computer are directories called "Temporary Internet Files" and "History." Here you can learn which web sites have been visited by computer. A tech tip for teenagers: Delete these files!
    That someone else was on Deutch’s machine is the scariest part of the whole story. If Deutch had been after the Pamela Anderson Lee bootleg home sex video, well, she is an American icon and one could make a national security argument for it. Or you could write it off to red-blooded American male intellectual curiosity. But it wasn’t Deutch doing the peeking.
    So who was it? Perhaps there was a teenage boy in the household: "Yo dude, check this out – Boris Yeltsin’s bar tab." or "Hey, here’s a picture of Saddam in a dress."
    Maybe Deutch has a Hispanic housemaid: "Carmen, we must alert our compadres in Havana, the Americans are planning to assassinate Fidel!"
    It’s all just too unnerving to contemplate.
    Deutch was replaced as CIA Director in 1996 by George Tenet. Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his use of a home computer does not pose the risk that Deutch’s did.
    "My computer literacy is so low I probably couldn’t do it," Tenet said.
    Whoa. Everything – everything– is on computer these days. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The nuclear missiles. The plans for the latest fighter aircraft. The President’s checkbook. The President’s black book. And the Director admits to low computer literacy. Yikes.  Hey, this is our country we're talking about.  The CIA really should be cutting-edge and on top of the espionage and counter-espionage game.
    Here’s where Gates comes in. The whole basis for the government’s case against Microsoft is that its software runs pretty much every personal computer in the world. It shouldn’t be tough for a guy like Gates to add in a little something extra for the computers in, for example, Afghanistan, Iraq or China.
    Most computer programs, like Windows, have a secret surprise in them called "Easter Eggs." These are mini-programs which are activated with an unlikely combination of keystrokes. They will then reveal a picture of the team who invented the program or something similarly harmless.
    What a boon this could be to the CIA. Gates could staff the agency with a whole army of techno-spynerds who could sneak all kinds of things into the computers of terrorists around the world to transmit secret warnings to our guys. I know I’d sleep better at night if this were going on.
    But instead our government is worried that Gates just has too much money. What a waste of resources.
    My computer is powered by Microsoft. It works just fine. Sure, if there were more competition maybe I’d save a few bucks on the next upgrade. But if our nation let Microsoft alone in exchange for its founder asking what he can do for his country, I’d feel a lot safer every time I got on an airplane. Which would you rather have?
    Oh, and Mr. Gates? Not to worry, bad haircuts are all the rage over at the CIA. You’d fit right in.

February 9, 2000