Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The worrisome implications of the Mexican theft of White House BlackBerry devices

SPECIAL REPORT

By David Gewirtz

Our ongoing story about the security of White House email took a strange turn on Friday, proving some of the national security concerns I've been discussing to be true in a particularly tangible and unfortunate way.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Rafael Quintero Curiel, lead press advance person for the Mexican delegation, was caught stealing BlackBerry devices belonging to White House staffers who were attending meetings between U.S. President George W. Bush and Canadian and Mexican leaders in New Orleans last week. Unfortunately, Quintero Curiel was caught after the devices had been in his possession for some time.

One story, originating with Fox News, had the count of missing BlackBerrys at six or seven, but when I spoke to Mark Stevenson of the Associated Press, on site in Mexico City, he told me the final count was, in fact, two devices.


"Racial stereotyping may have contributed to spinning this story in a way that may be obscuring the true magnitude of the possible damage to our national security."

On Friday, we issued a breaking news press release on this topic, which covered the early news and what I saw as the national security concerns that weren't initially getting covered. This Special Report expands on that press release and is a detailed analysis of the issue.

What makes this topic so troubling, of course, is the serious national security breach that may have occurred. But there's more to the story, including issues of the relationship between the United States and Mexico, and even how racial stereotyping may have contributed to spinning this story in a way that may be obscuring the true magnitude of the possible damage to our national security.

Of course, as the Times-Picayune in New Orleans noted:

David Gewirtz, an expert on email security, has written about lost BlackBerrys at the White House in his book "Where Have All the EMails Gone?" He said the episode in New Orleans may not reach international-incident status, but it should be a wake-up call about the insecurity of U.S. government data carried in BlackBerrys.

Given that one of the nightmare scenarios I wrote about in the book has come true with almost freaky precision, I'm hoping we can get the other systems fixed in the White House before some of my even scarier scenarios come true as well.

Finally, it's important to note that this isn't just a cautionary tale for the U.S. government, but for businesses and individuals as well. You'll see what I mean as you read on.