Before we dive into the actions of Rep. Matt Gaetz II (R-FLA.), we need to clarify what was at risk via his actions. The airwaves have been filled with security experts, lawyers, and retired military, all of whom have done their level best to lay out the facts. And done so quite well from what I can tell. The problem is that they all sound like security experts, lawyers, and retired military, and the average American can’t really relate. It’s not that people are inherently stupid, but the threat seems remote. Something that happens to others, not you. So, before we look at the big picture, allow me to narrow things down a bit. Imagine burglars had the blueprints to your home, including every upgrade you’ve made. That would be bad. Now imagine they have that plus the location(s) of your valuables and personal weapons. Suddenly you’re not very secure. Now, take a deep breath and imagine that the reason they have all this information is because you gave it to them.
In a nutshell, that’s what happened here.
Now, first, I know many of my readers are pop culture fans. I’m not saying that evil doers could create a 3D map of an environment ala the city wide SONAR depicted in BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT. Even with the most cutting edge computers around it just isn’t possible …. yet. Google’s new “quantum computer” might make it real someday. But even that would be limited by the functionality of cell phones.
In other words, you can relax for a moment.
Now, back to the nightmare I noted above.
First some basics, as noted by Rep. Trey Gowdy III (R-S.C.) a couple years ago, secret committees are just that. No one is allowed in unless invited, but all such committees must represent both political parties. Simply put, no one was being denied anything. Testimonies are kept secret until corroborated and confirmed. This way no one can just walk in and say “We have UFOs stored at a Walmart in Utah” and have it be taken as fact.
So how did your house become public knowledge?
First, you need to know that your cell phone maps everywhere you go. This is done to provide ease of service, offer you entertainment options you may not have known, and, on a darker note, make it easier for the police to find you in case of emergency. If you click that link above you’ll see a neat map of your movements since you had your cell phone. You can zoom in on any location for more information.
In other words, that data is available.
And, if it’s available, that means nasty mean people can get it. How? You ask that so timidly it’s kind of cute. The answer is “Easy.” There is, honest to fucking God, an app for that. And if apps are beyond you, you can follow step-by-step instructions. Not super easy, but doable if you have a high school education and some time.
Now, before we go any further, there’s something else you need to know. Cell phones, by design, keep all your main apps active at all times. So if you want to switch from speech to typing, or from a video call to a traditional one, you can do so effortlessly. In other words, while you may not be using a function, if your phone is live, hackers can access them.
One other thing to note, while people are supposed to turn in, or turn off, their devices when entering secure facilities, they sometimes don’t. This is how Google accidentally updated its online maps with the locations of international secret military bases, including one that is working on a new Patriot missile.
If someone is tracking your GPS they can track your movements. Since you move in corridors, on streets, in hallways, and so on, they can map your location. That is exactly what Google Maps published. Basically the blueprints for each location.
Now, back to Rep. Gaetz II.
First, there was only one public entrance to the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF; pronounced “skiff”) in question. When Rep. Gaetz and his crew stormed the session, they used all three entrances. Now secret paths for people to use for escape in case of emergency have been broadcast online. Which, if you missed the memo, is no longer secret. That’s just the obvious stuff.
As to the congressmen who claimed hey were Tweeting from secure hones, they lied. A secure phone is one which is connected directly to another via a scrambled signal. Twitter is about as far from secure as you can get.
Mieke Eoyang, a former government employee who worked in that SCIF for HPSCI (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) and handled cybersecurity issues while there.
So, she knows whence she speaks.
Aside from disrupting the testimony of a DoD official shedding light on the President’s attempts to extort a sham investigation into the child of his most feared political rival by withholding military aid that Congress gave to resist a Russian invasion…
Storming the SCIF without respecting the security protocols that require people to leave their electronic devices *outside* the space, is actually compromising our national security.
First, the SCIF itself is a secure facility designed to prevent electronic eavesdropping so members of Congress can receive highly classified information about how the nation collects information on its adversaries, and on *very* sensitive intelligence operations.
Foreign adversaries are constantly trying to figure out what goes on inside those rooms to figure out what the US knows about them, to out US high-level sources in their governments, to know what the US government knows and use it against us.
The facilities are carefully designed and controlled to ensure that electronic signals, surveillance methods, or other listening devices do not compromise the information discussed in these rooms. I will not, for obvious reasons, go into details.
Bringing electronic devices into a SCIF, and this SCIF in particular is *very* problematic, especially when done by members of Congress.
Because Members of Congress (and their electronic devices) are high-value targets for compromise by foreign intelligence services.
Members of Congress have access to a wide range of sensitive information, including, in the case of these members, conversations with the President of the United States. They travel internationally, receive emails from the public, and meet with foreign dignitaries.
As politicians, they’re also highly sensitive to revelations of derogatory information, which means that foreign adversaries are very interested in collecting same.
They also tend to be lax in their security protocols. This means they may not know they have been compromised. For example, their phones can be turned into listening devices without their knowledge.
And that, kids, is how the blueprints to your house got into the hands of those who might wish you ill.
In an effort to disrupt a deposition concerning national security Rep. Gaetz, et all, compromised it. Keep in mind that the people put in immediate danger are civil servants. Volunteers who risk their lives in the Secret Service, CIA, FBI, and U.S. Marines who are appointed to the White House and Congress.
None of those people have a political ax to grind beyond casting a vote in each election and they are now on the wrong end of the spear tip held by spies.
Now, what information could have been given away?
Well, the extra doors for escape leaps to mind. Any testimony, or talking points on a screen in the room for lawyers and others to review, any military information regarding the munitions in question relative to the Ukraine, and any papers that may have come into view of the cell phones in the room.
Quite a bit, when you think about it.
To be less terrified, please note that the members of the committee scrubbed the room, and removed the witness, until the insurgents were gone. But that still took time to happen.
What the ramifications will be remains to be seen.
But that was not a good look for us internationally, or to those who are considering service in our country.