Michael's Dispatches

Pocket Spies

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17 November 2011

We know the Internet has dangers.  Everything we put onto the information superhighway should be considered chiseled into marble.  Meanwhile, those smartphones that so many of us carry are tantamount to carrying hostile spies in our pockets.  If the battery is charged and in the phone, the phone is a homing beacon whether it’s on or off.  Now add services such as Facebook, and those excellent phone cameras with geotagging, and there is a combination for disaster.

This has relevancy for our troops in Afghanistan.  During certain missions, I would not even take my smartphones.  On or off, I did not want to take the chance.  Probably made no difference, but it’s better safe than to get our people hurt.  It is important that troops make sure that journalists and Interpreters do not take smartphones during certain sorts of missions.  Also, if you get blown up, that smartphone might go sailing through the air and be found by the enemy.  If they crack into it, they might have a treasure chest.  The last unit that I had the honor to cover was 4-4 Cav.  They were good about reminding about the smartphones but some other units don’t pay attention.

My Facebook has more than 48,000 readers. They come from just about any country imaginable, and many walks of life.  A few days ago, I was browsing through the menus trying to learn more about Facebook, which amounts to a passive intelligence agency of sorts.  This is especially true if you have Facebook (or other similar services) on your smartphone.

And so, with my iPhone4s using a Facebook app, I touched the tab called “Nearby.”  An incredible amount of “actionable intelligence” scrolled on.  One friend was at the Sheraton at the Pentagon.  Another was at the Pentagon.  I emailed to her and she confirmed.  Another was at the VA Hospital in Long Beach.  Ruby Tuesday.  iHop.  Starbucks Fort Polk.  Times Square.  Pacific Grill.  Home sweet home.  Octapharma Plasma.  China Café.  FBI Academy.    Tahlequah Dialysis Unit.  Columbus State University.  AJ’s Pizza.  Farelli’s Pizza.  Palladium Theatre.  Home.  Crossroads Christian Church.  24 Hour Fitness – Mission Valley California.  The Exchange Hotel.

And on and on.  With my iPhone, I could track their smartphones in real time.

Some people were also typing entries (just got on the train) and they were being tracked.  One young Thai woman was typing entries and finally posted she was home at her condo in Bangkok.  At the same time, another was 12 time zones away at X-treme Rockclimbing Gym in Miami, Florida.

Touch one button and GoogleMaps instantly appears showing the precise location.  Touch one more button and there is a choice: “Open in Maps,” “Get Directions,” “Cancel.”

I scrolled down the list.  Numerous people said they were home.  Their locators pinpointed their locations.  I touched the buttons and saw their locations on Google Earth.  And there was one Afghan friend.  I could see exactly where he was in Kabul.  He is an avowed enemy of the Taliban.  They have threatened to kill him.  I emailed at once saying to turn that thing off.  I know where you are.  If he did not email back very quickly, I was going to call.  He emailed back, confirmed his location and turned it off.

It’s not enough that we are careful ourselves.  If we are tooling around Afghanistan together, and only one of us has not turned off the location service, we are both trackable by anyone.  No special gear or warrant is needed.  If someone’s child has this option switched on, the whole family is trackable, not to mention that the child is easily trackable in real time everywhere he or she goes.

Enough said.

Finally, onto a different topic.  I published this yesterday:

What is Your Vote?

The United States faces greater threats at home than we face in Afghanistan.  The Mexican border, for instance, is being described as a war zone.  People have been warning about it for years.  Over time, I have seriously considered changing focus to the more proximate and bigger threats.

I am ready and willing to change primary focus to the home front.  This will require setting up shop and living in a place like Texas or Arizona.  Probably Texas.

I am testing the winds.  If the funding is there, it will happen.  I will move home to America and get to work.  If you are willing to support coverage on the home front, this is a situation where money talks.  If you vote “Yes, I will support it,” please annotate your vote with a note.

The bottom line question: Will you financially support this coverage?  The quality will be high.  So will the price.



+4 # RE: Pocket SpiesChris 2011-11-17 08:21
Michael I will support you in this effort to change your focus to the southern border. God bless
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+2 # RE: Pocket SpiesHITMAN 2011-11-17 08:27
I will support it too
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+2 # RE: Pocket Spiesbobcat35 2011-11-17 08:31
im glad someone cares enough to watch our six. and while as you know us joe's don't get paid much i'll gladly throw what money i can into the mix.
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+2 # RE: Pocket SpiesRuth 2011-11-17 08:58
Not able to support right now, but please come and watch the borders!! Thank you!!
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+2 # RE: Pocket SpiesJohn 2011-11-17 08:58
Michael, thanks for your concersn but we are doing just fine down here in Texas. Please keep your ass overseas.
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+2 # Brad 2011-11-17 08:59
Brad here - one hotbutton issue for so many is the leaky borders and illegal immigration. If you could embed with the US Border Patrol on the Southern border like you've embedded with US troops overseas, you'd have a lot of peoples interest and attention - maybe even moreso than wars in the Middle East. :S
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+1 # RE: Pocket SpiesMark Shuster 2011-11-17 09:04
Michael, I will support your decision to cover the Mexican border. I trust any direction that your professional journalistict instincts direct you to go. I've read your blogs for several years as well as your book on Iraq, all of which have given me better perspective of the issues. I've yet to finacially support your efforts, but I will today. My appologies for having not supporting you financially up to this point.
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+6 # RE: Pocket SpiesTheresa 2011-11-17 09:08
Are you kidding??? No one is covering this war in Afghanistan, I repeat no one! (with the exception of you). We need you there. Thats all I got to say.
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+1 # RE: Pocket Spieshankdone 2011-11-17 09:13
Michael, I have and will continue to support your efforts whether in Iraq, A-stan or the US border. So come on back. We need an unbiased and honest resource here. To much multi source BS and not enough fact. Stay safe.
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+3 # Debra McDowell 2011-11-17 09:25
Do as your heart leads you, Michael. I support you, either way. Your work is very much needed, no matter where you are because yours is the clear voice of truth.
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-1 # Joel Riggs 2011-11-17 09:50
We would love to have you here in Arizona.
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+1 # Steve Waterman 2011-11-17 10:34
This will be more dangerous than Afghanistan. Good luck. You will get support, no question.
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+2 # RE: Pocket SpiesPeter 2011-11-17 10:35
Michael, another question comes to my mind, why not two fronts? Afghanistan, and Mexico. I know that goes against prevailing wisdom, but it is often the default mode: WWII--Europe and the Pacific, SE Asia and Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. Why not Afghanistan and Mexico? Bye the way, the article was eye-popping on what information the cell phones and Facebook give away about your location. Who knew!!
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+1 # MaryD 2011-11-17 10:59
The dangers to your supporters is greater right in the homeland. We would support you whether with funds or prayers or kind thoughts. Count on that.
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+4 # RE: Pocket SpiesRobert S. Pinkerton 2011-11-17 11:31
Michael! It would be great to have you in the Lone Star Republic. I am concern for you safety thought as you will not be on a secure base or out with an Army patrol. If you start reporting a lot on the drug gangs they will most likely target you and you will have a lot less protection here. What ever you do, we appreciate the job you do. Thank you!
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-1 # Frank 2011-11-17 13:31

Here's a website that will give you a snapshot of Cartel violence.

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+3 # RE: Pocket SpiesPops 2011-11-17 15:32
Michael, I would support you on the home front.

DON'T go to California. Use Arizona or Texas as your base and stay on the move. If you start telling the truth about that situation, the Cartels will perceive you as a threat and move against you. The Mexican government will perceive you as a threat and move against you. The US government will perceive you as a threat and move against you.

I would love to be able to join you in the home front effort and be the eyes in the back of your head.

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+2 # RE: Pocket SpiesMark 2011-11-17 16:22
The border situation isn’t going to change significantly anytime soon. The demand for drugs in the US and the struggle to control this multi-billion dollar underground industry will continue. The demand for cheap/hard working labor without any real rights in this country will also continue... as long as we continue to believe the fight should take place on the border instead of the halls of congress ending the "Prohibition" against drugs and truly making the risk involved in hiring illegal’s unacceptable for business, nothing will change.

Afghanistan is a different story, I believe we are going to be leaving in the next 2-5 years... we need to hear from an independent voice how this is really impacting the Afghani people, our troops, and our national security.
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+3 # RE: Pocket SpiesTom 2011-11-17 16:33
Interesting reading about the CIA's supposed relationship w/ Facebook.

On the topic of Mexico - bad ju ju there. You are significantly safer in Afghanistan; the cartels do not screw around with "truth tellers", and they have connections everywhere. I would fear for your safety if you tried to tell their story.
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+2 # JeffS 2011-11-17 18:06
Mexico. You have my support. God knows we aren't getting the straight story from the Federal government.
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+2 # earthHappensCom 2011-11-17 18:41
Hi Michael, great work you do thanks,
Amazing amount of data is on those smart phones. I'll e-mail you a promo code for my app.
It lets you look out the window in real-time to thousands of places all over the world. I got the idea while I was serving in the Army so I could see home.
I have no tracking code installed with it and I do no track which web cameras you are looking at, although that date could be viewed from the person that actually owns the webcam.
The app is much faster than just loading my website as all of the links are embedded.
If you come to the Texas border, carry a 1911.
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+2 # webzight 2011-11-17 19:37
"If you come to the Texas border, carry a 1911"

A well armed and outfitted SPECOPS protection team would be more appropriate;-)

The cartels will come looking for you if you start ragging on them!
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# camocowboy777 2011-11-20 08:11
You can never go wrong with a 1911 brother. .45acp= 230 grain bullet....9mm= 115 grain bullet... Do the math.
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+6 # RE: Pocket SpiesJohn of MD 2011-11-17 19:49
Great post Michael. Also of note is that keeping these tracking apps enabled allows criminals to determine if someone is home or not and thus able to be burglarized without fear. Turn off the GPS location functions! Make yourself invisible. DONT post where you are on FB unless you want your stuff stolen back home. I just do not understand the need to share with the world what and where you are, and your every thought. Get off the phone and interact with the actual world people!

Michael, I also concur that covering the Border Wars would most likely be considerably more dangerous than the Mid-East. Definitely get a carry permit if you choose to undertake this daunting task, as I am sure you will not be able to travel in a pack of Alpha Dog Gunfighters like you are able to frequently do when overseas. I do not often have extra cash for your support, but as I have had funds available I have done so, having purchased your books and sent a donation in when I can. Cover this under reported conflict, and I will continue to support you as I can.
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+1 # Cali 2011-11-17 21:14
My guess is that the cartels already know who you are, who you know in the border states, where those people live, what you look like, and anything else that is inside of your phone.
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+2 # Dennis 2011-11-17 23:08
I vote YES on Mexico. The closest threat is usually the most dangerous threat. Mexico is virtually as bad as Iraq was and no one is telling the story.
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+5 # RE: Pocket SpiesZach Foreman 2011-11-18 04:31
You have to balance the supply with the demand. Yes, there may be more demand for you to be on the Mexican border but there are a lot more talented, English-languag e, brave bloggers or potential bloggers in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California than there are in Afghanistan. How many non-MSM, non-gov sources do we have for info about Afghanistan? How about the border?
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# Daniel Kronlid 2011-11-18 17:21
My suggestion is that you spend a year or so researching before you move. There is still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan and you're one of a kind.

Reading up on the Mexico situation will take a long time and the chance, or risk, is that you'll spend many years by the border.

Bottom line: It has to be done, but there is no hurry.
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+1 # Ol Red neck 2011-11-19 18:52
MEXICAN BORDER! But it's probably a little more dangerous than Afghanistan.
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# Mike 2011-11-20 07:39
That war (Mexico) has been overlooked by the Govt. and MSM for way too long. It's about time the rest of the US realized the true danger we face from our neighbors to the south. I believe it is a worthy, but dangerous, cause.
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+1 # Robert Montoya 2011-11-20 14:08
I think it is an excellent use of your time and skills.
I vote yes.
I will support ($) as much as I can.
the truth is priceless....I said that...

Bob Montoya
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+1 # Z Bliss 2011-11-20 14:31
A very bad place with no holds bared enemies and possibly little support. Watch your back support you every month and will continue to do so.
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# Snow Walker 2011-11-21 14:33
I will support. Excellent idea.
Snow Walker
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# Brian Lee 2011-11-21 15:34
I would like to read your coverage of the border; but I would miss the coverage of Afghanistan. Perhaps a one year mission to boldly go where no 'Yon' has gone before.

Sorry; bad joke, real idea.
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+2 # Gary Seely 2011-11-21 16:24
Maybe it is not always accurate, but there is a lot of coverage of the Mexican Border and the drug conflicts in Mexico.
Unless you are going undercover or providing something we are not getting now, I vote you actually stay with the 1%.
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+1 # Diana 2011-11-25 08:12
YES....It is about time America gets the real news about the border situation...we have a failing/failed state right next door....come home. You will be supported.

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+1 # Amy 2011-11-26 21:07
As a resident of Tucson, AZ I would greatly appreciate someone out there to tell the truth of what is going on. A lot of the violence here is border related and the media and public are left in the dark about it. I support this.
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# zorlak 2011-11-28 10:24
Dude, I've been following you for several years now, and I know what you're capable off. But I'm mexican and live in Mexico, and the truth is that it is very possible that you die in the border. So be very, very careful. As an example an american expert in security and kidnapp prevention came to Mexico to give a conference about it. He was kidnapped and is MIA since then.

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# Dave Cottrell 2011-11-30 14:38
Your perspective on the Mexican border issue would add some much needed coverage to the whole issue. Most people do not realize that it is a North American issue. It effects every country on this continent. Just keep your head down and watch out for US political backlash.
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# Hell YesHaakon Dahl 2013-12-29 09:37
Was discussing this with the wife last week.
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# Stay in ThailandKevin 2013-12-29 17:35
Stay in Thailand. With all of the coming issues and the voting it is critical to have a western reporter in the area.
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# YESPete 2013-12-30 17:57
Yes, I'd like to see war coverage at the Mexico border and I'll support you financially in your endeavors as I have in the past.

Some things are worth the price, and you're at the top of the list.
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# Do it!Darren 2013-12-30 19:05
If you switch to the southern border I will absolutely support you with $.
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