Michael's Dispatches

Pocket Spies

Image-cr-1000Image created with iPhone4s

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.


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