Friday, April 29, 2016

I was a Spy for the FBI

Last night I acted as a foreign intelligence officer who received a signal from my handler for a dead drop, and I successfully retrieved the package.

This  FBI Citizen's Academy session on Counterintelligence was one of the best yet, cause who doesn't love a good spy story? 

One of my favorite places in Washington DC is the International Spy Museum.  The first time I toured this museum I was struck by the high number of documented female spies, and how good they were.  Apparently, women are very successful at espionage.  Who woulda thought?*

The more I think about it, the easier it is to understand why women make such good spies.  We are adept at:
  • Hiding our emotions
  • Faking our emotions
  • Telling people what they want to hear
  • Persuading others to tell us their secrets
  • Multi-tasking in general, and
  • Flying under the radar in a career considered to be male dominated

But enough of that and back to my FBI spy experience.  The session began with a Counterintelligence briefing that significantly increased my fledgling understanding of "Encryption" and explained why the FBI hates "Going Dark."  Shortly before I started this Academy I read a long Time magazine article** about the Apple vs FBI iPhone debacle. The briefing brought back all my lingering concerns and questions about which of these concepts is more important to Americans?   
  • Protection or Privacy?  
  • Security of our possessions and information, or Security of our physical bodies and beings?  
Basically, the 4th amendment protects our right to unreasonable search and seizure, and an entity like the FBI has to prove that they have a really good reason for access.  They need probable cause, search warrants, court orders.***  The problems arise when encryption prevents access even if there is probable cause and a warrant or an order. 

Everyone has heard about the San Bernadino iPhone and why the FBI wanted to get into it (terrorism, 14 killed, 22 wounded...).  Given the fact that Americans did not overwhelmingly insist that Apple get the FBI into that phone, I doubt that anyone will be swayed by other examples of how this kind of data protection (encryption) prevents the FBI from catching the bad guys, but I am going to provide them anyway:

There are cases that illustrate how encryption protects all of these individuals:
  • Child predators- they are more free to acquire and spread child porn
  • Terrorists - the are more free to communicate and store information
  • Murder and Kidnap victims - law enforcement are unable to access their computers and mobile devices
  • Thieves - they are more free to steal tech/trade secrets/intellectual property/ state secrets
I cant speak for anyone else, but if I had to choose, I would say that security of my personal being trumps the security of my personal devices any day.  Case closed. 


**My tweet stream during my reading on a plane of the Time FBI/Applie/iPhone article by Lev Grossman:

***As seen on TV. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mayor Taylor wins volunteer award

BBBS board member, Charlie Boyd
gives the Mayor the James Blair Award 
Several years ago the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff did a deep dive analysis of its youth waiting list and volunteer demographics. This is what it showed:

  • 20% of the kids waiting were African American 
  • 70% of those African American youth were boys 
  • 5% of volunteers were African American 
  • 1% were male
  • 100% of that 1% were military, none even from the local community 
That analysis was the genesis of the agency's African American Mentoring Initiative Advisory Council, now known as the AAMIAC (rhymes with maniac). This is a group of recruitment rock stars.  Every goal this group has set for itself, it has met. The goal to raise $10,000 for recruitment material, and the goal to recruit 100 mentors.  

AAMIAC members with the Mayor
The most critical component of the council has always been its leadership. One of its early leaders was a man named James Blair. Mr. Blair died unexpectedly in 2011 at the age of 51. In order to honor his legacy as a part of the successful AAMIAC, Big Brothers Big Sisters created the James Blair Award to be given away each year on April, Volunteer Appreciation Month. 

This year the council selected Mayor Ivy Taylor to receive the James Blair Award for her commitment to youth development and mentoring. Mayor Taylor is a long time Big Sister volunteer and is on the Advisory Board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas. The organization is very pleased to honor the mayor with this award which it presented to her at its April volunteer appreciation mixer at Francis Bogside surrounded by other Bigs and BBBS supporters.  Congrats!

If anyone is interested in being a mentor and/or joining the AAMIAC and helping to recruit more mentors of color to be Bigs, call 210-225-6322.

You can read more about James Blair here

Thursday, April 21, 2016

This Thing Called Life

Electric Word, Life 

In 1985 I won a dance contest at the Randolph Air Force Base NCO Club dancing to the song "Let's Go Crazy." Prince was 25 years old. I was 19. "Purple Rain" was, amazingly, Prince's 6th album. My friends and I had never witnessed a musical artist as provocatively entertaining as Prince. Madonna was fresh on the scene that year with her "Like a Virgin" album, but she had yet to push any real boundaries, and besides, Prince was altogether a horse of a different color. We were still giddy with delight over "Little Red Corvette" and the iconic hit title single from his "1999" 5th album, so when "Purple Rain" hit the airwaves we were all ready to go crazy! and get nuts! 

"Let's Go Crazy" was all about living in the moment. After we had partied like it was 1999, Prince reminded us that we're all gonna die, the grim reaper was gonna come knocking at our door, so we'd better live now, and never, ever let the elevator bring you down. Go Crazy. Punch a higher floor.  

It's almost surreal that early reports say he was found unresponsive in an elevator. I hope the after life is all he hoped and dreamed it would be. 

And what's it all for?  Friends. Amazingly, I heard the news that Prince had died while I was sitting around the pool on a trip to see the old friends that I first heard his music with, back in the day. That was unexpectedly special. 

My dance partner that 80's night was a really good friend, Darryl, who went on to be a San Antonio police officer and godfather to my second child. And, true confessions, we really only won 2nd place in that contest, but that's just a boring technicality, and hardly makes for a compelling opening blog post sentence. I remember how surprised I was when the dance contest moderator tapped me on the shoulder and told us to exit the dance floor. I had been so into the music, so consumed by the magic, so transformed by the beat, that in that second I both couldn't imagine not winning and forgot I was even in a contest to begin with. That's what he did to us. Transported us to a better, otherworldly place with his genius. RIP Prince. 

Hang tough children. 

            Me and Darryl in1985

Sunday, April 17, 2016

FBI Tales: Crimes Against Children

My FBI Citizen's Academy Session 2 started off with a joke:

"Did you hear abut the 2 antennaes* that got married?"
"The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent!"

Who knew that FBI Special Agents had such great senses of humor**.  ;) We needed the levity, because the topics of the evening, Civil Rights Violations and Crimes Against Children, were grim. This is my summary: 

The most alarming part of the section on civil rights violations was about Virtual Kidnapping:  The FBI just flat out advises Americans to stay out of Mexico.  Several of my classmates pushed them on this, but the Special Agents were adamant:  "Go somewhere else.  Anywhere else."  Apparently Mexico is the kidnapping capital of the world.  More Americans are kidnapped in Mexico than anywhere else.  And not only can you be actually kidnapped in Mexico, you can also now be "virtually" kidnapped.  This is how it works:  you get a threatening phone call telling you to go to go to another location where you find another cell phone that you're told to use.  I was a little fuzzy on this part, but apparently the "kidnappers" find some kind of leverage over you to make you do this - leave your usual surroundings, stay gone, and wait for their call.  Then they call your loved ones and tell them that they have you.  They tell your loved ones to pay up or they will kill you.  Your loved ones demand "proof of life," and so they conference you in on a 3 way call (clever kidnappers).  This is a win-win for the kidnappers because they still get all of the pay-off (the ransom) and none of the risk, because they don't physically detain or restrain you. Can you say crazy? I guess this means I'm not going to see Teotihuacan anytime soon.

As a parent of  3 daughters and the CEO of a youth serving nonprofit organization, the next topic included some of the most disturbing things I have ever heard in my life, and I read a lot.   I have had to familiarize myself with this topic over the years, but wow, I had no idea of the reach and the proliferation and the accessibility of it.  As if it weren't bad enough, it's getting so much worse. 

Crimes against Children: The FBI warns that child pornography is a fast growing epidemic. "It really is getting worse," said the agent presenting. There are as many as 1 million predators on-line in any given day.   The ages of victimized children is decreasing. The content is expanding:  Infant porn, torture videos, Dear God.  Since 1972 when the Polaroid camera was invented, it has only been getting easier and easier for pedophiles to create and distribute child pornography.  The FBI tracks child porn images all over the country and they showed us how one image can be shared and spread across the country in just 15 minutes***.  Basically, the agent's advice was this:

Never, ever, let your kids go on the Internet.  Ever.  It's just too dangerous.  Too risky.

The most creepy things I heard about - the things I just can't get out of my head -  are these:
  • The 22 year old college student posing as a 14 year old boy who convinced many 9-13 year-old girls to text him over 500 pornographic pics and videos of themselves, and their younger siblings. 
  • The social networking site for teachers who want to have sex with their students whose conversations are protected by the 1st Amendment.  OMG. 
  • The female daycare owner who sent pictures of children in her care to men for money.  OMG.  OMG.  OMG.  
  • Starkids: a group of "Boy Lovers" who have a conference ever year, at Disneyworld, to talk about how to get around law enforcement in order to sexually abuse more young boys.  This group included a decorated air force pilot, ministers, police officers and IT professionals.
  • Richard Fleming, a San Antonio "Boy Lover" who was also retired air force, married with 2 kids, a boy scout leader and a minister who had over 500 explicit images of young boys. During the FBI sting that brought him down he described the "grooming process" he used to gain the trust of the mothers of the boys he molested. 
The growing incidences of crimes against children on line is growing so fast simply because all of our kids are there.  
  • 93% of teens are on-line everyday 
  • 96% of them use social networking sites/apps
  • 75% of teens have smartphones
  • 97% are gaming
  • 725,000 of these kids were aggressively asked for sex on-line
There has been a 2000% increase in child porn over the last 15 years. "Social networking sites are the modern day phone book for child predators, and kids today as young as 9 years old are producing their own child porn to share with a 'friend'." For example, 40% of US teens use the Kik app.  Here are a few Kik social groups recently investigated by the FBI:
  • Young Torture
  • HardCorePedo
  • Young Girls Trade
  • Many others devoted to babies/toddlers

Pretty awful stuff but it helps me stay resolved to keep all the restrictions on my child's electronic devices.  It is an on-going process though because kids are very resourceful at getting around restrictions.  I am really conflicted at the advice to just completely restrict children from the Internet because it doesn't seem realistic.   Several of the stories we heard about involved kids accessing the internet at school.  Also I wouldn't want kids to turn 18 and be unleashed on the internet for the first time.  Like anything else, we need to teach them limits, restraint and appropriate, safe behavior. 

So because the FBI knows that most people will not take that advice ("Never, ever let your kids on the internet"), they provide these safety rules for parents: 
  1. Monitor, monitor, monitor your children's devices - monitoring software is cheap and effective
  2. Take possession of all electronic devices every night at bedtime
  3. Tell your kids to never use social media sites to make friends
  4. Never let them have public profiles
  5. Always activate their privacy settings
  6. Be a friend in your child's networks
  7. Know your children's phone pass-code and site passwords

*is this the correct plural of antennae?  #ohdear
**FBI agents are good looking and funny!
***except in North Dakota for some reason

Friday, April 8, 2016

FBI Tales: Part 2A, the unoffcial session post

I was 15 minutes late for Session 2 of the FBI Citizen's Academy, and I went through security wearing my new Apple watch, which was probably against the rules.  But I got there in time to hear the very end of this discussion: 

"The Chinese are cleaning our clocks in the cyber-world, as well as commercially."   Oh dear. 

...and the beginning of this discussion:

"Honesty, or candor, is highly valued in the Bureau."

I couldn't help thinking about Nero Wolfe.   I probably read the "The Doorbell Rang," a Rex Stout "Nero Wolfe" mystery story at least 20 times as an impressionable teenagerIt was one of the 46 NW stories that inspired my lifelong love of the canon. Central to its plot was a real life book called "The FBI Nobody Knows," a controversial and very unflattering portrayal of the FBI, its director (J Edgar Hoover) and its agents. The book was considered to be a credible expose of all of the many unethical practices of the Bureau.  I read it as soon as I could get my hands on it (in my twenties).  Of course, this is the only book about the FBI I have ever read and hardly qualifies me as an expert.  But impressions cemented in the heart and mind of a teenager are hard to shake.

In the "Doorbell" fiction novel, a client hires Wolfe, a private detective, to stop the FBI from harassing her because she  has mailed 10,000 copies of the FBI book to important people across the US.  Despite his declaration that the job is "preposterous," Wolfe takes it on, and what follows is a delightful tale in which the Man bests the Establishment, in the (to-my-young-eyes) antique and charming 1960's.

I've been skeptical of any law enforcement professions of "honesty" ever since, despite a family filled with law enforcement professionals including a father and brother in the US Marshals.  What can I say?   It wasn't only this Nero Wolfe book that generated my perspective.  Nero and his obstreperous assistant, Archie Goodwin, both demonstrated a robust distrust of cops' behavior in general.  I learned all about citizen's rights from these books. 

I'm sure things are different in Today's FBI.  The Big Brother who nominated me for the Citizen's Academy is a straight up awesome guy.  Everyone I have met at the Academy has been friendly, intelligent, funny and (can I say?) really good looking.  These people also all have great presentation skills. They are loyal, conscientious and hard working.  They really seem to like and support each other.  They use words like "knuckle-head" and "hog-wash" to describe bad people and bad behavior, and the worst language I've heard them use is to describe a drunk and disorderly female as acting like a bit of a "bee-atch."  To my now 50 year old eyes and ears, I guess that's kind of antique, and charming.  ;)

Stay tuned for FBI Tales: Part 2B on Crimes Against Children. 

White House partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters for "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work" Day on April 28

The White House has asked Big Brothers Big Sisters to be a part of the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day initiative on April 28, 2016!  Each year, more than 3.5 million American workplaces open their doors to over 37 million employees and their children on this special day.  We are honored to be asked to be part of something so purposeful and worthwhile in South Texas. 

This year, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are focused on ensuring that all youth, regardless of whether they have a parent who can take them to their workplace, have an opportunity to experience the working world.  You can view this video of the President last year expressing his support for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day and the organizations partnering to make it successful. 
Locally, Big Brothers Big Sisters is encouraging all mentors across the city to invite their students to come to work with them on April 28.  Additionally, we would love for them to take handheld pictures and videos of their experiences for us to post on our social media.
To help prepare all mentors for a successful day at work with their students, the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day organization has prepared a Toolkit with everything a mentor needs to know as they prepare to share this experience with their student.

Friday, April 1, 2016

FBI Tales - Part 1

I do a lot of community relations stuff in my job, but I can tell that this latest project, my acceptance into the FBI Citizen's Academy, is going to be a horse of a totally different color.  I've spent the last 4 or 5 years really engaged in the education community, so most of my community relations work has been with our education partners.  Kids in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program struggle academically, and I have developed a much deeper understanding of why and how we can help through these partners.  (Basically, that question boils down to data - how much we need and and how hard it is to get it, but that's another blog post for the future).  

Our kids struggle with law enforcement as well.  I have experienced this personally with my own Little Brother, Christian, who developed a very adversarial opinion of law enforcement that has  continuously been getting him into trouble recently.  A former Big Brother (and FBI agent) approached me a few months ago about the FBI Citizen's Academy and asked me if I was interested in being nominated.  I said yes, applied, and the next thing I knew I was being fingerprinted.  Class started last night, with a session on Cybercrime.

The first thing I have to say about this experience is that I had to go dark.  No phones are allowed in the FBI building.  They made me leave my Fitbit in the car.  Oh dear.  If I am going to engage in a community relations activity in my role as CEO of BBBS, generally I am going to social media the heck out of it.  That's half the reason for doing it.  But no.  So for three hours I heard all these cool (and creepy) things, and couldn't tweet any of it!   The Horror!

Hence this blog post.  I have to say a few words about who is in the class.  There are 37 of us and I already knew only one classmate (an education partner from SAISD).  That is a huge bonus because as much as I love seeing the usual suspects at every meeting I go to, I also love to meet new people with the potential to be useful to Big Brothers Big Sisters (cause everyone can be, just ask me how).  The group is very diverse professionally.  There are people in banking, insurance, security, entertainment, real estate, media, sports, travel, medical, faith based, marketing and a lot of former military personnel.  There was even an Afghan linguist and a "Turkey Fryer" (one classmate's colorful description of a restaurateur).  The class is less diverse in gender:  I think there were 9 or 10 women, which makes sense because I imagine the FBI is male dominated and Academy candidates are recommended by current FBI, such as the Special Agent who recruited me (props to him for recruiting a female participant!).

After a mercifully brief lesson on the history and structure of the FBI, and a pitch from the Academy Alumni Membership Chair (already!), during which time I was maddeningly unable to tweet or google, we got down to Cyber-business.  Here are some real world examples of the cyber-crimes that I am now alarmed about (and you should be too!) They are just a few examples and hackers have hundreds of other similar techniques to cyber-attack you: 
  • Ransom-wear:  You open an email from your boss with a link to a survey she asks you to take.  You click on it and it goes nowhere.  You shrug.  Later your whole company's system goes down.  Your boss gets an email telling her to pay up and she will get all her company's  data back.  It's not that huge of an amount of money, so she pays because that's the lesser of two evils between the loss of productivity while she tries to get the company's data back for months and being blackmailed.  You never get another raise or promotion.
  • SWAT-ING: You love video games and you are  blissfully sitting on your living room couch gaming when your front door is kicked in and men with guns swarm into your house.  You're  snatched off the couch and thrown to the floor, a knee thrust into the middle of your back.  Everyone is yelling.  You have no idea what is happening.  Hopefully that is all that happens before the men, FBI agents, figure out that they have been "SWAT'ed."  They broke into your home following a distress call that you were inside with a gun about to kill your wife.  The caller was probably a 14 or 15 year old bored hacker who clearly could use a Big Brother. 
  • PHISHING:  You are at a community fair and someone gives you a thumb drive.  Unbeknownst to you, this is an evil thumb drive.  When you plug it into your computer it gains control on the back end and finds all your usernames and passwords and steals money from your bank.  Then, just for fun, it turns on your webcam and watches you.   
  •  Scare-wear:  A "virus-protection" box pops up on your computer saying you have a virus and to click the button to clean it up.  You click and unleash the actual virus.  Or, it's late at night and you're surfing the web in the dark and a voice comes out of your computer speaker and calls you by name.  It's another bored evil creepy hacker.  Muhahahaha
Fun stuff, right?  Here is a list of things I still don't understand after a 3 hour class last night and reading the Time magazine article on the FBI/Apple situation on a recent 1 1/2 hour flight:

1. Encryption
2. Bitcoin
3. Coding 

This class is every Thursday night and next week's topic is "Crimes Against Children."  It's probably a good thing I will be social media dark for that one.  Stay tuned for FBI Tales Part 2 next week.