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Feds Pay Millions For Bogus Spy Software 221

Posted by Soulskill
from the show-of-hands-who-is-surprised dept.
gosuperninja writes "The US Government paid tens of millions of dollars to Dennis Montgomery because he said he had created software that could decode secret Al-Qaeda messages embedded in Al-Jazeera broadcasts. Even though the CIA figured out that his software was fraud in 2003, other defense agencies continued to believe in it. To date, the government has not prosecuted Montgomery, most likely to save itself the embarrassment."
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Feds Pay Millions For Bogus Spy Software

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  • by intellitech (1912116) * on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:14AM (#35259280)

    Mr. Montgomery is about to go on trial in Las Vegas on unrelated charges of trying to pass $1.8 million in bad checks at casinos.

    I'd say he has more than a "penchant" for gambling, it sounds like this guy genuinely has a problem.

    Gambling issue aside, the sad thing regarding his behavior is that it's probably more commonplace than we're aware of. After 9/11, government officials were and still are under serious pressure to produce results, and often all too eager to sign a few papers here and there if it would magically solve their problems. The government trying to save face is merely a symptom, and should be treated as such. The only things I can think of that would discourage this behavior is active prevention through transparency and follow-up enforcement when that fails. One way or another, these charades must not be allowed to continue. I'm sure there's a lot more where that came from which fell into the well along the way, and it's going to add up. After all, it is the taxpayer that will shoulder the weight of these transactions.

    • by causality (777677) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:35AM (#35259374)

      The government trying to save face is merely a symptom, and should be treated as such.

      It certainly does make them look stupid when they're supposed to be protecting us from a big, determined, ruthless threat like Al-Qaeda and it ends up that they can't even protect themselves from simple fraud. It makes them look unnecessary, too, and that's the part they can't stand. It's the sort of thing that can make the political pressures no longer operate in their favor. Until this event they had the whole "be afraid!" thing working well for them.

       

      The only things I can think of that would discourage this behavior is active prevention through transparency and follow-up enforcement when that fails.

      In any kind of merit-based organization that would mean firing and replacing every decision-maker who chose to invest in this software. That's how they could regain credibility, by showing that they won't tolerate such gross incompetence within their ranks. Otherwise the question remains valid: how do they propose to protect the entire country from shadowy underground terrorist organizations bent on our destruction if they cannot even protect themselves from a common con-man?

      • by Takichi (1053302) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:51AM (#35259434)
        This all happened way back in the early GW Bush administration. It's unclear how many of these guys are still around. The article is definitely worth a read. There was talk of shooting down passenger aircraft over some of the "intelligence" gathered by his software (ok, so it wasn't really considered, but the fact it was suggested at all is alarming). In regards to firing the people responsible, FTA:

        The C.I.A. never did an assessment to determine how a ruse had turned into a full-blown international incident, officials said, nor was anyone held accountable. In fact, agency officials who oversaw the technology directorate — including Donald Kerr, who helped persuade George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, that the software was credible — were promoted, former officials said.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Doh! Should have finished reading the entire article before posting. This went on with contracts being awarded up until the Obama administration, with people likely still around who made some of the decisions.
    • by bcmm (768152) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @09:43AM (#35259624)
      This is another tech story which doesn't really involve tech: humans can get paid a lot to tell people what they want to hear too. Feds would really like to believe that Al-Jazeera is somehow connected to terrorism, even though it's a preposterous idea, and they're happy to pay someone for that information so they don't look like frauds themselves.
    • by timeOday (582209)

      "$1.8 million in bad checks at casinos...." I'd say he has more than a "penchant" for gambling, it sounds like this guy genuinely has a problem.

      And the previous sentence, "Mr. Montgomery, 57, who is in bankruptcy and living outside Palm Springs, Calif..."

      Whatever his cut of the $20 million the government paid, he evidently didn't make good use of.

    • by osgeek (239988)

      Even before 9/11, they were blowing money on thousand dollar toilet seats and quackery like divining rods to locate land mines.

      They're children and need close supervision. As much as I hate taxes and government spending, we need to spend more money on oversight. They need to be watched like hawks.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by BoberFett (127537)

        How about just not giving them so much money to begin with? The US government is a child who spends who entire allowance, and rather than figuring how to spend it more wisely just takes more money from his parents wallets.

  • If we have this solid evidence, file suit against the government for criminal negligence. Do something that will force them to lay punishment down on the lying son of a bitch.

    • by causality (777677)

      If we have this solid evidence, file suit against the government for criminal negligence. Do something that will force them to lay punishment down on the lying son of a bitch.

      If they have a mind to prosecute him, then he may just discover that at least some of the time, Uncle Sam will spend ten million dollars to get his five cents back.

    • > file suit against the government for criminal negligence

      You can only file suit against the government (and win) when they consent to be sued in plain language in the law. The most common case where they do that is section 1983 claims; section 1983 of part of the United States Code lets you sue the government for violating your Constitutional rights. I am unaware of any sovereign immunity waivers that apply in this situation. It's not like you have a Constitutional right to have the government not be

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:22AM (#35259316)

    When the message decoded to "There's a sucker born every minute."

  • Embarrassment? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:36AM (#35259382)

    This kind of hoaxes happens all the time. Check out Quadro Tracker [wikipedia.org] and friends...

    • by couchslug (175151)

      They will continue to happen unless and until people selling bogus software to the government are prosecuted for sabotage.

      The problem is the inequitable justice system fails to inflict enough pain on white collar criminals to deter them, yet inflicts so much on those of lower social class they are often ruined and made worse.

  • by Rick Zeman (15628) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:49AM (#35259426)

    I realize this is winter..but must we go on with the repeats?" [slashdot.org]

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @10:07AM (#35259734) Homepage

      I realize this is winter..but must we go on with the repeats?" [slashdot.org]

      It's a bit more interesting than that. This guy had been outed two years ago. The Federal government, instead of just admitting it got screwed, decided to toss the whole incident under the rug and declare it a secret. This is even more outrageous than the initial fraud and incompetence. Using secrecy as an excuse for incompetence is nothing new, however it is such a serious issue that it needs to be brought up every time it's discovered.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2011 @08:51AM (#35259438)

    I worked at one of the 'Agenices' and during my time there (in the last 3 years) I worked with a similar fellow. He was introduced to me as this utter genius. An independant subcontractor who, with his never seen friend, had come up with a software solution that could allow their laptop to snoop on any Internet traffic, anywhere in the world at any time...instantly. "It sees everything, you just look at the part that interests you", he explained to me. Sort of like a machine running Wireshark with the NIC in PROM mode, but for the entire Internet. No one in the Gov questioned him. No a single soul. He was a contractor (like myself) and was being paid so much that he was given two billets to cover the cost. So I sat through his presentation and immediately threw a BS flag. He flipped out, stormed out and no one knew what to do. I did my best to explain the facts that made his claims impossible. I asked the room if they'd ever tested his system in a real world environment. "Call your wife, have her get online and tell her what's going on. Then have Peter look at her traffic". After about a half-hour, they started to realize what had happened, you could see it on their faces. Thing is, this guy had been paid millions in funding a salary. I don't think his business partner ever existed. What did they do about it? Nothing. You see, in order to go after him, they'd look foolish. Not going to happen. Not in the Intel community.

    • the grand budget axe will fall on these agencies and they'll *have* to act. I just wonder how many times they have to be spanked by these frauds before they feel the pain...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by roman_mir (125474)

      if your story is remotely true, then you are an idiot.

      You could have made millions on this - everybody is in on the game, so are you holier than the rest of them?

      You should have approached this fella privately and 'sold' him a module to his application that would also provide ability to track all GPS systems installed in all cars/other vehicles with just a few simple clicks.

      If/when he would have told you: "BS/impossible", you could have just point back at him and winÐ and said something like - "not les

      • by Fnkmaster (89084)

        By committing fraud against the US government, with the hopes that it wouldn't catch up to him? Yeah, that's brilliant. The guy in the story here is luckily the CIA didn't take care of business properly to cover up this little fuckup. Why would you want to aspire to that? I know it may be hard for you to wrap your brain around, but it's not so hard to make the kind of money you are describing without committing massive fraud, and you actually get to enjoy the fruits of your labor without ending up in ja

        • by roman_mir (125474)

          Oh, please, stop the drama.

          As long as you do it BIG ENOUGH [salon.com] you not only do not get 'caught' (wtf?) but you get tens or more BILLIONS of dollars and gov't "thank you"s, not jail. Jail is so 'early last century', it doesn't happen for defrauding government anymore.

          What's 'defrauding' anyway? Who cares today if you steal some money that the Fed prints? Nobody cares. US is destroying its currency with all that printing - nobody is going to jail for that one, and that will end up taking down the entire econom

      • To some people, integrity is worth more than money. I wouldn't have done that for a billion dollars. I can earn enough money to cover my needs, and living the rest of my life hating myself wouldn't be worth it.
      • by sjames (1099)

        Some people have ethics.

  • AJ (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ender_Wiggin (180793) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @09:06AM (#35259490)

    What's pretty disturbing is that the government is so gullible over such a lie that's ridiculous on its face. Really, secret messages from Al Qaeda in Al Jazeera? Why not hidden messages from Al Qaeda on MTV or CNN? That would be just as plausible.

    I'm still mystified by how much neocons despise the channel. No wonder Bush planned to bomb Al Jazeera [harpers.org], he was so quick to jump onto the false notion. Never mind that Al Qaeda hates Al Jazeera [foxnews.com] and has done so for years (AQ supporters call it "Al-Khinzeera," which means The Pig)

    • Re:AJ (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @09:28AM (#35259574)
      I've actually found Al Jazeera reporting to be much better than most American news sources. The Al Jazeera articles are usually well written, don't have sensationalist headlines, and you don't have to sift through all the latest celebrity crap. And the bias is nowhere near as blatant and pervasive as CNN, Fox News, and the like. I can't comment too much on the Arabic version however, as my Arabic is nowhere near good enough for that yet.
      • I The Al Jazeera articles are usually well written, don't have sensationalist headlines, and you don't have to sift through all the latest celebrity crap.

        all the latest celebrity crap

        Add me to the list!

        Me, too!

      • Re:AJ (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @10:09AM (#35259746) Homepage

        That's the thing, don't you see? That their agenda is not incredibly obvious, that they're not spouting hate and misinformation every 10 microseconds. The US govt can't help but think they're hiding something. Any self-respecting news outlet should be biased and trollish on the edges!

      • I've actually found Al Jazeera reporting to be much better than most American news sources. The Al Jazeera articles are usually well written, don't have sensationalist headlines, and you don't have to sift through all the latest celebrity crap.

        Then how am I supposed to know which article to click on with headlines like "Charlie Sheen's Porn Stars Save Egypt's Treasures From Lindsey Lohan's 'Shopping Spree' "?

    • by timeOday (582209)

      Really, secret messages from Al Qaeda in Al Jazeera? Why not hidden messages from Al Qaeda on MTV or CNN? That would be just as plausible.

      They were worried about those, too. Even now, and especially back then [schneier.com], there was great reluctance to rebroadcast any terrorist video for fear it would contain hidden signals, such as a "go code" or somesuch (steganography). If you were worried about that, Al Jazeera would be the biggest threat vector simply because they normally get the scoop on terrorist videos.

      • For all but the simplest messages(ie. time-based triggers for instructions previously communicated by some other channel, or very rough information transfer) TV seems like a pretty awful medium. Most of the really fun stegonography can't be performed by humans, and may or may not survive ADC(or one of the not-always-predictable transfer and/or compression steps that can occur as your source video goes through the TV process on its way to the viewer). That seriously limits your bandwidth. So too does the nee
      • Re:AJ (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.v ... x.com minus berr> on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:47PM (#35260912) Homepage

        They were worried about those, too.

        This is because they are goddamn stupid morons. I don't know why we have to pretend that their worry makes any sense.

        If all terrorists need is a signal, there are dozens of ways to set that up without bothering with news media.

        Stick a specific post on a well-read bboard or something. In fact, have a dozen places that such a thing gets posted.

        Or, better, post on usenet...it's utterly impossible to monitor people who read a specific post, as it's on a thousand different servers, and people usually download entire groups at once. I can just imagine how that works: 'Well, we caught one guy, and he says he was instructed to search everyday his usenet client for the string '39457295' in alt.tv.lost, and read codewords in that post as a trigger. We better...uh...check the thousands of servers that carry them for the IPs of tens thousands of people who download that group, and then look up their IPs.' Yeah, that sounds like a workable plan to find the other terrorists.

        And this is _without_ any specialized software that can decode messages hidden in files.

        Or just run a fricking classified ad, like spies used to do decades ago. (Although pretty soon 'buying a newspaper' will be suspicious in and of itself.)

        At some point, we really need to start back up on the whole eugenics thing. People who think 'Recording a message that is blatantly from terrorists is a good way to pass messages _to_ terrorists', as opposed to the literally millions of other ways to get messages to sleeper agents, none of which require them carefully watching obviously terrorist-produced video (Which is somewhat suspicious)...well, they need to be castrated and thus removed from the gene pool. (Or, alternately, if we could somehow figure out how to get them to be, or at least mate with, terrorists...)

  • More than ever, especially at the government level?

    With closed source, they just get magical black boxes that somehow work (or not, in this case), without actually understanding what it does. Unless they want to spend more money reverse engineering the whole thing.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @09:48AM (#35259650)
    This month, our government has proposed a budget in which we confess that we're so fucking poor that we cannot afford to subsidize nutritional supplements for babies born with low birth weight. And yet there seems to be a whole parallel word of government, where insane shit like this must still look insane, but fuck it, we'll fund it anyway, because we're rich and we don't give a fuck. I mean seriously, who could possibly make the decision "Yeah, that's worth paying for" when they hear a sales pitch like this? Only an organization that's so flush with money that they're experimenting with using it for toilet paper. It's a little shocking, given the nature of all the sacrifices the government is forcing on normal people.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wonder why we are so poor?
      FTA: "A Pentagon study in January found that it had paid $285 billion in three years to more than 120 contractors accused of fraud or wrongdoing. "

    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      Why in the world would the government have to subsidize that? Did vitamins become a rare and precious commodity when I wasn't looking?

      Here's an idea, just because the government has money, doesn't mean it should be paying for things you can easily pay for yourself,

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @12:35PM (#35260462) Journal
        Given the assorted delightful cognitive deficiencies associated with malnutrition in infancy and childhood, there is a strong argument to be made that such a policy is simply pragmatic(even if one has no ethical qualms with letting children suffer for their parents' positions).

        Nutritional adequacy is cheap, a cognitively dysfunctional underclass is not...
      • by sjames (1099)

        Let them eat cake?

        Some people don't actually have money spraying out of their asses.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why in the world would the government have to subsidize that? Did vitamins become a rare and precious commodity when I wasn't looking?

        Here's an idea, just because the government has money, doesn't mean it should be paying for things you can easily pay for yourself,

        You Sir, are a selfish ignorant. They will die or be handicapped for the rest of their life without it. It is not about just about vitamins, they need food with a high energy content, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, salts, you name it, and it have to be the right balance, it has to be tasty and when the child become older it must provide a variety of flavours. Low birth weight children usually have an underdeveloped digestive system at birth, they may not even be able to process "cheap" source

    • It's a little shocking, given the nature of all the sacrifices the government is forcing on normal people.

      It's things like this that make me feel like a schmuck for being an honest guy and paying my taxes. Way to grab the ordinary working guy by the nose and kick him in the ass government, whatever would we do without you?

  • by danceswithtrees (968154) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @10:22AM (#35259814)

    Yet another way to waste money in the fight against terror.

    This one sunk $85M on a bogus bomb detector used widely in Iraq until its export was banned-- ie demand for it was still present and they wanted to continue importing into Iraq! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8471187.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    Airport body imagers, duct tape and plastic wrap... Is there no end?

  • Twenty mil would buy a lot of Slashbeer and Firehose accounts. Come on, someone, get onto it!
  • Business Plan (Score:4, Informative)

    by iluvcapra (782887) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @11:08AM (#35260030)
    • Fill Markov-chain based language generator with Osama bin Laden transcripts, Koran verses, Mein Kampf and the works of Robert Ludlum
    • Load onto Arduino
    • Place Arduino into box with LCD display on one side and large parabolic antenna on other.
    • ???
    • Profit
  • So if the CIA found out they were hokey, why didn't they get booted off of the GSA schedule, or the spook equivalent?
  • There are a lot of people doing research (defense or anything) who honestly believe their work is real and practical despite fundamental impossibilities. Some of these results end up with glowing reviews here on Slashdot.

    In highly technical fields, it's really easy to push BS past just about anyone, even other specialists in your field. The best con artists in science honestly believe their research is real. They run entire companies or research centers. They push their employees extremely hard for posi

  • So if they don't prosecute now, then it has nothing to do with saving themselves embarrassment at all.

    It's almost refreshing to think that apathy may still be alive and well and working within today's governing bodies.

  • by bkmoore (1910118) on Sunday February 20, 2011 @12:55PM (#35260568)
    I read this article and I have to wonder...the CIA and Air Force believed at some point that his software could detect a black blob as a terrorist from a black blob who's not a terrorist, off of a UAV video feed. So did they incorporate this into their Rules of Engagement (ROE) at some point and actually declare anyone hostile based on feedback from his software? Because if this is the case, then this guy is probably guilty of more than just ripping the government off. If the government admits to wrongfully killing someone based on bogus software, then who is liable and at what level? On another note, he claimed he could decipher hidden messages in Al Jazeera broadcasts. For this to be correct, Al Jazeera would have to be providing some form of communication services for Al Queda. Did anyone believe there was a link? And if this were the case, why would Al Queda telegraph their plans on an open channel given the more secure alternatives. It pretty much fails the common sense test. Oh well... More government buffoonery for our general entertainment.
    • It's only "common sense" because you have some technical understanding of the issues involved. To anyone else, it's "magic".
    • .the CIA and Air Force believed at some point that his software could detect a black blob as a terrorist from a black blob who's not a terrorist, off of a UAV video feed. So did they incorporate this into their Rules of Engagement (ROE) at some point and actually declare anyone hostile based on feedback from his software? Because if this is the case, then this guy is probably guilty of more than just ripping the government off. If the government admits to wrongfully killing someone based on bogus software, then who is liable and at what level?

      There is a whole industry of people who sell solutions to determine terrorist blobs from non-terrorist blobs. Most are careful to stay in the gray area of lying by selective emphasis and omission, and "not every line of cutting edge research works out perfectly". Everyone else is doing it so it can't be wrong, right? The guys in the government who provide the money don't even care if the stuff works, because they're just there to climb the GS scale, pad their resumes, and cultivate connections that will

  • by The Wild Norseman (1404891) <<tw.norseman> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday February 20, 2011 @01:18PM (#35260710)

    Guy passing bogus checks to casinos: One point eight million dollars.

    Guy defrauds US government: Tens of millions of dollars.

    Seeing Guy hanged for treason alongside idiotic government bureaucrats who helped perpetrate this boondoggle: priceless

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