“Writing what you wished was the most dangerous form of wishful thinking.”
One night, way past midnight, I was sitting on my bed – wide awake – wondering why by any stretch of imagination the highest ranked officer of the US Army – dismissed from his duties (“retired”) after Benghazi attack – would’ve wanted to make an acquaintance WITH ME via one of the social media platforms. Especially, considering my lineage to the former Communist system, knowledge of Russian, countless visits to Moscow, degree from NYU in political science, and dual citizenship – not to mention a made up last name, which I took straight from the movie: “Double Jeopardy.” Somehow at the time of my last divorce, it seemed like a brilliant idea. With such a portfolio, I could’ve replaced Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt – a Russian Spy – in a real life scenario. Which is exactly why, I saw no reasonable explanation as to: why someone with his status would choose someone like ME? An outspoken walking “felon” with controversial past and strong opinions on political issues. But then, there is no fire without a spark, and step-by-step I managed to connect all dots.
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Cyberspace – in case you, my readers, didn’t notice – is a deep black hole where everyone including You, FBI, CIA, ISIS recruiters, Russian Intelligence and Chinese hackers, your friends and your enemies and everyone else in the whole world with an access to the Internet, including a Bedouin traveling on his camel through Sahara desert, do exactly the same thing – share and gather information. It makes the Cyberspace just another booby trap – a gigantic storage for infinitive amount of data. Including your own. Therefore, unless you abandon social media forever and stop using Internet under your name, resort to using random computers at various libraries under different accounts or Internet Café’s so popular in Europe and none-existent in the US (which makes you wonder why?), destroy all your credit cards, bank accounts and cancel all your memberships, stop working and collecting social security, never travel by airplane and pay cash at the tolls – transforming yourself into Jack Reacher’s character played by Tom Cruise – unless you give up on all of the above, every minute of your life you are actively sharing all your personal information with everyone in the Cyberspace. And you never know when a small piece of that information will turn against you.
I am probably already on FBI’s watch list for attempting to dig out information about classified materials, for trying to learn how to build a bomb, where and how to purchase guns in different states, how to cross to Syria from Turkey, and for surfing the Department of State’s website for all available materials that serve my studies from Benghazi Reports to Human Trafficking. I am not the average girl next door and I am not going to apologize for it. I have no interest in reading gossip magazines and I don’t have cable TV to watch shows that lower my IQ level. I spend my free time hiking, traveling the world or working on my research, seeking answers and explanations to important issues like terrorism and fighting radicalization … And my biggest dream is not to find another Mr. Wrong, but to join one of Peter R. Neumann’s teams, the ICSR in London or the Institute for Strategy Dialogue in DC, as one of his researchers (which is as realistic as purchasing First Class ticket to the Moon 🙂 ). But, then maybe being born in a deep Communism and traveling to various parts of the world, which broadened my horizons, gives me a different perspective on what is important in life, taking my focus away from myself and concentrating on important world’s issues. And more and more often my curiosity seems to be paying off by … getting me in more trouble. But, let’s start from the beginning.
- What the hell is wrong with those guys! – I though out loud when I received another few Friend’s requests on FB from a bunch of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
It felt like a plague that intensified each time around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wouldn’t even dare to compare myself to WWII Pin-up girls like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and many other gorgeous women, but the amount of requests I started receiving, made me wonder, if Alicia Devero didn’t become one of them … a Pin-up Girl of a much lesser fame and beauty 🙂 . And I couldn’t figure out whether I should find this fact disturbing or should I be proud of myself for supporting American troops in the Middle East … although I tried very hard NOT to imagine what emotions could bring my masculine picture on FB posing as James Bond in tuxedo 🙂 In the end I decided I won’t lose my sleep over those invitations hoping that Beyoncé receives her fair share, taking the “responsibility” off my shoulders and I religiously deleted all of them, which later turned out to be a huge mistake. They would keep on coming at random, but all of them shared the same faith as their predecessors. Until one day …
About two years ago, when I visited my dear friend Maria in Monaco, she has convinced me to sign up for the InterNations organization that unites foreigners in various cities all over the world. So upon my arrival in New York, I have signed up for www.internations.org , limiting my activity to checking invitations to various events in the city that would come via e-mail. Occasionally I would check my profile to delete invitations from guys who wanted to make an acquaintance. In reality it looked like a makeover of match.com with a new, non-profit look 🙂 …
In the meantime, at the end of last year, after discovering Peter R. Neumann and concentrating on reading his book on Al-Qaeda, followed by various publications on the similar topic, some time in June, I came across a few fascinating articles about Women in Jihad and their role in building the Islamic State. I am a feminist, in case someone didn’t notice it yet 🙂 and women’s issues are naturally close to my heart. So after reading Becoming Mulan prepared by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue I decided to experiment with the website that Muslim Women in Western countries use to communicate in order to obtain information on variety of topics including how to cross the border to Syria. I already knew how to do it, but I was wondering what are other options. I signed up to www.ask.fm under fake identity and I posted my question. Unfortunately, the website is designed in such a way, that allows the new member to communicate with others, if she already knows someone, which expands her chance for communication and exchange of information. I got quickly discouraged, and I didn’t pursue any further a bit intimidated by the boldness of my idea.
Coincidentally, a few days later, checking my profile on InterNations website, I found another message from a man who looked like a highly ranked officer of the US Army. His profile’s name was misspelled and it suggested that he was based in Afghanistan. I found it infuriating that I had to deal with such a nonsense outside of Facebook and being the usual me and acting on impulse I fired back to him a message asking, if soldiers in Afghanistan have to much time on their hands that they have to search internet to find someone to chat with. The next morning, very intrigued I checked my profile. I found a new message in my mailbox, which left no doubts in my mind that it has been written by someone who doesn’t speak English. I deleted our entire communication only to find the next day another inquiry from the same man. Now, whoever it was – he really pissed me off. I took a picture of his account and I cancelled my membership on InterNations. I decided I don’t have time to deal with nonsense. I think handling Facebook account is a hard enough labor to even bother with maintaining other websites.
A few days passed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the guy in the picture. No, I was not even remotely infatuated with him – I just couldn’t believe that someone with that rank would jeopardize his status engaging in on line games. Yes, of the top of my head I could come up with at least five names of politicians, who have ruined their careers, in recent years, over their “uncontrollable desires”, but something was telling me that this is a completely different case. It looked more like someone has stolen his identity to allure me into the conversation, considering my recent interest in issues related to the Middle East. So being me, I decided to take my best shot and Google him. Not knowing his real name, his profile name was obviously fake, I placed my bet on the decorated US Army Generals. And here he came in his full glory making me so proud of my intelligence 🙂 From a screen of my MacBook Pro was looking at me General Carter Ham who “retired” after Benghazi attack . (No one retires voluntarily when the shit hits the fan 🙂 ). But, at the same time my sudden discovery gave me chills. Am I playing with the fire attracting attention of those I am chasing after or is it a pure coincident?
I got over my discovery; I reported it dutifully to a “certain” organization trying NOT to think too much about the fact that I maybe taken for an idiot. After all it is different when you get bunch of invitations from little nobodies and it is different when someone in the Middle East tries to make a contact with you using a profile of the US Army General. But, knowing that I won’t find answers to those questions working on my own, I moved on continuing my research study.
Until today, when I received another Friend request – this time on Facebook from another soldier in Afghanistan. I shared this information with my friend treating it like just another joke, until she suggested that there were a few articles about fake accounts on FB. I have never thought about it, so, I went back to my computer, checked the profile, scrolled down and I gasped for air.
- OMG! – was all I could say at that moment. Another US Army general stationed in Afghanistan. I guess I should be happy that whoever is playing this game with me realizes that I play only in the top league 🙂
But, in all seriousness the situation is not funny any more. Using the same search engine as in previous case, my newest admirer turned out to be – also retired – the US Army General John Abizaid . His account on FB, under the name of Farnk Dasmond was created this morning Asian time on Tuesday at 6:40 am, while right now in New York it is 11:29 pm, Monday, November 21, 2016. Considering I discovered that message roughly between 4:00-5:00 pm, gives the following results:
- Bangkok : 6:40 am – 12h difference – 6:40 pm (too late)
- Bejing: 6:40 am – 13h difference – 5:40 pm (possible)
- Tokyo: 6:40 am – 14h difference – 4:40 pm (possible)
This information alone excludes any possibility of dealing with a joker from the US or Europe (unless there is a way to manipulate time of the new post on FB). I also purposely didn’t use the term Middle Eastern because at 6:40 am Kabul time it would be 9:10 pm in NY – which was way past my discovery. That information alone puts me in the Time zone somewhere between Beijing and Tokyo, which consist of all countries in between that territory including the most remote part of Russia with Kamchatka (a home to Russian military base that causes Americans a real headache and the location of Putin’s Red October), both Koreas plus Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Australia. So summarizing, the person who created this account, who clearly speaks using broken English, woke up on Tuesday morning with a sudden epiphany moment and decided to create an account for Farnk Desmond. Then, he or she chose a profile picture of yet another General for my collection, which makes me wonder why not Austin Powers for a kick? And to what do I owe a pleasure of becoming his potentially first FB friend?
I know. It is not funny any more, especially that InterNation’s account that I cancelled at the end of June 2016 after the ‘incident” with General Carter Ham followed by a contact from another General four months later linked by the same status and location cannot be considered a coincident any more. The only downside to my research is that I have never, not even once, accepted any of those invitations coming in the past year nor have I cross-checked them for authenticity. If I did, I might have had better answers, but being a control freak who is very careful about granting strangers an access to my “circle of friends’ I will never find out what is the purpose of those invitations and whether they are all linked to the same person. But I know one thing for sure, playing politicks has never been a safe game. Seeking truth and trying to find answers to some important issues in such a diverse world is always challenging. Will I give up now? Absolutely not! But I guess a quote: Pen is mightier than the sward, makes a perfect sense.
I hope that it is nothing more, than an imaginary “whistleblower” so lets focus now on my thesis posted at the very beginning of this article: the danger that comes at a very high price by engaging in a variety of activities on the Internet. We may want to think that our information stored on the Internet is safe, but it is not. Everything that is deleted can be retrieved, accounts can be linked, profiles hacked, identities stolen, your daily routine can be traced down to the minute by accessing your phone account, linking it with your iPod and your computer, checking credit cards statements, E-Zee Pass entries, FB posts etc. Your life – even if you are very careful – in the era of the Internet, is like an open book. And if you think about it, if the information about the high ranked Generals of the US Army can be so easily used, over and over again, without the government taking steps to protect those people – then we, little nobodies, are extremely vulnerable against any forms of Cyber Attack. And most of all, maintaining privacy seems to be a luxury nobody can any longer afford.
For your own entertainment I have attached a very interesting report on Internet Security Threats in 2016. Very educational and an eye opening material. Especially Chapter on p.27 on Social Engineering and Exploiting Individual: “Trust No One.” 🙂
Alicja aka Salt
On the second thought, if I let my imagination go loose, with help of Stephen King or James Rollins, and the amount of information I have already collected, I could probably write a script for a political thriller and sell the rights to my own movie “The Ring of Fire” – maybe another Mission Impossible episode with Tom Cruise 🙂
… Carolyn Stone –born behind the Iron Curtain didn’t have to study to learn history – she was witnessing it in its making. After the fall of Communism Carolyn moves to NY where she obtains her degree in political science. After the divorce she changes her name, moves to Alexandria, VA to pursue her career in research. With her strong background and knowledge of Russian – she is offered a job at one of the research institutes focused on the issues related to the Middle East. At home however, she runs her own private research, engaging in dangerous games. Using her Middle Eastern contacts she attempts to trace down – via on-line communication – accounts leading to North Koran operation aiming at the gigantic Cyber Attack focused on paralyzing all Nuclear Systems around the world. As she is getting closer to discovering the timeline for the attack and the real players behind the operation, as she is walking down Cameron Street towards Torpedo Factory Art Center for the art exhibition of one of her friends, she suddenly disappears. Carolyn wakes up at the Russian secret military base in Kamchatka that causes the US to spend enormous resources on probing Kamchatka’s air defense system, which constitutes a serous threat to the US National Security. With a help of modern technology (hmm … a chip in her head I guess since Russian scientists are really good at experimenting on prisoners in their secret Laboratory X) she is trained to continue her work for Russians. The chip makes it impossible for her to contact anyone to convey where she is or what happened to her, but using a sudden eruption of the Karymsky Volcano (as she is being transferred to the Helipad to fly to a different location), one of the active volcano’s in the famous Ring of Fire that disrupts the security system in the military complex – including temporary monitoring of the chip to detect her location – she escapes seeking safety in the dangerous and wild environment of Kamchatka’s Peninsula … 🙂 It is a chess game she cannot afford to play nor lose …
I would like to apologize to both Generals for using their information on my blog. Unfortunately, being in the public eye is the price one has to pay for the fame, whether he likes it or not and whether he is an actor, singer, politician or a general. The cyberspace is like cancer – no one has immunity to it.