Trousers Ablaze – Technology Will Make Things Hard for Liars

Located at the entrance to Headquarters Division of First Warrant Officer Company, Ft. Rucker, Alabama, is a quote that all Warrant Officers are sworn to uphold:

“I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate others who do.”

For me, as a former Warrant Officer, and for many of my comrades in arms, this motto has become much more than words written on a monument. It is a way of life.

I wish the world had more Warrant Officers. Or at least, I wish the foundational principles of honesty and integrity were more pervasive in the military and law enforcement, and in the civilian world.

Unfortunately, for now at least, the world has no shortage of thieves, cheats, and liars. Could advances in technology seriously change that?


The New Digital Trail

Over the past 10 years, a new kind of political scandal has regularly dotted headlines across the globe. While most of the scandalous misdeeds these people committed were certainly nothing new, the novel part was the digital trail their activities left behind and the inability of the perpetrators to hide each and every iteration of digital evidence.

Here’s a rough timeline:

  • Back in 2006, Florida Congressman Mark Foley was forced to resign for sending sexually suggestive emails and text messages to teenaged Congressional Pages.
  • In April of 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff followed an extensive trail of electronic documents and emails to uncover a web of corruption, fraud, and tax evasion.
  • In November of 2009, former Louisiana Congressman William J. Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. In the probe leading to Jefferson’s arrest, investigators seized his office computer and files; it was the first time federal agents had raided a congressional office.
  • In 2011, then New York Congressman Anthony Weiner initially claimed his Twitter account had been hacked and someone else had sent lewd pictures to several women. He later recanted and admitted to sending the pictures; it was the technology that forced this hand.
  • Also in 2011, New Jersey Representative Steve Rothman fired his Chief of Staff Robert Decheine for soliciting sexual services from a minor. The investigation by federal agents included internet activity and phone text messages.
  • In 2015, the Panama Papers investigation seemed to take fraud and corruption to an entirely new level. Investigators examined 11.5 million documents that were leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, some dating back to the 1970s. The contents of these documents revealed a shocking number of business and political leaders who were involved in illegal activity including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.
  • A famous recent example was the 2016 United States Presidential election when a cache of 19,000 emails leaked emails from the Democratic National Convention showed, among other things, that the primary elections heavily favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

You Will Get Caught …

As investigative technologies have become increasingly more powerful and precise, a truth has emerged: if you commit a crime, you may be able to hide it for a while, but investigators will eventually find you.

Digital evidence is stored in an overwhelming, complicated, and geographically distributed number of locations—it’s simply impossible to remove all of it. Criminal activity—actually, any activity—leaves behind a plethora of evidence including file system activity, operating system history, internet history, emails, document access, text messages, social media history, mobile access point history, phone calls, voice recordings, building access logs, single sign-on logs, vehicle GPS logs, traffic cameras, and public CCTV cameras.

All that data is recoverable, ingestible, and searchable. If you think any crime can be completely contained, without any chance investigators will be able to find evidence of it, you’re naïve and foolish. If someone wants to find out what you did, you will get caught. Period.

I have a daughter in the seventh grade and I recently caught her lying. The thing that really made her mad at me was that I had the audacity to look at her Instagram account and identify the source of her deception.

I asked her, “Is it your fault for lying or my fault for catching you”? After the emotion abated (amazing how people get defensive immediately after being caught doing something they know they shouldn’t have been doing), she logically responded, “Dad, I shouldn’t have lied. Oh, but by the way … why do I have to have a dad that is a forensics guy or whatever?”

So here’s the rub. If you are a politician, or a business leader, or a spouse, or a parent, or a seventh grader, and you are thinking of doing something my parents used to say “you ought not to,” the odds have never been greater that you will get found out. You’re going to get caught, now or sometime down the road. The best way to not get caught is not to do it in the first place.

Footprints in sand

… So Why Lie?

How do these lessons apply to our political leaders?

In a sense, technology is well placed to enforce a sense of morality in those with the most to lose, but will it actually change their habits?

Technology is only going to get better and become increasingly integrated into our daily lives. This means that there will be more sources of evidence that can be used to reveal what we do and why.

Since I am a firm believer in the words written on the hallowed walls of First Warrant Officer Company, I am not concerned. If you believe differently than I do, that’s fine … you are 100% entitled to that belief. Just know that at some point, you will get caught, and you’ll have to explain your actions to somebody—judge and jury, oversight committee, the police, an angry spouse … or your dad who’s like a forensics guy or whatever.

Here’s one more bit of advice: Don’t bother trying to cover your tracks by inventing more lies to cover up for the lies you’ve already been caught for. How about just not lying, cheating, or stealing? It’s the far cheaper option.

Security & Intelligence
Posted on April 5, 2017 by Chris Pogue