back to article Software fraudster 'fooled CIA' into terror alert

A con man fooled US spooks into grounding international flights by selling them "technology" to decode al-Qaeda messages hidden in TV broadcasts, it's claimed. A long and highly entertaining Playboy article explains that in 2003, 50-year-old Dennis Montgomery was chief technology officer at Reno, Nevada-based eTreppid …

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  1. Edwin

    I keep saying

    "I only read Playboy for the articles"

    Giggle - thanks for this!

    1. Dale 3

      Can't read

      You laugh, but I tried to read the article and the network here at the office wouldn't let me. Sounds like a cover-up to me.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Project for the New American Century

    Do you remember 'project for the new American century'? The think tank that wanted the US to take over the world by force. Capture key assets, regimen change in Iraq, and economically dominate the world for the 2000-2099 century?

    The Bush faction, Cheney, Jeb, Rumsfeld, Libby etc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century

    What a complete and utter mess they made of everything. It's domain name is a search spam parking page now, that's how badly they screwed up:

    http://www.newamericancentury.org/

    So to find out that this lot were soooo GULLIBLE as to buy fake technology like this, does not surprise anyone.

  3. rented

    what other implications did this have?

    The CIA kidnapped and tortured at least one Al Jazeera cameraman and imprisoned him in Guantanamo (he has since been freed). Could these actions have been influenced by the scheme run by this fraudster?

    1. John G Imrie
      Black Helicopters

      Al Jazira

      Al Jazira's station in Bagdad was also shelled by the American troups during the 'liberation' of Iraq, dispite or perhaps because of, the fact that the coordinates had been givern to the US.

    2. Shannon Jacobs
      WTF?

      All the way until this Dubya left

      Actually, I think the most amazing aspect was that he was apparently able to keep selling the Busheviks on one scam after another. I only got this story secondhand, but my source said his latest (but last) government contract was one issued early THIS January of 2009.

  4. Art Kavanagh

    Very dark comedy

    I'd probably find this funnier if I hadn't been reading a piece in Salon yesterday in which Glenn Greenwald touched on the case of an Al Jazeera journalist who was locked up in Guantanamo, held for 7 years without charge and tortured. Clearly, episodes like this fraud contributed to an atmosphere in Washington in which "Al Jazeera journalist" was understood to mean "enemy combatant". Hilarious, no?

    1. Jimbo 6
      Big Brother

      What the web really needs...

      ...is a <sarcastic> </sarcastic> typeface option. When the article was described as 'entertaining' I think our Reg hack probably meant it in the same way that Dad's Army was entertaining - dealing with a grim historical subject through cynical, world-weary laughter. I think kudos goes to El Reg for bringing yet another example of the innate stupidity of "our leaders" to our attention.

      (BB isn't really watching *me* - I'm feeding a looped cctv tape of me, sitting quietly at my pc, into the central monitoring system to give me a good alibi whilst I go and do something nefarious. I don't think anyone's noticed yet.)

  5. Mike 140
    Gates Halo

    Playboy?

    Such dedication! Reading each edition of Playboy just in case it contains an IT-related article. A true professional.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    title

    "It didn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. "

    Translation:

    We are willing to belive any old shit in order to justify our existance and contiune the "War On Terror (tm)"

    1. Fatman
      WTF?

      AC - You have made a mistake!!1

      It is NOT the "War On Terror (tm)"

      but

      "The War Against Terror (tm)"

      Note the different acronyms!

  7. Klaus
    WTF?

    /me sighs..... Americans

    I think we need a palm to forehead icon. This is so sad, and yet so typical of them. Anybody else wondering why we're still not allowed to take liquids onto planes, yup, it's "intelligence" like this.

    1. Peregrine
      FAIL

      /facepalm

      Yes yes... because we KNOW that stupidity is strictly an American thing. *cough*

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        A Captain Picard writes...

        *facepalm* icon yes please!

        (BTW, by "them", the OP could have meant intelligence officials, rather than americans in general. Not that I claim to know either way.)

    2. Kevin 6
      Big Brother

      Well

      At least The US is not using 1984 by George Orwell as a guide on how to run a government (yet) like some other country I know of :D

  8. Neil Lucock

    Scientific method?

    I thought that anyone who claimed that they could detect hidden messages would have to prove that their software really worked. Why did they take it on trust that it worked? Sounds like someone ought to resign (or be sacked) for this.

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      we all do it

      Oh come on. Everyone takes unverified information from dubious sources and believes it to a greater or lesser extent. Wikipedia, anyone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        WTF?

        uh hu

        and then we tell our buddies down the pub, rather than base the security posture of a nation on it!

  9. umacf24
    Unhappy

    It's a real shame ...

    ... that the Coen brothers have already done the CIA

  10. Pete 2 Silver badge

    No dafter than their other cold war programmes?

    The info that's been released about CIA activities in the 50s and 60 (and later) show that they are willing to investigate all sorts of downright ludicrous claims and possibilities. For instance: all the psychics they had trying to do remote viewing, ESP and all that other stuff.

    It seems to me that the only thing that differentiates this from the americans' other trips into the world of paranoid fantasy is that this was instigated by an outsider - rather than with the secret services, themselves.

    At least now we know what they means by "credible sources": anyone who has conned them into believing things a 6 year-old would be embarrassed to admit thjinking were true!

  11. Eldnah
    FAIL

    What's the real threat: Al-Queda, PHBs, or neocons?

    >> Frances Townsend, a homeland security adviser to Bush, said she did not regret having relied on Montgomery's mysterious intelligence. "It didn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. We were relying on technical people to tell us whether or not it was feasible," she said.

    Right. Technical people such as this one, perhaps?

    >> ... one counter-intelligence official briefed on the programme said: "We were fucking livid. I was told to shut up. I was saying, 'This is crazy. This is embarrassing.'"

    Seems like the PHBs and neocons teamed up to spend tax dollars on twisted dreams and silence the sane. Yet again.

    How could the US public vote such clowns into government??? Oh, wait, sorry ... they didn't.

  12. Andrew Foster
    Happy

    Says it all ...

    "Eventually a branch of French intelligence helped the CIA prove that the Al Jazeera "messages" never existed."

    Even the French intelligence service (usually regarded as an oxymoron, with the emphasis being on the word moron) could see it was a con! How embarrassing for the CIA.

  13. kevin biswas
    FAIL

    Guessed they must have run out

    of goats to stare at.........

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Amazed...

    It amazes me that the branch of the government that ostensibly keeps us safe from threats would fall for something like this...

    Still, you gotta at least somewhat admire the chutzpah it takes to successfully scam rooms full of people whose business it is to be paranoid and mistrusting... and that can likely arrange for very bad things to happen to you.

    Is there a "giant brass balls" icon?

  15. Martin 6 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Magic bomb detectors

    Nothing changes.

    But how come el'reg hasn't run a story on the magic bomb detectors being sold to Iraq by a British company?

    Is the British company in question Lewis Page Industries?

    At $15K each for a box with a flashing LED it's a pretty good business, could we get a cheaper version in the reg shop for next christmas.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Unbelievable!!!

    What is really hard to swallow is the fact that, after all the recent history between the French and the "Axis of the willing", the CIA would have believe the French intelligence services!!!

    I can't begin to fathom how much persuasion this must have taken.

    1. Svantevid
      Happy

      Believing the French

      Well, after the French intelligence told the Yanks there will be a large attack on American soil somewhere in 2nd half of 2001 and that there are no WMDs in Iraq since 1991 - and seeing 9/11 and Iraqi scientists swearing that they have stopped working on any form of WMDs in 1991 - maybe someone finally realized the French intelligence usually embarrassingly outclasses anything USA has in field.

      1. sandman

        French Intelligence

        I have a feeling that at least the technical branches of French Intelligence are pretty good. One of my ex-students went that way and he was technically awesome. I'll never forget the look on the face of the IT security expert for a major jewellers when this guy broke into his system in under 2 minutes :-)

        It might also be worth remembering that the French do have extensive contacts in Lebanon and Syria for historical reasons.

  17. DrWeevil

    Anti-Occam's Razor

    It's fascinating to me that these losers focus on such arcane ideas as messages hidden in TV broadcasts, when anyone planning a terrorist attack has much more mundane and reliable methods of communicating. Didn't it occur to these folks that encoding the Al Jazeera video stream would be a complex undertaking, requiring the complicity of Al Jazeera (very unlikely), and be of limited use, since its signal is not widely available? That they thought that the Terrorists would go to such lengths in this day of cell-phones, IM, email, and the Web, just shows that they have been watching too many James Bond movies--or too many episodes of 24.

  18. Eddy Ito
    Pint

    No surprise really

    Just consider it the past repeating itself.

    Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Pat McCarran, JFK, Nixon, Johnson, etc. Heck, the only half decent administration was probably Jimmy Carter and only for legalizing home brewed beer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Ummm, Jimmie /expletive deleted/ Carter - are you insane?

      He is the one who managed to "misplace" the embassy staff in Teheran for more than a year. On the other hand, he did make mean statements about the Soviet's and stop the Olympic team from competing in Moscow. DUH! This guy was (and still is) a very dim bulb on the Christmas tree of history.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    @Eldnah

    How could the Britsh public vote such clowns into government??? Oh, wait, sorry..... they didn't.

    See, makes just as much sense when you change one word.

    1. Hans 1
      Coffee/keyboard

      @AC 00:39 GMT, @Eldnah

      Well, the problem is, we Brits "happily" vote idiots into office!

      Ever since the end of the 70's you require abysmal intellect to stand a chance in the UK and mad cows disease keeps you in office for decades!

      El reg, you owe me a new laptop ... ;-)

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    WTF?

    Not exactly the 1st neocon wild goose chase the CIA has worked

    Anyone remember the claims the Soviet Union had a silent MHD based submarine drive technology?

    CIA ordered to go looking for it. When they state after exhaustive investigation that it does not exist (and the physics why it's damm difficult to do) the were told "Look harder."

    According to Shannon's information theorem *all* information is a subset of noise. Guess what, if you filter a white nosie channel some of (every now and then) *makes* sense.

    It's not a code, it's random BS.

    I get how non experts could be fooled by this guff but are the CIA so lacking in radio and video comms specialists they could not spot this is rubbish?

    Or is it they did not want to talk to the NSA (who I'm quite sure have quite a few people on the payroll who know about such things) and be made a laughing stock of.

    Again.

    whose the bigger crook. Him for cooking it up or the decision makers who fell for it without (it seems) applying *any* test to check this nonsense.

  21. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Bwah f*cking Ha!

    Honestly given the constant ¨war on terror¨ scaremongering lead by incompetent idiots I´m surprised it doesn´t happen more often... but again, maybe it does. I should read Playboy more.

  22. Tom 35

    When you have a bunch of paranoid nutters

    Tell them there worst fears are true, then sell them special tinfoil.

    Just like the sites that tell you how bad cell phones are and what they are doing to you. Then offer to sell you copper mesh hats, house paint that blocks RF, magic black boxes that protect you from RF...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Remarkably consistent

    Proof that Fran Townsend and the rest of the ignorati "executives" in my government were completely unqualified for the work they were doing. That's what outsourcing everything but the washroom attendant's position gets you -- oh, wait I think he was a contractor too! As I've said before, the fact that our largest city and miltary's own headquarters were so successfully attacked says volumes about how much incompetence trillions of dollars over 50 years can buy you.

  24. CA_target

    They're such idiots

    Glad to see all the idiots of the Bush administraion GONE!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Unfortunately

      The idiocy is institutionalised. It might take generations to get rid of it.

      There must be a powerful faction who are never even going to let the new president find out about stuff if it doesn't suit their notions.

  25. JHD

    Bombing of al Jazeera

    The US military bombed al Jazeera facilities twice that I recall, “accidentally.” It is not hard to believe that idiots convinced by this nonsense ordered these bombings.

    This is what happens when people who do not believe in logic or proof or science control the government.

    1. Pete Wilson
      Paris Hilton

      Ah, naivety...

      Yep; they're called "the electorate".

      Really scary, eh?

  26. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Because they were journalists

    I don't think the previous U.S. administration attacked and/or abducted Al Jazeera buildings and employees because a hoaxster made it look as though Al Jazeera was passing messages to terrorists. I think they attacked and abducted because Al Jazeera is a news organisation that was and is willing to publish information that is unfavourable to the previous U.S. administration. Having said that, Osama bin Laden sends all his tapes to Al Jazeera and apparently they broadcast them - we should have his Christmas message around now. Well, does anyone else still have a cassette player?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes you proud to be British

    Cos our suave, brilliant, after-shave scented British leaders would never fall for any old pitch that went: "Psst, I've got this bit of hush hush kit that does things you just wouldn't believe - bit pricey, but worth every billion. Sorry, but we really can't let you take it apart or have it tested; commercial confidentiality, don't you know. Go on, You know you want to, you love it. Be the first declining nation on the block with this and be the envy of every intellectually mediocre head of government from Paris to Brusssels"

    Frankly so ridiculous a story, it may as well be satire.

  28. Winkypop Silver badge
    FAIL

    Hahahahaha

    CI-fAil

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Morons...

    Replaced by more greedy delusional morons of the lowest calibre. Much like the greedy delusional morons in our government.

    Ahahahahha...... this is hysterical. How much money did they spend? Without checking? Still why should they care, it's only you and me that pay for it in taxes - they can afford to be retards thanks to the rest of us.

    Al-Qaeda....yea right - try watching the BBC documentary by Adam Curtis - The Power of Nightmares and then come back to me about Al-Qaeda and it's massive `terror network`. Sure there's an idea there now, and a few nutjobs have jumped on it, but largely a neo-con fabrication... there's no evidence to the contrary kids...

  30. Herby

    And so it goes... Now find the hidden messages in...

    The Bible. There has been LOTS of work in thes area, by taking letters and puting them in nice neat rows and reading the columns. All sorts of "messages" were decoded. Of course the Bible mess was made easier by using Hebrew, and the "no vowel" version.

    Nothing new. finding something where nothing exists, been done for ages.

    Wait I heard a voice that said.........

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Project for a New American Century website lives on

    The PNAC website lives on, at least in part, as do many many others, courtesy of www.archive.org. It's not the fastest of websites sometimes, but at least it's there.

    E.g. http://web.archive.org/web/20020330141552/http://newamericancentury.org/ (random choice)

    Happy New Year (unless you're a wet behind the ears lefty liberal, in which case, thank you, and have a *very* happy new year).

  32. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    AC@00:44

    "As I've said before, the fact that our largest city and miltary's own headquarters were so successfully attacked says volumes about how much incompetence trillions of dollars over 50 years can buy you"

    You might note the method of the attack as well. No bombers, cruise or ballistic missiles. No CBW.

    However you *should* also note it was only *partially* succesful, due to the actions of the United 93 passengers. On the day this bunch of fairly average airline passengers proved to be the first, last and *only* line of defense.

    You might like to know that according to a "Panorama" report on the BBC the estimated unaccounted cash "lost" in Iraq is roughly $13 *trillion*. That sounds like quite a lot of money even for the US government, which seemed quite happy to be swindled on a regular basis by its suppliers (Cost plus payment for a cafateria and cleaning contract?). I understand US governents retain the right to unilateraly cancel governemnt contracts *without* compensation. Perhaps the GAO should investigate with a view to this power being used a little more often.

    Just a thought.

  33. Doug Glass
    Go

    Popular American Oxymorons

    Military intelligence

    Government ethics

    Tax reform

    Government oganization

    Ah frakk, they're just too many to list.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Small Fry

    Compared to the mythical Weapons of Mass Destructions.

    One of Bush's mates probably misinterpreted a Sesame Street sketch...

  35. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Terminator

    I got super signal analyzer too

    al-Qaeda is in my /dev/random.

    cat /dev/random | strings | grep -i "kill"

    KILL

    KIlL

    ,h4kIll

    KiLlS

    kIll

    Kill

    \kILl

  36. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    CIA

    CIA = Comical Idiots Agency. Too bad they have guns.

  37. Matthew 4
    FAIL

    Retards

    seriously... doesn't help you sleep at night does it

  38. Tom 106

    Why

    Do the Americans, still have the CIA in existence? Surely after all it's meddling in world affairs and believing that "they" run America (& the world) and not it's elected President, the organisation should be closed down? When will American people wake up and take the appropriate action?

  39. RW
    FAIL

    Something to sing hallelujah about

    @ 13:54 GMT, AC said "this lot were soooo GULLIBLE"

    Not only gullible, but stupid, ignorant, and simple-minded in the bargain.

    Let us all be grateful that they were (are) so! Can you imagine what would have happened if the American right wing had been staffed with astute, smart, well-informed people who understood that society is complex beyond words?

    Clearly, neocon ideology (particularly as represented by "The New American Century") is yet another piece of intellectual junk to throw on the rubbish heap of history. There it can join (inter alia) the ideologies of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Henry George, Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, Wolfowitz, and any other ideologist, great or small, you care to add to the list.

    It seems like every ideologist, whether of the left, right, or middle, grossly oversimplifies his understanding of society, history, economics, and politics, then comes up with a cockamamie analysis which amounts to ignoring the obvious and calls for pounding square pegs into round holes.

    Ideology of all stripes: a failure from start to finish.

  40. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    $3m wasted *usefully*

    Keeping assorted taxi drivers, cocktail waitresses, croupiers, bar staff and pit bosses gainfully employed..

    Unlike government employees none of these people *has* to be employed and all could be fired if the economy turned down further.

    Now that's what I call fiscal stimulus.

  41. Alan Brown Silver badge

    RF-proof paint.

    Might be useful for movie theatres - would stop that ass behind me yelling down his phone and annoying most of the patrons. Too bad the staff are nowhere to be seen when this happens...

    On the main subject - the guy has cojones the size of basketballs selling this kind of "tech" to paranoid nutters with guns. Let's just hope it gets more publicity than just Playboy.

  42. lukewarmdog
    Badgers

    only in america

    For those americans who are so quick to say "omg if only you swapped the word "america" for "britain".

    Look, we accept that you're not ALL universally stupid.

    We also accept that Britain has it's fair measure of stupid. I mean srsly.. look at our Government..

    Ok also look at the Queen and her offspring.

    Fine.. I admit it.. Harrods wasn't our most special moment.

    But in the spirit of Christmas let's accept.. this was one of "those"moments that whilst none of us are especially proud of them.. this one was brought to us by Playboy and is courtesy of the C I of A.

    Hey if it was anyone else we'd all be ganging up right? This one.. we should all sit back and just shake our heads. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to anyone reading this article. It's ftw in any community. Except the defense community. You people should be profoundly ashamed of yourselves.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Grenade

    DHS a Joke

    Everybody knows that the DHS is a joke. A joke hoisted on us by Bush & Cheney. I am somewhat surprised that they did not call Katrina (the Hurricane) that almost wiped out New Orleans an Al Qaeda attempt at terrorism. Bush and company badly botched the effort to restore the area to normality. All they have to do is blame it on terrorism.

    Seriously terrorism is an issue but when they create rules like the article talks about tells me that Bush and company still control the US Government. I have asked my Senator to not to vote to retain DHS so I will be asking again next year. Seriously we have to put a stake in DHS and bury it once and for all, along with TSA and any other idiots that were employed by DHS.

  44. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    So how much coordintion does DHS provide?

    Only I thought the idea was to get all these different (26?35?) agencies to better share information and avoid stuff getting lost in the cracks

    Perhpas it's time for the GAO to access their effectiveness. It's been running how long?

    Still putting a smile on my face. He'd obviously read from the MS corporate sales guide. Don't pitch the techs (they know this is BS) pitch their (technically ignorant and way too arrogant to admit it) bosses.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sleight of hand

    I would imagine the CIA has a huge technology budget, and a calibre of expertise that would astound most people. This report certainly does it no favours, but you have to question why Playboy of all publications sprung this one on the public, in that possibly no-one would take it seriously?

    Therein lies its brilliance. Fashion a report detailing CIA failings in a respected girlie mag that is still the number one read for all terrorists in oddball countries. CIA is more cunning than a hungry rat.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    @AC 17:03 GMT

    not just Playboy. Look around and you'll see it reported elsewhere.

    And I'm afraid this is all to beleivable. Black propoganda? I think not.

    But seriously:

    "still the number one read for all terrorists" - WTF?

    lol.

  47. James Gibbons
    Black Helicopters

    The sad thing

    is that the CIA had to ask the French for help to prove the guy was a fraud!

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