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Read Terminal Compromise Part 119

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Your finances can be scrupulously determined by looking up the real estate records for purchase price, terms, cash, notes and taxes on your properties. Or, if you’ve ever had a bankruptcy, the sordid details are clearly spelled out for anyone’s inspec- tion. It’s all in the computer.

I can rapidly build an excellent profile of you, or whomever.

And, it’s legal. All legal, using the public records available to anyone who asks and has the $2.

That tells me, loud and clear, that I no longer have any privacy!

None!

Forget the hackers; it’s bad enough they can get into our bank accounts and our IRS records and the Census forms that have our names tied to the data. What about d.i.c.k and Jane Doe, Everyman USA, who can run from agency to agency and office to office put together enough information about me or you to be dangerous.

I do not think I like that.

It’s bad enough the Government can create us or destroy us as individuals by altering the contents of our computer files deep inside the National Data Bases. At least they have a modic.u.m of accountability. However, their inattentive disregard for the privacy of the citizens of this country is criminal.

As a reporter I am constantly amazed at how easy it is to find out just about anything about anybody, and in many ways that openness has made my job simpler. However, at the same time, I believe that the Government has an inherent responsibility to protect us from invasion of privacy, and they are derelict in fulfilling that promise.

If the DMV needs to know my address, I understand. The IRS needs to know my income. Each computer unto itself is a necessary repository to facilitate business transactions. However, when someone begins to investigate me, crossing the boundaries of multiple data bases, without question, they are invading my privacy. Each piece of information found about me may be insig- nificant in itself, but when combined, it becomes highly danger- ous in the wrong hands. We all have secrets we want to remain secrets. Under the present system, we have sacrificed our priva- cy for the expediency of the machines.

I have a lawyer friend who believes that the fourth amendment is at stake. Is it, Mr. President?

This is Scott Mason, feeling Peered Upon.

Wednesday, January 13 Atlanta, Georgia

First Federal Bank in Atlanta, Georgia enjoyed a reputation of treating its customers like royalty. Southern Hospitality was the bank’s middle name and the staff was trained to provide extraordinary service. This morning though, First Federal’s customers were not happy campers. The calls started coming in before 8:00 A.M.

“My account is off $10,” “It doesn’t add up,” “My checkbook won’t balance.” A few calls of this type are normal on any given day, but the phones were jammed with customer complaints. Hun- dreds of calls streamed in constantly and hundreds more never got through the busy signals. Dozens of customers came into the local branches to complain about the errors on their statement.

An emergency meeting was held in the Peachtree Street headquar- ters of First Federal. The president of the bank chaired the meeting. The basic question was, What Was Going On? It was a free for all. Any ideas, shoot ’em out.

How many calls? About 4500 and still coming in. What are the dates of the statements? So far within a couple of days, but who knows what we’ll find. What are you asking people to do? Double check against their actual checks instead of the register. Do you really think that 5000 people wake up one morning and all make the same mistakes? Do you have any other ideas? Then what? If they don’t reconcile, bring ’em in and we’ll pull the fiche.

What do the computer people say? They think there may be an error. That’s bright. If the numbers are adding up wrong, how do we balance? Have no idea. Do they add up in our favor? Not always. Maybe 50/50 so far. Can we fix it? Yes. When? I don’t know yet. Get some answers. Fast. Yessir.

The bank’s concerns mounted when their larger customers found discrepancies in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

As the number of complaints numbered well over 10,000 by noon, First Federal was facing a crisis. The bank’s figures in no way jived with their customer’s records and the finger pointing began.

The officers contacted the Federal Reserve Board and notified them. The Board suggested, strongly, that the bank close for the remainder of the day and sort it out before it got worse. First Federal did close, under the guise of installing a new computer system, a lie that might also cover whatever screwed up the statements. Keep that option open. They kept answering the phones, piling up the complaints and discovering that thus far there was no pattern to the errors.

By mid-afternoon, they at least knew what to look for. On every statement a few checks were listed with the incorrect amounts and therefore the balance was wrong. For all intent and purpose, the bank had absolutely no idea whose money was whose.

Working into the night the bank found that all ledgers balanced, but still the amounts in the accounts were wrong. What are the odds of a computer making thousands of errors and having them all balance out to a net zero difference? Statistically it was impossible, and that meant someone altered the amounts on pur- pose. By midnight they found that the source of the error was probably in the control code of the bank’s central computing center.

First Federal Bank did not open for business Thursday. Or Fri- day.

First Federal Bank was not the only bank to experience profound difficulties with it’s customers. Similar complaints closed down Farmer’s Bank in Des Moines, Iowa, Lake City Bank in Chicago, First Trade in New York City, Sopporo Bank in San Francisco, Pilgrim’s Trust in Boston and, as the Federal Reserve Bank would discover, another hundred or so banks in almost every state.

The Department of the Treasury reacted quickly, spurred into action by the chairman of Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C.

Being one of the oldest banks in the country, and the only one that could claim having a personal relationship with Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, it still carried political weight.

The evening network and local news stations covered the situation critically. Questions proliferated but answers were hard to come by. The largest of the banks and the government announced that a major computer glitch had affected the Electronic Funds Trans- fers which had inadvertently caused the minor inconsistencies in some customer records.

The press was extremely hard on the banks and the Fed Reserve and the Treasury. They smelled a coverup, a lie; that they and the public were not being told the truth, or at least all of it.

Only Scott Mason and a couple of other reporters speculated that a computer virus or time bomb was responsible. Without any evidence though, the government and the banks vigorously denied any such possibilities. Rather, they developed a convoluted story of how one money transaction affects another and then another. The domino theory of banking was explained to the public in graphs and charts, but an open skepticism prevailed.

Small businesses and individual banking customers were totally shut off from access to their funds. Tens of thousands of auto- matic tellers were turned off by their banks in the futile hope of minimizing the damage. Estimates were that by evening, almost 5 million people had been estranged from their money.

Rumors of bank collapse and a catastrophic failure of the banking system persisted. The Stock Market, operating at near full capacity after November’s disaster, reacted to the news with a precipitous drop of almost 125 points before trading was suspend- ed, cutting off thousands more from their money.

The International Monetary Fund convened an emergency meeting as the London and Tokyo stock markets reacted negatively to the news. Wire transfers and funds disburs.e.m.e.nts were ceased across all state and national borders.

Panic ensued, and despite the best public relations efforts, the Treasury imposed financial sanctions on all savings and checking accounts. If the banks opened on Friday, severe limits would be placed on access to available funds. Checks would be returned or held until the emergency was past.

Nightline addressed the banking crisis in depth. The experts debated the efficiency of the system and that possibly an unfore- seen overload had occurred, triggering the events of the day. No one suggested that the bank’s computers had been compromised.

New York City Times

“Yes, it is urgent.”

“What is this about?

“That is for the Senator’s ears only.”

“Can you hold for . . .”

“Yes, yes. I’ve been holding for an hour. Go on.” Muzak inter- pretations of Led Zeppelin greeted Scott Mason as he was put on hold. Again. Good G.o.d! They have more pa.s.s interference in the front office and on the phones than the entire NFL. He waited.

At long last, someone picked up the other end of the phone. “I am sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Mason, it has been rather hectic as you can imagine. How are you faring?” Senator Nancy Deere true to form, always projected genuine sincerity.

“Fine, fine, thank you, Senator. The reason for my call is rather, ah . . .sensitive.”

“Yes?” she asked politely.

“Well, the fact is, Senator, we cannot discuss it, that is, I don’t feel that we can talk about this on the phone.”

“That makes it rather difficult, doesn’t it,” she laughed weakly.

“Simply put, Senator . . . “

“Please call me Nancy. Both my friends and enemies do.”

“All right, Nancy,” Scott said awkwardly. “I need 15 minutes of your time about a matter of national security and it directly concerns your work on the Rickfield Committee.” She winced at the nick name that the hearing had been given. “I can a.s.sure you, Senator, ah, Nancy, that I would not be bothering you unless I was convinced of what I’m going to tell you. And show you. If you think I’m nuts, then fine, you can throw me out.”

“Mr. Mason, that’s enough,” Nancy said kindly. “Based upon your performance at the hearing the other day, that alone is enough to make me want to shake your hand. As for what you have to say? I pride myself on being a good listener. When would be convenient for you?”

———-

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