Tag Archives: New Jersey

My Spy Next Door

The recent spy ring round up in my area of suburban New Jersey brings back a memory of another east bloc spy that I knew…. really.

Before I get into that story, since this is the Mobileman blog, I need to tie this story to something wireless.

The recent Jersey/Russian spies exchanged messages in a Starbucks using a private WiFi Network and hid messages (eventually not well) in jpg images on websites and social media.

Okay enough of that. Now my spy story.

When I was in high school the cold war was the real deal.  My kids laugh at me when I recall the “Duck and Cover” civil defense drills we did in elementary school.

“When you see the flash of the nuclear explosion, duck your head and cover up!”  I can still hear that catchy little song in my mind “Duck… and Cover” , sung by a turtle with a helmet on his head. The video below was already over 20 years old when it was being used in my elementary school.

In high school I was part of the “Computer Club”. (The statute of limitations on Geekdom has expired!)   We were a group of 6 guys and one girl that competed in programming contests with other schools.  Our computer room was a converted boys bathroom that had 3 Teletype computer terminals complete with paper tape storage and long rolls of continuous yellow paper.

A former boys bathroom in a high school is hardly the setting for the next Tom Clancy novel….. or is it?

One of the computer geeks in our club was Peter Hermann.  Peter was a year older and by all accounts` extremely brilliant.  He was just another normal Westchester suburban kid,  with the one additional  detail.  Peter and his family were East German spies.

This became the setting for a real life novel written by another classmate of mine – Lawrence Kessner.  In 1981 he wrote “The Spy Next Door”.  This has nothing to do with the recent movie or another spy novel of the same name. Of the three it is my favorite spy story.

It seems Peter was being groomed to be a master spy.  He was destined to go to an Ivy League school or a D.C school such as Georgetown.  At college he would make the lifetime connections that any good spy needs.  His major would be in  government and his future job was planned to get him access to good spy stuff to send back to his handler.  His parents, while also spies, were “mulls” –  Spies who would move messages from one place to another.  Peter was the sleeper crown jewel.

I remember Peter showing us some of his spy gadgets.  This was a safe thing for him to do because who ever suspects a 15 year old classmate to be a real spy?  I remember a small  “spy” camera and a nickel that opened up and had a small space that something (microfilm) could be placed.  I even remember saying something like , “Gee , that would be cool stuff to play spy with…”  I am sure he got laugh on my account for that one.

The Kessner book goes into more details on Mark’s other relationships and activities.  It seems the KGB even used a “honey-pot” trap to keep him in the fold.  Could you imaging a 14-year-old boy going to Moscow for training and being seduced by a gorgeous KGB woman?   They could have easily won the cold war through mass recruitment if they made that perk well known.

Fact stranger than fiction.

In the end the East German spy family was caught and turned into double agents by the FBI.  When the East Germans and the KGB suspected that this had happened they asked them to return to East Germany.  At this point the family entered the witness re-location program.

Moving trucks came by their house in the middle of the night and removed all their belongings.  The house was on the market the next week.  We assumed that the moving trucks came from our government and not from the KGB. No one has heard from them since, although I am sure they have been living normal lives in the open. I also wondered if the new family that moved in was also a spy family being re-located from somewhere else?  A Spy exchange program?

Spies in the suburbs.  Not a new story.

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Filed under From Russia with Love, Honey Pot, KGB, mobile, New Jersey, The Spy Next Door, True LIfe

Twitter as Mainstream Media for Israeli/Gaza Conflict?

It was 18 months ago that I first wrote about the extension of real, shooting wars to the social media battleground.  This past week saw a return of cyberspace prominence in the Israeli/Gaza blockade.   The first story that flooded Facebook, YouTube and Twitter was the violence that occurred on the Mavi Marmara.  As this story exploded across the traditional press outlets, videos were available on YouTube showing the actual helicopter boarding of the ship and the attack on the soldiers, which was followed by deadly violence. In this case social media added some perspective to a very volatile issue.

What I found particularly interesting was the coverage of the next ship that attempted to land in the Gaza, the “Rachel Corrie”.  The name of the ship is a reference to an American woman who was killed in Gaza in 2003.   This ship was due to meet up with the Israeli navy early Saturday morning.  I was quite interested in what would happen and tried to get information from traditional media websites throughout the evening in New York.  Much of the information I found was old.  Old in this case means at least 12 hours.   Around midnight NYC time ,  Twitter seemed to become the major news source.  This was fascinating.  Tweets were coming in fast and furious.  This is the first time I experienced the “fog of war” in real time social media.  Reports came in about the ship being boarded, stopped, not stopped, trailed by naval ships, proceeding to Gaza, going to Ashdod, being inspected by International representatives, and so on. Rumors followed Rumors.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the ship had been boarded three hours before the actual event.  This report seemed to be in response to an earlier Tweet that seemed credible.  A credible Tweet as a source?  The Jpost eventually retracted their story, but not before their report was Tweeted 1000’s of time as credible.    The problem is what is a credible Tweet?  Twitter is an environment where anyone can broadcast anything.   The need for instantaneous news on any world event has put news organizations in the position of trying to sift through 1000’s of Tweets to determine what may or may not be happening.  Most Tweets about the Rachel Corrie were re-Tweets of other rumors that were then reinforced by their sheer volume of messaging.  As the trending stats of the Rachel Corrie become higher and higher, it attracted the spammers and the truly crazy people.  Yet through all of this,  I was updating the Twitter role of info on the Rachel Corrie.  The information pipe became even more stuffed with offers for good, services, merchandise and other threads about the ship that described  what was or was not happening.

For the record, the ship was eventually boarded and led to the port of Ashdod where the crew and passengers were deported from Israel and the goods inspected, before shipment to Gaza.  The ruling Hamas Party in Gaza has subsequently refused to accept the aid from the Rachel Corrie becuase it was trucked through Israel. This ship made less worldwide headlines because there was no attack on the naval boarding party and the ship sailed peacefully to an Israeli port.  However, this crisis is far from over as Iran now proposes to use its Navy to escort blockade running ships.

Will we continue to rely on Twitter as the front line of information gathering if this situation escalates even further?  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) maintains a Twitter account to answer journalists questions and give them real time information on fast moving stories.  During the Rachel Corrie event they responded to a false story in the Jpost as follows:

Twitter is a mix of first hand accounts, rumors, government accounts, and just plain  propaganda.

In the case of the Rachel Corrie what would have happened if Twitter had been flooded with purposeful and coordinated false information?  Suppose Tweets circulated that the Israeli navy blew up the ship?  These false Tweets get re-tweeted thousands of times.  Mainstream media picks up the story and then reports the false reports.  Riots occur, real people get killed; Politicians take public stances that are difficult to back down from.  Fantasy become reality.  By the time the truth is known, it is too late and a real war has begun.   Sound fantastic?   This has happened, almost….

It was October of 1939 when Martians invaded the State of New Jersey.  Panic ensued.  Orson Wells and his epic War of the Worlds was of course just radio fantasy.  We could only imagine what might have happened if he had a Twitter account at the time.

Here is Russian Television’s Report on the Rachel Corrie Ship

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Filed under Aljerzera, facebook, Gaza, IDF, Iran, Israel, mobile, New York, politics, Rachel Corrie, Social Media, social networking, Twitter, You Tube

Facebook, Itouch and Calamari- Perfect Together

What does Facebook, Itouch and Calamari have in common?  The answer is Greek Gods!

mlw_0001_0004_0_img0209 This evening I helped one of my daughter’s with her homework.  The assignment was to take pictures of religious icons and places within our town.  She had two denominations to photograph, Jewish (which is a low degree of difficulty for us!) and ancient Greek.

In case you have not noticed, there are few believers in Zeus in suburban New Jersey— or are there?

New Jersey is also the world capital of the…. you guessed it…. The Greek Diner.  No Greek diner worth its Gyros would be caught dead without appropriate statuary of the Gods.   We took a quick trip to the Livingston Diner for our assignment.  Since I felt it was just slightly awkward to run into a diner full of patrons take pictures of the scattered statues and leave. We decided it would be best to have a dad/daughter dinner.  Thus, with the help of Apollo we had some “quality time” between taking pictures and munching on fried calamari.

Since Facebook time is favorite topic in our house I asked her what she liked and disliked about the world’s number one social network.   When we got home I asked the same questions of the other children.  The answers were fairly consistent.
So, to the executives of Facebook – here is some free market research for you.

Safety First

Cyber safety has been taught at home and in the school since they first started using a computer.  They insist on using social networks and messaging only with people they know.  The protections built into Facebook gives a sense of safety, security and control to the Tween/Teen group.

Games – Not so much

Facebook games got three thumbs down.  Any activity that was not messaging, status updating or picture uploading rated very low with the Spencer gang.   I would conclude that there is a huge opportunity for Facebook to expand into the collaborative gaming market.  The problem is wading through the noise and junk applications.
A missing element in Facebook:

Better personalization.   They all expressed desire to have Facebook “skins” and create a more personalized page environment for their friends.   I would call this Facebook meets MySpace.

Communication is the key:6a00c225279d8e604a00fa968086520003-500pi

I was actually surprised to learn that all three of my children have virtually stopped using email!  Their main messaging mechanism is Facebook messages and Facebook instant messaging.  I asked them why? They told me everyone that wants to message  them is on Facebook and it is easier to remember a friend’s name, than their email address.  One daughter and son admitted to using email when they want to be more “official”, such as emailing a teacher.

Since getting hooked on Facebook they have stopped using AIM for instant messaging.

My son told me simply – “Everyone I know is always on Facebook, even during school” Even during school!?  It seems the wireless use of Facebook in a mobile environment is creating an always-connected social network.  The other school mechanism is WIFI.  Thanks to the Apple Itouch, the school WIFI network is serving as the Facebook network.  Facebook statuses now change, class to class.

Do your own personal research and let me know what you find out!

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Filed under Apple, facebook, Internet Safety, mobile, smart phone, social networking, wifi, wireless