The Senate's "top Democrat" (is that akin to Jamaica's "top downhill skier"?) called for the ouster of VA Secretary Jim Nicholson because a vendor (Unisys) "lost" a desktop computer that contained personal information on at least 38,000 veterans. Not that this being an election year has anything to do with the Democrats using this non-event to attempt to make political hay.
"Enough is enough," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday. "Less than a month after promising to make the VA the 'gold standard' in data security, Secretary Nicholson has again presided over loss of the personal information of thousands more veterans."
Reid is the third Senate Democrat -- joining Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and John Kerry of Massachusetts -- who has called for Nicholson's ouster following high-profile data thefts at the government's second largest agency.
"Unfortunately, this dangerous incompetence has become all too common in the Bush White House, and it has made America less safe," Reid said.
"Each week seems to bring another alarming example of incompetence by the Bush administration to protect the personal information of Americans," Leahy said. "Certainly, our nation's veterans -- who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country -- deserve better.
Kerry agreed. "Fire the incompetents," he said. "Losing veterans' most sensitive personal information must have consequences."
Kerry, if we fired incompetents, where would that leave you? Living off of "Tereza's" gazillions? Heck, you couldn't even beat George W. Bush! How incompetent does that make you?
In Nicholson's part of town, having Reid, Leahy and Kerry pile on you might be considered as having "won the trifecta" and be considered cause for high fives and a manly squawk of "awwwwwwrrrrriiiiiggggghhhhhhhtttttt!!!!" Nicholson's likely too dignified for that, though.
On the other hand, he might want to punch out the cyberidiots in his own party.
"I am absolutely appalled that another computer containing the personal information of veterans has gone missing," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. "Those responsible must be held accountable and the VA clearly needs to do a better job of overseeing its contracting entities."
I can't find a written record of this, but I'm sure someone told me that Santorum also called the VA's security efforts "an abortion," which is for Senator Santorum (who was also a member of the Senate when some of its members knifed Julius Caesar), the harshest of condemnations.
For some reason, I doubt Nicholson, a former Army Ranger and decorated Vietnam Veteran, is quaking in his combat boots. No proof of that; just a hunch.
Let me make clear that my disgust with The Three Stooges (and "Shemp" Santorum) is not motivated by their political party affiliation, but by their attempt to unnecessarily stir up veterans again over an issue that may be a non-issue.
- The VA did not "lose" the computer, one of its contractor's did.
- The contractor is Unisys, an organization that knows more about computer security than Harry Reid knows about special interest groups (ok, not quite as much, but then, when it comes to special interests, Harry's "The Man").
- The computer was located in a secure building, on a floor requiring security cards to gain access.
- The hard drive is password protected.
- No one knows if the computer was stolen and, if so, whether any access to the data is likely to occur (for example, what was the strength of the password?).
- See previous posts on this blog for statistics (oops, sorry Senators, didn't mean to introduce facts into the discussion) about how little computer thefts and actual computer security breaches (when they actually occur, which has not been proved in this case) result in identity theft.
All-in-all, much ado about (most likely) nothing. At least, nothing that can be demonstrated at this time. In fact, I'd wager that Unisys was following industry standard security procedures, and that there was nothing more that the VA reasonably could do to secure that data. You could require every hard drive to be encrypted, but that's expensive. Who's going to pay for that? You guessed right! The taxpayers.
Computer theft happens. Get used to it.
No intelligent discussion of any issue is possible with cynical hacks like these. Headlines are all that matter.
UPDATE: A friend, business consultant John Walker, sent me this dead-on quotation: "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy." - Ernest Benn