US defenses: Citizens keeping it real

US defenses: Citizens keeping it real

I’ve a lot of mixed feelings about Doug Hughes, the Florida mailman who flew his gyrocopter through restricted air space to land on the front lawn of the US Capitol this week. He carried letters to Congress demanding campaign finance reform and getting money out of government.

He could have been carrying something much worse.

In a way I admire the ingenuity, planning, and courage it took to do what he did. But it seemed a foolhardy — not to mention illegal — way to protest, of all things, corruption in politics. I’d have expected something about FAA regulations, terrorism, lax security in Washington, etc. Or just the simple revelation that some overstressed worker had gone a little bonkers.

But no, during interviews Hughes appeared to be serious, thoughtful, and intelligent. Someone who spent about two years planning for his big day, buying a gyrocopter, learning to flying it, calculating the best approach to avoid detection, etc. Yet all that was just to bring attention to the need for campaign finance reform? Not that we don’t desperately need it and not that I don’t personally see it as possibly the end of government as we know it. But it just seemed so … unrelated.

I haven’t heard what will happen to Hughes. No one got hurt and he was taken into custody. The same was true of the man who crashed his drone on the White House grounds and the man who jumped the fence and got into the White House. I don’t recall hearing what ultimately happened to any of them. Charges? Convictions? (Rendition? …)

It has occurred to me, though, that however reluctantly, we owe these creative citizens a thank you. They saw and exploited holes in our vaunted security systems in Washington. And luckily for us, they did it before some terrorist did it. Now, hopefully, the holes they found will be closed. The same could be said of all the American hackers who keep poking at weaknesses in our cyber defenses.

It’s unnerving that ingenious (or perhaps just lucky) everyday citizens keep finding holes in what are supposedly the world’s best security systems established by “the most powerful government on earth.”

But better to close the barn door before the horse is out. And better us than “them.”

15 thoughts on “US defenses: Citizens keeping it real

  1. Exactly what I was thinking PT, only much better said. The one thing I’d add, maybe, is that Mr. Hughes seems to have been under the impression that the authorities had been forewarned of his visit…

    1. My impression from the assorted reports I’ve seen is that one Florida newspaper knew of his plans months in advance but did not notify anyone in Washington until about an hour before his arrival at the Capitol. Whether that should have been enough time to stop him or whether anyone even tried, I don’t know. It may only have been enough warning to (hopefully) keep him from getting shot when he landed. I suppose the question remains, had there been no warning at all, would or could he have been stopped. I hope the government knows the answer and will act accordingly.

  2. In a way I admire the ingenuity, planning, and courage it took to do what he did. But it seemed a foolhardy — not to mention illegal — way to protest, of all things, corruption in politics.

    I agree. On the plus side, he at least raised some awareness of the issue. I recall a time when it was accepted wisdom that writing a letter to your congressman actually had some effect. Maybe we were naive to think that, but I’m darn sure it isn’t as much so now. Big donors get all the attention and voters are quitting the system in droves – half don’t even to bother to vote in presidential elections. That’s a real problem, and what’s worse, the Supreme Court said in the Citizens United decision that they are fine with big money in politics. It is destroying our democracy. Also on the plus side, he provided a cost-free test of the capitol’s security system. Had DHS designed and run the test it would surely have cost millions. 🙄

    All that said, I would not have done what Hughes did. It was foolhardy and dangerous. I also doubt that the majority of Americans actually understand the issue that motivated him. Hope I’m wrong.

    1. Yes, I strongly suspect that while most are aware that “some guy landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol grounds,” far, far fewer could tell you it had anything to do with campaign finance. And yes, I agree that Citizens United is destroying our election system and with it, our democratic form of government. Worst thing the Supreme Court ever did.

  3. Gee, maybe I’m going from the fire back into the frying pan with moving back there. OTOH, I was pretty inured to this stuff before I left. My ex-hub once referred to the jersey walls around the White House as “the monument to terrorism,” and I’ve regarded security measures in the nation’s capital with a wry eye ever since.

    1. I heard just this morning that there was yet another fence jumper last night. Perhaps that fence needs to be a wee bit higher? I can’t imagine you have anything to worry about unless you’re planning to live or work close to the Capitol or White House. I haven’t a clue where people actually live in DC. All I ever see on TV or whatever is the mile or so around the Capitol, mall, monuments, etc.

      1. They are adding outward facing spikes but it takes a while…probably not the actual construction, but the bidding process, and evaluating…..
        DC area is safe enough (ignoring the secret about all the rapes in the subway system after dark). If you live in certain distances to certain places, you are on a list to get info phoned/texted/emailed telling you what to do in emergency situations – evacuation destinations/routes/lockdown procedures that you will be mandated to follow if they decide.
        Remember that woman they said tried to crash the gate with her car and they high speed chased her all over town until they shot her?…as it turned out, it wasn’t exactly as the security team said. They admitted to being a little rattled and trigger happy when maybe not necessary…her family is outraged. Administration is really good at burying what they don’t want out there …word intended

        1. Good to know about the spikes. Bets on how many more people get in before those spikes are actually in place … ? With all the hi tech stuff we have these days, there’s no excuse for anyone to ever get farther than 2 or 3 feet inside that fence, spikes or no spikes.

          Sad commentary — security either gets rattled and chases somebody all over town or they’re so oblivious they let someone jump the fence and actually get into the White House.

          1. You know those extra leftover military dogs…how about some buried invisible fencing inside the existing WhiteHouse fence (about 3 feet inside) and make a wide dog run ring corridor (20 feet or so wide?)around…and rotate dogs in and out 24 hrs? Bet some dog invisible fence people would be thrilled to be patriotic to donate and install this to protect the president and his family.
            But let’s not use any brainstorming or creative problem solving….leave that to experts, right?

          2. Yeah, right. Because they’ve done so well so far.

            I just figured they could put some sort of vibration-sensing devices around the inside of the fence to sound an alarm. Or some sci-fi thing like vibration located, spotlights come on, laser-targeting guns start firing.

          3. Relative to the security profession, I have noticed over the years that human guards are inherently inefficient. This makes sense if you think about it. By and large, the duty is boring because threats are rare, so that alone restricts the profession to people who can tolerate such a job. The Secret Service would seem to be an exception because the threat field is always evolving and there’s lots of travel to exotic places, but even there the recent scandals are symptomatic of the same problem. Also, the recent scandal of low morale among Air Force ICBM crews, an immensely important system that has to have perfect security and which rarely if ever has been attacked. Same with airports.

            I can think of only one solution to the problem, and it’s rather expensive. Each system needs a secret test team that probes the security randomly and provides a benchmark on which the security team is evaluated.

          4. That’s too logical an idea. It’ll never work. And yet all kinds of other systems are constantly probed, checked, examined, tested to make sure they are and remain in top form. As far as priorities go, national security seems kind of important … yet we seem to rely on random spot testing by eccentric citizens and the occasional terrorist.

... and that's my two cents