I see an item in today’s news that Apple, the cellphone marketing company, has been ordered by a Federal judge to make and deliver to the FBI a piece of software that will allow them to inspect the contents of a terrorist’s cellphone. The FBI are also ordered to pay the development costs incurred Why, is not clear; the record of calls made and received is surely also available from the cell network operators. Let us assume that the request is valid and would help the FBI with their investigation; certainly anything that helps prevent future terrorism is desirable. Trouble is that Apple does not have that piece of software available, such a thing has not yet been constructed, and its cryptographic experts believe that the security system they have perfected and believe uncrackable really is, well, uncrackable. Has the judge asked for the impossible? Is that smart? What might be the consequences?
Flash forward a few years, location the White House. The President is speaking with his National Security chief and his budget adviser.
President: Say that number again, please, I didn’t hear it right.
Budget: One hundred trillion, plus some loose change.
President: That’s our budget deficit this year? How the hell did that happen?
Budget: Well, there’s several things, but the biggie is the bill from Crump Industries for the anti-pyramid device’s development costs. They’re still over-running, no end in sight.
President: What’s an anti-pyramid device, when it’s at home?
Security: Well, Sir, we’d have briefed you into the program in due course. It was for the Egyptian problem, during the last administration.
President: So brief me now. Start with this Egyptian problem. We have no problem with the Egyptians.
Security: Well, Sir, one night President Crump had a vivid nightmare. He dreamt that the fanatically Islamist Egyptian government had built a WMD stockpile, Armageddon bombs, and were concealing it within the Great Pyramid.
President: But the Egyptians are our allies, their moderate military government helps us fight fanatical Islamists.
Security: Yes, Sir, but your predecessor thought differently. He wanted the entire country wiped off the map, a quick nuclear attack, followed by the public hanging of all American citizens who had ever visited the country. We dissuaded him, not without difficulty; he fired seven Generals and two Admirals the first day alone. Finally he compromised; if we could prove the non-existence of the stockpile, he’d spend his valuable energies elsewhere.
President: So all you had to do was find proof of non-existence? That’s between ridiculous and impossible.
Security: Yes, Sir, we pointed out the difficulty. He sued his entire cabinet to force us to comply. Took the case to the Supreme Court, which held five of his recent nominees. The Supreme Court ruled that we had to obey the President’s command; we had to develop a method to see inside the Great Pyramid. There was a legal precedent…
President: And did you?
Security: We tried, without success, until we were offered help. Crump Industries, which is wholly owned by your predecessor but was held in a blind trust, came in with an unsolicited proposal to develop an X-ray eye system that could see through anything by using non-defined super-powers. We went back to the Court and were ordered to buy it. It’s been under development ever since, with annual costs doubling every year. We can’t cancel it, we’d be in contempt of court.
President: And does the system work?
Security: Of course not, Sir. Pardon my cynicism.
President: So the Federal government is now bankrupt?
Budget: Whenever Crump Industries chooses to press its demands for payment. But the entire global economy will go down with us.
Security and Budget together: You see, Sir, stupid is as stupid does.
Copyright 2016 Flight of Eagles