by Wendy McElroy

A few weeks after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the parliament building in Berlin -- the Reichstag -- was set ablaze. Hitler used public hysteria over the fire to suspend constitutional liberties and eliminate opponents. Most historians blame the Nazis themselves for the fire that so conveniently cemented their power.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, although conspiracies undoubtedly exist. I lack the ability to distinguish an intricate plot from a mass of coincidence. Nevertheless, a theory floating on Usenet groups makes up in charm for what it lacks in credibility. The theory runs...the slew of so-called hacker attacks that have caused the denial of service (DoS) to major sites was executed by the Clinton Administration. The motive? To justify imposing controls on the Internet, to facilitate taxing e-Commerce and to maintain the budget.

Consider the chain of coincidence. In his State of the Union Address (January 27), Clinton declares electronic law enforcement to be a high priority. Three days later, the National Security Agency (NSA) publicly confesses that its computer system was down for four days in late January. Since when has the NSA talked to the national press about its failures and faults? Then, the FBI speculates that a single teenager might have paralyzed what is arguably the most sophisticated computer system in the world. Authorities conclude that national interest cannot be guaranteed through intricate security measures. It must be maintained through stringent enforcement. Apparently the fifteen-month jail sentence and $36,000 fine imposed upon 'Zyklon,' who defaced the White House's Web page, is not stringent enough.

And, lest the government seem self-serving at the expenses of civil liberties and the public's interest in general, what happens next? The private sector is attacked next. A major news source (CNN), the largest search engine (Yahoo), a mega ISP (AOL), a marketplace (eBay), a university (Stanford), a bookseller (Amazon), Wall St. (eTrade) and a vendor of innocent children's toys (eToy)...a representative from virtually every segment of society has fallen victim to DoS. The message is clear: no one from the NSA to America's toddlers is safe. Again, enforcement is *the* answer. The authorities announced a suspect who closely resembles a fallguy. He is 'mafiaboy' -- a fifteen year old Canadian who, along with legions of other teenagers, took credit for the attacks on IRC chat.

Meanwhile, even the myopic CNN comments, "The attacks that crippled Yahoo and at least seven other top sites this month could prove a boon to law enforcement officials seeking more funding from Congress." Reichstag Reno estimates that the Justice Department will require a $37 million increase in funding next year to fight cybercrime. She also wants to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act so that telephone calls and computer communication that cross jurisdictions can be monitored by government. FBI Director Louis Freeh chimes in, "Without the ability of law enforcement to get court-ordered access to plaintext, we're going to be out of business." Freeh railed against "hactivism" and encryption programs, naming PGP specifically. Of course, e-tapping and decrypting the Internet would facilitate taxing it as well.

Meanwhile, Israel -- a nation that routinely backs U.S. policy -- is also warning the world about hackers. A conference entitled "Y2Hack" is scheduled to occur in Tel Aviv in late March as part of the fourth annual Internet World tradeshow. Anat Maor, who heads the Israeli Parliament's Committee for Scientific and Technological Research and Development, wrote a letter of protest to the Attorney General of Israel asking that speakers and attendees be refused admittance into the country. Repeated assurances that the conference consists of 'hackers' (white hat programmers) rather than 'crackers' (black hatted ones) has not moved Maor. Coincidence?

As with most conspiracy theories, the foregoing one that indicts Clinton for DoS attacks contains at least three egregious flaws.

First, I offer no real evidence.

Second, if this theory is true, then we will have to re-examine whether the phone company actually did kill JFK.

Third, alternative and plausible explanations exist. A DoS attack is a relatively simple tactic. DoS renders a site's service unavailable by bombarding it with so many bogus demands that legitimate ones cannot get through, rather like paralyzing a telephone system by overwhelming it with prank calls. Many sites on the Web offer the programs and tools necessary to launch a DoS attack. For example, a free online chapter entitled "War Tools: Scan, Sniff, Spoof and Hijack" from *The Happy Hacker* describes both DoS tactics and how to counter them. The DoS attacks could have come from anyone. Including the Internet Security Firms that see a bonanza that could replace the fizzled Y2K panic.

And, yet, there is a conspiracy theory to which I do subscribe without reservation. It is this: the Clinton Administration is politically savvy enough to know a good thing. It is seizing the opportunity presented by DoS to panic people into accepting the forced decryption and monitoring of the Internet. The government is carefully coordinating the release of news in order to stoke public fear. Only an hysteria comparable to the War on Drugs could allow Clinton to abrogate civil liberties in cyberspace on such a grand scale. Thus, fifteen year old pranksters are described as "cyber terrorists." Once Clinton has the ability to rummage through the financial e-records of any individual or entity, taxing the Internet will be almost effortless.

He may not have lit the match, but Clinton is blowing hot air on the flames of (.gov?) as skillfully as any Nazi.