Casey: The CIA - Ferrum College connection
Why was the Ferrum College admissions department's email among those listed in CIA Director John Brennan's personal — and hacked — email account contacts? The possibilities abound. Dan investigates.
Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 11:30 pm
By Dan Casey email@example.com 981-3423
There’s a curious Franklin County connection to a sensational story that rocketed around the world last week. It raised many eyebrows and prompted some chuckles. It involves the Central Intelligence Agency and a noteworthy bit of computer hacking.
It also involves Ferrum College, a Methodist-affiliated, 1,500-student private liberal arts school that lies on 700 rural acres about 10 miles west of Rocky Mount.
Apparently, CIA Director John Brennan has been in email contact with the admissions department at Ferrum.
While there are potentially innocent explanations for that, nobody has bothered to make them. Instead, officials at both institutions cleverly ducked my attempts to get to the bottom of it. And that raises all sorts of questions.
Before we get to those, here’s what we know:
Brennan, 60, is a career spook who’s led the CIA since 2013, following a sex scandal that unseated his predecessor. Before that, he was President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
Earlier this month, his personal AOL email account was hacked by persons (so far) unknown. According to various news accounts, the hackers have (A) given anonymous interviews to media outlets such as the New York Post and Wired magazine; and (B) bragged about their exploits on Twitter.
One of the purported hackers claimed to be an American high school student disenchanted by U.S. military support for Israel. Posing as Verizon employees, he and his cohorts phone-pranked other Verizon workers to give up personal information about Brennan, then used that to gain control of his AOL account.
The hackers dumped the contacts list of said account to Wikileaks. It went up on the Wikileaks website last week, along with a treatise about torture policy and other documents the hackers found attached to some of Brennan’s saved emails.
According to the CIA, this is now being investigated by the FBI and the Secret Service.
Brennan’s contact list contains hundreds of different email addresses, including those of government and military officials, major think tanks, university professors and intelligence contractors. Somewhat oddly, it also lists six dozen addresses for employees at Fairfax County Public Schools and one that begins “hottie_200518@. …”
Another one of those contacts is firstname.lastname@example.org
I spotted that while perusing the list Wikileaks published, and thought, “Hmmm, this is interesting.”
So I called the media relations folks at the CIA and Ferrum. That resulted in me emailing three questions to both: Why is the CIA director emailing Ferrum? When did he do that? And how frequently?
As a huge fan of the old TV show “Get Smart,” I didn’t expect direct answers from the agency. Normally, it’s so super-secretive that it rarely issues any statement beyond a terse, “No comment.” And usually, the person saying that won’t allow their name to be used.
Instead, this is how the CIA replied, within minutes — and twice, from two different people:
“The hacking of the Brennan family account is a crime and the Brennan family is the victim. The private electronic holdings of the Brennan family were plundered with malicious intent and are now being distributed across the web. This attack is something that could happen to anyone and should be condemned, not promoted.
“There is no indication that any of the documents released are classified. The documents released are those that a private citizen with national security interests and expertise would be expected to possess.”
That’s what you call a blistering response, especially considering that it came from folks whose business is plundering information. Notice how they avoided my questions.
Ferrum’s response came from Kimberly Blair, the college’s vice president for institutional advancement. It was much friendlier.
“Our Admissions Office routinely has communication involving reference checks for a Ferrum graduate who is applying for a job with the agency. This is a common practice among government agencies, including the CIA, and you will find this with other colleges and universities as well.
“We have had several Ferrum College graduates, most from our Criminal Justice and Social Work programs, work for the CIA. They (the CIA) have shared with our President, Dr. Jennifer Braaten, that they love hiring Ferrum grads because of their work ethic, sense of civic duty and community service.
“The Ferrum College motto, ‘Not Self, But Others,’ is embodied by our graduates and we are proud for the service they give to our country.”
Blair added that she loves this column. Ha! Perhaps she thought flattery would get my head spinning so hard I wouldn’t realize she had steered around the questions. She must think I fell off a turnip truck or something.
But let’s face it: It’s doubtful the CIA director is doing reference checks for fresh-out-of-college applicants. And even if he was, would he use a personal email account to do that? It strains credulity.
The weird thing is, wholly innocent explanations exist for Brennan having the Ferrum address in his contacts list. Perhaps one of his grown children (he has three, according to other documents Wikileaks posted) applied to Ferrum at some point. Maybe his twin daughters went there.
If someone had simply told me that, I would have shrugged and thought, “Not column material,” and moved on. Instead, the non-answers tend to fuel the imagination.
For example: Is it possible that a tiny college in the rolling hills of southwest Franklin County has cooperated with America’s top spy to develop phony backgrounds for deep-cover agents? You never know with those intelligence agencies. They can be mighty tricky.
Anyway, if we’ve gleaned anything here, it’s that in terms of technology, our CIA director is an honest-to-God old fogey. I mean, jeez, AOL was passe 20 years ago.
The other thing we’ve learned is that Ferrum College may be some kind of pipeline into our nation’s top spy agency.
Who woulda thunk?http://www.roanoke.com/news/columns_and ... 7ab96.html