Packet Rat: Rat joins Uncle Sam's homeland posse

(GCN Illustration by Michael J. Bechetti)

For once, the Rat did not fly out West in economy class. The trip was different from his usual pilgrimages to browbeat vendors, and it certainly hadn't come at the behest of any venture capitalists. Nope, this time he left Washington on full-fledged government business, and he rode on Air Force One.

After successfully introducing the attorney general to the mysteries of Internet Relay Chat rooms and taping an IRC command crib sheet to the monitor, the cyberrodent went back to work to find himself deputized by his agency to the homeland security posse. His temporary assignment: tech translator and reality-distortion field detector to the political stars.

On June 13, as the president exhorted the leaders of Silicon Valley to make the products needed 'to chase the killers down one by one,' the Rat was in the room. He bit his tongue, not having vetted the text of the full speech'only the tech parts.

But Dubya also squeezed in a good line about software quality. Noting that the federal government would spend $53 billion on technology over the next year, he added, 'If you're one of the recipients of that $53 billion, make sure that the product actually works, please.'

There was only a little laughter. The Rat could see the high-tech execs wincing and making mental notes to themselves to ask how that quality control thing was going.

Considering the administration's low profile on technology so far'the biggest tech splash was complaining about the alleged theft of W keys from White House keyboards during the Clinton administration's exodus'the presidential broadside might have caught some of the audience off-guard. But after the Defense Department's vigorous arm-twisting of Microsoft Corp. over security, the Valley tribe should have seen this coming.

Aside from well-known denizens of Valleydom, the Rat spotted a few other familiar faces working the room'namely, folks from a certain facility named after Dubya's dad.

One of the Rat's old spook acquaintances was trying to escape from a throng of former dot-commers brandishing business plans. No surprises there. The Rat had read the In-Q-Tel press releases about the CIA's deals for Inktomi and Northern Light search engines and apparently so had the underemployed masses in Burlingame, Calif.

The Rat drifted over and slid in next to the spook, who was trading business cards with the last of the newly minted government groupies. As the bureaucrat wannabes faded back to their tables, the wirebiter asked with a wink, 'So, how's the newfound popularity feel?'

'We can't beat the dot-com survivors off with a stick,' the spook sighed. 'They view us as a way to get their Porsche Boxsters out of hock. Suddenly, our tiny pool of capital seems huge'Sand Hill Road looks like a financial Ramallah these days. At least we're getting a good deal on office space.'

After exchanging secret handshakes, the two returned to their respective intelligence gathering. But the packet-chaser had a feeling he'd be seeing a lot more men in black before he finished his latest assignment.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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