back to article Republicans send anti-Signal signal to US EPA

US House Republicans Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Darin LaHood (R-IL) have demanded a probe into staff at the US Environmental Protection Agency who are apparently using private encrypted communications. Earlier this month, insiders at the EPA, the US Department of Labor, the Foreign Service, and possibly other agencies and …

  1. Platypus

    Are they also asking for an investigation into White House staffers using Confide? Of course not, because this isn't about infosec or policy. It's purely a matter of attacking the other team and defending your own.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Better than that, this is how the new administration is whitewashing anything and everything they personally don't agree with, fuck The Constitution, they are wiping their asses with it. These criminals are far worse than the normal political criminals. No question. Scumbags running amok. This is like replacing your cell phone with a slice of cheese and expecting it to function. The Republicans have almost nothing to do with Trump, he was a known Democrat and helped fund The Clinton Foundation in years past, but they got duped by this guy. He's even throwing Bush administration era judges under the bus. What an asshole! This is a independent idiot who merely tricked the Republicans and took over their party. It's fun to watch though. This guy is getting nowhere fast. EOs are running out of steam. Pisses on his own new party. This is how the Republican Party ends, with a hostile takeover and a whimper.

      Why not elect a live chicken? He could peck out decisions on a tic-tac-toe board. Or perhaps we could elect a Magic 8-ball? Those things only make decisions! :P

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I mostly agree with you, except the part about "It's fun to watch though." It's not much fun to watch someone (even attempting to) wreck your own home. Now, if I was British or European, I'd probably agree.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "Now, if I was British or European, I'd probably agree."

          Unfortunately we are aware of the saying "If the USA sneezes - everyone else catches a cold".

          For the British - Theresa May is desperately strapping us to a future trade agreement with Trump on any terms to justify her BREXIT approach.

      2. gerdesj Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        "Better than that, this is how"

        You're not from 'round here are you boi? *diga diga* *ding* *ding* *ding*, *ding* *ding*, *ding*, *sproing* *twang* (etc)

        You put a stream (of twaddle) down as an A/C but who cares? I sign my drivel hereabouts with my name because I can and I am fiercely proud of that.

        You ?

        PS I will obviously accept being trodden underfoot by a totalitarian regime as a decent excuse for being circumspect and slightly cloaked.

        1. scarletherring

          So "gerdesj" is your actual name? Must have been tough on you in school! Also: Don Martin called, he wants his noises back.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Better than that, this is how the new administration is whitewashing anything and everything they personally don't agree with, fuck The Constitution, they are wiping their asses with it.

        Well, no, actually, for once they are indeed enforcing a law aimed at transparency and if total visibility of comms is mandated, that should be enforced. I'm sure there's a messenger app out there that can log things, or maybe use Google messenger and get the logs from the NSA (made much easier by Obama's last change to Executive Order 12333*).

        You should learn to think before you get angry: what they have just done is set a precedent against hiding anything themselves. Don't mention that and just let it happen, they're adding yet another strand to the very rope you can hang them with later.

        Less anger, more BOFH.

        * I now finally understand why Obama went out with allowing the NSA to share more of its intel with the other agencies. I have a feeling (as he DID read intelligence briefings) that he already knew of the Russian conversations, and this was his way of lighting the fuse whilst walking out. He must have been surprised by how little time it took to blow up and an article in The Times this morning raised a fun question: will those so quickly ejected stay loyal .. or start talking? I don't expect any Republicans to develop a conscience anytime soon, but the political pressure to appear to have one seems to increase by the minute. Tick .. tock .. tick .. tock.

      4. Tom Paine Silver badge

        These criminals are far worse than the normal political criminals. No question

        Not wanting to piss on your chips, old chap, but I hardly think that's news to anyone, is it?

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      4 Platypus

      When it comes to the Signal/Confide question I was originally on the Signal side, but now I'm looking at Confide. I'm for the solution both sides want.

  2. John H Woods Silver badge

    Are they also ...

    ... asking for recording or transcript of any conversations any of these people have with each other?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are they also ...

      I'm sure part of it is political, but there's also the aspect that this is a government position, which means they're on the taxpayer's dime and therefore subject to FOIA requests. Can you imagine the uproar if a FOIA request comes back with nothing because it was all encrypted?

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Are they also ...

        Can you imagine the uproar if a FOIA request comes back with nothing

        Yes

        and

        Yes

        They're merely following SOP...

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Are they also ...

        Private communications of federal employees with each other are not subject to FOIA requests. Their private communications with others outside the government generally are not either subject to FOIA or other government restriction.

        Public statements about their agencies policies or operations generally are restricted and required to be reviewed or issued by the agency public affairs office.

        Private communications advocating, organizing, or coordinating resistance within the agency to lawful direction might conceivably be of interest in the event of actual insubordination that becomes cause for adverse personnel actions. In most cases, however, it will not because the specific insubordinate acts that lead to adverse action usually will (or will not) be sufficient by themselves, without recourse to communications.

        Paranoia among both employees and managers, is unwarranted.

  3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Illegal order

    How can a federal agency receive an illegal order?

    If it comes from the government it's legal

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Illegal order

      Just ask President Cheeto, if it violates the constitution then it's an illegal order, no matter how many toys he throws out of his pram.

    2. Winkypop Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Illegal order

      The NAZI's already tried that shit at the Nuremberg trials....didn't work out, apparently.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Illegal order

        The NAZI's already tried that shit at the Nuremberg trials....didn't work out, apparently.

        .. and we have a Godwin's law winner :)

        That's IMHO the fun bit with Trump: not only is he rather clueless, he's also not that good at asking and accepting advice - yet he now IS where the buck stops. He's more than 4 weeks into a function where business interests should have been separated before he even started, and there's no sign of him actually doing it.

        Tick .. tock .. tick .. tock .. (yes, I'm trying to get a meme going :) ).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Illegal order

          ".. and we have a Godwin's law winner :)"

          It is difficult to regard the current world situation without seeing parallels with the "Dark Valley" of the 1930s.

          The BBC have started a re-run of the 1997 documentary series "The Nazis: a warning from history". The similarities with the Trump campaign and his administration's subsequent actions are chilling.

        2. Winkypop Silver badge

          Re: Illegal order

          Didn't you get the memo: Godwin's Law suspended for 4 years. (possibly less)

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Illegal order

            >The Judiciary branch can state if the Executive branch break laws enacted by the Legislative branch.

            So a bunch of liberal elite unelected judges can override the President who was elected in a landslide by more than 100% of the people (if you discount all those who illegally voted for the wrong woman)

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: Illegal order

              EVERY REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IS HITLER

              The “Big Lie” has been around for over fifty years.

              Some of us are old enough to remember...

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Illegal order

        In the federal military and civil service, unlawful orders may be argued against, and a service member or employee may require that the order be delivered in written form, which may provide some cover or even cause the order to be changed or withdrawn. In the civil service, an employee who object to an order (whether legal or not) also may resign with immediate effect or take advantage of whistle blower laws.

        Such actions may have career effects, but that also is true of executing an unlawful order.

    3. Potemkine Silver badge

      Re: Illegal order

      If it comes from the government it's legal

      Not necessarily, at least in countries where separation of powers exists.

      The Judiciary branch can state if the Executive branch break laws enacted by the Legislative branch.

      If whatever does the Government is legal, you're not in a country where the Rule of Law applies.

  4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    EPA

    Having dealt with the incompetents at the EPA for various issues over many I found them to both technically incompetent and religious fanatics for lack of a better description. Asking them for clarification and guidance was a pointless exercise as they would normally refuse to give any clarifications or correct their stupidities. As far as agencies I found they are probably worse to deal than the IRS, an agency with a well earned dismal reputation. And if there is a minor error on the EPA forms that could be 5 years in Club Fed even if the error was an honest mistake.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EPA

      Is EPA the new Hillary, then?

    2. AndyS

      Re: EPA

      @ a_yank_lurker

      So, do you think the Repubs plan to replace it with something more fit for purpose?

      Because honestly, the current drive is more like me burning your house down, because the toilet is dirty. Where are you going to sleep tomorrow? Not my problem.

      Bear in mind, before answering, that the same group of lunatics are proposing to get rid of the department of education, and simultaneously defund any state-provided health care which can provide family planning and contraception.

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: EPA

        Part of the problem is the staff is incompetent and highly politicized. Fixing this will be difficult.

        As far as other agencies some are useless and others are necessary. The real problem has been the tendency to see new agency or program as the solution to all problems when many of the problems are much more nuanced and require a solution that no bureaucratic agency can accomplish. So what one ends up with is programs and agencies that cost a lot of money but are failures by any objective standard. Government money has legal restrictions on how it can be spent but private money does not have to have these restrictions.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Plausible deniability

    How can they ask for evidence of something that can't be detected?

    1. MrDamage

      Re: Plausible deniability

      If the staff members in question have been using their own phones, in their own time, then there is absolutely nothing these Republitards can do about it. Not unless they want to try and argue that a job is 24x7 with no personal time, and therefore can be considered slavery, which is illegal.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

        Re: Plausible deniability

        You're right, if these members of the civil service are just planning beerbusts and weekend ski trips together. But if they are conducting public business on their private encrypted system, then I think it has to stop.

        If the Trump administration asks them to do something that is illegal, then we will just have to trust in the courts, the press, Congress and agency inspectors general to stop that. But if what the Trump administration is asking them to do is legal, but not a policy they agree with, then they need to either A) resign or B) execute the lawful policies of the lawful government of the United States, and not their own agendas

        1. Potemkine Silver badge

          Re: Plausible deniability

          But if they are conducting public business on their private encrypted system, then I think it has to stop.

          I thought the US valued the freedom of speech above all, why would these citizen be denied their basic rights to discuss their opinions as they wish because they are federal workers?

          1. Baldy50

            Re: Plausible deniability

            'I thought the US valued the freedom of speech above all, why would these citizen be denied their basic rights to discuss their opinions as they wish because they are federal workers?'

            When they arrest journo's for doing their job are you kidding?

            I think the job/position requires you or expects you to behave yourself, unfortunately for them, they're not important enough to warrant 'someone' protecting there ass are they, like popular TV stars, judges, politicians etc. Nice to see gov officials/staff using encryption, though, finally. IRC might have been a good covert option.

            Don't see much press about the 'Missing Clinton e-mails', all's forgotten/covered up and about that wall?

            Are the frogs really building a wall?

            http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/02/15/paris-protective-glass-walls-eiffel-tower-terrorism/97952678/

          2. BreeBree

            Re: Plausible deniability

            Opinions yes.. but policy and how to work around the Pres. That is not opinion, and remember you have the RIGHT to your opinions but ALSO the RESPONSIBILITY of any action you take based on your opinions.

            To many forget the responsibility part...

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Plausible deniability

            I thought the US valued the freedom of speech above all

            This isn't about freedom of speech - this is about FOI. Working (as I do) for a govenment organisation, I'm aware that what I write is all (potentially - except where I'm dealing with confidential information) subject to FOI.

            Of course, the hypocrisy of the Republicans is that they are quite happy with the Trump team (allegedly) using encrypted chat applications to dodge FOI, but if civil servants attemt to do the same, the Wrath from Above will descend.

    2. Sirius Lee

      Re: Plausible deniability

      Of course it can be detected. At the very least the messages will contain headers that describe the kind of encryption used. Virus checkers will flag encrypted content as not checkable and add headers to the message to indicate that failure. If it's anything like our system admins will receive warnings about potential infringements of policy.

      1. Rimpel

        Re: Plausible deniability

        It can only be detectable if either the communication was using a department issued device or was sent using the departments network.

        You seem to be a bit confused talking about message headers and virus checkers. Are you thinking of email, which is not what the article is talking about.

  6. lglethal Silver badge
    WTF?

    Holy Smeg...

    This guy actually did author a bill to shut down the Department of Education. I checked the text, that is seriously all it says.

    "An Act to Shut down the Department of Education." What the flaming F%&k!!!!

    Man, I knew you Americans had some crazies, and that some of them even get into positions of power, but Damn, that takes the cake! (The Cake, the Biscuit, the Dining Table and the Kitchen Sink if I'm any judge!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Holy Smeg...

      "[...] I knew you Americans had some crazies, and that some of them even get into positions of power, [...]"

      It brings to mind the old saying "Those who want power - are the last people who should be allowed to have it".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Holy Smeg...

      That's why IMHO retired people shouldn't be allowed to vote. I also like that Star Trek TNG episode about the planet where people, reached the age of 65, committed a ritual suicide.

      It looks one of the big issue any administration will have to face will be the explosion of Medicare costs... but because elderly people vote more than young ones (and younger ones cannot vote at all), nobody will touch it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I also like that Star Trek TNG episode [...] where people [at] the age of 65, committed suicide.

        You first.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Holy Smeg...

        "It looks one of the big issue any administration will have to face will be the explosion of Medicare costs [...]"

        Many old people would like the option of an assured gentle death - at a time of their own choosing.

        They have seen too many family and friends suffer for too long in a terminal decline.

        There are however people with political influence who believe that we are born to suffer. Their whole identity is tied into that belief - and forcing other people to suffer through a terminal illness gives them a visceral satisfaction.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Holy Smeg...

      I guess the thinking goes that if you're intelligent then you'll have enough money to educate your own children, and if you don't have money then you must therefore be stupid and free education would be wasted on your children.

      Oh, and it'll help keep those uppity non-whites down, which is probably a bonus to those chuckleheads.

      Well, we all know Americans like shooting things, so now they're lining up a shot at their feet...

      1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

        Re: Holy Smeg...

        The youngest American to have started school after the founding of the US Education Department (not Department of Education, as one of their techies rather snootily pointed out to me once) is now about 45 years old. The youngest to have started school after the founding of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, is about 60. The distribution of good and bad public schools was not vastly different in about 1960 and about 2015.

        By the way, the bulk of the funding for primary and secondary public education is levied locally in the US, largely from property taxes. You could look it up.

    4. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Holy Smeg...

      It it not entirely clear that the federal government has an appropriate role in managing "Education." The proposition that it does at least is an arguable matter for political discussion, and a bill to disestablish the Department of Education is one way to start that political discussion.

      It also is not clear that the Department of Education has brought much improvement to education in the US despite its large budget and the voluminous regulations and "Dear Colleague" letters it has issued.

      It is fairly clear that it has contributed significantly to confusion about sexual abuse at and near colleges and universities and effectively demanded that those institutions act in matters where they have little or no experience or competence and apply rules that, in practical terms, require that accusers have their word accepted without significant question and accused prove their innocence.

      Rape is a felony offense, and other forms of sexual abuse often are at least misdemeanors. They warrant criminal prosecution, along with the constitutional and legal protections for the accused that apply in all criminal cases.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Matt Gaetz (R-FL) introduced a one-line bill to terminate the EPA at the end of 2018"

    Oh well, when an out of scale hurricane will wipe out Florida, maybe it will wipe out him as well...

  8. Bryan Hall

    Overreach is the problem

    The Department of "Education" should be shut down as there is no need for such a department at the federal level. The EPA does have value, but does go way too far and needs to be constrained. For example, so called wetlands on private property. In the EPA's view, if you have a low spot on your land that occasionally collects water during wet periods, that's a wetland in in their view and they will be in your face if you decide to do something to change that, such as filling it in. This overreach is what lacks any sense and causes great anger towards them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Overreach is the problem

      The thing with filling low spots that collect water, is the next time it rains, all the water will flow downhill, fast. When everybody does that, rainwater is not slowed and split into puddles in wetlands at various heights, to stay and slowly dry.

      Instead, all of it rushes down to the lowest point, where it causes flash floods.

      There are good reasons to keep that particular kind of temporary wetlands, often located where it rains rarely, but when it does, it pours. In those places, they literally save lives.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Overreach is the problem

        There are good reasons to keep that particular kind of temporary wetlands, often located where it rains rarely, but when it does, it pours. In those places, they literally save lives.
        They also make great places for mosquitoes to breed. And mosquitoes spread diseases like Malaria, Dog Heartworm, Dengue, Yellow Fever, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, LaCrosse Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus, Zika Virus... You appear to have a very unusual interpretation of the phrase "save lives".

        1. Tom Paine Silver badge

          Re: Overreach is the problem

          Those might become a problem in a few decades time when the parts of the south that aren't stricken by semi-permanent drought develop endemic pools of mossie-born pathogens. Not such a big deal these days, though, surely. One assumes that that risk figures in the cost benefit analysis somewhere.

      3. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: Overreach is the problem

        There are good reasons to keep that particular kind of temporary wetlands, often located where it rains rarely, but when it does, it pours. In those places, they literally save lives.

        Altruism in the public interest is probably never going to be wildly popular anywhere, but it's hard to imagine a less popular attitude in the US over the last few decades. Maybe the EPA needs to do a better job communicating why they make decisions like those... or maybe people need to actually read them and think about it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Overreach is the problem

      "The Department of "Education" should be shut down as there is no need for such a department at the federal level."

      Really? You've seen the insanity at the school district/state level (Creationism and false sex ed etc.) and you think that's ok?

      Education absolutely needs protection at the federal level as otherwise it's completely at the mercy of the religious fundamentalists and puritans that dominate the red states.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Overreach is the problem

        And what happens to schools everywhere when one of those religious fundamentalists gets to Washington?

        1. Tom Paine Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Overreach is the problem

          If you elect someone who tries to implement insane fundamentalist policies across the country, you've already got bigger prob ---

          Oh, right. :/

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Overreach is the problem

          "And what happens to schools everywhere when one of those religious fundamentalists gets to Washington?"

          Probably these charts of US states' STI/teenage pregnancy birth rates go light colours all over. (The colour scheme is counter-intuitive - light means higher rate).

          https://www.indy100.com/article/map-us-states-with-most-stis-7573761

          https://thenationalcampaign.org/data/compare/1701

  9. SeanC4S

    Yeh, I agree. It is fun to watch. And also hard to avoid if you surf any of the media. People on US right keep altering with their guy until they are rotated 180 degrees opposite of their original viewpoints. You ain't never seen anything like it.

  10. HurdImpropriety

    Obummer

    Sure... instead... lets just leave our top secret emails on an unsecured email server... that will solve this discussion...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Obummer

      Citation needed or it's just another lie.

  11. Brian Allan 1

    Shutting down the EPA and Board of Education sound about right for the Trump government's level of incompetence and idiocy! Expect more of the same to come...

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      As a earlier post observed somewhat differently, the main difference in education since the federal Department of Education was established is civil service and contractor staffing under management by the Secretary of Education. That, and the turmoil in public schools arising from periodic changes to educational standards.

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