“Man, think of all the other examples,” Jonny continued. “Paper money is easier to carry than heavy coins, but it is also easier to counterfeit. Airplanes are better than cars for long distances but airplanes put a large concentration of people into a confined space making them vulnerable to hijacking and terrorism.
“Part of the price we pay for progress is that crooks can make use of the new technology as easily as the rest of us can. Technology doesn’t discriminate.
“That goes both ways. Any technology that crooks use, can also be used against them. The way I see it, the playing field is level and always will be. Technology doesn’t change that.”
The coffee was done by now and Jonny served everybody, starting with Agnes and ending with me. The small coffee-maker brewed just enough coffee to fill our four cups with a small amount left over. I don’t particularly like coffee, but when I do have it I like it black without sugar. Adding cream and sugar only makes a distasteful drink worse in my opinion.
“This millwright dude might be able to exploit weaknesses in the bank network to steal money, and he might be a hot-shot crypto guy, but we can match him with the same technology. Hell, we can call in the NSA.”
“That shouldn’t be necessary Jonny,” Agnes interjected firmly. “The NSA is coming only to comment on the strength of DES.”
I’d heard about the rivalry between government agencies and I suspect this was an example of where the rivalry was blocking the most efficient path to a solution. It was clear to me that the FBI didn’t really have the resources to deal with hackers as skilled in cryptology as the millrace team appeared to be.
Lisa chimed in with an anecdote about the invention of cars helping crooks. According to Lisa, Clyde — of Bonnie and Clyde fame — wrote a letter to Henry Ford congratulating him on the speed of his new cars. Clyde stated that Ford automobiles made excellent get-away vehicles and thanked Henry. Lisa insisted that this was a true story.
I took a sip of my coffee. Jonny had already finished his. He walked over to the table and poured himself another cup. Then he carried the pot over and topped off Lisa’s cup.
Showing a weakness in character, I opened up a can of worms. “Hey Jonny, if a level playing field is all the FBI asks, then why impose restrictions on key sizes? Why ask for legislation?”
Agnes cut in. “We didn’t invite you here to discuss politics Mr. Raymond,” she snapped.
“I’ll give them until 10:30,” Agnes continued as she pushed her chair back from the desk and stood up. She walked across the room to the coffee pot, found it empty, glanced at Jonny, and began to prepare a fresh pot of coffee.
“They called this meeting, the least they can do is be on time,” she muttered. From what I had heard it had been Agnes’ superior, not the NSA, that had called the meeting. I said nothing.
Agnes filled the machine with water from one of the gallon jugs under the table. She continued to mutter under her breath as she tried to peel a filter away from the others, but instead peeled off two or three. It took a while for her to separate a single filter, and she muttered under her breath all the while. Picking up a pair of scissors from the counter beside the machine, she cut open an envelope of coffee grinds, dumped them in the machine, and jabbed the `brew’ button with her finger. I noticed she made de-caff this time. She stood and glared at the machine while the coffee brewed, as if she expected the machine to quit the moment she turned her back. Finally, apparently satisfied that she had intimidated the machine into loyal service, she whirled around and headed back to her desk.
“What time do you have, Jonny,” she snapped.
“10:11,” came the reply.
“When these people do finally show up, let me do the talking, understand?” Agnes said to me.
“Fine. These people are from your corner, not mine.”
The room fell silent. Jonny said nothing more about the fluctuations between strong cryptography and strong cryptanalysis. Agnes had made it clear that she didn’t want to hear it. I found it interesting that those comments came from an FBI agent. It is the very agency for which Jonny works that seems to be unaware of these fluctuations. The FBI argument for key escrow hinges upon the belief that the latest swing in these fluctuations is an unprecedented event; past fluctuations are ignored.