Monday, November 4, 2013

Cyberspace espionage and Ghana’s interests: Fallouts from the Alban Bagbin saga

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Folks, I am more than concerned at the manner in which President Mahama and his appointees are conducting government business through cyberspace. At least, everything is confirmed by the fact that the most preferred medium for reacting to the charges brought against the President by Alban Bagbin is Facebook, not any other medium.
Why should cyberspace be the favoured medium? Are these government functionaries so unpatriotic and stupidly uninformed about the danger posed to our country’s security by their recourse to cyberspace, where all manner of people and systems troll for intelligence to guide their relationship with countries and people(s)?

Let’s not be deceived that using the online media for conducting government business is anything to be proud of. Cyberspace is a dangerous environment in which to conduct government business. Unfortunately, there seems to be so much trust in it that the Mahama-led government functionaries have no compunction but to turn to it to conduct government business. Nothing can be more threatening to national security than this new-fangled recourse to cyberspace.
Of course, president Mahama himself is credited with being a communication(s) expert, indicating that he knows the importance of communication networks/systems and dynamics and can use communication to advantage. He has carved a kind of niche for himself as such. Under Rawlings, he was a deputy and a substantial Minister of Communication, and he is touted as a communication(s) expert.
No one doubts that credential. He is proud of it himself and doesn’t hesitate to prove it at the least prompting, using all kinds of technology (addressing Parliament by using an I-Pad, and appearing at the United Nations and the CNN, splashed in everything technology!)
He is even featured at times using social networking through Facebook and other online media to project himself as media-savvy and adept at harnessing the benefits of online media for political purposes. He seems to be unstoppable and can get carried away by such technological affordances; but he can’t escape the danger inherent in such media. He may not be aware of it and has to be told straight-away that he has reached the tipping point!
The last time I read anything about his recourse to social media was the report portraying him as turning to Facebook at the break of the day when he began his official schedule. We were given to know that he did so by using Facebook to inform his followers of “what was up” for him that day (and beyond).
The first people to react to that news report described him as lazy and idle, apparently because they didn’t like the fact that he would turn to Facebook as the first activity for the day instead of attending to more serious official business that morning.
Of course, one disadvantage of Facebook (especially for those addicted to it) is that it occupies one’s time and can be very “distracting” unless used wisely. It takes a lot of moral and courage and a tinge of security consciousness to keep within bounds.
The point is that it is unbecoming for a President of a developing country to make Facebook his priority when expected to use other means to solve national problems. The problem in this case is the misguided trust and rush for Facebook at the expense of more intelligent and secure ways of conducting government business. I am being very candid at this point.
When I read those comments reacting to President Mahama’s dependence on Facebook, I cringed, wondering at the same time whether there was something seriously wrong. My fear is that the crave for Facebook is too strong in government circles. Just do a quick search to find out how many government officials aren’t registered on Facebook, and how many of them don’t put messages out there that have some elements of “state secret” in them.
Clearly, Facebook has wrongfully become the main channel through which government business is being be done at different levels. True to my apprehensions, events unfolding in the wake of the scathing criticisms coming from Alban Bagbin lay everything bare.
In reacting to Bagbin’s criticisms, a Presidential Staffer (Stan Xoese Dogbe) chose Facebook as the appropriate medium and dumped his acerbic feelings there, hoping that his friends there would access his message and spread it to a wider audience.
True to his expectations, it worked well for him because the online media (Myjoyonline) bit the bait and sourced his message to circulate. There and then, the news broke out that Bagbin was “an enemy within the government” and a “liar” to be pooh-poohed for criticizing President Mahama. Other news portals culled the report and everything went viral thereafter.
We have since been given other doses of this “medicine” in political gimmicks—all traceable to cyberspace as the hub of the communication business. No well-informed government official will repose that much trust in cyberspace to conduct government business (of communication between and among functionaries therein). On ignorant imps will think otherwise.
Pathetically, these government functionaries have betrayed themselves and the country by using this online social medium (Facebook—who knows which other online media have been used?) to fight this wordy warfare.
Every bit of word being communicated will be accessed and assessed for its intelligence and national security import by those interested in Ghana’s affairs. Remember the Wikileaks releases and the cables from the United States Embassy in Accra?
The government officials using cyberspace to exchange information concerning government business have acted in abysmal ignorance and arrant stupidity, demonstrating clearly their lack of wisdom and discipline, let alone responsible behaviour for good citizenship. They are clearly ignorant of the peril of cyber surveillance, which amounts to putting governance and Ghana’s security interests at risk. The type, amount, and quality of information exchanged on Facebook in this Bagbin fracas is unquantifiable. The damage may not be immediately felt; but it will definitely materialize one day!
I can stick my neck out to say that those who know the value of the information that has been put out there by these government functionaries in the matter concerning Bagbin’s concerns have already MINED it to Ghana’s disadvantage.
One undeniable fact must be made clear: Facebook is not an INNOCENT or disinterested medium. It may afford us the opportunity to interact easily and expediently with each other; but it has its deeper-level affordances that hinge on access to national security and intelligence that no level-headed person can discount. Otherwise, why would the National Security Agency of the United States be keen on monitoring all that goes on there? And to extend the surveillance to Google, etc.? Surely, there must be something useful in cyberspace to warrant such manouevres there!!
Against this background, it is alarming for us to get this news report about the stance of the Deputy Minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Aquinas Quansah, who has debunked Bagbin’s concerns by saying that President Mahama is still accessible because:
•           President Mahama always responds to text messages sent him by his ministers as well as engages his appointees on various social media platforms and so wonders why Bagbin is making claims to the contrary. He urged Bagbin to review his approach at trying to get access to the President.
•           President Mahama might not call you; you might not reach him on phone, but either whatssApp you can definitely get him to respond to your questions.
•           He is a very interactive President, but we are not exploring those opportunities. You can just go on his wall [Facebook] he is on all the [social media] platforms.
(See: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/politics/artikel.php?ID=290928)
Doubtless, this MP is abysmally ignorant of the wily nature of technology and cyberspace, which is why he has gone to this pathetic extent of praising President Mahama’s recourse to technology for conducting government business. Which well-informed politician (let alone a President of a sovereign country) can’t be smart enough to know the dangers involved in using open-access media such as Facebook to conduct government business without a third party’s ability to “listen to” the exchanges?
Even, a fairly reasonable being knows that the e-mail system is not SAFE because there is always a third unknown party hiding behind the scene to intercept the communication!! Only an abysmal fool will think otherwise and behave as such. Nothing is fool-proof.
Are these Mahama-led administration officials so daft as not to know that they have no control over the medium and the traffic of information in cyberspace (especially on Facebook) or that the owners of the medium have agenda other than what the users may know of? Who knows what determines the interests of Zuckerberg and the owners of Facebook?
Who are they working for as they gather all the unquantifiable data from enthusiastic Facebook users like us? How much control do we have over the content that we put out there to be gathered and stored for whatever ulterior motive?
So, in effect, when our government officials become so foolishly fascinated and enamoured with Facebook as the Alpha and Omega of their communication business, they create anxious moments and endanger our national security. These are people to fear because they have allowed their ignorance or senseless technocentric interests to endanger us all!! Do they just want to be recognized as tech-savvy or what?
Indeed, I am alarmed that the President himself and his team of functionaries will repose so much trust in cyberspace as to make it the most favoured channel of communication instead of the face-to-face interaction or traditional means of correspondence (memoranda or letters) to help them keep their secrets (and those of the country) SECRET!!
This fanatical and childish crave for cyberspace is frightening and must be addressed now before anything horrible happens. In contemporary times, espionage is done in ways that demand better approaches to counteract. It is no more physical but “soft” (done online through media such as Facebook, etc.). How much these government functionaries expose with their mindless trust in Facebook as the quickest and most readily available medium of communication can be anybody’s guess.
This issue adds a different complexion to the concerns that Bagbin’s effusions have brought up. I wish that our government functionaries will be more circumspect in their conduct of government business. If they insist on rushing to cyberspace to do government business, they will create more problems for the country than needed. 
Doing government business on the basis of expedient communication shouldn’t mean exposing government business to the faceless elements lurking around in cyberspace. Why should anybody make Ghana’s interests an easy picking in cyberspace? Will President Mahama and his government functionaries become more enlightened of the dangers entailed by cyberspace? Another conundrum to ponder!!
I shall return…
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