When I grew up, the trendy always said: “No matter how paranoid you are, they’re always doing more than you think.”
I met American financial guru Max Keiser a couple of days ago for a chat which ended up in yesterday’s blog.
He appears on the RT television channel – apparently it is no longer called Russia Today because another Russian channel is now using that name. He has his own show called The Keiser Report. As far as I know, no-one else is yet producing a show with that name.
When we arranged to meet, I asked (via an e-mail) for his mobile phone number.
“I don’t have a phone,” he replied.
How strange, I thought.
He is a TV presenter and journalist I thought… No mobile phone?
Then I thought further.
Aha! I thought. Either he just doesn’t want to give out his number to all and sundry… OR… Maybe it is because he works for RT – which is financed by the Russian government.
Maybe people who work for RT do not have mobile phones because it means they could be tracked by GPS positioning and I presume that the microphones on mobile phones (as with landlines) can be remotely activated so that anything said near them can be listened-in-to.
In fact, when I met Max, it seemed he just can’t be bothered with mobile phones. Seems strange to me. But then most things do. Also, his show is produced for RT by the US company Associated Press.
So we had our chat and, yesterday morning, I was transcribing the conversation I recorded on my iPhone onto my MacBook Pro computer.
I had got about halfway through. I had typed in references to Russia Today, corruption at the UK’s Big Four banks, the Iranian government’s Press TV channel and was typing a bit about the Al Jazeera English channel when everything new I typed suddenly started appearing in Russian Cyrillic letters.
On the screen, it read:
So, if executives have fallen into disfavour with Al Jazeera, they have to sneak out of the country.
“What show did you make for them?”
We had a long-standing contract to make a series of documentary films for a show called People & Power.
“And why is Russia Today doing a capitalist business programme?”
Well, Russia Today has left the Cold War far behind unlike America, which still ыууьы ещ цфте ещ иу ашпрештп еру Сщдв Цфкю Ша нщг дщщл фе еру круещкшс сщьштп щге
I typed a bit more.
Ша нщг дщщл фе еру круещкшс сщьштп щге щаююю
I tried typing gibberish – random English letters. They read:
I studied Russian for two years at school but, of course, I can neither speak nor read it. I am, after all, British.
I went into the Settings of the computer, into Language and Region… It said Preferred Languages: British English primary and gave English (presumably American English) as a second preference. It said my region was United Kingdom.
I looked at the Keyboard Text preferences. It said British English.
I went back and typed more random letters. They came up on the screen as:
рпсоп ирщшгнгщ8 итгн эжщх
Minor paranoia sidled into the back of my mind.
Fair enough, there’s always a slight chance some SigInt computer somewhere might have me on a vague-watch list. I will be on some minor computerised file somewhere because my father had to be positively vetted for his job during the Cold War (he worked for a radar company and had to visit the bunkers in the late 1950s); I worked for BBC News where (I was later told by my boss) there was a slight delay accepting me because, at that time, all potential employees’ details were sent “for checking”; and I have been to places like Albania under Enver Hoxha, Siberia, Soviet Central Asia, Laos and two trips to North Korea. In mitigation, my first trip to North Korea in 1986 also included the Head of the BBC’s South East Asian Section, a reporter for The Times and a reporter for the Guardian.
It would be a very over-enthusiastic listening computer who paid any real attention to me and to the fact I was typing the words Russia Today, RT, Iranian government, Press TV, Al Jazeera (and, as it happens, the word beheading) – and, even then, why start changing the text I am typing into Cyrillic? As a paranoia-inducing warning?
As far as I knew, I had not changed the keyboard from British English to Russian by mistake and, surely to do that, I would have had to probably simultaneously hold down the Command or Alt key and one or two other keys.
But I have no problem with being eavesdropped-on.
This whole recent Edward Snowden hoo-hah about the NSA and GCHQ hoovering-up communications information on millions of people willy-nilly in countries worldwide bemuses me.
Surely that is their job???
If you are a criminal or an international terrorist, you should have the common sense not to carry a mobile phone, not to put any sensitive information on any computer linked to the internet and not to talk in any room with a telephone receiver in it.
I just assume anything everyone says anywhere may be listened-in-to and that could be in the street or in any room in your or anybody else’s house. Who knows what level of technology the satellites have up there in the sky? It is entirely possible that every sound on earth is being listened-in-to with everything filtered out except human voices and the computers listening for certain key words in key languages.
Car number plates are routinely read by cameras all over the UK. Even my local Sainsbury supermarket’s computer reads the number plates of vehicles going into its car park and displays the time your free parking ends. Street cameras can use face recognition systems. The new Apple iPhone has fingerprint recognition of its owner.
What I’m saying is the level at which I am liable to get worried about the government (any government) reading my computer and listening-in on my telephone is virtually non-existent. I really don’t care. Thank god we had the Ultra Secret in World War II and the Germans did not know we had it.
Still… It was bizarre that, without me doing anything, my Mac’s keyboard was suddenly typing in Russian yesterday. So I booked a free appointment at an Apple Store for yesterday afternoon.
I finished my blog yesterday morning on my eternally-un-named friend’s unaffected MacBook computer.
And, just before I went to the Apple Store in the afternoon, I checked my own computer again.
It was still typing in Russian.
Then I noticed a Russian flag had appeared in the menubar.
Sure enough, when I changed the flag to a British one, the words I typed reverted to English.
It seem that, when I had looked in the Keyboard Preferences, I had not checked the Input Sources menu which allows you to change the keyboard language.
So – as in most cases – this was an example supporting the balls-up theory of history rather than any conspiracy theory.
Except that, for this balls-up to have happened, I would have had to – unknowingly – while transcribing – move the computer cursor up to the menubar, click to make the drop-down menu appear, move the cursor down from the British flag to the Russian flag and change the setting from British to Russian.
The other odd thing is that, in my menubar settings, I know I did have the option to change the keyboard from British to Italian (I have a friend who lives in Italy) but, as far as I am aware, I had never ever inserted the ability to switch to Russian.
Why would I?
That remains a mystery.
But – frankly – I don’t give a shit what happens in the upper Echelons.