Nov 28 2010

Does “Gulf War printer virus” hoax have roots in a WWII sailor’s tale?

Guess which story includes names, dates, places, and other details...
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The “Gulf War printer virus” hoax (aka the “NSA printer virus” hoax) started off as an April Fool’s joke published in InfoWorld. It exploded into the mainstream when two foolish high-ranking U.S. officials leaked the “story” to U.S. News & World Report, which in turn duped millions of readers—

—among them, Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, who in turn duped millions of TV viewers. Very messy.

The “story” took a serious downturn when USN&WR refused to retract it. Red-faced editors tersely admitted their unidentified sources’ claims “could not be confirmed” … and then they refused to publish any readers’ letters about it.

This “story” even gained a pompous contrivance before it finally died off. Quoting my writeup from way back when:

Some military “sources” now claim NSA really did intercept printers bound for Iraq, but they planted homing beacons instead of computer viruses. According to one variation on the story, the homing beacons never proved themselves — because a fighter jet smart-bombed them while they sat in an Iraqi depot.

“These claims fail to account for the most important fact of all,” I noted in my writeup. “InfoWorld concocted the whole thing in 1991 as an April Fool’s joke!”

Ah, but exactly where did this “fighter jet smart-bomb” contrivance come from? The answer may lie on the USS North Carolina, a battleship now on historic display for those who wish to experience how sailors lived & fought in WWII.

A storyboard on the USS North Carolina tells a WWII tale much like the Gulf War printer virus hoax

A storyboard on the USS North Carolina tells a WWII tale much like the Gulf War printer virus hoax

A storyboard on the deck of the ship tells the tale of Almon Oliver, a naval pilot who once tried to capture a mini-submarine. His tale ends almost exactly like the contrivance for the Gulf War printer virus. In Oliver’s own words:

“After the fleet had been at anchor at Ulithi for several days, General Quarters was sounded early in the morning. Destroyers were racing around in the anchorage dropping depth charges. Near the entrance to the harbor, the tanker was afire and burning furiously. The “word” on the deck was that several mini-subs sneaked into the anchorage and were about to fire torpedoes in all directions. We loaded depth charges…

“[We] located a mini-sub on the surface about a half-mile outside the [harbor] entrance. One man stood on the deck and waved as we circled the sub at low altitude. Lt. Paul Wogan, a great humanitarian, suggested that he fly over to the little ship and have them follow so as to capture the sub while I stayed to watch. In the meantime, word was on the air about the sub and along came a flight of TBMs and blew him up with .50 caliber fire. So ended our plan to capture an enemy submarine.”

I’ll admit it sounds like a fisherman’s tale of “the one that got away.” Yet it also sounds like the contrived ending to the “Gulf War Printer Virus” hoax.

Did you notice the big difference between these two tales?

The WWII storyboard directly quotes Almon Oliver, who (a) identified exactly where it happened and (b) identified a fellow aviator by name. Compare his tale to the USN&WR “story” that didn’t even name its sources…


Other Links to this Post

  1. Stuxnet, cyberwar, cybersabotage, blah… | ESET ThreatBlog — 3 February 2011 @ 1:36 am