Jan 31 2013

Officer gets promoted after orchestrating USAF-wide cyber hoax

Let's hope fate catches up with this guy someday
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A bizarre thing happened in 1984: the U.S. Air Force stripped a sergeant of his “Airman of the Year” medal. Seems he pulled a massive hoax on USAF, and they didn’t take kindly to it. His name was expunged from the official record of recipients who earned the prestigious medal.

Technical Sergeant William J. Richardson {ahem} disappeared soon after the Stars & Stripes newspaper exposed his hoax in a story published on 20 July 1984. He “fell off the radar,” as they say; his ultimate fate is lost in the mists of time.

Okay, now fast-forward to January 2008. Major Mark D. Hedden — an untrained cyberspace warrior — single-handedly convinced the entire United States Air Force to “buddy spike” a respectable website run by retired U.S. Marines. He ended up orchestrating one of the most prolific hoaxes pulled on USAF since 1984.

Memo to Mark Hedden: check out this story about you, too! Happy fifth anniversary.

So! What’s one fundamental difference between Hedden and Richardson? Answer: Richardson’s career ended rather abruptly — but Hedden earned a promotion and, almost certainly, a medal for exemplary performance during his tour at the 1st Special Olympicsperations Wing.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Lt. Col. Hedden’s hoax. “Hurray.”

“Waitaminit, Rob,” you interject. “You said ‘one’ fundamental difference. What’s another?” Richardson wrote bald-faced lies in his biography; Hedden was incompetent due to a total lack of training. “That seems like a more fundamental difference than their career lengths.” Okay, you got me there. I’m glad you at least fact-check me before my columns go public. “Sarcasm, Rob?” Please, let’s not digress.

I’ll bet a soda Hedden is still ensconced in USAF’s “cyberspace” community — and it’s possible he now wields influence in USAF’s dangerously shallow groupthink mentality. Imagine him starting every conversation as follows:

“I’ve been a cyber warrior for many years now, and I honed my craft at 1SOW, and it’s my firm belief that…”

I almost pity William J. Richardson. (“Almost.”) If he’d orchestrated a cyber hoax, he would’ve earned another stripe to go along with his Air Force Achievement Medal for exemplary performance.

Then again, fate sometimes catches up with people when they least expect it. This story, for example, might some day be rewritten as a tale about Hedden’s climb up the rank ladder…