While in Kabul doing research for “War: The Afterparty,” I was approached via Facebook by “X,” a cybersecurity expert and programming staffer in the Afghan government. We agreed to meet for pizza near Shar-e-Naw Park and to keep his identity anonymous in the interview. When I mentioned our meeting to the head of a prominent national IT company, he said, “Oh, the white hat hacker?” The name stuck. This interview was transcribed by Afterparty editor Anaka Allen.
WHH: I am a computer forensics guy. I do computer investigation for the government.
BG: Who would be the main targets for cyber crime here?
WHH: For now, as I see it, our government doesn’t care about cyber crime.
BG: ’Cause they have other things to worry about.
WHH: No. They don’t know the importance of cybercrime. They say we need physical security first, but our physical security depends on cyber security. For example, our cabinet is doing planning, strategy. If your cyber is not secure, someone can get that data and give it to your enemies. An enemy that knows your plan, you cannot defeat him.
BG: Are you hopeful for Afghanistan’s security next year, with most Western security gone?
WHH: Well, I have good friends in ISAF that are cyber security specialist guys. They are really trying to help us build something. So I am hopeful.
BG: So, having the United States/ coalition expertise over the last 13 years, did that create some window of opportunity to develop certain things for the country?
WHH: Well, since the beginning, I saw them trying to do something for Afghanistan, there are people who don’t want to work, they don’t want to improve.
For example, your guys provide an advisor to a government guy at a senior management level. And I’m the guy who works at the lower level but I have a supervisor above me. You are giving me some standard materials, and I’m making a framework. But once this framework reaches to my management level, they’re saying, “You’re wasting your time.” See, there are people in the middle level who don’t want to work for their country. So, ISAF is trying, I am trying, but in the middle there are people who don’t want to work.
BG: So we gotta get rid of the old people [laughter]. Or the generation that doesn’t get it.
WHH: The generation that’s corrupted. Do you know how much money is coming every year to Afghanistan? That’s like uncountable.
BG: Uncountable. At one point, more than the national GDP, right?
WHH: That’s too much. Where does it go?
BG: You tell me, where does it go?
WHH: I’m telling you the middleware people are corrupted. They’re taking bribes, they’re not honest.
In a network, there are PCs connected to each other, then these PCs are infected by a virus. If you want to control the situation, you need to reinstall the PCs, you need to install the firewall for them. You need to monitor them continuously. You have to make the system clean. For example, we went to audit, the minister of finance has a system that collects taxes from the people. The problem is sometimes the people who are responsible for the entry in the system, they’re not registering these to the system. So the system will not work. You have to do some background check on the guy, if you’re hiring him for the job. So my idea, if someone wants to make Afghanistan a better place, you have to first make the system.
BG: And how do you do that?
WHH: For example, we have in Afghanistan, 26 ministries. You design everything for them, a single system. You give them their part. We have a system, one database, one part belongs to the minister of finance, another part to MOI, MOD and you’re doing a bit of specification for everyone. This ministry has rights to do this, this ministry has rights to this. And then they have to put their entries, and this whole system should be monitored by another agency which is like a national security agency, like NSA in America. So, if anyone is corrupting things, illegal things here, they will know this.
BG: So how much of what you’re describing is being built now? Nothing?
BG: Do you think Ghani and Abdullah, of course they’re not IT people, do you think they get the need for these kinds of controls?
WHH: Well maybe they want to, but as I told you…
BG: There’s mid-level people who are either incompetent or corrupt. Is that what you are saying?
WHH: The middleware people will not allow us to give the information to Ghani.
BG: ‘Will not allow us,’ that’s a strong statement. But is it because of incompetence or corruption?
WHH: I think that it’s some kind of politics, because maybe these middleware guys working for another country and doesn’t want our government to improve.
BG: So you think they are, in effect, treasonous…
BG: Another strong statement. Because they have either some philosophical and cultural allegiance to Iran, Pakistan, Russia or wherever, or they are actually being paid?
WHH: Being paid.
BG: That’s a serious problem. And you better be careful how aggressive you are…
WHH: Well I’m not telling these things to everyone. I’m just telling you because you would be conveying this message to the outside world. People need to hear, all the Americans are not here, but they need to know what’s going on here. We are using their money, but we are not getting their money, it’s middleware.
BG: When you say “middleware” is that sort of like a metaphor for the middle management people?
WHH: Yeah. Well what I’m trying to tell you, in conclusion, if the system is computerized, there would be less corruption.
BG: So technology is the answer at some level. One of the answers.
WHH: Yes. You have to use technology to make it right.