Read Part One of the interview at http://briangruber.tumblr.com/post/109933161004/kabuls-white-hat-hacker-on-afghan-cybersecurity
“X” is a cybersecurity 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. He is known in Kabul IT circles as a ‘White Hat Hacker.’ This interview was transcribed by Afterparty editor Anaka Allen.
Brian: So what about your personal stance as an Afghan and patriot and and educated smart guy who could probably find great opportunity elsewhere. US forces leaving, Taliban wants to take control again. What do you see for 2015, how worried are you about your own security and the security of the country? Putting network stuff aside.
WHH: Well as I told you the other day, in Kabul everyday something is happening. And the day after that something else happens. (A teenager blew himself up at a school play at Kabul’s Lycee Esqetlal school).
BG: A few days before the suicide bombing, I went by there and took pictures. It’s very centrally located.
WHH: Security is our every worry.
BG: How worried are you that it will get much worse and that the Taliban can take over the country again?
WHH: Well if the system goes like this, like now, definitely there may be some side effects. But, they are not powerful so much that they would take over Afghanistan.
BG: Cause a lot of people are sick of what they saw when they took over. My sense is that there was civil war, fighting and finally here’s these nice Islamic fellows who just want to teach the Quran and create peace, so there was some maybe suspicion but people said, hey, give them a chance. And then they saw these guys are fucking the worst.
WHH: It’s not about Islam. In America we have Muslims, in India we have Muslims, in France we have Muslims. They are living peacefully. It’s a political game. It’s not Islam. They are Pakistani far-side groups. They have support of other countries. It’s not about Islam, they’re just using Islam.
BG: What percentage of Taliban fighters, activists, genuinely believe they are conducting a holy jihad, they are God’s chosen force.
WHH: The people who are on the lower level. Uneducated. The ones who bomb these things, they’re injected with some kind of material. They don’t know what they’re doing.
BG: I mean come on, 16 years old.
WHH: If you check his blood, in a lab, check it out, there might be some kind of chemical.
BG: Some kind of methamphetamine, something, drugs.
WHH: I don’t know, something.
BG: Someone said to me yesterday, the guy has got to be Pakistani or educated at the madrassas there, because an Afghan would not do that.
WHH: Might be true. But our intelligence is not quite good.
BG: Why do you think the United States allows an ally to work against its interests that aggressively over many years? Is it fear of nuclear weapons control? Is it that we need Pakistan for an ally? I’m reading one book by Steve Coll called Ghost Wars. He’s writing about the Pakistan covert involvement with the Taliban 15 years ago. With the United States pushing all this money through ISI, through Pakistan. So why do you think the U.S. puts up with that?
WHH: In the first, there were Russians in Afghanistan. I guess the US created this project.
BG: Cold War.
WHH: Cold War. Created Al Qaeda to fight the Russians.
BG: Created a monster.
WHH: But then this monster went rogue. America wasn’t able to control it anymore. Because they were uneducated people. Suddenly they changed their decision and said I’m not following your orders anymore.
BG: So what you said is what I hear uniformly, which is that Taliban are too weak and too despised by too many people to take over all of Afghanistan again. Having said that, is the threat that they will simply destabilize and create misery for a long time?
WHH: The big problem in Afghanistan is that it’s a house that doesn’t have walls around it. So they can destabilize sometimes, create some kind of incident which would show that Afghanistan is destabilized, but it won’t be critical.
BG: Among your friends, people your age, level of education, professionals, what’s the attitude towards this 13 year occupation? I mean certainly no one wants to be occupied, no one wants foreign military in their country, historically Afghans don’t like foreign military. Occasionally, there is a civilian killing, there’s frustrations with not enough money going to poor people, and to average Afghans. So in your community, your social network, what’s peoples’ attitudes towards these 13 years of occupation or intervention? Good things? Stay longer? Americans go home? Thank you very much for what you’ve done, now go home?
WHH: I would say like we have some improvements. We’re thankful now. We still need some support. I’m not saying only Afghans are dying, Americans are also dying here. They have parents, they have family. I will just tell you a small answer. NSA is able to create like a (unclear). There are some other agencies behind these people, the Islamic radical people, that America cannot fight that country directly. Like Pakistan…it will create like an international mess. So it is like chess, it’s like an international game. That’s not part of Islam.
If you’re the guy leading the Islamic groups, you are everyday sending e-mail…you can find his router in like a millisecond. You don’t need to send a force to him, you can get him with a drone. But, you cannot do it because there are some kind of supports behind him.
BG: You’re saying, if the United States NSA is so strong and so smart, that they can get through.
WHH: I believe the NSA can crack anything in the world. Why? You didn’t ask me why.
WHH: If you’re creating something, you are the owner, you know everything about it. The internet was created by DARPA…defense project right? They can crack anything.
BG: Yea, that’s a nice advantage to have. From a hypothetical point of view, what you say makes sense to me. Now I’m trying to drill down to the specifics. So you think the United States can’t go to Pakistan and say, “Hey motherfucker, our soldiers are dying, you’re destabilizing the world, we’re giving you all this money, time to come to some agreement…”
WHH: I believe they can. America can do that. But something bigger will happen if they go there and tell them, “Hey motherfucker, don’t do that.”…but some powerful countries…they would start by saying, “Don’t touch our friends,” then at the end what would happen? World War III would happen. That’s why I guess America is avoiding to make this bigger.
BG: Because Afghanistan’s important, but World War III is more important. Afghanistan security at this restaurant is important, but avoiding Pakistani nuclear weapons hitting New York is more important….
WHH: But I hope there would be politicals talking with them so they could solve it by talking with each other.
BG: Well, they’ve been talking a long time. How long do you need to talk? [Laughs]
What do you think is the state of the Afghan army and police force? Do you think that they are going to do a credible job next year of keeping security in the country?
WHH: Well, you don’t only need troops to do the job. You need to have some accessories like you need good guns and good armor. You need good surveillance. Surveillance first to find out what the enemy is doing.
BG: Which I think the general sense is, the United States is not going to stop providing that, so I think surveillance, hardware…
WHH: United States has given them everything, but there is not capacity. I’m telling you for 13 years America is trying to make us something, but the middleware is trying to kill it.
BG: And by middleware, you mean middle people.
WHH: So Americans try and America is giving money.
BG: Do you have friends or people you know who have a really different attitude than you, and they’re saying, “American imperialists, infidels occupying our country, get them out of here, we want them gone completely, we can do fine on our own?” Do you have any friends who have that point of view?
WHH: No, because my friends that I talk to are educated.
BG: So educated professional people do not have that point of view? Like I told you this guy from Herat, 65 years old, former mujaheddin, really wonderful smart guy, but probably uneducated, certainly doesn’t have the modern education that you do. He says that it’s time for Americans to go, we can actually do better with security without the United States, and he says the United States is behind the Taliban. The first part you probably wouldn’t agree with, the second part is, he said, “America is behind the Taliban,” which I found too strong a statement without context, because, he said, “If America really wanted to find the Taliban, really wanted to shut down the Taliban they could do it overnight. They’re providing them with funding.” And I thought, really? The United States is directly funding the Taliban? I can’t imagine any strategy that would make sense to drive that.
WHH: I wouldn’t exactly agree with him. I guess the other parties put in Taliban, but because America cannot fight with them directly, that’s why these guys are not fighting with them.
BG: What was your impression of Massoud? Do you think Massoud would have been a good leader?
WHH: He was a great leader.
BG: Heroic guy.
WHH: He was not corrupted…he was a good leader.
BG: I stayed up one night studying Massoud. It’s an incredible story, of course, tragic. Incredible personality, and I don’t know if it’s true, but the things he wrote about his vision for Afghan culture…about women’s rights, freedom of speech, open culture…he was a bright guy.
WHH: They killed him.
BG: Two days before 9/11.
WHH: Everything is a plan.
BG: My understanding is, because Bin Laden knew that he needed Mullah Omar’s protection, then he’s going to say, “I’m going to do this for you, and then you protect me.” Do you think that was the quid pro quo, or no?
WHH: I don’t know. I’m not going to say directly. [laughs]