Paranoia Grips Dallas County Government Workers -- For Good Reason

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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​Maybe you've been following the saga of Lisa Chambers, the Dallas County homeland security director who was canned this week over who knows what. The only part of it I'm really personally interested in is the paranoid part, because I happen to be paranoid myself.

It's like a club. We paranoid people can spot each other. We might have a certain handshake or a nod and a wink kind of thing that we do, but I can't talk about that.

Chambers says she refused to use county time and payroll to carry out a security sweep of the home of Dapheny Fain, administrative assistant to County Commissioner John Wiley Price, after the FBI tossed the homes and offices of both Fain and Price last June. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says he sacked her over unspecified "performance issues."

Just for the sake of conversation, let's file most of that under "he-said-she-said" for the moment so we can talk about the paranoid part. Yesterday Fain's lawyer, Tom Mills, told me a story that I see Keven Krause has in The Dallas Morning News this morning: Mills says Fain told her all of the data disappeared from her county computer one day and then mysteriously reappeared.

OMG! That has happened to me, too! Multiple times. Most of the instances in my case turned out to be caused by recurring problems related to a coffee spill, but I personally do not remember spilling the coffee.

Anyway, Mills told me he had a discussion with Don Sherman, the lead FBI agent in the ongoing Dallas County corruption investigation, in which Mills told Sherman about Fain's experience with the disappearing data. He says Sherman refused to comment.

I checked on that with FBI spokesman Mark Smith today. He refused to comment too. Aha! A pattern.

Here's the good part: Mills says Sherman told him that, even though he could not comment on an ongoing investigation, it was conceivable that an FBI sweep of a person's computer could cause all of the data to disappear and then reappear. Really? Is that possible?

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I cannot check Mill's story with Sherman because ... well, you get the picture. The G-men just are not chatty at all with us, but I did make calls this morning to a couple guys I know who are extremely computer security savvy.

One, Jason Ottwell of Dallas, cautioned me first of all not to toss the word paranoid around too casually when talking about people who have good reason to fear they may be under some kind of surveillance. "Especially in a high visibility post, you're going to have a certain heightened sense of awareness anyway," Ottwell said. "So if strange things start to happen, you're going to start wondering, 'Are there outside forces that are around me?' Are you really paranoid if they're really after you?"

Ottwell works for clients who can afford to spend whatever it takes to achieve very high degrees of security for their data. Most of us operate without that kind of cover: We don't do the encryption and physical security it would take to really keep people out.

But tight security has to do mainly with legitimate business issues -- patents, trade secrets, market strategy, etc. Ottwell said if you're a crook and in a pickle, even the best security may not protect. Eventually a judge is going to order you to pony up the keys to your security.

He said the disappearing data syndrome did not sound to him like an FBI deal. Why? If the FBI comes after you, he said, they don't really mess around with a lot of sneaky-Pete stuff. They just come get your computers. Like, pick 'em up, put 'em in a van.

Ottwell pointed out the FBI has to get search warrants, and then they have to do all kinds of things to preserve what is called "chain of custody" of evidence: They have to be able to prove in court they took it and didn't mess with it and nobody else could have messed with it while they had it in their possession.

So the best way to do that is to physically grab everything. "They go in and just confiscate servers, machines," Ottwell said. "They say, 'We're taking all of your machines, all of your CDs, all of your stuff. We're taking it from you.'"

Oh, yeah. I forgot. They did that. That was in the warrants that have been released. They took everything including jump drives and stuff like that from Fain's and Price's offices and homes.

And I did check with a knowledgeable source who told me off the record that, yeah, if the FBI wants your computer, that's what they do. They get a warrant and then come get the computer. Simple enough.

Ottwell said the FBI could still be taking occasional snapshots of the content of Fain's computer -- doing it remotely, without being there -- but he said that would not cause her data to disappear and reappear.

He did not say that Fain's claim was absurd. At all. He just said it didn't sound FBI. If it happened, he suggested, it might have had to do with somebody who was not FBI.

Hmm. That would be, I believe, somebody who did not have access to or the power of court-ordered warrants. Somebody who had to sneak in. Somebody who was doing more of a garden variety hack.

Another computer guru, inventor-entrepreneur Russell Fish, told me that Windows, the Microsoft graphical interface program most people use, is "so full of holes that even relatively unsophisticated people can get in." And I did find lots of stuff online reporting that the issue of data disappearing and reappearing can often be traced to Windows, either because of problems in the software itself or people messing with it.

Now this is starting to ring a bell. Over the last few years, I believe that the county administration building has been fairly crawling with private gumshoes, jack-leg shamuses and moonlight window-peepers -- including a few serious investigators -- all sticking their noses into each other's businesses. So it's perfectly possible that someone other than the FBI may have messed with Fain's stuff.

Go back to the top. Would any of this mean that Lisa Chambers, the fired security lady, should have obeyed orders and used county resources to do a security sweep of Fain's home? Well, I don't know. I wouldn't do it. Once I heard those three magic words -- eff bee eye -- I wouldn't go within a mile of her damn house.

Sorry, but I'm a major chicken where time in the joint is concerned. I sort of cross my legs and elbows and go into a crouch when I even hear the term "penal system." But is Dapheny Fain paranoid? Maybe not. Like Ottwell said, you're not paranoid if they're really after you.

So what do you think about the disappear-reappear data phenomenon? Ever happen to you? I'm interested. But, uh ... before telling your personal saga, do reflect on the fact that what you say here is not exactly secure.

What? That makes me paranoid? Fine. I'm paranoid. At least I'm not penal. I count my blessings.

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32 comments
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RTGolden
RTGolden

If Chambers worked at the inter-service level of military intelligence, especially in the officer corps, this will roll off her like water off a duck. As corrupt as Dallas and Dallas county are, the political gamesmanship here is amateur hour compared to politicking in the upper reaches of Defense, especially the Intelligence Corps.  She made a good call,  keep your nose out of areas that don't pertain to you.  If she has no need to know where the FBI has bugs, she is wise to avoid activity that will gain her that knowledge.

Royce Williams
Royce Williams

Dapheny and John Wiley have good reason to be worried/paranoid/extremely concerned/scared $#itless about what the FBI knows and how they know it.  I would guess that little or no evidence has been gathered using covert entries, wiretaps, or electronic surveillance.  I would instead bet that a large part of the damning information about the JWP Crime Family was most likely obtained in countless interviews of incarcerated members of the Don Hill Crime Family that are now giving it up to shorten their stay in federal lockup.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

If you live your life,  as a public employee, in the thought that ANYTHING YOU WRITE, SAY or DO can be photographed, videotaped or recorded, then you will either be totally open and honest, or you become very, very careful. The stomach ache I get on this is why in the world would anyone be so dumb as to ask ANOTHER government person to look for bugs from ANOTHER gov't agency? The first rule of looking for bugs...Come on, you know it..... Nobody talks about looking for bugs. It is not paranoid to think someone would hack into a gov't computer. People try --and succeed--at that all the time. It is not paranoid to think the FBI is investigating local politicians--they are, pretty much, all the time as well. This lady might think of it this way: Thank you Clay Jenkins! You got me out of a place that is sinking faster than the Lusitania.

JimS
JimS

Good point. How exactly do you word the requisition? "Please send security to bug-sweep home because afraid FBI on to me." I thought that was about the time you got a call asking you to drop by H.R.

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

"Maybe you've been following the saga of Lisa Chambers, the Dallas County homeland security director who was canned this week over who knows what."

Actually, we have been following NTTA and the Medrano's... Can we get a story on that???

Randy S
Randy S

There's only one Jim to do all these stories.

Exactly why are you so insistent that he ignore this particular story to work on others? If he did NTTA would you whine that he wasn't working on this one?

Or are you just worried about protecting the powers that be: Jenkins, JWP, etc?

Personally, I'm much more worried about the activities of the Commissioners Court because the actions they take directly affect my life a lot more than whether yet another Medrano got elected somewhere or a law firm is getting rich off the NTTA.

I would think the tens of thousands of people who now don't have jobs at the Inland Port project would also say that what JWP and Jenkins are up to is also much more important than a Justice of the Peace election.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

What about the NTTA?

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

An independent report cited 81 problems with the NTTA from simple mismanagemnt to potential confilct of interest, the abrupt quitting of the 5th Executive Director in 5 years Allen Clemson and the confirmation by a current board member that 2 previous board members and 1 current board member is under FBI investegation.  Of course Jim won't write about that though because Lisa Chambers simple $80k job is more important than misappropriation of $500 million, you have to go to what he calls "pay-wall" or the DMN.

Guest
Guest

In a way, we could look at misappropriation of $500 million at NTTA as a good thing since that's money they can't try to spend on the Trinity Tollway now.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Thanks. The NTTA story is just not "sexy," to be top news, I guess. Also, nobody "feels" the lost tax revenue feeling, since itis an authority thattaxes all over the place. I am still pissed that the Toll Road into Downtown Dallas is STILL NOT FREE. I swear, I swear, they said 40 years ago, that when it was "paid for," it would be free, like the old D-FW Turnpike. Well, the SOB IS paid for. Don't tell me the add -ons to Damn Near Oklahoma-ville should count.

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

But you weren't to busy for poor Lisa Chambers...

JimS
JimS

Too busy sitting on Iranian nuclear program story.

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Dapheny Fain suspected someone was after her computer every place she had one.Dapheny Fain is "Special" every thing on her computer is public information paid for by tax dollars.What does she have that anyone wants other than law enforcement.Doing wrong will make you think someone is after you,also some drugs make you sensitive to seeing things,missing things,hearing pages turn.Fain and Price had hidden cameras installed in Office with monitor.I worked in that office for six years and never locked a door nor did the Commissioner.People and things changed,that lie Jenkins told about Chambers being fired should be a crime.I bet Jenkins phone records will show how many times he talked to Price before Chambers was fired.At Dallas County you do not, ask Zack Thompson or say no to Daphany Fain and keep your job.Watch Security Chief White will be next,he ask for Chambers advice on Fains house I hope he has Civil Service protection,forgot Price,Cantrell and Garcia on Civil Service so employees don't have a chance any more.

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

Capt. Yossarian said, "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you"...and Mr.Cobain many years later reechoed these exact same sentiments. Oh, NO! I think I may have said too much! Hey, why has that phone company van been parked across the street from my home all week? 

Montemalone
Montemalone

Could it be she's paranoid because she has done something about which she should be?

Cujo
Cujo

It's unclear if they actually had a technical computer person look at this first, it might have saved a lot of this stupidity. It sounds to me like Jenkins, Price and Fain may have something to hide.

I suppose this boils down to whether her home could be considered a work office and exactly what duties were assigned under Ms. Chambers job title and whether they were legal and ethical. But if I were told *specifically* to sweep for "FBI bugs", no matter how legitimate the request, I would demand to see it in writing. My next stop would be the FBI office.

I smell not only a whistleblower lawsuit but a bunch of back pay. I do agree that she probably got blown off a networked/shared drive or lost access to something like SharePoint.

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

If someone has access to your PC, then can copy everything from it to a portable hard drive -- and none of the data will be removed or otherwise marked that it was copied.

That she thinks it was gone, then reappeared, well, that's possible, for the reasons others in this thread have mentioned, but it's likely not related to the FBI accessing her computer.

Bob
Bob

Sounds a lot like former superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez worries at DISD several years ago.

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

It sent her to prison so maybe Dapheny is also headed there.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Yeah, but her computer was sitting on a very nice desk.

Amy S.
Amy S.

So they allegedly fired her? Over this? Why do I think this is going to result in a whistleblower lawsuit?

Amy S.
Amy S.

Sorry, meant to remove the first "?".

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Depending on the way their network is configured, this can be a pretty common occurrence.  She probably has a dedicated personal drive on a central server.  Sometimes, the computer she is using may become disconnected from the drive she is allocated on the central server-- this would cause all of her files to "disappear."

The link to the drive has to be refreshed, which would probably happen automatically when she turns the computer off and back on again.

To someone who is somewhat tech illiterate (and/or paranoid), it would appear as if all the files are disappearing, then magically reappearing.

Iwearblack
Iwearblack

Agreed... A lot of organizations, especially government agencies, tend to lock down the hard drives, USB ports, etc. on the local computer and map a personal or "home" directory (via user profile or login script) for users' data storage. If you drop connection to the network/server, it can appear that your data has disappeared... This can be exacerbated by using aggressive power save settings that can cause the network card on the local computer to power down during long periods of inactivity... If the Feds REALLY wanted to look at your data, they would simply take your machines and/or have a court order to preserve the data stored on your server.

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

Jim - It could something as simple as maybe she wasn't logged in to the County's network or that her computer didn't "see" the network.  After she rebooted or logged in again, the data magically reappeared.  That's happened to me before where I work.

Me
Me

Hmm.. Yea... I heard from an auditor that allot of the city council members are crack heads... Using county resources, smoking crack and getting paranoid; asking homeland security to do a bug sweep of their house while the crack is stashed at their office. Grow up. Chambers did not do anything wrong.

Hasanmary
Hasanmary

You do know that there is a difference between city council members and county commissioners/county staff?

cp
cp

What's an "allot"?

engmofo
engmofo

A larger version of alittle

Yep
Yep

A typo, ever had one. 

JimS
JimS

And the county does have an incredibly screwed up server system.

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