Re-reading Charlie Stross’ tale of attempted phishing (posted two months ago, but has only just turned up on
I took a call from someone claiming to be a Danish journalist, asking me for a background chat about, well, let’s call it Syldavia, one of the less exciting countries I work on. Oddly, the caller display on my phone showed a +1 number, not a +45 Danish one. OK, I thought, sometimes there are glitches. But then he started asking me some questions which seemed to me to be based on a rather one-sided take on the Syldavian situation, slanted towards the country’s rather dubious dissident faction. I smelt a rat, and told him so, and asked if I could call him back. He gave me a Danish number, which did inded get through to him on the second attempt, via a convincingly Danish-sounding switchboard, and we completed the conversation.
I mean, I have to be fairly open and transparent in my job; I like to think that I would have given the same background briefing to the Dane as I would to a student, or to a spy, or to Charlie Stross if he decided to set any of his fiction in Syldavia (in fact he already has, though I did not brief him about it), or to a teenager writing an essay for high school. But, as Charlie says, the first rule of security is “Know who you are talking to”. And I didn’t feel I did, in this case.
Though the only thing I was really worried about, given the slant of the questions, was that the interview would get distorted and end up posted as an attack piece on some web-site supporting the Syldavian dissidents, who are a nasty bunch with an effective line in propaganda.
Last week, for completely unrelated reasons, I asked for a meeting in the European Commission to discuss the situation in Syldavia, and discovered that one of the officials now dealing with the dossier is a fairly senior Dane who I knew in her previous job. I asked her if she had picked up any recent press coverage in the Danish media, and explained why. She had not, and declined to speculate on what might have been really going on.
For all I know, it really was a journalist and the story got spiked due to lack of interest. I’ve searched the relevant Danish media organisation’s website and they haven’t published a story on Syldavia (at least not one that ended up online) since 5 April. Certainly that makes more sense than any other explanation, but the combination of apprently wrong incoming phone number, oddly slanted questions, and no actual media follow-up is weird. As Ronald Reagan always used to say, Доверяй, но проверяй.
As it happens, I go to Berlin this evening, and the President of Syldavia will be there too – I am hoping to attend a public event he is doing tomorrow evening. I will be very surprised if Denmark comes up.