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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | Heard on the Beat

Businessman Bucks FBI Efforts to Stop Terrorism With 'Spam'

March 30, 1998|GREG MILLER

The FBI uses many methods in its crusade against crime and, according to a few angry residents of cyberspace, one of those methods looks suspiciously like "spam."

Last month, the FBI sent bulk e-mail, titled "Militants Call for Anti-U.S. Attacks Worldwide," to thousands of online addresses.

The missive warned that Islamic militants had issued "a religious decree calling on Muslims everywhere to attack U.S. citizens, facilities and allies of the U.S. around the world."

While it was considerate of the FBI to issue the warning, it left people like John Bolding, owner of a tiny software company in Tucson, wondering why he was one of its recipients.

A fanatical foe of spam, or unwanted e-mail, Bolding conducted an investigation of his own. He said he learned that the message had been sent to thousands of high-tech companies, even though they weren't terrorism targets.

Bolding said he was perplexed, then outraged.

"They're using tax dollars to send out spam," said Bolding, who posted the FBI message on his company's Web site, at http://www.firstbase.com/spam.htm

FBI officials said the e-mail messages were simply a new wrinkle in a long-standing effort to raise awareness of terrorism by sending advisories to companies that want occasional updates.

The FBI assembled the e-mail list partly from various published directories, said Ron VanVranken, an FBI spokesman. He added that the agency received only two complaints and removed those addresses.

"We just want to protect Americans," said VanVranken.

Bolding said he had his name taken off the list, although the agent he contacted asked him if his attempts to block the e-mail were part of "some kind of new un-American subversive activity."

So while Bolding still gets hundreds of spam messages each week, none of them is from the FBI, restoring normalcy to his relationship with the spy agency.

"Except there is a sedan parked out front with guys wearing trench coats," he said. "Just joking."

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