NORMAN — The sun has risen in the east, so there must be a news report somewhere quoting a partial transcript leaked by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., purporting to show the shortcomings of Obamacare.
Bingo! We have not one but two “investigative” news reports, from CBS and ABC, based on the same partial transcript. And both, consequently, have the same level of credibility: none. CBS News even offers a dividend — a thoroughly dishonest and discreditable interview with Issa himself. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The topic of the latest leak is the purported security flaws in HealthCare.gov, the federal health enrollment website. The raw meat is a partial transcript of an interview conducted by the staff of Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform with Teresa Fryer, chief information security officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Cue Sharyl Attkisson of CBS: “A top HealthCare.gov security officer told Congress there have been two serious high-risk findings since the website’s launch, including one on Monday of this week.”
Not exactly. Fryer said more, which you’d know if you read the parts of the transcript left out of the Issa leak but distributed by the committee’s Democratic minority. There you discover Fryer also said that the system’s security measures exceed industry standards, there haven’t been any security breaches of the website, and that the parts of the system affected by the high-risk findings were promptly shut down and quarantined.
That brings us to Issa, who went before the CBS cameras to charge that Fryer’s recommendation that the website launch be delayed was overruled by mysterious “individuals” who, he said, “were looking at a broader array of risk.” His tone of voice put air quotes around that “broader.” He continued, “I took that to mean the risks such as risk to the president of embarrassment, the risk to people who were counting on being able to sign up for these plans.”
See what he did there? He suggested that CMS was pressured by the White House to launch a website with security holes.
But there’s absolutely no basis in Fryer’s transcript — zero — to support that. What she said was that it’s standard operating procedure to place security assessments like hers in a broader context. In fact, the process is set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is the government’s technology assessment agency. And of course that makes sense: You weigh the security aspects of a technical system against numerous other factors, including the importance of the program, and decide from the totality whether to launch.
There’s nothing in Fryer’s words even remotely hinting at an effort to spare the president “embarrassment.” Issa appears to have made that up out of whole cloth.
But he didn’t stop there. He suggested to CBS that the HealthCare.gov website exposed virtually the entire government to hacking. “Remember, Sharyl, this is not about your application being compromised. This is a system, exchange and portal, that lets me go into the Department of Homeland Security, lets me go into the IRS ... Social Security. Think about what’s at Social Security, what’s at IRS, what’s at Department of Homeland Security.”
Is that so? A flaw in a healthcare enrollment website that could let hackers in on our most precious government secrets? Let’s agree that if this were true, it would be huge. But once again, Issa has absolutely no evidence that it’s remotely true. If he had it, he would shout it from the rooftops, and he’d be right to do so. He wouldn’t slink around in the dark to a news show and slip it into the conversation with a credulous reporter.
Of course, it’s possible that HealthCare.gov has such flaws. But most of the concern about the site up to now has involved the possibility that hackers could obtain the information that applicants type in, not that hackers could jump from the website directly into the government’s internal systems. Curiously, Issa disavowed concerns about the first possibility.
In the words of Kevin Drum, who has been collecting Issa’s selective leaks as tenaciously as my kids once collected Beanie Babies, “When will reporters learn not to trust Issa? Judging by current practice, never.”But you don’t have to be so gullible.
Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Email him at email@example.com.
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