DATE May 29, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley on
their new album, "The Odd Couple"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guests are singer and rapper Cee-Lo Green and composer, musician and
producer Danger Mouse. Together they comprise the duo Gnarls Barkley. Their
music is hard to describe. Music critic Greg Tate writes, "It sounds like an
antique shop where dusty albums by Ennio Morricone, The Fifth Dimension and
Reverend C.L. Franklin--Aretha's father--are always playing on three
turntables." Jody Rosen in Slate described Cee-Lo as singing in the voice of
the world's loneliest man. Cee-Lo started off as a rapper in the
Atlanta-based group The Goodie Mob. Danger Mouse first became known for his
now-famous mash-up called "The Gray Album," a hybrid of The Beatles' "White
Album" and Jay-Z's "Black" album. He's also produced albums by Gorillaz, The
Black Peas and Beck.
Gnarls Barkley's first album, "St. Elsewhere," had the tormented-sounding hit
"Crazy." Their new album, "The Odd Couple," has a song in that vein called
"Who's Going to Save My Soul?" Let's hear it.
(Soundbite of "Who's Going to Save My Soul?")
Mr. CEE-LO GREEN: (Singing) Got some bad news this morning
Which in turn made my day
When this someone spoke I listened
All of a sudden has less and less to say
Oh, how could this be?
All this time I've lived vicariously
Who's going to save my soul now?
Who's going to save my soul now?
How will my story ever be told now?
How will my story be told now?
Made me feel like somebody...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Gnarls Barkley from the new CD "The Odd Couple" on...
Mr. GREEN: Wow, that's a good song.
GROSS: Yeah, that's a great song. Danger Mouse, Cee-Lo Green, welcome to
FRESH AIR. It's really great to have you here. This is such a kind of
chilling and moving and desolate-sounding song. I'm interested in your method
of working together. Danger Mouse, do you do the music first? Is that the
way it works?
Mr. DANGER MOUSE: Yeah, for the most part, that's how it's done, yeah. The
music is done first, and then I'm always giving Cee-Lo lots of music to listen
to to see what he reacts to.
GROSS: So, Cee-Lo, when you heard this track, what did you like about it?
Why did you choose this as the one you wanted to write a melody for, and I
guess what I'm particularly interested in is, usually the melody comes first,
whereas when you're working, like you're writing the melody and the lyrics
over the instrumental bed that's already been written. That's a...
Mr. GREEN: Yeah.
GROSS: ...very usual way of working.
Mr. GREEN: Yeah, I'd say. And although it's very solemn--you know what I'm
saying?--it was still very exciting because these were the first couple things
that Danger had done, and it was presented to me as a new direction, you know.
And what interests me lyrically is whatever lyrics or scene Danger may have
had in mind as he produced, you know, the track itself. It always makes me
wonder what would he have written if he wrote the songs, you know? And...
GROSS: Do you ask him that?
Mr. GREEN: No, not directly, you know.
Mr. MOUSE: Yeah, we don't usually talk too much about what goes into the
stuff because we kind of already know by the time it comes out, we know what
it came from, from being around each other, and so we don't really have
discussions beforehand about, `OK, let's do a song about this' or `let's do a
song about that.' That never happens.
Mr. GREEN: Never.
GROSS: What made you think "Who's Going to Save My Soul?"
Mr. GREEN: Well, it was written about James Brown and it's just the loss of
a hero, and so many are lost in the line of duty, and I think with heroes, of
course, you know, they do know what they contribute and what they
cause...(unintelligible)...I think by default they do cause a dependency, you
know what I'm saying, when I think it's a bit of their aspiration, you know,
for you to believe in yourselves or believe in just the possibility. So I
have to be an example, you know. I have to do it for myself.
GROSS: So if this track was inspired by James Brown and as a tribute to him
after his death, I guess that explains why you were wearing a kind of James
Brown wig on "Saturday Night Live."
Mr. GREEN: Yeah.
Mr. GREEN: Well, people have been associating the new sound of our record
with the late '60s, you know, early '70s, you know, that era. And that's a
very comfortable place to be in for us. And so it wasn't just about James
Brown but it does fit so perfectly, yeah.
GROSS: Cee-Lo, did you know all along that you could sing like this? I mean,
you got started in a hip-hop group where you basically rapped, and I think a
lot of your fans were surprised by what a really soulful singer you were. I
mean, did you know this all along that you had this in you?
Mr. GREEN: Yes.
GROSS: Did you feel frustrated that you weren't like letting it out in the
music that you were making on record in quite this way?
Mr. GREEN: I did. I did. But at the time I just felt like, you know, first
things first. I thought that the ability or the aspiration was probably not
in vain, you know, and I had always felt very purposed, and there was a point
to me having, you know, these attributes or these feelings, or these emotions,
these impulses, and also these--inner vision, so to speak. I felt like we
conveyed just as much soul, you know, hip-hopwise with Goodie Mob and so on
and so forth, but with emceeing, it's a lot more limiting, you know what I
mean, the things that you can do. And I always say that with melody and
harmony it's much more infinite possibility. You can stretch and twist it and
turn it and bend it into so many other shapes and fashions, you know, which is
just a lot more gratifying for me as an artist.
GROSS: Well, we just heard "Who's Going to Save My Soul?" I want to contrast
that with one of the more kind of, you know, upbeat really lively tracks on
the new CD. So I thought we'd hear "Charity Case." So let's give it a listen
and then we'll talk about it.
Mr. GREEN: Cool.
GROSS: So this is the opening track from the new Gnarls Barkley CD, "The Odd
(Soundbite of "Charity Case")
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) Hoo-haa! Hoo-haa! Hoo-haa! Hoo-haa!
Unidentified Backup Singers: (Singing) Gi gi give it away now
Gi gi give it away now
Gi gi give it away now
Give it away now
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) I, I don't know what matters to you at this moment
But that's all that matters to me
How are you?
Unidentified Woman: How are you?
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) Knock on wood
Well, I'm not doing so good
Woman: I thought you probably couldn't tell,
Although you're worth it, I'm still not well
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) And I don't understand
How I'm so understanding
I guess that that's all I can be
How are you?
Woman: How are you?
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) I think I can help
But I can't help myself
Woman: Should I be happy you need my help
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) Oh, can't you see
Oh, can't you see
If I help somebody
Baby, there's mercy for me
Backup Singers: (Singing) Me
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) I'm charity
Woman: For you,
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's "Charity Case," the opening track from the new Gnarls Barkley
CD "The Odd Couple," and my guests are Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse, the duo
of Gnarls Barkley.
I guess one of the things I really like about Gnarls Barkley is the layers of
sound and how many different things are going on in a track, and I guess,
Danger Mouse, I'm wondering how you started hearing and thinking that way, in
that kind of multilayered way.
Mr. MOUSE: It's kind of when you don't--I don't know a whole lot about music
theory, and I think that when you don't know the shortcuts to things and you
have to take the long way, there's some interesting stuff along the way that
happens, a lot of happy accidents. So in order for me to make something sound
what I think is passable as, you know, competent music, I have to really take
the long way myself. So I wind up layering things over and over and over
again, kind of to cover up my playing or cover up my limitations.
You know, I've been messing around a lot on drums recently--trying to,
anyway--but all you need is a good loop and you're OK. And then, you know, I
dabble around bass and keyboards and organs and all that kind of stuff. And
I've always been into kind of music that sounds visual, and I think that with
a lot of layers it kind of complements you to kind of think in your own head
and have your own vision for something as opposed to picturing the people
playing any one instrument. You know, I don't want somebody to picture
somebody playing any one particular instrument. I want them to have their own
kind of dream, or their own kind of vision for any kind of music that they
GROSS: So what was the music that inspired you early on?
Mr. MOUSE: To actually start making music was, I guess, was what I started
getting into, I guess what people would call classic rock stuff--The Beatles,
Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, stuff like that. Just stuff that I had never
really--I didn't grow up with that kind of music around me. I grew up more
with Motown and '80s pop and hip-hop basically. And so when I heard this
stuff, it was really kind of new to me, and it made a lot of the other music I
had been listening to make a lot more sense as well.
GROSS: What did you hear in it that you hadn't heard before?
Mr. MOUSE: There's no simple answer to that. It was just a whole world,
really. But more than anything, I saw how closed off I had been--how
purposely closed off I had been because it would have been really different
for me to listen to that kind of music in the environment that I was in at the
time, and it just showed--the music was the main thing that showed me how much
I needed to really break out of trying to be like everybody else.
GROSS: So what was the environment that you were that that music you were
listening to wouldn't have fit into?
Mr. MOUSE: A similar one, I think, as Cee-Lo. We both grew up in Atlanta,
in metro Atlanta, and, you know, we went to predominantly black schools and we
listened to mostly hip-hop and booty shake and whatever our parents played,
GROSS: Danger, did growing up in a period where a lot of hip-hop artists were
Mr. MOUSE: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...make you hear music, do you think, in a different way than you
might otherwise have, of hearing music broken down to like discrete elements
so like, to fragments that...
Mr. MOUSE: Sure, sure.
GROSS: ...and then make you think you could create fragments and sample
fragments and build them into a whole that was completely different than the
Mr. MOUSE: Sure. I mean, it's just like, you know, I was in the bathroom
the other day looking at a picture, and I saw something in the picture that
looked like a certain kind of face. And it was a child's face, the way it was
looking. But when you back away from it, it's not that at all. It was just a
tree branch, you know, and the arm of a bear, or something like that. But
what I saw was that, and if I took that little piece and made a big picture
out of it, then it would be the way I looked at it or what I saw that was
beautiful about it or nice about it or whatever.
And with music it's a similar thing for me when it comes to sampling. I just
want to work with stuff that's affecting me, and I never--it's not really my
concern to kind of try to be, you know the best guitar player or instrument
player or anything like that. There's plenty of people who are great at that,
and that's not going to be anything that would be, you know, that I could do
anything with that would change anything. So I think for me, with sampling,
it's just about shamelessly finding something that you love and trying to make
something new that other people will love out of it as well, that has a little
bit of you in it. But, I mean, early on when you're making music, it can be
difficult to judge yourself. And that was my way of, I guess, being able to
kind of--whether it's judging or producing or whatever, was to start out with
messing around with stuff that I knew was already pretty great.
GROSS: My guests are the members of the duo Gnarls Barkley, Danger Mouse and
Cee-Lo Green. Their new CD is called "The Odd Couple." More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guests are the members of the duo Gnarls Barkley. Danger Mouse is
a composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Cee-Lo Green is a singer and
rapper. Gnarls Barkley's new CD is called "The Odd Couple."
Now, you were both born in the '70s, and, Cee-Lo, you spent all your childhood
and early years in Atlanta and still live there, and I read that your parents
were both ministers, is that right?
Mr. GREEN: Yes.
GROSS: So, did you grow up singing a lot in church?
Mr. GREEN: I didn't always sing, but--well, my father passed away when I was
very young. I think I was about two when he passed, so I don't remember us
going to church together, but I'm sure we did. And so, no, I didn't really
sing, but there was an awful lot of religion and spirit, you know, in my
GROSS: I'm surprised to hear you didn't sing.
Mr. GREEN: I used to be shy to sing. So my aunt, who was a vocalist as
well. She was a singer. I don't know if you guys are familiar with it but
it's called "Aunt Fanny's Cabin" here in Atlanta on somewhere. And she
overheard me singing in the shower one day, and she kind of encouraged me
to--she says, `You got a nice voice' or whatever. But my stepfather used to
play Jackie Wilson when I was younger. I was just telling somebody this story
the other day, of how I learned that I could sing by emulating and imitating
the music that I adored, and then my voice would become--at a point, would
become flush with Jackie's to where I couldn't distinguish his voice from
mine. And I could emulate each riff and inflection, you know what I'm saying?
And so like, you know, I think that's essentially how I learned to sing, you
know. Now, learning to be myself...(unintelligible)...is a whole 'nother
GROSS: I want to play another track from the new Gnarls Barkley CD, and this
is called "Surprise." Could you tell us what you were thinking about when you
put it together?
Mr. MOUSE: Yeah. One of the big purposes with Gnarls is, to me, is to make
something that doesn't sound--that's not very easily definable and has a
certain sound to it. And for me the best way that I've been able to do that
is to mess around with a bunch of new music and old music, stuff that was
recorded in studios 40 years ago with all kinds of different mike setups and
everything and then mix that with something that's brand-new, and you're going
to get a sound that you can't really planned or that can't be really copied in
its own way. So it's to get a really, really distinct, individual and very
different sound. That's the way I found to do that, especially when you have
a voice like his...
Mr. MOUSE: You know, if we wanted to set up some old session players and
make a soul record, that'd be fine, but I don't think that would really do
much except for show off.
GROSS: Cee-Lo, you want to talk about writing the lyric for "Surprise"?
Mr. GREEN: Well, yeah, I do. I think I just know Danger in that way, and
there's always this bittersweet melancholy tension around it, you know, and so
it is beautiful and it is encouraging. But then again, there's a sadness to
it, too, and so therefore--but ultimately it is to be able to smile and to
sing in the face of adversity, you know what I mean? But don't be surprised
when adversity comes to challenge you.
GROSS: OK. Well, let's hear "Surprise" from the new Gnarls Barkley record,
which is called "The Odd Couple."
(Soundbite of "Surprise")
Backup Singers: (Singing) Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) La la la la la
Backup Singers: (Singing) Ba ba ba ba
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) It's cool being the only one
But it's lonely
I could have fallen
In love a thousand times before
If only someone had known me
They say there's someone for everyone
But the work will be never done
When all you need is to be met halfway
But nobody tries
Don't be surprised
Backup Singers: (Singing) Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) Don't be surprised
Backup Singers: (Singing) Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) Don't be surprised
There are hills and mountains between us
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's "Surprise," from the new Gnarls Barkley record, "The Odd
Couple." My guests are Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley.
That's really a great track.
Mr. GREEN: I like that one, too.
GROSS: Danger, I'm wondering, you know, a lot of people knew you from "The
Mr. MOUSE: Yeah.
GROSS: ...before they knew Gnarls Barkley. And "The Gray Album," for anybody
who doesn't know, is your mash-up, your combining of The Beatles' "White
Album" and Jay-Z's "Black" album.
Mr. MOUSE: Yeah.
GROSS: And how do you think that affected perceptions of who you are as an
Mr. MOUSE: I think that, for me, I've had a lot of work to change that. You
know, I was already a few songs in with Cee-Lo on the Gnarls stuff before I
even did that record.
Mr. MOUSE: And so for me, it was something that kind of was a quick little
detour in what I was trying to do. But I think it's still a little bit early
to tell. It's been a few years now. But I don't know if it's had the right
effect that I was looking for or not. But I definitely had a purpose for why
I did it, but...
GROSS: Which was what?
Mr. MOUSE: Well, originally it was just--a couple of things. It was
definitely an art project to kind of see what I could do with sampling, but at
the same time, it was kind of to show--it was a lot of things, actually. But
it was really to kind of show how two seemingly very different things could
fit together. Both "Black" and "White" both, you know, musically, and a lot
of those things. And, you know, I wanted to play for my parents. I wanted to
play for certain friends who I know didn't like hip-hop, certain friends I
know didn't like or know or care about The Beatles. And I wanted to, at
least, you know, present it in that kind of way to make people think twice
about what they think they already know. And that was what the idea was.
Mr. GREEN: Right.
Mr. MOUSE: And it obviously got turned into a lot of other copyright and all
this other crap. But that was never really the intention for me.
GROSS: Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green. Their duo, Gnarls Barkley, has new CD
called "The Odd Couple." You can hear two tracks from it on our Web site,
Here's Gnarls Barkley's best-known track, "Crazy," from their first album "St.
Elsewhere." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "Crazy")
Mr. GREEN: (Singing) I remember when
I remember, I remember
When I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that phase
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space
And when you're out there
(End of soundbite)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke on what he sees
as America's failing national security programs
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. In his novel "Breakpoint," Richard
Clarke imagines a world where cyber criminals hack into the software for
communications satellites and send them careening off into space, and blow up
fiber optic cables, shutting down most of the nation's Internet traffic.
Clarke says the story is fiction but not so farfetched. When Clarke was the
White House as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, it was
his job in part to imagine threats to national security. One of the things
Clarke has focused on since leaving the government in 2003 is the
vulnerability of the nation's critical computer networks to cyber criminals,
terrorists and even foreign powers. It's one of the topics addressed in his
new book, "Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National
Security Disasters." FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke to Richard
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Well, Richard Clarke, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, you've written
about how many critical computer networks in both the government and private
industry and in utilities that serve, you know, millions of people are
vulnerable to attack and tampering, and when you were in the White House, you
know, in the late '90s, of course, you had to deal with some of these issues.
And I thought I would ask you to describe one of these episodes that showed
how vulnerable even highly sensitive computer networks in the government can
be. There was a security exercise that you engineered called Eligible
Receiver, I think, in 1997. Describe that, if you will.
Mr. RICHARD CLARKE: Well, 1997 is really sort of still early days of the
information technology revolution, early days of cyberspace. But already most
of the government, most of the Pentagon had been wired, and was depending on
the Internet and on cyberspace for command and control of our weapons systems
as well as for everything else. And we wanted to begin then to test and see
if it was possible to hack into any of these systems.
And so with the permission of the secretary of defense and review from a great
number of lawyers, we put together a team largely consisting of hackers from
the National Security Agency, and with no one else in the Pentagon, aside from
one or two people at the top knowing about it, they began--on a Sunday, I
believe--to try to hack their way into some network somewhere in the Pentagon,
and we were going to do this for a week and then report back on how well we
And within, I think, 24 or 48 hours, not only had they hacked their way into
some network, they had hacked their way into all networks they could find in
the Pentagon, including the command and control network. And so we stopped it
right then and there, we didn't run it for the week. And we reported out to
the deputy secretary of defense. He then said, `Well, what can we do?' And
the best technology that was available back then--and this is over 10 years
ago--was something called an intrusion detection system. It was a box
essentially that you put on your network and it sent out a little alarm e-mail
any time it thought somebody was trying to get into the network in an
unorthodox way. And so we said, `We think you should buy these things and put
them on the networks.'
And about six months later we came back and we met with the head of the Army
and the head of the Air Force and the head of the Navy to see how their
systems were doing, and one of these guys--I think it was the head of the
Army--said, `Well, it's terrible. You know, you've made us put these
intrusion detection systems on our network. Before we had them on our
network, nobody ever attacked us. Now that you have put these boxes on our
network, they're going off all the time--people are attacking us all the
DAVIES: So he was assuming that they were being left alone when what was
actually happening was they were being attacked silently.
Mr. CLARKE: Ignorance is bliss.
DAVIES: Uh-huh. Well, the fact that NSA, National Security Agency, hackers
were able to get into these sensitive Pentagon computer networks, did that
indicate that other hackers might already have been in them and doing some
Mr. CLARKE: It did. Because the NSA hackers did not have any insider
knowledge, and they weren't using any classified tricks. One of the rules for
that exercise 10 years ago was we could only use techniques that we found
available on the Internet itself, so techniques that hackers were already
talking about to each other in chat rooms; in other words, very low-level,
publicly available attack tools. And what's happened in the 10 years since is
enormous, in terms of two things. One, our dependence on computer networks;
and two, the ability of hackers, including terrorist groups and governments,
to get into networks. What hasn't changed is how bad our defenses are.
DAVIES: Now, I think you mentioned in the book that even computer networks
operated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff appear to have been penetrated by
hackers. Is there any evidence that they caused damage?
Mr. CLARKE: Well, a lot of this is still classified, and the Pentagon is
reluctant to say what's happened to them; they don't want people to know. But
one thing became clear last year. When the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
had to admit that his own front office, his own office computer system was not
only compromised, but compromised by an attack from the government of China.
And it was about the same time that the chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel
was also hacked by the government of China. At the end of 2007, the British
domestic security service, MI5, sent out a classified note to 300 companies,
the 300 largest companies in the United Kingdom, private companies. And the
classified note said, `You should assume that the Chinese government has
hacked its way into your networks and knows everything on them.'
DAVIES: Now, what were the Chinese doing in the secretary of defense's
computers? Do we know? And were they confronted about this?
Mr. CLARKE: Well, they of course deny it. And it's easy to deny these
things because people can trace back attacks only so far, and it's always
possible that the attacks originated somewhere else. Let me give you an
example. When I was in the White House I came into work one day and they told
me, `Oh, China'--this was back in about the year 2000--`China tried to attack
our White House Internet site last night.' And before I accepted that I said,
`Well, what do you mean, China? The government of China? Who in the
government of China? Tell me more. Show me the traceback.' And when they did
the traceback completely, they found out that, yes, the attack had come
through the Chinese telephone switch, China telcoms, but the attack had
originated in Washington state.
So you always have to be careful about saying you know who did it if you
haven't traced it all the way back, and people can assume names on the
Internet. They can assume anonymity. They can spoof addresses. But I think
it's pretty clear that in the attacks in 2007 that we were talking about it
was the Chinese government. Now, were they doing it as a training exercise
for their cyber attack force, which they have? They have a cyber attack force
in the military. Were they doing it just to send us a signal? The signal
could be, `Remember that if you mess with us in any significant way, we will
always be able to get back at you.' Or, was it somebody else altogether? I
don't know. I think it was the Chinese government.
DAVIES: Our guest is Richard Clarke. He was the former national coordinator
for security and counterterrorism in the White House in the Clinton and Bush
administrations. His latest book is called "Your Government Failed You."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with the former national
coordinator for security and counterterrorism in the White House for the
Clinton and Bush administrations, Richard Clarke. His latest book, which
deals with weaknesses in the nation's national security efforts, is called
"Your Government Failed You."
Well, Richard Clarke, when President Clinton asked you to look into the cyber
terror--which I know is a term that you don't prefer--but the vulnerabilities
of computer networks, one of the things that you did was to contact the CEOs
of a lot of the large computer software and hardware companies. What did you
find about their level of awareness of the issue and their awareness of
vulnerabilities in their own hardware and systems?
Mr. CLARKE: Well, what I found was that the manufacturers of software and
hardware, even the giant companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars, they
only do one little thing that's necessary for cyberspace to work. So
Microsoft makes software, most of it for games, some of it for offices, and
they make operating systems for laptops and desktops. That's a very small
piece of all of the things that are necessary for cyberspace to work, and
that's all that they really know. Another giant in the industry is Cisco, and
while most consumers don't know about Cisco, Cisco's a huge Internet company
that makes basically one thing, and that is routers, which are the switches
that move the little electrons and make the Internet work.
And you can find this all the way across the industry. There are all of these
small, little niches that companies perform. None of them are fully aware of
all of the components necessary to make cyberspace work. And so there's no
overall accountability, there's no overall responsibility, and there's no one
designing the entire system to be secure. And so when you go to talk to a CEO
of a big software company or a CEO of a big router manufacturing company,
you'll be lucky if they really understand their own company, let alone the
problems of cyberspace and how all of these things interact.
The software is really usually the problem. Software is code written by human
beings, and all of the studies that we have done indicate that human beings
who write code, even those bright MIT geeks, make a lot of mistakes. And
why's that a problem? Because if you can find those mistakes, some of them,
some of the encoding mistakes in software, then you can get the software to do
things that it's not supposed to do, like let you into a network that's
DAVIES: Speaking of China's efforts at cyber penetration, you have to tell
the story about the digital picture frames.
Mr. CLARKE: Well, this, I think, is the tip of the iceberg, but it occurred
earlier this year, that you could go to a large chain store in the United
States--I believe it was Best Buy--and buy one of these nice Christmas
presents, which is a picture frame, a physical picture frame. But you can
download from your computer into the picture frame lots of pictures, a hundred
pictures or more. And then you can fix it so that every five seconds or 10
seconds or 30 seconds, the picture that appears in the picture frame on your
desk changes. That's very nice. Now, the problem was it was made in China,
as so many pieces of technology are these days, and when you took it and
plugged it into your computer so that you could download pictures from your
computer to the picture frame, meanwhile the picture frame was doing something
on its own. It was uploading into your computer a little stealth tool that
ran around your computer looking for passwords, looking for credit card
numbers, looking for any piece of information that had any value, and then
took over your e-mail program, without your being able to detect it, and
e-mailed all of that information back to a site in China.
DAVIES: I'm getting chills here.
Mr. CLARKE: If they're doing that with consumer picture frames, imagine what
else they're doing.
DAVIES: Well, now, all right. So what happens here? Whether it's the
government of China or not, they've gotten into my computer, they've taken all
of my passwords and my pathetically boring e-mail, what do they do with it?
What do they want with it?
Mr. CLARKE: Well, your computer, my computer, everyone's computer may be
what's called, in the hacker trade, a zombie. Now, that sounds very
frightening, but here's what a zombie is. Somehow they get into your computer
and they set up an operation inside your computer that is not visible on your
screen. You'll never know that there's something happening. Your computer
may slow down a little bit, you don't know why. You may not notice it at all.
But in the background, their little program is doing whatever it is that they
want it to do. When you get 100,000 computers that are compromised like
that--you know, grandma's computer and school computers and all sorts of
library computers that aren't well secured, you get 100,000 of them relatively
quickly. Now you've got all of that computing power at your command. You can
take 100,000 computers on the network and direct their signals all at one to
one switch, overloading that switch and knocking things off the Internet.
That's called a distributed denial of service attack.
So sometimes when they're taking over computers, it's not to get your
password, certainly not to read your e-mail, or maybe not even to get your
credit card number. Maybe it's, the hackers just want to add another zombie
so that they have this massive number of computers under their control to do
whatever they want.
DAVIES: Well, in the case of these picture frames manufactured in China that
were discovered to have this stealth software designed to get into your home
computer, what was discovered about the perpetrator of that attack and what
were the consequences?
Mr. CLARKE: Well, nothing was every discovered about who did it. The only
thing that could be discovered was where the material that was stolen from
your computer was sent, and it was sent to a site in China. And China of
course is investigating the case.
We're speaking with Richard Clarke. He was the national coordinator for
security and counterterrorism in the White House during the Clinton and Bush
administrations. His latest book is "Your Government Failed You."
When you were in the White House, working on cyber security issues, you
assembled a conference, including information technology executives and
experts but also a guy called Mudge, M-U-D-G-E. Explain who he was and what
his role was.
Mr. CLARKE: Well, he is now a well respected ethical hacker, a white hat
hacker working for a company in Boston. But at the time, when he was a lot
younger, he had a regular boring day job, and he and a bunch of friends who
were very computer literate who all had boring day jobs rented a place called
"the loft" outside of Boston and went around looking in dumpsters at
electronics companies and taking computers that people were throwing away and
playing with them and getting them to work and getting them to work better
than they were ever intended to work. And soon these dozen guys had a massive
computer capability. And they began investigating, on their own, just for
fun, to see what the mistakes were, what the vulnerabilities were in the
Internet. And the FBI used them, off the record, informally, when the FBI had
questions related to the Internet.
DAVIES: So what these hackers do that are, as you say, white hat hackers, is
they discover vulnerabilities in software and hardware, and then they
communicate that, I guess, to the manufacturers, right, or the government.
And then if it's not fixed, what do they do?
Mr. CLARKE: They give the manufacturers a certain amount of time, depending
upon the mistake that they discover and what vulnerabilities it opens up. But
after a while if the manufacturer doesn't do anything about it, they will tell
the world about the mistake, the vulnerability, by posting it in one of these
chat rooms on the Internet. And that creates problems, because then bad guy
hackers will immediately learn about the vulnerability and they will then
write what's called an exploit, a program to use this mistake that the hackers
have discovered to attack computer programs.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Richard Clarke. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Richard Clarke. He was the
former national coordinator for security and counterterrorism in the Bush and
Clinton White House. He's written a novel called "Breakpoint," and his latest
book about weaknesses in the nation's national security efforts is called
"Your Government Failed You."
I wanted to talk about some of the specific threats that may be out there, and
part of this comes from the novel that you wrote, "Breakpoint." It beings with
a scene in which there is a series of explosions aimed at points on the
shorelines of the United States at which fiber optic cables leave the ocean
and enter, I guess, land sites where there are these, in effect, unsecured
buildings that are vulnerable to attack. Is this the way it is in real life?
Mr. CLARKE: Yeah, unfortunately it is. When I first started worrying about
Internet security for the White House, and I said to my team, `I want to go
see the Internet,' and they all had a good chuckle and said, you know, `You
silly guy. You can't see the Internet. It's a virtual thing. It's in
cyberspace.' I said, `Now, wait a minute. It's got to have some
manifestations in the real world that we can go out and touch and kick the
tires.' And it does. The Internet runs up your street, underneath the street
in a fiber optic cable. It goes into buildings all around your community
where there are switches. There are physical manifestations of it and you can
attack those physical manifestations.
When you write an e-mail to somebody in London, it doesn't--most of the
time--bounce off a satellite. It runs down the street and then it runs out to
the Jersey shore and through a little building on the beach and then under the
water in a cable, not unlike the telegraph cables from 150 years ago, except
these are fiber optic cables; they have a lot more capability. But if you cut
those physical manifestations of the Internet--as 9/11 did in New York, by the
way; Lower Manhattan was cut off from cyberspace and the stock market, the
trading floors, couldn't trade. One of the reasons it took so long to reopen
the stock market after the 9/11 attack was that the stock market couldn't
communicate with anybody.
DAVIES: I know there was an incident recently, and I forget exactly where,
where it's believed a ship anchor in the Middle East somewhere had gone astray
and damaged a cable. Is there a movement to provide more security to these?
Mr. CLARKE: No, no there isn't. The theory is that there's so much fiber
optic capability around that there's redundancy, and therefore if you lose
something here or there, you can reroute around it. Well, that's true. And
then you have chokepoints where it all comes together where, at the end of the
day, all of those fiber lines have to go to the New York Stock Market
somewhere, or other facilities like that, and so it is possible to do damage
to cyberspace through physical attacks.
Again, the point here is we are so dependent upon cyberspace that if somebody
knocks it out, intentionally or otherwise, whether that person is a government
or criminal or somebody having fun, if they knock out certain kinds of
cyberspace, we lose control of our military, we lose control of our banks, we
lose control of our airlines, our air traffic control system. We are very,
very vulnerable to someone doing damage in cyberspace.
DAVIES: There was a headline last October from a publication called "The
Register," which said Richard Clarke, former security czar, calls for closed
Internet. Now, what are they getting wrong about what you're proposing?
Mr. CLARKE: They're not getting anything wrong. I believe that there...
DAVIES: That's what you mean?
Mr. CLARKE: Yeah. I believe there are certain functions that shouldn't be
done on what we call the public Internet. Now, should the Pentagon's command
and control system be on the public Internet? Well, it's not. We've moved it
into a private network where actually the fiber and the routers and everything
else is, we think, separate from the other Internet. Well, there are lots of
other things that perhaps should be on private systems, like the command and
control for the electric power grid, like perhaps medical records and hospital
control systems, the air traffic control system. Why should the digits
running the air traffic control system be running down the same fiber that
your Amazon book order is running, or your e-mail to your mother? It
shouldn't be on the same Internet. They should be totally, physically
DAVIES: So this would be, in effect, a completely different secure set of
hardware which you don't have any anonymous traffic on?
Mr. CLARKE: Set both of hardware, of switches, of routers, and of the fiber
optic connecting them so that there is no physical connection between the
Internet and these control systems. Now, that exists today for the Pentagon,
for some intelligence agencies, for some very large companies, but I think the
kind of sensitive functions that we're talking about--banking, the stock
market, the electric power grid, other things like that--just shouldn't have
anything to do with an Internet that anybody anywhere in the world can get
DAVIES: Now, there have been plans developed by the federal government to
increase cyber security. There was a national strategy to secure cyber space
signed by the president in 2003, and then I think another initiative
authorized earlier this year. Give me your sense of those efforts and how
effective they've been.
Mr. CLARKE: Well, the strategy was developed painstakingly with a lot of
public input from universities and from corporations and from experts around
the country, and was given to President Bush in February of 2003, and he
thanked everybody for the effort and I think promptly threw it in the trash
barrel. Nothing happened until 2007, when they began to be aware that the
Chinese government was hacking into sensitive sites in the Defense Department
and in defense industries. And then in January of this year, the president
signed off on a new initiative backed up by many, many billions of dollars to
try initially to protect government computer networks and to do research on
new ways of protecting cyberspace.
DAVIES: And it sounds like what you're saying now is a large and expensive
effort to just develop, in effect, a separate and secure system for these
Mr. CLARKE: Well, that's what I'm proposing, and I think the government is
looking at that for some functions, but no one's actually doing it for things
like the electric power grid.
DAVIES: Well, Richard Clarke, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. CLARKE: Thank you.
GROSS: Richard Clarke, speaking with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
Clarke is a former White House national coordinator for security and
counterterrorism. His new book is called "Your Government Failed You:
Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters."
Dave Davies is a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.