Daily Fix: Scare tactics

It seems that the fear-mongers just won't go away, no matter how little the Y2K problem produces in the way of real, noticeable problems in daily life. Thanks to the tireless emailing of Y2K de-bunker Charlie Reuben, I note that several new claims that corporate and governmental preparedness is really just a sham have reared their heads.

It seems that the fear-mongers just won't go away, no matter how little the Y2K problem produces in the way of real, noticeable problems in daily life. Thanks to the tireless emailing of Y2K de-bunker Charlie Reuben, I note that several new claims that corporate and governmental preparedness is really just a sham have reared their heads.

Invariably, these claims come via anonymous postings on Y2K lists. Someone claims that they are an executive or engineer making a "six-figure" income who is preparing to quit their cushy job and blow the whistle on the hoax. Proportionally, the number of people making six-figure incomes is far lower than the apparently abundant number of would-be whistle-blowers who claim to make those salaries. Of course, they never actually do blow the whistle. Instead, the smoke blows away and no fires are exposed.

It's odd, when you think about it. These folks say they can afford to quit their jobs. They seem convinced that they will be surviving in a post-post-modern world, presumably without functioning legal systems where they might have to confront their former employers. All these real whistle-blowers have come forward facing much more severe legal consequences than the Y2K tattlers expect. And, yet, unlike whistle-blowers in every industry, from chemical processing to tobacco, automobiles, stock markets, agriculture, medicine, insurance, utilities, and, well, the list goes on and on, these Y2K canaries never sing.

Never. There's not one documented case of a current or former employee of a corporation or government agency delivering credible evidence of imminent Y2K failures. Nada. Not one. None.

It just doesn't make sense. Especially in light of all the whispers that someone is on the brink of coming forward with proof. You may think that the Smoking Man of The X-Files is out there keeping these whistle-blowers at bay, but you'd be wrong. It's awfully easy to give a reporter secrets, with supporting evidence.

I know. On several occasions in the early '90s, I received such information. It helped me break several stories about the National Security Agency's interference with public cryptography standards. When the Bush White House rewrote an Environmental Protection Agency report on the deleterious effects of electromagnetic fields to satisfy electric utilities and cellular telephone lobbies, I got the original document and used it to prove there was a cover-up. A tipster landed me the story of the "U.S. Card," a national identification card developed by the Postal Service and Department of Defense.

So, let me make this offer. It's a one-time thing, so you would-be whistle-blowers out there listen up: I will help you out your employer, if you can provide the documents and contacts that will produce credible evidence of impending Y2K disasters. I protect my sources, but I have to be able to check them out, so I have to know who you are.

If you go public with your claims and are prosecuted or sued, I'll personally contribute $1,000 to your legal defense and help campaign for donations from the public in this column and elsewhere.

If you don't believe me, ask Phil Zimmerman, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy, if I'm not good for my word. When he appeared on a panel that I moderated at the Digital World Conference with the FBI agent who was attempting to charge him with exporting strong cryptography, I repeatedly held up a sign with his legal defense fund's 800 number and repeated verbally it for good measure. Phil's a successful entrepreneur today, while that FBI agent led the fraudulent investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800, exposed this week as a massive PR campaign to promote fears about terrorism. Phil won, big.

The Net has been a great medium for getting the word about Y2K out, and it has paid off in huge leaps in preparedness. It has also been the breeding ground for a lot of nonsense and hearsay. We need to clean that up, so that people can plan intelligently, based on real information. This offer applies to the first person to provide the substantive proof of a major Y2K problem that will lead to the failure of a company, a government agency or industry. Send your cards and letters now.

Mitch Ratcliffe is the executive producer of ZDY2K.com, the Ziff-Davis Y2K Web site, and editor in chief and vice president of programming for ON24 Network, a streaming audio and video network for online investors.