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RKN Global Founder Ronald K. Noble on Not All in the World is Corrupt. . .

Not all in the world is corrupt.  This message bears repeating, especially for those involved in understanding and battling corruption, for whom corruption would seem omnipresent and no man or woman exempt.   This contrary reminder comes in the form of a twenty-two year old English man named Marcus Hutchins, whose quick thinking helped avert a global computer meltdown from a massive and ambitious world-wide hacking attack.  Mr. Hutchins inspires confidence not only because of the actions he took, but because of his dedication of reward money he was offered (after the fact) to charity.

Ronald K. Noble, RKN Global’s founder, lauds Marcus Hutchins for his grace, honesty and magnanimity.

The cyber attack, known as WannaCry, struck over 150 countries with ransomware.  Ransomware, once it infects a target computer, locks the computer—or files– until the victim pays a ransom.  Everyone from individuals to businesses to governments is fair game– including hospitals and health care systems. 

At this point, British computer expert Marcus Hutchins entered the story.  He discovered a web address buried in the malware’s code as a fail safe, and discovered that the web address was not registered.  He promptly purchased the web address for a little over $10, and was able to redirect the malware and help stop the attack.

When he was awarded a $10,000 reward by a hacker group called HackerOne for having disabled the attack, Hutchins announced, under his @MalwareTechBlog Twitter handle, that he would split the money between charities and purchasing books for students who couldn’t afford them.

RKN Global’s founder, Ronald K. Noble, notes that sometimes the crime and corruption of some can in fact highlight the honesty and goodness of others by their response.

Indeed, the very group that gave Hutchins the award, HackerOne, is an example of people working to fight corruption.  It is a group of hackers who offer “bug bounties” to computer experts who beat criminals to the punch in finding security weaknesses and flaws, thus preventing the criminals from exploiting them.  In 2016, HackerOne gave out $7 million in awards.

In light of Mr. Hutchins’ efforts and attitudes, it is distressing that he became hounded by reporters approaching his home and invading his privacy.  He deserves the right to privacy and not be harassed as an additional “reward” for his good deeds.

Ronald Noble, RKN Global Founder, on Piracy and Corruption

The well-known American public radio show, This American Life, recently ran a program about piracy, in which it profiled the story of Mohamad Aden, a man who by all accounts moved to Somalia from the United States at great personal expense in order to improve his war-torn country of origin, and—depending on whose account is believed—either worked to help rescue hostages captured by Somali pirates, or became active in piracy himself.

Aden currently sits in a Belgian prison, sentenced to five years for membership in a pirate organization.   By all accounts, his troubles—whether by his own malfeasance, or his legal troubles—began with his befriending one of Somalia’s most successful and infamous pirates, Mohamed Abdi Hassan, who went by the nickname “Afweyne,” meaning “Big Mouth” in Somali.   Ironically, the relationship between the two began as part of Aden’s attempts to cut down on piracy in the areas under his jurisdiction.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, agrees with the suggestion of the radio show reporter that corruption often takes hold in murky, gray areas.  Aden’s positive desire to bring law and order to his corner of Somalia led him to ally himself with the worst element that he wishes to fight, and which ultimately led, according to the finding of the Belgian court, into Aden’s own corruption.

Aden’s journey back to Somalia began in the United States, where he lived with his wife and children before being picked by members of his clan to establish a government and law and order in the area of Somalia called Himan and Heeb.  Aden established a police force and a court system in the area in place of the lawlessness that reigned previously, and he encountered some success, but found difficulty controlling an area near the coast where the pirates were too strong.

In order to counter piracy, Aden befriended Hassan, one of the most notorious of pirates, who helped him in creating a counter-piracy plan.  He even convinced Hassan to retire from hijacking ships, and worked as a middle man to help free to British hostages who were held by Somali pirates. 

Shortly thereafter, Aden was approached about working, together with Hassan, as a consultant on a Belgian documentary about piracy.  When they arrived in Belgium, the offer turned out to have been the initiative of Belgian police, who took them both into custody on piracy charges.   Hassan ultimately was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and Aden to five years.

RKN Global’s founder, Ronald Noble, warns of the influential nature of the company that people keep.  Mohamad Aden kept company with an infamous pirate; what the nature of the influence this had on him is a dispute between Aden himself—who continues to protest his innocence and good intentions—and the Belgian courts.

  

RKN Global on Guns, Licenses and Corruption

“A person that had 10 moving violations and had been the subject of at least four domestic violence complaints including one in which he allegedly threatened to kill someone” is how a New York prosecutor described a man who allegedly received a gun license from the New York City Police Department tasked with regulating licenses.  The reason such a person could obtain a gun license?  Corruption.

RKN Global’s founder, Ronald Noble, observes that power is an important ingredient in many instances of corruption, because one who holds that power has the opportunity to easily profit by wrongly trading the use of that power.   This is allegedly what happened in a web of corruption involving a police officer, two former officers, and an attorney in New York City.

The police officer, Lieutenant Paul Dean, finished his career in 2016 as the second highest officer in the licensing division of the NYPD.  His position enabled him to approve or reject applications for firearm licenses, a power that he used to enrich himself and approve licenses to those who provided him with bribes in the form of cash, free meals and services, and trips to strip clubs.

He and the other officers worked approved licenses in exchange for bribes from 2000-2016, without regard for background checks.

A New York attorney, John Chambers, was involved with the officers as well.  Chambers, whose practice of law was ostensibly focused purely on legitimate representation of gun license applicants, was in fact supplementing his practice with bribery to officers in the gun licensing division in order to make sure his clients’ gun applications were approved.  The bribes he allegedly gave included cash, sports tickets and tickets to Broadway shows, sports memorabilia and a luxury, $8,000 watch.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, comments that this case likely illustrates two other common characteristics of corruption: the role of a culture of corruption in making it easier for corruption to thrive, and the significant harm that corruption can bring about.  In that vein, it is noteworthy that several officers were involved in the corrupt behavior.  Additionally, the profound harm of putting guns in the hands of potentially dangerous and violent individual is the result of corruption in a process that is, if done properly, a merely bureaucratic and regulatory endeavor.

RKN Global on Whether Social Media Can Help Fight Corruption

Corruption thrives with a lack of transparency.  Secrecy removes the deterrent of public opprobrium or legal consequences from one’s actions.  In a context in which corruption is not well-known, then, it is rarely and weakly opposed and, in turn, thrives.  The old saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant is true indeed.

RKN Global founder, Ronald K. Noble, observes that in this context, the role of a free press has historically been associated in the public mind with decreased corruption.  While corruption is a function of human nature meeting opportunity and will therefore exist in any society to some degree or another, a free press can expose corrupt practices, and in the case of government corruption, sometimes succeed in helping remove corrupt actors from power.  The role of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in raising the Watergate scandal in the U.S., leading ultimately to the resignation of the President of the United States, remains, over forty years later, one of the classic examples of the power and potency of a free press to expose and undermine corruption.

The question arises whether social media can have the same effect in combatting corruption.  Not all countries countenance a free press, unfortunately, but the internet and social media have allowed citizens of these countries in recent years to communicate with each other freely in a way that was never before possible.  Does social media, which can allow people to communicate freely outside of government control, also shine a disinfecting light on corruption?

A study recently published by a professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Economics suggests that it does.  In a study of over 150 countries, the author, Sudipta Sarangi, found that the more prevalent the use of Facebook in a country, the less government corruption there was in that country.  The study controlled for various factors, including the role of the free press, so that the correlation takes those factors into account.

Sarangi and his co-author, Chandan Kumar Jha, noted that anti-corruption protestors have used social media effectively in India, and notably in various Arab countries during the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings throughout the Middle East. 

The study would seem to show that social media can do – and in the absence of a free press does do—the same thing as traditional media in exposing illegality and corruption.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, acknowledges the importance that social media can play in giving a voice to people, even when the government does not allow official media instruments to do so.  However, neither Facebook nor any other social media outlet is an objective source of news, as was made abundantly clear from the fake news phenomenon that got so much attention during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and again in the French Presidential election.  It is therefore subject to possible abuse by corrupt officials looking to spread misinformation over the same networks.

Ronald Noble, RKN Global Founder, on Judicial Corruption

The power that often opens the door to corrupt behavior is commonly associated with political figures, as evidenced by the ubiquity of government officials around the world, including South Korea and Brazil, to name two out of many.  Alternatively, large corporations share the spotlight with their public interest brothers-in-power-broking, as corporate scandals emerge anew seemingly each day.

Occasionally, a power-broker scandal makes the news which, even in the world of scandal and daily corruption-reports, continues to surprise, even when the public has long been jaded to such behavior by politicians and high-level businessmen.  One such scandal is that of the corrupt judge.  The recent arrest by FBI agents of a Nashville, Tennessee judge, for example, still evokes a raised eyebrow.

RKN Global founder Ronald K. Noble suggests that corrupt judges continue to surprise us precisely because the judiciary is supposed to be an oasis of justice and the rule of law, the unbiased and non-political forum in which all—including the president, prime minister, or CEO—must ultimately pay their respect.  A disgraced president is not surprising—the type of person with the ambition to become president is overflowing with ambition and desire, and we are therefore not surprised to learn that corruption has visited.  But a judge is someone who generally stays out of the public eye, a person whom we expect to be more concerned with reading than with realpolitik, and therefore unlikely to betray his or her values.

Judge Casey Moreland, a Nashville judge since 1998, found himself escorted from his home by FBI agents and accused in Federal court of corruption connected to his abuse of his judicial power in order to benefit himself and those close to him.  Specifically, he allegedly solicited sexual favors from a female defendant in order to assist her with her legal charges, including waiving court costs and fines, avoiding a ticket, and removing a breathalyzer from her vehicle.  When she spoke out against him, he attempted to pay her in exchange for her recanting under oath of her statements.   He is further alleged to have tried to discredit her by trying to plant drugs on her and arrange for her to get caught with them. 

Judge Moreland’s attorney has described him as “obviously in a bit of a state of shock.”  That is a good way to describe all of us when we hear allegations that the insidious nature of corruption has infiltrated the judiciary.

Ronald Noble, founder of RKN Global, reaffirms the iron-clad principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.  Nevertheless, the allegations against Judge Moreland are a reminder that corruption can strike anywhere, as it depends on the intersection of unchanging qualities of human nature and the opportunity afforded by specific circumstances, like the wielding of power.   And of course, as all those in such positions could be reminded, it depends upon the choices made by the individual.