The problem with our digital age is that almost everything is stored in an electronic format somewhere. Think about it. Millions upon millions of Americans file their taxes electronically, meaning that all of their precious personal and financial information is transmitted over the Internet. Somewhere that information is on a hard drive, stored digitally, but also physically at the same time. With all the controversy surrounding Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it should come as a surprise to no one that enterprising hackers are claiming that they have found the holy grail for the 2012 election.
So far, the claim is anonymous. As in truly anonymous, not the infamous hacker group Anonymous. The unidentified hacker group says that it now has possession of tax returns for Mitt Romney. Meaning all of them. Every last one. They are spreading the word on a site called PasteBin which is fueling the suspicion that Anonymous might be behind it. Anonymous has famously used PasteBin to publicize messages in the past. According to the PasteBin post, the hackers acquired the tax returns by breaking into PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Nashville office and getting the data from computers there on August 25. They are threatening to publicize it on September 28 if they don’t receive a million bucks.
Whoa, wait a minute. Hold up folks. Here’s where the conspiracy heats up and perhaps fall flat. These hackers pulled a miracle heist and claim to have Mitt Romney’s tax returns, but they are asking for $1 million and they will happily make sure it never gets released. Mitt Romney and his cronies can cough up a million bucks like you paying for a toll bridge on your morning commute. Why on Earth would these hackers be shooting for such a relatively low number?
There are several possible explanations here. Anonymous generally takes up causes, and revealing this information could be the kind of high-profile reveal they relish in. However, demanding money, especially a paltry amount considering the circumstances, is not normal Anonymous MO. If this is Anonymous, the only rational explanation is that they are hoping to take the money AND release the returns. A classic double-cross. If it isn’t Anonymous, who knows? The thing about hackers is that it could be a group of hacker superheroes or some supernerd in his mother’s basement. For the geek in his mother’s basement, suddenly $1 million sounds like quite a heist. Of course, there is always the chance that the whole thing is a hoax, the tax returns are safe, and someone just hatched an epic plan to suck a whole lot of money out of Romney and company.
Between now and September 28, we will have no way of knowing the truth. Rest assured, there will be no public, official knowledge of Romney paying these guys off. If it does happen, it will be disguised well and Romney will claim that he doesn’t know anything about it. We’ll never know for sure. It kind of boils down to what’s in those returns. If it is so damning that released at that late date it would all but bury Romney’s presidential hopes, he may be willing to pay a lot more than a lousy million to keep it under wraps. If it not really damning, and he just is sticking to his guns on principle, then he might could come out looking like the victim. It’s kind of like a poker bluff. If the hackers really have the returns, then they now know what they have. They know exactly how damning or not damning it is. Romney does as well. But the hackers could be going “all-in” so to speak, thinking there’s something in there that Romney really wants to hide badly.
This is not trying to become a Democrat soapbox here, but it still has to be said: the prudent thing for Romney to do, if there is nothing to hide, is to release the returns. And who knows? It could be a master move here. Imagine if Romney really doesn’t have anything to hide. He refuses to release them, knowing that Obama and the Democrats will latch onto this and use it as half of their platform. Then, he could release the returns at a very late date, citing that his privacy has been breached but he wants Americans to know. This could leave Obama and company looking like idiots.
Politics is a big game of chess. It’s possible. But now it seems that the hackers have upped the ante. Who will call the bluff?
No word on whether the hackers have President Obama’s college transcripts, but it seems nothing is safe these days.