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Wireless feature disabled on pacemaker to stop hackers from assassinating Cheney

Oct 21, 20136 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftMobile Device Management

To eliminate the chance of Dick Cheney's heart being hacked, doctors disabled the wireless functionality on his implanted defibrillator.

It would be a safe bet to guess that former Vice President Dick Cheney agreed to be interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in order to help sell his new book, Heart, but some of the details from, and comments on, that interview are worth repeating. According to CBS, “He has been the beneficiary of nearly every medical breakthrough to combat heart disease over the last 35 years, including a heart transplant at the age of 71.” Or, to quote commenter senatorjefferygold, “To say Dick Cheney’s original heart was defective is an understatement; it was the heart of Satan. Now he has an actual human heart.”

When Cheney’s implanted defibrillator was replaced in 2007, his cardiologist was worried someone would hack it and kill him. So he “ordered the manufacturer to disable the wireless feature – fearing a terrorist could assassinate the vice president by sending a signal to the device, telling it to shock his heart into cardiac arrest.” Dr. Jonathan Reiner stated, “It seemed to me to be a bad idea for the vice president to have a device that maybe somebody on a rope line or in the next hotel room or downstairs might be able to get into — hack into.”

When asked what Cheney thought after watching a similar hack-a-heart scenario on the ShowTime series “Homeland,” he said, “I found it credible.”

But to Dr. Gupta, the “precariousness of Cheney’s physical health” also seemed to raise credible questions about “his state of mind” while he was serving as vice president.

Sanjay Gupta: You were instrumental in many big decisions for the country, including going into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dick Cheney: And terrorist surveillance programs and enhanced interrogation programs—

Sanjay Gupta: Terrorist surveillance programs, wiretapping, enhanced interrogation. You’d had had four heart attacks, three catheterizations at this point, a defibrillator, bypass surgery.

Dick Cheney: Right.

Sanjay Gupta: Did you worry about your physical health impacting your judgment and your cognition?

Dick Cheney: No.

In fact, CBS reported, “Cheney didn’t want to acknowledge numerous studies that show a significant connection between severe heart disease and memory loss, depression, a decline in decision-making abilities and impaired cognition. Or that he could be one of the many patients vulnerable to these side effects.” Just the same, according to a 2009 NSA inspector general’s report that came out via Snowden’s leaks, Cheney drafted the initial President’s Surveillance Program (PSP) that was secretly given to the NSA following 9/11. There are other reports that Bush and Cheney may have started illegal domestic spying — having the NSA seek “phone, Internet and other customer records”— in early 2001.

The thing is, whether or not Cheney’s health affected decision making, he became George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000 based on a bogus health report. As Gupta pointed out, after “world renowned Texas heart surgeon Denton Cooley” spoke with Cheney’s cardiologist, “Dr. Cooley told the Bush campaign that Cheney was in good health with normal cardiac function.”

Sanjay Gupta: The normal cardiac function wasn’t true.

Dick Cheney: I’m not responsible for that. I didn’t know what took place between the doctors.

Sanjay Gupta: This idea that you have this respected heart surgeon from Texas who didn’t see you, didn’t examine you, and then writes something saying that you have normal cardiac function. That just wasn’t true, Mr. Vice President.

Dick Cheney: Go ask Denton Cooley about that.

Sanjay Gupta: But sir, you saw it.

Dick Cheney: Listen to me, I think the bottom line is: was I up to the task of being vice president? And there’s no question. I think based upon the fact that I did it for eight years that they were right.

Sanjay Gupta: How were they able to say that you were able to do the job?

Dick Cheney: The way I look at it Sanjay is that first of all, I didn’t seek the job. The president came to me and asked me to be his vice president. The party nominated me. The doctors that consulted on it reached a common conclusion and the people elected me. Now what basis do I override the decision making process? Do you want to have an offshoot where we come check with Sanjay Gupta and say, “Gee, is he up to the task?” That’s not the way it works.

Cheney’s reply is not out of character for a man who answered, “So?” when he was told that Americans had lost confidence in the war on Iraq. After all, the poor guy couldn’t overrule those doctors with the truth; that’s just silly (/s). Instead, Cheney wanted to talk about his new book, which is also about his new heart. After surgery, when told the new heart was working great, his first words were “Hot damn.”

Comments on the interview ranged from high praise for Cheney, to outrage about an interview to help a “war criminal” sell a book. It’s a bit surprising that commenters were seemingly unconcerned about potentially being waterboarded, being put under increased domestic surveillance, or possibly under Secret Service scrutiny. But maybe that is because Cheney ended the interview on an uncharacteristically warm-fuzzy note.

Dick Cheney: You wake up every morning with a smile on your face because you’ve got a new day you never expected to have. And there’s a sense of wonderment. Nothing short of magical.

Sanjay Gupta: You know, magical, wonderment, your words. Those aren’t words you typically hear, or expect to hear from you…

Dick Cheney: Like Darth Vader. Well, those are the words I choose to describe it.

If you are so inclined, you can watch the 60 Minutes interview, read the transcript, or check out the commenters’ words to describe the new and improved Darth Vader Cheney.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.