West New York was like a cyberspace scene from a William Gibson novel on May 24, as federal authorities swooped down on Mayor Dr. Felix Roque and his son, Joseph, accusing them of allegedly hacking a website to gain information about political opponents.
Gibson, most famous for his short stories and novels about the revolutionary uses of technology, with rogue characters fighting the system by perverting the intended uses of computers and cyberspace to employ them for their own rebellious ends, would not have been surprised at political figures using hacking as a tool.
“That’s something that tends to happen with new technologies generally: the most interesting applications turn up on a battlefield, or in a gallery,” Gibson once said.
While the use of hacking has been one of the weapons in a new cold war on an international front with recently discovered computer moles located in various computers in the middle east, small town use of hacking has only surfaced recently, both in Hoboken with the alleged stealing of emails, and now in West New York.
Gibson, of course, would not have been surprised at this either, noting that, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
And in yet another quote, he explained possible motivations.
“Secrets...are the very root of cool.”
Without a doubt the arrest was the talk of the week, and had political figures pondering who the unnamed actors were in the charges – especially the first unnamed figure who was supposedly behind the establishing of the recall of Roque website which Roque and his son are accused of allegedly hacking into.
Rewind to last election
The investigation goes back some time to political operatives that were working for Roque’s opponent in the last election, then-WNY Mayor Sal Vega.
One of these operatives apparently contacted the website with an interest in getting involved, and then suddenly, he found himself in the middle of the behind the scenes confrontation with North Hudson power brokers, who questioned what he was doing.
“How did they know I was on that web site?” he asked.
Later, after agents for the FBI took a computer belonging to Roque’s son, this person was approached by the FBI.
“They had a printed out copy of my email and asked if it was mine,” this person said. “I saw other emails. They were apparently interviewing people whose emails were hacked.”
Several prominent officials have refused to comment in their connection with the hacking incident, one of whom may actually be the founder of the recall Roque site.
The political world has already pronounced judgment, even though Roque has denied any guilt, and people are looking at who might replace him if indeed he is forced to resign, or given a plea deal that would allow him to step down without jail time.
Roque, of course, has his loyal following, but he can no longer count on the support of some public officials who felt betrayed when for a brief time he endorsed a Republican candidate state Sen. Joe Kyrillos for U.S. Senate over the Democratic Incumbent U.S. Senator Robert Menendez.
“It was protocol he violated,” said one official. “He did not bother to tell anyone in advance and suddenly people got put on the spot.”
For a time, there was a kind of McCarthy-like litmus test as those who supported Roque were forced to make their allegiance to Menendez known.
Loyalty is as loyalty does
Public figures didn’t like being put on the spot like that, and they blamed Roque, and so he might be hard pressed to find any who will come out on his behalf now that he needs a friend.
Roque, of course, has good reason to dislike Menendez, and carried a small tape recorder in his pocket with the Spanish language endorsement Menendez gave for Roque’s opponent, Sal Vega, in the last mayoral election. Each time Roque played this tape, he seemed to get angry all over again.
Part of the theory for his alleged hacking was his need to root out people who are disloyal to his administration.
“He seemed to want to find everybody who was against him,” said one of the people involved in having his email hacked. “But this isn’t going to win him a lot of support in West New York. This is the kind of thing many people left Cuba to get away from.”
In proclaiming his innocence, Roque told The West New York Reporter that he believed the charges were politically motivated and that people opposed to him were behind this all. He didn’t question the feds for doing their duty, but questioned how this matter came up before them.
Sources say this wasn’t brought immediately to the attention of the authorities right away, but festered in the political community, and eventually was brought to the U.S. Attorney by some operative – allegedly out of North Bergen.
In some ways, Roque is right. Some people who formerly supported him may have been looking around for someone more politically predictable, and in the end, if Roque is forced to resign – which some say he won’t do without a conviction – the most likely replacement will be WNY Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez, who some previously had supported over Roque for mayor.
Most agree that former Mayor Sal Vega and his group of commissioners who were dumped out of office by the Roque revolution will not reemerge to play a role in any post-Roque government, if that should come to pass.