In Venezuela a national strike has been carried out from December to January 2003. The strike has had in national oil company, the PDVSA, a subject important that it participated in part to the protests. Contrarily to the custom strike mostly was made from the managing part of the country with the payment of the wage to some workers who joined to the agitation.

What many have defined one "locked" (strong and not legal strike) aimed to provoke general manifestations and to discharges the president Ugo Chavez. To such aim the block of the oil activities was strategic for the strikers. The money from the production of the crude oil are remarkable because the bolivariana nation are the fifth producer of oil in the world.

The computers infrastructure of oil company PDVSA was in hand to the society INTESA possessed with 60% of the actions from the American company SAIC, a big USA company that has many contacts with the American administrations.

During the strike the PDVSA has repeatedly asked for having the keys of access (password) to the computers system of the company for being able to continue the oil production. According to the Venezuelan oil society, SAIC through INTESA has changed from remote the codes of access to the computer infrastructure so the entire production was stopped. In order to obtain the control of the national oil, PDVSA have been engages various hacker with the precise task to bring back the computer system under the control of the PDVSA and so to continue the fuel distribution.

From the 2003 government has had the test that the computer system cannot be left in hand to private aliens and that the software must completely be managed from the Venezuelans. With decree presidential n. 3390 of 28 December 2004 the Venezuela has decidedly taken the road of the free software that it considers strategic for the national security.

Josè has participated to the action of the hacker team that have brought back the computers under the national control. He can therefore give us its version of the facts and to illustrate the complexity of the operation that he has been called to carry out for the good of the bolivariana nation.

The Interview

Hi, my name is Josè Luis Rey, and at the time of the PDVSA crisis I were working as IT Consultant for the ministry of Planning and Development, I've been involved in the PDVSA crisis since the very begining, and left the company short after the 3MM barrels per day of production were reached, meaning that PDVSA have achieved full production capacity. I left PDVSA on April 21st, 2003.

Sandro kensan: What is your point of view of the national strike?
Josè Luis Rey: As I state below, the national strike was a cover up for a big conspiracy, which main visible goal was to remove Hugo Chavez but with a hidden goal to keep a very good bussines rolling.

This bussines was so good that a US$ 1200 invest on the INTESA stock (of US$ 2000), returned more than 50 million dollars in net revenue un just six years, which I see as an excelent ROI.

Sk: Can you give us a panoramic view of the computer system of the PDVSA?
JLR: PDVSA has a lot of computer systems of various kinds, from what they call integrated envinronment (geological and mining operations) til desktop platform, with some field and bussines automation systems and the like in between those two. Although the core bussiness applications are the integrated environment, most of bussiness automation is hadled as expected from the desktop environment available at most workplaces in the corporate offices.

Sk: In order to obtain the control of the national oil, who has contacts you and in order to make what?
JLR: I was a former IT Consultant for the Ministry of Panning and Development, Felipe Pèrez Martì at the time of the strike, the President Hugo Chavez asked his Ministries for help to recover oprational status of the state oil industry, and Felipe asked me to help in the crisis, so I ended in PDVSA, under direct command of Ali Rodrìguez (the former president of the corporation) and Diego Uzcategui (his right hand), they ordered me to recover operational status of western fuil distribution plants, because there were a severe crisis on at least 6 states due to the lack of fuel, at this time there were only fuel for ambulances and fire fighters, and even them were getting short of it.

Sk: Which was the feeling, the air, that was breathed between the hacker team when you start this delicate job?
JLR: I was not in contact with any hacker community at that time, just some other IT people from the national government, and other IT consultants. As the crisis was being controlled, people was recruited, and some of them turned out to be outstanding hackers who helped a lot in some fronts, from the recovery of the desktop support to the implementation of security measures to avoid possible counterattacks on the computing platform.

Sk: You have had contacts with your Americans colleagues of the SAIC that had retained the access codes, the password?
JLR: No, I have not contacted anybody from SAIC during the crisis, although people from PDVSA tried to recover the changed passwords and new access codes set up by the people of INTESA, but oficially INTESA did not recognize any valid speaker at PDVSA, and this is the kernel of the conspiracy

I will try to make a very long story short, but I really think this is the most interesting and unknown part of the story.

The INTESA contract had a five year term, and it was already extended twice six months before the strike, when it was beeing evaluted the possibility of PDVSA not renew it again, this was based on the fact that ageement between
PDVSA and SAIC was not giving the desired results as pacted during its incorporation.

In that time SAIC agreed to buidup a national consultancy firm in Venezuela and to arrange tecnological transfer to this niew firm (INTESA), in return PDVSA agreed to buy all an every IT service and equipment from INTESA, with a warrantied ammount of US$ 350 million a year (but all the aditional services will raise this amount substatially) by at least 5 years. But SAIC never did technological transfer, brought lots of alien consultants to solve specific matters and didn't reinvest in INTESA, rather they returned winnings to their headquarters. As if this wasn't enough, INTESA was a partnering between PDV-IFT (a PDVSA branch) and SAIC-Bermuda (a SAIC branch located on fiscal paradise), and it is forbidden by law to make associations between state companies and companies on fiscal paradises, also since INTESA was not a 100% state company, assignment of the contract should go over a public licititation procedure, but instead was assigned directly.

So the agreement was very questinable at that time, and the Ministry of Planning and Development was pushing for the adquisition of the SAIC part of INTESA by PDVSA and other state entities.

And this is the real begining of the crisis, second extensión was about to expire, coup attemp of April was a failure, and some big interests were about to be harmed, so the conspiracy started, people from PDVSA and SAIC build up a contingecy plan in which if some kind of disaster, flood, earthquakes, and faily short list of problems, which included specifically: "General National Strike", an event that happened about 3 o 4 times in last half century in this country.

The conditions of contingency plan were absurd and may be expressed in just one sentence: "as the problems escalate, PDVSA will pay more, and more money to INTESA, while INTESA will gave in return less and less services", if you put it mathematically the limmit of this equation is PDVSA paying infinity money for zero services which is simply ridiculous.

But the plan specification was really interesting, because it forgot very radpidly about broken infrastructure, and all that things usually seen after a catastrophe, and started to describe the states of contingency based in things like: lack of fuel and unavailavility of product delivery due to lack of transport (wow, incredibly visionaries capable to predict something like the fuel truck companies refusing to work, and ships stopped in the middle of the sea)

Ahh, but there was another very important clause, that established an emergency link team, as the only recogniced contect with PDVSA, as soon as contingecy was declared (and may be declared unilaterally by INTESA).

So when the crisis started, and former workers left the company, INTESA did not recongnice any valid authority from PDVSA as was stated on this plan, not even Ali Rodiguez, so they resuse to talk with us.

Sk: What was the job that the team had to make?
JLR: I can not speake for all teams, and there were lots of them, but my specific responsibility was to recover control of the server platform including desktop platform controlled mainly by the third biggest Active Directory of the world at that time. I was working closely with the mail and collaboration work recovery team, and had two team at my charge, one for the windows platform and one for the unix platform.

I also had to interact with application recovery teams.

Sk: Which were the greater obstacles that could compromise the release of the computers system?
JLR: Taking the control of the active directory, the main entry point to most bussines and office automation applications, and after that, securing the infrastructure to avoid possible counterattacks on the recovered platform, most of the logistics were oriented towards this goal.

Sk: Seen the change of the password from the American company, you even had fear for some external or internal participation that could render vain your enterprise? Do you had fears of sabotages?
JLR: I don't consider INTESA an american company, and I have learned that most of the passwords and codes were changed by citizens, under command from other citizens, but I cannot assure you that orders came from US executives or the like.

Not only fear, I have direct proof of sabotage to computer systems, while at fuel distribution plants I have seen reconfigured control boards, lacking its manuals, specifications and schematics, I also was surprised by an alone console starting to work magically, which disabled a fully recovered fuel distribution facility, this was done remotely through managements systems like tivoly and some times timbuktu, after that, mi first acction on a recovered system was to search and disable this kind of software.

Sk: How much time has been necessary for a first restoration of the computer infrastructure so that the crude oil production can restart?
JLR: Crude oil production is almost unrelated to the kind of infrastructure impacted by the strike, most of the systems are for bussines applications and exploratión for new oil sources, the most affected core bussines were plant control systems, mainly at fuel distribution facilities and refineries.

Sk: You worked also of night?
JLR: Yes, the first 4 day I slept while not at plants, mainly in cars going and comming form airports, and during flights (obout half an hour flights). But at some point I just didn't work, so I had to sleep on the back of trunk from 3:00am to 5:00am.

Sk: When the large one of the enterprise had been made that feelings you had?
JLR: I think that most of the people working in the contengency have the same feelings (and passions), and as time passed people coming back were sharing less and less of that feeling (and passion), so they were much more like the old corporate employes of what I call the Old PDVSA.

Sk: You imagined that from your job the free software was so important that the government reacts with the approval of decree 3390?
JLR: No, in fact as soon as I went back from the fuel distribution plants, to the main headquarters in Caracas, we started to lose more and more systems until we had no desktop platform or any internet connection, I quickly installed a Linux box, with an ADSL line, and restored internet access, printing platform, and some other essential services, also CNTI setup a web mail replacement for the lost PDVSA mail system, this mail was also free software.

I used to publish this as a free software success but neither the government nor PDVSA was very much interested on this matter, the approval of 3390 have another unknown origin, which I suspect comes from Brazil, since Hugo Chavez announce was just after his return from the Manaus meeting with Lula.

Sk: At the end, the future of the software used to the PDVSA, it is fresh news of Supercomputer with free software.
JLR: PDVSA is making a migration plan for it's systems, the have the better intention of doing this well, I am currently working with them in this regard, but despite the all the good intentions you must sort certain obtacles, and the biggest one is the corporate culture of some of the their executives, which start to offer passive resistence, fortunatly CIO of PDVSA, Mrs Socorro Hernandez is very akin to this technology, and she is a real iron women, she does not eat or sleeps just works all the time :-)