Dec 01 2009

Degree-mill grad runs a certificate mill for IT security workers

Netscape's former chief strategist takes "meta-education" to a whole new level
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My longtime readers will recall a fearmonger by the name of Kevin Coleman. He’s made money over the years hawking himself as a high-and-mighty lecturer in cyberspace security. He claims to write a lot of classified documents for the Dept. of Defense and/or the Dept. of Homeland Security. These days he runs an “institute” that hands out “certified” parchments to IT security workers.

Coleman originally claimed he dropped his “Ph.D.” title because “I’m semi-retired.” Later he changed his story, saying he dropped the title because it came from a degree mill.

In short: Coleman is a narcissist who operates a certificate mill. We’ll talk later about the mill; right now let’s focus on the man.

You see, there’s something odd about Kevin Coleman. Very odd, indeed. He labeled himself a Ph.D. from ca.2004 to 2007 — yet he hasn’t mentioned his doctoral degree since then. And at least one publication has quietly deleted the “Ph.D.” from his bio.

Why doesn’t Coleman label himself a Ph.D. anymore? This is quite odd for a narcissist who will go out of his way to laud himself every chance he gets, and who will speak with authority to any reporter on seemingly any subject ranging from nano-technology to bird flu.

It’s even more odd for a guy to stop using such a prestigious title when he runs a certificate mill called “The Technolytics Institute.” Why doesn’t Coleman label himself a Ph.D. anymore?

Why, indeed.

Technolytics Institute emblem for a Certified Chief Security Officer (notice the misspelled acronym in the center)$300 to become a Certi­fied Chief Security Officer! “The Technolytics Institute is the first certifying body to design, develop, and deliver an inte­grated program. In all areas of life, practi­tioners are judged by their skill and ethics. Our cer­tif­i­ca­tion programs focus on the seamless inte­gra­tion of physical security, infor­ma­tion security and several areas of risk to organ­i­z­ations of any size. Our Cer­ti­fi­ca­tions address a range of skill sets from entry level security and broad based security essen­tials to advanced subject areas like money laundering and corporate espionage…”

(Did you notice the misspelled acronym in the “CCSO” emblem? Coleman is known for his sloppiness with the written language.)

The archives of reveal Coleman used his website almost exclusively to shill himself for lecture tours up through 2007. He claimed no Ph.D. on his website in the early days, but at least one nano-technology newsletter identified him as a Ph.D. in early 2004.

It appears Coleman himself started to highlight his Ph.D. status sometime in 2004. For example, he included those three magic letters after his name in various papers posted on his website. He called himself “Dr. Coleman” when he lectured at the Location Intelligence Conference from 2004 to 2006, and he trumpeted himself as a doctor on his website well into 2007.

A 2008 ad-rate sheet for Eye Spy magazine (aimed at private investigators & government spooks) identified Coleman as a Ph.D. and listed him as their “Senior USA Editorial Analyst and Associate Editor.” I should note the fact Eye Spy later dropped the “Ph.D.” from his bio for reasons not yet known.

Technolytics Institute emblem for Certified Physical & Information Security Management$300 to become Certified in Physical & Information Security Manage­ment! “The training materials we [at The Technolytics Institute] have developed and use in our cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process have been distributed across many professions. With over 650,000 of our training briefs being dis­tri­buted world­wide, our materials stand out and distin­guish this program from all the others. Currently there are seventy different training briefs to choose from and more are added on a regular basis…”

It appears Coleman stopped touting his Ph.D. ca. August 2007; it all but disappeared when he revamped his website in October 2007. Most notably, his written testimony for a Congressional hearing in 2009 fails to mention a doctoral degree. Another telltale sign: reporters now refer to him as “Mr.” rather than the prestigious “Dr.” he once labeled himself.

I called Coleman on 20 November to learn (1) details of his Ph.D. and (2) why he stopped using the title. Coleman readily answered the first question: he earned a doctorate in philosophy from Kensington University in December 1987 for his written dissertation on “Expert Systems and Artificial Intelligence & Reasoning.”

I will dare to say these nine words: “Coleman lied at the start of our phone call.”

Why, then, did Coleman drop the Ph.D. title? He waved off his doctoral degree, claiming “I’m semi-retired.” His response caught me off-guard — you can’t anticipate a narcissist will offer this excuse! — so Coleman politely repeated it to me: “I’m semi-retired.” He went on to say he now works only two days a week and some time ago he felt he wanted to go back to being plain old “Mr.” instead of “Dr.”

All of these details flowed smoothly from Coleman’s lips.

Coleman’s answer to my second question raised a yellow flag for two reasons. First: as I’ve said, Coleman is a narcissist who craves the podium & dais. Second: he now runs a certificate mill called “The Technolytics Institute.” Narcissists and certificate mills both love to tout any educational abbreviations they can latch onto.

But I was on my way to an appointment — and I got all the information I called about — so I said my good-byes.

Coleman, on the other hand, didn’t want the phone call to end. I finally elected not to hang up out of sheer politeness. I had no purpose for being on the phone with him at this point, so I decided to probe him about the yellow flag he raised. I pulled over my vehicle so I could jot down more complex notes & quotes during our conversation.

Technolytics Institute emblem for a Certified Physical & Information Security Consultant$275 to become a Certified Physical & Information Security Consultant! “Clients/employers feel secure knowing that certifi­cantes [sic] annually pledge to uphold a strict code of profes­sionalism enforced by the Technolytics Institute… Know­ledge and experience is of critical importance, but so are presen­ta­tions, practice, and profes­sionalism. The Technolytics Institute (TTI) doesn’t focus on individual consulting special­ties—the focus is on how you use and grow your know­ledge expertise. You bring a unique industry perspective while TTI brings the skills to define, market and deliver ethical profes­sional security consulting compe­tence. Explore what works to become or remain successful in the security arena. See what a Technolytics Certification can do for you…”

Coleman babbled for awhile before lobbing a bombshell — he dropped his “Ph.D.” title because it in fact came from a fraudulent “university.” But he insisted he was unaware of it until after a judge shut down that degree mill.

I stammered quite hard when Coleman revealed this. I finally said “that’s not what you told me at the beginning” (an accurate though perhaps not verbatim quote). Coleman suddenly started looking for sympathy, telling me how the degree mill had taken a lot of money from him & many others over the years.

That’s the problem with narcissists — they can’t stop digging a hole.

I will dare to say these nine words: “Coleman lied at the start of our phone call.” This narcissist did not drop his “Ph.D.” title because “I’m semi-retired” as he first claimed.

I strongly believe Coleman sufferedexperienced some sort of watershed event in the latter half of 2007. And I’ll bet it revolved around his bogus Ph.D. Did someone else confront him over it back then?

Coleman’s website archive reveals an obvious narcissism that focuses on “why you need Dr. Coleman, the demigod speaker, to opine at your corporate or government function for a high fee.” Then, almost overnight in October 2007, Coleman deletes his cult-of-personality pages and replaces them with a focus on “why you need” Coleman disappears into the shadows of his own website.

Did some­one else con­front Coleman over his bogus Ph.D. in 2007?

I believe a narcissist would not switch the focus of his website so drastically — and disappear so completely into the background — unless he experienced some sort of watershed event that caused him to feel a deep negative emotion, e.g. shame.

This leaves me wondering “who confronted him in 2007?”

Coleman insists he was was an innocent dupe who got scammed by a fraudulent university — but I now find it a little difficult to believe. Why? Because this timeline shows Coleman earned his degree 2½yrs before the shysters set up shop, and he didn’t appear to call himself a doctor until after a judge shut down his alma mater:

  • 1987 Dec: Kevin Coleman earns a Ph.D. from Kensington University, Inc.
  • 1990 May: the fraudulent “Kensington University, Inc.” opens for business.
  • 1996 Jan: Coleman’s book doesn’t identify him as a Ph.D.
  • 1997 Nov: “Kensington University, Inc.” dissolves (probably because its name duplicates a legit school with the same name) and the fraudulent “Kensington Pacific University, Inc.” opens for business in its place.
  • 2000 Jul: a company’s press release doesn’t mention Coleman’s Ph.D. while touting him as their newest board director.
  • 2001 Apr: a different company’s press release doesn’t mention Coleman’s Ph.D. while touting him as their new CEO.
  • 2003 Oct: the state of Hawaii shuts down the fraudulent Kensington Pacific University, Inc.
  • 2004: Coleman appears to start touting himself as a Ph.D.
  • 2007: Coleman appears to stop touting himself as a Ph.D.

“But Rob, what if Coleman said ‘1997’ and ‘Kensington Pacific University’ while you were talking to him on the phone? You were driving at the time. You might have mis-heard him.” No. He reminisced about how long ago he earned it, and then my notes quote him: ” ’87 I believe it was. December.” I repeated ” ’87” and “Kensington University” back to him when he said it. I know I got it right.

Ask yourself: “why would a nar­cis­sist keep his Ph.D. under wraps for at least six years?”

But hey! Just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose Coleman obtained his degree in ’97 right after the death of the original Kensington University, Inc. That’s no big deal because we can bet the shysters kept a stack of parchments on hand with the old school name. But our supposition would tell us Coleman backdated his doctoral degree by a full decade in his initial lie.

Let’s keep going for the sake of argument. If he obtained it in ’97, then it appears Coleman didn’t start touting himself as a Ph.D. until six years later. This forces us to ask a philosophical question: “why would a narcissist who craves the podium & dais keep his doctoral degree under wraps for such an amazingly long time?”

There is another “for the sake of argument” here — let’s suppose Coleman made up his Ph.D. entirely on his own.

We know he loves to write for and get quoted in nano-technology publications. A journalist asks “you’re a Ph.D., right?” and Coleman’s narcissism compels him to say “oh, of course!” Things sorta-kinda snowball from there and one day he adds “Ph.D.” to his business cards. Let’s say he gets caught a few years later. Now he’s reeling with guilt & shame—

—and then one day he discovers a whole world of fraudulent degree mills out there! Kensington recently went defunct … so he projects his shame onto others with the lie “I got my Ph.D. from Kensington U. in the winter of ’87, and boy was I taken for a lot of money, and a lot of other people too!” Except he doesn’t realize the shysters launched Kensington in the summer of 1990…

A 'case study' Coleman wrote in 2005 highlights his Ph.D. status, archived at WebCitation.orgBah, enough with the “for the sake of argument” speculation. We may never really know when (or even if) Coleman received a bogus doctoral degree. The university’s shysters are long gone and the state of Hawaii doesn’t possess any “school records” (believe me, I checked). I seriously doubt Coleman will let anyone see his doctoral parchment — and his poor English composition skills lead me to suspect we’ll never see his dissertation on “Expert Systems and Artificial Intelligence & Reasoning.”

Now, you’ll notice I said I only find it “a little difficult to believe” some shyster out there sold him a parchment. Coleman ironically may have learned how to run a certificate mill once he realized he got bilked by a degree mill.

Of course this begs us to ask “is Coleman a Kellogg School of Management Executive Scholar as he claims?” The answer is “yes, but it’s not an accredited degree.” Northwestern University offers the title as part of an expensive certificate program for businessmen with (shall we say) blasé résumés. I confirmed Coleman may legitimately call himself an “alumni” based on the certificate he received.

It looks like Cole­man might have claimed a bogus Ph.D. before he earned a legit bac­ca­laureate.

Coleman always lists his Kellogg certificate at the start of every bio (second only to his temporary Ph.D. status). This, of course, begs us to ask “does Coleman hold any accredited college degree?”

I suspect the answer is “no.”

Coleman’s LinkedIn profile mentions the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, yet he provides zero details. Then there’s a telltale omission — Coleman lists himself as an alumni of Kellogg but not Wharton in his “groups and associations” on LinkedIn. Finally, a name search at Wharton turned up zero hits. I therefore suspect the faculty never invited him to wear a cap & gown.

Here’s the really really REALLY bad part, folks. If I’m right about this … then it means Coleman claimed a bogus Ph.D. before he earned a legit baccalaureate.

At the top of this column, I said Coleman “operates a certificate mill.” Let’s put his “Technolytics Institute” to the test with “Five Ways to Spot a Diploma Mill“:

Coleman ironically may have learned how to run a cer­ti­fi­cate mill once he realized he got bilked by a degree mill…

  1. "Its site lists no names and little or no contact information." What a coincidence! You’d need to do some research to discover The Technolytics Institute is married to Kevin Coleman. And you’d need to drill into Google Maps to discover the mailing address for Technolytics is in fact a Mailboxes Etc. store at the Donaldsons Crossroads Shopping Center.
  2. "A school claims to be small, yet offers a large number of majors." What a coincidence! This institute, with only one known person behind it, offers six different security certifications — plus 19 more sold under the guise of Coleman’s “Spy-Ops” certificates program.
  3. "The school is vague or ambiguous when speaking about its accreditation." What a coincidence! The Technolytics Institute’s brochure doesn’t mention its own or its faculty’s accreditation(s). You’d need to read my investigative report to learn its founder claims no known accredited collegiate degrees.
  4. "The school makes outrageous promises." Hmmm. Let me also add “steer clear if a school claims to award degrees on the sole basis of portfolio assessments of life experience.” At the Technolytics Institute, “the formal [baccalaureate] degree requirement may be replaced with a combination of experience and certification at the discretion of the Certification Board. Five additional years of experience may replace the degree requirement.”
  5. "The school offers degrees for a flat fee, rather than by course or credit hour." What a coincidence! Whip out your MasterCard, folks, because the Technolytics Institute will certify you for a flat rate. And yes, they really do take MasterCard.

Do you see the irony here? Coleman wanted me to feel sorry for him because he got duped by a degree mill — yet he himself runs a certificate mill. I feel zero sympathy for this guy.

At the top of this column, I called Coleman a “narcissist.” Some damning evidence indicates he uses sock puppets to boost his stature and to curtail any criticism. These sock puppets worship Coleman and serve as his most faithful hype men in online forums.

The evidence of sock puppets includes IP trails, email headers, veneer sig­na­ture blocks, and Cole­man’s trade­mark writing style…

Don’t confuse an above-board “pseudonym role” with a deceptive sock puppet. Today’s cottage news industry might use a nameless “corrections editor” so readers can distinguish it from normal journalistic content. Indeed, this website’s About page reveals the corrections editor is a pseudonym role. (Hence you can easily guess who wrote the “editor’s note” at the top of this column.)

Of lesser importance: I accuse Coleman of sending me an email tirade in 2008 disguised as a sock puppet. Of greater importance: Coleman’s sloppy writing style found its way into comments submitted as “Spy Guy” on Bruce Schneier’s popular website in 2007 & 2008. (You’ll notice “Spy Guy” links himself to Coleman’s website.)

Coleman may also be the gushing fan who wrote the “you really made an ass out of Rob Rosenberger” comment posted to an article he wrote for Defense Tech in early 2009. This comment, too, reveals certain telltale aspects of Coleman’s penmanship.

If we convict Coleman based on the evidence, then we must conclude he’s sloppy with his sock puppets. Ironically, it would mean Eye Spy magazine’s “Senior USA Editorial Analyst and Associate Editor” failed to use even the most rudimentary online clandestine tradecraft.

At the top of this column, I said Coleman “claims to write a lot of classified documents for the Dept. of Defense and/or the Dept. of Homeland Security.” This claim is actually a lot easier to (dis)prove than one might think. You just need to be willing to make three bets.

“For the love of God, grammar, and all that is infor­ma­tive, please can this guy. I didn’t know that a very, very long string of uncited statis­tics fol­lowed by a defense of one’s job con­sti­tutes jour­nalism. Espe­cially when plenty of the uncited stats sound a little goofy…”
   — Comment to an article by Kevin G. Coleman

First & foremost, Coleman must hold a federal security clearance if he writes classified documents for the U.S. government. I’ll bet $100 he has not held a clearance-required position in the last year. Second, Coleman must write his secret monographs somewhere. I’ll bet $100 he can’t identify a place where he did classified writing for the U.S. government in the last year. Third, I’ll bet $100 Coleman will decline to take the first two bets.

I made three bets totaling $300. That’s the cost of a certification from the Technolytics Institute. What a coincidence!

Waitaminit, I … I think I feel another philosophical question coming on. Yes, I can definitely feel it. Here it comes … ahhh, there it is. “Did the U.S. government hire ‘Dr. Coleman‘ or just ‘Mr. Coleman’ to write classified documents for them?”

“A bogus doctoral degree, Rob? A certificate mill? Sock puppets? What if Coleman decides to sue you for defamation of character?” I doubt his {ahem} “legal counsel” will recommend it. First: I’m an established industry critic, and what doesn’t kill a critic only makes him stronger. Second: I’ll just put Coleman on the witness stand where he can talk as long as he wants. Heaven help him during the cross-examination.

Now you see there’s something odd about Kevin Coleman. Very odd, indeed…