Yellow Fever

Posted in Cyberterrorism, Made in China at 1:44 pm by George Smith

This week’s news cycle has been especially full of natsec experts and government men speaking of the threat of Chinese attacks in cyberspace.

One pro forma example, from CNET:

It’s no secret the U.S. and China are waging a clandestine cyberwar. National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander says it’s hitting home hard.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Gen. Alexander said that China is stealing a “great deal” of the U.S. military’s intellectual property, adding that the NSA sees “thefts from defense industrial base companies.” According to a story in Information Week, he declined to provide any information on those attacks.

Enemies, a new book on the history of the FBI by Pulitzer winning journalist Tim Weiner, is illuminating on many fronts, including this one, by dint of sweeping perspective.

While I will get to a more complete review in the coming days, Enemies chronicles the intelligence wars between the FBI, acting as an intelligence agency and counter-terrorism operation, first as a much smaller bureau against German operatives during World War I, later against the Nazis and the Japanese, to the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and in the Eighties and Nineties against the Chinese.

The intelligence wars are unsurprising. It is equally unsurprising that foreign powers have always engaged in extensive operations to obtain military and corporate secrets in the US. All through the history of the republic.

Somehow we survived them.

Broader minds with more comprehensive eyes toward history might then view the current convulsions of news, crystallizing about the utterances of experts and ex-government men who may not even be remembered when a future history like Enemies is written four decades hence, as nothing more than business as usual.

If there were a public debate today with the US middle class on the subject, what do you think would concern people more — the volcanic loss of jobs to China caused by major shifts in the US economy, or, secrets stolen from the “military industrial base”?

We have the answer. It’s jobs and the concomitant loss in economic prosperity. Period.

In another piece, this from the Wall Street Journal, Shawn Henry, the FBI’s “top cyber cop” states hackers are winning everywhere.

Reads the WSJ:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s top cyber cop offered a grim appraisal of the nation’s efforts to keep computer hackers from plundering corporate data networks: “We’re not winning,” he said.

Shawn Henry, who is preparing to leave the FBI after more than two decades with the bureau, said in an interview that the current public and private approach to fending off hackers is “unsustainable.” Computer criminals are simply too talented and defensive measures too weak to stop them, he said.

In Enemies, Weiner’s history recounts many instances throughout a span of around eighty to ninety years in which the FBI waxed and waned in its intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.

Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was a powerful secret police and America’s premier intelligence agency. But Hoover faltered badly near the end of his career and life as scandals over illegal operations and civic unrest due to the Vietnam War spread across the land.

Over the course of the presidencies of Johnson, then Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan, the FBI was roiled, increasing in power or decreasing in capability, depending on many factors, among them the strength and wisdom of its leadership and the American political landscape, whether engaged in renewal or feeding a national paranoia that saw plots, terrorists and spies to be smashed everywhere.

In this it is no different than the news today. Enemies, some very small, some credible and large, and many made of whole cloth, always threatened the country.

Weiner’s Enemies chronicles many famous and relatively unknown men in the FBI, all of whom played some important role in national security, intelligence and counter-terror operations in the US.

There is not a single instance in the book of the now commonplace event in which government men leave for more lucrative positions in the national security private sector. Many of the figures in Enemies, like a Shawn Henry, were very serious in their thinking that the US was constantly at threat. And perhaps losing.

However, unlike our current models, they did not seem to share the trait of leaving for more money when there were still battles to be fought.

Before concluding, one claim by Richard Clarke, published in The Smithsonian yesterday, deserves a second look.

It reads:

Clarke, who says there have been war games on precisely such a revived confrontation, now believes that we might be forced to give up playing such a role for fear that our carrier group defenses could be blinded and paralyzed by Chinese cyberintervention.

A better journalist than The Smithsonian’s might have blinked and asked Clarke how exactly does one stop or blind a carrier group through “cyberintervention.”

It is not snark to suggest that someone ask for an explanation of how such thing could be done.

So, again — anybody, how do you stop a carrier group with “cyberintervention”?

There is no mention of “cyberintervention” or anything similar to it in a recent Congressional Research Service report entitled China Naval Modernization Implications for US Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress.

How do you use cyberwar or “cyberintervention” to stop reconnaissance aircraft and fighter bombers from eyeballing targets? How does “cyberintervention” prevent a barrage of Tomahawk missiles from hitting plotted stationary targets or those acquired by a variety of observing assets? How does “cyberintervention” stop the bombers and attack submarines?

These aren’t stupid questions.

What is stupid is believing there’s some reasonable logic at work in a statement suggesting one can just do away with the biggest military in the world through “cyberintervention.”

To put it in a better perspective, and to underline how any critical sense seems to have gone out the door in interviews of this nature, would you believe if an authority figure like Richard Clarke told you he could jump to the Moon?

Why not? Explain the difference between the two claims.

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