Cyber War

I first noticed Richard A. Clarke when he claimed to have warned Condoleezza Rice and George Bush Jr. about the threat of 9/11. He was The Shrub's principal advisor on national security at the time and was ignored.

Clarke has just written a new book about the next threat to global security.

The first half of that book, Cyber War, won't surprise computer professionals much. It might even seem rather ho-hum. They already know this stuff. It will and should upset a lot of lay people, however, including Presidents and Prime Ministers.

The second half is mandatory reading for professionals and ordinary citizens alike.

I was drawn to this book by Fareed Zakaria's May 9th interview with Clarke in which he, a professional on the side of security and intelligence, far from smooching with Dick Cheney, surprisingly accused the executive branch of government of using 9/11 as an excuse to breach the US Constitution and unnecessarily trample on civil rights.

I am one of those who think Michael Ignatieff's little book, "The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror", is the seminal guide to thinking about this topic. (I refer here to the distinguished and principled former historian, Michael Ignatieff, not Mickey Iggy the gutless and Pablum-spouting current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.)

I was hoping Clarke would situate his arguments squarely in that context.

Not quite.

Before walking Ignatieff's philosophical and constitutional tightrope to meet this newest threat, Clarke urgently wants to first convince us the threat actually exists. Not only does he succeed in this, he goes on to suggest that intelligent reaction to the threat is being undermined by the same gridlock that hijacked the American discussion of health insurance.

We need to protect critical infrastructure such as power, water and transportation facilities, which might require regulating some elements of business, especially Internet business. Anathema to conservatives.

Other requirements, if abused, might violate our understanding of privacy. Anathema to liberals.

Meanwhile, the threat speaks for itself. All current governmental efforts at so-called cyber security, including the US Patriot Act and Homeland Security are designed first to protect government and defense establishments. They do little to save the rest of us.

Our financial, electrical, agricultural and transportation systems are owned by private sector conglomerates whose conservative governments and lobbies eschew regulation just as vehemently as liberal lobbies rant about any use of profiling.

I won't spoil the read by giving too much away. Let's just say that the days of treating cyber crime like break-and-enter are long gone. Security incidents no longer drill out the locks, shatter the windows, or break down the doors. Most of all, they don't remove anything from the premises. In fact, they leave no sign of having entered at all.

They just walk away with the knowledge of how to remotely overload and burn the bearings on our power generators, confuse civilian radar and air traffic control, shut down water distribution, and paralyze the control systems on our ships, trains, and airplanes.

While we were all blissfully surfing eBay, Facebook and YouTube, the stalwarts of western civilization such as Ontario Hydro, WalMart, ScotiaBank and Air Canada began monitoring and interconnecting their (our) generators, refrigerators, stock markets and control towers using the unprotected Internet.

China, Cuba and Afghanistan have not.

(To be continued, when I've finished reading the second half ...)

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