POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2013:
The Case For War
Our own connection to what may happen
Some days ago, the New York Times, several Huffington Post online sites, and some of the online assets of the Washington Post were attacked by a ragtag, state-sponsored hacker/cyberpunk confab called the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA). And while the attack was a mild one -- it didn't have the traumatic thrust or lethal bite of an attack on a piece of America's air-traffic control system, or our banking or e-commerce systems or strike on a large hospital complex -- the impact was still enormous. The episode left this writer without access to the New York Times and several other online sites that are pretty much essential for any writer who does public policy, local/national work or political reporting and needs unfettered access to The Times and related sites during a typical day.
The timing of the latest attack was auspicious. The Syrian government-backed hackers attacked shortly after Obama announced that the Syrian regime/and its assets might be savaged as a consequence of the gruesome August 21 chemical weapons episode.
Almost every reader knows that America is in the midst of a fevered debate about congressional authorization of an attack on Syria. The Syrian government's alleged strike, which led to the deaths of almost 1,500 people including many children, women and innocents of every description, was in defiance of an Obama "redline" dictate. This time a year ago, the president warned the Syrian regime that use of chemical weapons wouldn't be tolerated by the US.
The Syrian government allegedly assaulted rebel force territory in a suburb of Damascus: the horrendous strike is an arguably elevated phase of the now almost three-year-old Syrian Civil War which has claimed as many as 110,000 victims and produced massive refugee outflows. The Syrian outrage is arguably the biggest chemical attack on civilians since Saddam Hussein's infamous gassing of thousands of Iranian Kurds in the early '90s.
Tulsa and a New Strategy
The University of Tulsa's iSec program, the University's Institute for Information Security, is a multi faceted, increasingly renowned info security, artificial intelligence, cyber forensics/computer science bundle of undergrad/grad school course offerings and a fulsome set of tightly tethered R& D development. iSec is one of the best, perhaps the best program of its kind in America at the moment. David Greer, the program's executive director, also runs Tulsa's Community Super Computer initiative. Together with his allies in America's intelligence, national security and technology communities, he has engineered a program emulated by several schools across the country. The TU program and a handful of Tulsa area startup companies that have already been spawned by the giant project are jewels for the metropolitan area: but it's also arguably a key to what ought to be a much more robust part of America's response to the Syrian outrage.
Already, U.S. cyber warriors, together with their Israeli counterparts, have used cyber attacks on a host of occasions to bring down elements of rogue government and "no state" terror group computer operations. Cyber attacks and an across-the-board disruption of Libya's communications and electrical distribution system were an underappreciated part of the president's Libyan action -- a successful effort in 2011 to destabilize the sick Libyan government and empower rebel forces then in play in that country's now concluded civil war effort.
One of the most famous, publicly known episodes of a cyber strike is the so called Stuxnet project.
Davis Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent of the New York Times and a foreign policy, nuclear proliferation and Asian affairs guru for the Paper wrote about the viral agent/code created to roll back part of the Iranian nuclear weapons program, in a 2011 piece:
"From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran's main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America's first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.... In the following weeks, the (Iranian) Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium...."
Tulsa and its TU/iSec program are wonderfully positioned to produce the robust protections and anti-invasive technologies that we need to secure all of America's networks. And while almost anybody with a thought in their head is weary of war and the seemingly unending military campaigns that have been at the center of America life since the 9/11 attacks, we still have outsized obligations. Any society that has less than five percent of the population but consumes more than 20 percent of the resources available to the world will have enduring obligations: duties that are a big part of who we are, who we have to be, as the planet's "First Nation."
We obviously can't afford the epic blood and money that these conventional, arguably flat-footed efforts required. What we need now, if my reading of what might become the next wave of our foreign policy agenda is on the mark, is a fevered re-engagement with smart diplomacy and a renewed attempt to morph antique institutions like the United Nations.
I am the product of two fateful, transcendent moments in American history.
The first was a brutal, exceedingly nasty struggle that entailed the deaths of over 600,000 Americans we call the American Civil War. But like many, perhaps most, epic military struggles and the reconstruction efforts that followed, the "War of Brothers" didn't create the promised land. In another great struggle a century later, nonviolent soldiers fought the multiracial, pan-ethnic effort led by Martin Luther King.
But make no mistake about it: sometimes evil goes on the march, and has to be rolled back using force, by those who have the capacity, the courage, and the moral fortitude -- even in the midst of their own blinkered histories, oftentimes glaring, historic inconsistencies and missteps. Strikingly, in TU's program, we have the beginning of a new way of shutting down rogue regimes that believe that killing "their people" is something that they can do with impunity.
But until epic "put the monsters in the dark" strategies are ready for prime time and a radical ratcheting up of international peacekeeping gets underway, America is going to have to sometimes do nasty, difficult, righteous things that are a not so happy part, but a complex, quintessential strand of what it surely means to be an American in the 21st century.
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