Hobgoblins and Cyberwarfare

by James E. Miller
Oct. 16, 2012

Last June the New York Times ran an article adapted from a book by David E. Sanger which revealed that within the first few months of his administration, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a ramping up of the federal government's foray into cyberwarfare with Iran.  Along with the help of the Israeli government, the computer worm codenamed by security experts as "Stuxnet" would set back Iran's nuclear program by almost two years according to anonymous administration officials.  Participants in this reticent program described it as America's "first sustained use of cyberweapons."

Prior to the cyber attack becoming public knowledge, the Pentagon declared that "computer sabotage" facilitated by any government constituted an "act of war."  Yet the American press, along with most Western nations and their respective media outlets, stood silent and didn't dare condemn the Obama administration's blatant act of aggression towards Iran.  Should it have been the other way around, there is little question of the denunciation the Iranian regime would have received internationally.

So even with it on record that the current administration has been waging cybewarfare with the Iranian government, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently warned of the lack of preparedness the United States has for a terrorist cyber attacks.  In a speech before the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, Panetta cautioned that the country is susceptible to a "cyber Pearl Harbor" if the proper measures aren't put in place.  Should Congress fail to adopt legislation, America's enemies could
"derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.
Panetta's alarm, while grave in tone, is not surprising.  Propagandizing over the threat of foreign enemies has always been a trick used by the state to bolster support from the citizenry.  At the same time, war provides the political class foreign scapegoats to heap blame upon for the misery the public endures at home.  Taken together, they provide an avenue for further usurpations of power.  As legendary investor Jim Rogers puts it
Throughout history there has always been war. There is no period in history where we didn’t have wars of some sort. Politicians like to blame somebody and it’s easier to blame foreigners, so as tensions rise people will blame foreigners more and more.
Wars are not fought because of the benevolence state leaders have toward the citizens they oversee.  They are a farce to keep the public resembling that of a frightened herd ready to follow whosoever claims will lead them to safety.  Like a whipped dog, they accept whatever abuse may come their way in exchange for a sliver of security.  What that security really amounts to is the current batch of thieving overlords won't allow another gang to take their place.

In his seminal work "Crisis and Leviathan" economic historian Robert Higgs documented what he called the "ratcheting effect" extensively.  The ratcheting effect is the tendency state rulers have to arrogate themselves authority in the face of a pressing dilemma.  After the crisis ends, this power, rather than be voluntarily given up, is kept to some capacity.  From the withholding of crucial intelligence of an attack on Pearl Harbor to non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the U.S. government in particular has been adept at expanding its size in scope through taking advantage of disaster.  The result has been the enriching of those who profit off the state's mission creep.  As Glenn Greenwald points out, the hoopla over internet security happens to be partnered with an urging for Washington to "purchase wildly expensive cyber-security technology from their private-sector clients as well as seize greater control over the Internet to protect against the threat."  Politicians get money in their campaign coffers, contractors receive lucrative deals, bureaucrats are given more control, and the taxpayer is forced to pay for his privacy being treaded upon.

Even if one were to buy into the childish notion that elected representatives embody the voice of the people instead of a select few interests, the push for further internet regulation is even more egregious.  After massive online protests prevented Congress from passing the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act in early 2012 and the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 failed to make it through the Senate last August, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to draft its own executive order to give the federal government unilateral authority over the internet.  The refusal of the people to sit idly by as what's left of their withering freedoms is stripped away was too much of a risk for a power-hungry Leviathan.  By having appointed bureaucrats establish their own rules of conduct, the state becomes all the more a prominent fixture in life with less threat of the electorate displaying their discontent.  The theory of good government rests on the existence of checks and balances which serve to moderate the ambitious desires of those in political office.  If one branch of the state, namely the executive, acts with little impunity, complete despotism is not far off.

In closing his speech, Panetta assured that "we're not interested in looking at e-mail, we're not interested in looking at information in computers, I'm not interested in violating rights or liberties of people."  This reassurance comes despite the fact that the federal government is already monitoring electronic communication without the consent of the victims.  Panetta's personal interests are irrelevant compared to the Pandora's Box that could be unleashed if the societal regulators of Washington decide to latch on to the internet with their grubby paws.

The idea that the government should be trusted to police the internet is pure nonsense.  It is a lust for control that drives those within the state apparatus.  The political class doesn't protect citizens; they protect their positions of power.  As Murray Rothbard writes,
The root myth that enables the State to wax fat off war is the canard that war is a defense by the State of its subjects. The facts, of course, are precisely the reverse. For if war is the health of the State, it is also its greatest danger. A State can only “die” by defeat in war or by revolution.
The internet is the Gutenberg of the modern age.  Because it provides users an immeasurable amount of information at their fingertips, it poses a risk to any ruling regime that relies on ignorance to maintain supremacy.  Should enough people begin to read and understand why they are naturally free as human beings rather than drudges of the state, true liberty might finally reign.  The decentralization of knowledge the internet represents is the prime foe of the state because, as Ludwig von Mises wrote, "both force and money are impotent against ideas."

Since it exists in a relative state of autonomy, the internet is one of the last frontiers for freedom.  Should it succumb fully to the vice-grip of any state (or worse, a coalition of states), it would set back the overwhelming progress made in enlightening others to how prosperous a free society can be.  The U.S. government is already waging cyberwarfare on its enemies.  Now it is closer to declaring right to privacy for Americans as null-and-void.
James E. Miller holds a BS in public administration with a minor in business from Shippensburg University, PA. He is the Editor in Chief at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada and a current contributor to his hometown newspaper, the Middletown Press and Journal.

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