The other night I watched a documentary, "Zero Days", about Stuxnet and cyberwarfare. It made it abundantly clear that the clumsy attempt at cyberwarfare against Iran (somewhat like using exploding cigars to try to assassinate Castro) has had many negative effects and has made us and the rest of the world much more vulnerable to cyberwarfare with destructive and, perhaps, deadly consequences for civilian populations.
Stuxnet was the creation of the US and Israeli intelligence services. Apparently without US knowledge the Israelis modified it to be more aggressive and destructive and released it upon the nuclear industry of Iran. It is a program that takes on a life of its own and, once released, cannot be controlled or stopped. The goal was to create havoc and be destructive of the Iranian centrifuges used in the nuclear industry.
It did some damage and created some havoc; however, it was released and spread across the world like a deadly and contagious disease.
Although it was supposed to be such a covert operation that it could never be traced back to either the US or Israel, it quickly was. And, although there is still official denial (no one in the government is allowed to speak of it without risk of harsh penalties), it is clear that it is more like an open secret. It is somewhat like the Israelis insisting there has never been any official decision to expand settlements into the occupied territories.
Besides Stuxnet showing the world how to develop a cyber weapon that can be physically destructive and making nearly every phase of modern life vulnerable to such attacks, it set a new standard for cyber behavior. If the US can do this to another nation, then anyone can also do this to the US or any other country of its choosing. It is much like when we made torture OK for us to use, we made it OK for anyone else to use against us or anyone else.
We continue to give up more and more of the moral high ground in service of the Security State and their desire for absolute knowledge and control of every contingency.
More specifically, although we slowed down the Iranian nuclear program, they quickly recovered and moved forward more effectively. The recent agreement has contained the potential directions that development can go. (I do think it is ironic that Israel, a nuclear power, is so adamant about how disruptive another nuclear power in the region might be. It sounds a little like the US not wanting Russia to have the bomb after WWII--not wanting anyone to be able to challenge their overarching power.)
The other element is that taking out and destroying a part of a nation's industry or infrastructure is the equivalent to bombing it. Although it is done electronically rather than with bombs it is very much like an attack... an act of war. If anyone did that to the US we would be likely to see it as an act of war and retaliate with an overt act of war.
The deepest issue, and the reason that these people on the documentary are risking speaking out, is that we... the citizens of this nation... are not aware of what is happening in our name and on our dime. In particular we are unaware of the vulnerability to our infrastructure that is the consequence of these actions.
The documentary's point being that we cannot begin to find an international protocol to contain and control cyberwarfare if everything about it is secret and not open to public discussion and involvement. To resolve any problem, you must first acknowledge the problem, understand the problem and then explore potential solutions. This cannot be accomplished within the halls of a self-serving secret intelligence and security structure. We are not allowed to have an open discussion of what has potential deadly consequences for all of us, much less talking to others who might pose a similar threat for us.
It is like the Dr. Frankenstein story--someone has the arrogance of power--the hubris--to overstep and create something powerful and wonderful in its own way, but which takes on a life of its own and steps away from its creator (supposed master) to say I am now independent and will decide my life for myself--you are not the boss of me. The iconic story is instructive about how overreach can have the unintended consequence of a monster we cannot control and who may turn on us. It does not work with our kids, who move away and have lives of their own. It did not happen when we rebuilt Germany or Japan after the war. It did not happen with our man, Saddam Hussein, in Iraq, or our attempts at puppet governments in Iraq later or Afghanistan. It did not even work with the Tea Party here at home.
We need an open discussion of how to stop creating these monsters to serve our purposes, only to find that they take on a life of their own and become powerful and independent beings in themselves.
To hide behind secrecy and the security state to avoid dealing with a very real issue of consequence is its own kind of arrogance and hubris. The thinking behind it all is that internally they will be able to manipulate the issue and engineer some solution and our involvement will only be distracting to this important work. "Trust us, we will fix this."
It is about not being willing to take responsibility for their actions, not to be accountable. It is the height of arrogance and cowardice and we are all left totally vulnerable because of it.