Step 5: Cyber Warfare

I guess the BBQ food coma lasted longer than expected…  Actually, work has just been insane.  But I’ve carved out a cozy nook from which to bring you the next installment in my “How to win the war on terror in 10 incredibly difficult steps” rant…

The next major offensive on my list is in cyber space.  There’s just no getting around the fact that this is the 21st Century, and with the dawn of the Internet age comes an entirely different style of combat.  How many movies have you seen in which the local law-enforcement-challenged hacker is recruited (essentially by threat of life-long incarceration or being disappeared) into playing for the good guys and overthrowing the other even-more-evil other hacker?  I could cite dozens (but I won’t).  Well, add a dose of realism, and that’s essentially what I’m advocating.

In the same way that we need to pull out all the stops to get more native-Arabic-speaking spies into the game, we need to press the best and the brightest minds in computer science into service in the cyber war.  Here are a couple concrete, immediate things I’d have them doing…

Seize Funds

First and foremost, we need to drain the bank accounts of anyone and everyone that’s funding terrorism.  If Iran’s government is converting oil dollars to terrorism dollars, then lets hack our way into shutting that down.  If the local mosque has a fund-raiser that dumps money into an offshore account, where Terrorist Joe can get to it, then drain the account dry.  Not easy, but doable — assuming we’re willing to invest some hard work, creativity, technology and tax dollars.  Theh icing on the cake would be bringing some of this cash back home to pay for this and other things I’m suggesting (such as alternative fuels research).

Now of course, we have espionage laws to consider and we have to worry about violating the national sovereignty of nations we might have to hack our way into.  But we can deal with all that.  As to the first part, these are not US citizens’ bank accounts we’re talking about, so we should have some latitude.  And to the second, as long as we can keep the ever-willing-to-reveal-anything-to-anybody-no-matter-how-damaging-it-is-to-the-country media away from it, I vote we keep it a secret.  Feel free to violate Saudi Arabia by hacking their state-run banks, as far as I’m concerned.

Mine Calling Patterns Data

If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, it is.  This is exactly the NSA program we put in place after 9/11 to establish a database of calling patterns in the US and from the US to foreign interests.  USA Today blew the whistle on the program earlier this year, claiming that it violates the almighty right to privacy (more important than anything but free speech and the right not to feel bad in America today), but I don’t really think it does.  Here’s how it works…

Phone companies are ponying up their databases of call records to the NSA.  These records do not include audio information or transcripts of the content of the phone calls — just that a certain phone number connected to another phone number at a certain date and time for a certain length of time.  If the NSA discovers that a certain phone number is associated with a known terrorist or person of interest or someone for which a warrant can be issued to investigate, then they can map the number to a name, and figure out who that person is and who they’ve been talking to.  The biggest function of having established this database is that the information is close at hand.  If Joe, living in Cleveland, is found to be a terrorist, it takes hours to connect Joe to all the people he’s been talking to, not the days or weeks it used to (while the government solicits a bunch of records from the phone companies and rushes to analyze them).

This isn’t violating my privacy, or yours.  So my phone records (which numbers were called from my house and when) are mixed in with the 2 trillion (that’s 12 zeros) other records on file since 9/11?!  So what.  It’s not even like those records have my name on them until I’m found to be connected with Joe.  But instead of thinking of it this way, privacy advocates make the immediate assumption that because we’re closer to a world where the government could maybe someday potentially know something about me, my rights are automatically being violated.  I disagree.

One more…

Track Internet Usage

The same thing that the NSA is doing for phone calls…  I say we start working on an analogous approach to the web and email.  Much harder problem, I know, but we should start.  The Internet is evolving anyway. IPv6 (a new standard for how Internet addresses work which will require new protocols for web and email communication) is coming.  Let’s get some Big Brother hooks into the protocols, so that given the right warrant, I might have the ability to begin to track you down if I suspect you’re planning on blowing something up. 

Obviously, there are again privacy concerns, and I’m certainly not suggesting that they aren’t important.  But we have to stop being reactionary every time there’s a step made toward better information access.  I don’t want Big Brother breathing down my neck either — I wouldn’t want them listening to my calls or reading my email, for example — but mining connections to find patterns, then getting warrants if they need to act on those patterns feels perfectly legitimate (and important in fighting killers) to me.


Hire the hackers.  Use their smarts and some cool technology to get the money and track down the bad guys.  What’s not to like?

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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3 Responses to Step 5: Cyber Warfare

  1. Neva says:

    So you’ve definitely given me some things to think about with this whole series. For now, I’m just going to comment on the financial aspect…

    Your suggestion of draining funds out of state-run accounts because we believe a government is funding terrorism raises some concerns for me.
    First off, wouldn’t stealing money from a state-run bank account be considered an act of war? Yes, I know, we’re theoretically at war with terrorism already. But that doesn’t, at this point, include being at war directly with the governments of Iran, Saudi, etc. Do we really want them to get officially involved.
    Secondly, if we can hire hackers to steal money from their state treasuries and consider it okay because they’re the bad guys, what’s to prevent them from draining our treasury accounts? After all, as far as they’re concerned, we’re the bad guys, so they should take our money away so we can quit funding wars in the middle east that are killing their people. Basically, how can we declare that it’s okay for us to do this without risking someone else doing it to us?
    Third, you suggest relying on secrecy, perhaps to avoid the first two points somewhat. After all, if no one knows where the money went, they can’t declare war on us or start retaliating against our banks. But then you suggest using those funds to promote programs at home, such as alternative fuel research. How do you envision that happening with any degree of secrecy? The government’s budget has to be open to the public to limit the amount of corruption taking place. If money just randomly appears as income, won’t that destroy the idea of secrecy? If you leave it off the budget and just funnel the money directly to the companies, then you either lose accountability for what’s done with it or require some sort of oversight. Even then, the people working at the companies/agencies the money goes to know they’ve gotten a sudden influx of funding for these projects, probably from the government. Basically, I just can’t see a way in which you can practically keep that level of secrecy and still use the money effectively. Even if the money all stays within government agencies, someone’s still going to notice that all these fuel technology experts have left their current jobs and vanished to some secret government agency.

    I just really don’t understand how you see this working. If you’ve got answers for this sort of thing that I’m not seeing, I’m always open to clarifications


  2. Brad Bull says:

    I agree with Neva, as much as I respect what Reagan wanted to do with Iran-Contra, it was the wrong thing to do and hurt our image in the world.


  3. Jeff Block says:

    Interesting comments, Neva. Here are some thoughts in response…

    Re: What prevents them from draining our accounts?

    Like everything else, it would be incumbent upon us to have smarter people and better technology, or this plan wouldn’t work. They wouldn’t do it to us, because we’d be better than them (essentially).

    Re: They think we’re the bad guys.

    I know they do, but everything’s not relative here. I find the premise dangerous that there’s a moral equivalency between “us” and “them”. Here’s the basic way that you tell the good guys from the bad guys, and I’ll use the Israel-Hezbollah conflict because it’s such an obvious contrast… Take all the weapons away from Hezbollah, and there would be peace. Take all the weapons away from Israel, and Hezbollah would wipe them out — slaughter every single person, including women and children, in the streets. Just because Al-Qaeda or France or the NYT says we’re the bad guys doesn’t mean we actually are.g

    Re: money off the books means lack of accountability

    You’re not saying that you think there’s good accountability now, or that the public actually successfully interprets the federal budget to provide oversight, or that there isn’t currently a *ton* of money funneled into secret programs, are you?

    One thing I do agree on is that the media would be chomping at the bit to expose anything secret, regardless of how badly it hurt our country. So, unless we had a plan to keep them out of it (or they grew some patriotism somewhere), you’re probably right that it would be hard to keep things secret.

    So to being afraid that Iran or Saudi Arabia would “retaliate” against us, I’m not really that worried. They already want the streets to run red with the blood of the infidel. Not really sure we could upgrade that to a more combatant level of animosity. The danger would be giving Europe an excuse to side with them, which would be disaster. But then, Germany, France, China and Russia already do. Sigh.


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