America Facing a Widespread Crisis of Confidence
by Manuel L. Quezon III
There’s an old movie, called “Dad’s Army,” in which a Nazi General cautions his troops about the enemy: “They,” (the British) the general says, “have something in common with us: they are great organizers!” Americans, too, are famous for being great organizers, and for their steadfast belief that technology is the key not only to progress, but success. This applies to all sorts of things, including warfare.
America’s armed forces are proud of their abilities to marshal not only war material, but also the logistical means to ensure their fast-moving armies get armaments, supplies, and data in vast quantities and on time.
In the Sept. 5 issue of Time magazine, there was an in depth report titled, “The Invasion of the Chinese Cyberspies (And the Man Who Tried to Stop Them).” It examines the curious story of a man named Shawn Carpenter, who spent a great deal of time and effort tracking down what he claimed was a determined, and thorough, effort by a group of computer hackers based in Guangdong, China, to infiltrate computer systems in the United States. The Chinese group has been code-named “Titan Rain,” and while the Chinese government dismisses suspicions that it either has knowledge of, or supports, cyber espionage, the story of Carpenter, his adventures in the online world, and the uneasy involvement, at least at certain points, of US government agents and offices in Carpenter’s activities, has clearly become a newsworthy concern.
In truth, the Time investigative story is just the latest manifestation of a long-standing American concern with cyber security and the attention being paid to the Internet by the Chinese government and its military. My column in this paper on July 7 extensively covered “Information War: A New Form of People’s War,” written way back in 1996 by someone named Wei Jincheng from the Liberation Army Daily of the People’s Republic of China, and which has been studied by American military officials since the article was published by the American National Defense University. What seems to be the case, however, is that while the Time article indicates that there are serious concerns over the possibility Chinese hackers are planting Trojan viruses, or programs, in American computer systems (potentially wreaking havoc with their command-and-control systems in times of conflict), there is a growing threat of actual technology and information being systematically looted from American military and commercial computers and server systems.
I believe that unless the effort is suppressed, in what would only be an extremely ironic case of America trying to save face, the United States government and its people will have to embark on re-examining its genius for organizing and assumptions of enjoying a vast technological superiority over its rivals. There have been calls to re-examine the many impediments put in the way of foreigners who want to study in America, for example, because turning away (or frightening) prospective students to the extent that they decide to study elsewhere, will rob the United States of fresh talent and potentially valuable recruits. These calls have been generally ignored, but in the wake of the natural tragedy known as Hurricane Katrina, even the ability of the American government to organize a timely response has been put into question.
What you have then, is the specter of an America subjected to a steady, methodical looting of technological information through hacking; a military that has been deliberately pared down on the assumption that a smaller, leaner, but highly technologically-superior force can handle strategic challenges (an assumption and policy decision shaken badly by the US military’s problems in Iraq and Afghanistan); an America increasingly unable to attract young people to study in its schools, and then work in its scientific and other industries; and a bureaucracy criticized for being top heavy, and so wrapped up in red tape that it can’t meet immediate challenges.
You have an America facing a profound and widespread crisis of confidence in its political, legal, military, and scientific institutions. An America that Americans themselves last saw in the wake of defeat at the hands of Vietnam. An America, irony of ironies, that gave birth to the neo-conservative movement now holding sway, and increasingly challenged to justify its hold on power.