Russian Meddling and the Time the US Unleashed Cyberwar
The issue of Russian meddling is consuming the United States electorate. Lost in all the noise is the simple fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. However, most U.S. voters and the news media believe that it is an issue of collusion by the Donald Trump administration. Notwithstanding the many tidbits of political intrigue, including the latest Donald Trump Jr. scandal, the fact remains that proof of collusion is yet to be proven. As the political noise continues to intensify, the fundamental genesis will be lost in the conversation. This is true for all political scandals, especially in the United States.
For example, ask U.S. voters today where radical Islamic terrorism originated from, and most will likely point to the Middle East oblivious to the very important element to the rise of Muslim terrorist – the mujahideen. The mujahideen were a Jihadist opposition group that was funded through and approved by U.S. foreign policy to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The military training and initial weapons is what allowed the Taliban to rise to power to control Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden quit school in 1979 and joined the mujahideen. He funneled money, weapons and fighters to Afghanistan.
It is said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is very true in U.S. foreign policy. The mujahideen is one example of many.
As the discussion about Russian meddling in elections across the world and its computer hacking nexus, it is important to note the genesis of cyberwarfare.
In 2005, the United States, along with Israel developed the first cyberweapon deployed against an adversary. Although the Internet has played a part in warfare since its inception, the deployment of a cyberweapon used to destroy an adversary’s infrastructure did not come about until Stuxnet. The Zapatistas in México were the first to use “netwar” to rally international support for their cause. The Zapatistas used the Internet as its propaganda tool in its asymmetrical warfare. From there, the Internet was used in conflicts to spread disinformation and rally support.
The United States and Israel have been stymied by geopolitical considerations on how to effectively deal with Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. They could not directly destroy the weapons program without serious consequences. Therefore, they had to rely on indirect means.
Traditionally, sabotage and spies are the usual indirect means. But, the United States came up with a new alternative – cyberwarfare. In addition to sabotage – at least five Iranian nuclear scientist died under mysterious circumstances between 2010 and 2011 – another means to destroy equipment was needed. Unlike information management, cyberwarfare was evolved by the United States to destroy an object.
Stuxnet is a malicious piece of computer code that was created to seek out and physically destroy a targeted piece of equipment. The Stuxnet worm targeted the PCL controllers of Iran’s centrifuges, used to enrich uranium to weapons grade. The computer code, or worm, destroyed some of the centrifuges by incorrectly programming them to spin at different speeds that would cause them to destroy themselves. The destruction of the centrifuges has been credited with substantially delaying Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
To this day, the United States, as a matter of policy, refuses to acknowledge officially whether it had a hand in the Stuxnet worm.
Regardless, Stuxnet created the idea that destroying equipment via computer code was now an acceptable worldwide standard. Warfare evolved towards cyberwarfare.
Warfare has many elements to it in addition to armies invading other countries. Warfare can be as simple as killing a scientist or head of state and can rise on up in violence until countries destroy each other through oblivion. What is acceptable in warfare is limited by the ability to respond by other nations. The use of nuclear weapons has been controlled by the “mutual destruction” policy and the limited number of countries with access to them.
Interfering in national elections has been part of the geopolitical landscape since leaders were elected. Even totalitarian or monarchies were subjected to interference by interlopers. Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S national elections is no different. Even using the DNC hacked computer files is not any different from other election intrigues.
What is different is the ability to do damage to another country’s infrastructure. Unlike nuclear weapons that require massive technical knowledge and even bigger technology, deploying destructive computer code can be accomplished by one individual from their garage, or bedroom.
Further proof of cyberweapons is the various news reports earlier this month suggesting that Barack Obama authorized the deployment of sleeper U.S. cyberweapons on Russian infrastructure in retaliation for the Russian election meddling. According the news sources, the incoming president was to make the decision on whether to activate the cyberweapons or not.