Bomb Syria, Get Cyber Attacked

The comic playwright Aristophanes said, “Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.”

Cue President Obama’s interview yesterday with PBS NewsHour.

“Hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations,” he said. “If we are saying in a clear and decisive, but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, ‘Stop doing this,’ this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term.”

We assume he means airstrikes. And in that case, we see what he means. The U.S. bombings of Guatemala, Laos and Cambodia positively impacted our national security over the long term.

Not to mention the bombings in Vietnam.

And Lebanon.

And Libya. Oh, and Iran… and Iraq… and Sudan… and Afghanistan… ermm, Pakistan, Somalia…

Oh, right, and Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya again, decades later.

Yeah. All those countries love us.

If the president gives the green light for military action, he’ll go it alone. Perhaps England or France will tag along. But the U.N. won’t. China and Russia will tie the Security Council’s hands.

Then there’s the issue of blowback. The Age’s Michael Riley and Chris Strohm report that the U.S. is preparing for a series of cyberattacks from Syria or Iran. The strikes would be in response to U.S. military action against Syria’s Assad regime.

The NSA is still trying to gauge the full capabilities of hacker units like the Syrian Electronic Army, especially after they hacked The New York Times last week. The SEA is the same pro-Assad group that tweeted there was an explosion at the White House through the Associated Press’ account. That incident alone erased $136 billion from the S&P 500.

Iranian hackers have been poking for holes in the U.S. cyberinfrastructure. If they ally with the Syrian Electronic Army, they could launch several cyberattacks — many of which would affect private businesses — particularly banks.

Currently, JP Morgan spends $200 million on cybersecurity every year. And the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, told shareholders that number “will grow dramatically over the next three years.” It’s indicative of the new correlation between U.S. involvement overseas and the consequences businesses face for it back home.

The U.S. used to parade around the world, and life would go on as usual back home. But American military muscle isn’t the be all and end all anymore. Land, sea, air and space superiority are so 20th century.

Cyberstrike capabilities have leveled the battlefield. And the scrappy countries are holding more bargaining chips. “One of the risks is that you’ve got Iran talking to Russia,” says James Lewis, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You have Iran talking to North Korea; you’ve got the Syrians talking to Iran.”

But the Pentagon is far from licked. They realize the catastrophic damage that cyberattacks pose. And they want to be able to cause that damage just as much as they want to prevent it here at home.


Peter Coyne
for The Daily Reckoning

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