There are few politicians–heck, few Americans, period–for whom I have greater respect than John McCain. Not only do I have endless admiration for his character, I find his policy judgment, especially in the national security area, to be close to faultless. Which may be just another way of saying I seldom disagree with him. But I find myself in disagreement with his stance on cybersecurity–as does one of his closest Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimal cybersecurity standards for air traffic control systems, dams, power plants and other such facilities that are absolutely essential to the safe functioning of the American economy. This is a major issue at a time when, as Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has just warned cyberattacks aimed at U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2012. General Alexander further said that “on a scale of 1 to 10, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is ‘around a 3.’ ”
Mark Steyn, writing in COMMENTARY last November, pulled out a great quote:
In 1975, Milton Friedman said this: “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
Perhaps that climate is upon us. Who, in political terms, is more “wrong” than the progressive whistlers inhabiting the fiscal graveyard known as California? Yet, on Tuesday, Chuck Reed, the Democratic mayor of liberal San Jose won nearly 70 percent support for a ballet initiative that will deal huge cuts to the bloated pensions of city workers. Currently, retirement costs eat up more than 20 percent of San Jose’s general fund. None other than a Democratic mayor, backed by a clear majority, intends to slam on the brakes. Tea Party not needed.
Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:
The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.
It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”
I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.
Of all the dumb foreign policy ideas out there, it’s hard to beat the Russian proposal for arms control in cyberspace. The subject came up again in this article about Russian anti-virus expert Eugene Kapersky, who discovered the Flame virus directed at the Iranian nuclear program and is widely suspected of links to Russia’s intelligence services. He wants an international treaty banning all computer warfare. Which sounds as if it would be about as useful as the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war in general.
The problem with such noble intentions, of course, is that they lack enforcement authority. That is especially the case in the cyber domain where it is hard to trace hacker attacks to governments. Russia, for one, was widely suspected of being behind computer attacks on Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. But Moscow denied all responsibility, and no conclusive evidence was ever released to dispute its claim.