Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 25, 2015

Cyber: still lost at sea

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 25, 2015

Norbert Wiener’s neologism — cybernetics — draws on the classical Greek term for helmsman or steersman or guide to highlight our odyssey across vast largely uncharted and emergent currents of human-machine interface.

Most of the cybernauts at Aspen confirm we are still far from home.  If anything, the  digital ocean is rapidly expanding, our risks are increasing, and self-proclaimed helmsmen disagree on our best course. Some also paused to praise the beauty of the sea and its potential bounty.

Cyber was clearly the preeminent issue this year. Several different panels dealt with some aspect of cybersecurity.  I heard three issues emerge as top tier concerns: encryption, protection of engineered networks, and influencing social networks.  You can listen to the details at the Aspen video archive.  I will give you my high-level, overly reductionist and annoyingly analogous take-aways.

Encryption:  It is effective and will soon be ubiquitous.  This will undo a current strategic capability of the United States to intercept and track communications.  Our guardians will lose a considerable portion of their ability to hear and see risks arising.  But it is technically inevitable and the proposed technical “fixes” create their own new problems.  No less than Mike Chertoff came out against proposed “duplicate key” or “back-door” solutions.  I practically sprained my neck trying to see Suzanne Spaulding’s (DHS Undersecretary for NPPD) reaction to Chertoff’s comments, but from where I sat her blond bouffant was as impenetrable as Athena’s helmet.

Protection of Engineered Networks:  At the beginning of the Aspen Security Forum, I perceive this is what most of the audience meant by “cybersecurity”.  By the last day of the conference our physical systems are still seen as important, but only one part of cyber-strategy.  Several smart men in uniform cogently and persuasively explained how these systems can and will be defended. Continuing with my classical analogy, engineered systems are the fleet of twelve ships with which Odysseus departed Troy bound for home.  This is our legacy.  It has been our strength.  It is worth defending.  It may also be worth remembering that our Greek hero returns home (under the protection of Athena) with nothing.  He does return home.  He is a hero.  But over-time the fleet has been lost.

Influencing Social Networks: Since Wednesday this issue was inserted into almost every cybersecurity discussion. I’m not sure its a good match, but again and again the use of social networks by ISIL (ISIS, Daesh, name your poison) was treated as a cyber issue.  This ranged from questions about how the United States could/should just “take out” the enemy’s network connections to how the normative values of large online populations are formed, can be discerned, and potentially deployed. It was frequently emphasized — admittedly, vaguely — that this problem will require agile, creative, and (therefore) whole-of-nation collaboration to solve.  It is beyond the capacity of the government alone. [Another reminder: When our hero finally arrives home, he finds 108 rowdies consuming his wealth, spoiling his palace, and trying to marry his wife. Odysseus overcomes these varied — and mostly domestic — adversaries in an unlikely alliance with a goddess, his young son, a slave, and a cowherd. The people of Ithaca then forgive their ruler all his failures and peace is restored to the land.]

Please listen to the experts on the videos.  But it was striking how our last victory (the Cold War) permeated perceptions of what many see as the rapidly increasing heat of cyber-war.  Essential discontinuities between then and now are recognized, but the current context and particularities are framed in weird ways to “fit” the intellectual categories developed and deployed back then.  This sort of strategic rigidity is not what finally brought peace to Ithaca.


With great appreciation I need to acknowledge the Institute for Public Research at CNA for financially supporting my attendance at this year’s Aspen Security Forum.  This rigorously empirical organization is obviously not responsible for any of my observations or potentially misplaced classical analogies.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 26, 2015 @ 9:14 am

Thanks Phil! But of course my take is quite different. Yes just like 70 years ago when the technology became available to destroy the LIVEABILITY OF OUR PLANET by nuclear explosion now we find that our FREE MARKET MANTRA with no thought for security or misuse of technology makes it so that humanity like the lemmings marches over the cliff.

And at bottom the whole of the argument is premised on hiding the shifting of costs of exploitation of the COMMONS [the internet] to the general population from those who would exploit the COMMONS even to the point of self-destruction.

Again as Dr. Jared Diamond asked in one of his books “what was the Easter Islander thinking as he/she cut down the last tree?”

YUP! Definitely a LUDDITE HERE! Why not systemic review of security even as patent applications reviewed?

Or coherent review by vulnerabilities and risks of technology?

Please read or reread THE GIFT OF THE AXE or perhaps modernized to the Gift of the Chainsaw?

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 26, 2015 @ 9:18 am

And no doubt that just as industrialized warfare killed hundreds of millions in the 20th Century the cyber world will kill even more in the 21st Century IMO! A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER?

Just ordered a copy of Benjamin Witte’s THE FUTURE OF VIOLENCE! He frequently contributes to LAWFARE.com!
If any have read this book please post a short review here.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 26, 2015 @ 9:32 am

The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones?Confronting A New Age of Threat
The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones?Confronting A New Age of Threat
byBenjamin Wittes

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 26, 2015 @ 9:32 am

The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones?Confronting A New Age of Threat

by Benjamin Wittes

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 26, 2015 @ 9:42 am

Given that CIP and thus cyber security was one of the top 3 reasons for forming DHS perhaps some person or element there should have been held accountable for the failed effort if there was one?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 26, 2015 @ 4:07 pm

Bill: While I did not encounter a self-proclaimed Luddite at Aspen, there were several who share the concerns you have outlined. I am still trying to think through a related impression I came away with. It has something to do with Twentieth Century human civilization unintentionally creating a parallel universe which, while closely connected to our everyday reality, is also somewhat separate and in tension with its origins. There is a related sense that the cyber domain is just beginning to evolve social, normative, and other “soft” characteristics.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 26, 2015 @ 10:51 pm


Not to be contrarian, but if we could both live to see the 22nd century I’d bet that we’d look back and see that biological threats (and natural disasters) killed more this century than cyber threats.


The cyber domain has been evolving those things for a while. The national security domain is just catching up/realizing the profit potential. If you ever have a science fiction itch to scratch, read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer.”

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 26, 2015 @ 11:37 pm

And I think you are on to something with your Cold War comment. We’ve been searching for the next great white whale since the breakup of the Soviet Union. I don’t think we’ve settled on it just yet, but cyber (combined with terrorism) is the latest candidate.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 27, 2015 @ 7:07 am

Thanks Phil and Arnold!

Always remember ATOMS FOR PEACE?

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 27, 2015 @ 7:16 am

“Atoms for Peace” was the title of a speech delivered by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the UN General Assembly in New York City on December 8, 1953.

I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new – one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use.

That new language is the language of atomic warfare.

The United States then launched an “Atoms for Peace” program that supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals, and research institutions within the U.S. and throughout the world. The first nuclear reactors in Iran, Israel and Pakistan were built under the program by American Machine and Foundry (AMF, a company more commonly known as a major manufacturer of bowling equipment).


1 Philosophy of Atoms for Peace
1.1 Effects of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Speech Peaceful use of Atomic Energy
2 Legacy

3 See also
4 References
4.1 Sources
5 External links
Philosophy of Atoms for Peace

The Atoms for Peace symbol mounted over the door to the American swimming pool reactor building during the 1955 International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, often called the Atoms for Peace conference.

The speech was part of a carefully orchestrated media campaign, called “Operation Candor”, to enlighten the American public on the risks and hopes of a nuclear future. It was a propaganda component of the Cold War strategy of containment. Eisenhower’s speech opened a media campaign that would last for years and that aimed at “emotion management”, balancing fears of continuing nuclear armament with promises of peaceful use of uranium in future nuclear reactors. The speech was a tipping point for international focus on peaceful uses of atomic energy, even during the early stages of the Cold War. It has been argued that Eisenhower, with some influence from J. Robert Oppenheimer, was attempting to convey a spirit of comfort to a terrified world after the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the nuclear tests of the early 1950s.

It presents an ostensible antithesis to brinkmanship, the international intrigue that subsequently kept the world at the edge of war.

However recent historians have tended to see the speech as a cold war maneuver directed primarily at U.S. allies in Europe. Eisenhower wanted to make sure that the European allies would go along with the shift in NATO strategy from an emphasis on conventional weapons to cheaper nuclear weapons. Western Europeans wanted reassurance that the U.S. did not intend to provoke a nuclear war in Europe, and the speech was designed primarily to create that sense of reassurance. Eisenhower later said that he knew the Soviets would reject the specific proposal he offered in the speech.

Eisenhower’s invoking of “…those same great concepts of universal peace and human dignity which are so clearly etched in…” the UN Charter, placed new emphasis upon the US’s grave responsibility for its nuclear actions— past, present and future. In a large way, this address laid down the rules of engagement for the new kind of warfare: the cold war.

Two quotations from the speech follow:

“It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive, not destructive. It wants agreement, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom, and in the confidence that the people of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life.”
“To the making of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you–and therefore before the world–its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma–to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”
Effects of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Speech Peaceful use of Atomic Energy

Prior to Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech the state of atomic development in the world was under the strictest of secrecies. The information and expertise needed for atomic development was bound by a pact of secrecy between allies (the secret Quebec Agreement of 1943) and thus not devoted to peaceful processes but instead as a weapon to defend against other countries developing and using the same such weapons. With atomic development kept so far under wraps there were no safety protocols and no standards developed.

Eisenhower’s speech was an important moment in political history as it brought the atomic issue which had been kept quiet for “national security” into the public eye, asking the world to support his solution. The great part about his speech is the motive; how ingenious to take a horrible weapon and repurpose it to make the world a better place. “President Dwight D. Eisenhower was determined to solve “the fearful atomic dilemma” by finding some way by which “the miraculous inventiveness of man” would not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.” Unfortunately Eisenhower was not completely effective in his repurposing; Eisenhower himself approved the National Security Council (NSC) document which stated that only a massive atomic weapon base would deter violence from the Soviet Union. The belief that to avoid a nuclear war we must stay on the offensive, ready to strike at any time, is the same reason that the Soviet Union wouldn’t give up their atomic weapons either. During his time in office the nuclear holdings of the US rose from 1,005 to 20,000 weapons.

Atoms for Peace opened up nuclear research to civilians and countries that had not previously possessed nuclear technology. This made it possible for some countries to develop weapons, however the Atoms for Peace program that came to be from Eisenhower’s speech had great impacts for the world. Eisenhower argued for a nonproliferation agreement throughout the world; he argued for a stop to the spread of military use of nuclear weapons. Although the nations that already had atomic weapons kept their weapons and grew their supplies, very few other countries have developed similar weapons – in this sense, it has been very much contained and Eisenhower was successful. The Atoms for Peace program also created regulations for the use of nuclear power and through these regulations stopped other countries from developing weapons while allowing the technology to be used for positive means.


Atoms for Peace created the ideological background for the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, but also gave political cover for the U.S. nuclear weapons build-up, and the backdrop to the Cold War arms race. Under Atoms for Peace related programs the U.S. exported over 25 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to 30 countries, mostly to fuel research reactors, which is now regarded as a proliferation and terrorism risk. The Soviet Union also exported over 11 tons of HEU under a similar program.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 27, 2015 @ 7:20 am

Just noting for the record that the nuclear power industry like the airline industry has never operated without government subsidies.

We may not be the GREAT SATAN but we are THE GREAT PROLIFERATOR.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 27, 2015 @ 10:33 pm

Steven Hawking releases a warning about remote weapons.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 29, 2015 @ 7:35 am


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