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MAD In the Cyber Age

For those of us who were teens and adults during the Cold War, the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was part of our lives. MAD meant that if the Soviet Union (or the United States) began a nuclear war, the opposing super-power would launch their nuclear stockpile and the results would be so horrific that life on Earth, as we know it, would end.

For almost fifty years, MAD kept the nukes in their silos and made the world, if not safe, a lot less radioactive than it could have been. Like all military doctrines, it wasn’t perfect; but it kept the U.S. and U.S.S.R. from directly challenging each other. Instead, the super-powers used proxy wars (or police actions) and third-world countries to settle disputes.

Now, the Pentagon is looking for a “doomsday weapon” to create a MAD doctrine for cyber warfare. With the recent increases in number and severity of attacks, the Department of Defense, with the backing of Congress, is trying to create a situation where an attack on the government computer system will damage or destroy the attacker. The damage caused by these attacks was a major topic of discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in late July.

“Until such time as we come up with a form of deterrence that works, we’re going to have more and more of this,” said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, at the Forum. “I think the next wave, if you will, will be data deletions and data manipulation, which will also be very, very damaging.”

AttackConcerns about collateral damage, though, are limiting the responses that are currently being proposed. Although the unintended consequences of cyber deterrence would be less severe than the total destruction caused by a nuclear war, they could have a massive effect on modern life and society.

For an individual, losing the World Wide Web would be an annoyance, but with more and more essential services being controlled through the internet, the loss of it could cripple modern society. Unfortunately, the expertise to make attacks that could trigger that type of doomsday scenario are not limited to a few major governments.

If the government puts such a plan in place, it would be a lot easier to trigger than nuclear MAD. Criminal groups, rogue nations and activists could intentionally or accidentally trigger the response that could shut down the internet.

Personally, I am not sanguine about the government looking at doomsday weapons to keep hackers and foreign governments from attempting to gain access to our computer systems. I agree that the current level of computer attacks are a problem, but I don’t believe that any plan that includes the possibility of destroying the internet is a good one.

Of course, I lived through the MAD years and the constant threat of a provoked or accidental nuclear exchange instilled a certain degree of cynicism about government responses. I felt the portrayal of characters in Dr. Strangelove was closer to the truth than the actors in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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