by James A. Bacon
My sentiments regarding the Middle East periodically vacillate between “they’re crazy, leave ’em alone and let ’em all kill each other” to “the world’s too small, we can’t run away from the problem.” Last night I swung hard toward the latter perspective.
Keith B. Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, and Robert S. Mueller III, former FBI director, spoke at the Richmond Forum last night on the topic of cyber security. And let’s just say, I’m not feeling very secure.
A major topic of the dialogue was the threat posed by ISIS. Right now, ISIS is on a roll. After suffering a setbacks in Kobani and Tikrit, the self-styled Caliphate has rebounded by capturing Ramadi and Palymyra. Tactical successes feed their propaganda and recruiting, many of those recruits are coming from Europe and North America, and some of those recruits have backgrounds in information technology.
At present, ISIS’ IT prowess has been limited mainly to sophisticated use of the Internet to recruit more jihadis. But a glimmer of their future intentions, said Alexander, can be seen in a recent cyber-attack that succeeded in shutting down a French television station. Admittedly, the station had left itself stupendously open to cyber-attack, so it didn’t require a great deal of savvy to break into its IT system. But it would be a mistake to think that ISIS capabilities won’t grow over time and that they won’t aim for more ambitious targets.
Think about it from ISIS’ point of view. If you wanted to do serious damage to America or Europe, you could invest your resources in bombing plots or shooting sprees — pinpricks — or you could do some serious, lasting damage by shutting down an electric grid. These people are not going to stop. They are at war with us not only because we have a (much diminished) presence in the Middle East but because they see Western Civilization as an enemy. It seems beyond ISIS’s capabilities to acquire a nuclear weapon, but all it takes is a few really smart guys with computers and an Internet connection to wage cyber war. And as long as they have a sanctuary like the Caliphate, they’re practically impossible to take out.
Americans are war-weary, and that certainly includes me, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of IQ points to imagine what would happen if ISIS expanded its zone of control, acquired some more oil fields, and could afford to hire some of the cyber-criminal geniuses operating out of Russia or Eastern Europe. I tell you, it’s almost enough to make me buy a cabin in the woods and stock up on canned food and ammo.There are currently no comments highlighted.