This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Recently, while I was on a visit to Salon.com, my computer screen momentarily went black. A glitch? A power surge? No, it was a pop-up ad for the US Air Force, warning me that an enemy cyber-attack could come at any moment–with dire consequences for my ability to connect to the Internet. It was an Outer Limits moment. Remember that eerie sci-fi show from the early 1960s? The one that began in a blur with the message, “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission…” It felt a little like that.
And speaking of Air Force ads, there’s one currently running on TV and on the Internet that starts with a bird’s-eye view of the Pentagon as a narrator intones, “This building will be attacked 3 million times today. Who’s going to protect it?” Two Army colleagues of mine nearly died on September 11, 2001, when the third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, so I can’t say I appreciated the none-too-subtle reminder of that day’s carnage. Leaving that aside, it turns out that the ad is referring to cyber-attacks and that the cyber protector it has in mind is a new breed of “air” warrior, part of an entirely new Cyber Command run by the Air Force. Using the latest technology, our cyber elite will “shoot down” enemy hackers and saboteurs, both foreign and domestic, thereby dominating the realm of cyberspace, just as the Air Force is currently seeking to dominate the planet’s air space–and then space itself “to the shining stars and beyond.”
Part of the Air Force’s new “above all” vision of full-spectrum dominance, America’s emerging cyber force has control fantasies that would impress George Orwell. Working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Homeland Security, and other governmental agencies, the Air Force’s stated goal is to gain access to, and control over, any and all networked computers, anywhere on Earth, at a proposed cost to you, the American taxpayer, of $30 billion over the first five years.
Here, the Air Force is advancing the now familiar Bush-era idea that the only effective defense is a dominating offense. According to Lani Kass, previously the head of the Air Force’s Cyberspace Task Force and now a special assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff, “If you’re defending in cyber [space], you’re already too late. Cyber delivers on the original promise of air power. If you don’t dominate in cyber, you cannot dominate in other domains.”