Be depressed. Be very depressed. You thought that cyberspace — a term conjured up long ago by that neuromancer, sci-fi author William Gibson–was the last frontier of freedom. Well, think again. If the U.S. Air Force has anything to say about it, cyber-freedom will, in the not so distant future, be just another word for domination.
Air Force officials, despite a year-long air surge in Iraq, undoubtedly worry that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s "next wars"–two, three, many Afghanistans–won’t have much room for air glory. (And headlines like yesterday’s "Pentagon cans Air Force leadership" can’t be doing much for service morale.) Recently, looking for new realms to bomb, the Air Force launched itself into cyberspace. It has now set up its own Cyber Command, redefined the Internet as just more "air space" fit for "cyber-craft," and launched its own Bush-style preemptive strike on the other military services for budgetary control of the same.
If that’s not enough for you, it’s also proposing a massive $30 billion cyberspace boondoggle–as retired Air Force Lt. Col. William Astore writes in "Attention Geeks and Hackers, Uncle Sam’s Cyber Force Wants You!"–that will, theoretically, provide the Air Force with the ability to fry any computer on Earth. And don’t think the other services are likely to take this lying down. Expect cyberwar in the Pentagon before this is all over. In the meantime, think of cyberspace, in military terms, as a new realm for nuclear-style strategy, with its own developing version of "first-strike capability," its own future versions of "mutually assured destruction," its own "windows of vulnerability" to be closed (while exploiting those of the enemy), and undoubtedly its own "cyber-gaps."
In fact, it looks like the national-security version of cyberspace may soon be a very, very busy place. Noah Shachtman, who covers the subject like a rug at his Wired Magazine Danger Room blog, recently noted that Comcast, the country’s second-largest Internet provider, "has just advertised for an engineer to handle ‘reconnaissance’ and ‘analysis’ of ‘subscriber intelligence’ for the company’s ‘National Security Operations’" — that is, for the U.S. government. ("Day-to-day tasks, the company says in an online job listing, will include ‘deploy[ing], installing] and remov[ing] strategic and tactical data intercept equipment on a nationwide basis to meet Comcast and Government lawful intercept needs.’") Ain’t that sweet.
And it shouldn’t be too tough a job. As Shachtman also points out, "Since May 2007, all Internet providers have been required to install gear for easy wiretapping under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act."
Sigh. Those who don’t learn from history are bound to… get ever more bloated budgets.