December 20, 2000


Just when you think that reality can't possibly get any more outrageous, the infinite capacity of human beings for folly continues to astonish. How else can we react to the recent Associated Press news story intriguingly headlined: "Cyberspace Head Warns of Digital War." Cyberspace has a "head"? This was news to me, at least, and, fascinated, I couldn't help but investigate further.


It turns out that cyberspace – that anarchic, freewheeling electronic frontier – does indeed have a "head," in the form of Richard Clarke of the National Security Council: Clark is what the AP calls "the nation's top cyberspace official," kind of the President of Cyberspace – although somehow I don't remember voting in that particular election. But never mind. On Friday, Clarke announced that we are in for a "digital Pearl Harbor" – unless, of course, we take certain measures. Now we all have our own take on the unnaturally extended presidential election, but Clarke's perspective is distinctly odd:

"What this presidential election year showed is that statistically improbable events can occur. It may be improbable that cyberspace can be seriously disrupted, it may be improbable that a war in cyberspace can occur, but it could happen."


The anointed sovereign of cyberspace has spoken. But who or what is going to be doing all this disrupting? Energy shortages and threatened power blackouts in California and elsewhere? Will some kind of virus infect the world's computers, and bring down every website? Or will Al Gore, the inventor of the Internet, get snippy and pull out the rug from under us all? Clarke's explanation is far less credible than any of the above: he asserts, without getting specific, that several unidentified nations have developed "information warfare units." These mysterious "units," he claims, "are creating technology to bring down computer networks. Some are doing reconnaissance today on our networks, mapping them."


Gee, that sounds familiar. . . . Remember when was monitored by CERT, the special military unit supposedly devoted to "protecting" America's cybernetic superstructure from electronic attack? Longtime readers will remember the [June 2, 2000] column wherein I described a sudden rise in the number of hits on our site – numbers so large that they caused the counting software to crash: it turned out that they all emanated from the mysterious headquarters of the Army's Computer Emergency Response Team, set up under the rubric of the "war on terrorism." Say what? How come the feds were monitoring us, of all people, when they were supposed to be guarding the electronic doorway to the nation's air traffic control systems? What's up with that? – I asked, and I believe a reporter from Counterpunch followed up on it, but there was never a satisfactory answer to my question. Now, it seems, Clarke has inadvertently provided us with a plausible scenario: could it be they were mapping us, setting us up, as it were, for the several hacking incidents that followed?


Now, Mr. Clarke is no doubt right that several nations have set up info-war units under military command: what he doesn't say is that the US government probably had first, and the best-funded program. President Clinton announced as much during the Kosovo war: in addition to dropping radioactive bombs from 30,000 feet, the US would attack the Serbs in cyberspace. Rumor had it that the CIA had trained a cadre of Kosovar hackers, and they were apparently let loose on the Serbs in a series of cyber-assaults, at one point commandeering the Yugoslav government site, Serbia-info. And so, yes, there is a threat to the peace and security of cyberspace – coming not from some malevolent foreign power, but from malicious hackers probably based right here in the good ol' US of A. We were told by our Internet service provider that he had never in his life seen a site subjected to so many attempted hackings – and the assault continues, even after moving to a more secure server and taking expensive precautions.


Clarke conjures up visions of a "Pearl Harbor" in cyberspace, but we've already had our own little Pearl Harbor right here at Once such incident, as fans of this site will perhaps remember, had us down for nearly a week. An intruder gained entry to our system, and proceeded to wipe out everything. The FBI came into the case, and spoke to our webmaster, Eric Garris, but aside from this one contact we never heard from them again. So much for the government's much-vaunted concern for "terrorism" on the Internet.


Pontificating before the "SafeNet 2000 Summit," a conference organized by Microsoft, Clarke recommended that the next president create a new cabinet position, a "a government-wide chief information officer" (the Geek-in-chief?) who would require Senate confirmation: in effect, the Secretary of Cyberspace. Perhaps they could make it a subdivision of the State Department, although the CIA is sure to stake its claim. In his speech, Clarke emphasized the coziness of the government and the hi-tech crowd, and the AP reporter's description of what he had to say is shocking in its blunt matter-of-fact-ness:

"Another way to improve security throughout the Internet is to create secure lines of communication between the technology industry and the government, Clarke said. That way, they could share information about hackers and viruses without worrying about the public learning about it. Clarke said the plan would require an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act."


Yes, let's keep everything a secret from the very people we are supposedly protecting from another "Pearl Harbor": after all, we don't want to have to worry about answering too many inconvenient questions, such as: what about America's own capacity to conduct a "cyber-war"? Clarke also announced that the Clinton administration is setting up a special scholarship program for aspiring American cyber-warriors – $25,000 goes to young recruits for each year they agree to go to sign up with Uncle Sam. What is this but a recruiting program for aspiring young hackers who want to go "legit" while still putting their talents to good use?


What is truly sickening is that Clarke was not alone is calling for this sinister goverment-industry partnership in "policing" the Internet. According to the AP article, "others at the conference expressed the same notion." One Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, announced the creation of a nonprofit consortium of 18 companies ready to answer Clarke's clarion call. In defense of this highly secretive cartel-like organization, Miller said:

"You'll want to have the ability to share high-level intelligence on an anonymous basis, without believing it's going to show up in an AP article the next day."


But what is Miller afraid of? Exposure is the worst enemy of the criminal, and this is especially true of the hacker, who goes to great lengths to skillfully hide his or her true identity. If the Cyberspace Cartel is not engaging in illegal and/or unethical activities, then why this fear of public scrutiny? And don't give me that "national security" mantra – that's the same line they handed out during the sixties, when the US government illegally spied on and disrupted numerous antiwar and other opposition political groups, and nobody is going to buy it this time around. The arrogance of these would-be Lords of Cyberspace is really breathtaking – they actually believe they can suck up all the government subsidies they can swallow and not have to answer to the public in any way.


And always, it seems, these sorts of operations are carried out in the name of "safety" – not to mention protecting the right of "privacy" – how's that for sheer gall? The biggest fear in everyone's mind is not that some company will get a lock on our individual buying habits, and lure us into online orgies of conspicuous consumption, but that the federal government will generate its own database of information on virtually every US citizen, an electronic dossier containing everything, from your social security number to your political opinions, including whether or not you have chosen to exercise your Second Amendment rights. What I want to know is: who will protect us from our protectors?


Trenchantly summing up Clarke's song-and-dance, Crypt Newsletter defined the "Pearl Harbor"-in-cyberspace syndrome rather succinctly.

"Electronic Pearl Harbor (or 'EPH'): a bromide popularized by Alvin Toffler-types, ex-Cold War generals, assorted corporate windbags and hack journalists, to name a few. EPH is meant to signify a nebulous electronic doom always looming over U.S. computer networks. In the real world, it's a cue for the phrase 'Watch your wallet!' since those wielding it are usually doing so in an attempt to convince taxpayers or consumers to fund ill-defined and/or top secret projects said to be aimed at protecting us from it. It has been seen thousands of times since its first sighting in 1993."

Do we really need a government-appointed commander-in-chief of cyberspace? No, no, a thousand times no! The whole position should be abolished as an unwarranted intrusion by the federal government into a heretofore relatively free arena. No doubt Clarke, a Clinton appointee, thought he was addressing Al Gore with his policy recommendations: but Dubya, who once unsuccessfully sued a satirical anti-Bush website – "Freedom ought to have limits," was W's comment – seems clueless when it comes to this subject, and positively hostile to the civil liberties aspects of web regulation. In the name of the holy war against "terrorism," it is easy to see the Bushies expanding this Clintonian initiative instead of abolishing it.


As I will be on vacation by the time you read this, any further developments in the Gore coup attempt since December 15 will not be covered in this column. I'll be back in time for the New Year: but, never fear, I've written a few columns in advance to keep you amused. So stay tuned – and have a happy holiday.

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“Behind the Headlines” appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

Big Government Invades the Internet

The New Cold War: Who's Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

The Case for Pessimism

The Gore Coup: No Justice, No Peace – No Exit

Bush or Gore: Pick Your War

Gore, Bush, and the Imperial Style

Neo-Nazis and Neocons: An Unholy Alliance

Al Gore – The O.J. Simpson of American Politics

Coup d'Etat 2000 and the Madness of Al Gore

Slobo and Gore: Peas in a Pod

Gore Coup Radicalizes Republicans

The Dimple That Shook the World

Listen Soldier, You Can Stop the Gore Coup

Two Ways to Steal an Election

In Occupied America: Rage Against "The Regime"

Al Gore's Beer Hall Putsch

A Message to My Readers

The Real Victors: Nader & Buchanan

Buchanan's "Hail Mary" Pass May Work

Doubletalkin' Dubya: Bush Backtracks on Kosovo

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

Hilary, the War Goddess

Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

Norman's Narcissim: Podhoretz in Love

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
Gore-Milosevic Connection

Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisited

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cartagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

Why Kosovo? Follow the Money!

Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).


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