IRRELEVANT: Cyber War in the Shadows of the Patriot Act

Working through descriptions at Wikipedia and the Justice Department website, the Patriot Act is at best a difficult beast to wrap one’s brain around. The past several weeks, I described some of the latest frameworks for understanding Cyber War. Hopefully, readers grasped the difficulty of this new domain of war and its impact on the other domains of war – Land, Sea, Air, and Space. The core impact is that beyond even net-centric warfare, Cyber War is about war FROM the Cyber Domain and war WITHIN the Cyber Domain.

Critical to understanding legislation for things like the Patriot Act is the fact that these are attempts to frame how our nation responds to Cyber War. Yet, the legislation process tends to be several generations of technological capability behind current state.

Personally, I see every user device and cell phone as a potential weapon in the Cyber Domain. That sounds hyper-paranoid but whether the device is used by a malicious player or is compromised by malicious players, that potential is real.

At present, most nation states possess a monopoly over what the industry calls, “IP Packet Protocol Transmissions”. Creativity among our adversaries – especially non-state players like terrorists – attempts to subvert and avoid this monopoly. Their capabilities place the velocity of commerce on the Internet, and our ability to defend ourselves, at great risk. The press, and much of the conservative Right, plays up the risks to privacy. Especially prominent are both perceived and real instances where our government used the ability to monopolize these transmissions for nefarious purposes.

That said, Intelligence gathering in the Cyber Domain of war involves sensing beyond our logical “boundaries”. This war happens 24 X 7, 356 days per year without respite. It is asymmetrical guerrilla warfare WITHIN the Cyber Domain. The ability to sense beyond our enclaves and boundaries is the only thing that gives our Cyber Warriors logical “space” in this domain. In turn, sensing beyond the national enclaves of North America protects our very way of life. Protects our homelands.

After reading a lot of information about the Patriot Act, I rolled my eyes. It began as legislation in 2001. At that point, we were furiously building new networks and capabilities. Cell phone networks were mostly about voice conversations. Taking that to data sharing and smart phones exponentially grew the threat footprints. In my opinion, the exponential growth of networks and capability since 2001 made the Patriot Act language obsolete. Congress and our nation would be better served to scrap the Patriot Act and bring their language into David Aucsmith’s framework for Cyber War.

Key is the ability to sense beyond our national enclaves. Bad people, many with US citizenship, creatively take their cyber war making abilities past what even the Patriot Act strove to prevent and monitor. I submit that defending our southern border will continue to be about physical fences, CDC monitoring to prevent pandemics, sensors to stop weapons of mass destruction, and much more rigorous patrolling.

Yet, there is a cyber-war component. Sensing beyond our borders reaches beyond Mexico and Guatemala. It tracks international electronic banking, blocking virus and Trojan executables in the “white space” of porn pictures, and beyond. One might wonder what “Beyond” means. That questions steps across cell networks and data centers to cryptography and Quantum information theory. In the sprint away from base two to base four Quantum computing, cell phones and data packets shrink to minuscule sizes but dramatically increasing functionality. Perhaps even new transmission methods that will require new types of sensors and analytics. The creativity of our adversaries will step with industry into still newer tools and weapons in the Cyber Domain of War.

Spinning our wheels on the Patriot Act is probably not effective. The technology of our adversaries renders our ability to sense beyond our borders increasingly obsolete. In turn, those who defend our nation must generate new ways to sense beyond our boundaries… and respond to threats. I suspect that the Patriot Act will continue to be an emotional boiling point on both sides of the Congressional aisle but increasingly irrelevant in the domain of Cyber War.


About the author: Clearchus


Clearchus is the author of three Science Fiction books; "Sunigin," "Insurgio," and "Certo" (Available at Amazon) about the next Texas Revolution. He is a retired Army Field Artilleryman who was one of the last men in the U.S. Army to command an M110 8" Howitzer firing battery. He currently designs computer networks for commercial, non-profit, and government environments. Married for 32 years to the most gorgeous babe he knows, he and his wife have four kids. Their lives and perspectives straddle military assignments, combat tours, and mission trips across Europe, Asia, and the Horn of Africa.

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