Sprawling account of how the U.S. military joined forces with the National Security Agency to develop “cyber warfare” capabilities, monitoring America’s enemies and its citizens alike.
Foreign Policy senior writer Harris (The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State, 2010) takes an unabashedly admiring tone, fascinated by the dedication of elite NSA “hackers” and the secretive technology they’ve developed, initially tested against terror networks in Iraq and Afghanistan. He focuses on the dynamic personalities whose expertise allowed them to move between the Bush and Obama administrations, such as NSA chiefs Mike McConnell and Keith Alexander, whose philosophy relied on “effectively declaring U.S. cyberspace a militarized zone.” McConnell had advocated the merger of war-fighting and surveillance into the US Cyber Command, officially inaugurated in 2010. Many politicians had by then concluded “the NSA was the only game in town, because it was the only agency with an extensive catalog of threat signatures, including malware, hacker techniques, and suspect Internet addresses.” Harris argues that the NSA’s aggressive and intrusive stance is warranted by the diverse threats aimed at American interests in cyberspace, ranging from retaliatory attacks from Iran (whose nuclear program was famously compromised by the Stuxnet computer worm) to widespread industrial espionage committed by China. This issue is viewed so urgently that the NSA has partnered with many tech corporations, like Google and Cisco, demonstrating in classified briefings that “China had penetrated the computer networks of defense contractors and other US companies.” Harris adeptly documents the online threats directed at American society, ranging from the Chinese military’s well-funded hacking cells to large-scale information thefts committed by international crime syndicates, but he also demonstrates the NSA’s insatiable collection of metadata and preparation of “backdoor” cyberweapons for future use, concluding that “[a]nonymity and collective security may be incompatible in cyberspace.”
A well-researched overview made less engaging by an uncritical stance and jargon-heavy approach.