Here’s an interesting weekend non-fiction book review! (Remember even Pastors need a break with lesiure reading!)
Fred Kaplan. Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, March 1st, 2016. 339 pp.
Dark Territory is the second work by the author that I read and while in my opinion it was not the same quality as his previous work titled The Insurgents I think it is important to realize that this is not because I thought Dark Territory was bad but because The Insurgents was on a league of its own. In Dark Territory the author Fred Kaplan turn to the subject of cyber warfare.
I appreciated the research the author put into the book. The research is all the more incredible considering the fact that the time period Kaplan covered for his research spanned several decades beginning with Ronald Regan’s concern to the war on terror up to the present. Sometimes what Kaplan found is pretty funny as stories. For instance I thought it was quite funny to read of what began as a question by Ronald Regan to his national security team after watching a movie on hacking led to the first written government document concerning the threat of cyber warfare. Yet at the same time there’s many sobering moments in the book where the author recounts hackers gathering information or attacking US government/private corporation’s websites and database.
Overall this book recounts the up and down effort of the US government to protect US interests from online attack. There’s time where certain government officials get the threat but then at the same time some within the leadership of the US government don’t see the dire threat and only want to go back to the status quo. For instance Kaplan talks about how generals and admirals in the military found discussions about cyberwarfare as a distraction to their traditional concerns of fighters, ships and ground units.
I also appreciated the author’s honest look at personalities and situations even when they weren’t necessarily flattering. For instance the book discusses quite a bit about Richard Clarke the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism for the United States under the Clinton and Bush administration. Some might remember in the 2000s of how Clarke authored a book and went on a public campaign to attack the Bush’s administration mishandling of matters that eventually led to 9/11. But this book went beyond the spot light and self-promotion of Clarke and reveal how Clarke wasn’t particularly liked in Washington due to his bullying, overstepping his authority and bossy matters. Credit must be given where credit is due however and Clarke did see the importance of protecting private US businesses from cyber-attacks although the means he propose for that to happen wasn’t favored by any US presidents nor something private industries would have wanted.
A recurring theme throughout the book was also the tension of offense versus defense when it comes to cyber warfare. Kaplan noted that when weaknesses and backdoors for software are discovered, agencies like the National Security Agency would want to keep it a secret as a way of exploiting this weakness to hack others. Yet at the same time the threat will also bring risks to American businesses and corporations. But if one “patches up” the problem then that removes a means for the NSA to hack their targets. This observation of the inter-relationship of offense/defense is important to understand the larger problem within government institutions and their clashing roles and purposes. I also thought the author did a good job showing how everything the US can do as an offensive capability will also eventually be used by the enemy. A good case in point is how the US went after the Iranian nuclear weapons program only to find that the Iranians can also go on the offense in attacking in American interests with their own cyber warfare also. There’s much food for thought the book provides and the question the book pose is relevant for all of us as well such as the rights to privacy, security and counter-terrorism and what constitute a serious enough cyber-attack to have crossed the line to be an act of war. There’s no easy answer but Kaplan is right in raising these questions for readers today to ask and discuss.