Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 14

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 7, 2019

This is my 14th installment to a series on cyber risk and cyber conflict in a still emerging 21st century interactive online context, and in a ubiquitously social media connected context and when faced with a rapidly interconnecting internet of things among other disruptively new online innovations (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and its Page 3 continuation, postings 354 and loosely following for Parts 1-13.)

I have been discussing a briefly stated list of topics points in this series in recent installments, that I repeat here as I continue to explore its issues:

1. I offered and then began expanding upon a basic if perhaps simplistic outline of a problem that we are all increasingly facing as new cyber technologies and new ways of using them, are turned to societally disruptive purposes, and in ways that are seemingly impossible to address proactively – leaving only more reactive, catch-up alternatives. That seeming impossibility of advancing cyber-security to a more proactive footing, has at least become an all but axiomatically assumed starting point for thought and action and for essentially all actively involved parties in this.
2. And I outlined an at least preliminary cartoon-formatted approach to addressing that challenge, which I have already indicated to be inadequate and certainly for moving past reactive responses, from how it limits consideration of the levels and types of organizational involvement that might be required.
3. And I have offered at least a brief list of working example case studies for discussion in this context. As a part of that, I have already raised and selectively discussed Stuxnet and its use in an attack against Iran’s nuclear weapons development program in Part 12. I cited and discussed that action for how it in effect redefined the acceptable, and the strategically and operationally achievable and for all possible future users of cyber-weapons and certainly as possible tools of diplomatic leverage.

Building from that cautionary note as to what is to come in all of this, I began discussing Russia and its activities in this arena of activity too, as a second case study example (see Part 13.) And my primary goal for this posting is to continue and build upon its narrative.

I offered Russia and its history, or at least a focused selective perspective on it to illustrate a crucially important point that I will come to build the ultimate conclusions of this series around, which I restate and at least somewhat expand upon in preview form here as:

• It is inherently impossible to step ahead of unfolding events and address cyber-threats proactively if you only focus on what adversaries and potential adversaries do and have done. If you limit yourself that way, you wait until they have already at least in large part completed developing the weaponized cyber-capabilities that they might deploy against you, your allies or both. And you have also probably waited until they have at least test-used those new capabilities and in at least limited real, live-fire exercises too.
• “Proactive” here, as a matter of security due diligence and risk management, fundamentally requires an ongoing proactive effort to understand the reasoning and motivation that might lead an adversary or potential adversary to pursue cyber-weapons technologies and their use in the first place. (And I note that this applies to the development and possible use of any other weapons capabilities, and certainly any unconventional ones.)
• If you know what concerns and fears drive them, that can and will offer you insight into their likely perceived threat-response doctrines and their more likely approaches taken for fulfilling them.

I wrote in Part 13 of Russia’s centuries-long fears of external aggressors and invasions. That is an important part of their overall nationally framed and supported narrative. Understanding that is crucial to understanding much of their foreign policy, and from well before the advent of communism on through to today. It explains, for example, why and I add how they have chosen to control neighboring states as vassals and more specifically as protective buffer zones that would obey their dictates, and with at least efforts in that direction going back to well before the dawn of communism too. And in its current iteration and expression, that narrative goes far to explain Russia’s underlying reasons and rationales as to why and how they would develop and pursue cyber-weapons now, among other tools of influence and persuasion, and of deterrence too as they deem that necessary. And their awareness of this, their history explains a lot as to when and where they might consider use of such capabilities too, and at what scales of use.

But an awareness and understanding of this basic background narrative on the part of potential recipients of such action, can only serve as an orienting starting point for understanding what Russia’s government would do and seek to do, and how, in our current here and now. I turn here to at least begin to address the issues and questions of how Russia’s current leadership has come to use this historical narrative and its imperatives, in shaping their own particular policies and their execution. And ultimately, this means my bringing Vladimir Putin and his personal history into this series discussion too.

In anticipation of that discussion to come, I add a fourth bullet point to my above-offered rationale for the What and Why of cyber-weapons and their possible use, as have become tools of statecraft for the Putin government:

• Understanding the basic historical narrative that underlies the What and Why of action and activity as briefly outlined in this series in Part 13, can only be a first step in actually predictively anticipating possible future action, or even for just trying to more fully understand what has recently been done and what might be done reactively next. You need to know and understand how that narrative and its lessons learned have been shaped and organized leading up to our current here-and-now, by Russia’s current leadership. More specifically, you need to know and understand Russia’s current leader: Vladimir Putin and his thinking, and how he would use the rationale-driving narratives that he has at his disposal as he formulates and carries through on his plans, aspirations and desires and as he responds to his own fears in all of this.

In the post-Soviet Russia that has held sway there since at least 2012, this means bringing Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin into this case study example and its analysis as a source of insight into more general principles. And this means both discussing the basic historical narrative of invasion and threat of it as Putin himself has witnessed it in his own life and discussing how that has shaped his more personal thinking and his own personal goals prioritization too. And it also means my offering at least a perspective on how the alchemy of Putin’s own personal goals and ambitions have in turn shaped his understanding of his country’s ongoing larger historical narrative too, and how he would seek to proactively respond to that through his own decisions and actions.

I, for the most part, ended my Part 13 Russian history summary with World War II and Nazi Germany’s devastating attacks on the Russian motherland. And as part of that narrative, I made note of how Russia took control over Eastern Europe and its nations, coming out of World War II, turning them collectively into a single shield-like buffer zone that came to be known as the Warsaw Pact, and with Moscow gaining and retaining positive control over the governments and territories and resources of those vassal states through active presence and involvement of their military and their state security system: their Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB), as de-facto operational managers and “advisors.”

Creation of the Warsaw Pact and a confluence of fears coming from both the Soviet and Western allies’ sides of the now palpable divide between East and West in Europe, coming out of a just-ended World War II led directly to the start of a new, Cold War. And that is the world that shaped Vladimir Putin and that helped to shape all that he has done and all that he has sought to do and from his childhood on.

It is part and parcel of communist doctrine, as based upon its foundational interpretation of history and its trends, that it is the ultimate, perfect sociopolitical and economic system that could be attained, and that it is inevitable that all other forms of societal order and governance will in time be supplanted by it as societies progressively pass through and come to reject less functionally perfect, precursor evolutionary phases of possible social order. And capitalism, according to this ideological, and I add de-facto religious paradigm is simply a penultimate step that nations and their peoples would go through before arriving at what communism’s founders envisioned as their idealized state of sociopolitical perfection: a communist led and shaped workers’ paradise.

The governments of the West saw and heard this rhetoric, and they saw a post-World War II Soviet empire swallowing up Eastern Europe as their taking a giant step towards fulfilling this vision: a vision of global communist conquest and dominance. And in fact while many in Russia, including many in positions of real power and authority there, where probably more cynical about this vision than they were believers in it, and while they primarily used that ideological narrative for purposes of their own personal advancement, many in that country: including members of their national leadership, were in fact true believers in this orthodoxy.

Put cartoonishly simplistically, Russians took control of Eastern Europe as a protective barrier out of fear that the nations of the West would invade them, and certainly if their governments were to learn how weakened the Soviet Union really was coming out of World War II and Nazi Germany’s invasions of their territories. Their nation – their peoples and territories had been invaded way too many times, and largely from the West not to be compellingly driven by this fear. And the West saw the action-taken consequences of that fear and reacted from a corresponding fear of their own too – of a Russia on the move with ambitions towards hegemony over all of Europe and beyond as well. The West responded at least in part to this widely perceived threat by organizing together in response to it, through the founding and build-up of their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Russia immediately came to see as validating their most basic underlying fears in all of this. And the Cold War started and the only reason, in all probability that it remained a cold war and not a militarily invasive World War III was that the invention and development of nuclear weapons brought the leadership of both sides: East and West to see direct military conflict as suicidal for all.

That is the world that Vladimir Putin was born into and it is the world that he grew up in and was shaped by. And in this context I have to make specific note of how the conflict between East and West that I write of here, rapidly became global as both sides sought influence and gain in Africa and Asia and Latin America, and with the advent of a communist Cuba just 90 miles off of the United States coast just one of many sore points that arose from all of this, on the West’s side of this conflict.

• A commonly cited starting point for the eruption of the Cold War can be traced to 1946 and George F. Kennan’s so called X Article, or “Long Telegram,” as sent to Washington from his diplomatic assignment in Moscow. That document and its reasoning formed the basis for the containment policy that the United States and their allies pursued throughout the Cold War for limiting Soviet ambitions – or at least their expansionist expression of them.
• Vladimir Putin was born on October 7, 1952 at a time when the Cold War was in fact heating up. Soviet backed support for a newly emerging communist North Korea, as led by Kim Il Sung, had led to the outbreak of what in the West is referred to as the Korean War, with Chinese communist forces joining in and supporting their communist North Korean allies in this conflict in October, 1950 and with that conflict still very actively continuing until a cease fire was finally achieved for it – not a peace treaty: just a cease fire, in July 1953.
• Explicitly looking to young Putin’s childhood years and the years immediately preceding it, the Berlin blockade and the Berlin airlift, and the building of the Berlin wall as a kill zone barrier for stopping defectors from the East to the West, all had to have had an impact upon him, as did a great many other points of friction and confrontation between East and West as presented in Pravda (Правда) and other government vetted and controlled Soviet era news sources.
• And in the United States, Senator Joseph McCarthy was actively conducing his anti-communist witch hunts, using his position of power in the US Congress to create and advance his own personal political ambitions.
• And in Russia, Joseph Stalin continued to exert his undisputed leadership and a cult of personality that had brought him all but god-like stature and authority among his people.
• This is the world that a young Vladimir Putin grew up in, with implacable, remorseless foes surrounding his country and with a leader who had achieved seemingly absolute power, authority and support in leading Russia, serving as his formative role model.

I am going to continue this narrative in my next series installment where I will discuss Putin and his story, and where I will of necessity also discuss the 45th president of the United States: Donald Trump and his relationship with Russia’s leadership in general and with Putin in particular. And in anticipation of this dual narrative to come, that will mean my discussing Russia’s cyber-attacks and the 2016 US presidential election, among other events. Then, as promised above, I will turn to consider China and North Korea and their current cyber-policies and practices, and current and evolving cyber-policies and practices as they are taking shape in the United States as well, as shaped by its war on terror among other motivating considerations.

My goal in all of that is to use these case study examples to more fully explore and discuss the issues raised in topics Points 1 and 2 from the above list, and with a goal of offering at least a perspective on resolving the challenges that they offer as above-written. And I will do so both as I develop and offer my case study examples here, and as I summarize what could be considered lessons-learnable from them.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And you can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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