O.K. I’ll admit it. I loved the first Star Trek TV series. Yes, the special effects were a bit cheesy – and that does not only include William Shatner’s hairpiece – but it was also inspirational and lined out the challenges of a 1960s society groping to deal with the hard issues of racism and warfare; issues that plague us to this day.
The opening of the show also began with a statement – “space, the final frontier.” In the heady days of moon landings, it was. We added it eventually to the list of frontiers that man has conquered – land, sea and air. In the beginning of the 21st century, America is coming to grips with another new frontier – the final, final frontier of cyberspace.
It is surprising how vast the frontier is and how fast it is expanding. Like the other space, there seems to be no limits to its extent. Most of the 7 billion people on this planet could access it within a hundred miles of where they live. Most of the first world can access it within a hundred feet.
Anyone can, for example, order products, do their homework, research a topic or communicate instantaneously with anyone throughout the world. It is a wonderful tool for contact, commerce and communications. It is also a dangerous place filled with thieves, predators and terrorists. And, unlike previous frontiers, there are no borders and few rules. The cyber world is one without governments and limits.
Can We Really Protect the Homeland?
America’s government, dominant as a 20th century nation state, is still coming to grips with these dangers. And its actions, so far, have been a tangled mess. Like a fading sclerotic Britain in World War I, fighting machine warfare with Napoleonic tactics, we seem adrift in where we are and what we should do.
Like a good nation state, we have reacted with enough government policy papers and organizational realignments to sink a ship. These are honest efforts by honest and sincere people. However, our enemies in cyberspace are playing soccer while we are playing American football. They are nimble, small and speedy. We are large, slow and plodding. They are winning, so far.
So who is winning and what are they winning. Well, cyberspace is like the Wild West in the 1870s. It is nearly lawless and open to exploitation by almost anyone quick or savvy enough to lay a claim. And our main enemy of the 21st century – Islamic extremism – has found it as the perfect “asymmetric” weapon to use against us.
Fortunately for us, these extremists are a disorganized lot with various claims based on distortions of Islam and trying to settle an internal Muslim food fight based on a rejection of “modernism.” We just happen to be the leading proponents of that modernism.
Yet, endless blogs, websites and tweets spread their word. And they can reach out at any time to recruit the dissatisfied and those who wish or need to believe around the world. Recruits can be gained in Akron as well as Amman.
So what can a nation state like us to do to protect our government and our citizens in this new frontier? First, we can stop thinking like a nation state. We separate our strategies into protecting military and civilian government and oh that pesky private sector – you know, the other 80 percent of our economy. That has to stop.
Ultimately, this is about a new form of civil defense. A broad approach led (but not dominated) by Washington. It must include an aware citizenry that is warned and assisted by its government to protect it.
Second, we must also not be shy about attacking the sites from where the problems come. America must be willing to assert its power and hack and shut down sites and monitor the hell out of these places.
Third, we must continue to deliver a clear and consistent message about America and the benefits of its freedoms. We need voices on the Internet, voices that can counter the hates and wrong-headedness of our enemies. We need to encourage our friends and set up our own sites – plenty of sites – telling our story. We seem to be reluctant to engage in this kind of effort – consider it propaganda. Welcome to the new world and get over it.
We must not let ourselves be tangled up in our old think about the rules of land, sea and space. This is a new final frontier and boldness is our friend. Let’s not end up as the British in the early 20th century – old and outdone.