As if any further proof were needed that cybersecurity has become a mainstream political concern, look no further than the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Cyber ShockWave project:
From the phone in your pocket to the military’s most sophisticated weapons system, cyber espionage and computer hacking represent an economic and national security threat to every American.
What will happen when Cyber threats strike?
The Bipartisan Policy Center has created Cyber ShockWave, a simulated cyber attack on our nation. To defend against this attack, a working group of high-ranking former White House, Cabinet and national security officials will come together. Their mission: to advise the President as the nation grapples with this crisis.
War games, war games, ten-a-penny. But that’s not the full story, as Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic reveals:
On February 16, at about 10:00 am ET, the US will be hit by a massive, crippling cyber attack from an unknown entity. Key players will convene in the White House situation room and plan the response, from mitigation to (possibly) retaliation. It’ll be live on television – GNN.
I think that’s meant to be CNN, which ‘has agreed to record the event for broadcast later in the week’, although I suppose it could be AOL’s Good News Now (GNN) site, or something else I’m too dim to be aware of. I genuinely don’t know. [Update: in the comments, Jeff says that GNN is most likely the exercise's simulated media network. CNN broadcasts would come later. I agree with him.]
Those familiar with James Der Derian will see the MIME-NET at work. All the key sectors of the ‘military-industrial-media-entertainment network’ are represented here. Players include former members of the NSA, DHS, Attorney General, State, White House, DNI, NEC and Defense. The event is sponsored by a combination of industry (General Dynamics, Paypal) and academia (Georgetown University). The whole thing is packaged as entertainment (infotainment?) and disseminated by various media (including this blog now, of course).
Baudrillard would be cackling at the layers of simulation. Wargaming disturbed him enough. A virtual war being simulated is grist enough to his particular mill. Running one ‘live’ on television adds a whole new complexity. The fact that it will undoubtedly be edited for public consumption (citing ‘national security concerns’ for added frisson, I bet) makes the boundaries between simulation and dissimulation all the more difficult to discern. Semioticians, run riot!
This is unequivocally political, as if last November’s CBS 60 Minutes wasn’t FUD enough. The only way to get to the people (and President, perhaps?) is to wargame something really serious on TV. It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not – whatever those terms mean – especially as people are already getting pissy about the ‘US to Be Hit By Massive Cyber Attack’ headline at The Atlantic.
Without meaning to sound deterministic, I guess this media exercise was somewhat inevitable. I very much doubt we, the viewers, will learn much from it about US response and capabilities in the cyber field, but that’s not the point of it. Those of particularly sensitive dispositions can add ‘Google Pwned!!’ to the handwritten list of ‘Really Existential Threats’ stuck to their fridge door, and lobbyists can capitalise by prodding jittery politicians into thinking a bit more seriously about federal budgets. Because one thing’s for sure, this Cyber ShockWave exercise might be entertainment, but it’s not being played for laughs.