In my posting Cyber Defense about six years ago I warned that, like the global disaster of World War I that the Powers That Be accidentally unleashed upon mankind more than 100 years ago, the current world powers may not fully understand what they have wrought with their large stockpiles of cyberweapons and cybersoldiers. Recall that the world powers that ran the world 100 years ago, just prior to World War I, did not recognize the game-changing effects of the mechanization of warfare. The development at the time of high volume rail systems, capable of quickly transporting large numbers of troops and munitions, and the invention of the machine gun, and the arrival of mechanized transport vehicles and tanks, greatly increased the killing power of nation-states. But this was not generally recognized by the Powers That Be prior to the catastrophe of World War I, which resulted in 40 million casualties and the deaths of 20 million people for apparently no particular reason at all. Similarly, it now seems that the first large-scale cyberattack by Russia upon the United States of America may have successfully elected a president of the United States, but in this posting I would like to propose that there may be some dreadful unintended consequences to this incredible Russian cybervictory that could leave even more dead in its wake. First of all, we should take note that this was not the first president of the United States that Russia managed to elect into office.
I was born in 1951 during the Korean War, and so I lived through all of the very tense Cold War events of the 1950s and 1960s, including the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, which brought us all closer to the prospect of a global nuclear war than we should ever have come, and so let us begin there. On Oct. 4, 1957, Sputnik 1 was successfully launched by the Soviet Union to become the world's very first man-made object to enter into Earth orbit, and was put into orbit by a Soviet R-7 rocket. Earlier in 1957 the Soviet R-7 rocket had become the world's very first functional ICBM missile after its successful 3,700 mile test flight on August 21, 1957. At the time, all of these Russian firsts threw the United States of America into a Cold War frenzy that is now hard to fathom, and had a huge impact upon the United States of America. For example, it built my high school and put me through college. Back in the 1950's, the School District 88 of the state of Illinois was having a hard time trying to convince the stingy local residents of the need for a new high school in the area. But that all changed in January of 1958, after the launch of Sputnik 1, when suddenly the local residents now eagerly voted in a referendum to build a new Willowbrook High School out of the fear that was generated by Sputnik 1, and of the demonstrable superiority of Russian missile technology at the time. Suddenly, Americans also now began to take science and education seriously once again, and for once finally began to hold science and education in the esteem that it actually deserved. For example, in 1969 when I first began work on a B.S. in physics at the University of Illinois, tuition was only $181 per semester, and I was easily able to put myself through college simply by cleaning movie theaters seven days a week during the summers at $2.25/hour. For my M.S. in geophysics at the University of Wisconsin, my tuition and fees were waived, and I received a generous stipend to live on while working as a research assistant, courtesy of a grant from the National Science Foundation. The end result of this was that, in 1975 when I finished school, I had $3000 in the bank, instead of the crushing student debt that most graduates now face, because the United States had not yet given up on supporting education, like it did after the Cold War seemed to have ended on December 25, 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight.
Figure 1 - The launch of Sputnik 1 by the Russians on October 4, 1957 on top of an R-7 ICBM rocket threw the United States of America into a Cold War panic that is now hard to imagine.
But the Russians did far more than that with Sputnik 1. They also managed to elect their very first president of the United States with it. Given the astounding success that the Soviets had had with Sputnik 1 and the R-7 ICBM in 1957, early in 1958 John F. Kennedy seized upon the issue as a "missile gap" with the Soviet Union that the Eisenhower Administration had failed to prevent. Now it turns out that by November of 1960 the "missile gap" had largely been closed in reality, but it still remained in the public zeitgeist of the time as a real issue, and it helped to elect John F. Kennedy to become president of the United States by a very narrow margin. Apparently, John F. Kennedy actually knew at the time that the "missile gap" was really a false myth, but just the same, used it as a useful political tool to help get elected. The Soviets, on the other hand, regarded Kennedy's "missile gap" and the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 as indications that Kennedy was a dangerous and weak leader who might cave into his more militaristic generals, like General Curtis LeMay, during a crisis and launch a nuclear first strike. The Soviet R-7 ICBMs actually required about 20 hours of preparation to launch, so the R-7 ICBMs were easy targets for conventional bombers to take out before they could be launched during a global nuclear war, and thus the R-7 ICBMs were actually less threatening than long-range bombers, like the B-52. All of this led the Soviet military planners to conclude that additional deterrence measures were in order, and as a consequence, plans were put into place to install medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba that were more accurate than the R-7. When these missiles were first discovered by American U-2 flights in September of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 soon followed. At the time, Kennedy's generals recommended an invasion of Cuba in response, but fortunately for all, Kennedy turned out to be a stronger leader than the Soviets had predicted, and Kennedy countered with a Cuban blockade instead, which allowed both sides enough time to come to their senses. There are now reports that, unknown to the United States at the time, the Soviet field commanders in Cuba had actually been given authority to launch the nuclear weapons under their control by the Soviet High Command in the event of an invasion, the only time such authority has ever been delegated by the Soviet High Command. The Soviet field commanders had at least twenty nuclear warheads on the medium-range R-12 Dvina ballistic missiles under their control that were capable of reaching cities in the United States, including Washington D.C., each carrying a one megaton warhead, and nine tactical nuclear missiles with smaller warheads. If the Soviet field commanders had launched their missiles, many millions of Americans would have been killed in the initial attack, and the ensuing retaliatory nuclear strike against the Soviet Union would have killed roughly one hundred million Russians. The final Soviet counter-attack would have killed a similar number of Americans.
But the above nuclear catastrophe did not happen because reasonable minds on both sides of the conflict always prevailed. In fact, all during the Cold War we had highly capable leaders in both the United States and the Soviet Union at all times, who always thought and behaved in a rational manner founded on sound logical grounds. Now during the Cold War, the United States may not have agreed with the Soviet Union on most things, but both sides always operated in a rational and logical manner, and that is what made the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) stalemate work, which prevented nuclear war from breaking out and ending it all. Additionally, the scientific community in the United States always respected those in the Russian scientific community for their brilliant scientific efforts, and this limited scientific dialog helped to keep open the political channels between both countries as well. In fact, I have always been amazed by the astounding Russian scientific achievements over the years that were made without the benefits of the freedom of thought that the 18th century Enlightenment had brought to the western democracies. Despite the limitations imposed upon the Russian scientific community by a series of political strongmen over many decades, they always managed to prevail in the long term. I am not so confident that the scientific communities of the western democracies could do as well under the thumbs of the Alt-Right strongmen that wish to come to power now.
So now thanks to Russian cyberwarfare, we now have a new president of the United States of very limited ability. It seems that the principal skill of this new president lies solely in making questionable real estate deals, but he has no experience with global political nuclear strategy whatsoever, and that is very dangerous for the United States and for Mother Russia as well. True, he does seem to unquestionably favor Russia, for some unknown reason, and that unknown favor is currently being investigated by the FBI and both houses of Congress. But those investigations will take quite some time to complete. Meanwhile, we now have a mentally unhinged leader of North Korea, a Stalinist holdover from the previous century, now rapidly moving towards obtaining ICBMs armed with nuclear warheads that could strike the United States. This has never happened before. We have never had potentially warring nation-states with nuclear weapons headed by administrations that had no idea of what they were doing with such weapons. This is not good for the world, or for Russia either. In the American 1988 vice-presidential debate between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quale there is a famous remark by Lloyd Bentsen, after Dan Quale made a vague analogy to himself and John F. Kennedy, that goes "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." And that certainly is true of the new president of the United States that Russian cyberwarriors helped to elect. Yes, he might seem to be overly friendly to Russian interests, but his administration has already stated that military actions might be required to prevent North Korea from obtaining an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear warhead that could strike the United States, and this new Administration has also wondered why we cannot use nuclear weapons if we already have them - otherwise, why build such weapons in the first place? An attack of North Korea could be the flashpoint that ignites a global nuclear war between the United States, North Korea and China, like the original Korean War of 1950. True, Russia itself might not get drawn into such a conflict, or maybe it would, based upon earlier precedents like World War I, but nonetheless, the resulting high levels of global radioactive fallout and nuclear winter effects resulting from a large-scale nuclear exchange would bring disaster to Russia as well.
Cyber Civil Defense - How to Build a Cyber Fallout Shelter Against External Influences
Now all during the 1950s and early 1960s, great attention was paid in the United States to the matter of civil defense against a possible nuclear strike by the Russians. During those times, the government of the United States essentially admitted that it could not defend the citizens of the United States from a Soviet bomber attack with nuclear weapons, and so it was up to the individual citizens of the United States to prepare for such a nuclear attack.
Figure 2 - During the 1950s, as a very young child, with the beginning of each new school year, I was given a pamphlet by my teacher describing how my father could build an inexpensive fallout shelter in our basement out of cinderblocks and 2x4s.
Figure 3 - But to me these cheap cinderblock fallout shelters always seemed a bit small for a family of 5, and my parents never bothered to build one because we lived only 25 miles from downtown Chicago.
Figure 4 - For the more affluent, more luxurious accommodations could be constructed for a price.
Figure 5 - But no matter what your socioeconomic level was at the time, all students in the 1950s participated in "duck and cover" drills for a possible Soviet nuclear attack.
Figure 6 - And if you were lucky enough to survive the initial flash and blast of a Russian nuclear weapon with your "duck and cover" maneuver, your school, and all other public buildings, also had a fallout shelter in the basement to help you get through the next two weeks, while the extremely radioactive nucleotides from the Russian nuclear weapons rapidly decayed away.
Unfortunately, living just 25 miles from downtown Chicago, the second largest city in the United States at the time, meant that the whole Chicagoland area was destined to be targeted by a multitude of overlapping 10 and 20 megaton bombs by the Soviet bomber force, meaning that I would be killed multiple times as my atoms were repeatedly vaporized and carried away in the winds of the Windy City.
Now all of these somber thoughts from the distant 1950s might sound a bit bleak, but they are the reason that I pay very little attention when I hear our Congressmen and Senators explain that we have to investigate this Russian meddling with our 2016 presidential election "so that this never happens again". But of course it will happen again because we largely did it to ourselves! The Russians, like all major foreign powers, simply exploited the deep political divide between the Democrats and Republicans in our country. This is nothing new. All major foreign powers throughout history have always sought to meddle in the internal political affairs of other countries, in order to advance their own interests. The United States of America has a long history of doing so, and rightly so! It is always far better to try to modify the ambitions of a possible adversary politically, rather than to do so later militarily. The only difference this time was that the Russians used the full capabilities of the world-wide software infrastructure that is already in place to further their ends, like another Sputnik first, in keeping with my contention that software is now rapidly becoming the dominant form of self-replicating information on the planet. Consequently, cyberspacetime is now the most valuable terrain, from a long-term strategic perspective, to be found on the planet, and once again, the Russians got there first. The Russians realized that, for less than the price of a single ICBM, they could essentially paralyze the United States of America for many years, or perhaps even an entire decade, by simply using the existing software infrastructure of the world to their advantage, and the great divide between the Democrats and Republicans.
Now as an 18th century liberal and a 20th century conservative, I must admit that I am a 20th century Republican who has only voted for Democrats for the past 15 years. I parted with the 21st century Republican Party in 2002 when it turned its back on science, and took up some other new policies that I did not favor. So over the past 45 years, there have been long stretches of time when I was a Republican, and long stretches of time when I was a Democrat, but at all times, I always tried to remain an American and hold the best thinkings of both parties dear to my heart. But the problem today is that most Republicans and most Democrats now view members of the other party as a greater threat to the United States of America than all of the other foreign powers in the world put together. This was the fundamental flaw in today's American society that the Russians exploited using our very own software! Hence, I would like to propose that since the government of the United States cannot really protect us from such a cyberattack in the future, like back in the 1950s, we need to institute a Civilian Cyber Civil Defense program of our own. In fact, this time it is much easier to do so because we do not need to physically build and stock a huge number of fallout shelters. All we need to do is to simply follow the directions on this official 1961 CONELRAD Nuclear Attack Message by not listening to false rumors or broadcasts spread by agents of the enemy:
which in today's divisive world simply means:
STOP BELIEVING THE STUPID THINGS YOU READ ON THE INTERNET!
In The Danger of Believing in Things I highlighted the dangers of not employing critical thought when evaluating assertions in our physical Universe, and the same goes for politics. In that posting, I explained that it is very dangerous to believe in things because that means you have turned off your faculty of critical thought, that hopefully, allows you to uncover attempts at deception by others. If you have ever purchased a new car, you know exactly what I am talking about. Instead, you should always approach things with some level of confidence that is less than 100%, and that confidence should always be based upon the evidence at hand. In fact, at an age of 65 years, I now have very little confidence in most forms of human thought beyond the sciences and mathematics. But in today's demented political world, most Americans are now mainly foaming at the mouth over the horrible thoughts and acts of the opposition party, and paying very little attention to the actions of the other foreign powers of the world. Since the 18th century European Enlightenment brought us democracies with the freedom of speech, we all need to recognize as responsible adults that it is impossible for our government to prevent foreign powers from exploiting that freedom by injecting "fake news" and false stories into the political debate. We must realize that, although the Russians are very intelligent and sophisticated people, they never fully benefited from the 18th century European Enlightenment and the freedoms that it brought, so we cannot retaliate in kind against Russia in its next election. So the only defense we have against another similar cyberattack by Russia, or some other foreign power during an election year, is to use the skepticism and critical thinking that science uses every day. As Carl Sagan used to say "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" . So in the course of the next election cycle, if you see on the Internet or cable network news, that the opposition candidate has been found to be running a child pornography ring out of a local pizza parlor in your city, stop and think. Most likely, you are being tricked by a foreign power into believing something that you already want to believe.
This may not be as easy as it first sounds because, although we all believe ourselves to be sophisticated, rational and open-minded individuals who only pay attention to accurate news accounts, we all do savor the latest piece of political gossip that we see about the opposition candidate, and are more likely to believe it, if it reconfirms our current worldview. In the April 2017 issue of Scientific American, Walter Quattrociocchi published a very interesting article, Inside the Echo Chamber, on this very subject. He showed that studies in Italy have found that instead of creating a "collective intelligence", the Internet has actually created a vast echo chamber of misinformation that has been dramatically amplified by social media software like Facebook and Twitter. The computational social scientists who study the viral spread of such misinformation on the Internet find that, frequently, users of social media software simply confine their Internet activities to websites that only feature similar misinformation that simply reconfirms their current distorted worldview. Worse yet, when confronted with debunking information, people were found to be 30% more likely to continue to read the same distorted misinformation that reaffirms their current worldview, rather than to reconsider their position. Clearly, a bit of memetics could be of help. Softwarephysics maintains that currently software is rapidly becoming the 5th wave of self-replicating information to come to predominance on the Earth, as it continues to form very strong parasitic/symbiotic relationships with the memes that currently rule the world - please see A Brief History of Self-Replicating Information for more on that. All memes soon learn that in order to survive and replicate they need to become appealing memes for the minds of the human DNA survival machines that replicate memes. Again, appealing memes are usually memes that appeal to the genes, and usually have something to do with power, status, wealth or sex. Consequently, most political debate also arises from the desire for power, status, wealth or sex too. The end result is that people like to hear what they like to hear because it reaffirms the worldview that seems to bring them power, status, wealth or sex. So the next time you run across some political memes that seem to make you very happy inside, be very skeptical. The more appealing the political memes appear to be, the less likely they are to be true.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To see all posts on softwarephysics in reverse order go to: