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[ISN] Cyberwar Hysteria Aids Consultants, Hurts U.S.: Susan Crawford


By Susan Crawford
July 24, 2011

On Feb. 3, President Barack Obama and the entire West Wing lost access to e-mail for more than seven hours. A tree-trimmer had accidentally cut the lines running out of the White House data center. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer sent a bulletin via Twitter -- the only way he could get the news out, he said -- letting the world know that "Verizon is working to solve the problem."

A single, careless scissor snip had compromised the center of the most powerful government in the world. Staffers accustomed to constant, twitchy BlackBerry attachment were stopped in their tracks. "It felt like a snow day," one adviser told the Washington Post.

The federal government clearly has some housecleaning to do when it comes to running its own networks. Relying on a single data connection to ensure that the leader of the free world can communicate seems shortsighted. Redundant, competing backup systems would be better. Rather than focus on the shortcomings in its own electronic operations, though, the Obama administration -- spurred by vendors such as Booz Allen Hamilton -- is opening the door to centralized monitoring of any private communications in the name of increased security.

Familiar Bush administration politics of fear, as well as vendors' desires, are animating the current policy push. You can hear the drumbeat in communications from the defense and national security elements of the administration: William Lynn, deputy defense secretary, told the National Defense University earlier this month, "In the 21st century, bits and bytes can be as threatening as bullets and bombs."


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