Over the past few years, the United States has suffered countless cyberattacks. Some disable government agency sites, others shut down bank websites, ATMs, and other services. Others try to steal personal information that can be used for all kinds of fraud. And still other attackers simply want to cause mischief. For example, today the Assad backing "Syrian Electronic Army" shut down the Washington Post.
Business shells out a fortune to deal with cyberattacks, over $388 billion in 2011. And the expanding problems that come with it will increase as well. At some point, some system will shut down that is not just a nuisance for a business' customers, or readers of an online paper.
Some experts believe that pretty soon, people will die. McAfee Labs experts told CNN last January that nation-states will increasingly sponsor and suffer from cyberwarfare. And at some point, people will actually die as a result. That could push the online cold war into a hot phase fairly quickly.
China, Syria, Iran, among others are suspected of launching attacks. And the United States and Israel have initiated skirmishes of their own. According to an Associated Press account from last spring, the Pentagon has assembled 13 separate teams to battle the threat.
I am wondering if the 13 different Defense Department created teams are capable on their own of engaging in this kind of warfare. Obviously they should be a part of it, especially because experts predict that military forces themselves will be targets.
But here's an idea. Bring back the Office of Strategic Services.
The OSS is the precursor of today's CIA. It wasn't the father or the grandfather as much as the crazy uncle of today's buttoned down intelligence bureaucracy. The OSS was established by Franklin Roosevelt in the early stage of World War II. He appointed noted Republican, William "Wild Bill" Donovan, who would eventually earn the rank of general.
Donovan believed in hiring the most talented people possible, regardless of background. He also never saw an idea not worth looking into. Famous playwrights and chefs served in the OSS, including Julia Child. Some ideas were simply awful, such as assembling a collection of German pornography to drop on the Reichschancellory in hopes of driving Hitler insane. Army Air Force chiefs responded that they preferred to bomb the place and kill the Fuehrer, if possible.
On the other hand, the OSS built up guerrilla movements (okay, one of them was Ho Chih Minh), undermined Vichy French control of North Africa, established contact with the head of German military intelligence, and did a fairly credible job. After all, they did start from scratch.
The OSS was famous, or infamous, for a freewheeling style. It was the home of the "so crazy it just might work" mode of operation. James Bond, with his panache and gadgetry, resembled more the agent of OSS than the MI 6 of today.
It would not work to bring back the OSS for its tangible world work in intelligence gathering and operations. We actually have too many different bureaus and organizations scrounging around. A new OSS would scour the country for top talent and channel it towards cyberwarfare, both defense and attack.
A new organization is necessary because it needs an organizational culture all its own. It may need to recruit individuals who have had parking tickets, are less than physically fit, may have consumed drygs at some point, etc. America's cyberenemies come from regimented and strictly authoritarian systems. The best way to drive them cyber crazy is to gather a freewheeling group together to foil it.
This means foiling attacks and launching our own. Find creative ways to apply Sun Tzu to the online world.
Not that previous efforts by the US been without effectiveness or creativity. When a virus shut down Iranian nuclear computers to the tune of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," that was a nice touch.
Anyway, cyberwarfare is real and it is a growing threat. It is only a matter of time before the cyber version of Pearl Harbor strikes, People will get hurt or killed. We must be ready to attack, defend, or quickly rebuild. And have the flexibility to innovate on the fly.