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Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber…
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Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (2016)

by Fred Kaplan

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This is an excellent book, a very readable, veritable page-turner that details in clear, understandable terms, the technology, bureaucratic in-fighting, and events that have led us to where we are today, on the cusp of a revolution in surveillance, intelligence, and warfare.

It's almost a truism that generals fight the last war instead of the present one. That is certainly obvious from reading Kaplan's very disturbing history of cyber vulnerabilities in the United States. In spite of the efforts of numerous people in the CIA and NSA to alert the Defense establishment to their vulnerabilities, top ranking officers, for whatever reason, ignored the warnings or even misused the information they were given by the intelligence people or failed to take advantage of that information.

For example, during the first Iraq war, General Shwarzkopf was provided with the locations of the fiber optic switching locations that carried all the traffic between Saddam's headquarters and his army in Kuwait. Schwarzkopf was happy to bomb those installations, but when the transmission were replaced with microwave towers he bombed those, too, against the advice of the intelligence types who knew that microwave transmission were easily monitored via satellite and available for information harvesting.

Generally, the military establishment was very skeptical of charges their networks were insecure. Ironically, it was a movie, War Games, that motivated not just hundreds of hackers but also Ronald Reagan, who, after bringing in experts who assured him all that was possible, began a campaign to analyze networks. Repeatedly, the military had to be shown just how insecure the networks were. There was the inevitable overreaction by the NSA who wanted to install a chip (the Clipper chip) in every computer in the country that would monitor transmissions and provide a backdoor for the intelligence community to monitor everything. That failed, but thanks to Snowden, we know that it wasn't needed and the NSA is basically collecting every phone and message transmission in the U.S. close to 2 billion per day.

There was always tension between the NSA and technologists side and civilians. The NSA wanted "zero days" (holes open for exploitation in software) left open so they could exploit them, while those holes could be used by foreign governments and malicious hackers to wreck havoc on the civilian population: good for national security, bad for individuals. When Bush was elected in 2000, all the work of Richard Clarke and George Tenet was thrown out the window. Bush wanted nothing to do with Clinton initiatives or people so their warnings about Al Qaida were dismissed. Cheney and Bush were more interested in threats from Russia and Iran so they could build their missile defense system.

In the panic following 9/11, bureaucratic in-fighting for control of the money that was being thrown at terrorism went into overdrive. Verisign (the company that controls domain and registration web names) had analyzed web traffic and discovered that 80% of all the internet traffic in the world flowed through one of two major distribution points in the United States. The NSA realized that was a goldmine for information gathering and with the help of Mitch McConnell pushed through features of the Patriot Act that eventually permitted the NSA to "store" (collecting information on U.S. citizens without a warrant was illegal) virtually all the internet traffic in the world. The ramifications were enormous. If for example, an American citizen were to have phoned a number anywhere in the world that "might" have had terrorist connections, the NSA could go to a FISA court (all in secret) to get a warrant to track other calls plus calls made by others this person might have called and calls those people made, looking for "connections". Before you know it, that one call, which might even have been accidental, would result in collecting relationships of millions of Americans, thus completely subverting the prohibition against surveilling Americans.

One can only wonder at the immense power granted numerous federal agencies by the Patriot Act, which permits so much to be done in secret. When I was director of a college library, we were very concerned by one feature that pertained to libraries. The FBI could walk into the library, demand to see the patron records of anyone, and it was a federal crime not just to refuse, but also even to mention to anyone that they had asked for it. Fortunately, the library community designed its software to delete any trace of books that had been checked out. Having read Kaplan's book, I suspect now they wouldn't bother to ask as they have the capability to examine all the metadata of all the internet and phone traffic anywhere in the world.

One can only wonder how Trump, were he smart enough, might use such incredible power. Then again, if I were he, I would be very afraid of what those same agencies might have on him. J. Edgar Hoover is salivating in his grave ( )
  ecw0647 | Apr 26, 2019 |
While I was already familiar with some of the events and details the author addresses, on the whole I thought he did a good job with a complex subject. He chose major events on which to focus, focuses quite understandably a great deal on the NSA, and to one's horror, points out the massive intelligence failures our government and military have endured, in large part due to fractured and divisive goals between competing government factions. Even the vaunted Department of Homeland Security, created allegedly to act as the intel overseer, if you will, is scoffed at behind closed doors in this book by the true movers and shakers. It seems as though the military, with the civilian government following behind it, and somehow in the mess, the NSA, is finally getting its crap together and it's US industry that is failing Americans, the thinking being it's more cost effective to deal with a secretive clean up of a major breach than to implement hard edged security preparations that are only likely to be defeated by determined entities anyway. A theory that I find quite depressing while recognizing the attempt at pragmatism behind it. In any event, a decent book with a lot (but not enough) of information. Recommended. ( )
  scottcholstad | Jun 8, 2018 |
This is compelling book about a worldwide issue that's underreported, under addressed, and honestly terrifying. Governments have been hacking into their rivals' computers for decades but it's taken nearly as long for cyber attacks to be considered a genuine threat.

This also could have a real snoozer of a book, given the complexity of the topic. But Kaplan and the audiobook narrator (Malcolm Hillgartner) make it easier to understand than I expected. That said, I could probably gain even more insight (and recall of facts) by listening a second time. But maybe that's just me and my wandering attention span.

Kaplan lays out the bureaucratic infighting and ignorance that delayed the viability of both offensive and defensive cyber warfare. He explains the background and motivations of the major players, including Presidents since Reagan. In addition, he explains the vulnerabilities of commerce, power, government, and Internet systems on a national and international scale.

If I could wish for one thing, it would be to hear what he thinks of the developments in the years since the book's publication.

I highly recommend this for techies, political junkies, and regular folks. ( )
  TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
This was quite an interesting book. The Secret history of cyber war behind the scenes with the NSA, military officials, and government bigwigs says a lot. The overall undertone I picked up from the author is that the US officials took somewhat of a passive role in the response to the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure and cyber warfare. Then again we did launch the first digital weapon against Iran with their nuclear devices. It's a great book. Read it! ( )
  BenjaminThomas | Mar 16, 2018 |
Stunning. Horrific. Maybe we should switch back to IBM Selectrics ( )
  jefware | Oct 22, 2017 |
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It was Saturday, June 4, 1983, and President Ronald Reagan spent the day at Camp David, relaxing, reading some papers, then, after dinner, settling in, as he often did, to watch a movie.
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"As cyber-attacks dominate front-page news, as hackers displace terrorists on the list of global threats, and as top generals warn of a coming cyber war, few books are more timely and enlightening than Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, by Slate columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fred Kaplan. Kaplan probes the inner corridors of the National Security Agency, the beyond-top-secret cyber units in the Pentagon, the "information warfare" squads of the military services, and the national security debates in the White House, to tell this never-before-told story of the officers, policymakers, scientists, and spies who devised this new form of warfare and who have been planning--and (more often than people know) fighting--these wars for decades. From the 1991 Gulf War to conflicts in Haiti, Serbia, Syria, the former Soviet republics, Iraq, and Iran, where cyber warfare played a significant role, Dark Territory chronicles, in fascinating detail, a little-known past that shines an unsettling light on our future"--… (more)

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