Is Hacking an Act of War?

In Santa Cruz, CA at the Inauguration Day Parade, 2009

See that picture? It’s me, eight years ago, holding a sign that reads, “Dear Barack, Thank you for all your hard work. You had me at Hello.”

I’d been in love with Barack Obama, for years, since his election as an Illinois State Senator. His book, “Dreams from My Father,” spoke of a man who represented all the progressive values living within my then thirty-five year old heart. Yes, I know that to be a liberal is a dirty thing these days, but my progressive values are really very simple: that all humans have the right to live a meaningful life. This means they can find work that provides their most basic needs, healthcare to stay fit and well in the body, roads, heat, clean water and air, upon which to rest their dreams. The freedom for all, regardless of race, gender or creed, to pursue an education of the mind, spirit and soul. Bodily autonomy for women and the planet. And most of all, and end to war.

I don’t think this makes me insane, crazy or dirty, and in 2008, when I voted for Barack Obama to be our president, I thought that finally, for the first time in my adult life, there was a man who would carry those progressive dreams to the White House, and beyond.

Today, as he says goodbye and our first Twitter Troll president-elect gears up to take his place, I am heartbroken, for I was so wrong, so very wrong, about President Obama, and the world in which we live. There are so many ways in which a president can fail us, and he’s certainly not the first, but in my mind, the greatest failure is the increase in what I will call, “quiet” military engagement, namely in the form of drones and cyber warfare.

To be fair, neither of these things were invented by this administration, but the man ran on an anti-war platform. He was against the Iraq war and promised to end our military engagements overseas. Actually, he may have just said he’d bring our troops home, which he did for the most part, replacing them instead with drones and airstrikes that define any male over the age of eighteen a combatant, whether he’s carrying a gun or not. The war may have been started by Bush, but Obama took it to a whole new level. Last year alone, we dropped 26,171 bombs on the world!!!

Why? In our country, those on the right have mandated that NOT A SINGLE TAX DOLLAR go to funding abortions for the poor, because that’s killing God’s most vulnerable.

Is that brown man-child, on the brink of his adulthood, running for his life as the drone crosses his village not vulnerable? Is it because he loves Allah instead of Jesus that he’s not human? Why is his death important to our national security? How does it make anyone safer? Why in the world should I have to fund that, if the ACA doesn’t have to fund birth control pills? Are we still fighting the crusades?

I do not pledge myself to such dogmas and will not surrender my intellect to a religion. I am a human, in awe of this mystery of life that I share with every living thing on the planet, from the creeks, to the oceans, to the majestic trees in my yard, to the birds of the air, to the neighbor across the street and her brand new baby, to my own family and my sons, and their friends, lovers, and colleagues, and yes, each and every person, regardless of skin color, gender, or faith. That we can create life in so many various ways, just like the nature around us, astounds me. There is science to explain a lot of it, and yet there are great questions unanswered, perhaps unanswerable. Why then, in the middle of this great miracle, do we feel the need to slaughter one another, and the living world around us?

We kill and maim in the name of our Gods, our country, our belief that the West is so damn special, we’re willing to wipe out a planet, most of our animal species and any other human who doesn’t live the way we think they should. To me, this is suicide, and as President Obama leaves office, I wonder, if he couldn’t end this, perhaps no one can. Perhaps, this is the way the story ends, we continue to commit suicide by bombing our brothers and sisters in the name of something most of us don’t even believe in and then, one day, the crazy one hits the button and it’s over.

It’s no coincidence then that at the end of our Nobel Peace Prize winning president’s reign, we see that he has been at war longer than any other president, he has dropped more bombs, and under his watch has increased our own cyber weapon arsenal while also launching the first cyber weapon on Iran, Stuxnet.

Okay, technically this was also started by Bush as a way to avoid engaging in combat with yet another nation state. Rather than bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in Natanz, he opted to fund a project to figure out how to destroy the facility via computer networks. In 2007, Stuxnet officially launched and in 2010, was discovered and outed as its creators got fairly careless, or maybe desperate, with the propagation of the virus. If you want to read the whole story, I suggest picking up a copy of “Countdown to Zero Day,” by Kim Zetter.

This is relevant right now because as President Obama leaves office, the scandal of the president-elect and Russian hacking looms in every corner. Perhaps Trump won’t be sworn in? Perhaps we’ll be saved from the national embarrassment of such a man running our country? Perhaps those Russians have been convincing America to buy the Trump brand for five years? Perhaps they hacked our election?

The FBI claims they have proof that Russia did indeed work with Trump and hack the DNC servers. If this is true, Trump shouldn’t be president if he worked with them. If he didn’t directly work with them, then he’s one lucky dude and we all get to suffer him.

But is hacking a political party server hacking an election? We need to ask this because it matters. Did Russia infect our election machines and change votes or voter registration? Or did they merely collect embarrassing data and share it with the media? There is a difference between the two, for the former is a direct tampering with the will of the people and the latter is merely giving the people information with which to make their choices. It’s no different than what Super PACs do all the time. The citizens have the will to choose regardless of what they hear on TV.

More important, is the hacking of the DNC server an act of war?

Before we go jumping to conclusions that our government would never tamper in an election, everyone needs to take a step back and investigate further. The USA has been hacking foreign nationals for almost a decade, and they hack us back. Any defect in Microsoft Windows is a defect for anyone to exploit. A backdoor in a Programmable Logic Circuit (PLC) that we can use, they can use better. Take Stuxnet, when all was said and done, actual centrifuges were destroyed. It was real physical destruction.

We now have troops mounting in Poland. This is because Russia supposedly hacked the DNC server and released the information, all of which was truthful, to the public and the public thought that the DNC was corrupt and didn’t vote for Hillary. Oh, and the annexation of Crimea by Russia (things are always more complicated than they first appear).

So we stand on the brink of yet another war. Again I ask, why?

“The Russians messed with our election.” Okay, but the USA physically destroyed Iran’s nuclear power plant. “But Iran shouldn’t have a nuclear bomb.” Okay, but was our attempt to take out their facility an act of war? The attack destroyed actual infrastructure.

When is a cyberattack an act of war? Isn’t hacking into a foreign national computer to spy considered espionage? Do we go to war over acts of espionage?

Most people don’t think about these sorts of things, but I do. Yes, cyberattacks can be an act of war. They can also be acts of surveillance, spying and yes a means to influence an election. When do we consider it a first strike?

If we go to war with Russia over this, we set a new precedence. We agree that hacking into a computer is an act of war and worthy of death and retaliation on a nation’s citizens. Putin certainly won’t get hurt in the battle, but those on the border with Poland will. And if this is an act of war, then Stuxnet was certainly war against Iran, and they didn’t retaliate against us, nor Israel, who also worked on the project.

But then again, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear bomb, so I guess that makes them safe to bully via cyberattack all we want — until they finally enrich that uranium.

Russia has more than one nuclear bomb, and a military industrial complex that still rivals ours. And yes, they also stockpile cyberwarfare bombs, called malware. Just like us.

So here we are, and I feel a sense of disbelief. Eight years ago I thought the world had changed, that we were going to start a new era. Instead we’re fighting internally about whether or not a foreign nation affected our election by hacking our computers and lining up troops along their border, all the while dropping tens of thousands of bombs on their Middle Eastern neighbors and hacking the shit out of their systems on a daily basis.

It hurts, because I can see the possibilities of alternative narratives all around me. Technologies that will never come to pass, stories never told. Ways of life and cures beyond our wildest imaginations. But we can’t get there if we continue to kill and kill and kill. That future belongs to humans who have figured out the most basic thing…how to value the miracle of all life over the things we create.

Until then, we will remain here, in the space between.