06/11/2013 10:40 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Having Perspective on Really Offensive Defense

"I don't want to live in a society that does these sorts of things"
-- Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower, on fleeing the United States

As you may have read by now, Edward Snowden is the person who leaked information about all the NSA electronic surveillance. Sure to be arrested, he quickly left the country.

And where did this man relocate to, who doesn't live in a society that electronically spies on its citizens and others?

He moved to China.

I'm still scratching my head on that one. If any nation on earth does more spying on its citizens and is involved in cyber-hacking than the United States, it's probably China. In fact, Chinese cyber-attacks on the United States have been so prominent in the headlines the past couple of weeks that it raised questions about the current talks between their president's visit to the U.S.

And so, he fled to Hong Kong??? Perhaps Mr. Snowden though that Hong Kong was still independent. But it's not, it was turned over to the Chinese quite a few years ago. It was in all the papers. Making his decision all the more questionable, the New York Times has reported that Hong Kong is "likely" to extradite him. You'd think that before you leaked some a major security document and left the country, you'd have checked first to see what other nations have a non-extradition policy with the United States.

None of this is to comment on whether his actions were noble or vibrantly illegal. Just questioning his decision-making policy towards himself.

By the way, not commenting on the leaks themselves, either, I have to say that I find the outrage -- while certainly understandable -- a bit overblown. After all, once the Bush Administration pushed its Patriot Act, and Congress quickly passed it, what in the world did people think would happen? Should any of this come as a surprise to anyone?

Yes, I know that the recent revelations go further than occurred during the Bush Years (or at least they go further than we're aware of), but I don't find the distance from the earlier FISA surveillance and warrantless wiretaps involving the phone companies light years apart, and think that they're the natural consequence. Again, this isn't to remotely defend them -- just to say, geez, what did you expect?!

Being upset about the surveillance is one thing (yet it's worth noting that a lot of people aren't upset about it), but being surprised by it is another matter entirely.

Similarly, there were additional headlines today from a related story in the Guardian, about a list of U.S. cybertargets. "Barack Obama has ordered his senior national security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for U.S. cyber-attacks, a top secret presidential directive obtained by the Guardian reveals."

This I find even less shocking. Who in the world thinks that the United States doesn't have lists of their enemies that they'd immediately attack should the situation arise? Not only "have lists" but have had lists since, perhaps, 1776. To me, this is like being shocked to discover a list that said Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran were our enemies and we had to protect ourselves against them and attack if we were under threat.

In fact, reading further, there are some actually comforting things in the revelation. For instance, the report says that the government will "identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power." (In other words, to use where cyberattacks are better than going to all-out war.) And the directive "specifies that no such domestic operations can be conducted without the prior order of the president, except in cases of emergency."

That said, the best quote in the article is this: "Obama's move to establish a potentially aggressive cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet."

Excuse me? "Increasing militarization of the internet"??? Why in the world does the author think the Internet was created?!!

From "A Brief History of the Internet," the very first sentence paragraph begins --

The Internet was the result of some visionary thinking by people in the early 1960s who saw great potential value in allowing computers to share information on research and development in scientific and military fields. J.C.R. Licklider of MIT first proposed a global network of computers in 1962, and moved over to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in late 1962 to head the work to develop it.

And DARPA? What is DARPA, you ask? Well, after noting that the "D" stands for Defense, let them explain themselves over on their website, (That ".mil" in their address should be a hint. It's short for "military.") They write --

DARPA was created in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The political and defense communities recognized the need for a high-level defense organization to formulate and execute R&D projects that would expand the frontiers of technology beyond the immediate and specific requirements of the Military Services and their laboratories.

So, "Increasing militarization of the internet" is either one of the most disingenuous phrases ever written, at best, or most ignorant, at worst. The Internet was created by the military. For the military. This doesn't defend misuse, but it lets oversight be done with a clear and open and honest eye.

To be clear, vigilance against abuse is utterly critical -- and always utterly critical. And there not only appears to be abuse, but that there has been specific cyber-abuse thanks to the Patriot Act for over a decade. Just that... I hope no one is shocked by it.


To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about other matters from politics, entertainment, technology, humor, sports, and a few things in between, visit Elisberg Industries.