August 25th, 2006

Voted for Dean

The state of the art in insane paranoia.

Robert Anton Wilson, perhaps the greatest expert on conspiracy theory who ever lived, defined paranoia as "the delusion that your enemies are competent." Apparently, when they feel like they're under constant unfair attack, like everybody is piling on, the leaders of both parties are vulnerable to the delusion that it's all part of a single, unified scheme -- that everybody who's attacking them is following orders from some shadowy cabal. But at least when the Clintons went all bug-eyed nuts about a glorified zine-hack named Richard Mellon Skaife and (as Hillary openly called it) his "vast right-wing conspiracy"? They didn't spend vast sums of money and tie up hundreds of security experts wargaming it.

Back in February, there was a brief headline buried in most newspapers that the US government's Department of Homeland Security had just completed a wargaming exercise called Cyber Storm. They told us that they had hired experts to walk everybody through a simulated campaign of attacks aimed at collapsing the US economy through cyber-terrorism, a vast and organized group of hackers. Having attended an invitation-only hacker convention once, I had a good laugh at the idea of "organized hackers." Heck, until I lost it I was one of the hundreds of people who used to carry a "Legion of Doom" membership card in my wallet, just for amusement's sake. The actual Legion of Doom, one of the biggest and most successful hacker collectives in history, probably numbered fewer than six real members -- not one of whom would have coordinated anything with any of the others for a single second, nor any one of which could have given an actual order and expected it to be obeyed by anyone, let alone a whole army. But, I admit, that was then. Here in 2006, mafiosi from at least two continents are paying organized networks of world-wide "hackers" (a few programmers and hundreds of "script-kiddies") tens of thousands of dollars each to maintain the "zombie bot-nets" that provide the horsepower to run the unsolicited commercial email (spam) industry. The expenses involved are low enough that I could more or less imagine some government being able to hire a few programmers and a similarly large number of script kiddies. So, although they didn't say who the enemy was supposed to have been in the Cyber Storm exercise, I took it for granted that they were wargaming a multi-stage cyber-terrorist attack by North Korea, or maybe Iran or China. So imagine my surprise when somebody sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get more details and we found out who the government is really terrified of:

Liberals.

I kid thee not. According to a PowerPoint presentation that's working its way around the web, they assume that the same anarchists who disrupted the Seattle anti-globalization protests are actually in a position to give orders to, and be obeyed by, virtually everybody on the Left. The scenario assumed that on orders from the ex-Earth-First!er "black block" of the anti-globalization activist community (a group that hasn't actually existed, in any kind of coherent form, for almost five years), every liberal activist group from pacifists like Food Not Bombs to arsonists for the Earth Liberation Front to anarcho-hippy hackers like the Deceptive Duo would drop everything and each carry out their assigned attacks, ranging from denial of service hacks to massive riots to disruption of the Internet's main address servers to barricades of important government facilities to mass arson to publication of stolen government secrets, and that they could all be coordinated so that 800 distinct attacks would happen in the most efficient possible sequence in the same five-day span.

That's right, the Department of Homeland Security actually thinks that this could happen. Not only that, they think that the risk of this happening is so great that it deserves the same kind of international coordination of law enforcement, and the same resources to simulate and train for, that they put into preventing nuclear, chemical, biological, or explosive attacks on civilians, aircraft, and government facilities. That's why they spent who knows how many dollars (certainly tens of thousands, perhaps much more) to bring together 300 experts and managers representing 115 agencies or companies from 5 countries on 3 continents that they considered "likely" to come under attack by liberals, to make sure they were prepared to deal with it when it happens. (We will let it pass that the deadliest terrorist attack on a government building in the history of the country was by a conservative, associated with right-wing militias.)

On the eve of the 2004 elections, predicting the Republican rout that happened the next day, I said, "the next local Republican who whines to me about how oppressed they are by liberals will get called a simpering idiotic crybaby to his face." I rattled off the whole list, showing that there isn't a single remaining important part of the government that Democrats, even conservative Democrats let alone actual liberals, would have majority control over, and asked, "Conservatives, how badly do we have to lose, by what whopping margin do you have to win, before you no longer feel threatened by liberals?" I suppose, given how the Department of Homeland Security allocates its money and manpower during a foreign war, we now know the answer: 100.00%. If there is even one person left in the whole world who disagrees with them, they can never feel safe until that person is incarcerated or killed. That somehow combines the worst features of paranoid psychosis with the most gutless, spineless cowardice in the history of the planet. The resulting spectacle is nothing less than breathtaking.