Most of the laughter and consternation over Michele Bachmann’s statement about using nuclear weapons in response to a cyber attack centered on the notion of proportionate response. (The Department of Defence had issued the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report earlier in the week) The post from Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen is typical:
I appreciate the role a nuclear arsenal can play in serving as a deterrent against adversaries. But Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota may not appreciate the notion of a proportionate response.
“If in fact there is a nation who is compliant with all of the rules ahead of time and they’ve complied with the United Nations on nuclear proliferation, if they fire against the United States a biological weapon, a chemical weapon or maybe a cyber attack, well then we aren’t going to be firing back with nuclear weapons,” Bachmann said. “Doesn’t that make us all feel safe?”
“No!” shouted the crowd of thousands in Minneapolis.
There are obviously a lot of errors of fact and judgment in that quote, but that “maybe a cyber attack” is the part that stands out…
Few observers came as close to the source of my entertainment as Little Green Footballs in Michele Bachmann: Nuke the Internet:
. . .Many cyber attacks are perpetrated by distributed networks called “botnets,” consisting of thousands of computers infected with viruses that let them be used without the owner’s knowledge. Who the hell does Bachmann think she’s going to nuke?
If Michele Bachmann’s computer was part of a botnet that launched a cyber attack against American networks, would she nuke herself?
To me, the irony is more fundamental that that. The structure of the Internet is itself based on a theoretical model conceived by Paul Baran in response to the question of how to keep lines of communications between researchers robust in the aftermath of a nuclear strike. A collection of his research published by the Rand Corp notes:
While working at RAND on a scheme for U.S. telecommunications infrastructure to survive a “first strike,” Baran conceived of the Internet and digital packet switching, the Internet’s underlying data communications technology. His concepts are still employed today; just the terms are different. His seminal work first appeared in a series of RAND studies published between 1960 and 1962 and then finally in the tome “On Distributed Communications,” published in 1964.
Essentially, Baran suggested replacing centralized and decentralized communications systems with a distributed grid. Should one node be knocked out, another node and pathway would be used.
Thus, I wonder how effective it might be to nuke a node from which a cyber attack originated when other means might be more tactically wise. Rather than hurling a Minuteman or Trident, it seems more appropriate to email the nerd Marines.*
Image: Paul Baran’s conceptual drawings of centralized, decentralized and distributed networks.
*One of my young friends is in the nerd Marines, though he doesn’t share any details beyond that description with his family and acquaintances. And if my friend is any indicator, the nerd Marines are every bit as physically ripped and combat ready as the rest of the Corps–not a guy I would consider messing with, on or off the Internet.