Federal Allies Recently, the Russia invasion of the Crimean peninsula utilized both conventional and cyber attacks. In your latest book Game Plan, you outline the potential threats against the U.S. economy and how Americans can be prepared to protect their savings and investments. In other words, what Americans see as the marketplace, our enemies now view as the battle space to include cyber economic attacks for a global economic war. You have written several books on the subject. Can you enlighten us on your federal agency meetings and what has been their response to the potential for economic warfare and cyber attacks?
Freeman It is important to understand that the critical issue is economic warfare and cyber is a powerful way to conduct that war. Without understanding that the war is economic, cyber becomes a catch-up battle with malware, viruses, and hacking—something for which you might install some good defensive software but not create a threat doctrine.
Most of my meetings have been with Defense and Intelligence agencies. Initially, the meetings were based on curiosity as the concept of economic warfare and financial terrorism was viewed as outside the mainstream of discussion. In one case, a group was convened to determine how offensive weapons could be deployed using financial strategies.
In most cases, after the meeting, there was a general acknowledgment of the threat but little willingness to address it. “It’s not in our lane,” was a common response. In other cases, there seemed to be a denial of the entire concept. “No one would be able to do that,” and “why would anyone harm our economy when they would be hurt in the process,” were typical responses. Since 2008, I have met with a dozen or so different Pentagon-related offices, top leadership (past or present) from three different intelligence agencies, various appropriators, Federally-funded research labs, and others.
Over time, with further revelations, however, the idea of economic attacks, especially cyber in nature have gained critical acceptance. I recall a meeting at the FBI, for example, where the whole idea of attacking our financial system was ridiculed. A couple of weeks later, the NASDAQ was hacked and it was acknowledged that the resources behind the breach leaned more to nation state that criminal organization. And, there have been directed threats by Putin against our markets and currency, the flash crashes, and other incidents that support my general thesis that the next war is economic with cyber weaponry. Then, there were the revelations from Juan Zarate in his book, Treasury’s War that acknowledged not only that we had developed economic weaponry to use against terrorists but also that we were vulnerable to a host of financial attacks.
Unfortunately, the problem remains that the broad issue of economic warfare and financial terrorism, despite its serious nature, doesn’t “belong” in any one location and may not reside anywhere. We are looking at cyber, but unless we see it in the context of economic warfare we won’t address it properly. Outgoing head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander acknowledged our vulnerability in a 60 Minutes interview (as excerpted from Forbes December 15, 2013):
“On the CBS program 60 Minutes tonight, National Security Agency (NSA) director Gen. Keith Alexander admitted that ‘a foreign national could impact and destroy a major portion of our financial system’ by placing a virus in our computer systems ‘and literally take down the U.S. economy’ if the virus was spread around … While mentioning known attacks by China, Deborah Plunkett, another NSA official spokesperson, told CBS: ‘Don’t be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intention to do just that,’ i.e. ‘literally take down the U.S. economy.’”
Federal Allies How big of an issue is cyber in comparison to all other concerns?
Freeman Our potential enemies have cyber as the #1 means of future warfare. That says something. It is likely that all future conflicts will have at least a cyber component. The risk is, with cyber or EMP or other attacks that Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima could be combined into a single event. There are sovereignty ending risks if the electric grid is wiped out, or the financial system completely collapses. Consider this from Wired Magazine in 2010:
“Cyberspace has become the fifth domain of warfare, after land, sea, air and space. Some scenarios imagine the almost instantaneous failure of the systems that keep the modern world turning. As computer networks collapse, factories and chemical plants explode, satellites spin out of control and the financial and power grids fail.”
The Russians used cyber attacks both in Georgia and more recently the Ukraine. China, Iran, and North Korea, and multiple terror groups/international criminal organizations have all developed sophisticated cyber units as a primary means of war fighting. They are testing and probing our systems daily.
Federal Allies The Defense Department named cyberspace a new domain of warfare in 2011. Today, U.S. Cyber Command, the services, and U.S. partners and allies are working together to make that inherently collaborative, adaptable environment a suitable place for military command and control. Which federal agencies are leaders on cyber?
Freeman DoD through Cyber Command and NSA and Homeland Security are key leaders, with significant cyber efforts at FBI and throughout the Intelligence Community. I am concerned, however, that the effort isn’t fully integrated as would be required to develop an economic war footing. It’s a little like pre-9/11 when anti-terrorism was split across a variety of efforts with little coordination or cooperation.
Federal Allies Which published government reports do you recommend would bolster our readers?
Freeman All of my work has been through existing contractors. I recommend my DoD reports, my books, and blogs with info at http://secretweapon.org.
Federal Allies As you look across the agencies, who is leading the most important initiatives underway?
Freeman From my limited vantage point, DoD has shown the most interest which is appropriate as this is an economic war with a cyber dimension.
Federal Allies What would you like to leave our readership thinking about?
Freeman I believe we are potentially facing a third World War fought primarily through economic means. Most prospective enemies of the United States would prefer not to match our kinetic weapon systems. But, they view our underlying strength coming from our economy and our economy appearing vulnerable. Unfortunately, our nation tends to prepare for the next war based on the weapons from the last war. This is a mistake. It is critical that we develop a complete economic warfare doctrine and build integration for key cyber efforts to that doctrine.
Federal Allies Thank you.
Read Federal Allies News March 2014 edition: Economic Warfare and the Use of Cyber. An in-depth interview of New York Times Best-Selling Author Kevin D. Freeman. www.FederalAllies.org Interview conducted at CPAC and online.
@FederalAllies Interview with Kevin Freeman (March, 2014 Issue): secretweapon.org/federal-allies… #GamePlan