11 June 2015

A Net Assessment of the Middle East

JUNE 9, 2015

The term "Middle East" has become enormously elastic. The name originated with the British Foreign Office in the 19th century. The British divided the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. It was a useful model for organizing the British Foreign Office and important for the region as well, since the British — and to a lesser extent the French — defined not only the names of the region but also the states that emerged in the Near and Far East.

Today, the term Middle East, to the extent that it means anything, refers to the Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore. With the exception of Turkey and Iran, the region is predominantly Arab and predominantly Muslim. Within this region, the British created political entities that were modeled on European nation-states. The British shaped the Arabian Peninsula, which had been inhabited by tribes forming complex coalitions, into Saudi Arabia, a state based on one of these tribes, the Sauds. The British also created Iraq and crafted Egypt into a united monarchy. Quite independent of the British, Turkey and Iran shaped themselves into secular nation-states.

This defined the two fault lines of the Middle East. The first was between European secularism and Islam. The Cold War, when the Soviets involved themselves deeply in the region, accelerated the formation of this fault line. One part of the region was secular, socialist and built around the military. Another part, particularly focused on the Arabian Peninsula, was Islamist, traditionalist and royalist. The latter was pro-Western in general, and the former — particularly the Arab parts — was pro-Soviet. It was more complex than this, of course, but this distinction gives us a reasonable framework.

The second fault line was between the states that had been created and the underlying reality of the region. The states in Europe generally conformed to the definition of nations in the 20th century. The states created by the Europeans in the Middle East did not. There was something at a lower level and at a higher level. At the lower level were the tribes, clans and ethnic groups that not only made up the invented states but also were divided by the borders. The higher level was broad religious loyalties to Islam and to the major movements of Islam, Shiism and Suniism that laid a transnational claim on loyalty. Add to this the pan-Arab movement initiated by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who argued that the Arab states should be united into a single Arab nation.

Any understanding of the Middle East must therefore begin with the creation of a new political geography after World War I that was superimposed on very different social and political realities and was an attempt to limit the authority of broader regional and ethnic groups. The solution that many states followed was to embrace secularism or traditionalism and use them as tools to manage both the subnational groupings and the claims of the broader religiosity. One unifying point was Israel, which all opposed. But even here it was more illusion than reality. The secular socialist states, such as Egypt and Syria, actively opposed Israel. The traditional royalist states, which were threatened by the secular socialists, saw an ally in Israel.
Aftershocks From the Soviet Collapse

Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting collapse of support for the secular socialist states, the power of the traditional royalties surged. This was not simply a question of money, although these states did have money. It was also a question of values. The socialist secularist movement lost its backing and its credibility. Movements such as Fatah, based on socialist secularism — and Soviet support — lost power relative to emerging groups that embraced the only ideology left: Islam. There were tremendous cross currents in this process, but one of the things to remember was that many of the socialist secular states that had begun with great promise continued to survive, albeit without the power of a promise of a new world. Rulers like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Bashar al Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein remained in place. Where the movement had once held promise even if its leaders were corrupt, after the Soviet Union fell, the movement was simply corrupt.

The collapse of the Soviet Union energized Islam, both because the mujahideen defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan and because the alternative to Islam was left in tatters. Moreover, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place in parallel with the last days of the Soviet Union. Both countries are remnants of British diplomacy. The United States, having inherited the British role in the region, intervened to protect another British invention — Saudi Arabia — and to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. From the Western standpoint, this was necessary to stabilize the region. If a regional hegemon emerged and went unchallenged, the consequences could pyramid. Desert Storm appeared to be a simple and logical operation combining the anti-Soviet coalition with Arab countries.

The experience of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan and the secular regimes' loss of legitimacy opened the door to two processes. In one, the subnational groupings in the region came to see the existing regimes as powerful but illegitimate. In the other, the events in Afghanistan brought the idea of a pan-Islamic resurrection back to the fore. And in the Sunni world, which won the war in Afghanistan, the dynamism of Shiite Iran — which had usurped the position of politico-military spokesman for radical Islam — made the impetus for action clear.

There were three problems. First, the radicals needed to cast pan-Islamism in a historical context. The context was the transnational caliphate, a single political entity that would abolish existing states and align political reality with Islam. The radicals reached back to the Christian Crusades for historical context, and the United States — seen as the major Christian power after its crusade in Kuwait — became the target. Second, the pan-Islamists needed to demonstrate that the United States was both vulnerable and the enemy of Islam. Third, they had to use the subnational groups in various countries to build coalitions to overthrow what were seen as corrupt Muslim regimes, in both the secular and the traditionalist worlds.

The result was al Qaeda and its campaign to force the United States to launch a crusade in the Islamic world. Al Qaeda wanted to do this by carrying out actions that demonstrated American vulnerability and compelled U.S. action. If the United States did not act, it would enhance the image of American weakness; if it did act, it would demonstrate it was a crusader hostile to Islam. U.S. action would, in turn, spark uprisings against corrupt and hypocritical Muslim states, sweep aside European-imposed borders and set the stage for uprisings. The key was to demonstrate the weakness of the regimes and their complicity with the Americans.

This led to 9/11. In the short run, it appeared that the operation had failed. The United States reacted massively to the attacks, but no uprising occurred in the region, no regimes were toppled, and many Muslim regimes collaborated with the Americans. During this time, the Americans were able to wage an aggressive war against al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. In this first phase, the United States succeeded. But in the second phase, the United States, in its desire to reshape Iraq and Afghanistan — and other countries — internally, became caught up in the subnational conflicts. The Americans got involved in creating tactical solutions rather than confronting the strategic problem, which was that waging the war was causing national institutions in the region to collapse.

In destroying al Qaeda, the Americans created a bigger problem in three parts: First, they unleashed the subnational groups. Second, where they fought they created a vacuum that they couldn't fill. Finally, in weakening the governments and empowering the subnational groups, they made a compelling argument for the caliphate as the only institution that could govern the Muslim world effectively and the only basis for resisting the United States and its allies. In other words, where al Qaeda failed to trigger a rising against corrupt governments, the United States managed to destroy or compromise a range of the same governments, opening the door to transnational Islam.

The Arab Spring was mistaken for a liberal democratic rising like 1989 in Eastern Europe. More than anything else, it was a rising by a pan-Islamic movement that largely failed to topple regimes and embroiled one, Syria, in a prolonged civil war. That conflict has a subnational component — various factions divided against each other that give the al Qaeda-derived Islamic State room to maneuver. It also provided a second impetus to the ideal of a caliphate. Not only were the pan-Islamists struggling against the American crusader, but they were fighting Shiite heretics — in service of the Sunni caliphate — as well. The Islamic State put into place the outcome that al Qaeda wanted in 2001, nearly 15 years later and, in addition to Syria and Iraq, with movements capable of sustained combat in other Islamic countries.
A New U.S. Strategy and Its Repercussions

Around this time, the United States was forced to change strategy. The Americans were capable of disrupting al Qaeda and destroying the Iraqi army. But the U.S. ability to occupy and pacify Iraq or Afghanistan was limited. The very factionalism that made it possible to achieve the first two goals made pacification impossible. Working with one group alienated another in an ongoing balancing act that left U.S. forces vulnerable to some faction motivated to wage war because of U.S. support for another. In Syria, where the secular government was confronting a range of secular and religious but not extremist forces, along with an emerging Islamic State, the Americans were unable to meld the factionalized non-Islamic State forces into a strategically effective force. Moreover, the United States could not make its peace with the al Assad government because of its repressive policies, and it was unable to confront the Islamic State with the forces available.

In a way, the center of the Middle East had been hollowed out and turned into a whirlpool of competing forces. Between the Lebanese and Iranian borders, the region had uncovered two things: First, it showed that the subnational forces were the actual reality of the region. Second, in obliterating the Syria-Iraq border, these forces and particularly the Islamic State had created a core element of the caliphate — a transnational power or, more precisely, one that transcended borders.

The American strategy became an infinitely more complex variation of President Ronald Reagan's policy in the 1980s: Allow the warring forces to war. The Islamic State turned the fight into a war on Shiite heresy and on established nation states. The region is surrounded by four major powers: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. Each has approached the situation differently. Each of these nations has internal factions, but each state has been able to act in spite of that. Put differently, three of them are non-Arab powers, and the one Arab power, Saudi Arabia, is perhaps the most concerned about internal threats.

For Iran, the danger of the Islamic State is that it would recreate an effective government in Baghdad that could threaten Iran again. Thus, Tehran has maintained support for the Iraqi Shiites and for the al Assad government, while trying to limit al Assad's power.

For Saudi Arabia, which has aligned with Sunni radical forces in the past, the Islamic State represents an existential threat. Its call for a transnational Islamic movement has the potential to resonate with Saudis from the Wahhabi tradition. The Saudis, along with some other Gulf Cooperation Council members and Jordan, are afraid of Islamic State transnationalism but also of Shiite power in Iraq and Syria. Riyadh needs to contain the Islamic State without conceding the ground to the Shiites.

For the Israelis, the situation has been simultaneously outstanding and terrifying. It has been outstanding because it has pitted Israel's enemies against each other. Al Assad's government has in the past supported Hezbollah against Israel. The Islamic State represents a long-term threat to Israel. So long as they fought, Israel's security would be enhanced. The problem is that in the end someone will win in Syria, and that force might be more dangerous than anything before it, particularly if the Islamic State ideology spreads to Palestine. Ultimately, al Assad is less dangerous than the Islamic State, which shows how bad the Israeli choice is in the long run.

It is the Turks — or at least the Turkish government that suffered a setback in the recently concluded parliamentary elections — who are the most difficult to understand. They are hostile to the al Assad government — so much so that they see the Islamic State as less of a threat. There are two ways to explain their view: One is that they expect the Islamic State to be defeated by the United States in the end and that involvement in Syria would stress the Turkish political system. The other is that they might be less averse than others in the region to the Islamic State's winning. While the Turkish government has vigorously denied such charges, rumors of support to at least some factions of the Islamic State have persisted, suspicions in Western capitals linger, and alleged shipments of weaponry to unknown parties in Syria by the Turkish intelligence organization were a dominant theme in Turkey's elections. This is incomprehensible, unless the Turks see the Islamic State as a movement that they can control in the end and that is paving the way for Turkish power in the region — or unless the Turks believe that a direct confrontation would lead to a backlash from the Islamic State in Turkey itself.
The Islamic State's Role in the Region

The Islamic State represents a logical continuation of al Qaeda, which triggered both a sense of Islamic power and shaped the United States into a threat to Islam. The Islamic State created a military and political framework to exploit the situation al Qaeda created. Its military operations have been impressive, ranging from the seizure of Mosul to the taking of Ramadi and Palmyra. Islamic State fighters' flexibility on the battlefield and ability to supply large numbers of forces in combat raises the question of where they got the resources and the training.

However, the bulk of Islamic State fighters are still trapped within their cauldron, surrounded by three hostile powers and an enigma. The hostile powers collaborate, but they also compete. The Israelis and the Saudis are talking. This is not new, but for both sides there is an urgency that wasn't there in the past. The Iranian nuclear program is less important to the Americans than collaboration with Iran against the Islamic State. And the Saudis and other Gulf countries have forged an air capability used in Yemen that might be used elsewhere if needed.

It is likely that the cauldron will hold, so long as the Saudis are able to sustain their internal political stability. But the Islamic State has already spread beyond the cauldron — operating in Libya, for example. Many assume that these forces are Islamic State in name only — franchises, if you will. But the Islamic State does not behave like al Qaeda. It explicitly wants to create a caliphate, and that wish should not be dismissed. At the very least, it is operating with the kind of centralized command and control, on the strategic level, that makes it far more effective than other non-state forces we have seen.

Secularism in the Muslim world appears to be in terminal retreat. The two levels of struggle within that world are, at the top, Sunni versus Shiite, and at the base, complex and interacting factions. The Western world accepted domination of the region from the Ottomans and exercised it for almost a century. Now, the leading Western power lacks the force to pacify the Islamic world. Pacifying a billion people is beyond anyone's capability. The Islamic State has taken al Qaeda's ideology and is attempting to institutionalize it. The surrounding nations have limited options and a limited desire to collaborate. The global power lacks the resources to both defeat the Islamic State and control the insurgency that would follow. Other nations, such as Russia, are alarmed by the Islamic State's spread among their own Muslim populations.

It is interesting to note that the fall of the Soviet Union set in motion the events we are seeing here. It is also interesting to note that the apparent defeat of al Qaeda opened the door for its logical successor, the Islamic State. The question at hand, then, is whether the four regional powers can and want to control the Islamic State. And at the heart of that question is the mystery of what Turkey has in mind, particularly as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power appears to be declining. 

Reprinting or republication of this report on websites is authorized by prominently displaying the following sentence, including the hyperlink to Stratfor, at the beginning or end of the report.

"A Net Assessment of the Middle East is republished with permission of Stratfor."

Very bad news often follows when adversaries give up on improved relations. We’re at this juncture now on the Subcontinent. High-ranking Indian and Pakistani officials are lobbing over-heated public recriminations about abetting terrorism in each other’s sensitive spaces. Pakistan has elevated the Kashmir issue – never a good sign for Pakistan or for India — and firing across the Kashmir divide has increased in recent years. Absent top-down initiatives to mend fences – initiatives that New Delhi appears unwilling to take and that Pakistan’s civilian government is handcuffed from taking – the stage will be set for another nuclear-tinged crisis in the region.

Increased firing across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir accompanied the advent of another Pakistani government led by Nawaz Sharif, who makes no secret of his desire to improve relations with India. Firing intensified after the election of a new Indian government led by Narendra Modi, who has made no secret about responding in more than tit-for-tat fashion to cease-fire violations.

Indian officials see bad omens in Pakistan’s release from polite confinement of Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi – the Lashkar e-Toiba’s operational commander who was deeply involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Intercepts of communications confirming Lakhvi’s role are publicly available, and copious evidence against Lakhvi provided by New Delhi was initially deemed inadmissible in Pakistani courts; his release was accompanied by statements blaming India for insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

Pakistani officials read bad omens in statements by senior Indian officials regarding a willingness to engage in “sub-conventional” warfare, if warranted by Rawalpindi’s actions. On January 5th, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval gave a talk in which he conveyed the message that, “You can do one Mumbai and you may lose Baluchistan.” Then, on January 13th, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, a neophyte in the art of public obfuscation, warned Pakistan against stepping up a proxy war in Kashmir: “There are certain things that I obviously cannot discuss here. But if there is any country, why only Pakistan, planning something against my country, we will definitely take some pro-active steps.” Parrikar used the the colloquial Hindi phrase for “removing a thorn using another thorn,” adding, “We have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists only. Why can’t we do it? We should do it. Why does my soldier have to do it?”

Hopes for improved relations generated by Modi’s invitation to Nawaz to attend his inauguration in May 2014 have now ebbed completely. Nawaz is in a bind. He has nothing to show for accepting Modi’s invitation. Civilian-led governments in Pakistan have been unable or unwilling to reciprocate India’s granting of Most Favored Nation trade status back in 1996. Pakistan understandably uses different terminology – non-discriminatory market access – which the previous government led by Asif Ali Zardari chose not to finalize, and which Nawaz is in no position to pursue. If he takes further initiatives and is left empty-handed, he will be in an untenable position back home. With Rawalpindi now signaling a hard line, this is out of the question.

Lakhvi’s release and Nawaz’s inability to push ahead on trade have reaffirmed New Delhi’s lack of interest in investing time and effort on improved relations. One of its key conditions for forward progress is tangible steps by Pakistan against the groups that target India. Statements by Doval and Parrikar have now allowed Pakistan to turn these tables, reverting to habitual themes about Indian subversion when bilateral relations take a turn for the worse.

A chorus of outrage has followed from the Foreign Ministry, government-inspired news accounts and opinion columns. The Chief of Army Staff has weighed in, decrying the actions of Indian intelligence services and clarifying that the fortunes of Pakistan and Kashmir are inseparable.

Modi has now entered the fray with remarks in Dhaka that, “Every now and then Pakistan keeps disturbing India, creates nuisance, promotes terrorism and such incidents keep recurring.” Modi was there to sign a long-delayed border settlement. The contrast between New Delhi’s commitment to improve relations with Bangladesh and its lack of interest in improving ties with Pakistan could not be starker.

The blame games now underway mask an important shift in the dynamics of deterrence on the Subcontinent. New Delhi’s hand has been strengthened and Rawalpindi’s efforts to shore up deterrence by means of a nuclear buildup are being circumvented. Back in October, 2014,Doval reportedly said, “We would like to resolve our problems through negotiations, through talks. I can’t think of any problem that cannot be resolved through negotiations. But on the other hand, India would like to have an effective deterrence to deal with terrorism.” The January statements by Doval and Parrikar suggest that the Modi government has landed on a strategy of sending deterrent messages in the coinage Rawalpindi understands best.

As the stronger power, India only loses by making nuclear threats, while threatening to respond to severe provocations with conventional military thrusts into Pakistan offer headache without gain — which is why the Indian Army’s interest in “Cold Start” lost traction. Doval and Parrikar are telegraphing a different Indian response if Rawalpindi turns up the heat in Kashmir or if the LeT carries out another spectacular act of terrorism within India. New Delhi can respond in Baluchistan or exploit other internal security problems in Pakistan, of which there are many. And as with the firing along the LoC, New Delhi can respond twofold to whatever cuts Rawalpindi inflicts.

Rawalpindi has been counting on a deterrence strategy that threatens first use if conventional capabilities are not up to the task. First use includes the detonation of short-range, or tactical, nuclear weapons against Indian troop concentrations and armor. New Delhi has studiously underplayed this threat; Rawalpindi can build as many tactical nuclear weapons as it likes and still not be able to use them against a strategy of fighting fire with fire — one that the previous Congress Party-led government was loathe to pursue.

New Delhi’s recent deterrent messages are far more convincing than beefing up conventional or nuclear forces, which is why Pakistan has reacted so vigorously against them. It knows that India’s leaders will seek to avoid using nuclear weapons and that New Delhi has backed away from threats to fight a limited ground war on Pakistani soil in the past. In contrast, India’s amped-up deterrent threats of proxy or sub-conventional warfare are credible because Pakistani leaders assume that India is already swimming in these waters.

Pakistan blames India for the widespread disaffection in Baluchistan, where its own military actions have sown disaffection, just as Indian military forces’ have in Kashmir. New Delhi has been able to handle everything Rawalpindi has thrown at it in Kashmir. Can Rawalpindi do the same in Baluchistan? China’s newly-announced, high-profile infrastructure corridor will pass through this province, where gas lines are periodically blown up and where Rawalpindi is raising a special security contingent for Chinese workers.

The hullaballoo in Pakistan over Doval and Parrikar’s statements is partly contrived, since the context and conditionality of these threats have been conveniently disregarded. But Pakistan’s concerns are very real, since hopes for the country’s economic future rest on Chinese investment through this corridor.

Deterrent messages can help avoid limited wars on the Subcontinent, but they cannot improve India-Pakistan relations. Diplomatic initiatives are required for this purpose. Once the sting of Lakhvi’s release subsides, New Delhi will be well-positioned to shift gears. No one’s interests are served by concurrent proxy campaigns in Kashmir and Baluchistan, so new deterrent threats could serve a useful purpose. But what then? It has been seven years since the Mumbai attacks. How much time needs to pass before resuming the composite dialogue?

Updating an ancient tactic, Islamic State militants — as well as rebels in Syria — are digging virtually undetectable tunnels, then planting bombs to blow up buildings and other targets.

The tunnel bomb, a deadly modern riff on an ancient tactic, is emerging as a potent new weapon. Several dozen have been detonated in Syria, while ISIS used them to take the Iraqi city of Ramadi, according to Pentagon officials and documents.

Marcus Weisgerber is the global business reporter for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for nearly a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of ...Full Bio

The concept is simple: dig a tunnel long enough to reach under your target, emplace explosives, and hit the detonator. Altogether, at least 45 such bombs have exploded in the past two years in the two countries, according toJIEDDO, the Pentagon organization that seeks ways to defeat improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Most have been in Syria, but U.S. officials say ISISis building “a network of bunkers, trenches and tunnels” in Iraq.

“This below the surface attack is particularly destructive to buildings and is appearing increasingly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria,” a recent JIEDDObriefing says.

Tunnels have been used for some time by Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza, generally as passages to smuggle weapons and launch dismounted attacks against Israel. Now their use is spreading, and extending to direct attacks.

In general, tunnel bombs are being used against military checkpoints, buildings and other protected facilities. Short tunnels can be dug in less than 30 days, while longer ones — up to a mile long — take as many as nine months, according to JIEDDO.

“The use of tunnels for IEDs and other purposes will continue to provide a low risk strategic advantage to extremist organizations and therefore requires continued development efforts and fielding of effective mitigation techniques,”JIEDDO says.

Since this type of attack is so effective and destructive, ISISfrequently posts videos of the explosions on YouTube and propaganda websites. The videos show buildings collapsing as massive plumes of smoke and debris fly hundreds of feet into the air.

“As part of an information operations campaign, these attacks are documented and widely proliferated via social media which increases the likelihood of migration to other conflict areas or adoption by other extremist organizations on a worldwide basis,” JIEDDO says.

In Syria, rebels have used tunnels bombs to attack government forces under the control of Bashar al-Assad. Many of these tunnels were dug with hand tools to avoid detection.

In Iraq, ISIS used tunnel attacks to devastating effect in their assault on Ramadi. On March 11, ISIS forces detonated a tunnel bomb under an Iraqi army headquarters, killing an estimated 22 people. The blast consumed seven tons of explosives in an 800-foot long tunnel that took two months to dig, according to the JIEDDO briefing. On March 15, a second tunnel bomb was used to attack Iraqi Security Forces. The city fell two months later.

Beyond bombs, ISIS is believed to be using tunnels to move weapons and avoid detection by American and ally fighter jets and drones. (ISIS may even be exploiting Saddam Hussein’s own tunnel network, which is thought to stretch for 60 miles between palaces, military strongholds, and houses. During theU.S. invasion in 2003, Saddam’s forces used these tunnels to move weapons and as hideouts.)

To find these subterranean passageways, JIEDDO has been seeking help from the scientific community and the oil and gas industry, both of which use specialized equipment and seismic devices to see underground. Some of this technology can be adapted for military use, Col. Timothy Frambes, JIEDDO’s director of strategy, plans and policy, said in an interview Monday. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s the quickest, best technological solution that we can help provide the most complete situational awareness picture of the operating space,” Frambes said.

The work also builds on JIEDDO’s decade-long effort to develop aircraft- and vehicle-mounted sensors that can detect bombs buried in roadways. “The enemy knows that,” Frambes said. “So he has found a way to go subterranean in order to deliver either an explosive charge or just to transit a line of communication.”

The Pentagon is also hoping to learn lessons from Israel, which has sought ways to counter Hamas tunnels in Gaza. That notion is backed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who introduced an amendment to the 2016 defense authorization bill that calls for the U.S. to work with Israel on the tunnel problem. The legislation would allow the U.S.“to carry out research, development, test and evaluation on a joint basis with Israel to establish anti-tunneling defense capabilities to detect, map and neutralize underground tunnels into and directed at the territory of Israel.”

A Senate aide said such jointly developed technology could protect battlefield bases and embassies — or even the U.S.frontier. Anti-tunnel work at a site in northern Israel has similar topography to the U.S.-Mexico border, the staffer said.

“Whether it’s criminals smuggling people and drugs into theU.S. under our southern border, or terrorists sneaking into Israel to conduct attacks, tunnels present a serious national security threat to our two countries,” Ayotte said in a statement

The Islamic StateUnited NationsU.S. MilitaryOsama bin LadenPeace Channel

The U.S. Government – and the Next President – Needs to Take Cybersecurity Seriously

The latest Chinese hack proves the danger of cyberwarfare. But more can be done to bolster American security, while strengthening privacy protections.

The U.S. Government – and the Next President – Needs to Take Cybersecurity Seriously 

Last week, we learned of a massive cyberattack on U.S. government data. Likely emanating from China, the attack has compromised the personal information of 4 million current and former federal employees. This security breach might be the most significant yet to take place in our country, but it won’t be the last. It signals the urgent need to advance a new agenda to improve our nation’s cybersecurity.

In the face of increasingly dangerous cyberattacks, it is imperative that we overcome gridlock in Washington. The Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill that seeks to improve public-private information sharing to reduce cyberthreats, has stalled in the Senate. After making changes to protect consumer data and ensure the appropriate level of legal protection for companies, Congress should pass this legislation.

Time is of the essence. Cyberattacks around the world are on the rise, jumping nearly 50 percent last year. The software security firm McAfee estimates that cybercrime robs the global economy of more than $400 billion each year. And that same report estimated that cybercrime could cost as many as 200,000 American jobs due to stolen intellectual property and lost exports. When hackers attacked the American retail chain Target last year, they stole data from an astonishing 110 million shoppers — roughly one in three Americans. The thieves then sold the information for more than $50 million on the black market. They committed these crimes all without stepping away from their computers.

Cyberattacks threaten not just Americans’ privacy, personal credit information, and intellectual property but also military operations and national security intelligence. For centuries, nation-states sought to protect themselves from attacks by land and sea. With the invention of human flight, nations also had to protect themselves from air attacks. Now, in the hyper-connected information age, we must understand how to better defend ourselves — and our economy — from attacks carried out through the Internet. Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called cyberattacks “the single biggest existential threat that’s out there” because of their ability to shut down our infrastructure and transportation systems, including our air traffic control system.

A new agenda is urgently needed to improve our nation’s cybersecurity.

First, unlike the military’s command-and-control approach to past defense challenges, this new threat will require a collaborative and networked approach across public and private sectors. The data that cyberattacks target do not reside completely in one sector or another. We need to ensure that privacy issues are directly and adequately addressed in order to build the trust necessary for businesses and other organizations to work with the government on the safeguards we need to protect both.

Second, greater security requires greater investment. Investing more resources in cybersecurity is an economic and national security priority. Our servers, information networks, and personal devices now exist on digital battlefields, with real-world consequences. Without sustained effort and bold ideas, our entire society will remain vulnerable to more destructive attacks, threatening our national security and robbing us of our privacy and precious intellectual property — the lifeblood of future American jobs.

Third, we need to understand that every segment of government has a role to play. As co-chair of the Council of Governors, which Congress created to better coordinate defense and homeland security issues, I worked with the secretary of defense and the secretary of homeland security to expand cybersecurity capabilities at the state level. We pushed for every state’s National Guard to develop cybersecurity units, which could be established quickly and affordably, and tap the skill sets of civilians. The federal government should support these efforts with financial and technical assistance to help states fulfill their commitments to strengthen cybersecurity.

In Maryland, we did just that, making investments in cybersecurity that continue to pay dividends. We launched CyberMaryland, an initiative to attract and convene new cybersecurity firms. We targeted more than 40,000 state employees for cybersecurity training and conducted vulnerability assessments to test resilience to attacks. We also created a cybersecurity tax credit and launched a program to train 1,000 workers for the industry. The results speak for themselves: Our efforts grew jobs and helped Maryland become the No. 1 state in America for innovation and entrepreneurship according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Maryland’s record of achievement on cybersecurity issues provides a path forward for the nation. Our digital information and networks are critical to our economic might and national security. We should treat them like the precious resources that they are.

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