The Security State

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
15 May, 2018
Editorial: 202
Fecha de publicación original: 15 febrero, 2000

Scratch your leg when your your head aches

Things change so fast on the Internet that sometimes they don’t give one time to write about what one wants. I’m supposed to be following up on the subject of the relationship between the local and the global in new businesses on the Net. And we will deal with this in editorials to come, if events allow. However, last week’s attack on servers like Yahoo!, CNN,, eBay,, E-Trade, ZD-Net and others along the way, has generated such a lot of juicy comments that I can’t resist the temptation of sinking my teeth into it. For a start the news, as is often the case in events of this nature, has been confused by tons and tons of technical jargon in the media. Subsequently, getting into murkier waters, the FBI has not only been party to privileged information on the affair but also turned the event into a successful pedagogical exercise on evil deeds committed on the Net. Just as though Mr J. Edgar Hoover had never existed and the world started just two days ago.

In 48 hours we have heard all about what 15 year old kids can do, always other people’s 15 year olds, because the ones we know would be incapable of launching a massive attack of the kind which involved hundreds and thousands of computers at the same time. But anyway, we have to admit that such a thing is within reach of any bright spark and that we are the dummies. The basic conclusion then, is that the Net is not a safe place and that, moreover, it’s full of “holes”. Not bad, eh? One’s answer to this could be “And about time too!”. It has taken us several thousands of years to suspect that technology is not perfect, despite the numerous daily reminders we get.

As the ineffable Hercule Poirot used to say, to unravel a crime one has to ask who benefits from it. For the time being the only people to have filled their pockets this time have been the FBI. Clinton has asked for 37 million to be granted to its computer crime division. Peanuts, compared to the 2,000 million the White House has assigned to the “protection of US computer networks and e-mail”, via a law which curiously enough is being debated in Congress at the moment. Everything points to the fact that one of the professions with the best prospects is going to be cyberpolicing and those involved in what we could call “direct marketing” to promote it.

Those most interested, among others, could be security agencies, such as the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency or the three branches of the Army. At least the professional association among them has always worked very well in the past and, in the US, it has a long tradition. Since the Net came out of its shell at the beginning of this decade, the Defence Department, the White House and everything in between, have not stopped insisting that the country faced serious risks given the way things were going, and it’s worth mentioning here that by this they meant the Information Society, and that something had to be done about it. Lately that has meant making e-commerce safe. However, previously it took different forms: chips for examining all electronic transactions, the registering of passwords being watched by the FBI, limitations on the sales of encryption systems, etc. Of course, each of these administrative proposals meant limiting civil rights or more control over people’s activities. At the same time, each have enjoyed their own “cyberterrorist event” with ample media coverage.

Six years ago, a famous report by the Secretary of Defence and the Director of the CIA and called “Redefining Security” circulated on the Internet. Dated 28 February 1994, it was drawn up by the Joint Security Commission (JSC) in which all the US security agencies took part, with the support of the country’s most important corporations and institutions. At that time, there was very little Web and lots of USENET forums debating questions such as democracy on the Net. Consequently, documents of this kind were par for the course in loads of Internet forums. Meanwhile, the 15 year olds were just beginning to lay the foundations of the Nintendo and Sega generations’ future skills.

The report clearly demonstrated the JSC’s vision as regards “security philosophy” with respect to community life, the government, communities, defence and intelligence, e-commerce or economic and military policies. They were all threatened by the proliferation of a wide range of technologies, “from those used to create nuclear arms to those that connect our computers”. Take note of the word “proliferation” used prolifically throughout the document. One couldn’t help thinking that what they were saying was that the proliferation of computers, in other words the simple act of buying a computer along with a lot of other people, was sufficient motive for casting doubt on the use this artefact could be put to. And that is what we are getting to.

The first chapter, headed “Approaching the Next Century” began with a phrase which, logically enough, filled civil rights organisations with indignation: “The Government’s first duty is to preserve the safety of its citizens”. No mention of individual or collective welfare, or silly things like that. Those belonged to revolutions already won. Now, the Welfare State must give way to the Security State. The Internet was coming of age.

Declarations of this type always have to be taken very seriously depending on who makes them. And, in this case, they came from a country with a long history of creating emotional public states through official provocation or, and this is not vice versa, the use of power to attain certain ends without worrying about the means. The US army didn’t hesitate in irradiating its own personnel or civilians to test the effects of radioactivity. There are documented cases of germs and microbes being released in the subway and other public places to study their rate of propagation, causing harm to defenceless citizens. At the moment, the toxic effects of some of the secret cocktails that the High Command administered to soldiers without any kind of preventative care during the war against Iraq, known as “Gulf War Syndrome”, are being verified.

Faced with last week’s attack by a “new generation of hackers”, that no-one recognises or knows the origins of, makes me think we should, at the very least, remain sceptical before we draw any conclusions. Is this just another dose of radical medicine doled out by the industrial-military conglomerate to create a state of anxiety that will justify stricter measures, such as those before the US Congress at the moment? Who is interested in making us afraid of the “holes” in the Net so that when it comes to the time we will docilely raise our hands in favour of laws that reduce our civil liberties? There are certainly a long list of people who stand to gain from the consequences of these kinds of attacks. There are those that are losing out from the advent of the Information Society or, what comes down to the same thing, those that despite the fact that they consider themselves party to these new changes, have no way of competing with the US economy. And, of course, we can’t rule out those that are simply looking for kicks. Whether they acted together, in groups or alone, it won’t be long before we find out what happened. Big Brother is all of us now, thanks precisely to the Internet. Sooner or later, we will discover who and what they have tried to do to us.

Translation: Bridget King