Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War
Fred Kaplan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016. 352 pp. Notes. Index. $28.00.
Reviewed by Chris Demchak
Fred Kaplan’s Dark Territory may become a classic reference for scholars and students seeking to understand the complicated people who ushered the United States into the cyber-conflict era
and the tough decisions they made. In these pages, one finds “the interplay of politics, ideas, and personalities in modern war.” Starting with key figures in the 1960s and the subsequent thinking about computers, information connections, and their potential harm to society, Kaplan draws the reader into the present. He shows the early and ignored warnings and the in-situ contemporary decisions made at each major evolution of IT that developed its potential for use in conflict.
His story tracks key decisions by individuals in important roles and U.S. agencies at the national level from the 1980s to the present. His “characters” include presidents, bureaucrats, CEOs, senior military and security personnel, and privacy experts. Weaving his narrative from interviews and other sources, Kaplan documents the decisions and constraints underlying major developments in the United States’ current capabilities, institutions, and perceptions about cyberspace and international conflict. Some of the personalities involved will be well known to the weekend consumer of all things cyber and conflict. But others played less prominent roles and are not as well known today, even though their presence at a particular time and place was deeply consequential. He ties these people to their time, dominant zeitgeist, and agency, while laying out the overarching evolution of the importance of cyberspace to the nation’s approach to security.
Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, frequently returns to his title to make his argument: Everyone was groping in dark, uncharted waters, trying to grasp what was happening, what was needed, and what would reduce the often overwhelming scale of uncertainties. There was no playbook, institutional design, or experience in system vs. system war that the key players could consult. They were making it up as they went along. Exercises set up to explore vulnerabilities, such as Eligible Receiver, alarmed one senior leader after another. The subsequent urgency to fix the gaping security holes would move the entire process along. Movies like War Games and books such as The Cuckoo’s Egg deeply affected key decision-makers, who would then ask “Can this really happen?” or “Who’s in charge to fix this?” and elevate yet another soon-to-be key personality to fill that role. Thus, the evolution of the United States’ senior layer of experts charged with recognizing, considering, and adapting to the increased threats from cyberspace would move two steps forward, one step sideways, pause, and one step forward again.
Dark Territory ends with an interesting observation about lost insights and proverbial gorillas in the room. Although the title is catchy, the book is not about anything that can be reasonably called “war” with distinctive kinetic elements. Indeed, Kaplan notes that the earliest concern was not about cyber war, but about the survival of society’s critical functions in a deeply insecure cyber world. The first warnings were about the potential threats to the infrastructure underpinning modern society. Today, solidly “cybered,” and faced with the vulnerabilities presented by high-speed, poorly or entirely unsecured global IT manufacturing companies, this same infrastructure is still our era’s primary Achilles’ heel.
Despite all the fervor, passion, and efforts of the key individuals Kaplan discusses, today Department of Defense Red Teams “invariably” penetrate DOD networks because they are built on “inherently insecure architectures.” Worse off and largely left to defend themselves from state actors such as China, Russia, Iran. or an array of anonymous bad actors are the networks of numerous public and private firms operating the nation’s critical infrastructure and economy.
Kaplan’s book is a valuable contribution to a growing literature heralding a new era of “cybered conflict” and a rising cyber-Westphalian world. Students, scholars—and anyone who is curious to learn how this world evolved—will find Dark Territory particularly useful. It is rich in familiarly bureaucratic competitions, struggles of dominant ideas, and belatedly recognized key historical events. One will not find in its pages, however, a method: How to design a cyber command, operate cyber defenses, or construct a workable national strategy for security.
Such insights will have to come from books that have yet to be written. The world’s collective natural experiment in conflict, survival, and national power in an international cybered system has just begun. It takes time to change the world—and it is surely changing. Nonetheless, 50 years after American computer science pioneer Willis Ware warned that the “very existence of a network [of multiple users from unprotected locations] created sensitive vulnerabilities,” as Kaplan notes, we remain in “dark territory.”
Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective
Catherine McArdle Kelleher and Peter Dombrowski, eds. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. Intro. Notes. Index. 313 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by Norman Friedman
This is a very timely book. Ballistic missiles, either potentially or actually armed with nuclear warheads, are in more and more hands. In important cases it seems unlikely that the classic strategy of deterrence, which protected the United States and our allies during the Cold War, will be effective. The Iranian ayatollahs have on occasion announced that a world cataclysm (which would destroy Iran) should be welcomed as the beginning of a golden future for the world.
It seems unlikely that North Korean President Kim Jong-Un cares very much about the fate of his population. In this sort of world, active defense is not merely a possible alternative to, or supplement to, nuclear deterrence. It is all we have. Such defense is, moreover, a source of deterrence, because it raises uncertainty in the mind of the attacker.
These strategic issues are outside the remit of Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective. Instead, this volume is a useful basis for a reader’s evaluation of current programs and possibilities. Separate chapters outline the evolution of U.S. missile defense policy over the past four administrations, beginning with President Ronald Reagan’s argument that deterrence could not be a satisfactory policy because there had to be something more positive. Other chapters question whether that strategic judgment, and its more recent scaled-down version, are entirely workable in a physical sense. To some extent classification problems cloud the issue, as they should. For example, an evaluation of possible countermeasures cites a comment by an unnamed British scientist in 1964 that neither the British nor the Americans could imagine a way to overcome the decoy cloud then planned for the British Blue Streak medium-range ballistic missile. One might imagine that a bit of work has been done since then on discriminating between warheads and decoys, but that work has properly been highly classified. The same can be said of whatever we have been able to observe of foreign tests.
The book also raises the issue of just what it means for a defensive system to work. Is it enough that the system exists and has been tested and so raises questions for a potential attacker? Nothing can be 100 percent effective, which means that there is always a chance that a nuclear weapon will get through and cause devastating damage. The incoming missiles, however, also are far from 100 percent reliable. If the system is good enough, it has an excellent chance of dealing with the threat. It is, moreover, backed by considerable deterrent force on our part.
One topic not broached is that the part of the system that detects and tracks (and examines) incoming weapons is itself a deterrent, in that it identifies who launched the missile. If the missile does get through, that identification capacity makes it far more likely that the United States will shoot back. For many potential attackers, the simple lack of anonymity in an attack may be extremely significant. This sort of identification would not exist unless it was tied to a defensive system.
Half of this volume is devoted to foreign attitudes toward missile defense, in places such as China, Southeast Asia, and Japan. Inevitably, the book could not take into account the most recent developments, such as the Japanese government’s turn toward a much more assertive military and foreign policy and its reaction to the most recent North Korean missile tests. For that matter, it could not reflect whatever relief Europeans may or may not feel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal. It seems likely that Europeans in general will downplay the potential for Iranian aggression because they see a far more immediate threat in the form of subversion by ISIS and its friends and because they find missile defense relatively unaffordable. Japan and South Korea are in a different position. As for the United States, North Korea’s stated ambition to deploy a submarine-launched ballistic missile raises questions about how much protection fixed defenses in Alaska can actually provide and how much the United States should reinvest in strategic antisubmarine warfare (it is also possible that the North Koreans are so far from such a capability that it is not worth considering). For others in Asia, the advent of an Indian submarine-launched deterrent also raises interesting questions about how and what to deploy.
No published book ever can be completely up to date. In general, U.S. programs are possible to describe because they are long-running, and their roots are visible. Some Western programs hold a similar position—what was public in 2014, say, tells almost everything about what is currently either in service or about to be deployed. The situation for ballistic missile threats is murkier. During the Cold War, there was enough intelligence available about the Soviets to give a good idea of what they had and where they were going, although there were still major questions, including how close they were to breaking the treaties limiting anti-ballistic missiles. Current possible adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, have managed to cover their tracks far more effectively, to the point where the success or failure of the latest North Korean test is a matter of debate.
That having been said, this book is about the best on the subject that can be obtained. It is an excellent summary of the current situation and of current technological issues. It is well worth reading.
The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam
Geoffrey Shaw. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2015. 314 pp. Biblio. Index. $24.95.
Reviewed by Captain Nathaniel L. Moir, U.S. Army Reserve
Hosni Mubarak, Augusto Pinochet, Manuel Noriega, Ngo Dinh Diem—these are only a few of the difficult allies the United States has supported to varying degrees in the pursuit of its foreign policy. While each relied on American funding, each challenged U.S. values and policies respecting their countries. Ngo Dinh Diem, President of the Republic of Vietnam from its founding in 1955 to his death through a U.S.-led coup d’état in 1963, remains perhaps the most contested and mercurial of the leaders to enter into an uneasy relationship with the United States in the 20th century. Perhaps issues with Diem were caused by challenges stemming from the broader Cold War. Maybe the challenges of Vietnamese revolutionary war and subversion were the problem. Diem’s unyielding resistance to American influence on many issues, along with his interactions with equally intractable Americans, compromised the establishment of a viable state in South Vietnam. These were some of the factors that contributed to Diem’s vexing place in the history of the Vietnam War.
It is unsurprising that historians periodically revisit Diem’s role, particularly since analogous contemporary relationships—most recently with the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and the former prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki—echo these negative American diplomatic experiences. Several studies of Diem and the United States have been published recently, including Jessica M. Chapman’s Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam, and Edward Miller’s Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam. The most recent and revisionist study is Geoffrey Shaw’s The Lost Mandate of Heaven.
Among these, Shaw’s book unquestionably stands out, but, regrettably, for the wrong reasons. Shaw questions assumptions about the personality and nationalism of Diem and, especially, the fact that he sought an independent Vietnam free from American meddling. In themselves, these are valid premises to reexamine. The paradox Diem faced, however, was the Republic of Vietnam’s reliance on external aid, since its survival was impossible without American support. Shaw concedes these points but provides an analysis of Diem’s death that pins responsibility on the United States, which demanded too much of him. Diem’s fall, as is well known, led to disaster. The vacuum created by his death and that of his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, leader of the Can Lao Party, led to a convulsive instability the United States and subsequent Vietnamese leaders failed to resolve. President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to fill the political void led to an escalation of the war instead of a negotiated settlement. Such a settlement was supported by leaders ranging from Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant of Burma to French President Charles de Gaulle and included American writer Walter Lippmann. The problem was that those who counted, specifically Johnson and his inner circle, did not support it.
The possibility of a settlement for Vietnam, however, was complicated by the neutralization of Laos in 1961. In a valuable chapter, “The Continuing Laotian Question,” Shaw examines the challenges a neutralized Laos presented throughout Indochina. As a result of W. Averell Harriman’s influence as President John F. Kennedy’s ambassador-at-large, the negotiated settlement for Laos put the defense of South Vietnam and Diem’s position at a serious disadvantage. The sanctuary Laos provided for North Vietnamese troops was critical. The poor relationship between Diem and Cambodian ruler Norodom Sihanouk also played a role. While the logistic corridors the Ho Chi Minh Trail provided along the Laotian border were important, 70 percent of external supplies for the Vietcong did not transit the infamous “Blood Road” in Laos, but rather through the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville. Diem’s intransigence with his Cambodian neighbors created significant problems. Shaw, however, does not adequately examine these issues.
As a result of these and other shortcomings, Shaw’s work does not present a nuanced or scholastically supported counterweight to other recent scholarship on Diem. Instead, he adopts a revisionist position that attempts to retrench arguments in support of Diem from the late 1950s. On this note, his reading of both primary and secondary sources is puzzling.
For example, Shaw calls out journalist and scholar Bernard Fall, perhaps the most astute contemporary critic of Diem in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Shaw states that Fall “did not take seriously the threat the Communists posed to Diem’s GVN, never mind how the president was supposed to deal with it.” Untrue. Fall viewed the problem stemming from Diem’s autocratic repressive measures and that “the South Vietnamese regime began to take on highly-resented police state features long before the guerrilla threat justified the adoption of some of them for the purpose of restoring internal security.”
If a scholar attempts a historiographical intervention to counter established arguments, that scholar is expected to provide evidence, perhaps gained through previously unavailable archival documents, which supports a convincing argument. Shaw, despite the heuristic validity of his project, provides neither. Jessica Chapman’s project, by contrast, does account for the enigma Diem presented the United States. Regardless, Ngo Dinh Diem confounded policy-makers and historians before, so he remains worthy of further study. In this regard, Shaw’s effort is productive because he challenges scholars and readers to prove him wrong. In addition, it is unwise to assume that difficult allied partners such as Diem, and worse reincarnations of him elsewhere, are gone for good. Scrutiny of the past is always worthwhile.
New & Noteworthy Books
Storm over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy
John Prados. New York: NAL Caliber, 2016. 388 pp. Intro. Notes. Biblio. Index. Maps. Illus. 28.00.
Prados provides a detailed, exciting, and groundbreaking account of the greatest naval clash of the 20th century, using intelligence records to shed light on both Allied and Japanese strategies.
Chinese Nuclear Proliferation: How Global Politics Is Transforming China’s Weapons Buildup and Modernization
Susan Turner Haynes. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, 2016. 208 pp. Intro. Notes. Biblio. Index. Illus. $29.50.
Haynes analyzes the buildup of China’s nuclear arsenal and the diversification of increasingly precise and sophisticated nuclear weapons and offers policy prescriptions to curtail its growth.
Too-Many-Words: The Collected New Year’s Day Essays of Wayne P. Hughes, Jr.
Jeff Cares, ed. Newport, RI: Alidade Press, 2016. 344 pp. Essays.
Each New Year’s Day since 1974, retired Navy Captain and Naval Postgraduate School professor Wayne Hughes has written an essay on a topic relevant to modern life—politics, family, faith, war, and human nature and shared them with friends. The present volume includes a thoughtful collection spanning many years.