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NYT Hypes Russian Threat to the Internet

As if Americans didn’t already have enough to worry about in regards to the recently resurrected Red Menace, we can now add the fear that those devious Russians are threatening to–horror of horrors–bring down the Internet.

As the New York Times‘ David Sanger and Eric Schmitt report, “Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of conflict.”

As Navy spokesman Cmdr. William Marks adds, “It would be a concern to hear any country was tampering with communication cables.”Indeed.  Well, unless those tampering with international communication cables happen to be working on behalf of the “good guys” in the National Security Agency, or their equally good partners in Britain’s GCHQ. In that case, don’t consider it “tampering,” but rather something more akin to protecting the homeland from 21st century threats.

Of course whenever official Washington warns of a looming foreign cyber threat (China and Iran being the other favorite punching bags of the Times in this regard), it’s worth remembering that it was in fact the U.S., in partnership with Israel, that was the first state to actually launch a major offensive cyber attack on a sovereign nation.  The attack being the Stuxnet virus set loose back in 2009 on Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.  Such aggression was codified earlier this year when the Pentagon formally unveiled a cyber warfare doctrine sanctioning the use of preemptive strikes.  But down the memory hole, it appears, with all that.

And so with all that out of mind, it’s back to Russia’s rising “aggression.”  At least as the paper of record would have it.

As Sanger and Schmitt continue, “American concern over cable-cutting is just one aspect of Russia’s modernizing Navy that has drawn new scrutiny.”

Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of American naval forces in Europe,speaking in Washington this month, said the proficiency and operational tempo of the Russian submarine force was increasing.

Citing public remarks by the Russian Navy chief, Adm. Viktor Chirkov, Admiral Ferguson said the intensity of Russian submarine patrols had risen by almost 50 percent over the last year. Russia has increased its operating tempo to levels not seen in over a decade. Russian Arctic bases and their $2.4 billion investment in the Black Sea Fleet expansion by 2020 demonstrate their commitment to develop their military infrastructure on the flanks, he said.

Left unmentioned by either Adm. Ferguson or the Times is the fact that the U.S. Navy’s fiscal year 2016 budget comes in at an astounding $161 billion.  (For comparison, the entire Russian military’s FY 2016 budget is projected to come in just over $90 billion.) If scrutiny then is to be applied, one would think that the U.S. Navy’s budgetary windfall would offer plenty of fodder.  For starters, it’s worth considering just how many food-insecure American children could be fed with $161 billion.

Capturing the essence of the official propaganda campaign seeking to depict Russia as some sort of dangerously revisionist power, Sanger and Schmitt go on in their piece to quote Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s former top military commander and current dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  As Stavridis puts it, Russia’s supposed stepped up surveillance of undersea cables offers “yet another example of a highly assertive and aggressive regime seemingly reaching backwards for the tools of the Cold War, albeit with a high degree of technical improvement.”Russia has indeed deployed its military forces in the last year to both Ukraine and Syria.  (A fact Times readers are certainly well aware of.)  But if that is a sign of a “highly assertive and aggressive regime,” what are we to make of a regime that in the past decade alone invaded and toppled governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya?  What shall we call a regime that has bombed Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan?  What about a regime that unleashed a preemptive cyber attack on Iran?  How about a regime with over 800 foreign military bases?  Or one that exported nearly $50 billion in arms in the last year alone?

Global public opinion has of course already settled on what we are to call such a regime.  According to a 2013 WIN/Gallop poll surveying the opinions of individuals from 65 nations around the world, it is the U.S. that constitutes “the greatest threat to peace in the world.”  Russia didn’t register in the poll.

The recent historical record, then, reveals the latest Russian hit piece offered by the Times to be little more than Washington projection.  The Russian Navy, all propaganda aside, hardly posses much of a noteworthy threat to the U.S. Navy, let alone global Internet communications.  To find the greatest threat to global Internet communications we must once again heed global public opinion and come face to face with the menace within.

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Ben Schreiner is the author of A People’s Dictionary to the ‘Exceptional Nation’.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com or via his blog.

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