Who Will Guard the Space Guardians?

We have decided to call to call the entire field of control and communication theory whether in the machine or in the animal, by the name of “Cybernetics”, which we form from the Greek [for] steersman.

– Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics

It was a joyous occasion and it was only too bad that the trump was unable to attend because of the press of business in what, during his tenure became known as the “Offal Office.”  The occasion was the announcement of the name to be given to those serving in a new branch of the armed forces known as the Space Force.  The Space Force had been created almost exactly one year earlier by the trump.  That the trump, who had famously avoided military service through a fake medical condition, would create a new branch of the armed forces in which he could also refuse to serve were he younger and subject to the draft, strikes only his detractors as slightly bizarre.

Following the creation of Space Force, $15.4 billion was transferred from the U.S. Air Force budget to Space Force. That money includes funds for space research, satellites and launch services, space operations, and maintenance and war-related satellite services and space operations.

As with all entities, it was important to find a name for those who will be participating in work of the new creation.  Hundreds of suggestions from taxpayers were considered during the year following its creation before a final decision was made.  The presenter at the occasion of the  announcement was a slight disappointment since it would have seemed that at such an important occasion in the history of the United States, he who was responsible for the creation of  the new entity would be in attendance at the event.  The trump was, however, absorbed in petulance as a result of the election that had taken place a few weeks earlier and was not in the mood for any kind of celebration even if the event being celebrated was his idea.  Accordingly he delegated the important task of making the announcement to Vice President Mike Pence.

Delighted at having been entrusted with this important task, the Vice President proudly announced that, “henceforth, the men and women of the United States Space Force will be known as ‘guardians.’”  In making the announcement the Vice President said that the guardians would “ensure that America remains as dominant in space, and from space, as we are on land and sea and air.”

At almost the same time as the Vice President was imparting the exciting news of what members of the Space Force would be called and how we would be protected from hostile forces from outer space, we learned that instead of being attacked by hostile forces from outer space, we had been  cyber attacked by foreign agents sponsored by Russia or China depending on who was describing the attack.  The trump, who remains reluctant to speak ill of anyone Russian and continues to enjoy wallowing in ignorance, attributed the attack to China.  The rest of the country,  including Mike Pompeo,  the trump Secretary of State, (who took the unusual step of differing with his mentor) said that he  believes the attack came from the trump’s good friend and ally, Vladimir Putin. The source is less important than the vast amount of damage it is capable of doing and may already have done to sensitive agencies within the United States government and major U.S. technology and accounting companies.

According to Politico, which first reported the breach,  hackers gained access to, among others, the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration, those being the entities that maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.  Those entities were only two of several other federal agencies that were the target of the hackers.  The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said that “this threat poses a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations.”

One of the questions the inquiring mind may ask is how did this all come about?  At least a partial answer was given by Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI director for Counterintelligence.  In an interview with MSNBC three days after the Politico report, he said of the cyberattack:  “Make no mistake, our nation is under attack and it appears to be ongoing.”   He  attributed the successful attacks  to the fact that the trump had placed  a higher priority on protecting the country from immigrants than protecting government agencies, private companies and critical infrastructure entities from hackers.  As he explained in the interview  “We have a president diverting money, billions of it, to build a wall, changing personnel at the top of the Pentagon and we’ve not heard word one about the plan or strategy to respond to this ongoing attack.”

According to Wilson Topics, a blog of Science and Technology Innovation Program, “satellites and other space-based assets are vulnerable to cyberattacks.  These cyber vulnerabilities pose serious risks not just for space-based assets themselves but also for ground based critical infrastructure. . . .”  The Vice President could have said that one of the tasks of the Guardians would be to protect the country from cyber attacks from space since that wasn’t mentioned when the trump introduced the program a year earlier. That would have made The Space Force more relevant to current events.  He didn’t know about the cyberattacks and so he didn’t. Too bad.

Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com