As the hype over impending cybergeddon heats up in Congress, could American citizens soon be considered terrorists for simply voicing dissent online? In the fog of cyberwar, freedom may be first to go.
Cyberwar. Some dismiss it as hype, fueled by government contractors eager for profit, without much concern about the consequences to the net or to freedom. But in Congress, the gloom-and-doom talk about the need for American "cyberwar" preparedness lately is quite real. And for some lawmakers, it’s a clear and present danger.
“A cyberattack is on its way. We will suffer a catastrophic cyber attack,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., recently said at a hearing. “The clock is ticking.”
The Pentagon has even developed a policy that now deems major cyber attacks to be acts of war – which could merit a military response. Bombs for bits, so to speak. "If you shut down our power grid," an anonymous Defense official told the Wall Street Journal, "maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."
Traditionally the suspicion has been aimed at foreign cyber enemies. Hackers from China, North Korea and Russia often named as the culprits in the mainstream media. But in this year of the protest, the invisible enemy has a domestic face:
It’s a leaderless hacker movement with a political purpose. One that has joined forces with the Occupy Wall Street movement to fight corporations, banks and governments.
“We stand for freedom,” says one anonymous protester. “We stand for freedom of speech. The power of the people.”
Are they cyber protesters or cyber terrorist? For the U.S. government, there may be little difference between the two.
Just today, media reports revealed that the head of the National Security Agency sees Anonymous hackers as a serious threat. In private documents and meetings with White House officials, Gen. Keith Alexander warned that Anonymous take down the U.S. power grid in the US through a cyber attack.
“There is a deep insinuation that dissent is somehow connected to or an accessory to terrorism,” said J.A. Myerson, an independent journalist who covers the Occupy Wall Street movement. “That's a really horrifying prospect.”
A horrifying prospect that is now a reality for a government busy fighting the endless War on Terror.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said it would be “crazy” to exempt terrorist suspects who are Americans and are arrested inside the country from battlefield-style detention.
“If you are an American citizen and you betray your country, you’re going to be held in military custody and you’re going to be questioned about what you know,” Graham said on the Senate floor. “You’re not going to be given a lawyer. ”
And freedom of speech and the internet may soon follow. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) has been pushing for the U.S. government to develop an internet shut-off switch which he says is needed to defend the economic infrastructure from a cyberterrorist attack.
“Right now China can disconnect parts of its internet in case of war,” Lieberman said on CNN. “We need to have that too.”
And that, says Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, is pushing the U.S. down the road to tyranny.
"I don't think they're doing this based on their fear of terrorists,” Wilkerson said. “I think they're doing it based on their ultimate fear of the Occupy Wall Street cum other movements in this country.”
And as Anonymous and the Occupy Wall Street movements grow, so will those fears. Dangerously blurring the lines between who’s a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist.