Reuters reported yesterday: “U.S. intel chief warns of devastating cyber threat to U.S. infrastructure.” U.S. Intelligence Chief Dan Coats likened the level of concern surrounding cyber attacks to the situation preceding 9/11: “The system was blinking red. Here we are nearly two decades later and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.”
“Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are launching daily cyber strikes on the computer networks of federal, state and local government agencies, U.S. corporations, and academic institutions, said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.” The article adds, “Of the four, ‘Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor, no question,’ he said.” The article goes deeper into the reported Russian aggression: “Some of the same Russian actors who meddled in the 2016 campaign again are using fake social media accounts and other means to spread false information and propaganda to fuel political divisions in the United States,” claimed Coats.
“‘These individuals have been “creating new social media accounts, masquerading as Americans and then using these accounts to draw attention to divisive issues,’” Coats stated. The Chinese and Russian cyber attacks generally target different domains: “China, Coats said, is primarily intent on stealing military and industrial secrets and had ‘capabilities, resources that perhaps Russia doesn’t have.’ But he said Moscow aims to undermine U.S. values and democratic institutions.”
Now some may claim that Mr. Coats’ alarmist message is intended as a political move to undermine the Trump Administration and the President’s meeting with President Putin of Russia this coming Monday. For those already wary of the Mueller investigation, including this week’s indictment of twelve Russians for meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, I can understand why they would be suspicious given the timing of Coats’ remarks.
But to be on the safe side, all Americans should be careful to weigh reports from all news sources as carefully as possible, especially on such a sensitive and critical matter as reported here about the ominous threat of cyber attacks. With this point in mind, it is good to account for the biases of various news sources, for example, MSNBC and Fox News respectively, without thereby discounting out of hand and in advance what these news agencies present to the public. We need to judge each claim on its own merits. Moreover, we should be on guard not to fuel political discord with one another and engage in confirmation bias. Otherwise, we are playing into the hands of those reportedly trying to foment such divisions, whoever they may be, Russians, Chinese, Americans, Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, or even you and me.
In looking into accounts of cyber attacks over the past several years, I was alerted to the 2013 cyber attacks in Singapore led by a group titled “Anonymous” (Refer here as well). Its representative was an individual with the online handle “Messiah.” I was struck by the use of this handle and wondered how often anonymous messianic figures online and elsewhere fuel discord as they sow false reports, engage in character assassinations, and troll in anonymity. We must all commit to guard against cyber attacks and engage in cyber diplomacy, advocating for truth, remaining inquisitive, not becoming inquisitional toward one another. This is no easy quest. Where might we look for guides?
It leads me to reflect upon the reports of New Testament witnesses to the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Neither he nor his apostolic community hid in anonymity. As Jesus told his accusers during his trial leading to execution, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret” (John 18:20; NRSV). Jesus and his followers did everything in public in the light of day. While they did not have the benefit of using social media to proclaim the good news, we who do have this resource must not hide behind the internet to attack those with whom we disagree all in the heinous attempt to demean and discredit them and gain credit for ourselves or our own groups. We must make the same claims in public that we make on a computer keypad in the privacy of some room, naming and announcing ourselves face to face in the shared pursuit of truth.