On June 15th, the New York Times ran a story which, without exaggeration, could be described as one of the most incendiary and blatantly provocative in its recent history. The article related to operations which the United States Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), a command within the US Department of Defense, has carried out against Russia’s electrical grid. The NYT article reported that unidentified officials within CYBERCOM had discussed the deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s electrical grid, and that US National Security Advisor John Bolton had said the US “was now taking a broader view of potential digital targets.”
The June 15th NYT article states:
“But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.”
The article also referred to CYBERCOM head General Paul Nakasone’s reference to a perceived need to “defend forward.”
General Nakasone himself had already been involved in the drawing up of detailed plans to cripple Iran’s electrical grid, codenamed “Operation Nitro Zeus.”
Many readers will be reminded of the Stuxnet computer-worm, which the US allowed to be released for the purpose of destroying centrifuges at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran in 2009 and early 2010.
First and foremost, we should analyze these threats to Russian civilian infrastructure on the tactical level, before we begin to examine what they might imply on the ideological level. The transition from conducting espionage against Russia’s strategic infrastructure to preparations to sabotage it denote the distinction between “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace” (IPB) and “Operational Preparation of the Battlespace” (OPB) is which frequently referred to in NATO tactical doctrine.
In 2003, US Special Forces Major-General Michael Repass wrote a paper on the role of special forces operations in OPB. He states:
“Advanced Force Operations consists of US SecDef-approved military operations such as clandestine operations. It is logically part of Operational Preparation of the Battlespace (OPB), which follows the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace, a concept well-known in U.S. and NATO doctrine, OPB is seldom used outside of SOF channels. OPB is defined by the U.S. Special Operations Command as “Non-intelligence activities conducted prior to D-Day, H-Hour, in likely or potential areas of employment, to train and prepare for follow-on military operations.”
In reaction to the NYT article, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “If one assumes that some government agencies do this without informing the head of state, then of course this may indicate that cyberwar against Russia might be a hypothetical possibility.”
US president Donald Trump had already described the NYT article as “treasonous” – I will leave it to the reader’s judgment whether or not Trump was already privy to its details prior to publication.
Many commentators have argued that, if Trump was not kept in the operational loop regarding CYBERCOM’s more aggressive posture toward Russian civilian infrastructure, then that is a manifestation of the American deep state’s lack of legal or democratic oversight. However, we need to remember that, in the cases of operations of this level of aggression and illegality, the concept of plausible deniability would be a political imperative. The most central reason why the head of state would not be kept in the operational loop would be because of a perceived need to politically insulate him. As a corollary of that point, insofar as the NYT article states that Trump had explicitly authorized CYBERCOM’s more aggressive posture toward Russian civilian infrastructure, we may also conclude that one of the purposes of the NYT article was to politically compromise Trump prior to any future negotiations or attempts to rebuild détente with the Russian government.
It should be noted that US federal law states that the deployment of cyber-weapons requires presidential authorization, insofar as their tactical function is seen as analogous to that of nuclear weapons. Even the June 15th NYT article itself nonchalantly draws the analogy with the deployment of nuclear weapons. In the case of attacks against another country’s civilian electrical grid, for example, we should bear in mind that the electrical system is part of the computerized systems which regulate the stability of nuclear reactors, stabilize dams, power water-pump, provide energy to hospitals, and refrigerate food. Clearly, it would be an attack on the entire civilian population, just as the US-initiated sabotage against Venezuela’s electrical grid in March was devised to be. While the humanitarian cost of such an attack would potentially be immeasurable, it should not surprise anyone who has observed the consequences of US Air Force bombardment of vital civilian infrastructure in Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past 16 years.
We might also ponder what the June 15th NYT article implies on the ideological level, what it says about the current state of play in America’s transition from passive nihilism (formerly manifested as mere liberal hypocrisy, and geo-politically as NIMBY-liberalism) to active nihilism (now manifested as a more explicitly psychopathic relationship with the rest of the world).
In hindsight, historical developments very often start to seem as if they were “inevitable.”
This is the story which we always find a way of telling ourselves about the past and present
– we most usually find some roundabout way of assigning “inevitability” to historical events retroactively.
However, with that caution noted, we might still be tempted to read a certain kind of “inevitability” into America’s transition from Nietzschean passive nihilism to Nietzschean active nihilism, the gradual becoming-explicit of the United States’ essentially psychopathic relationship with the rest of the world.
As a society which was first conceptualized during the age of enlightenment as a post-historical utopia – “the shining city on the hill” – the United States’ self-image is premised on having no pre-modern history. The Americans are a people who postulate themselves AS a people precisely on this basis of having no longstanding shared history. As the collective self-consciousness of a people, this is the macroscopic equivalent of the vacuum of ego-formation which is the defining characteristic of psychopathy in individuals. We notice that the United States has been most militarily aggressive in recent years against cultural and national groups of people with extremely long written histories, most notably Iraqis and Syrians, with overt threats frequently being made against Iran. The wars in Iraq and Syria have also involved quite deliberate attempts to destroy as much of those countries’ archaeological records as possible.
Of course American misadventures in the Middle-East are primarily about oil, but there are also other, deeper and more profoundly psychotic, motivations behind these wars.
In order for “America” to fully become “America” – that is to say, the post-historical utopia which it first conceptualized itself as – then it must destroy all collective hitherto human historical memory. All memory of Mesopotamia must be erased. Any people who still embody a collective historical memory, a “Gewesenheit” (“having-been-ness”) must be bombed to extinction.
But why now?
If this post-historical self-image is a defining characteristic of American consciousness, then why didn’t NYT run news-stories explicitly threatening other countries with humanitarian catastrophe half a century ago?
You might ask, if the United States has always postulated itself as a post-historical utopia, ever since its foundation during the late 18th century, then why did the United States not begin to explicitly adopt this essentially psychopathic posture toward the rest of the world until the later 20th century?
The answer might be that no society or civilization ever makes its own internal logic fully explicit until it has entered its process of terminal decline.
“We” never really understand what “we” are really about until, as a collectivity, this “we” has started to die…. Societies always understand themselves too late, only when collapse is already impending.
The finally-full explication of American geo-strategic psychosis, which was perhaps always implicit in America’s foundation-myth or an inevitable outcome of it, may be a somewhat perverse example of what Hegel meant when he said that “The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.”