A cyberattack can’t blow up the world, but it can upend geopolitical stability. It can destroy national alliances, and work to undermine the most powerful democracy on Earth. It can even undercut the very idea of truth. Short of nuclear weapons, hacking has become the most destabilizing tool in geopolitics–which makes it all the more absurd that the US has apparently decided to dramatically downplay its importance.
Last month, allegedly United Arab Emirates-backed hackers planted a false, inflammatory story on Qatari news sites that contributed to the disruption of Middle East relations. Last year, a Russian hacking and disinformation campaign targeted the US presidential election. Ukraine has been under constant strain of cyberattack for years now. And yet despite these clear and present dangers, the US State Department plans to shutter its Cyber Security branch, according to multiple reports and confirmed independently to WIRED by a person familiar with the matter.
The move doesn’t just potentially weaken America’s ability to cope with increasing cyberthreats at home and abroad. It also underscores the State Department’s blindness to the current global state of affairs. In 2017, cyberhacking serves not only as a pointed tool for nations and nation-state-backed hackers to take down power grids, but an easily accessible tool available to whoever wants to wreak world havoc by targeting information. Disinformation campaigns like the one that rocked Qatar go one step further, threatening to undermine base reality. The dangers that cyberattacks present require exactly the kind of coordinated, international response that the State Department should invest in, not bury in a bureaucratic backwater.
“It’s manifesting ridiculous,” says Paul Scharre, Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for New American Security. “That would be like the equivalent of during the Industrial Revolution saying ‘this electricity thing is not important to us.’ It seems kind of obviously wrong. I don’t frankly understand what Secretary of State Tillerson is doing over there at State.”