Editor’s Note:What follows is an exclusive extract of John Robb’s speech at World War D earlier this year. John is a former US counterterrorism commander, high-tech entrepreneur; expert on digital-age warfare, and author of bestseller, Brave New War. Here looks at a few examples of the ‘super-empowered individuals’ of the digital age:
I want to explore the idea that anyone can declare war on the world and win.
The first example of that is Edward Snowden. Edward declared war on the entire US national security system. He did this by stealing the crown jewels — the equivalent of the crown jewels in information — information from the founders of information, the National Security Agency.
He then speared this information out of the country. He has been able to rage an ongoing war against the US National Security infrastructure or security system for the last year, successfully, without even dying, which is pretty amazing.
What makes Edward’s story particularly interesting with us is that he is not just a one-off, an outlier. He is part of a new type of threat.
I call these people ‘super-empowered individuals’.
People that have access to computers, networks and globalisation and can use those to do an amazing amount of stuff, an amazing amount of work. Stuff that used to take an entire corporation or government agency to do just a decade ago.
Many of us in this room are already super-empowered individuals. We publish our own books. We run big — relatively big — companies from home, through our computers. We do things that make us look ten times larger than we are to the outside world by using this leverage.
However, not everyone is going to use it for productive [ends], and a lot of people are going to use it to disrupt the systems that we rely upon, break them for personal gain. These super-empowered individuals are able to leverage the network precisely because it’s huge, beyond the scope of any national system. It is interconnected. It is extremely vulnerable to disruption…
…Let’s quickly dive on why Edward Snowden was so interesting. He didn’t succeed because he picked a vulnerable target. Obviously, the National Security Agency is arguably the most proactively secure organisation in the world.
They spend billions on protecting against people just like him. They have security clearances that stretch back years, not just top secret, above top secret and they do complete background checks. They have electronic monitoring of all online activity. They have firewalls and firebreaks throughout the system. They even have protections against wireless transfer. They have the ability to then go after people who actually steal secrets, with the full weight and might of the national security system behind them.
How did he do this? He did this because of one simple paradox. It’s a paradox we see in banks.
When they run into wealth traders, they routinely they lose billions. The paradox is that in order for Snowden to do his job, they had to give him access to lots of data and lots of powerful tools. He had been super-empowered.
That’s the case in most companies. You have to super-empower your employees or you’re not getting the most out of them, they’re unable to do their job. Precisely that super-empowerment then made him a threat to the NSA. That allowed him to steal the security store.
What’s more interesting than the actual theft secrets is what Snowden did with them. This is the really interesting part of it. He used those secrets to declare war on the United States.
Not just any war, it’s a moral war.
If you don’t know about the different types of war, a moral war is one of the three major types:
1. There is attrition warfare, which is usually economic attrition like World War 1;
2. There is manoeuvre warfare like World War 2, when you manoeuvre your tanks behind the enemy and circle them; and
3. There is moral war. That’s usually the weak against the strong, the guerrilla war.
The terrorist engages in moral war. The objective of moral war is to sow fear, uncertainty and distrust in the enemy camp. Through your attacks, you create this pervasive fear and uncertainty and distrust of every other organization, such that the moral bounds that keep that group together fall apart.
Groups that used to work with each other don’t. Allies that you used to have won’t be your allies anymore.
Snowden’s ongoing release of that data was the perfect example of moral war…
People began to distrust corporations and other collaborators with the NSA.
He was able to drive a wedge between the corporations like Facebook and Google and other big telecos that work with the NSA to get them that data. They’re now so burned by their whole exposure of that relationship that they’re less willing.
He drove a wedge between the US and its allies. For instance, Brazil cancelled a Boeing contract — 4.5 billion bucks — precisely because of this, revelations associated with spying on the pursuing government.
Most recently, in terms of the popular kind of acceptance of Snowden, he was this example of driving a wedge between the rank and file American and the US National Security System.
Snowden was accepted as a valued guest, accepted as a speaker at TED, which is the big conference in California attended by all the top technologists in entertainment, Bigwigs, as well as by Austin’s South by South West conference.
30 years ago, a guy who was deemed a traitor would not end up at a conference. People would be scared by talking to him. They’d be totally against talking to him at all. Now he is turning up at these conferences.
Based on my analysis, Snowden actually has won the moral war already. He has done an incredible amount of damage to the National Security system in terms of the way they did their business, precisely because these organisations, big companies and governments, don’t know how to fight moral wars.
The real way you fight a moral war is don’t do anything, or limit the number of activities you do, because they’ll be found out. It makes you vulnerable. We saw that with torture, we saw that with other things like that. Snowden obviously thinks he won too.
Editor’s Note: You can catch more riveting insights from John Robb when the official World War D Highlights Reel goes online this weekend. In his full speech Robb goes on to talk about:
- Where the next super-empowered attack could come from…and how it could wipe 6 million barrels of oil A DAY from the market…
- Why self-aware weaponry has leapt from science-fiction to reality…and how it will change warfare next decade…
And the single-biggest Millennial-driven investment trend of the next 10 years.
From the Port Phillip Publishing Library