By Dean Whittaker

While visiting Shreveport, LA a few months ago, I was given a brief tour of the lobby of the new Air Force Cyber Warfare Center.  This brand new, 100,000 sq. ft., high security, $100 million dollar facility sat in the middle of a new 3,000 acre business park designed for the military contractors that would supply service for this new mission.  The park was next door to a new community college campus with curriculum designed to support the personnel needs of this emerging cluster of economic activity.

Up to this point, I had no idea the extent to which our country was preparing for the next threat to our national security.  I was told during my tour that the mission for this facility had been moved from Shreveport to San Antonio, Texas and placed under a joint command rather than just the Air Force.  This move shows the elevated level of importance being given to cyber warfare (as well as the competition among the branches of the military).

We have all by now had some experience with computer viruses, computer worms, and, in some cases, denial of service attacks.  Most of our computers have anti-virus software that attempts to prevent these from infecting our computers.  What I hadn’t realized is the extent to which the United States, Russia, China, and a host of other countries have gone to in order to be able to disrupt the computer networks that support our daily lives.

The very nature of our technology contains within it the threat to our security.  In his book, “Cyber War – The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It,” Richard Clarke describes the vulnerability of our systems and those of other nations and the ability to disable, disrupt, and even destroy these system remotely from anywhere using the Internet.   Mr. Clarke tells of a number of cases in which Cyber Warfare tactics have been use in a preemptive way. In one example, he said that in 2007 Israeli aircraft were made invisible on Russian built Syrian radar by hacking into the radar computer, and then the planes destroyed a nuclear weapons plant being built in Syria.  Clarke details the vulnerability of everything connected to the Internet, the unsecure network protocol, flaws in hardware and software and the extensive supply chain.  All of which provides  ample opportunity to use “back door” entrances to take control of the computer networks that control everything from manufacturing, transportation, utilities, defense and a host of other systems.

Having grown up during the Cold War, I remember the anxiety I felt as I researched how to build a fallout shelter in our basement after my grade school teachers drilled us on getting under our desks and covering our heads.  Cyber warfare takes on a similar nebulous feeling.  However, Clarke points out that a cyber war would last about fifteen minutes from beginning to end of assured mutual self destruction. China’s and Russia’s stated goal is to be on a par with the United States with thousands enrolled in cyber warfare schools in all three countries.  Brace yourself, this is the new frontier.  

What are the implications for economic development?   Currently, there are over 14,000 unfilled Information Technology jobs in the Washington D.C. area, one of the few places in the country where there is no recession.