Ames on the “Cyber Wars”

Hysterical Western Media Hype Flimsy Cyber War Against Estonia

By Mark Ames and Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet
Posted on June 2, 2007, Printed on June 3, 2007

There’s been a lot of bleating in the West lately about Putin stomping on the last remnants of Russia’s free press, but after witnessing Western coverage of last month’s cyber-attacks on the websites of Estonian banks and government offices, it’s hard to say how the Western press is superior or even much different from the sleaziest Kremlin mouthpieces.

By now everyone and their iGrandma is quaking in their workstations over reports of “the world’s first massive cyberstrike by a superpower on a tiny and almost defenseless neighbor,” as Newsweek delicately described the attacks. Most outlets’ versions were slightly more subtle, emphasis on “slightly.” For example, this May 17 ABC News lead paid minimum lip service to journalism ethics:

Estonia: Ground Zero for World’s First Cyber War?

By Tomek Rolski

It didn’t take long for the problem to be diagnosed as a cyber-attack by another country or a very well-organized entity.

While no one at this stage will point blaming fingers at any one country, Estonians have little doubt that it’s Russia taking revenge.

But some were willing to point “blaming fingers.” Multiple, throbbing, blaming fingers. For the Washington Post, the story worked like a megadose of Cialis. The daily published not one, not two, but three denunciations of “Kremlin cyber-attacks on official Estonian websites,” in the words of Post opinion page editor Fred “Bomb Iraq Now!” Hiatt.

And who could possibly suspect the Estonians of being the world’s biggest cyber-bullshitters? What motive could the poor beleaguered Estonians possibly have for hyping the storyline of a Kremlin plot? Everyone knows that the Russkies are liars, but the Estonians? They’re so cute ‘n cuddly and vulnerable! And they all bank online!

If Estonia was in fact the victim of a Kremlin-coordinated attack, as Tallin first suggested and many reporters took on faith, then the cyber-assaults represent a serious incident indeed. Estonia is a member of NATO, and according to Article V of the NATO charter, alliance members, including the United States, are obliged to respond to an attack on a member state. While NATO doctrine is not clear on whether cyberwar constitutes a trigger for Article V — or even what constitutes cyberwar — to bring up collective security and Kremlin aggression in the same breath has dead-serious implications. And so it gave us pause when the Washington Post editorialized against “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s … flagrant if novel aggression against a peaceful state.”

That the attacks were neither flagrant nor novel didn’t slow down Post/Slate columnist Anne Applebaum, who a few days after the Post editorial all but expressed disappointment that U.S., British and German forces weren’t already carving up their occupation sectors in Smolensk, Pskov and Vologda. Applebaum admits that while the perpetrators of the cyber-attacks “aren’t exactly unknown, their identities can’t be proved, either.” It’s sort of like a known unknown that’s really a known known. But even though their identities “can’t be proved,” Applebaum is quick to raise the specter of Article V, slamming what she considers NATO’s slack response “despite the alliance’s treaty, which declares that an armed attack on one of its members is ‘an attack against them all.'”

“Armed attack,” Anne?

Read on . . .