Hackers Are Feeding American Paranoia


When increased tensions characterize the general international situation, practically any event that somehow concerns national security becomes important in relations between rival powers. Especially now, when the line between state policy and the actions of uncontrollable private individuals is not just blurred, but rather nonexistent.

The authorities in the U.S. and other Western countries talk comfortably about the possibility of interference in the global free market institutions to more severely “punish” Russia or China for yet another imaginary sin. In turn, any tornado is readily seen as the result of malicious intent on behalf of Moscow and Beijing.

Case in point — the attack by unidentified hackers on the control system of Colonial Pipeline Co., the largest pipeline operator in the U.S. Eventually, the company needlessly paid the hackers $5 million. It would seem that nothing exceptional happened — an attack on a private company. Had this occurred 20 to 25 years ago, no one would have thought of viewing the incident through a geopolitical lens. However, the U.S. immediately created reasons to believe that it would blame Russia as a state for a cyberattack on its private company. Later, it seems, the U.S. thought about it some more and decided against staging another performance in front of the whole world loaded with unproven accusations. In general, the Joe Biden administration seems to be so interested in the U.S.-Russia summit that it decided to take a break from its hostile attacks.

The fact that the cyberattack has not (yet) become a precedent for aggravating interstate relations is not of great importance. Next time, the political circumstances will be different. Moscow may even be accused of a meteorite falling primarily because such allegations align with our Western partners’ own strategic culture. Consider one of the encyclopedias of American life — Mario Puzo’s famous novel “The Godfather.” Don Corleone warns that even if a bolt of lightning strikes his son, he will blame his colleagues in the complex criminal business. As such, he is ready to resort to any methods.

Similarly, the U.S. is inclined to blame anyone whose behavior it cannot control for all sins. The blame is attributed precisely because America comfortably admits that it could also ignore the rules. For decades, U.S. intelligence has been waging a secret war on all continents, which is why it needs such bloated embassy staffing in various countries. This inevitably creates a culture of suspicion and even, to some extent, paranoia toward others.

Indeed, if you can carry out an improper act, you expect the same from others? Hence, Americans live in the metaphorical state of a besieged fortress. In their opinion, hostile conspiracies are weaved day and night against their fortress. Or any U.S. embassy in the world, for that matter.

Such a paranoid perception of the world is a general characteristic of isolated cultures. It is known that indigenous tribes on one of the Andaman Islands normally reject any contacts outside their fragile civilization. Every stranger for them is a danger that should be killed straight away. After World War II, the U.S. assumed a leading position in the global market economy. It became a center of attraction for people from all over the world. However, the fundamental worldview remained — American culture is separated from that of the Old World. All the benefits and freedoms of global openness began to be used not just for profit but also for constant surveillance of “outsiders” and to push back the boundaries that mark total security.

As long as close relations with the U.S. were highly beneficial to everyone, the rest put up with American quirks. For many, education in the world’s best universities, business opportunities in the most liberal economy or a trip to Broadway were worth turning a blind eye to all the eccentricities of a country that remains mentally isolated. As the U.S. domestic crisis grows in scale, the attractiveness of those factors will diminish, and the costs of communicating with Americans will increase.

Moreover, the need for some distance will be dictated by security considerations. “The Godfather” philosophy of life has not disappeared anywhere, and the U.S. will not limit its actions to the norms of law or morality, which it never has. The rules of free business norms have been fully transferred to the political realm, where a partner’s deception is both a blessing and a feat. This does not allow the U.S. the opportunity to join the achievements of more morally advanced civilizations — European, Russian or Chinese.

Indeed, the most suitable partner for the U.S. is North Korea. It similarly does not live in the real world and is instead surrounded by its own fears and insecurities projected onto others. Even the most sensible colleagues now easily admit the possibility that during the next outburst of the struggle with Russia, Americans will begin to disconnect it from the most important systems that ensure participation in the global economy or turn our smartphones into “useless dialers.” That is, we know that the U.S. is a partner from whom, purely theoretically, we can expect anything, and we are preparing for this.

However, there is always a risk of an escalation of tensions, which is especially dangerous in an interconnected world. The Colonial Pipeline incident showed how vulnerable modern technological systems are to hostile influences. And we have every reason to think that major sovereign powers can take advantage of this vulnerability of the adversary when responding to threatening actions. Even if such activities are dictated by conspiracy theories rather than objective justifications. After all, Russia or China don’t care why the Americans decide to do nasty things to them — they will have to answer for them regardless. The problem is that the real source of hostile action may not be individual states but unknown perpetrators. But the governments will bear the blame.

At an ever more rapid pace, international politics is returning to its historically normal state, in which it is every man for himself. There are exceptions —the nature of relations between Russia and China is such that they can be sure of each other’s intentions. It seems that the same can be said about relations between the U.S. and its European allies. But in all other respects, the world, naturally, is at the mercy of chaos. However, previously, individual states’ selfish and competitive policies did not occur under the conditions of such strong interconnectedness, primarily in the technological field.

The nature of the states’ behavior does not change, and neither do their inherent cultural characteristics. But technological progress has completely changed the environment in which states operate. Even in the context of a pandemic, it is impossible to align external conditions with world politics — the internet cannot be restricted as easily as prohibiting citizens from crossing state borders. This is precisely the main danger we face today.

Nobody wants a world war. But no one can so successfully control what is happening on a sovereign territory to know the origin of each threat and respond to it accordingly. Therefore, if they have any capacity for rational behavior, the U.S. and its allies will have to respond to the proposals of Russia and China to create a joint management system for “gray zones” that can no longer be controlled at an exclusively national level.

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About Nikita Gubankov 62 Articles
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, I am currently a student at University College London, UK, studying for an MSc in Translation Technology. My interests include history, current affairs and languages. I am a keen translator from Russian into English and vice-versa, and I also translate from Spanish into English.

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