Defund All “Bad Guy” National Security Thinking

Ellen Nakashima has a report on the development of CyberCommand’s national mission teams. Here’s how her anonymous “senior defense official” source described their job.

Part of their job is to do reconnaissance work on foreign networks to watch traffic in servers used by adversaries that the military has gained lawful access to, he said.

“We need to be inside the bad guy’s head and network,” he said. “That’s the mission of the national mission teams: to be inside the bad guy’s head and his network.”

Getting inside the bad guy’s network means monitoring the “hop points” or servers commandeered around the world by adversaries to route and disguise their computer traffic, not necessarily hacking into their command and control computers, he said. “Whatever these bad guys are using in order to do their work, that’s what we’re interested in.”

It’s defense appropriations season, though admittedly too late into the process to do this. But can I suggest an amendment defunding any program or person who discusses targeting in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”?

Even when discussing physical attacks — say those about to be unleashed on ISIS — it encourages a kind of simplistic thinking. But when discussing online targeting, in which sorting legitimate targets from Big Data chaff should involve a lot of nuanced analysis, and which does happen with little oversight, thinking in such Manichean terms betrays a sloppiness that is unacceptable.

And for both kinds of targeting, physical and digital, presuming we are always the “good guys” fosters a sense of impunity for whatever we do, no matter how rash and — at times — disproportionate our actions are.

Our national security establishment seems to be run by men (mostly men, anyway) with the cognitive sophistication of children. Perhaps we’d be well-served to change that.

9 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    The ‘bad guys’ are everybody in the world not qualified to be ‘good guys’ due to their poor decision to be born elsewhere than the U.S.

  2. john says:

    I’ve contemplated for a number of years the somewhat recent pervasive use of the term ‘bad guys’. At first i thought it merely more cartoonish name-calling (Dr. Germ, etc.) that reflected the junvenile mentality of those fond of using these kind of descriptions. But after watching the situations where it’s used i’ve come to another theory. It’s used to describe a person where no evidence exists of wrongdoing but who the user wishes to smear as a person with evil intent. I could be wrong…

    • fritter says:

      I think it more like self-branding. It lets everyone who hears it conjure up their own definition without having to specify or justify anything yes, but its not effective outside of ones own pep rally. Its self affirming group think. I think they really do believe “those” people are evil. How could they do a job like that and not think so?
      Journalists let them get away with it. If someone asked them how they justified committing a crime or defiling the constitution based on a perception that someone else might commit a crime, I think they would be genuinely indignant. If it weren’t for groupthink there would be a lot more Snowdens and a lot less “anonymous officials” not to mention stenographers.

    • Les says:

      They did the same thing with the Indians. It was called Manifest Destiny. Ever realize how many of the public think that we should just go over to these countries and just take whatever we want?

  3. orionATL says:

    what this style of language is is loose conversational language. it’s human nature to use it, but its casualness, hides our officers’ ignorance, their aggression, and their command of weapons of great killing capacity.

    i wonder if the casualness of the language is related to the casualness of military discipline which in turn may be related to officer misconduct.

    young soldiers, at least those who are conscripts, are not uniformly oblivious to officer misconduct and mayhem and cruelty the “bad guys vs good guys” world view can inflict. they can be the best witnesses and critics, viz chelsea manning:

    let’s have such a project here in the u.s.

    that would knock the casual banality of “bad guys” (deserve to meet a bad end) into a cocked hat.

  4. solbus says:

    “Our national security establishment seems to be run by men (mostly men, anyway) with the cognitive sophistication of children. Perhaps we’d be well-served to change that.”

    Well it really is a misogyny, rooted in heir-patriarchy. Big brother is merely tech-offspring of sees-all big father, a neo-priesthood of omniscient nature with old testament moral authoritarian justifications of same. There is no other institution in the US that is more so, and that includes the conservative Supreme Court. it is a misogyny that sees all civilians as “female”

  5. FluffytheObeseCat says:

    “Our national security establishment seems to be run by men (mostly men, anyway) with the cognitive sophistication of children. Perhaps we’d be well-served to change that.”

    More to the point, it’s run by men who believe the people they’re speaking to — the citizens — have the cognitive sophistication of (very young) children. This goo-goo-ga-ga language became normalized during the Bush administration. It was offensive then, and it’s still offensive.

    People in authority should be dissuaded from speaking this way. Harshly dissuaded. In public.

  6. Mass Independent says:

    I have a friend who was in electronic counter measures, now retired from the US State Dept. When we talk about these things, he uses “bad guys” a lot. For me, if you are any government agency or person spying on me, then YOU are the “Bad Guy”.

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