I'm Not Going to Be in DC on June 8....

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... but if I were, I would be sure to go to this debate, by the US branch of the Intelligence Squared debate organization, on the proposition that "The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated."

A few months ago, just as cyber-security was starting to pop up as a major media and political theme, I published this article in the Atlantic about the reasons to take the issue more seriously than most people had until then. Shortly after that, I noted the reasons to wonder whether appropriate concern about info-security was turning into self-generated panic -- and into that old Washington staple, "threat inflation" to build big defense-contracting budgets.

Four of the people I'd most like to hear engage that exact question will be doing so in the June 8 debate:
   Mike McConnell, retired Navy Admiral and former Director of National Intelligence and head of the NSA (and now an executive with Booz Allen), whom I quoted in my article and who is probably the most visible proponent of the "cyber-threat is real" theme;

   Bruce Schneier, Mr. Security, who will argue that the concern has indeed been grossly overblown (my recent conversation with him here);

  Jonathan Zittrain, of Harvard Law School, arguing on McConnell's side; and

  Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, arguing on Schneier's.

These are all very able people and fully capable of engaging the other side's claims directly. Intelligence Squared conducts audience polls before the debate -- and then afterwards, to see if any minds were changed. Going in, I would count myself "in support of the motion." That is, my experience in Washington and with the politics of security makes me feel that the cyber war threats are indeed in the process of being grossly overblown. But I would like to hear what McConnell and Zittrain say in response.

If I weren't planning on being in China at just that time, where whether I want to or not I'll be exposed to other sorts of cyber-security concerns, I would be in the front row. Go if you can.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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