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

By James Fallows

... 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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/04/im-not-going-to-be-in-dc-on-june-8/38901/