America, in the years following World War II and under first Presidents Truman and then Eisenhower, initiated an effort to actually control atomic energy and atomic weapons. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was the first attempt, it actually given authority over fission and later fusion weapons. However the huge escalation in bomb building, the Eisenhower focus on atomic weapons (New Look) as a strategy for reining in military spending, and the practicalities of deploying weapons with delivery systems spelled the end of AEC control.
Several reasonable plans for international control were developed under Eisenhower, including the Open Skies proposal. Those efforts were doomed by Joseph Stalin’s political agenda (given the dire economic situation of the post-War USSR, he needed the specter of an American atomic threat as a unifying element). It should also be noted that the American military had begun making contingency plans for atomic strikes against Russia even before the war ended – based on the likelihood that Stalin would order the Red Army west through Europe. Given the war time mapping of the “Casey Jones” project, an Open Skies agreement would have been of more advantage to American military planners than to the Soviets.
With the move to massive production of atomic weapons in the early 1950’s, the Atomic Genii was well and truly out of the bottle by the middle of that decade. There was some hope that it had been forced back inside, at least to some extent, following the implosion of the Soviet Union and a variety of weapons agreements – as well as the removal of most tactical nuclear weapons from the field. However, by 2014/15 Russian Federation politics and Vladimir Putin put nuclear weaponry back into the headlines. That provided sufficient justification for a major American response in atomic weapons updates and upgrades. At this point in time there is ample reason for the United States to respond and it’s safe to say the Genii is now well and truly out again – even in some of its most insane guises:
The second Genii, which can bring down governments, fragment nations, and even undermine cultures, emerged in the second decade of the 21st Century. It took the form of internet assisted political warfare. It may not pose the same level of physical threat to the planet, but it is exceedingly dangerous and potentially more effective as a practical weapon against nations than atomic devices. We had good evidence of how dangerous it was becoming as early as 2014 (I published Creating Chaos in 2015, detailing how fast it was evolving).
Yet even with all the evidence and both American and European intelligence communities officially (and repeatedly) weighing in on the threat, it remains as obvious and significant now as it did four years ago – you can see that in current headlines. Still, it amazes me that the Director of National Intelligence sounds somewhat as naïve as to its levels of sophistication as some of his recent public remarks suggest, it’s as if he just learned about the tactics?
The most damming thing about the situation is that there was an opportunity, in the very beginning, to force the second Genii back into its bottle. However, unlike the Eisenhower Administration’s initiatives, the Trump Administration not only did not make the effort in regard to this new threat, the President himself overtly undermined the serious attempts by the intelligence community – and the feeble attempts by the Congress – to take steps to deal with it.
Obviously a primary tactic against information warfare – which uses untruths, misinformation and disinformation – is to quickly identify and publicly circulate both the sources and the specific examples of information which has been weaponized. A proactive defense also involves the total national leadership establishing, agreeing to, and endorsing a common fact checking system. Beyond that individual political leaders must become involved in aggressively supporting and promoting fact checking to their constituent communities.
There was a window for that beginning in 2016, possibly extending for a year or so. But that window has closed, and the fact that President Trump himself did not even endorse or comment on the two news stories I cited above demonstrates that two years later he has passed on the opportunity to face up to and deal with the problem.
I’m normally an optimist but it’s getting harder – the first Genii has been invited back and now has a partner. If anything the second Genii elevates the danger of the first, information warfare is easy to launch but hard to control beyond a certain point. Adding chaos to an environment where atomic and now hypersonic weapons are once again in a state of proliferation is a very dangerous practice.