War is changing. From President Obama’s “kill list” to the domestic use of military drones for surveillance and law enforcement, the world of combat is looking more and more like a dystopian science fiction movie. While much of the changing face of warfare is marked with impersonal, often anonymous and sometimes reckless brutal violence, some of the United States’ new tactics for war with emerging threats look more like bedroom hacktivism than traditional Pentagon-directed bombs and muzzle flashes.

If you pay any attention to main-stream media, you have heard that tensions are high between Iran and the US. Debate rages across the aisle about the proper course of action, and whether President Obama should engage Iran in order to halt its developing nuclear program. Instead of directly engaging the perceived threat, new reports confirm suspicions that the damaging Stuxnet worm, which damaged and destroyed hundreds of Iranian nuclear centrifuges, significantly delaying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s plans for uranium enrichment, was conceived of, designed, and implemented by the United States and Israel.

But then the worm did what it was designed to do – it spread. Somehow, the virus left Iran’s nuclear facilities – probably on a personal laptop – and began propagating in “the wild.” The cover was blown, and the truth of the covert digital-ops came to light. It turns out the worm was part of an initiative started by President Bush code-named “Olympic Games.” When President Obama took office, reports indicate that he decided to ramp-up the cyber war and increase the frequency and duration of the attacks. While many suspected that the US was behind the attacks when the severity and extent of the damage was ascertained, these new details have proven divisive in a time of battlefield evolution.

All of this begs the question: was Stuxnet an act of war? Not surprisingly, there is no consensus on the issue. On the one hand, it would seem as though a foreign cyber attack on US nuclear facilities would most certainly be perceived as an act of outright aggression – probably “terrorism.” On the other hand, no lives were lost, and a government program was merely delayed for a time (there is some debate about how inconvenient the worm actually was for the Iranian government).

Despite your opinion on the issue, it is certain that, in the time since Stuxnet’s inception, the US has been developing even more complex cyber weapons, and the changing face of war will employ more and more of these alternative means of combat.

Colton Cline
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