Should The US Hire Digital Dogs To Fight Cyber War?

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A recent book and FT op-ed opine on a novel solution to America’s inability to respond to knowns and predictable attacks by Russians and jihadis:

Hire pirates or, more exactly, employ privateers in the way England’s Queen Elizabeth I did in the 16h century.

Back then, the ocean was the world’s Internet, and across it went both goods and information, and England’s problem was that it didn’t have the biggest or best servers (i.e. its ships couldn’t hold a candle to those of rival Spain).

So she gave licenses to private citizens, authorizing them to attack enemy vessels and share in the spoils of whatever they plundered. The remit, called a letter of marque, effectively made those ships into a shadow navy, and gave the Queen plausible deniability for their actions (yesterday’s web didn’t do well with document search).

Famous captains like Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, and John Hawkins piloted smaller, fast ships that embraced unconventional tactics to harangue the Spanish. They also held cities hostage, ripped through jungles in search of lost gold, and profited from the African slave trade, so they weren’t exactly models of propriety.

They were known as the Sea Dogs, and their success compelled Spain’s King Phillip II to send his entire fleet, or armada, into the English Channel to crush them (and their royal patron). We all know how that turned out.

Why couldn’t the US inspire a cadre of similarly incentivized Digital Dogs? Think chests filled with bitcoin instead of gold.

It would be difficult, for sure. Elizabeth’s dogs were mercenary scumbags, but they were patriots, so she didn’t have to worry about them turning their guns on her country’s interests. Much of what happened on the open seas stayed there, so she was never held accountable for their less savory pursuits. They didn’t really win a war against Spain, but rather prompted it to do something stupid, and it’s unclear whether Russia or jihadi terrorists would be equally stupid (or what those blunt, losing actions might even be).

But if the alternative is the status quo, then maybe it’s a solution worth considering?

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