The DOD of course has a long history of jump-starting innovation. Historically, it has taken the megafunding and top-down control structures of the federal government to do the kind of investing required to create important technology for the military. Digital photography, GPS, the Internet itself—all were nourished by defense contracts before being opened up to the private sector, which then turned them into billion-dollar industries. ... Now the flow has reversed. Defense has been caught in the throes of the same upheaval that has disrupted legacy industries, unseated politicians, and upended global dynamics. In the digital age, innovation more often comes from smaller entrepreneurs than from the hierarchical structures that were the hallmark of 20th-century government and business. ... Defense contracting is notorious for bureaucratic lethargy and technological backwardness. And executives are leery of appearing to be too close to the US government while they seek to expand overseas. Put bluntly, they don’t want to alienate potential customers. ... The Valley is a place where brainpower is its own kind of currency, and Carter, who holds a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford, made an impression on the locals. ... somehow Carter must instill the seeds of a cultural and logistical overhaul that will make the modern military-industrial complex nimble enough to provide the kind of innovation and support its 21st-century fighting force needs.
The group of European black-hat hackers who launched the attack against New York had spent much of the previous decade breaking into American corporate networks — credit-card companies, hospitals, big-box retailers — mostly for profit, and sometimes just because they could. When those attacks became routine, the group moved into more politically inclined hacks, both against and on behalf of various governments, rigging elections15 and fomenting dissent. In the summer of 2016, the hackers received an anonymous offer of $100 million to perform a cyberattack that would debilitate a major American city. ... to self-identified anarchists with a reflexively nihilistic will to power, the proposition had some appeal. Causing disruption was something that had been on their minds recently, as their conversations veered toward the problems with global capitalism, the rise of technocentrism, bitcoin, and the hubris required to nominate a man like Donald Trump. Their animus got more personal when American authorities arrested a well-respected white-hat hacker who had broken into an insulin pump in order to show the dangers of connecting devices without proper security. The black hats were on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum but had more empathy for their fellow hacker than they did for the American people, who, they felt, deserved a comeuppance ... The plan was to show how much of modern life in a city like New York could be disrupted by purely digital means. The hackers would get paid, but they also hoped their attack would dent America’s complacent faith in order and in the technology and political authority that undergirded it. As a bonus, their services would be in even greater demand.
This is the story of the first 15 years of how we have dealt with that newfound fear—how we have confronted, sometimes heroically and sometimes irrationally, the mechanics, the politics, and the psychic challenges of the September 12 era. ... Have we succeeded in toughening up what overnight became known as “homeland security”? Absolutely. But not without a series of extravagant boondoggles along the way. ... Are we safer? Yes, we’re safer from the kind of orchestrated attack that shocked us on that September morning. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular if they do. But we have not plugged some of the most threatening security gaps. Worse, as the Orlando massacre reminded us, the world has become more populated by those who want to exploit those gaps, including those living among us—and who, in the United States, can easily obtain military-grade weapons. They are not deterred by the prospect of their own death, and they are happy to commit acts less ambitious than those of 9/11. That makes their attacks much harder to detect in advance. Our defenses are far stronger, but what we have to defend against has outpaced our progress. ... Have we adjusted, politically and emotionally, so that we can make rational decisions as a government and as a people to deal with the ongoing threat? Not yet. In a bitterly divided democracy, where attention spans are short and civic engagement is low and the potential for oversimplification and governing-by-headlines is high, that is hardly a surprise.