While the media appetite for controversy has been whetted by the classified security leaks scandal, noted editor and journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave insists in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV that his fellow reporters are missing the much larger story — the dawn of cyber warfare.
“I think we’ve totally overlooked what’s happening in terms of warfare,” de Borchgrave charged on Tuesday. “The attacks that we launched and that Israel launched — electronic attacks against Iran — it’s just the beginning of a new phase of warfare.”
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A Newsmax contributor, and editor at large for United Press International, he describes the attacks as “cyber warfare coupled with robotic warfare, which means we don’t even leave our borders anymore to attack someone.”
In a wide-ranging interview de Borchgrave also:
• Questioned the long-term effectiveness of such cyberattacks to date in delaying Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
• Predicted that Israel has a 50/50 chance of attacking Iran before the U.S. presidential election.
• Accused the Obama administration of being “fool hearty” if it leaked classified information on the cyberattacks without understanding the effectiveness of such attacks.
• Warned that direct military intervention in Syria would be “total geopolitical madness.”
Recent news articles described details of U.S. involvement in a partially successful computer virus attack on Iran's nuclear program and on the selection of targets for counterterrorism assassination plots.
But that tells only part of the story of cyber warfare.
“To give you a little indication of how much is already going on in that field, the Pentagon has been intruded in such attacks six million times in one day — from all over the world and all over the United States,” said de Borchgrave, who also serves as director and senior advisor of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Of course they won’t say how many were successful. But it shows you the scale of what’s going on,” he explains. “Pretty soon in my judgment — just a matter of a few more years — wars will be fought entirely by remote control.”
The leaked security information has generally painted President Barack Obama as a decisive and hands-on commander in chief, leading de Borchgrave and other national security experts to theorize that the leaks are coming from the White House to boost the president’s re-election chances.
“I think there have been too many leaks,” acknowledged de Borchgrave, noting a special prosecutor will likely be appointed to investigate the leaks, and he or she will probably be able to trace “many” of them back to the White House.
“We have yet to find out where they came from. That kind of a war has to be conducted in ultra secrecy. Otherwise it’s totally counterproductive. And to brag about these things before we’ve estimated the damage that has been done to their nuclear program I think is foolhardy.”
De Borchgrave’s sources tell him that the cyberattacks on Iran have had limited success. “I’m sure we set back the Iranian program. I can’t tell you by how much — whether it’s a few weeks or a few months, but not major, major damage,” he explained. “It hasn’t killed the program — and nothing exists today that would kill the program short of physical action.”
He gives even odds that the Israelis will proceed with a pre-emptive conventional attack on Iran during the height of the U.S. presidential campaign. “Neither candidate would dare criticize Israel at that stage of the campaign,” he reasoned.
Such an attack could have regional repercussions. “This may unleash a major war in that part of the world because Iran has — I’ve described these before as formidable asymmetrical retaliatory capabilities — up and down the Gulf and in other parts of the Middle East,” he said.
Some U.S. officials are calling for military intervention in Syria — ranging from arming Syrian rebels as GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggests, to engaging in air strikes against al-Assad’s forces as Sen. John has suggested.
“There will obviously be support for the Free-Syria forces from the West — I would imagine from the United States as well,” he observed. “Of course I’m thinking of the CIA and covert assistance. But to intervene directly there as we did in Libya I think would be total geopolitical madness.”
Such direct intervention could devolve into a much larger conflict “very quickly” that would almost certainly destabilize the price of oil and alienate U.S. voters who are already deeply dissatisfied with the Afghanistan War.
“We cannot afford a generalized war in the Middle East unless you’re prepared to see oil shoot up to $200, $300, $500 (a barrel) instead of the $120 I think where it is today,” said de Borchgrave.
Unfortunately, he said, the U.S. and its allies cannot see a clear alternative to al-Assad.
“There are so many different things that nobody has taken into account, and it’s very easy to make these statements: ‘We should go in there and help our friends,’” he explained. “It’s very hard to sort out the bad guys from the good guys at this point — especially among the anti-Assad forces. You will find some Islamist extremists as we did in Libya.”
While there’s no question that al-Assad and his father, Hafez, have been ruthless dictators, they have also brought a form of stability to the country, which had seen 21 coups between the end of the French Mandate of Syria in the 1940s and Hafez al-Assad seizing control in the 1970 Corrective Revolution.
There are no easy answers.
“Assad’s father was ruthless as well. He killed 25,000 people in the city of Hama . . . And the son seems to be pretty much on the same track — determined to kill as many people as necessary to restore his control,” added de Borchgrave.
America’s decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has left Iran in a better position. “We’ve just blown a $1 trillion on war in Iraq, which has resulted in Iran today having more influence in Iraq than we do,” asserted de Borchgrave.
“And by the time we’re out of Afghanistan that will be another $1 trillion,” he added. “And we don’t really know how we’re going to get out of Afghanistan.”
He said that Pakistan will be key to any solution. “I would imagine at this point Iran will be brought into the succession as well as China, and Russia, and India — and of course Pakistan,” according to de Borchgrave. “But for us to get out, we need a deal with Pakistan, and no deal is possible today. No deal is possible with Pakistan — and no deal is possible without Pakistan.”
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