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The rise of the cybersecurity-industrial complex

Article by Timothy B. Carney.
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The $100 billion Washington will spend on cybersecurity in the next decade may be less about guarding America from a real threat, and more about enriching revolving-door lobbyists and satisfying pork-hungry politicians.

A new working paper by Mercatus Center authors Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins makes the case that “the rhetoric of ‘cyber doom’ employed by proponents of increased federal intervention … lacks clear evidence of a serious threat that can be verified by the public.”

But defense contractors — both tech companies and weapons makers – are profiting handsomely from fears of cyber attack that could steal sensitive information or crash computer networks and power grids.

Brito and Watkins quote politicians’ dire warnings that justify generous appropriations and added federal control over the Internet.

“The notion that our power grid, air traffic control system, and financial networks are rigged to blow at the press of a button would be terrifying if it were true,” Brito and Watkins write. “But fear should not be a basis for public policymaking.”

The public has been given no substantive basis for such fears. Any evidence of real threats is classified — reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction evidence that the Bush administration used to justify the Iraq War.

Lacking public evidence, ulterior motives and conflicts of interest are relevant.

Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2010, which would direct billions to cybersecurity centers and research. Rockefeller’s former chief of staff, Jim Gottlieb, is now a lobbyist at Capitol Counsel representing tech giant Cisco Systems on “legislation pertaining to cyber security,” according to a recent lobbying filing.

In the last election cycle, Gottlieb gave at least $19,000 to Democratic candidates, according to Federal Elections Commission data.

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