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Dr. Cyber Strangelove
Albert Goldson Albert Goldson
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: New York, NY
Sunday, January 9, 2022


 The world is experiencing historic debt levels, incompetent &ineffective leadership, insatiable big corporate greed and bellicose actionsfrom autocratic countries. Because of the multitude of uncontrolled unfoldingglobal crisis, nationalism is thriving fueled by the perceived or actual threatof encirclement. For this reason these simultaneous and interconnected crisis arecreating the inevitability of conflict, traditional or otherwise, notablycyber.

The Cold War triggered a nuclear arms race between the USand USSR resulting in the increasing danger of miscommunication,misunderstanding or miscalculation any of which could inadvertently start anuclear war. The establishment of hotlines had mostly mitigated that risk.However 21st century technological advances have removed an advancedwarning of an impending cyber-attack.

During the Cold War to deter the enemy from thinking he canlaunch a nuclear first strike and “decapitate” the decision-making leadership forthe purposes of avoiding a retaliatory strike, protocols were established sothat a lower ranking officer could authorize such a retaliatory strike.Nonetheless, despite all the sophisticated technology then and now, the finaldecision always resides with the human element.

As clearly demonstrated in the classic movie Dr. Strangelove1964), also known as “How I Stopped Worrying and Learn to Love the Bomb”directed by the late Stanley Kubrick, a lower-level officer portrayedbrilliantly by Sterling Hayden as General Jack Ripper, circumvented the nuclearlaunch safety system and initiated a nuclear attack on the USSR.

What made Dr. Strangelove so fascinating is that it includeda rogue American general who started a nuclear war instead of theusual stereotypical cardboard cutout characters from the Soviet Union andChina. Present-day those characters are updated which include Russia, China,Iran or North Korea.

Fast forward to a tumultuous, present-day 21stcentury. Despite the safeguards on high-tech weaponry, the weak link is the relianceon the psychological stability of those authorized to launch those weapons. Nowreplace everything referencing “nuclear” with “cyber” and you have a 21stcentury déjà vu scenario in which real life could imitate art.

Much has been written and discussed about foreign elements, bothsovereign and rogue using cyber-weapons. Little has been discussed about the UScapability of inflicting far more damage on our enemies via cyber-warfare andthat our reluctance is not because of lack of political will, rather usingproportional responses will provide our enemies an insight into whatcyber-weapons we possess.

Never mentioned is whether a high-ranking, ultra-nationalistin the US military with authorized access to the most sophisticated cyber-toolsmight take matters into his own hands. It’s not beyond one’s imagination thatwe already have a 21st century General Jack Ripper with strongnationalist feeling who may be prodded from his “sleeper” mode to take unauthorizeddirect action.

The mainstream media has inundated us with endless storiesof cyber-attacks from “the usual suspects” namely Russia, China, North Koreaand Iran conducting cyber-attacks against American government, business andsociety. Even military leaders and policymakers scream about the possibility ofa cyber-Pearl Harbor.

What makes the present-day cyber threat far more perilousthan the nuclear missile launches of yesterday is that there’s no lead time nortime to identify and react to the incoming threat or recall the cyber-weaponry.A cyber-attack that comprehensively shuts down all essential military andcivilian infrastructure and services will wreck apocalyptic chaos in the targetsociety. Because government and corporate credibility have fallen to such lowlevels they will be unable to mitigate next crisis which would require citizencompliance. The end-result: anarchy.

In an unauthorized cyber-attack the Cold War’s “Big Board”is obsolete. Hotlines for cyber-attacks would be nothing more than damageassessment. By the time the Russian, Chinese, North Korean or Iranianambassador is invited to view the unfolding of events, the show will already beover.

For this reason the entertaining scene when in the movie theRussian ambassador is invited to view the “Big Board” asverification and seriousness as the situation unfolds of the unauthorizedattack will be missing from the 21st century version. From acinematic perspective it would be a shame because the entertainingly outspoken GeneralJack Ripper character would be reduced to a cameo appearance.

Democracy’s Dark Side

A counter-intuitive perspective suggests that this scenariois more like to occur in the US rather than China, Russia, North Korea or Iran.Why? A high-ranking officer in an autocratic government faces severe punishmentaka execution) if he abuses his position and acts independently withoutauthorization.

Although there is severe punishment in a democracy, relieveof command, loss of pension and a long (and eventually commuted) prisonsentence is the more likely result of such general exceeding his authority. Forthis reason ironically the freedoms in a democracy allow the freedom to act notin the best interests of the citizenry he has been entrusted to protect. Allthe most crystal clear, cleverly crafted and unambiguous safety protocols won’tprevent a motivated high-level insider from abusing his authority. A primeexample of this is in Dr. Strangelove with respect to Plan R; the failure (andimpossibility) to control the imperfect and determined human element.


Back to the fictitious upcoming remake entitled Dr.Cyber-Strangelove, the cyber-weapon will have already infected the target’ssystems so the challenge will be to find the “recall” code or remote “killswitch” to halt the attack.

Adding to the heightening present-day tensions during thisDark Winter II is that sadly and more terrifyingly from a political perspectivePresident Muffy played by Peter Sellers in the original, made far betterdecisions to resolve the crisis than the present-day, impossibly divisive WhiteHouse political leadership.


Circumventing safeguards to access and weaponize cyber-toolsis far easier to achieve than the authorized series required through anestablished of chain of command to launch a missile. Several of ourintelligence agencies have admitted the theft of highly classifiedcyber-programs. It’s not because these agencies are incompetent, rather thatstealing a program via some keystrokes and a flash drive requires immediate directaccess, not a series of authorizations which would raise red flags whileattracting far less attention than fueling an intercontinental missile.

In a the most divisive American society since the Civil War,disturbingly one wonders how many General Jack Rippers are out there who feeljustified in undertaking this dark task.

© Copyright 2022 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that providesprescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments ongeopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

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