Are Corporations an Achilles Heel?
Achilles was a Greek warrior at the siege of Troy. He was immune to all harm except on one heel. He was shot and killed by a poison arrow in his one vulnerable spot.
The United States has an Achilles heel. There is an American vulnerability that other nations even those with little credible military power can exploit.
To disrupt the German economy during the Second World War, the Americans used strategic bombing. They targeted key industries like ball bearing plants and oil production. There were attacks on infrastructure like bridges, governments offices and railroads. The effort required great sacrifice on the part of the Army Air Force. The 8th Air Force alone suffered 47,000 casualties with 26,000 dead.
One of the greatest missed opportunities of the campaign was the German electrical system. American intelligence did not realize how stretched German resources were and appear to have never considered the German grid a worthwhile target.
Bombing the United States presents serious problems to any potential aggressor. The distance is prohibitive for almost all the other nations on earth. Flight time would be measured in hours.
But strategic attacks can be made at the speed of an electronic transmission.
You can attack infrastructure through corporations, both domestic and multi-national. They possess critical targets held as data and in other systems like control of the electrical grid. Instead of physical attacks on infrastructure, hacking attacks with the same purpose would take place instantaneously and in multiple locations.
Of course, this could be considered wild speculation of the worse kind, a “chicken little” diatribe aimed at the weak minded. Unless you note that such attacks have already happened and are happening now. Unless you reflect that such cyber attacks are based overseas and have every appearance of state sponsorship, apparent trial runs for the “real thing.”
Currently Burger King is moving its headquarters outside the United States to evade taxes. It’s hard to think of fast food place as a matter of strategic interest to the United States but the fact is this company holds several million credit card records including pin numbers as well as a considerable amount of employment information as well as corporate gateways to large financial institutions, lobbying organizations and other companies like suppliers. Throwing all this on the internet for the free market of theft would be a form of sabotage but a foreign hacker would probably gather many company’s data before launching a concerted attack to disrupt the economy by making credit card use difficult or impossible while crippling commerce and banking, a strategic attack without the loss of a single man.
What kind of vulnerabilities do we as a nation have to these kinds of attacks beyond financial information? Here’s some examples:
What nations are interested in hacking American or multi-national companies? Here’s some examples:
Russian hackers attacked US financial system stealing gigabytes of data in suspected retaliation for Ukraine sanctions
So, are corporations an Achilles heel in the defense of the United States?
It is obvious that American corporations should act to help defend the country and themselves from these kinds of attacks. According to some, however, corporations are people. Are these “people” patriots or citizens with responsibility? By the tenets of free market fundamentalism, there is no problem of patriotism or duty here. The profit motive will solve these problems simply and easily. Hacking causes problems that cost money, thus the companies will act to defend themselves. So far, so good. But a great deal of money and expertise has already been expended and American data seems to be hacked daily. It is quite likely that companies will attempt to defend themselves. On the other hand, will they defend themselves with the depth of commitment necessary for a infrastructure asset of the United States?
If a corporation has no patriotic duty. If its only duty is to its shareholders. If demands that it act in loyalty to the national interest be described as parochial then there is no need for preventive action in accordance with a nation’s needs. It is difficult and requires the outlay of money and time to defeat this kind of highly skilled and apparently state sponsored attack. Any company embarking on such a program of defense would be placed at a competitive disadvantage with its fellows. While, it would be acting in the interest of the United States and acting in accordance with the duty expected of any American citizen, this would not be in accordance with the “only” real purpose of a corporation, that is, to act only for shareholder value.
What do we do?
By the tenets of neo-liberalism, the market should solve this problem. Perhaps, Russian, Iranian and Chinese, etc. will find having access to American markets more important than exploiting our vulnerabilities? Perhaps will just be lucky – which is apparently our primary mechanism of defense so far.
Or we could demand and establish by law a responsibility to act in concert to act as patriotic citizens on all American corporations and fully prevent them from moving to other nations to escape the obligations of American citizens. After all a corporation, is created by the state and its benefits depend on state protection. While many find the idea of corporate personhood persuasive, I do not. But in any case, they don’t have human mobility and thus their geographic presence can be regulated in a way that human movement cannot.
Patriotism and responsibility for vital national assets like credit card numbers, defense secrets, etc. should not be a matter of choice for a corporate board, but expected behavior from fellow Americans.
Hackers’ Attack Cracked 10 Financial Firms in Major Assault – NYTimes.com
Questions over who the hackers are and the approach of their attack concern government and industry officials. Also troubling is that about nine other financial institutions — a number that has not been previously reported — were also infiltrated by the same group of overseas hackers, according to people briefed on the matter. The hackers are thought to be operating from Russia and appear to have at least loose connections with officials of the Russian government, the people briefed on the matter said.