Batallions of Hackers vs Soldiers and Presidential Computer Literacy

With the Dems bashing Senator McCain for not being computer literate, the question is raised. Is it a good thing, bad thing or meaningless that the President is computer illiterate.?

I believe that Senator McCain could still be an effective leader and President without being computer literate, but he would be far less effective, and there could be real potential risk in future issues of national security.

If you don’t use computer technology, you have to communicate by phone, meeting or paper. All of which require multi step processes. What could be resolved with a quick Txt message or email, requires an intermediary. Multiplied by untold number of such events on a daily basis, and there is a question of productivity. Does a more productive candidate make for a better President ?

On the same subject, some would argue that by using any form of messaging, there is the opportunity for hacking. My response: If they can hack the President’s messaging, they can hack his phone and the devices of all of those around him who do use technology. Others would argue that it leaves a paper trail, which Presidents would prefer not to do. I would argue, that this issue has been addressed many times, making it a non issue.

My personal fear about a non computer literate President comes down to national security. I dont care whether or not he surfs the internet, uses social networking , reads blogs, listens to podcasts, prefers Mac or Windows or knows how to download. All of that is easy enough to grasp without actually doing it yourself.

National Security is something completely different.

No candidate is going to fully understand all the technology involved in protecting the country on our digital front. They aren’t going to understand the who, whats, hows and where of what is involved in protecting everything digital in this country. This country is already under continous attacks from hackers around the world. So its not a new issue.

However,I do think a candidate that has not adopted any level of digital lifestyle will have a harder time understanding the relative importance of protecting digital connectivity and assets vs physical assets.

It will be hard for him to understand what happens to US productivity when US connectivity assets are put at risk or not well protected.

It may be hard for him to understand the impact of doing the same to an opposing developed country we may find ourselves at odds with. That there may be more value in a digital assault than a traditional military one.
While our current conflicts are with those short of electricity, let alone technology, that will not always be the case. China and Russia have the power to pose a greater threat than anything we are fighting today.

It may be hard for him to understand the impact of the corruption of data on the viability of our financial system. That bad data being introduced into our banking system could create a far greater nightmare than a Russian warship off the coast of Alaska. That our ability to introduce misinformation into an enemy superpower financial system could hurt them worse than one more missile pointed their way.

More importantly, it may be more difficult for him to grasp that hacking supremecy could instill a greater fear in a developed country than more potent weaponry. Taking down, and keeping down a financial system by a hacker can revert a country from developed to barbaric in weeks.

The Commander in Chief of our great country will have to make choices on where to deploy and invest in weapons, hard assets and most importantly, intellectual capital. If heaven forbid, a decision has to be made as to which is more important, protecting a data center or a factory. Will Senator McCain fully understand the importance of one vs the other ? Should investments be made in bombers or software ?

In our current conflicts we have been short of intellectual capital in the form of, among other things, language translators. Could we find ourselves in future conflicts short of the technological intellectual property needed ?

Will either candidate understand the need to build digital infrastructure around the world that can give us pre emptive and reactive support for the digital battles that will inevitably be fought ? That a inpenetrable NATO datacenter fully peered and connected can be more important than an airstrip ? That protecting fiber can be as important as protecting a pipeline ? That a batallions of hackers, platooned around the world, can create the ultimate Shock and Awe ?

I’m not saying that Senator McCain can’t overcome these issues. Hiring the right technical advisors won’t be easy, but its certainly attainable. Hopefully, in response to the democrats assertations, he will let us know who his advisors are and how they feel about these issues.

Only then will I personally be able to overcome the base issue. If he personally feels that technology is not important to his way of life, he may assign the same relative importance to it in his decision making as Commander in Chief. That could impact our national security.

13 thoughts on “Batallions of Hackers vs Soldiers and Presidential Computer Literacy

  1. I wouldn’t know, but I imagine that most of a President’s days are spent reading documnts and talking to people in the Oval Office. I don’t think productivity would be a real issue.

    On the other hand, I think awareness of cyber threats is important. Would an older, more conventional military type consider a cyber attack on an enemy state? Something tells me that Obama would be more likely to embrace such a strategy and realize that it may indeed me a more powerful and crippling blow than a conventional military strike. These options are already on the table; the question is what options would the commander in chief be willing to give thoughtful consideration to?

    There are a few things that have come up in the comments I’d like to address. FIrst, what makes Dudley believe that Obama is a “Chicago politician in the worst sense of the word”? That’s a very strong statement and I see no information anywhere to support it. Other than the preacher and the ex-weatherman, I’m also not aware of any bad associations that Obama has. What is obvious, however, is that he’s capable of assembling some pretty smart people. To have beaten Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination is quite a feat. McCain, on the other hand, does have the Keating Five question and more recently and more importantly to me, the Phil Gramm connection. Why on Earth would he pick that guy to advise his campaign on economic matters? Talk about clinging to old, failed ideas. It’s also worth noting that before the gaffe about America bing a bunch of whiners, it was widely thought that if McCain had won, Gramm would be nominated to head up Treasury. That’s a pretty scary thought to me. There’s more. In the last few weeks the McCain Campaign has hired some of the people who helped throw his campaign under the bus in 2000, and these people did it in a very underhanded way. That’s well-known.

    When it comes down to it, no matter who wins I think we’ll have better leadership than we’ve had over the last eight years. Clearly I have my preference, but I’m going to have a party on inauguration day either way. Seriously.

    By the way, this blog doesn’t get along with Firefox 3 at all. I can’t see half of what I’m typing.

    Comment by Dustin -

  2. Computer literacy is a reasonable indicator of intellectual curiosity
    but then again so is what books candidates read. I’m interested in
    what they know about history, because it gives context to their
    decision making, but nobody seems to engage them in those discussions.

    In fairness to Senator McCain, it should be mentioned that part of
    the reason he isn’t a computer user is that his injuries as a POW
    were severe enough to leave him limited in his ability to type. I’ve
    seen reports he has trouble even getting his arms above his head.
    Oddly enough, his physical condition and age aren’t being discussed

    In the interest of fairness, I would mention that I won’t be voting
    for either candidate this fall. I don’t know how we’ll ever reform
    the primary process, but if there was ever evidence of a need to it’s
    the selection of Obama and McCain as standard bearers for their
    parties. Obama is a Chicago politician in the worst sense of the
    word and McCain’s ethical problems include the Keating scandal and
    a disturbing tendency to cut the rug out from under his own party
    if it served his on personal interests. What a choice!

    Comment by Dudley Bokoski -

  3. I think the comments are kinda missing the point of the post. It’s not that McCain and Obama won’t be surrounded with capable advisors, it’s more a question of how the president responds to threat assessments.

    Comment by jg -

  4. I agree that more computer literacy can lead to more efficiency. It can also help you to better understand the intricacies of potential electronic attacks.
    I find it hard to believe, however that a man who doesn’t know how to actually check his e-mail will therefore not be able to understand how e-mail works. No president fully understands the details of our military technology. They couldn’t explain nuclear fusion beyond a one minute summary. Many can’t even pronounce “nucLEAr fusion”. This does not mean they can not be ready for the implications that nuclear attacks could cause.

    A president is not a “know all” being. Like any good business person, they align themselves with others who supplement their shortcomings and they listen to those people very carefully before coming to their own conclusions.

    Bottom line, I’d like to know that our president is at least as good as the average consumer with technology, but that is not necessarily a determining factor in his effectiveness.

    Comment by Zach W -

  5. Tweet. Penalty. Piling on!
    I’ll try this again since Mark (or his minions) erased my first comment this morning at 6:13 am.
    In 2000, Jacob Weisberg in a article headlined “McCain’s Web Explosion” writes
    “Six months ago, no one would have pegged McCain as the most cybersavvy of this year’s crop of candidates. At 63, he is the oldest of the bunch and because of his war injuries, he is limited in his ability to wield a keyboard. But McCain’s job as chairman of the Senate commerce committee forced him to learn about the Internet early on, and young Web entrepreneurs such as Jerry Yang and Jeff Bezos fascinate him. Well before he announced his exploratory committee, McCain had assimilated the notion that the Web could be vital to the kind of insurgent, anti-establishment campaign he wanted to run.” Slate isn’t a Republican rag)
    That’s in 2000 when most of us were still in short pants.
    Kevin over at writes “Trippi Praised McCain’s “First Bold Attempt To Harness The Power Of The Internet”. Yes that Joe (I helped Howard Dean) Trippi.
    Trippi writes “and I closely followed John McCain’s insurgent Republican presidential bid in 2000, the first national campaign to attempt to make use of the Internet.” and
    “And it’s how a Republican Senator like John McCain could use the Internet to raise $6.4 million after his shocking win in the New Hampshire primary.” this from his book
    The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything.
    And this was all in 2000. Read all about it at
    So Googlers, do some real research and get to the truth.
    McCain is very Internet savvy NOW and has been for years.
    This is just another smearby the drive-by-media.

    Comment by Wil -

  6. Nuance. People are missing the nuance of this post. Does our potential leader understand the issues of our time and how to deal with them in a 21st century manner? This is a very valid question. Well done.

    Comment by Geoff -

  7. I find it odd that this might be the issue you can’t get beyond. I just read your previous posts on how to tax wealth, and the CEO’s severance pays and found them to be insightful. Obama wants the people and companies to be beholden to the government in as many ways as his potential position will allow. That seems much more of an issue especially to entrepreneurs, like yourself, then whether or not McCain is versed in Javascript.

    I agree that this election can basically be boiled down to who has better judgement, and I’d rather have the people McCain chooses to associate with on both sides of the aisle than the radicals and elitists Obama has chosen to surround himself with.

    Comment by kayce -

  8. Saying that John McCain needs to be computer literate in order to make decisions to protect Americaagainst digital attacks is about as accurate as saying Barack Obama needs a military background in order to make decisions to protect America against military threats.

    Comment by Brad Russell -

  9. @nick: I’ve seen that quote- I’m looking for more than a self-deprecating remark to demonstrate his “illiteracy”. BTW- since the time of that remark he has also said that he is spending more time on the computer (a simple Google search would have shown you that).

    Comment by Dave O -

  10. Computer literacy or lack thereof is not an indicator of who will make a good president and who will not.

    As you said, there is no way any person could be 100% versed in any subject that the presidency will need to deal with. A good president is someone who will surround himself with knowledgeable people, listen to their advice, learn what he has to and make a decision.

    Obama has repeatedly shown that he is not a good judge of character which makes me believe that he would not pick the right people as advisor.

    McCain, for all his faults, has shown that he is willing to listen to differing viewpoints, which, I believe, would make him an effective president.

    Whether or not he can send a text message or email is irrelevent — they have aids for that sort of thing.

    Comment by Shawn -

  11. @Dave O – McCain admitted it himself: “I am a [computer] illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get.”

    A simple Google search would have gotten you that.

    Comment by Nick -

  12. McCain is actually very computer literate. However, he is not
    physically able to type because of his injuries. Every night he
    and Cindy sit down and he dictates to her how to respond to emails
    and they do many other things on the computer.

    As for the 21st century cybersecurity, that is the job of the 16
    intelligence agencies and also congressional subcommittees.

    Also, your statement “The Commander in Chief of our great country
    will have to make choices on where to deploy and invest in weapons,
    hard assets and most importantly, intellectual capital.” is
    misinformed. These decisions mainly rest on the intelligence agencies
    and military allocations and requests of funds from Congress.

    The President can certainly try to steer agendas and such. But these
    agencies and Congress has much longer lasting interest in their own
    devices than the President. McCain is also one of the most involved
    Senators when it comes to new-age, internet, and satellite technology.

    I’d like to type more but I’m not a billionaire (yet!) and have to
    get back to work.


    Comment by Kellen G. -

  13. People are making assumptions about McCain’s computer illiteracy- what are these assumptions based on- other than Obama’s attack ads?

    Comment by Dave O -

Comments are closed.