A Pulitzer Prize winner in journalism and now a columnist for Slate, Fred Kaplan has written a number of highly regarded books on national security issues, including “The Wizards of Armageddon,” on the creation of Cold War nuclear strategy; “Daydream Believers,” about the thinkers in the George W. Bush administration who believed they could transform the world with minimal costs; and “The Insurgents,” about the counterinsurgency theorists who tried to change the American way of war and (unsuccessfully) clean up the mess left behind by the people in Kaplan’s earlier books.
“Dark Territory” builds on this trifecta, taking the reader into the world of the new security topic du jour — cyberwar. The title comes from the former secretary of defense Robert Gates, who said that when it comes to the questions of conflict in the digital age, “we’re wandering in dark territory.” There is widespread uncertainty not just about how a cyberwar should be fought, but also over the fundamentals of who should fight it and even whether it is a war or not.
Kaplan follows Kipling’s advice, gathering the stories of American government leaders who played key roles in the development of cybersecurity policy. They range from White House officials and former directors of the National Security Agency to lesser-known figures like Willis Ware. An engineer turned policy adviser, Ware wrote the first paper warning of the problems of cybersecurity, in 1967, before Arpanet, the progenitor of the Internet, had even been created.
Kaplan had access to several of these people, and so the book is peppered with many fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes. For example, it opens with the story of Ronald Reagan watching the 1983 Matthew Broderick hacker movie “WarGames,” which led him to ask for the first national security policy directive on information systems security. At their best, these stories ultimately come together, often in surprising ways. The writers of the very same movie that so troubled Reagan turn out to have been advised by Ware, some 15 years after his first warnings.