Digital Privateers: Taking the Cyberwar to the Culprits

The Powers Vested in Congress

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There are three powers vested in Congress in Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. The first two, the ability to declare war and to tax, are exploited almost yearly by the congress. However, the third, the power to issue Letters of Marque, has not been used since 1981 and this was only used for ceremonial purposes. Now, as we face unprecedented cyber attacks on government facilities, the United States needs to once again consider using Letters of Marque to deal with threats from China, Russia, and other third world nations.

What is a Letter of Marque

A Letter of Marque and Reprisal is an authorization granted by a government to a citizen or corporation in their country to carry out attacks and harassment against actors in a foreign nation. The Letter of Marque is issued to civilians who have the means to carry out attacks on opposing commerce and, if they are so inclined, military installations in order to limit the sphere of influence of a given nation in a given region.

Privateers are basically government endorsed pirates with a strict set of rules on what they can and cannot do in furtherance of their cause. Usually, the only compensation for a privateer (the name of someone who has been issued a letter of marque) was the “booty” that they earned during their escapades.

The reason that privateers were such a valuable asset to the United States, especially in the early years of its development, is because the private sector had more skills than the U.S. Military (which was very small at the time). This allowed the government access to a vast network of skilled sailors (many of whom were veterans) who could carry out unofficial attacks against British and French shipping. This allowed the government to defend the region without risking outright war with either of the two super powers at the time. As an added bonus, the privateers were generally better equipped than some of our early naval ships.

Old Idea in a Modern Age

With China and Russia hacking the U.S. on almost a daily basis, and other nations doing the same monthly, the United States needs to respond in kind. Some of the best hackers, crackers and digital personas are in the United States. Many of them have warrants against their screen names. This limits the ability of the United States to seek them out to work with them for the betterment of the nation. That can end right now.

If the United States government issues a call for hackers, crackers and digital personalities, the U.S. can use its authority to forgive warrants at the end of several years of “privateering.” This would, of course, not include anyone who participated in sex trafficking, child pornography, or acts of sedition. Rather, the government would attempt to employ those who were involved with corporate data breaches, bank hacks and other white collar crimes as the new digital private army for the United States.

What would Privateers do?

Digital privateers would respond in kind to attacks from other countries (along with exposing foreign hackers). Since they are privateers, they do not have to follow the “measured response” method that has weakens the United States over the years. Privateers follow the Roman model, for each one of ours, we take $1,000 of theirs.

Digital privateers would target supply chains, banks, light and heavy industry, and even military operations with vulnerabilities. Though nuclear weapons would be off-limits, conventional fleets can and should be disabled. Banks of nations that are attacking us should be liquidated and industrial patterns should be disrupted (this can be a Robin Hood scenario. Privateers let us use the most skilled computer operators in the world to make the world a better place.

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If you want to be a pirate, and have the skills, then call your congressional office and request that your congressperson enters your name for a letter of marque and defines which nations are attacking us. If you are like Jerry Seinfeld and saying “But I don’t wanna be a pirate.” Still call your representative and tell them that letters of marque need to be issued to protect the United States infrastructure. Other countries are doing it, and if we want to stave off World War III, we need to be doing to too.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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