Against the U.S. Critical Infrastructures: Super Terrorism makes a Comeback

Dr. Manan Dwivedi 
15th May 2021

Picture Courtesy: Reuters

The United States of America akin to the rest of the international ecosystem is facing confrontational and debilitating state and non-state actors, in a turbulent global-scape. With the ongoing global pandemic in addition to the wars and conflicts over energy and water, the non-conventional modes of waging invisible and silent wars have come to the foreground in the current global polity. With U.S.-Russia relations being at their lowest ebb, a Russian connection is being surmised, in the recent disabling of the Colonial pipeline in the American heartland. This has affected all the American states and is an apt pointer in the direction of the subterfuge and mal practice adhered to by some nations to befit their vainglorious and hegemonic national interests materialized by their power and material capabilities. Still, keeping aside the tertiary debates of national security, the cyber-attack amounts to a debilitating ransomware attack on the 5,500 km long Colonial pipeline. The cyber-attack is a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of the critical energy infrastructure of the American homeland, which requires an entirely new brainstorming and preparedness by the American establishment.

The new entrant of the order of antagonistic intent has been observed through the phenomenon of, Super terrorism which utilizes unconventional and hidden instruments of unleashing carnage on the democracies of the international system. Along with the algorithms of realpolitik, its matchpolitik which is gainfully employed by nations such as China to destabilize the stability applecart of nations such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, India and United States of America. Thus, the emergent need for counter machinations such as, the Quad group of nation states led by India and United States serving as a counter foil for the Chinese expansionism, which, these nations need not posit solely in an anti-China language and parlance. There are the cooperative amalgams of Innovation, Artificial Intelligence, maritime strategy and several other mechanisms and themes that the Quad group of nations are cooperating and coalescing on.

The tenet of Super terrorism comes to the forefront as some nations and hackers in the international system employ these unconventional means. Under the rubric of the tenet of Super terrorism, the centres of industry, commerce and civilization are called as nodes, which are populated by people who visit the nodes for leisure, work or transit while the internodes are the myriad highways (information, roads, railways and air traffic) which connect these nodes. The terrorist since the September 11 attacks have adhered to this novae modicum of militating against these infrastructural constructs of the United States of America. Thus, the current trepidation in the form of the Colonial pipeline is also an addition in the same slew of attacks, coupled with the recent downturn in the political and diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington largely due to the western support given to Alexie Navalny. Thus, the larger context is also supported by the American standpoint in the context of Moscow’s incursions in Ukraine and Crimea.

As the US Energy Department has confirmed that the attack on the Colonial pipeline was international hacking, accusatory fingers can be raised at the cold war bête noir of Russia or the rising hegemonic portents of the People’s Republic of China. The Energy Department is also involved in the security of the American nuclear arsenal so attendant anxieties rose up which have been denied by the US Energy Secretariat. The Russian Embassy has tweeted that, “Malicious activities in information space contradicts, the principles of foreign policy, national interests and our understanding of inter state relations.” Can this Russian clarification disarm the American military and strategic intent as in the light of the September 11 attacks, the American homeland responded with a full-fledged maneuver, which resulted in the Regime change in Kabul?  As the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will be completed by September 11, 2021, can we expect an American engagement against the perpetrators of the cyber hacking of the Colonial pipeline as pre-emption has been defeated this time around and what the world expects is an American riposte against the hacker comity of nations?  The million-dollar question remains: are the Russkies or the Chinese involved in these nefarious and debilitating histrionics, which are vaudevillian in intent and result?


* The author is a Faculty of International Relations and International Organisations at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA)


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author