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America Must Redefine its Responsibility in Protecting Our Digital Lives

It is increasingly evident that we are entering Cold War 2.0 – and two major threats to our national security are electromagnetic pulse weapons (EMP) and the misuse of data, writes U.S. Air Force Brigadier General (ret.) Robert Spalding.

Nuclear weapons pose an ever-present threat, and an EMP could be triggered by their use. But the second iteration of the continuing ideological struggle between oppression and freedom also brings data, the internet, and smartphones.

EMP threats are not new. We’ve known about their devastating impact to electronics since the 1960s. Such an attack could devastate our nation’s digital capabilities: military and civilian communications would cease, transportation would halt, homes would no longer be a safe haven, and industries would collapse. An EMP attack would send us into the nightmare world described in postapocalyptic movies and video games.

Today, however, our lives are arguably more reliant on our ever-present connectivity. It should not be lost on anyone who contemplates national security that nuclear weapons – a source for EMP – and data misuse constitute a convergence that would impact the single most important invention of our time: the smartphone, and the infrastructure that enables it. And we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to an old threat by not safeguarding the connection on which we have become dependent.


How do we offset the risk to our society that a Cold War 2.0 brings, maintain our liberty, and preserve our independence in the face of massive influence? The answer is infrastructure. The digital world is powered by legacy technology that will not survive an electromagnetic pulse and won’t protect your family from foreign influence. Both threats are well-documented and known. Despite the fact that the federal government is aware of the devastating threat that EMP attacks pose, our electronic infrastructure is not hardened against an EMP attack.

When the network goes down, when the electronics in our cars don’t work, when the streamed and downloaded information we all rely on is offline, who and how are you going to call for help? How will you reconnect with distant family members? Even this recent well-intentioned New York public service announcement doesn’t have an answer for that. This should be the job of our infrastructure, and it should be up to the task, but it is not.


I often hear the sentiment, “what do I care if the government or Google is spying on me? I don’t have anything to hide so why does it matter?” The answer is that this data is used for manipulation. The smartphone has ushered in new trillion-dollar companies whose access to customer data accounts for their massive valuation. This value comes from the intelligence that can be gathered about your behaviors, intentions, and perceptions from the device you carry around every day. This device knows more about you than your best friend, and sometimes, more than you know about yourself.

In America and around the world, that information is leaked or sold to the companies whose algorithms influence your life patterns. The National Intelligence Council assesses that “China and Russia are increasing their ability to analyze and manipulate large quantities of personal information in ways that will allow them to more effectively target and influence, or coerce, individuals and groups in the United States and allied countries.”

It should not be surprising then that the principal inheritor of the Soviet Union’s mantle, the Chinese Communist Party-controlled People’s Republic of China, should make use of that data to manipulate your perceptions. The Soviets did this as well, they just didn’t have Steve Jobs’ wonderful invention and a global network to take advantage of it.


The Soviets didn’t have TikTok, which is both a deeply addictive social media app and a potential pipeline for Beijing to scoop up Americans’ sensitive personal data. Globalization and the internet changed the game for national security and took it from the jet-fueled bravado of Top Gun, to (their words) the “pasty-faced scholar wearing thick eyeglasses.” These new national security types are more concerned with your tweets than with the readiness of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (although China’s navy now has more ships than the U.S.).

When it comes to foreign influence, what role does our infrastructure play? According to the FCC, it is important enough to ban Huawei and several other Chinese companies from selling their infrastructure products in the United States. But that does not go far enough. Our infrastructure must provide the means to protect user data. We can no longer afford business as usual, no matter how much the Big Tech companies complain.


Today, we need to rethink national security. It must be focused on the homeland as we rebuild the supply chain we shipped to China. In doing so, we can take advantage of Federal and State infrastructure spending to build a digital backbone worthy of a world power – built to protect and connect American citizens.

We should start in Florida, where the hurricanes have given us a reason. Instead of building a network that won’t survive the next storm, let’s endeavor to build one that will withstand nature and the Chinese Communist Party, whether the threat is from an EMP attack or the toxic influence of communism.

Rob Spalding is the founder and CEO of SEMPRE, the only true technology company created to protect and secure our most critical resource: data. He is a former White House National Security Council senior director and a retired USAF B2 pilot. Rob is also the Author of “STEALTH WAR: How China took over while America’s elites slept” and “War without Rules.”