IF WAR is “the continuation of politics by other means” (Carl von Clausewitz) then cyber-war is the continuation of war by other means.
When the US Government warned the rest of the world that, when it comes to securing regime change in Venezuela, “nothing is off the table”, most observers assumed it was talking about some form of military intervention. (An impression encouraged by a video-clip of National Security Advisor John Bolton’s hand-scrawled aide memoire “5,000 troops”.)
Thousands of Gringo soldiers planting their combat boots on the sovereign territory of Venezuela was not, however, a prospect which many Latin American leaders relished explaining to their own people. Better by far to have the Venezuelan generals abandon President Nicolas Maduro in favour of the CIA’s hand-picked “Interim President”, Juan Guaido.
Unfortunately for Uncle Sam and his lickspittle lieutenants, the Venezuelan armed forces refused to follow the script Washington had written for them. Guaido was able to call out the Chavista’s sworn enemies among the Venezuelan elites and their middle-class enablers but, as the events of the past 20 years have proved, these guarimberos are insufficiently numerous to be decisive. The Venezuelan police, backed by the army and the popular militia, can contain their protests without resorting to deadly force.
Clearly, a change of strategy was required.
And, in the finest traditions of CIA, Pentagon and State Department contingency-planning, an alternative strategy was ready to hand. According a nine-year-old memo circulated by CANVAS (Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies) back in 2010 – and subsequently released by Wikileaks:
“A key to Chavez’s [Hugo Chavez was the leader of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution and Maduro’s predecessor in the presidential palace – C.T.] current weakness is the decline in the electricity sector. There is the grave possibility that some 70 percent of the country’s electricity grid could go dark as soon as April 2010. Water levels at the Guris dam are dropping, and Chavez has been unable to reduce consumption sufficiently to compensate for the deteriorating industry. This could be the watershed event, as there is little that Chavez can do to protect the poor from the failure of that system. This would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate.”
Taking down Venezuela’s electricity grid was thus identified as a potentially decisive intervention.
CANVAS, by the way, was born out of the so-called “colour revolutions” that subverted the governments of, among other states, Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine. It specialises in mobilising young people – usually middle-class students – who are sent onto the streets in what appears to be a campaign of spontaneous, non-violent resistance to autocracy. Behind the screen of these ongoing democratic protests, however, CANVAS unleashes much less acceptable political forces, trained and equipped by the CIA to bring down regimes deemed hostile to US interests. That CANVAS turned up in Venezuela surprised nobody familiar with its sinister record of political destabilisation.
As John McEvoy, writing for the left-wing UK website, The Canary, noted in his 12 March posting, “the Venezuelan opposition tried to include ‘damage to facilities of the National Electric System’ within an amnesty bill in 2016.” Tellingly, the bill demanded amnesty for the perpetrators of any and all protest activities directed at Venezuela’s socialist government since the abortive right-wing coup of 2002. The list was a long one and revealed the lengths to which the right was prepared to go to overthrow Chavez’s democratically elected administration.
With Venezuela’s “National Electric System” now well-and-truly damaged, the question is one of agency. The US Government and its multitude of mouthpieces have been quick to blame the nationwide outages on the maladministration of Maduro’s government. This is what happens, they insist, when socialists take over. Nothing works. Nowhere in these reports, however, is there reference to the US embargo on the export of the spare parts needed to keep Venezuela’s hydro-electric generators and transmission infrastructure operating. No mention, either, of the embargo on the coal exports Venezuela needs to fuel the national electric system’s back-up power stations.
Also lacking in the mainstream reports is the catastrophic effect of a prolonged electricity outage on the Venezuelan capital’s water supply. Caracas is situated nearly a kilometre above sea-level, which means that its fresh water supply must be pumped up to the capital’s inhabitants from below. Take out the electricity and you take out the pumps. People can make do without electricity for a few days, but they cannot survive without water.
In the words of the leaked CANVAS memo: “This could be the watershed event, as there is little that Chavez [or Maduro] can do to protect the poor from the failure of that system.”
The Venezuelan Government is under no illusions concerning those responsible for the current crisis. Maduro has declared his country to be the victim of a cyber-attack initiated and overseen by the US Government. To those who roll their eyes and complain about tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, supporters of the Venezuelan Government need only offer one word: Stuxnet.
Stuxnet was the highly-sophisticated computer “worm” developed by the USA and Israel and introduced to the IT infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear programme. It proved to be a devastating cyber-weapon, playing a major part in driving the Iranians to the negotiating table and removing the threat of an Iranian bomb.
Compromising the Venezuelan hydro-electric generation system would likely have proved a great deal easier. With the generals refusing to revolt and Guaido’s guarimberos unable to defeat the forces of law and order, it was time to resort to “other means”.
Really? Yes, really. Those who doubt the United States’ willingness to prepare for and launch such an attack should consider the words of Paul Buchanan, an American academic who has spent much of his life working in and around the US national security apparatus. Writing on his blogKiwipolitico on 28 February, Buchanan had this to say about the likely preparations for regime change in Venezuela:
“As the crisis accentuates and the impasse continues, US military planners will pour over maps and powerpoints, then hammer down the details of the means, methods and tactics to be used, as well as Plan B and C scenarios. Assets will be discretely transferred to staging areas and liaison with host militaries and resistance groups will be established. Strategic targets such as oil derricks and refineries will be given special attention.”
As well, it would seem, as Venezuela’s national electricity generation and transmission infrastructure.
Some people will no doubt say: “Well at least this is a bloodless intervention.”
Bloodless? Tell that to the patients who died in Caracas’ hospitals as the emergency generators gave out and the equipment upon which their lives depended ceased to function.
War, be it conventional war, or cyber-war, is hell – and always will be.