“There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” – Alfred Henry Lewis
“So, first, we recognize that victims of cyberattacks often face a very difficult situation. And they have to just balance off, in the cost-benefit, when they have no choice with regard to paying a ransom. Colonial is a private company, and we’ll defer information regarding their decision on paying a ransom to them.” – Anne Neuberger, US Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies
I’m blessed and cursed with a deep love of formal logic and deductive reasoning. Blessed because it comes naturally to me, and cursed because I’m also moderately (ok, fine, substantially) paranoid. The combination of the two makes for a suboptimal daily existence. Most times, I react to ghosts. Other times, I’m far ahead of the crowd on something important and handsomely rewarded because of it. Usually, there’s just enough of the latter to justify the regular embarrassment of the former, and so it goes.
In particular, I’m fascinated by the intersection of logic and behavioral psychology. For example, humans often have a difficult time dealing with the Law of Syllogism in instances where that law leads to the conclusion that danger lies ahead.
Let’s back up a little. The Law of Syllogism takes two conditional statements and forms a conclusion by combining the hypothesis of one statement with the conclusion of another. Here is a simplified form of that law:
1. If A, then B
2. If B, then C
3. Therefore, if A, then C
Here’s a proposed Law of Doomberg:
1. If A, then B
2. If B, then C
3. If C is bad and scary, then people are blind to “If B, then C” when observing A
As I’m sure you all know, the United States negotiated with and ultimately paid ransom to terrorists last week. The quote from Anne Neuberger above is, um, how can I say this politely… nonsense? Ah, yes. Nonsense. Let’s go with nonsense. There’s no chance this decision wasn’t made at the highest levels of the US government. Colonial Pipeline is certainly a private company, but when half the gasoline supply of the US East Coast is hijacked by foreign hackers (from Russia, no less), it becomes an all-hands-on-deck national security crisis.
Foreign hackers took the pipeline offline. They demanded $5MM in cryptocurrency as ransom. The US government appraised the situation and decided the ransom had to be paid. The ransom was paid. A catastrophic crisis was averted.
That’s what happened and it was the right decision.
“We never negotiate with terrorists because it only encourages more terrorism” is nice to say to each other while sipping cold beers from koozies adorned with American flags, but it’s silly as policy and demonstrably untrue. In this particular instance, the US leadership had to weigh the cost of the $5MM payment and the estimated present value of future costs associated with encouraging more terrorism against the devastating economic and social costs of destocking the entire US East Coast of gasoline. They had to weigh these things in real time. It was a no-brainer. Everything else is spin.
That spin includes calling this a crime instead of using the word terrorism. It includes pretending this was a private company decision instead of one blessed by the President. It includes news articles, like those of this morning, in which the CEO of Colonial Pipeline walks us through “his” tough and controversial decision.
Terrorists, hackers, and ransomware aren’t the point of this essay; however, they are the setup. Leaving it here would miss the forest for the “C”s. In Reflections from the Gas Pump, I noted:
“A prepper sees how even the most life-critical supplies have migrated to just-in-time inventory management and decides to pay the working capital penalty at the dwelling level to ensure their family and/or loved ones never get stocked out.”
Let’s apply the Law of Syllogism to the Colonial pipeline incident:
A – The fuel supply is shut off
B – There’s no fuel supply for food delivery trucks
C – There’s no food on grocery store shelves within days
We just learned how easy “A” is to accomplish by bad actors. Did you connect the dots to “C”? How many meals to anarchy is it in your dwelling?
Or, are you a victim of the Law of Doomberg?
If A, then… Meh?
If you enjoy Doomberg, email a link to your most paranoid friend!