I can’t tell you how many times I have had people on both sides of the ideological divide in this country mock me for my devotion to American-made products. Rarely do they bother with my central premise: that this country is better off when we make our own stuff and pay our own people to make it. Instead, they use snark (HOPE U ENJOYED UR MEXICAN TRUCK LOLZ POOPY BUTTZ!!!) or assume an arch, world-weary pose (“Outsourcing and overseas manufacturing is inevitable, here’s an article from Vox or Buzzfeed about it, try not to be such a stupid hick”) to imply that I’m either hypocritical or hopelessly naive.
They’re wrong, of course. This country is strongest when we are self-sufficient, not when we serve as an upscale suburb and retirement community for Asians flush with the immeasurable bounty of our uneven trade. For the past thirty years, we’ve made a spectacularly bad deal with China and others, to wit: We’ll send our factories to you, then buy your products, then you can use our money to outbid us for our land, which you can then keep forever. Some of my friends describe this as the ultimate in Boomer narcissism, essentially giving away the country to ensure that they can ride the party all the way to their graves, but the attitudes involved have effortlessly leaped from my father’s generation to my own and beyond.
Faced with this literal sale of our heritage to overseas interests, it’s common for the world-weary crowd to say something about how the Japanese were doing the same thing until their banks collapsed, neatly ignoring the fact that Chinese banks, unlike Japanese banks, tend to be supported (or undermined, if you read ZeroHedge) by securities drawn on the American government. They’ll also tell you that according to the Church Of Thomas Flatworld, every nation should do what they do best; the Chinese make stuff, we sell land, and it’s great!
Well, it’s all fun and games until the Chinese People’s Liberation Army creates a hardware hack to take control of Apple’s data centers and the Amazon Clown, er, Cloud. Which has happened.
Bloomberg has the story. It’s a long read but every word of it is worth your time. The PLA engineered a microscopic chip that sits next to the “management controllers” found on all computer servers nowadays. These controllers go by many names — HP/Compaq has iLO (Integrated Lights Out) and IBM has HMC — Hamburgler Machine Control, not really, but it’s so lousy that I’ve often suspected the hand of Grimace in its creation. These chips are on and functioning even when a computer is turned off; that way the Indians administering the systems from overseas never have to actually visit the “rack and stacks” in Colorado. They are essentially all-powerful. And now we know that the Chinese put backdoors into those chips for themselves.
Fifteen years ago, this shit wouldn’t have worked. We didn’t have management controllers. We paid human attention to our network traffic rather than letting tools like Splunk tell us what was and wasn’t normal. Most critically, we didn’t have what JWZ, the fellow who destroyed his carpal tunnels writing Netscape Navigator, calls The Clown. The Clown is a stupid idea that is beloved of the lazy and the incompetent. It is popular with bosses for the same reason that children (or, um, 46-year-old adults) often “clean their rooms” by putting everything in a closet. If you can’t see the problems, they don’t exist. If you hand over your computing infrastructure to a third party, then it’s their problem, not yours.
It would be one thing for Riverside Green to use the Amazon Cloud — although we don’t, because I don’t trust it. It’s another thing for banks and major manufacturing firms to allow Jeff “No Platform” Bezos to control their infrastructures. I just finished a contract at a Really Big Bank where the H1-B crowd was in the process of convincing the grownups to move major parts of their financial processing to the Amazon Clown. What a brilliant idea! Let’s just send the keys to the entire American economy over to a third party! What could go wrong?
The Clown is an irresistible target for criminal or nation-state hackers of all types because it is a monoculture. If you can figure out how to hack Riverside Green, that won’t necessarily help you hack the Unz Review — but once you can figure out how to compromise the Amazon Clown, or the Apple Clown, then you have godlike power over banks, governments, you name it. And the Chinese managed to get their chips into the Clowns. This particular hardware hack was eventually caught and addressed. You’d have to be a special kind of fool to think it was the only one. You’d have to be a real clown.