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The Terrorist Threat We’re Ignoring

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Posted on Jul 21, 2011
Martin Abegglen (CC-BY-SA)

By David Sirota

According to the U.S. government, the list of known bogeymen working to compromise American national security is long, and getting longer by the day. By my back-of-the-envelope count, we have shoe bombers, underwear bombers, dirty bombers and car bombers. Now, we are being told to fear “implant bombers” who will surgically attach explosives to their innards.

All of these threats are indeed scary. But the fear of individual attacks has diverted attention from a more systemic threat of terrorists or foreign governments exploiting our economy’s penchant for job-offshoring. How? By using our corresponding reliance on imports to stitch security-compromising technology into our society’s central IT nervous system.

Sounds far-fetched, right? That’s what I thought, until I read a recent article in Fast Company. Covering a little-noticed congressional hearing, the magazine reported that a top Department of Homeland Security official “admitted on the record that electronics sold in the U.S. are being preloaded with spyware, malware, and security-compromising components.”

The process through which this happens is straightforward—and its connection to our current trade policies is obvious. First, an American company or governmental agency orders computer hardware or software from a tech company. Then, because the “free” trade era has incentivized that company to move its production facilities to low-wage countries, much of that order is actually fulfilled at foreign factories where security standards may be lacking.

If this still sounds far-fetched, remember that in the offshoring age, one of the major high-tech exporters is China. That is, the country which has been turning computers into stealth weapons of the police state (for proof, Google the terms “Great Firewall” or “Green Dam”).


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Sadly, this threat is about way more than new glitches in Angry Birds. At a time when missiles are remotely fired via keystrokes, supply-chain vulnerabilities in high-tech products are a genuine security problem.

What might those vulnerabilities mean in practice? As the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported, they could mean “kill switches” secretly implanted in Pentagon systems that control our arsenal. Or they could mean new backdoors that allow Chinese military hackers to again breach Defense Department computer networks, as they did in 2007.

The possibilities are, unfortunately, endless. And yet this threat has been largely ignored for two reasons.

First, the threat is invisible, and therefore doesn’t make for good television. Instead, much of the media promotes stories involving sensational images of naked-body scanners and ignores less telegenic monsters lurking within circuits, algorithms and code.

Second, an examination of supply chain vulnerabilities would force us to question free-trade theologies that powerful interests don’t want challenged.

For decades, trade-related reporting has mostly focused on jobs. Left almost completely unmentioned are other concerns that free-trade critics have raised—concerns about the environment, human rights and, yes, national security.

The media and political Establishment avoid discussing these issues not because they are insignificant, but because the corporations that own the media and buy the politicians also profit off a regulation- and tariff-free trade policy that helps companies cut costs by moving production to low-wage countries. Not surprisingly, then, a discussion of the downsides of those trade policies has become a victim of a form of self-censorship that presents free trade as an exclusively economic (and positive) policy.

Appreciating the power of that self-censorship is simply to behold the reticence surrounding the supply chain problem. In a money-dominated media and political system that otherwise loves a good scare, the silence suggests that free-trade orthodoxy trumps all—even major national security threats.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the new book “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

© 2011

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LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, July 28, 2011 at 1:03 am Link to this comment

“Free trade, piracy, war - an inseparable three!” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.” — J.M. Keynes

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John R.'s avatar

By John R., July 25, 2011 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

Make no mistake, Corporations are forcing low wages on the American public. Corporations influence our government.

In place of Ideology, Profit is the motive.

This is done by making this list happen:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.

2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.

3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.

4. Set up an internal surveillance system.

5. Harass citizens groups.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.

7. Target key individuals.

8.  Control the press.

9.  Treat all political dissidents as traitors.

10. Suspend the rule of law.

To gain an understanding of these in-depth:

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By diamond, July 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment

“Sounds far-fetched, right? That’s what I thought, until I read a recent article in Fast Company. Covering a little-noticed congressional hearing, the magazine reported that a top Department of Homeland Security official “admitted on the record that electronics sold in the U.S. are being preloaded with spyware, malware, and security-compromising components.”

China? Why pick China? In certain quarters it’s common knowledge that Israel controls virtually the entire telecommunications system in the United States and it contains built in bugging devices and is linked up to a central computer in Israel which allows Israeli intelligence to trawl through the data for their own nefarious purposes. The beauty of this system is that nothing needs to be physically bugged because the bugs are already in there. Poor old Murdoch has to illegally hack onto people’s mobiles but the Israeli technology makes that kind of stuff superfluous and obsolete. Apparently it’s okay when Israel does it but a shock horror moment when China does it. Because, obviously, Israel has only ever done America good and has never led it into incredibly expensive and self-destructive wars, has it?

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M Henri Day's avatar

By M Henri Day, July 24, 2011 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

«That is, the country which has been turning
computers into stealth weapons of the police state».
Note here that Mr Sirota is not talking about the
state in which he lives, the United States, but
another state….

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy
brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is
in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out
the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in
thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine
own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out
the mote out of thy brother’s eye.



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By TAO Walker, July 24, 2011 at 12:04 am Link to this comment

“(C)onvincing people,” of anything whatsoever, is no part of this Person’s
“purpose” here.  It is only to present a description of the “self”-inflicted
predicament our tame Sisters and Brothers are in, as it looks from here in Free
Wild Indian Country….a view-point otherwise unavailable to them….which they
can take or leave as it suits them. 

Those “self”-chosen few among them, for example, intending to ‘survive’ the
terminal stages of the “civilization” disease process, by sacrificing everything
and everybody ‘else’ to its demands ahead of their own too-precious “self,” and
who are sometimes described as fools (since they are in-fact being taken for
such by the retro-viral tormenting ‘entity,’ the “self”-styled “SELF” they idolize,
and whose undead wannabe parasitic purposes they half-wittingly serve) seem
likely to ‘leave’-it.  That is, of course, always a privilege of ‘the privileged.’ 

Those among the muddled masses who’ve been also co-opted into that
‘service,’ but who don’t really know any ‘better,’ are still being made fools-of,
but for-the-most-part are only ignorantly and passively complicit in the big
CON being run here by The “SELF.”  Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave them
much less susceptible to the naturally inevitable CONsequences of the disease
process as it reaches its predestined and “self”-inflicted DEAD END. 

The “human”-ist CONceit to which some otherwise well-meaning participants
here evidently adhere, and for which they tirelessly (if often only implicitly)
‘stump,’ is in its actual effects on them no less degenerative than that “anarcho-
capitalist” offshoot of it presently dominating the “dominance”-paradigm-
derived virtual world-o’-hurt that is the “global” gulag regime.  It’s only that
the latter (call it “human”-ism ‘on-steroids’) amplifies and accelerates the
disintegration of its derivative ideological/institutional/technological
subsystems in just exactly the terrifying ways we see happening right now. 

It is a trait of the domesticated to make such ‘value judgements’ as “superior”
and “fool”-ish….among many others.  They do it all the time about almost
everything.  So simply describing for them, in their own terms, their own “self”-
referential behavior, and attributing to it (in no uncertain terms) all the ills of
which they so chronically complain, while perhaps sometimes seeming to some
of them too ‘harsh,’ is hardly unwarranted in these dire (for them)

Us surviving Free Wild Peoples, on-the-other-hand, simply experience
wholeness and health, as a component of Her immune system within The Whole
Healthy Living Arrangement of our Mother Earth, as our natural condition.  That
our tame Human Relations are so acutely aware of the grievous lack of these
qualities in their own diminishing half-lives, suggests to us that at-least some
among them might be receptive to an offer of The Medicine specific to the
healing of their otherwise soon-to-prove-fatal sickness….their loss of The Tao
of their Humanity.

We are not here, in the Person of an Old Man who could be spared for the task,
while most of us have much more pressing Organic Responsibilities, to
persuade anybody to accept our Native Guidance.  It is available to whoever
wants it, but certainly can’t be ‘forced’ on anybody who doesn’t.  Those who are
dissatisfied with this Old Savage’s ‘bedside-manner’ (which admittedly leaves
much to be desired in the way of tender sensibilities), can, just by getting-over
their “self,” also get past something that is, after-all, of no real importance at-
all in Her ‘scheme’ of The Ten Thousand Things.

You’re all quite welcome, Sisters and Brothers, to go-ahead and get-well
despite this Old Man’s obvious, and un-denied, short-comings as one of The
Medicine’s People.


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By gerard, July 23, 2011 at 8:31 pm Link to this comment

Hi, Anarchissie:  A difference:  I define patriotism
a bit differently, confining its meaning to loyalty (even unto death) toward the nation-state, the “father-land”—a concept which I thought grew out of the development of nations and nativism.
Loyalty, to me, is a broader “spiritual”  term, applied to ideas,group thought patterns and reactions, concepts of right and wrong. 
  For me, the fact that capitalism “takes over” governments is what defeats it, ultimately.  Governments (primary agents of nation states) inspire patriotism because they bear the trappings of sentiment. Economic systems are sentiment-free (by comparison) and though they try to engage feelings, have difficult holding onto them because they “lack emotional content” so to speak.Ideologies attempt to bridge the gap, and may succeed for a time, but the marriage is tenuous. Something like that. I haven’t thought this through, but there’s a germ in there somewhere.  Thanks.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, July 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm Link to this comment

gerard, July 23 at 6:55 pm:

‘... It is very hard to feel patriotic about police states ....’

That’s certainly not what I observe.  Patriotism is ‘us’ versus ‘them’, therefore, ‘us’ must be surveilled, controlled and disciplined to fight ‘them’ better, perhaps to wipe ‘them’ out, after which a new ‘them’ must be found to keep the fires of patriotism burning.

The interesting thing about capitalism is that it’s about self-interest, or what people call ‘greed’ when they observe it in other people.  It tends to dissolve or atomize social bonds outside the market (see the Communist Manifesto about this).  One of those bonds is loyalty to the pack, band, clan, tribe, race, or that great big deadly metaphor of these that’s so popular, the nation-state.  So capitalism and patriotism intrinsically at odds, although of course capitalists will sell patriots the rope to hang themselves with, and little flags, too.

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By gerard, July 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm Link to this comment

Anarchissie:  As capitalistic greed over-extends itself (inevitably), it becomes less and less admirable, and people find it less possible to feel “patriotic” toward its dominance, especially when it spreads its dominion to many different nation-states.
  This spreading turns “patriotism” (fatherland-consciousness) into an ever-extending awareness of “others”.  Further, as capitalism competes for political power, it continues to separate classes into a minority of controlling elites and huge majorities of “under-privileged”. The enthusiasm for capitalistic preachments of “free enterprise”,
“democratic rule”, “justice for all” etc. become a gruesome travesty everywhere and there is nothing left to feel loyal to. Patriotic feeling (which is grounded in communality) deterioriates into worldwide class struggle—“us” versus the imponderable, destructive presence of States.
  It is very hard to feel patriotic about police states. Eventually, patriotism deteriorates into fear of the State and a yearning and search for commonalities based not on nations or systems, particularly, but on shared understandings, faith, justice, human values etc. Humanism overtaking patriotism? Aren’t we perhaps seeing this now?
What do you think?  All this is sheer theorizing on my part, based on vague intuitions.

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By kerryrose, July 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment

I completely agree that we don’t need Progressives to try to out’terror’ the ‘terror’ fears.  Why in the world would Sirota start a new Paranoid terror theory as if our entire democracy has not been undermined since 9/11 by stoking the terror fears.

What exactly should we fear?  Our nation becoming undemocratic?  Being overrun by another country that will take away our ‘liberties?’

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, July 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment

gerard, July 22 at 7:03 pm:

So if we can come to terms with the fact that communication systems are drawing us out of the “national security threat” mind set and toward the “international security guarantee” mind set, can we perhaps get together and make the leap in order to save the human race? ...

Maybe, but the nation-state, built on nationality (metaphorical racism, us vs. them) and violence, seems to be a stumbling-block.  Folksy philosophers tell us to make our stumbling-blocks our stepping-stones, of course, but it looks like a tough, dirty piece of material to wrestle with.

Could capitalism destroy patriotism (us vs. them), as litlpeep suggests, the way it did classical slavery and feudalism?  It seems a bit much to hope for, although the folks who wrote Empire seemed to think so.

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By gerard, July 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm Link to this comment

MeHere:  Good points!  Thank you.

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By MeHere, July 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment

It is very troublesome to read this article by D. Sirota who uses the example of
merchandise from China to make the case that imported goods can be weapons of
terrorism. We have not been the target of acts of terrorism from China, so why
spread this paranoia and scapegoating? It is very irresponsible.  Our government officials do enough
damage to our national security by adopting belligerent approaches in order to
secure what powerful interests want.  We don’t need to have liberals engaging in
China-bashing too, as many of them do. The tradition of xenophobia is alive and

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By gerard, July 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment

Tao:  If convincing others is your purpose, please consider avoiding comparisons that make your free, natural people seem inately and irrevocably superior and all the rest of us, fools.  You yourself know this is a very divisive tactic—either/or etc. To my knowledge the Tao does not lead in this direction.

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John R.'s avatar

By John R., July 23, 2011 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

Well said gerard -

I truly believe that in time we will get past these ugly stages of wars and greed, but certainly not while any of us are alive - that post on this site. Those in power will desperately guard it at the cost of murder as we all know.

But keep talking, keep posting, keep influencing others toward the direction of peace and food for all humans. It is possible. And… it needs to start somewhere. Why not here, with us. Most posters on this site I have found to be very intelligent despite the minor differences, and I have learned a great deal by reading the opinions of others that post to this site.

I am grateful to all of you out there that post and reveal your thoughts - Many are very, very illuminating. Leading me to investigate the situation. This is an excellent school for anyone that gives a damn about the direction humanity is headed.

I have personally chosen to buy only goods that are only manufactured in America. And have been doing this for roughly the last three years. My car is Japanese though, a 1992 Toyota. The next one I hope will be all electric, and made in America. 

We need jobs in America - this is unchallenged.

Obviously its late in the game, but ten years from now (if we’re all still here) this mindset of buying only American goods possibly may have an impact. In any case, it would seem that it is the local choice, and can be practiced day by day. Be diligent, check the labels, try not to be fooled.

I have nothing against other people in other countries. Its normally the governments that I have trouble understanding. I prefer the diversity and colors that the world offers.

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By litlpeep, July 23, 2011 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

This says it all: “The media and political Establishment avoid discussing these issues not because they are insignificant, but because the corporations that own the media and buy the politicians also profit off a regulation- and tariff-free trade policy that helps companies cut costs by moving production to low-wage countries. Not surprisingly, then, a discussion of the downsides of those trade policies has become a victim of a form of self-censorship that presents free trade as an exclusively economic (and positive) policy.”

Only Mr. Sirota seems afraid of pointing out the blunt truth: Capitalism has killed patriotism in the USA.

What’s to fear, Mr. Sirota?  Afraid of writing as a patriot for fear you’ll get permanently censored from publication?  Why not explore just how deeply dead US patriotism really is, because we all know the phoney crap the R party dispenses is just phoney crap, and that party wouldn’t know what an actual patriot was if he stood up and praised the party’s patriotic forebears as start contrasts to their present party-wide knee-jerk nonsense.

Meanwhile the Democrats have no alternative to offer.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, July 23, 2011 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

Or, to boil it down to the most succinct terms, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’

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By gerard, July 22, 2011 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment

So if we can come to terms with the fact that communication systems are drawing us out of the “national security threat” mind set and toward the “international security guarantee” mind set, can we perhaps get together and make the leap in order to save the human race?  It seems abundantly clear that, as individuals and small groups, people from radically different “cultures” can learn to live together in peace, given the will, the intelligence and the basic resources to sustain a decent existence. And the more we get together, the less fear of “the others” dominates us.
  It’s an enormous undertaking.  Even thinking about it is awesome and easy to discredit because, althhough it’s happened many times before, it is so subtle that we don’t notice, or realize it as it happens.  Those who recognize its birth will need to “midwife” it into acceptance, and that requires a whole new, enlarged emotioinal and intellectual consciousness that nobody can predict in detail.  One thing we know,however—the nature of human nature is not set in stone.  Individuals have proven the possibility of significant change in the interests of survival. Furthermore, what is needed is quite possibly implicit in the human genome.  Maybe it is already in vivo without our knowing it.
Throughout history necessity has pushed humanity to become itself.

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AnAlienEarthling's avatar

By AnAlienEarthling, July 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

It would be better to generalize the principle: the
off-shoring that FT agreements permit and encourage
are a threat to national security. They indulge our
complacency to human rights violations, our
conflation of material prosperity with genuine
happiness, our ignorance in food-security and
domestic and global water-security, our self-
deception concerning climate change, our self-
deception concerning the health and well-being of
ourselves and our children, and they erode our tax
base as they erode employment and, therefore, the
education of our children….

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By PatrickHenry, July 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment

This must be the rope we sold by which they hang us by.

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By prosefights, July 22, 2011 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment

Additional warning.

Hardware is now designed with software.  Verilog synthesizable processors.

Even though us software guys can give you source code, object ocde, disassembly or decompilation of binaries does not mean the embedded controller product is safe.

The hardware may be SPIKED.

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By TAO Walker, July 22, 2011 at 11:38 am Link to this comment

All this desperation to pin-point some identifiable ‘culprit’ as responsible for yet
another assault on the already too-fragile grip theamericanpeople have on their
“god-given right” to comfort-and-CONvenience (not even to mention their
sanity).  They need a particular ‘perp’ who/ which might then be ‘detained,’
‘interrogated,’ and ‘taken-off-the-streets.’  What else, after all, is all this
heavily-armed (and effectively-unchecked) “anti-terror”-justified “law-
enforcement” for anyhow?

What if, however, the latest “threats” David Sirota ‘red-alerts’ us to here are not
really due at-ll to some isolatable (and thus possibly ‘treatable’) element (Oh,
say….China, or run-amok “corporate entities,” or corrupt politicians.) within the
“global” gulag CON-TRAPtion itself, but are, rather, (just like all the other
things terrorizing, here in these latter Days, the muddle masses in general
population….and the “self”-chosen few prison administrators, too, when you
get ‘em together “behind closed doors”), nothing but the natural and inevitable
out-workings of the “civilization” disease….here in the terminal stages of its
own entirely BIOLOGICAL (even though the thing is hardly half-alive….more
accurate to say simply ‘un-dead’) process?  So “Who ya gonna call?” captive
Cousins….in that worse-than-your-worst-nightmare “worst-est-‘case’-

The Medicine’s People, of ALL Kinds, everywhere, stand ready to respond
effectively to the “self”-inflicted predicament of our tame Sisters and Brothers
(of all virtual ‘kinds’....the moment they get-over their “self” and signal their
readiness to choke-down, if necessary, a healing dose of The Living Virtue of
Organic Functional Integrity.


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By prosefights, July 22, 2011 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

Knowing what a microcontroller is REALLY DOING is about impossible.

Sandia labs black-hatters spiked software.  The white-hatters could not, in about all cases, discover how the balck-hatters did it.

Decision makers - Jul 22, 2011 - 9:36 AM Decisions to use AMI which use microcontrollers are frequently made by the liberal arts ‘educated’ instead of engineers.

We are challenging lawyers involved in energy efficiency electric rates in New Mexico for competency reasons.

Systems which contain software can be manipulated for financial gain.  Users don’t know what the microcontroller are programmed to do. 

Spy, cheat, or intentionally fail [after warranty expires, of course] are possibilities.

Swiss radio international reports on one of the more ‘audacious’ [ Baltimore Sun description]  cases of softrware manipluation directed against Iran.

Stuxnet is another example.

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By sharonsj, July 22, 2011 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

People who pay attention know this is going on.  It’s the corrupt politicians and CEOs who ignore it because it’s profitable to do so.  I’d like to see these guys prosecuted for treason, but that will happen when the Dept of Justice goes after Wall Street…NOT.

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, July 22, 2011 at 6:58 am Link to this comment

Wow.  It’s so great to know there is even more ‘terror’ to fear.  Oh no, shut down the Pentagon?  How scary.  We will not be able to coordinate are world-wide killing machine.

If the Pentagon does down, I hope we are not invaded by a country that will keep the majority of the population in poverty with high unemployment, or arrest US citizens without due cause, or allow corporations to pollute and destroy our health with impunity.

It’s a scary (terror-ifying) thought.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, July 22, 2011 at 2:42 am Link to this comment

If I were a terrorist, I’d concentrate my efforts on the soft underbelly of our economic activities. Blow up a critical wafer fab facility (a billion dollar investment at least) and you could bring everything to its knees. Some of us remember those days when, after a fire destroyed a wafer fab specializing in memory chips, the cost of computer memory went from $15 dollars to several hundred and finding memory was almost impossible. Our military imports boat loads of semiconductors from Asia all the time. We could be made literally blind if that supply chain were broken even for a short time. There are so many choke points in our modern society that could be destroyed, bringing us a screeching halt. But, as the article implies, the money folks don’t want us to see these risks as it would endanger their cash flow.

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