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Can Russian aggression bring U.S. together?  

Hacker dark face using laptop in the dark

Hacker dark face using laptop in the dark room Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/spyarm

Count on Russia — Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Just as we’re scratching one another's eyes out in the wake of the presidential election, Uncle Vlad steps forward to remind us what a real enemy looks like.

It’ll be up to us to decide going forward who to fear and hate more, our American brethren on the other side of the aisle or the Russian Menace plotting our demise.

Putin’s (alleged) internet attacks on the United States appear to be severe. Key agencies breached include the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the labs at Los Alamos and the Commerce and Treasury departments.

A senior government official speaking with The Associated Press didn’t pull punches: "This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America," he said. Dozens of major U.S. tech companies have been infiltrated as well, according to news reports.

It’s worth noting the obvious here: the internet is America’s giant Achilles' heel. We rely on it for pretty much everything — water, power, healthcare, banking, transportation, food, communications, and, oh, national security. Our nation isn’t alone in that vulnerability, but as the world's largest economy with the world’s largest military, we would have the most to lose if our systems were suddenly knocked off line or instructed to act counter to our interests.

President-elect Joe Biden is saying the right things so far. "A good defense isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyber attacks in the first place," he said. In other words, it’s not enough to kick the intruders out of our online systems (again); Russia has to pay a price for its transgressions so great that it would dissuade her — and other nation states, including, especially, China — from mounting future attacks.

Here, some might be tempted to point to the incumbent president’s leniency toward Russia over the past four years, but that gets us nowhere. What’s done is done; it’s time to look forward as a nation, and on this we can all unite — if we so choose. Indeed, if Republicans and Democrats in Washington were looking for an excuse to start working together again, this would be the perfect one.

We’ve been here before. On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union announced the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite, catching the American public and its leadership about as off guard as has this enormous internet breach. Sputnik was a necessary wake-up call to an overconfident nation that considered itself technologically invulnerable. The shock of it gave us renewed national purpose: landing a man on the moon to reassert U.S. political and technological primacy across the globe.

In the decades since the 1969 moon landing, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years later, Americans grew used to be No. 1 in just about everything. Lacking a unifying threat — a unifying purpose — we’ve begun turning on ourselves.

Then along came Vlad.

That’s how one hopes to see it one day anyway.

What we do about Russia’s transgressions going forward is up to our leaders in Washington beginning now. But God help us if they don’t come together on this one. These breaches are far more threatening to us than Sputnik was.

Anyone saying otherwise? They’re spewing Russian propaganda. Count on it.

William F.B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

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