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Stephen L. Carter

The Hackers Behind Pages of 'Ghost Fleet'

Fun summer read raises interesting questions about tech.
Fictional book, real ships.

Fictional book, real ships.

Photographer: Gary C. Knapp/Getty Images

It’s easy to see why “Ghost Fleet” has captured the imaginations of foreign policy experts in the U.S. and abroad. The techno-thriller, by P.W. Singer and August Cole, not only tells a crackling-good story but also casts light on the warnings that have come from many quarters about the risks of offshoring U.S. defense procurement.

The novel is built around a hypothetical war, in the near future, between the U.S. on one side (thinly allied with the U.K. and Australia; everyone else, NATO included, has, shall we say, abandoned ship) and an alliance between China (now run by “the Directorate”) and Russia on the other. The story begins with a huge cyberattack on U.S. defense facilities, helped out by space-borne technology and the casual carrying of mobile phones, but even more so by the heavy reliance of ships, missiles and computers on microchips manufactured in China. The chips turn out to be corrupted in various ingenious ways that managed to survive all the various forms of screening they undergo.