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INFORMATION WAR

A talk given by Christoph Fringeli in Vienna.

 

Information War, Cyberwar, Netwar, Anti-War, Technowar, Postmodern War are all new buzzwords in the field of military theory, buzzwords that are now becoming more commonplace and are entering the cultural mainstream.

A recent example of this is the movie 'Wag the Dog' a Hollywood production starring Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman. 11 days before the election the president is suddenly facing a sex scandal after disappearing into his office with a teenage girl. He is leading in the polls but something has to be done, so a task force is set up, led by Robert de Niro, and it is decided the thing to do to get the sex scandal out of the headlines is go to war. To manage and produce this media event the services of Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman are employed:

Out of the blue, a conflict with Albania is created, the spectre of international Nuclear Terrorism is raised. Albanian terrorists are supposed to be near the Canadian border on their way to blow up the land of the free with a "Suitcase Bomb". News footage from the war in Albania is created entirely in the studio. A patriotic hysteria is easily created in the face of such serious threat, until the CIA puts a stop to the baloney and for a few hours a kind of normalcy returns.

The production team of this war is deeply unhappy about this turn of events though and are preparing for phase two: They invent Special Forces unit 303, some of whom got stuck behind enemy lines, a soldier named Schuhmacher is chosen to be the American war hero for that purpose, nicknamed "Old Shoe". Again a whole line of merchandising is created, the t-shirts, the burgers, the song. This time the song is made to sound old, a hiss is added, the thing is pressed on a 78rpm record and placed in the Library of Congress to be found later at the right opportunity. Mr.Schuhmacher turns out to be a psycho rapist on large doses of medication, and instead of landing to receive patriotic honours he makes the plane crash in the middle of nowhere and gets himself killed by some country folk. De Niro and Hoffman are rather relieved by this, now they can dutifully bury the national hero. It is here that Hoffman wants the credits for what he sees as his finest production, but since the American people is not supposed to know, he is taken away by the men with black shades and in the final scene of the film a news speaker announces his unexpected death from a heart attack.

 

Wag the Dog is not a brilliant movie but it is remarkable in that it exposes the machinations of manipulation and production of reality, the total disregard for truth in favour of power in contemporary political culture. That's remarkable for an American mainstream movie as such, but also marks the spillover of the Infowar-buzz into the mainstream.

The connection of concepts of information and conduct of war was certainly not lost on the military theoreticians in the past from Sun Tse onwards. Napoleon is quoted as saying that 3 hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a 1000 bayonets.

What is Information War ?

As concepts of information war are filtering into the cultural mainstream, it is far from clear in military circles what we are talking about. Definitions such as the following one are common, but not satisfying enough: "Information warfare is the offensive and defensive use of information and information systems to exploit, corrupt, or destroy, an adversary's information and information systems, while protecting one's own. Such actions are designed to achieve advantages over military or business adversaries."

The actual confusion is well illustrated at the beginning of an essay by Martin Libicki of the Institute for National Strategic Studies:

"In the fall of 1994, I was privileged to observe an Information Warfare game sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Red, a middle-sized, middle-income nation with a sophisticated electronics industry, had developed an elaborate five-year plan that culminated in an attack on a neighboring country. Blue -- the United States -- was the neighbor's ally and got wind of Red's plan. The two sides began an extended period of preparation during which each conducted peacetime information warfare and contemplated wartime information warfare. Players on each side retreated to game rooms to decide on moves.

Upon returning from the game rooms, each side presented its strategy. Two troubling tendencies emerged: First, because of the difficulty each side had in determining how the other side's information system was wired, for most of the operations proposed (for example, Blue considered taking down Red's banking system) no one could prove which actions might or might not be successful, or even what "success" in this context meant. Second, conflict was the sound of two hands clapping, but not clapping on each other. Blue saw information warfare as legions of hackers searching out the vulnerabilities of Red's computer systems, which might be exploited by hordes of viruses, worms, logic bombs, or Trojan horses. Red saw information warfare as psychological manipulation through media. Such were the visions in place even before wartime variations on information warfare came into the discussion. Battle was never joined, even by accident."

Libicki then goes on to propose 7 different types of Information War, saying that as a separate technique of waging war it doesn't exist, and that instead there are several distinct forms, each laying claim to the larger concept - conflicts that involve the protection, manipulation, degradation, and denial of information.

"(i) command-and-control warfare (which strikes against the enemy's head and neck),

(ii) intelligence-based warfare (which consists of the design, protection, and denial of systems that seek sufficient knowledge to dominate the battlespace),

(iii) electronic warfare (radio- electronic or cryptographic techniques),

(iv)psychological warfare (in which information is used to change the minds of friends, neutrals, and foes),

(v) "hacker" warfare (in which computer systems are attacked),

(vi) economic information warfare (blocking information or channelling it to pursue economic dominance), and

(vii) cyberwarfare (a grab bag of futuristic scenarios). All these forms are weakly related."

Libicki goes on to point out that the concept of Information War has little analytical coherence. There is a seduction towards making up theories with little bearing on reality and a danger of becoming rhetorical that I'd rather avoid here.

Let's see then if we can approach the theme of Information Terror from the Terror-angle.

What is Terrorism ?

Terror is what instils fear in the attacked. Classic acts of terrorism would consist in bombings or assassinations that would terrorise the ruling class or a colonial power to the degree of making them abdicate and give up their position of power leaving the way for the proletariat to exercise self rule.

Terror is also used in war, like the use of the A-bomb, saturation bombings, Agent Orange, mass rape. But this is not usually called terrorism, presumably because these kind of activities are exercised by so-called legitimate armies. Rarely does one force advocate the use of terror, it is always the opponent who commits atrocities while one self is always the righteous defender of freedoms or even of peace. Or it is called deterrence or law enforcement. Or sabotage, or urban guerrilla.

The original theoretician of the urban guerrilla, Carlos Marighela, whose "Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla" greatly influenced the likes of the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades, still describes and advocates a hot conflict that is mainly fought with the gun.

He advocates a decentralised organisation structure of groups of 4-5 people that would be hard to infiltrate and identify.

It is one of the things the RAF didn't understand, or at least didn't know how to exploit: That they were not identified in the last few years, and that that was a special strength. They had become a phantom of armed resistance, and they will live on as a popular myth rather than the People's Army they wanted to be. But the Red Brigades for example were deeply infiltrated by the secret services, to a degree that some think at least some of their actions, quite possibly including the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, the president of Democrazia Christiana, were actually controlled by the secret state.

Let's juxtapose this with the Department of Defense definition of terrorism:

"Terrorism is carried out purposefully, in a cold-blooded, calculated fashion. The men and women who plan and execute these precision operations are neither crazy nor mad. They are very resourceful and competent criminals, systematically and intelligently attacking legally constituted nations that, for the most part, believe in the protection of individual rights and respect for the law. Nations that use terror to maintain the government are terrorists themselves." (p.5-3, DoD, quoted Postmodern War p.181)Let's remember that while we investigate the greatest act of terrorism in the US:

Oklahoma City

What happened in Oklahoma City is far removed from the kind of "terrorism" of the urban guerrilla of the 70's: After the end of the Cold War the external and internal Security Enforcement Agencies find themselves at a loss of an enemy and under pressure to justify their incredibly huge budgets. This is a serious situation since there are problems in the world that could be solved with the hundreds of billions of dollars of "defense" budgets. Suddenly so-called Rogue States (like Lybia, Iran) and a new form of the Mad Bomber - this time it's nuclear! - had to fill the gap left open by the "socialist" camp. But there was very little evidence for this theory...The "proof" for the actuality of the Terrorist Threat was missing. Until the bomb went off in Oklahoma City.

On April 19, 1995, the anniversary of Waco, a fertiliser bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City and kills over 150 people amongst them many children, and causes an outrage in the United States as well as the rest of the world.

Despite Timothy McVeigh getting the death penalty for it there remain a large number of open questions that suggest that maybe a whole different scenario is at work than is brought forward by the mass media. Of course people who wonder about the veracity of the official version are called conspiracy nuts, but let me just quote a fraction of the open questions from Adam Parfrey's "Finding our Way out of Oklahoma (Cult Rapture, Feral House)

* If the bombing of the Murrah building was a terrorist reprisal for Waco, why weren't ATF or FBI agents injured? How many ATF personnel took the day off? Why were judge Alley and others warned by special agents about impending violence on April 19. Who were these special agents.

* By definition a terrorist must take credit for his violence, or else there is no compelling reason to commit a crime. The specific purpose of terrorism is gaining leverage on a specific political objective through the ability of threatening future terrorist acts. No one has claimed credit for the Oklahoma City bombing. Militia groups produced particularly vehement public statements condemning the crime.

* Did the Murrah building warehouse documents regarding the Branch Davidians? Are these documents missing? Will the missing papers affect Ramsey Clark's suit against ATF and FBI on behalf of the remaining Branch Davidian survivors.

* Why did the director of University of Oklahoma's Geological survey, Dr. Charles Mankin, say that according to two different seismographic records, there were two blasts. Dr. Mankin reports "that the news media even reported two blasts initially but later changed their story."

* A pre-Oklahoma City bombing issue of Soldier of Fortune featured a James Pate article on Waco with a photograph of three BATF agents. One of these agents, the only agent unidentified, looks like the spitting image of Timothy McVeigh. Is this merely coincidental? Or was there a second "Timothy McVeigh" roaming the country, appearing at militia meetings?

I'm stopping here, but the picture that starts emerging is disturbing. Asking the cui bono - who profits? - we have to acknowledge that it is the proponents of the New World Order that are the only winners, not just that: They were the only ones trying to win from the beginning.

The bombing became the long sought after and sorely needed "proof" that the American military and Law Enforcement are faced with a new threat, not by a superpower - worse: Even marginal individuals could pose a serious threat to the country, pose a threat to the ordinary American and that therefore disarmament is out of the question.

Regardless if it was the BATF themselves who blew up the building or if Timothy McVeigh was the Mad Bomber after all, we have to see incidents like this in a context and not as isolated. They are part of an extension of war into peace time, symbolic actions as spectacular fodder for the Information Wars. Information Terrorism in the sense that an actual act of terrorism is designed to convey the message of a 'terrorist threat' as a justification for technologies of control. If the authorities only had the slightest advance knowledge - and there there are indications that they did - incidents such as OK or Waco are part of a strategy of power that could be labelled preventive counterinsurgency gone out of control. To control and direct such out-of-control situations a severe management of information has to be applied.

The Management of Information

In a world where information travels at the speed of light, where it can be available world- wide in real time, a new emphasis for conflict and propaganda emerges: the management of information and visibility. Old forms of propaganda and control are not vanishing but supplemented with new forms. Still there are security forces with rising budgets controlling the streets, but increasingly attempting to control the "information highways". Still there are saturation bombings of the public mind by the mass media that are owned by less and less corporations with their own stake and their own quasi-political stance as is well illustrated by Rupert Murdoch censoring Chris Patten.

There is an almost indiscriminate proliferation of spectacular information that is a kind of black magic creating social, political and cultural reality and identity.

And on the other hand your data shadow is getting longer and longer as all your transactions and movements are recorded by cash machines and surveillance cameras.

We have a double strategy of the noise of the spectacle supplemented by the silent totalitarianism of liberal fascism.

With the disappearance of the other superpower as the main enemy, and the emergence of Rogue States and Super Hackers the difference between hot war and cold war are disappearing as well. And paranoia is emerging: I quote from a paper titled 'Political Aspects of Class III Information Warfare: Global Conflict and Terrorism' by Matthew G.Devost held at a conference called InfoWarCon II in Montreal January 18-19, 1995:

"There is no early warning system for information warfare. You don't know it is coming, so you must always expect it which creates a high level of paranoia."

The permanent threat to be attacked out of nowhere creates a situation of permanent "cool war" of which both cultural conflicts and small scale armed conflicts are part. Often this is described as Low Intensity Conflict. The rhetoric of Low Intensity Conflict - or LIC as those people are truly obsessed with shortening their terms with initials - has taken over from the term Counter Insurgency. "Low-intensity conflict is a limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives. It is often protracted and ranges from diplomatic, economic, and psychosocial pressures through terrorism and insurgency. Low-intensity conflict is generally confined to a geographic area and is often characterized by constraints on the weaponry, the tactics, and the level of violence." Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project Final Report (U.S.Army, 1986)

So LIC is a deceiving term in that it describes something that is not necessarily of low intensity for the involved, in fact it can describe an almost total war, as long as this is not fought with nukes or conventional means of mass destruction. The Gulf war was a "mid-intensity conflict", but involved systematic mass destruction. As those means are available to a lot of powers those in conflict with them have to use different strategies:

It is suggested (in Postmodern War) the "reverse of the high tech strategy is to make your military target a political victory. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call this "guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war" and note that, while war is necessary in this strategy, it is only necessary as a supplement to some other project. Practitioners of political war "can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else , if only new unorganic social relations" (1986, p.121; emphasis in original). This is , after all, a very old form of war, dating back to prehistory. It contains many elements of ritual war, especially those that were borrowed from the hunt: stalking, hiding, waiting , deceiving, ambushing." This is one form emergent under the new conditions of increased speed and lethality

July 13, 1970, General Westmoreland made this prediction to Congress:

"On the battlefield of the future, enemy forces will be located, tracked, and targeted almost instantaneously through the use of data links, computer assisted intelligence evaluation, and automated fire control. ... I am confident that the American people expect this country to take full advantage of this technology - to welcome and applaud the developments that will replace wherever possible the man with the machine

(quoted Gray, p.166)

Lethality, Speed, Scope:

Dr. Richard Gabriel:

"Military technology has reached a point where "conventional weapons have unconventional effects." In both conventional war and nuclear war, combatants can no longer be reasonably expected to survive.

(1987, p.153 quote Gray, 171)

From this follows that wars have to be conducted like terrorist attacks with an element of surprise in order to not have a situation of combat established.

Violence becomes sudden and exterminist.

All this has grave implications on Military theory, and we can observe an escalation of non-conventional methods of combat, not for territories, but for people's minds.

It has been suggested that that the concept of Random Assassination is one of the most powerful to spread terror, both from the point of view to shock the establishment as seen in the exploits of the Manson family, but even more as used by the security forces as in the cases of random killings of Irish and Black people by the English police - a homeopathic use of terror?

And in the so-called War on Drugs we can find parallels to the world of Information War and Terrorism. The War on Drugs is part of a strategy that involves Rogue States and NGO's, as well as evil terrorists: the Dr.No factor. There have been various attempts to link those concepts up to create the much needed threat to internal security, such as in the idea of Narco-Terrorism that proposes that it is a combination of leftist guerrilla forces and the drug cartels that pose a threat to the American hegemony mainly in South America. Apart from incidental collusion this theory has been thoroughly rebuked by establishment researchers. In fact if we look into the concept of narco-terrorism and its reality we will soon be tempted to assume that in fact it is the security enforcement agencies themselves who practise what they are trying to 'expose' as machinations of the enemy. What I'm talking about is the involvement of various secret services in drugs for guns and hostages deals in Central America and the Middle East. The War on Drugs was never meant to be 'won'. I mean what's the head of the CIA doing in South Central L.A. parading around his innocence of alleged involvements of his agency in pumping crack into the neighbourhood - or his guilt? The war on drugs has a lot to do with counter-insurgency, issues of production, exploitation and class. This can take the form of a giant propaganda battle as well as bloodied conflict, that tends to take on eruptive qualities. Only occasionally conflict will formulate itself in massive bloodshed.

In a situation of near-world wide victory of neoliberal capitalism there will be constant 'non-violent' struggle, and this is where infowar invades military doctrine and becomes more and more prevalent.

Information War means that there is no difference between peace time and war - it is "Cool War" that is virulent without interruption because it's removed from dichotomies (there are more than 2 sides in the conflict)

It is Civil War in the "Global Village" of "Information Society".

As Subcommandante Marcos said to a Newsweek reporter: "What governments should really fear is a communications expert."

This also means that the character of "minority warfare" is changing, in fact from a 'hot' strategy to a cold technological one, but only as a tendency - after all we should have noted that five out of the seven types of Information War proposed by Libicki are quite traditional forms of conflict that include sabotage, espionage, blockades and propaganda.

Keep this in mind when we look at the concepts brought forward by RAND researchers John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt. In their text 'Cyberwar is Coming' available on the web and more recently as a part of the book/anthology 'In Athena's Camp - Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age' along with a collection of essays by various authors.

The two main concepts they formulate are 'Cyberwar' and 'Netwar'.

Cyberwar is explained as referring to "conducting, and preparing to conduct, military operations according to information-related principles. It means disrupting, if not destroying, information and communications systems, broadly defined to include even military culture, on which an adversary relies in order to know itself: who it is, where it is, what it can do and when, why it is fighting, which threats to counter first, and so forth. It means trying to know everything about an adversary while keeping the adversary from knowing much about oneself."

What is interesting is that they don't pretend this to be fundamentally new form of war, in fact as the primary example for Cyberwar they mention the Mongols with their hugely successful army that was partly based on their fast information system that kept commanders in close contact over thousands of miles, although they do go so far as to claim: "As an innovation of warfare, we anticipate that cyberwar may be to the 21st century what Blitzkrieg was to the 20th."

Netwar however is the kind of civilian, or civil war side of cyberwar. While cyberwar is concerned with traditionally military aspects like Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, also called C3I, intelligence collection, processing and distribution, tactical communications, positioning, identifications friend-or-foe (IFF) and socalled 'smart' weapons systems, netwar "refers to information-related conflict at a grand level between nations and societies. It means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it. A netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve public diplomacy measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception of or interference with local media, infiltration of computer networks and databases, and efforts to promote dissident or opposition movements across computer networks."

It has to be emphasised here that Arquilla and Ronfeldt are researchers of the notorious RAND corporation, a private think tank, procaliming to be a non profit organisation, but always closely linked to the military- sindustrial complex, and under this point of view it becomes more surprising what conclusions they arrive at. In fact they see the monolithic, hierarchical structure of institutions and the military as ill equipped to deal with the new scenarios of Netwars and Low Intensity Conflicts between NGO's (Non-Governmental Organisations), drug cartels, "racial and tribal gangs, insurgent guerrillas, social movements and cultural subversives which are all organised as networks. They conclude:"Perhaps a reason that military (and police) institutions have difficulty engaging in low intensity conflicts is because they are not meant to be fought by institutions. The lesson: Institutions can be defeated by networks, and it may take networks to counter networks."

A new type of info-guerrilla is emerging, the small units proposed by the Critical Art Ensemble faintly echoing Marighela's Firing Unit, except they are firing data, not bullets.

It's no surprise that the RAND researchers have found a fascinated readership with left wing researchers such as Chris Hables Gray and Jason Wehling.

I was certainly intrigued. And while I can't discount the thought that RAND has to present the danger to the establishment as worse than it is, their call to reorganisation points to a genuine analysis. And it shouldn't just flatter us. We have to take it serious when we are taken serious.

Christoph Fringeli, April 1998





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