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.
I will not regurgitate the propaganda about the ‘information age’ and all the talks about superhighways, but stick to the field of military theory and then draw attention to the fact how much this concerns us…
The connection of concepts of information and the conduct of war was certainly not lost on the military theoreticians in the past from Sun Tse onwards. Napoleon is quoted as saying that three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.
What is Information War?
As concepts of information war are filtering into the cultural mainstream, often in form of manipulation and control of information by governments against their own citizens, nurturing cynicism about the democratic process, it is far from clear in military circles what we are talking about. Definitions such as the following are common, but not satisfying:
‘Information warfare is the offensive and defensive use of 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 Defence. 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.’
The concept of Information War turns out to have little analytical coherence, and 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.’
Not only that: More often than not they have been part of the conduct of wars for centuries, and are, with few exceptions, by no means new. What has changed are the availability of technology that allows worldwide transmission of information in real time, the potential lethality of conventional war, the role of the media, a context where 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 quasi-political stance, as illustrated by the rise and fall of media mogul Berlusconi in Italy or the power of Rupert Murdoch and his involvement (not only) in British politics. There is an almost indiscriminate proliferation of spectacular information that is a kind of black magic creating social, political and cultural reality,consensus and identity. At the same time your data shadow is getting longer and longer as all you 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, because that is what Clinton and Blair are getting at when they talk about a “Third Way”. Capitalism’s shortcomings have been becoming clearer and clearer once more over the last few months, but now – since the fall of the Eastern Bloc – the West doesn’t have to prove anymore that it is indeed “better” and “freer”. Not that the east/west dichotomy offered any real choice, but now your only choice is to be on the side of the law or on the side of terrorists, pedophiles, drug cartels, criminals. With the disappearance of the other super-power as the main enemy, and the emergence of Rogue States and Super-Hackers the difference between hot war and cold war is disappearing as well.
And paranoia is emerging, as a 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 will illustrate:
“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 an aggressive siege mentality, where preemptive, surgical strikes, are advocated against the ‘rogue’ forces, global policing is enforced, a permanent state of almost-war (or ‘cool war’?) of which cultural conflicts as well as small scale armed conflicts are part.
In military speak this is often referred to as Low-Intensity Conflict, or LIC.
The rhetoric of Low-Intensity Conflict 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)
For those involved this can practically mean a situation of almost Total War, as long as it’s not fought with nukes or conventional means of mass destruction. The Gulf War was a ‘Mid-Intensity Conflict’ that involved systematic mass destruction.
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.”
Lethality, speed and scope of warfare is rising: 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)
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 (prolonged) combat established.
Violence becomes sudden and exterminist.
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’ (in: Nomadology: The War Machine, 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.”
All this has grave implications on Military theory, and we can observe an escalation of non-conventional methods of combat, not only for territories, but also for people’s minds and souls.
Counter-Insurgency, Low-Intensity Conflict, Information War: Behind the rhetoric lies the reality of a global civil war that is fought with acts of terror and mind control.
And in the so-called War on Drugs we can find parallels to the world of Information War, Propaganda and Terrorism. The War on Drugs is part of a strategy that involves Rogue States and Non-Governmental Organisations as well as evil terrorists; 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. No only is the Narco-Terrorism concept a propaganda lie (and pretext for bloody oppression), if we look deeper into it we are tempted to assume that in fact it is a practice used by the security enforcement agencies themselves, as the leaking drugs for guns and hostages deals underline… What is the head of the CIA doing in South Central L.A. parading his ‘innocence’ of alleged involvements of his agency in pumping crack into the neighbourhood? In other places such as Zürich and Liverpool large amounts of Heroin became available at dirt cheap prices around 1981 – just after massive riots had happened, and just as covert programs to finance the Islamic ‘Holy War’ against the Russians in Afganistan – a main producer of the drug – started rolling. Incidentally it was pretty much the same people the CIA was financing and arming then as the ones now accused by the US to be terrorists and drug dealers (see page 4 in this issue)…. Coincidences? Even in the early 80’s the heroin in Liverpool was referred to as ‘Maggie-smack’ (as in Margaret Thatcher, the then conservative prime minister).
The War on Drugs was never meant to be ‘won’.
But it is by no means the only example of where double strategies are used by those in power to remain in control at any cost. The ‘strategy of tension’ in 70’s Italy is another example where a coalition of secret services, neo-fascists, mafia-linked right wing politicians, elements in the Vatican and the secret lodge P2 conspired to avert what they saw as an imminent communist takeover. Bombings and assassinations were organised, and radical left wing groups were blamed to create the climate for a military putsch. Neither happened, but hundreds died and thousands got arrested.
A crucial role in this scenario was played by the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) an originally radical communist group that was increasingly infiltrated by the secret service and was at least partly and very efficiently used against the rest of (or the real) radical left. Some think at least some of their actions, quite possibly including the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, the president of Democrazia Christiana (the conservative party then in power, Moro being a part of its more liberal wing) , were actually controlled by the secret state.
Let’s juxtapose this with the U.S. Department of Defence 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.’
We should keep this in mind when we think of the biggest act of terrorism in the US: The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, the anniversary of Waco. 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 was at work than was brought forward by the mass media, probably the most powerful point being that there seems to have been prior knowledge of the bombing on the side of the authorities…
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.
This also means that the character of “minority warfare” is changing, in fact from a ‘hot’ strategy (e.g. armed insurrection) 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, proclaiming to be a non profit organisation, but always closely linked to the military- industrial 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 Carlos Marighela’s (the original theoretician of the urban guerrilla) Firing Unit, except they are firing data, not bullets.
Conflicts such as Kosovo (a classic LIC), the Gulf Conflicts (basically adhering to the AirLand Battle doctrine as well as Cyberwar to some degree) and the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico (where the idea of Netwar comes in), all happening at present, show that it is likely that different types of warfare will be fought simultaneously for the forseeable future. Localised conflicts don’t stop because the technical possibility of globalised action exists. There is a tendency towars more international interaction and a disappearance of distance and reaction times, but wars are unlikely to be fought solely by machines, smart weapons, robots and ‘ants’ alone. They cannot be sanitised, however much the official media tries to portray it that way. It is one of the strengths of Arquilla/Ronfeldt’s analysis that they take these complexities into account.
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.
originally written in April 1998 for a talk at Public Netbase, Vienna, revised for Deadly Type October 1998, and (slightly) for datacide january 1999)
John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (Eds):
In Athena’s Camp – Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age (RAND 1997)
[In particular the articles by the editors as well as Richard Szafranski: Neocortical Warfare? The Acme of Skill]
also check http://www.rand.org
Chris Hables Gray: Postmodern War (Routledge, New York/London 1997)
Martin Libicki : What is Information Warfare (Institute of National Strategic Studies)
pdf download: handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA367662 (copy into browser)
Adam Parfrey: Cult Rapture (Feral House, Portland OR 1995)
(as to Oklahoma City)
Jason Wehling : Netwars: Activists Power the Internet