Virtual Sword of Damocles

Arab News

Virtual Sword of Damocles

by Manuel L. Quezon III

War has always been waged on two fronts: On land and sea; our century has seen the expansion of the frontiers of war to include the air and even outer space, not to mention, of course, the minds of men-psychological warfare. The workhorse of the worldwide web, after all, is the personal computer. Your personal computer, linked through land lines or cable lines to millions of other computers throughout the world.

Think about what a disruption of these interdependent lines of communications would result in. You’ve heard of what hackers can do for fun or profit. Think of what hackers in the service of armies could accomplish.

In peacetime the Internet’s strategic value lies in its offering an inexpensive propaganda vehicle which can touch millions, regardless of national boundaries. A case in point is a think-tank affiliated with CINCPAC in Hawaii, which makes ‘net proficiency an integral part of the courses it offers. Medium- to high-level military men and officials from countries in our region on friendly terms with the United States are issued laptops and undertake intensive training in conducting research through the ‘net, communicating by e-mail and even using PowerPoint for their presentations as the first part of their course.

There is an interesting article, titled “Information War: A New Form of People’s War” and written way back in 1996 by someone named Wei Jincheng from the Liberation Army Daily of the People’s Republic of China, which has been reprinted in a book published by the US National Defense University.

Wei writes that “Thanks to modern technology, revolutionary changes in the information domain, such as the development of information carriers and the Internet, are enabling many to take part in fighting without even having to step out of the door. The rapid development of networks has turned each automated system into a potential target for invasion. The fact that information technology is increasingly relevant to people’s lives determines that those who take part in information war are not all soldiers and that anybody who understands computers may become a ‘fighter’ on the network. Think tanks composed of nongovernmental experts may take part in decision making; rapid mobilization will not just be directed to young people; information-related industries and domains will be the first to be mobilized and enter the war; traditional modes of operations will undergo major changes; operational plans designed for information warfare will be given priority in formulation and adoption… Because other technologies are understood by people only after they are married with information technology and because information technology is becoming increasingly socialized, information warfare is not the business of the armed forces alone. Conditions exist that effectively facilitate the participation of the public in information warfare.”

Wei goes on to explain both the benefits and the pitfalls of “information war”, asserting that this kind of war is really the supreme development of guerrilla warfare: “An information war is inexpensive, as the enemy country can receive a paralyzing blow through the Internet, and the party on the receiving end will not be able to tell whether it is a child’s prank or an attack from the enemy. This characteristic of information warfare determines that each participant in the war has a higher sense of independence and greater initiative. However, if organization is inadequate, they may each fight their own battles and cannot form joint forces. Additionally, the Internet may generate a large amount of useless information that takes up limited channels and space and blocks the action of one’s own side. Therefore, only by bringing relevant systems into play and combining human intelligence with artificial intelligence under effective organization and coordination can we drown our enemies in the ocean of an information offensive.”

“A people’s war,” Wei continues, getting to crux of his matter, “in the context of information warfare is carried out by hundreds of millions of people using open-type modern information systems. Because the traditional mode of industrial production has changed from centralization to the dispersion and commercial activities have expanded from urban areas to rural areas, the working method and mode of interaction in the original sense are increasingly information-based. Political mobilization for war must rely on information technology to become effective, for example by generating and distributing political mobilization software via the Internet, sending patriotic e-mail messages, and setting up databases for traditional education. This way, modern technical media can be fully utilized and the openness and diffusion effect of the Internet can be expanded, to help political mobilization to exert its subtle influence.”

Wei concludes by saying this: “Information-based confrontations will aim at reaching tangible peace through intangible war, maintaining the peace of hardware through software confrontations, and deterring and blackmailing the enemy with dominance in the possession of information. The bloody type of war will be increasingly replaced by contention for, and confrontations of, information.”

Echoes of Sun-Tzu. The successful general is the general who doesn’t have to fight -or better yet, the general who has won his battle even before the armies meet on the battlefield.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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