RAND Warns US Against CyberWar from the Left
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By Jason Wehling / PNEWS
last U.S. election, the political left has been sent reeling.
We have been told that this victory spells a new revolution,
a revolution for the right. Interestingly, a Rand Corporation
researcher, David Ronfeldt, argues that, contrary to the impotence
felt by many social activists, they have become an important
and powerful force fuelled by the advent of the information
revolution. Through computer and communication networks, especially
via the worldwide Internet, grassroots campaigns have flourished,
and government elites have taken notice.
specializes in issues of national security, especially in the
areas of Latin America and the impact of new information technologies.
Ronfeldt and another colleague coined the term "netwar"
a couple years ago in a Rand document entitled "Cyberwar
is Coming!." "Netwars" are actions by autonomous
groups in the context of this article, especially advocacy groups
and social movements that use information networks to coordinate
action to influence, change or fight government policy.
work became a flurry of discussion on the Internet in mid-March
when Pacific News Service correspondent Joel Simon wrote an
article about Ronfeldt's opinions on the influence of netwars
on the political situation in Mexico.
to Simon, Ronfeldt holds that the work of social activists on
the Internet has had a large influence helping to coordinate
the large demonstrations in Mexico City in support of the Zapatistas
and the proliferation of EZLN communiques across the world.
These actions, Ronfeldt argues, have allowed a network of groups
that oppose the Mexican government to muster an international
response, often within hours. This has forced the government
to maintain the facade of negotiations with the EZLN and actually
stopped the army from just going into Chiapas and brutally massacring
is an employee of the notorious Rand Corporation. Rand is, and
has been since its creation in 1948, a private appendage of
the military industrial complex. Paul Dickson, author of the
book Think Tanks, described Rand as the "first military
think tank ... undoubtedly the most powerful research organization
associated with the American military."
has also written papers directly for the U.S. military on military
communication and, more interestingly, for the Central Intelligence
Agency on leadership analysis. It is obvious that the U.S. government
and its military and intelligence wings are very interested
in what the left is doing on the Internet.
argues that "the information revolution ... disrupts and
erodes the hierarchies around which institutions are normally
designed. It diffuses and redistributes power, often to the
benefit of what may be considered weaker, smaller actors."
Continuing, "multi-organizational networks ... mak[e] it
possible for diverse, dispersed actors to communicate, consult,
coordinate, and operate together across greater distances, and
on the basis of more and better information than ever."
emphasises that "some of the heaviest users of the new
communications networks and technologies are progressive, center-left,
and social activists ... [who work on] human rights, peace,
environmental, consumer, labor, immigration, racial and gender-based
issues." Social activists are on the cutting edge of the
new and powerful "network" system of organizing.
have been extremely antagonistic to this effective use of information,
especially from the political left. This position is best stated
by Samuel Huntington, Harvard political science professor and
author of the U.S. section of the Trilateral Commission's book-length
study, The Crisis of Democracy. Huntington argued in 1975, "Some
of the problems of governance in the United States today stem
from an excess of democracy ... Needed, instead, is a greater
degree of moderation of democracy." Huntington maintained
that "the effective operation of a democratic political
system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement
on the part of some individuals and groups ... this marginality
on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic but it
is also one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function
effectively." In other words, major U.S. policy makers
feel democracies are acceptable if they are limited and not
very democratic. To stop "excess of democracy," Huntington
argued that limits should exist on the media. "There is
also the need to assure government the right to withhold information
at the source ... Journalists should develop their own standards
of professionalism and create mechanisms, such as press councils,
for enforcing these standards on themselves. The alternative
could well be regulation by government."
like the major media need regulation, the idea of a free, uncontrolled
flow of information on the Internet must mean that a new "crisis
of democracy" has emerged in the eyes of the government
maintains that the lesson is clear: "Institutions can be
defeated by networks, and it may take networks to counter networks."
He argues that the U.S. government must completely reorganize
itself, scrapping hierarchical organization for a more autonomous
and decentralised system: a network. In this way, "We expect
that ... netwar may be uniquely suited to fighting non-state
is basically arguing that the efforts of activists on computers
have been very effective or at least have the potential. More
importantly, he argues that the only way to counter this work
is to follow the lead of social activists. Ronfeldt emphasised
in a personal correspondence that the "information revolution
is also strengthening civil-society actors in many positive
ways, and moreover that netwar is not necessarily a bad' thing
that necessarily is a threat' to U.S. or other interests. It
At the same
time, the left should understand the important implications
of Ronfeldt's work: government elites are not only watching
these actions, but are also attempting to work against them.
Out for Attacks
of the very nature of the Internet and these growing communication
networks, the issues are inherently international. It is important
to watch for attacks on these networks wherever they occur.
And occur they have. Since the beginning of this year, a number
of computer networks, so far confined to Europe, have been attacked
or completely shut down.
on February 28, members of the Carabinieri Anti-Crime Special
Operations Group raided the homes of a number of activists many
active in the anarchist movement. They confiscated journals,
magazines, pamphlets, diaries, and video tapes. They also took
their personal computers, one of which hosted "BITS Against
the Empire," a node of Cybernet and Fidonet networks. The
warrant ridiculously charged them for "association with
intent to subvert the democratic order," carrying a penalty
of seven to fifteen years imprisonment for a conviction. More