Issue 3 - Fall 1995

RAND Warns US Against CyberWar from the Left (page 1 of 2)
By Jason Wehling / PNEWS

Since the 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.

Ronfeldt 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.

Ronfeldt's 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.

According 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 the Zapatistas.

Ronfeldt 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."

Ronfeldt 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.

Too much' democracy

Ronfeldt 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."

Ronfeldt 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.

All governments 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."

If institutions 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 elites.

Ronfeldt 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 actors."

Ronfeldt 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 depends."

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.

Watch Out for Attacks

Because 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.

In Italy 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 >>


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