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U.S. on verge of 'electronic martial law' -- researcher
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 03:14:45 -0500 (CDT)
By Kevin Featherly
October 16, 2001
With anti-terrorism legislation nearing passage that expands the power
of wiretaps to all forms of telecommunications, the U.S. appears to be
just steps away from electronic martial law.
That, at least, is the view of Heidi Brush of the University of
Illinois At Champaign-Urbana, who presented a paper on "electronic
jihad" Saturday in Minneapolis, during Internet Research 2.0, the
second annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers.
"Just as civil liberties are taken and given away in the name of
national security, and as fighter jets fly over major metropolitan
areas, one begins to wonder," Brush said. "In a time of permanent war,
can cyberspace also become subject to martial law?
"Once the Internet is defined as a potential battleground, or as a
haven for suspected terrorists, will the U.S. insist on a loss of
privacy online in the name of national security?" Brush asked. "Does
Operation Noble Eagle enable the inauguration of an era of electronic
Fielding questions from the audience after her presentation, Brush
answered her own question. "I think so," she said. "I definitely think
there's more of a security focus. ... The Internet has always had
elements of the military, but now I think it's become quite express."
Brush, a doctoral candidate at UICU's Institute of Communications
Research, said that with the widespread success of the Internet, the
world has reached a stage in which "war knows no boundaries." Stable
nations now face the prospect of no longer dealing with enemy nations,
but mere enemy "cells." These, Brush said, can "take up residence,
achieve opaque agendas, mutate and move on as nomads, traveling
without leaving a trace."
The current fight by the U.S. against terrorists in Afghanistan points
directly to the problem, Brush said. While the administration refers
to the Al Queda network as "the base," in fact the network exists in
many nations and depends on no traditional hierarchy of command. In
other words, like the Internet itself, it has no base.
"Their trails weave through mountain caves and tunnels, and through
... virtual financial data in an ever-morphing market," Brush said.
She pointed out that accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and
Al Queda gained brief notoriety prior to the Sept. 11 attacks on the
U.S. Last spring, word emerged that Al Queda might be relying on a
quasi-encryption technology called "steganography," which is more akin
to hiding "Easter eggs" on a Web page than genuine encryption. It was
at that point, Brush said, that she proposed an Internet Research 2.0
panel on the subject.
But the notion of a cyber-conflict is not new, Brush said.
In 1993, writers John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt published "Cyberwar
Is Coming!" for the RAND policy think tank. In the article, sometimes
cited as a key reference point for the U.S. response to
cyber-terrorism, the authors described what they called "Net war."
They compared it to a chess game in which one opponent sees the whole
board, while the other see only his own pieces. The blinded opponent
will always lose, the authors said, even if given additional and more
powerful pieces in the first place.
"Net war refers to information-related conflict at a grand level
between nations or societies," that article states. "It means trying
to disrupt or damage what a target population knows or thinks it knows
about itself and the world around it. ... It may involve diplomacy,
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."
One of the most successful "Net war" struggles has been essentially
nonviolent, Brush said. It involves the Zapatista movement in the
Chiapas section of Mexico, a grassroots effort to secure work and to
educate the region's indigenous people, while establishing more
participatory democracy in the region.
"Radical political organizations such as the Zapatistas have already
effectively demonstrated what small, non-hierarchical webs and cells
can accomplish with only a laptop and an Internet connection," she
said. "Of course, the Zapatistas wage a non-violent guerilla
insurrection in the spirit of electronic civil disobedience."
With the ascent of bin Laden and other violent, well-networked
terrorist cells, the prospects of Net war become decidedly violent,
This was anticipated, too, in 1998, when the Center for Strategic and
International Studies released a report entitled "Cybercrime,
Cyberterrorism, Cyber-warfare: Alerting An Electronic Waterloo," Brush
"The report is peppered with hyperbole, littered with sensationalism
and frequently invokes the names Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as
possible Net war enemies, or at least models for potential
cyber-terrorist groups," she said.
However, that paper also declares: "America's most wanted
trans-national terrorist, Osama bin Laden, uses laptops with satellite
uplinks and heavily encrypted messages to (communicate) across
national borders with his global underground network."
There are those, of course, who encourage such things. For instance,
the Critical Art Ensemble, an anarchist group, has proved influential,
particularly over the Zapatista movement, Brush said. In its work,
"The Electronic Disturbance," the Critical Art Ensemble paints a
picture of cyber-resistance that looks a lot like the descriptions of
bin Laden's alleged network. In that work, the ensemble says,
"Technology is the foundation for the nomadic elite's ability to
maintain absence, acquire speed, and consolidate power in global
Added Brush: "The (Critical Art Ensemble) argues that capitol and
power now flow through cyberspace, therefore resistance must become
Brush's presentation gave no suggestions for countering Net war. It
was, however, peppered with light criticisms of the Bush
administration's approach to the task of fighting on the electronic
stage. The online jihad already has already resulted in an
"intensification of the security state," rather than a strategic or
conceptual reorganization of communications security, she said. And
she said Bush's remarks that the terrorists are "in hiding" and that
the U.S. will "smoke them out" were "rustic," because they imply that
the enemy has a fixed location when it is at best a moving target.
"The holes that Bush will smoke out are not the exoticized desert
caves that Bush will pummel in 24-hour air assaults," she said.
"Instead, the holes that Bush will smoke out may be such breaches of
security as free encryption devices, or private telephone calls."
Brush's paper, "Electronic Jihad: Middle East Cyberwar and the
Politics of Encryption," which is as yet unpublished, does not reach
any conclusions about what should be done about the bin Ladens of the
world. But there were strong indications in Brush's conclusion that
she thinks the U.S. would be wrong to go too far in eliminating online
civil liberties in its efforts to rid the world of terrorism.
"Against the unfixed and even viral movements of Al Queda, the U.S.
and its numerous three-letter agencies seek to locate an enemy without
coordinates, and to fix in its targets messages that cannot be seen,"
she said. "The messages could be anywhere -- on your Web site and in
my inbox. Is there nowhere left to hide?"
The full text of Arquilla and Rondfelt's Rand white paper, "Cyberwar
Is Coming!" can be read online at
More information on the Association of Internet Researchers can be
found at http://aoir.org/
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- U.S. on verge of 'electronic martial law' -- researcher InfoSec News (Oct 17)