America’s war on the web
02 April 2006
While the US remains committed to hunting down al-Qaeda operatives, it is now taking the battle to new fronts. Deep within the Pentagon, technologies are being deployed to wage the war on terror on the internet, in newspapers and even through mobile phones. Investigations editor Neil Mackay reports
IMAGINE a world where wars are fought over the internet; where TV broadcasts and newspaper reports are designed by the military to confuse the population; and where a foreign armed power can shut down your computer, phone, radio or TV at will.
In 2006, we are just about to enter such a world. This is the age of information warfare, and details of how this new military doctrine will affect everyone on the planet are contained in a report, entitled The Information Operations Roadmap, commissioned and approved by US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and seen by the Sunday Herald.
The Pentagon has already signed off $383 million to force through the document’s recommendations by 2009. Military and intelligence sources in the US talk of “a revolution in the concept of warfare”. The report orders three new developments in America’s approach to warfare:
lFirstly, the Pentagon says it will wage war against the internet in order to dominate the realm of communications, prevent digital attacks on the US and its allies, and to have the upper hand when launching cyber-attacks against enemies.
lSecondly, psychological military operations, known as psyops, will be at the heart of future military action. Psyops involve using any media – from newspapers, books and posters to the internet, music, Blackberrys and personal digital assistants (PDAs) – to put out black propaganda to assist government and military strategy. Psyops involve the dissemination of lies and fake stories and releasing information to wrong-foot the enemy.
lThirdly, the US wants to take control of the Earth’s electromagnetic spectrum, allowing US war planners to dominate mobile phones, PDAs, the web, radio, TV and other forms of modern communication. That could see entire countries denied access to telecommunications at the flick of a switch by America.
Freedom of speech advocates are horrified at this new doctrine, but military planners and members of the intelligence community embrace the idea as a necessary development in modern combat.
Human rights lawyer John Scott, who chairs the Scottish Centre for Human Rights, said: “This is an unwelcome but natural development of what we have seen. I find what is said in this document to be frightening, and it needs serious parliamentary scrutiny.”
Crispin Black – who has worked for the Joint Intelligence Committee, and has been an Army lieutenant colonel, a military intelligence officer, a member of the Defence Intelligence Staff and a Cabinet Office intelligence analyst who briefed Number 10 – said he broadly supported the report as it tallied with the Pentagon’s over-arching vision for “full spectrum dominance” in all military matters.
“I’m all for taking down al-Qaeda websites. Shutting down enemy propaganda is a reasonable course of action. Al-Qaeda is very good at [information warfare on the internet], so we need to catch up. The US needs to lift its game,” he said.
This revolution in information warfare is merely an extension of the politics of the “neoconservative” Bush White House. Even before getting into power, key players in Team Bush were planning total military and political domination of the globe. In September 2000, the now notorious document Rebuilding America’s Defences – written by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a think-tank staffed by some of the Bush presidency’s leading lights – said that America needed a “blueprint for maintaining US global pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power-rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests”.
The PNAC was founded by Dick Cheney, the vice-president; Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary; Bush’s younger brother, Jeb; Paul Wolfowitz, once Rumsfeld’s deputy and now head of the World Bank; and Lewis Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, now indicted for perjury in America.
Rebuilding America’s Defences also spoke of taking control of the internet. A heavily censored version of the document was released under Freedom of Information legislation to the National Security Archive at George Washington University in the US.
The report admits the US is vulnerable to electronic warfare. “Networks are growing faster than we can defend them,” the report notes. “The sophistication and capability of … nation states to degrade system and network operations are rapidly increasing.”
T he report says the US military’s first priority is that the “department [of defence] must be prepared to ‘fight the net’”. The internet is seen in much the same way as an enemy state by the Pentagon because of the way it can be used to propagandise, organise and mount electronic attacks on crucial US targets. Under the heading “offensive cyber operations”, two pages outlining possible operations are blacked out.
Next, the Pentagon focuses on electronic warfare, saying it must be elevated to the heart of US military war planning. It will “provide maximum control of the electromagnetic spectrum, denying, degrading, disrupting or destroying the full spectrum of communications equipment … it is increasingly important that our forces dominate the electromagnetic spectrum with attack capabilities”. Put simply, this means US forces having the power to knock out any or all forms of telecommunications on the planet.
After electronic warfare, the US war planners turn their attention to psychological operations: “Military forces must be better prepared to use psyops in support of military operations.” The State Department, which carries out US diplomatic functions, is known to be worried that the rise of such operations could undermine American diplomacy if uncovered by foreign states. Other examples of information war listed in the report include the creation of “Truth Squads” to provide public information when negative publicity, such as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, hits US operations, and the establishment of “Humanitarian Road Shows”, which will talk up American support for democracy and freedom.
The Pentagon also wants to target a “broader set of select foreign media and audiences”, with $161m set aside to help place pro-US articles in overseas media.