September 23, 1999
Clintons Info-War Underload
By Robert ParryPresident Clinton's covert action to use high-tech "information warfare" to undermine Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic proved less effective than hoped because of poor on-the-ground intelligence, U.S. government sources say.
The CIA planned to pinpoint bank accounts controlled by Milosevic and other Serb leaders. Then, CIA hackers were to penetrate bank computers and alter or delete data. The goals were to sow confusion, frustrate the purchase of military equipment, and punish Serb leaders for "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo.
But the key first step was to identify the Serb government accounts in international banks, a task that the sources said proved more difficult than expected because of limited intelligence within the Serb government.
In other words, high-tech info-war strategies were undercut by the lack of lower-tech human intelligence inside Serbia, spies who could pass on account numbers to the CIA, according to the sources.
One source added, however, that the end of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia did not stop the covert action against Milosevic and his government. This continued operation, therefore, still could achieve some of the high-tech goals and presumably weaken Milosevic's political position inside Serbia.
Using less exotic means, the Clinton administration's info-war strategies did achieve other goals of disrupting Serbia's communications and electronic infrastructure.
On May 2, for instance, NATO took out a Yugoslavian electrical grid by dropping "soft" bombs of carbon filament on a power plant, shorting out circuits and turning off electricity. Maj. Gen. Charles Wald noted that such an electrical outage "disconnects and confuses computers."
These infrastructure attacks had the additional effect of adding to the everyday frustrations of Serb citizens. NATO believed that those annoyances dampened support for Milosevic's military campaign against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo. But most analysts believe that Russian political pressure was the primary factor in convincing Milosevic to accept NATO's peace terms in June.
[For details on U.S. info-war capabilities and Clinton's covert action in Serbia, see iF Magazine, May-June 1999.]