By Robert Parry
- Info-war: Pentagon Invades Cyber-Space
WASHINGTON -- The laser-beam blasts of Ronald Reagan's Star Wars
might never flash off the Pentagon's drawing boards, but the
U.S. military is charging ahead with another kind of high-tech
war -- the conquest of Cyber-Space.
Outside the mainstream media's narrow gaze, these strategies are
advancing quickly, underscored by an internal primer prepared
earlier this year for the Pentagon's unplugged officers, "given
our department's unrelenting focus on the topic."
Entitled "Information Warfare For Dummies," the 13-page booklet
summarizes the Buck-Rogers battle plans for seizing the
electronic high ground in confrontations between the United
States and various types of adversaries. The manual, prepared
by a Pentagon contractor and obtained by The Consortium,
explains the first objective for lap-topped GIs fighting a
future Information War (or IW): "Destroy (or weaken) the bad
guy's system and protect your own."
According to government sources, however, the primer omits any
direct reference to classified IW operations that have been
undertaken already by the Central Intelligence Agency. The
sources say the CIA has used IW tactics in covert actions
targeting "enemy" electronic messages -- especially financial
In this modern form of "dirty trick," the CIA claims some
success in disrupting Latin American cocaine cartels by
penetrating the drug lords' bank records and remotely deleting
money from the accounts. These operations have sown confusion
inside cartel businesses, the sources said. In one case, a
payoff to a corrupt politician was erased, provoking the
cartel's suspicion that a bookkeeper had stolen the money. The
innocent bookkeeper then was executed, a U.S. intelligence
The primer does not mention these classified operations, but
does acknowledge U.S. capabilities in these areas. "Assault
technologies for the Information Warrior can be divided into
'hard kill,' involving physical destruction, and 'soft kill,'
where the goal is electronic or psychological disruption," the
primer states. "Their commonalty lies in their emphatic focus
on information -- destroying it, corrupting it, and denying it."
Viruses & Worms
The primer notes that traditional IW will target an enemy's
battlefield command-and-control to "decapitate" the fighters
from their senior officers, thereby "causing panic and
paralysis." But the primer adds that "network penetrations" -or
hacking, much like the CIA is reported to have conducted against
drug cartels -- "represents a new and very high-tech form of
Military officials shy away from any public admission of these
unorthodox practices, the manual says. "Due to the moral,
ethical and legal questions raised by hacking, the military
likes to keep a low profile on this issue," the booklet
explains. "Specific DOD references to viral insertions are
scarce" in public literature.
Still, the primer gives some details about the disruptive
strategies. "Network penetrations" include "insertion of
malicious code (viruses, worms, etc.), theft of information,
manipulation of information, denial of service," the primer says.
While controversial inside the Pentagon, these tactics have
advantages over other military operations, especially in their
secrecy. "The intrusions can be carried out remotely,
transcending the boundaries of time and space," the manual
states. "They also offer the prospect of 'plausible
deniability' or repudiation."
Indeed, so far, the U.S. military and intelligence services have
found it easy to cover their tracks. "Due to the difficulty of
tracing a network penetration to its source, it's difficult for
the adversary to prove that you are the one responsible for
corrupting their system," the primer says. "In fact, viral
infections can be so subtle and insidious that the adversary may
not even know that their systems have been attacked."
Written in a puckishly irreverent style, the manual describes
these IW tactics as "fairly ground-breaking stuff for our
nation's mud-sloggers. ...Theft and the intentional manipulation
of data are the product of devilish minds. ...Pretty shady,
those Army folks."
Frying Enemy Electrons
The primer outlines other disruptive IW techniques, such as
detonation of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) bombs. "The
high-energy pulse emitted by an EMP bomb can temporarily or
permanently disable all electronics systems, including
computers, for a radius of several kilometers," the manual
"Put simply, EMP weaponry fries electronic circuitry. EMP
weapons can be launched by airborne platforms, or detonated
inside information centers (banks, corporate headquarters,
telephone exchanges, military command posts). The explosion
needed to trigger the electromagnetic pulse apparently is minor
compared to a conventional blast, theoretically resulting in
fewer human casualties."
The manual stresses, too, IW's potential for high-quality
"psyops and deception" to confuse and demoralize a targeted
population. "Future applications of psyops may include
realistic computer simulations and 'morphed' imagery broadcasts
of bogus news events," the booklet says. In other words, the
Information Warriors could put U.S. enemies into compromising
videos much as Hollywood inserted Forrest Gump into old
Deception always has been part of warfare. But the booklet
argues that "it is the sheer qualitative differences offered
by today's information technologies that makes IW potentially
revolutionary." Some military specialists even call the new IW
capabilities worthy of the term "a Military-Technological
Revolution," a phrase reserved for dramatic warfare advances
such as the discovery of gun powder or the development of
Tofflers for Defense
"The impact of the new information technologies on warfare was
first recognized during Desert Storm" when U.S. forces
thoroughly disrupted Iraqi command and control, the manual says.
But the future might be even more Orwellian.
"Futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler (of Future Shock and
Friend-of-Newt fame) ...seem to suggest that to take full
advantage of the new information technologies, the military will
have to overhaul its current force structure, making
information, rather than firepower, the central organizing
principle," the manual states.
The Pentagon also is taking lessons from actual events on the
Internet. "A denial of service (DOS) attack, also called
network flooding, aims to saturate a network with unwanted
traffic," the manual says. "A civilian-based DOS attack took
place on the Internet in December 1995. Angered by French
nuclear testing, a group of Italian protesters led the charge
against the French government World Wide Web servers.
"On-line participants from across the globe were directed to
swamp the servers with unwanted message traffic, choking them
and forcing them to shut down. The attacks apparently lasted an
hour or so, and the effects were relatively minor. But the DOS
concept was there, and the precedent was set."
The manual sees the French protest as a warning. "The U.S.
military is highly vulnerable to DOS attacks as it depends
heavily on the civil infrastructure for its financial, personnel
and logistical transactions," the booklet says. "Some pundits
predict that a large-scale attack on our nation's informational
infrastructure may plunge us into an economic depression like
that of the 1930's."
But the Info-Warriors already have constructed some defenses
against both mischievous hackers and hostile states. "We build
countermeasures to stop crackers, whether they be twinkie-eaters
or actual enemies," declared Capt. Kevin Zieses.
The manual suggests another danger: that American IW attacks,
especially viral infections and psyops, could backfire and harm
U.S. interests. An additional concern is IW's effectiveness
against primitive adversaries who don't depend on sophisticated
command and control. Then, there's the question of deterrence.
"Are Information Warriors with their laptops and modems 'scary'
enough?" the manual asks.
The manual raises the question, too, of the kind of IW fighters
needed. "The recruitment pool may ... have to include
hacker-types and 'nerds,'" the booklet suggests. "This raises
the $64 question: will the hackers 'go bad,' and given the
fighter-jock mentality of the U.S. military, will the 'nerd
track' be a career killer?"
Despite some resistance from Pentagon traditionalists, the U.S.
military is advancing smartly along this IW front. Already,
five IW centers and offices are operating: at Kelly Air Force
Base in San Antonio, Texas; at Shaw Air Force Base in South
Carolina; at Fort Meade, Md.; at Norfolk, Va.; and at Fort
In the new IW age, moral questions get only a quick airing. "Is
penetrating another nation's computer system somehow 'dirty' and
'wrong' -- something the U.S. military has no business doing?"
the manual muses. "Are electronic attacks against a nation's
financial transaction computers too destabilizing and perhaps
But one government source found the moralizing a touch
disingenuous or possibly just ill-informed. The source said
those questions have already been answered in the negative. The
CIA is using precisely those tactics now against U.S.
(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post
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