The Consortium

By Robert Parry

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 bank transfers.

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 source said.

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 warfighting."

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 explains.

"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 newsreels.

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 strategic bombing.

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 Belvoir, Va.

Moral Qualms

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 immoral?"

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. adversaries.

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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