Information warfare, aka 'infowar', is essentially
a struggle of intelligence over force, of signs over
weapons, of mind over body. Notorious for its many definitions,
the meaning of infowar shifts with escalating phases
of violence. In its most basic and material form, infowar
is an adjunct of conventional war, in which command
and control of the battlefield is augmented by computers,
communications, and intelligence. At the next remove,
infowar is a supplement of military violence, in which
information technologies are used to further the defeat
of a foreign opponent and the support of a domestic
population. In its purest, most immaterial form, infowar
is warring without war, an epistemic battle for reality
in which opinions, beliefs, and decisions are created
and destroyed by a contest of networked information
and communication systems.
Infowar has a history that goes back at least as far
as Sun Tzu, who identified the ability to subdue an
enemy without killing him as the 'acme of skill' in
warfare. From its earliest application in the beating
of gongs and drums, to the more sophisticated use of
propaganda and psychological operations, infowar has
traditionally been deployed by the military as a 'force-multiplier'
of other, more conventional forms of violence. With
the development of mass and multiple media, infowar
took on new forms and greater significance in the modern
polity. New organizational structures enabled by information
technologies began to transform the nature and culture
of commerce, politics, and the military, effecting a
gradual and uneven shift from rigid, centralized hierarchies
to fluid, nodal networks.
Infowar has become the umbrella concept for understanding
the new network wars. As the infosphere engulfs the
biosphere, as the global struggle for 'full spectrum
dominance' supplants discrete battlefields, as transnational
business, criminal, and terrorist networks challenge
the supremacy and sovereignty of the territorial state,
infowar has ascended as a (if not the most) significant
site for the struggle of power and knowledge. Under
the mosaic of infowar we witness the emergence of cyberwars,
hackerwars, netwars, virtual wars, and other kinds of
information-based conflicts that ignore and defy the
usual boundaries between domestic and foreign, combatants
and non-combatants, war and peace itself. More a weapon
of mass distraction than destruction, infowar nonetheless
shares some common characteristics with nuclear war:
it targets civilian as well as military populations;
and its exchange-value as a deterrent outweighs its
use-value as an actual weapon.
Infowar couples sign-systems and weapons-systems. Command
and control, simulation and dissimulation, deception
and destruction, virtual reality and hyperreality: all
are binary functions - sometimes symbiotic, other times
antagonistic - of infowar. Networks of remote sensing
and iconic representation enable the targeting, demonizaton,
and, if necessary, killing of the enemy. In its 'hard'
form, infowar provides 'battlespace domination' by violent
(GPS-guided missiles and bombs) as well non-lethal (microwave
and electro-magnetic pulse weapons) applications of
technology. In its 'soft' form, infowar includes virus
attack on a computer network or the wiping out of terrorist
organization's bank accounts. In its most virtual form,
infowar can generate simulated battlefields or even
create 'Wag-the-Dog' versions of a terrorist event.
In any of these three forms, infowar can be offensive
(network-centric war, trojan horse virus, or public
dissimulations) or defensive (ballistic missile defense,
network firewall, or preventive media).
Just as critical thinking lagged behind the advent
of nuclear weapons, so too have the social sciences
been slow to assess the virtues and perils of infowar.
In pursuit of a public awareness of infowar, as well
as a civil defense against its abuses, the ITWP project
undertakes an investigation of the technologies, methodologies,
and ethics of infowar and infopeace.
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