INFOinterventions # October 15, 2001
9-11: NETWAR and MIME-NET
James Der Derian, Director, ITWP
Over the last few weeks the world has received a crash course in network warfare. Al Qaeda members reportedly used encrypted email to communicate; steganography to hide encoded messages in web images (including pornography); Kinko's and public library computers to send messages; underground banking networks called hawala to transfer untraceable funds; 24/7 cable networks like Al-Jazeera and CNN to get the word out; and, in their preparations for 9-11, a host of other information technologies like rented cell phones, online travel agencies, and flight simulators. In general, networks -- from television primetime to internet realtime -- delivered events with an alacrity and celerity that left not only viewers but decision-makers racing to keep up.
With information as the life-blood and speed as the killer variable of networks, getting inside the decision-making as well the image-making loop of the opponent becomes the central strategy of network warfare. This was not lost on the U.S. national security team as it struggled after the initial attack to get ahead of the network curve. Sluggish reactions were followed by quicker pre-emptive actions on multiple networks. The Senate passed the Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) Act, which allows for 'roving wiretaps' of multiple telephones, easier surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic, and the divulgence of grand jury and wiretap transcripts to intelligence agencies. National Security adviser Condoleeza Rice made personal calls to heads of the television networks, asking them to pre-screen and to consider editing Al Qaeda videos for possible coded messages. Information about the air campaign as well as the unfolding ground interventions were heavily filtered by the Pentagon. Information flows slowed to a trickle from the White House and the Defense Department after harsh words and tough restrictions were imposed against leaks. Psychological operations were piggy-backed onto humanitarian interventions by the dropping of propaganda leaflets and food packs. The Voice of America began broadcasting anti-Taliban messages in Pashto. And 22 'Most Wanted Terrorists' were featured on the FBI's website, and, shortly thereafter, on the TV program 'America's Most Wanted'.
A hybrid network also surfaced, by way of a little-noticed press release that showed up in, of all places, Daily Variety, the entertainment industry's preeminent journal. It was announced that the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technology, originally set up in 1999 to bring together the simulation talents of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the U.S. military, was coordinating a new virtual war effort:
'Senior US government intelligence agencies have invited Hollywood filmmakers to come up with attack scenarios that might be used by terrorists, Daily Variety reported today. The brainstorming sessions stem from a 1999 agreement between the Army and University of Southern California to tap into the resources and talents of the entertainment industry to improve virtual reality training simulation for soldiers. Among those invited were "Die Hard" screenwriter Steven De Souza, MacGyver writer David Engelbach and Joseph Zito, who directed the films "Delta Force One," "Missing in Action" and "The Abduction." Other guests included David Fincher of "Fight Club", Spike Jonze of "Being John Malkovich" and Randal Kleiser of "Grease". The paper quoted a source as saying the group was looking at "short- term threats against the country", possible terrorist targets and schemes and to offer solutions to those threats. Army Brigadier General Kenneth Bergquist is in charge of the focus group which has met twice already via tele-conference with the Pentagon.'
It would appear that the military-industrial-media-entertainment network (MIME-NET) is now online. Obviously, there are many networks sharing many positive attributes, as suggested by Wired founding editor, Kevin Kelly, who defined a network as 'organic behavior in a technological matrix'. But 9-11 has knocked this always problematical relationship akilter. Technologically-driven events have outpaced organic modes of comprehension, and human actions, whether out of trauma or information overload, seem increasingly to resemble machinic reflexes. In such unbalanced times, it is more important than ever to reassert human control over the matrix. One must be on guard against unintended consequences, what organizational theorists studying networks have identified as cascading effects, negative synergy, and normal accidents, where the very complexity and supposed redundancy of the networked system produce unforeseen but built-in disasters. Think Three Mile Island in a pre-1914 diplomatic-military milieu.
If Vietnam was a war waged in the living-rooms of America, the first, and most likely the last battle of the counter/terror war will be on the Global Net. The task is to get up to network speed, yet maintain a human perspective. To that end, ITWP features two remarkable hypertexts on the role of networks in the 9-11 crisis, by Ron Deibert, Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, and Michel Bauwens, eBusiness Strategy Manager at Belgacom.