USA Today’s headline article “Military beefs up Internet arsenal” from Wednesday suggests new offensive capabilities are in development for the U.S. war on terror. While I don’t have any insider information on this, I do know that for some time the mission of the U.S. Air Force has included fighting in cyberspace:

The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests — to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace.

Quotations in the article from Marine Brig. Gen. John Davis include:

“You should not let them [terrorists] operate uncontested” on the Internet and elsewhere in cyberspace…”Our opponents do a heck of a lot more than just watch us in cyberspace… They are acting in cyberspace. We need to develop options so that we can … dominate cyberspace.”

I would like to know what the omitted words were in the last sentence, between “can” and “dominate.” The article makes it sound like at least some members of U.S. military believe a capacity to “dominate cyberspace” can and should be developed. Perhaps that is accurate, but I would guess a capacity to act decisively [including fighting when ordered] is being developed rather than a capacity to “dominate.” I think the distributed nature of the Internet’s architecture insures no single entity can “dominate” it entirely.

John Arquilla, a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, is quoted in the article as saying he:

favors an offensive approach he calls a “virtual scorched-earth policy [toward terrorists acting in cyberspace].”

Again, full quotations instead of shortened sound bytes would be preferable. What exactly does that mean? Sherman’s march to the sea comes to mind when this language is used. Is that what Arquilla meant? We have no way of knowing, because more parts of the interview text are not provided by USA Today. I think media articles including interview quotations should include links to the full-text versions online, so critical and inquisitive readers (and citizens) can access the full context of provided statements.

With traditional media sources, paper space was limited and journalists HAD to be more selective about the quotations they used and included with articles. Today, however, the online environment provides the possibility to journalists and publishers of providing much more content and details.

The use of Internet resources by terrorist groups certainly deserves attention, not only from U.S. military and political leaders, but from teachers and students as well. As I wrote in my recent post “Evolving online security threats deserve more attention,” often anonymous cyber-attackers concern us all particularly when the focus of their attacks are the root DNS servers which keep the entire Internet running.

Bedouin protest over the recent terrorist attacks

According to the same USA Today article:

The videos and messages [of terrorists] are “getting more and more professional,” said Andretta Summerville of iDefense, a private contractor that monitors terrorist activity on the Internet.

This use of web tools for destructive ends again highlights a key message from my presentations and workshops on “safe digital social networking,” cyberbullying and “digital dialog.” Web tools can be used constructively or destructively. We need to be doing more in schools to help students as well as teachers learn how to appropriately, ethically and constructively use digital tools to serve noble rather than insidious ends.

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One Response to Cyberwarfare capacity and partial quotations by journalists

  1. Andrew Pass says:

    Wes, Very interesting post. I find it fascinating to think about the kinds of defenses that are now required for cyber space. I”ve asked a series of questions related to your post on my own blog: http://www.pass-ed.com/blogger.html

    Andrew Pass

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