DOD faces infowar controls
- By Dan Verton
- Jan 10, 1999
A draft resolution calling for the United Nations to study the impact of information technologies on global security may force the Defense Department to consider international controls on the development and use of strategic information warfare tools.
In a statement made in October before the U.N. Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Russian Federation ambassador Vasily Sidorov called the threat of developments in the information field serious and urged the United Nations to take action. "In our opinion, such a threat requires that preventive measures be taken today," Sidorov said. "We cannot permit the emergence of a fundamentally new area of international confrontation which may lead to an escalation of the arms race."
A spokesman for the Russian Federation's U.N. delegation said the draft resolution was not introduced out of any concern over the United States' lead in developing information technologies that could be used to take down critical foreign computer systems during a war. Rather, the Russians want to establish international principles on the use of such technology and possibly an international monitoring and control regime.
John Pike, a defense and intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, called the Russian proposal "pointless and hopeless." According to Pike, the biggest challenge for an international control regime would be finding items that are large enough to be accountable under a treaty and that can be inspected. Under the Russian plan, the only items that can be accounted for under a treaty "become copies of Satan," Pike said, referring to the infamous virus that lives in a computer's memory and prevents applications from working correctly.
"This is an area where a declaratory policy is not going to make any difference in what anybody else does," Pike said. "Will [terrorists] stop blowing up our embassies if we promise not to use information warfare? No."
Anthony Valletta, vice president of SRA Federal Systems and former acting assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, said although the Russian proposal for monitoring and controlling information technologies may not be realistic, there is a definite need for the United States to study the topic. "As technology gets better, [the information warfare threat] is going to get worse," Valletta said. "We need to definitely understand the vulnerabilities."
The Russian draft resolution comes on the heels of a Rand Corp. study, commissioned by DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I, that senior DOD officials could use to craft a common strategy for dealing with the challenge of strategic information warfare. The study, delivered to DOD six months ago, was used to support an ad hoc task force assigned to draft a response to the Russian proposal, according to Roger C. Molander, a senior research analyst with Rand and one of the authors of the study.
DOD officials declined to comment.
An outline of U.S. strategic information operations objectives recently appeared in a DOD publication published in October. The publication, Joint Doctrine for Information Operations, dedicated a chapter to the offensive use of information operations and described in detail the range of operations in which information warfare can be employed. According to the doctrine, the strategic level of information operations includes methods of deterring war, affecting critical infrastructures and disrupting research and development of weapons of mass destruction.
According to the Rand report, Strategic Information Warfare Rising, there are four "plausible and potentially desirable" scenarios or outcomes facing the United States and the world when it comes to strategic information warfare:
* U.S. supremacy in offensive and defensive strategic information warfare.
* A club of strategic information warfare elite, whereby an international policy of "no first use" of strategic information warfare capabilities could be established.
* Global "defensive dominance" in strategic information warfare, whereby an international regime would be established along the lines of existing treaties governing the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to control the spread of strategic information warfare capabilities similar to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
* Market-based diversity, whereby the damage or disruption achievable through a strategic information warfare attack is modest and recovery is fast.
The Rand study concerns "the idea that you can shape the future," Molander said. The study challenges policy-makers to think beyond traditional information warfare concepts, Molander said. It really asks the question, "What kind of world do you want to live in?" he said.
Although DOD has aggressively addressed the issue of critical-infrastructure protection, DOD officials are debating how to control the spread of strategic information warfare, Molander said. "There are some in the Pentagon and elsewhere who believe that it will not be to the net advantage of the United States to see [the use of strategic information warfare] become widespread," he said. In fact, Molander added, many in DOD "eschew attacking infrastructures through cyberspace as a new principle of warfare."