Pentagon labels computer morphing a war crime

A A Defense Department study on how international law could be applied to the military's use ofinformation operations (IO) and computer network attack concludes thatthough there are no showstoppers preventing the Department's use of such tactics in war,communicating false computer-generatedimages would be a war crime under certain circumstances.

Although "it might be possible to use computer 'morphing' techniques to create an image of the enemy's chief of state informing his troops that an armistice or cease-fire had been signed," such images, "if false, would also be a war crime," concluded the study, which was completed in May and publicly released this week.

According to the study, "An Assessment of International Legal Issues inInformation Operations," creating falsecomputer-generated images of an armistice ceremony through morphing wouldviolate one of the traditional principles ofthe law of war—perfidy. "The long-distance and anonymous nature of computer network attacks may make detection and prosecution unlikely, but it is the firmly established policy of the United States that U.S. forces will fight in full compliance with the law of war," the study concluded.

The study comes just months after the Pentagon institutionalized IO—which include psychological operations, electronic warfare, physical attacks or destruction of enemy information systems and various forms of computer network attack—as a key strategy in all future military plans. Public statements by senior Pentagon officials indicate that DOD waged some sort of offensive IO campaign during recent operations in Kosovo.

The use of IO tactics, such as deception and perception management, was first publicly discussed last year by John Yurechko, senior-level expert for IO in the Defense Intelligence Agency's Office of Information Warfare, at a military intelligence conference in Arlington, Va. [FCW, May 25, 1998].

During his presentation, Yurechko showed the audience a 1938 picture of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin standing beside Nikolai Yezhov, then head of the Soviet Union's state security agency. Using a simple airbrush technique, DIA removed Yezhov from the photo with little or no evidence of tampering. The same thing can be done to videos, according to Yurechko, who conceded that morphing and other video manipulation techniques can be seen everyday in TV commercials.

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