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Friday, February 07, 2003

The President has ordered the Pentagon to come up with rules concerning information warfare: basically when and how we will attack computer networks belonging to the enemy. The expert quoted most often in the article is Richard Clarke, who, we are told, resigned last week as an adviser to the President on this very topic. We are not told why or under what circumstances he resigned. Nor are we told whether he has an ax to grind as a (possibly) disgruntled ex-advisor to the President. Is he the source who leaked the secret directive which is the basis for the article? If so, don't you think he should have waited more than a week after resigning?

There are a couple of truly idiotic lines, such as:

By penetrating computer systems that control the communications, transportation, energy and other basic services in a country, cyber-weapons can have serious cascading effects, disrupting not only military operations but civilian life.

Ya think? The question is not whether there will be an effect on civilian life. War tends to do that, anyway. The question is whether disabling a computer network will have more or fewer undesired effects than the alternatives.


“There are questions about collateral damage,” Clarke said. As an example, he cited the possibility that a computer attack on an electric power grid, intended to pull the plug on military facilities, might end up turning off electricity to hospitals on the same network.

True. But wait a minute. Wouldn't a successful attack with conventional bombs on the same power grid have the same effect of cutting off power to any hospitals using that grid? And wouldn't the effects of a "cyber bomb" on that grid be easier to repair in the aftermath of the battle, thus restoring power to our hypothetical hospital sooner than would be the case if the transformers, the transmission lines and the towers carrying the transmission lines were all in little bits and pieces? A desire to avoid turning off the power to that hospital is a reason not to attack the grid at all. It is not a reason to attack it with conventional, as opposed to informational (?) weapons.

The article includes one suspiciously passive paragraph that caught my attention. The rest of the article is "Bush did this" and "This guy said that" and "This other guy said this other thing". And then, right smack dab in the middle, comes this:

The current state of planning for cyber-warfare has frequently been likened to the early years following the invention of the atomic bomb a half-century ago, when thinking about how to wage nuclear war lagged the ability to launch one. (Emphasis added by me.)

What immediately came to mind when I read that was, "Is the author telling us that we can't leave these dangerous toys laying around where the neanderthals at the Pentagon might see them and want to play with them?" That might not be entirely fair, since there was in fact a period following the invention of the atom bomb in which there was no clear strategy on when and how to use it. There was a debate between the "This is just a bigger better bomb, no different than the ones we dropped on Gernamy except for the size of the bang" crowd and the "This is a different type of weapon altogether and we must adapt our plans to it, rather than the other way around" bunch. The debate was eventually won by the latter group. My guess is that the debate ended when two things happened. One, nukes became so powerful that the consequences of their use gave even the stoutest heart pause; and two, the Soviets developed the ability to do unto us what we could do unto them.

But that passive voice bothers me. Likened by whom, please? (Clarke?) How frequently? Always by the same person? The passive voice can be (and more than occasionally is) used by journalists to pass off an unsupported opinion of their own or of an expert.

There. I just did it myself. See how easy that was?
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