In the past week we have entered the first true cyber-insurgency being waged by the Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks and its various supporters worldwide. Experts have been debating if the actions of WikiLeaks and their confederates constitute a cyber-war or simply a form of protest and demand for openness on the part of governments and corporations.
This is an entirely new twist on the traditional concept of insurgency as it is not limited to an attack on a single nation but numerous nations, businesses and financial institutions as well as individuals. It is also being conducted by a loosely international organized alliance of individuals and groups with overlapping or identical political goals which have an almost cult like reverence for Julian Assange, who they defend as if he were the Prophet himself.
Those who say that this is not a war rely on a definition of war as something that is conducted between nation states which is now an antiquated concept and not reality based. What is called “conventional” warfare is a misnomer and conventional conflicts are the exception to the rule. Australian counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen notes that according to the Correlates of War Project that of 464 wars fought in the Modern Era (1816-2000) that on 79 were conventional “interstate” conflicts “fought between the regular armed forces of nation states, while 385 (just under 83%) were civil wars or insurgencies.[i]
One such expert told CNN: “
“Calling the WikiLeaks back-and-forth a cyber war is “completely idiotic,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer of BT, a communications company.”War. W-A-R. It’s a big word,” Schneier said. “How could this be a cyber war? It’s certainly a cyber attack, right? It’s certainly politically motivated. But this stuff has been going on for a couple of decades now. Do you mean there have been thousands of wars that haven’t been noticed? It doesn’t make any sense at all. If there was a war, you’d know it, and it would probably involve tanks and artillery — as well as cyber weapons.” Only cyber attacks between two warring nation-states count as cyber war….” (author’s emphasis) ”[ii]
Unfortunately such “experts” know nothing of modern war, to paraphrase General George Patton’s speech: “The perfidious experts who wrote that stuff about what modern war is for Time Magazine don’t know anything more about modern war than they do about fornicating.” Quite bluntly Mr. Shneier is as ignorant as they come and while he may be a “cyber security expert” he has no clue about modern war. It is possible that nation states can wage cyber war as part of a broader war, undoubtedly, but to limit one’s definition of war to such encounters when only 17% of modern wars fit the definition is ignorant.
“Insurgency is defined as an insurgency is an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control.”[iii] While the WikiLeaks is not using traditional arms their tactics which include participating in espionage which is defined in the U.S. Code as:
“The act of obtaining, delivering, transmitting, communicating, or receiving information about the national defense with an intent, or reason to believe, that the information may be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation. Espionage is a violation of 18 United States Code 792-798 and Article 106, Uniform Code of Military Justice. See also counterintelligence.”
In addition to this the WikiLeaks confederates in making cyber attacks against governments, corporations and individuals that take a stand against them are using methods which are best described as asymmetrical warfare which stand outside of convention and are designed to destabilize the existing order for the political intent of the actor conducting it.
In today’s world non-state actors to include traditional terrorist organizations as well as organizations such as WikiLeaks which are non-state networked actors. Martin Van Creveld notes: “In today’s world, the main threat to many states, including specifically the U.S., no longer comes from other states. Instead, it comes from small groups and other organizations, which are not states.”[iv] Such actors in the technological world can develop networks to further their cause.
Major William J. Hartman notes in his article Globalization and Asymmetrical Warfare that:
“Technology and the internet have allowed them to become globally netted players. The basic function of a network is relatively simple. A chain network is used when goods or information move along a network or series of hubs until reaching a final destination. This type of network is normally used by pirates and smugglers where there is no central figure controlling the overall operation. The hub or star network is what we would normally recognize as a terrorist group, drug cartel or crime syndicate. In this case nodes operate separately, but must coordinate activities through a central node or leader. The all-channel network is a shared network of numerous groups loosely connected for a common cause.” [v]
While Assange’s WikiLeaks once was considered a legitimate media source in the “new media” it has crossed a line between internet freedom and freedom of speech to political espionage and it his supports from financial and information support to targeted cyber terrorism against political, governmental, business organizations as well as individuals. WikiLeaks and Assange still claim the journalistic mantel and they are supported by many in that claim, but their recent actions serve to undermine their credibility and while they will have supporters any sense of journalistic ethics has been lost and probably cannot be recovered. WikiLeaks began their irresponsible actions with the release of unredacted documents on the Afghanistan War and the released diplomatic cables do not seem to serve any purpose except to embarrass governments. The threatened release of a massive amount of unredacted documents as an “insurance policy” against being shut down is simply extortion and can rightly be labeled an act of cyber terrorism.
As most people know information is power and those that can harness it for their purposes. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency manual states
“Interconnectedness and information technology are new aspects of this contemporary wave of insurgencies. Using the Internet, insurgents can now link virtually with allied groups throughout a state, a region, and even the entire world. Insurgents often join loose organizations with common objectives but different motivations and no central controlling body, which makes identifying leaders difficult.”[vi]
The way that WikiLeaks supporters are organized and the manner in which they have posted the information that they have illegally obtained provides an amazing information pipeline for other non-state actors, especially terrorists groups that will be able to use that information to conduct deadly attacks which will as they always do target directly or indirectly innocent civilians of many nations. The attacks that supporters mount on those that criticize Assange stand a good chance of causing even more financial hardship to the customers of those institutions.
This is an insurgency of a new type, one without borders which though it claims noble goals of justice, freedom and transparency willingly places information in the hands of terrorists who have stated that they will use it. This has and is occurring with the Taliban in Afghanistan and will happen elsewhere as terrorist organizations both national and international use the information to create chaos.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st Century. It’s not your grandfather’s war.
[i] Kilcullen, David. Counterinsurgency Oxford University Press, New York 2010 pp.ix-x
[ii] Sutter, John D. Is WikiLeaks waging a Cyber War?” retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/12/09/wikileaks.cyber.attacks/index.html?hpt=T2 9 Dec 2010
[iii] Field Manual No. 3-24 Headquarters Department of the Army Washington, DC p.ix
[iv] Van Creveld, Martin, In Wake Of Terrorism, Modern Armies Prove To Be Dinosaurs Of Defense, New Perspectives Quarterly, Vol. 13, NO 4, Fall 1996, 58
[v] Air Command and Staff College Air University Globalization and Asymmetrical Warfare by William J. Hartman, Major, US Army, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama April 2002 pp. 19-20
[vi] Ibid. FM 3-24. p. 1-4