Losing the Information War With Iraq
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, Dec. 7, 1998
Barely a week after Iraq agreed unconditionally to cooperate with the United Nations, the Iraqi regime refused to hand over documents requested by the UN Special Commission.
"The Americans will never go to war over bits of paper," Iraq's UN Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon predicted. "Full cooperation is different than full submission," Hamdoon's deputy Saeed Hasan echoed. "What they want is full submission, and they will never, never get it."
Moments later, the Administration sent validation: "I think it's important we not overreact here on the first day," said President Clinton.
The War of Words
Another Iraqi victory in the war of words. So where is the much talked about new American machinery of information war?
The Joint Chiefs of Staff define information "operations" as "Actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one's own information and information systems." Information war (IW) is a catch-all term that includes such traditional missions as electronic warfare and network security, psychological operations, and deceptions.
Daniel Kuehl, professor at the Pentagon's National Defense University and head of its IW program, says "we don't seem to have a coordinated strategy for waging and winning what some call 'the image war' and what I would term the IW campaign." Kuehl points to news media coverage of a staged mass funeral of dead Iraqi children the week after Iraq cried uncle. "Why are we not waging an effective counter effort?," he asked.
Kuehl says strategic IW, such as that against Iraq, does not mean computer net-war or any specific technology, "it means using information and associated technologies for strategic purposes."
And what role does the Internet play? Kuehl says it is a medium the United States could use right now in the information struggle with Saddam Hussein. "In the future, with the growing proliferation of personal communications systems such as Teledesic and Iridium ... it will become increasingly easy to funnel Internet-delivered information into places like Iraq." The two are satellite-based systems that allow worldwide Internet connectivity.
Kuehl believes that a coordinated information campaign using the obvious television, the news media and the Internet is just as powerful, if not more so, than pure military instruments and secret IW "silver bullets" that enamor many in the Pentagon.
A Net Assessment
According to Industry Standard and Media Metrix, November was big for the 'net. Overall traffic hit its highest point for the year, hovering at 40 million users during the Friday the 13th week that wasn't. With nearly 20 millions channels no one purports to explain the escalation as related to Iraq.
Curiously, unlike earlier this year, the November bombing threat didn't inspire a slew of new Web sites or much noticeable online activity. And as for Kuehl's IW campaign, the Pentagon (not to mention the administration overall) didn't bother to cobble together a special Web site on Iraq.
Many homepages created with great enthusiasm in February 1998 remained moribund. Events moved so fast the Web gave way to television, which was primed and ready to ride shotgun: A high ranking Pentagon public affairs official quipped that the showdown with Iraq gets such good ratings, it is sure to be picked up next season.
All that Web traffic can't merely be online shopping and porn, and surveys continue to show news consumption as one of the highest if not the highest activity of Internet users. Those newshounds love the Web because of its ability to deliver information not just from one local paper or a few broadcast networks. The Internet opens up access to countless domestic and foreign sources, but most important, with the growing investment by governments and militaries online, it also provides the option for the normal citizen to forgo the media filter and get information straight from the primary source.
"It's an interesting question you raise," said one senior military official, when asked why there was no Iraq Web site similar to the BosniaLINK unveiled with great fanfare in December 1995. "It makes an awful lot of sense, particularly since we've given a lot of thought to communicating with non-traditional audiences."
Maybe the Pentagon is just too busy to fight the information war. Defense spokesman Kenneth Bacon unveiled this month a special Web site http://www.noradsanta.org of the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) that will track Santa Claus's live movements from the North Pole on December 24. Last year a similar site got an estimated 10 million hits. That's an awful lot of taxpayers.
In February 1997, the Iraqi government newspaper al-Jumhuriyah denounced the Internet as an "American means to enter every house in the world" and "the end of civilizations, cultures, interests, and ethics."
Barely a year later, as potential armed conflict loomed, Baghdad quickly reversed course and established an official Web site. The smiling picture of Saddam Hussein says it all: Baghdad's information warfare scheme is impressive for its single-minded and unwavering character.
William M. Arkin, author of "The U.S. Military Online," is a leading expert on national security and the Internet. He lectures and writes on nuclear weapons, military matters and information warfare. An Army intelligence analyst from 1974-1978, Arkin currently consults for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, MSNBC and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Arkin can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company