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  •   A Mouse That Roars?

        Bill Arkin

    By William M. Arkin
    Special to
    Monday, June 7, 1999

    Last week, Newsweek reported that President Clinton approved a covert operation in May to find an electronic silver bullet to do what the White House at the time believed the air war couldn't. According to the report, the CIA would conduct a cyberwar against Milosevic, specifically going after his financial assets in banks throughout Europe.

    Is the keyboard mightier than the sword?

    Before Allied Force, the intelligence agencies held a cyberwar exercise to answer this very question.

    At center stage was the Information Operations Technology Center (IOTC), activated last year and made up of the best cyberwarriors of the U.S. government. Housed at National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., IOTC brings together highly secret capabilities: NSA's P42 information warfare cell, the CIA's Critical Defense Technologies Division, the Pentagon's "special technology operations."

    "The only cyberwar raging is inside the U.S. government ..."

    Military sources familiar with the March demonstration say there is no question that the keyboard covert operators wowed the Joint Staff with their computer attack capabilities. But they are adamant in insisting that cyberbombs are more laboratory technologies than usable weapons. In fact, the sources point out, the only cyberwar raging is inside the U.S. government where Washington lawyers and policymakers, military leaders, and official hackers battle over the value and legality of network attack.

    Where's The Bits?

    The day bombs started falling on Yugoslavia, the Air Force Association convened a high-level symposium in San Antonio, Tex., to address the status of information warfare. has obtained a transcript of the two-day proceeding.

    Gen. John Jumper, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, joined the closed-door session via satellite from his headquarters in Germany. "I have not had much sleep over the last 48 hours, and I am probably not as sharp or prepared as I would like to be," he apologized.

    Tired or not, the senior air force officer in Europe wasted no time blasting the bias of information warriors to fight battles solely at the "strategic level." He was referring to the very sort of effort Newsweek would speculate about two months later.

    "When we hear talk of information warfare," Jumper said, "the mind conjures up notions of taking some country's piece of sacred infrastructure in a way that is hardly relevant to the commander at the operational and tactical level."

    "I would submit that we are not there with information warfare," he concluded.

    Networking Network Attack

    Brig. Gen. John B. Baker, commander of the Air Intelligence Agency and head of the Pentagon's Joint Command and Control Warfare Center, followed Jumper.

    "In my hat as the air force component commander for NSA," he warned, "I spend a lot of time working ... on how to exploit what is going on out there in computer networks." But when it comes to going beyond collecting computer transmissions as raw intelligence to actually manipulating and exploiting the "zeroes and ones" for military value, Baker said, "we have a ways to go."

    "Effects-based warfare lacks the visually pleasing destruction from an armed bomb."
    – Brig. Gen.
    John B. Baker

    Despite all the new information warfare organizations that have been established of late, he lamented that cyberwarriors did not yet have the stature of other warriors: "Effects-based warfare," that is, methods geared to achieve an outcome and not cause traditional damage lacks the "visually pleasing destruction from an armed bomb."

    Baker stressed that part of the problem in any kind of computer network attack is the concerns on the part of policy-makers in Washington with regard to legality and "traceability."

    Jumper described his experience: "I picture myself around that same targeting table where you have the fighter pilot, the bomber pilot, the special operations people and the information warriors. As you go down the target list, each one takes a turn raising his or her hand saying, I can take that target.' When you get to the info warrior, the info warrior says, "I can take the target, but first I have to go back to Washington and get a finding."

    Seeking permission invariably results in artificial restrictions and hesitations in attacking targets, Jumper stressed. From a field perspective, he said, the process of seeking the "special" operation cedes too much decision-making to inside the Beltway.

    Finding The Way

    The unusually candid discussions of the institutional and military stumbling blocks to an information warfare future contrasts with the Hollywood vision of cyberwar so common in the mainstream media these days.

    Still, Maj. Gen. Bruce A. "Orville" Wright told the symposium that "Within the area of computer network exploitation, there is tremendous investment, which, with a little bit of fine tuning, can be turned into a computer network attack capability."

    The IOTC, Wright said, "is a great organization that has a bright future." He should know. As Deputy Director for Information Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is the military head of the interagency center and the top cyber-warrior in the U.S. military.

    But the key word is future.

    With the shooting war against Yugoslavia over, it should be crystal clear to anyone that exotic American cyberbombs have not aided the effort in any way.

    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 to 1978, Arkin currently consults for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, MSNBC and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Arkin can be reached for comment at

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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