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Shutting Down the Internet in Time of War

Terrorism is media-dependent war

“Terrorist fighters might be killed in action, but the main principle of modern military doctrine– to decapitate the enemy by knocking out its headquarters command-and-control and thus destroying it as a functioning organization– has become impossible. There is no command post “in theatre,” but on ostensibly neutral foreign soil; and there need not be any clandestine network on the spot to uproot (as the French attempted during the Algerian war). Commands and targeting information are sent out by one-way messages, on the open Internet– its source lost in the morass of ordinary communications. ….

“Air travel (and increasingly ground travel) are coordinated by digital networks; so are power grids, hospitals, and police forces; so are most financial transactions, from international banking to personal salaries and bill-paying; so are the now-huge business of on-line shopping and delivery.  In fact, one of the most devastating forms of cyber-war now being worried about is a cyber-attack, not from isolated mischief-making hackers or from thieves, but from an enemy government (or an insurgency), aimed at shutting down the economy of one of the rich capitalist nations. More primitive economies would be safer from such attack, being less reliant on digital coordination. 

“But although this is an extremely dangerous prospect, it is not the most dangerous event that could happen. Since an ultra-modern military is so heavily organized around electronic command and control,  the worst threat to its existence would be if an enemy could hack into its links to disable its weapons, its mobility and its logistics– in effect an electronic giant rendered blind, deaf, and paralyzed. (This is the scenario envisioned in P.W. Singer’s novel, Ghost Fleet, where Chinese-made components in American electronics are programmed to put the entire US military out of operation during a surprise attack.) There is even one nightmare step beyond this scenario: enemy hackers leave the operational system of our military intact, but take over controls of our weapons so that our rockets and aircraft are turned about to fire on ourselves. There have  been some steps in this direction, as Iranians and others have been able to capture some US-made drones by diverting their remote controls.

“If the US military’s digital control system were seriously threatened by an enemy, the response now being considered is to shut down the entire digital umbrella. (This is based on discussions with high-ranking US and UK military commanders who were active in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.) There are two ways this could happen: either the enemy themselves shuts down our digital network or attacks it to the extent that it becomes useless; or we shut it down pre-emptively to keep our enemies from using it.”


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  • Snakepit Kansas May 16, 2018, 10:05 AM

    Rooting out terrorists and its shadow organizations may be difficult, but it is possible. The Phoenix Program used during the Vietnam war sought to identify and kill Viet Cong leadership, whether politicians or combatants. From my prior reading, it worked pretty well.

  • Pickle Rick May 16, 2018, 1:43 PM

    Back in the early days of Operation Forever War (AKA Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Let’s Call It Something-Something Freedom Because Calling It War Looks Bad) I was a young Marine artilleryman in a battery fire direction center. We had just received a brand new fire direction computer to replace the 1980’s garbage we had previously used. Our operations chief made sure that we did not forget the manual gunnery using physical maps, protractors, and slide rules that were a part of arty since WWII that we had learned at artillery school. While training with the AFATDS system, he’d yank the plug on the computers and scream “The AFATDS just shit the bed! Go manual!” And we could, using the technology of 1945. I bet they don’t teach artillerymen (who now include females, so they’re probably not even called artillerymen anyone because that would be sexist, or something) how to do that old school anymore.