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CFP'93 - Stapleton

CFP'93 - Three Perspectives on the Information Technologies and National Security: War Fighting, Diplomacy and Intellicence

by Ross Alan Stapleton

Research Analyst
Office of Scientific and Weapons Research
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington DC 20505

(This material has been reviewed by the CIA. That review neither constitutes CIA authentication of material nor implies CIA endorsement of the author's views.)

The following explores some of the challenges that government, the state guarantor of freedom and privacy, will face in ensuring the national security in the Information Age. It considers issues from three perspectives: those of the war fighter, the diplomat, and the intelligence officer. It is more descriptive than prescriptive - it is impossible to anticipate the full extent to which government will be changed as a result of what the information technologies enable, and whom they empower - but concludes with some recommendations for actions the U.S. Government might take.

The government is charged with the political missions of war fighting, state diplomacy and of gathering the intelligence necessary for both. All involve communication and actions within and across the full range of the globe, sharing the world with individuals and organizations. War fighting has changed dramatically in recent years as communication has accelerated its pace and magnified its political effects. Diplomacy has likewise changed, with new tools for both government diplomats, and many others seeking political ends. The work of the intelligence officer to support both is also entering into a new era, into a world awash in information.

In writing this essay I discarded dozens of issues and examples for every one I included. All underscored the fact that government capabilities and responsbilities are changing relevant to those of many other groups - from other governments, to nongovernmental organizations and individuals - as a result of changes stemming from an "information-technology imperative" knitting the world more closely together. [1] The three perspectives to follow show the effects of that change as seen from the trenches.

Perspective of a War Fighter

Current conflicts around the globe (and in Europe for the first time in decades) notwithstanding, war fighting is likely not to be a growth industry. But as was seen in the Gulf War, there is still considerable tension, largely from factionalism, and subnational conflicts, that may give rise to modest regional conflicts, or to terrorism.

Weapons Proliferation

The global networks, in particular the Internet, are transforming the way in which scientific and technical research is conducted: this will pose national security challenges. In the post-Cold War world, the Bush administration identified "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" (nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as the missiles to deliver them) as a significant threat to the national security. [2] As I said in a presentation at the National Communications Forum (NCF '92) [3], I believe that if curbing that proliferation means banking solely on hampering the flow of information, technical know-how, or the information technologies themselves through export controls, then the battle will be lost. When "all the world's a laboratory," and scientific collaboration seamlessly transcends national borders, I believe governments will need to de-emphasize their reliance on maintaining technical ignorance in their potential adversaries and work to conclude mutually beneficial nonproliferation agreements, or to reduce the tensions that lead other governments to consider such weapons development programs necessary in the first place.

The Global Information Infrastructure...

Any warfighting that does become necessary will be conducted in the midst of a global information infrastructure, an infrastructure decreasingly owned by or subordinate to the governments, and which is increasingly civilian in nature. Vietnam was a "television war," but Desert Storm took that to its logical conclusion: the war was fought live on CNN. When civilian reporters can carry fly-away satellite uplink kits, when governments gauge each others' populations sentiments by the evening news, war becomes a far more volatile affair: opinions

  • global opinions - can change in the space of a few hours. As a result of bringing the war into the living room, our opinions about "acceptable losses" have dropped from many many thousands to individual lives.

Civilian information services played a major role in the Gulf War. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the US Air Force found France's commercially-available SPOT satellite imagery useful for mission planning, to complement the US's own satellites. [4] SPOT may be the only choice for those countries that do not possess their own satellites, and a 1989 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists assesses that SPOT has been heavily used by foreign governments for reconnaissance. [5] According to discussions on the Internet, soldiers stationed in the Gulf brought along their own personal computers, and arranged for electronic mail connections back to friends and relatives. [6]

...and Its Vulnerabilities

The ubiquity and importance of the global infrastructure leads naturally into consideration of the risks of technological dependency. If hostile governments might make use of the global connections and services like SPOT, concern should also be extended to the information systems critical to the economy as well as to the military.

Perspective of a Diplomat

Even more so than the war fighter, the diplomat will find himself working in a global information infrastructure not of his own making. And whereas warfighting is largely restricted to states and their armies, diplomacy is now being conducted by a myriad of players from sister cities committees, to lobbyists, to broad, grass-roots movements, and using the range of information resources.

Information Technologies and the Soviet Coup Communications help to wreck the attempted Soviet coup in August of 1991, and a potpourri of small but portentous anecdotes are worth considering:

In the course of his 1992 presidential campaign, H. Ross Perot raised a provocative side issue, when asked what he as president would do about personnel appointments:

"First off, ambassadors are as relevant as dinosaurs. Ambassadors were set up for the days of the sailing ship, when you couldn't talk to one another around the world instantly...[as] most American people well know today, the ambassador's the last to know. You've got Jim Baker and the President of the United States on the phone talking to the leaders, right?" [11]

Whether or not one buys his conclusion (re ambassadors), Perot has point out the changes that the Information Age has made to the way we conduct diplomacy. Previously, it would take weeks, or even months, to send a dispatch by packet boat, now world leaders are only a phone call away. But our government has only modest means for internal communications in "real time," and the Information Age is going to put a great deal of stress on mechanisms that worked best in the age of the sailing ship. The former Soviet Union could become a major crossroads for telediplomacy: while distances are great and other means of communication poor, the RELCOM network now provides hundreds of sites and thousands of users with electronic mail connections to the rest of the world. While its use during the coup attempt was more a sideshow to other media, it is a medium with a future for both commercial interchange, and for communication between scientists, academics and other researchers, as the networks have been in the West.

The US Government still focuses attention on the broadcast media, e.g., with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America, but it now finds competition from Turkey and Iran, providing satellite reception equipment - and Turkic and Farsi language programming - to the former Soviet Central Asian republics, according to Washington Post reporting. [12] According to items posted to the Internet, during the course of drafting this essay, Iran acquired its first node on the European Academic and Research Network (EARN), Reuters reported on the progress of three thousand Iranian mullahs in learning to use computers in the study of Islam...

Perspective of a National Intelligence Officer

In an address to the Intelligence Community in March of last year, which he directed to be released to the public as a step toward increased openness, then-director Robert Gates discussed change - changes occurring in the world, and in the Intelligence Community charged with monitoring that world:

  • "I've been around too long to underestimate the difficulty of changing longstanding structural arrangements, old habits and vested bureaucratic interests. Yet I believe everyone agrees that change must come to the Intelligence Community and that it must come now...

  • ...[other initiatives include a task force] to assess how we can better coordinate the US effort to collect, process, store, analyze and disseminate open source intelligence...

  • ...A CIA task force is developing options on providing intelligence senior policymakers - translating billions of dollars spent on near-real-time collection capabilities into more timely support for policymakers.2"

DCI Gates further described both a future of a broad variety of new issues to cover, and a likely decrease in intelligence agency staffing and budgets with which to follow those issues.

From the perspective of a national intelligence officer, the Information Age is a significant source of the changes the DCI described. The Intelligence Community will be plunging into an information-rich world: Mr. Gates' comments on the importance of solving the community's handling of "open source intelligence" (essentially, the unclassified information that everyone outside of intelligence creates, buys, sells and uses to do their own work) suggest that more and more information necessary to the analyst will come from that quarter. There are likely to be problems stemming from the steady privatization and commercialization of that outside world, but the world will be information rich.

Intelligence Everywhere, and None of It Ours...

The telecommunications carriers are becoming less the tools of the states which own them (especially where they have become extranational, and owned by no state) than commercial mercenaries. C&P Telephone (the DC-area subsidiary of Bell Atlantic) could almost certainly know far more about the comings and goings of the US government than the KGB ever did, just by examining who calls whom, and when, and how often, even without listening in to know the why: it has to collect all of this information just to do its own job. As the communications infrastructure changes from location-bound, station-to-station links to anywhere, anytime connections, that infrastructure will become far smarter - it will have to know more and more about its users to put the call through. For Motorola's planned Iridium satellite-based cellular system to work it it will need to know the location of every subscriber it serves; it will both interrogate and provide information to a vast web of other information carriers.

Add to the information pool any of the credit-handling, retail sales or utilities services: all will be gathering, maintaining and exchanging information. Except in the limited cases where the government retrieves information through warrants, it will be put on the same footing as any other consumer of commercial information (though government, at least in the US, may face additional legal constraints on its use even of commercially-available information). The government will know far less, in many ways, than those organizations - the communications providers, credit brokers, travel reservation services, and many others - which swim in the seas of information for their livelihood.

It is worth noting in closing the proof of one very low-tech approach to garnering military intelligence by traffic analysis: in 1991 the news reported on "pizza intelligence" - the observation that Pentagon orders from the local Dominos pizzeria shot through the roof in the hours after the decisions to deploy US forces to Greneda, Panama and the Persian Gulf were made! As more information is bought and sold - and it is hardly a stretch to imagine that pizza company's traffic statistics used both internally and sold to others who could benefit from the demographic data - more such relationships will be exposed, to anyone who cares (and pays) to look. [13]


Taking the last perspective first, it is clear that the US Intelligence Community will be operating in a world in which there's far too much information for any organization to absorb, let alone digest. Yet there is more and and more opportunity for anyone with sufficient persistence (or money) to ascertain virtually any fact. Of course, the databases don't have all the answers, but they have been growing far faster than intelligence services' budgets. That is not to say that the government, and the country, do not need intelligence services, just that their role may change. I hope that the government embraces the opportunity for "telediplomacy;" I do not want to see a day when all the world is a pulsating, electronic web, save for the closed, cold nodes that are the government agencies. I would like to see the National Research and Education Network, initially defined by the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, recast as a pan-governmental effort, incorporating the national security community along with the current klatsch of high-tech, networking-building agencies. The NREN, as a piece of the global research and education infrastructure, will provide the foreign policy agencies with new avenues for foreign technical assistance and a flood of information about the the world in which we implement our diplomacy. The globalization of information via the networks will make prior concerns of technology transfer (recall the Reagan Administration's discussion of "sensitive but unclassified" information [17], and the FBI's Library Awareness Program [16]) pale in comparison - to me this is a strong recommendation that efforts be increased to make weapons proliferation unnecessary. Just as one cannot uninvent the atomic bomb, the growing global information infrastructure will frustrate any attempts at the use of "information embargo" as a check on potential adversaries. The overall threat of war has diminished in much of the world, and there is every reason to expect that trend to continue. As the information technologies become more and more integral to all of our economic, political and cultural work, however, we will have more to lose from their disruption.

Sources and Resources

1 Barber, Benjamin, "Jihad vs. McWorld," The Atlantic, March 1992, pp.53-65. (back to text)

2 Gates, Robert, Address to the Intelligence Community, Dec. 4, 1991. (back to text)

3 Stapleton, Ross, "All the World's a Laboratory: The Conduct of Science in a Networked World," presented at the National Communications Forum, NCF'92, Chicago IL, Oct. 12-14, 1992. (back to text)

4 Covault, Craig, "USAF Urges Greater Use of Spot Based on Gulf War Experience," Aviation Week & Space Technology, Jul. 13, 1992, pp.61-65. (back to text)

5 Zimmerman, Peter D., "From the SPOT Files, Evidence of Spying," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sept. 1989, pp.24-25. (back to text)

6 Various items from Internet and USENET discussion lists. (back to text)

7 "Needed: A Backup for Ma Bell," U.S. News and World Report, Sept. 30, 1991, p.22. (back to text)

8 "System Failure: Black Monday's Other Crash," Time, Feb. 8, 1988, p.52. (back to text)

9 "MCI's Window on History," The Washington Post business section, Aug. 26, 1991, p.3. (back to text)

10 "Phones in Orbit," The Economist, Mar. 28, 1992, pp.14-15. (back to text)

11 Perot, H. Ross, interview by Larry King, Oct. 29, 1992. (back to text)

12 "Turkey Pushing Eastward - By Satellite," The Washington Post, Mar. 22, 1992, pp.A1,31. (back to text)

13 "And Bomb the Anchovies," Time, Aug. 13, 1990, p.13. (back to text)

14 Valauskas, Edward J., "On the Nets and On the Streets: A First-Person Report of the Soviet Coup," Online, Jan. 1992, pp.41-47. (back to text)

15 Press, Larry, "Wide-Area Collaboration," Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery (CACM), Dec. 1991, p.21. (back to text)

16 "Spying in the stacks; the FBI's invasion of libraries," The Nation, Apr. 9, 1988, p.481. (back to text)

17 "Poindexter is Silent on Computer Security," The Washington Post Mar. 18, 1987. (back to text)

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