While definitions matter, the time for action is now.
Point #21: ah, that’s why words do / don’t matter: action is more important than thought. It’s completely irrelevant for the purposes of cybersecurity what the public or politicians are allowed to know or understand about it, as long as people like Yoran are the guardians of the flame. This is precisely why George Smith persists with his Cult of Cyberwar idea – the priesthood guard the secrets, and they alone decide what is good for society. That’s called pre-literate, ladies and gentlemen, and is exactly what we don’t want from cybersecurity. Bruce Schneier made the point a while ago that the general public should pretty much ignore cybersecurity and leave it in the hands of the professionals. That argument’s all well and good in the marketplace but starts to ship water pretty badly when it comes to government spending.
Yoran bases his argument on the contested utterances of a self-selected group of male insiders, whom he portrays as beyond reproach. He does not actually make the case for cybersecurity at all, or even critically address the question that frames his post. Then again, he doesn’t need to – after all, the US is at cyberwar, right? All bets are off, and normal rules do not apply. The fact that his argument is circuitous and self-serving matters not, apparently.
Perhaps it’s a little unfair to pick Yoran’s words apart like this, particularly when it’s ‘just’ a blog post. Let’s face it, if anyone did the same for me, I’m sure they’d find all manner of inconsistencies and idiotic statements that I’d be hard put to defend, and this post certainly wouldn’t stand up to academic scrutiny. The difference is that I’m a nobody, whereas Yoran is in a position to influence policy and those who make it. He was a member of the CSIS Commission on Cyber Security that advised the Obama presidency (and drafted current US cybersecurity policy) and a successful IT-sector businessman to boot.Yoran is but one of many people in similar positions who dominate the media environment, and who wield significant political influence too. It’s not a new situation by any stretch but that doesn’t mean it should pass without comment. A blog post still has agency.
Every evening at dusk, cellphones go dead in this district just outside Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city. All three mobile-phone companies operating here turn off their antennas, returning to air only when the sun rises above the jagged hills to the east.
The reason for this nightly blackout, implemented across southern and eastern Afghanistan: a Taliban decree that aims to prevent villagers from passing tips to coalition forces.
The Taliban also are trying to show who’s really in charge in this part of the country by intimidating the cellphone industry, one of the rare Afghan economic success stories. When carriers tried to defy the edict in the past, insurgents destroyed cellphone towers and killed staff in response.
“Having some soldiers in some places shouldn’t give you the wrong signal that the situation is good,” says Mohammad Naseri, head of legal and government affairs at the MTN Afghanistan cellphone network, a unit of South Africa’s MTN Group, which has more than 3 million Afghan customers.
Carriers can’t afford to be seen as siding with the Afghan government against the Taliban, Mr. Naseri says. “You should not give a justification to the others that you are favoring the government—and you have to prove in words and in deeds that you are neutral.”
This means that MTN and Afghanistan’s other big cellphone companies, such as Roshan and AWCC, strictly abide by Taliban hours in several provinces, going off air precisely at 5 p.m. and going back on at 6.30 a.m.
all of Afghanistan’s national cellphone carriers have made a joint decision to shut down their networks at night in areas where the insurgents are active. MTN’s Mr. Naseri confirmed this informal agreement.
The Taliban are using the cellphone system as an instrument of war against the Afghan government and the U.S.-led coalition. They could easily destroy the network altogether in many districts. But the Taliban, too, depend on cellphones for communication. Plus, they know that shutting down phone service entirely would cause a backlash among ordinary Afghans. Instead, they’re dictating the terms on which phone companies work, for propaganda reasons and sometimes for financial benefits as well.
Militants all over the world use mobile phones to trigger explosions. Insurgents in Iraq have been killing alleged informers who were spotted using cellphones in a suspicious manner. However, the Taliban are unique in seeking to impose their own regulation on a nation’s entire telecommunications industry.
The resurgent Taliban first turned their attention to the mobile industry around 2006. Leaders of the group were well aware that coalition forces could monitor night-time movements of the insurgents by tracking their cellphones. American troops, meanwhile, had painted phone tip-line signs on walls outside U.S. bases. Informers are usually reluctant to call in tips during daytime, when they can be spotted by Taliban sympathizers, military officers say.
Local insurgent commanders started demanding sporadic cell-tower shutdowns and, in early 2008, the Taliban’s main body, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, demanded a nighttime blackout in parts of the south.
One morning last summer, U.S.
officials meeting in Afghanistan on the rooftop terrace of
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s Kabul residence had an “aha”
Rear Admiral Greg Smith spread out two maps. One
highlighted pockets of insurgent control; the other marked
mobile-phone towers. Where the Taliban’s presence was strongest,
phone coverage was weakest, crippled by Taliban sabotage of the
towers, recalled Smith and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke
in separate interviews about the July 27 meeting.
“We found that Afghans in the most-troubled, insurgent-
held areas lived in information wastelands dominated by militant
propaganda,” Holbrooke said March 17. “We are fighting back
with a revamped strategy that puts the people and their ability
to communicate at the forefront of our effort.”
Government officials said they believed that Mr. Furlong might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the country’s porous border with Pakistan.
In addition, at least one government contractor who worked with Mr. Furlong in Afghanistan last year maintains that he saw evidence that the information was used for attacking militants.
The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.
He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them. Recently, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan publicly said that intelligence collection was skewed too heavily toward hunting terrorists, at the expense of gaining a deeper understanding of the country.
Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.
Among the contractors Mr. Furlong appears to have used to conduct intelligence gathering was International Media Ventures, a private “strategic communication” firm run by several former Special Operations officers. Another was American International Security Corporation, a Boston-based company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret.
In mid-2008, the military put Mr. Furlong in charge of a program to use private companies to gather information about the political and tribal culture of Afghanistan. Some of the approximately $22 million in government money allotted to this effort went to International Media Ventures, with offices in St. Petersburg, Fla., San Antonio and elsewhere. On its Web site, the company describes itself as a public relations company, “an industry leader in creating potent messaging content and interactive communications.”
The Web site also shows that several of its senior executives are former members of the military’s Special Operations forces, including former commandos from Delta Force, which has been used extensively since the Sept. 11 attacks to track and kill suspected terrorists.
Until recently, one of the members of International Media’s board of directors was Gen. Dell L. Dailey, former head of Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military’s covert units.
It has become commonplace since Sept. 11, 2001, to speak of the “war of ideas” between Muslim extremists and the West. But there has been too little attention paid to the U.S. military’s mobilization for this war, which is often described by the oxymoronic phrase “information operations.”
Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander who oversees that region, has been one of the military’s most vocal proponents of aggressive information operations.
The United States should be careful about encouraging, in effect, the militarization of information — and it should be especially cautious when these efforts bleed into the intelligence world. We are a nation that has prospered uniquely from open, untainted information flows.
information operations had become “public affairs on steroids” with what he said was only “limited oversight.” He explained: ” ‘Strategic communication’ has an air of respectability to it that propaganda and influence do not. The problem is that it’s a slippery slope, because the information environment is so instantaneously global today. . . . You put something out there and it goes worldwide in a flash, making each influence activity suspect to a much wider and more skeptical audience.”
For the current fiscal year, Congress approved a budget of $528 million for information and for psychological-warfare operations (psy-ops). For next fiscal year, the Pentagon budget request is $384 million.
The warning comes on the heels of an FBI report last week detailing the “real … and expanding threat” of cyber terrorism, especially from Al Qaeda.
FBI Director Robert Mueller warned Thursday that cyber-terrorists “will either train their own recruits or hire outsiders… as a means to damage both our economy and our psyche — and countless extremists have taken this to heart,” he said.
Mueller said that a cyber-attack could have the same impact as a “well-placed bomb.” He also accused “nation-state hackers” of seeking out U.S. technology, intelligence, intellectual property and even military weapons and strategies.
“We will minimize the disruption to your business, we will safeguard your privacy and your data and where necessary we will seek protective orders to preserve trade secrets and business confidentiality,” he said.