It’s been a while since I’ve posted any original content on the blog. I cross-posted a piece I wrote for Forbes at the end of October on “How Non-Geek Government Can Make Cyber Policy,” but other than that, it’s mainly been periodic news briefs “From the Listening Post.” So, I thought I better provide an update about what I’ve been doing that has kept me away from blogging. In short, it’s been a busy semester, with several older projects coming to an end and a whole new line of research ramping up.

Science, Technology, and Military Theory/Discourse

First, during the Fall semester, two longer-term projects came to an end. The first was a paper, “Surfing on the Edge of Chaos: Nonlinear Science and the Emergence of a Doctrine of Preventive War in the United States,” that I’ve been working on for about a year and a half that was (finally!) accepted for publication in the journal Social Studies of Science. The abstract follows:

This essay argues that during the 1990s, military professionals and civilian defense intellectuals in the United States used concepts and metaphors from nonlinear science to translate tenets of 1980s battlefield strategy and tactics into theories of international politics and tenets of foreign policy that posited the necessity of speed and offense in the face of a supposedly more chaotic and dangerous post-Cold War world.  Ultimately, the most militaristic of the lessons supposedly learned from and justified by the ‘new sciences’ made their way to the highest reaches of the Bush Department of Defense and served as a foundation for acting quickly and preventively against ‘gathering threats’ in the international system.  In addition to allowing us to understand better the origins of the ‘Bush Doctrine’, this paper improves our understanding of the relationship between the sciences and the state/military in the post-Cold War United States, in particular the role of scientific metaphor in discourses of national security that have focused on the challenges and opportunities of new information and communication technologies (ICTs).

I’m particularly happy about this piece, not only because I’ve spent so much time on it and because it comes directly from my dissertation work, but also because Social Studies of Science is one of the top three journals in the history and philosophy of science. As far as I know, “Surfing on the Edge of Chaos” should be out some time next year.

The second project that came to a close this semester was another paper based on my dissertation work. This one titled, “‘Some things simply run ahead of others’: Articulation, Antagonism, and Intercalation in Western Military Imaginaries,” will be published by Security Dialogue in February 2011. The abstract follows:

This article provides a discursive grounding for understanding the construction of military imaginaries by adding the concepts of ‘antagonism’ and ‘intercalation’ to articulation theory. By examining the cases of industrial-mechanized warfare theory and network-centric warfare theory through the lens of this expanded articulation theory, it is argued that military imaginaries often serve to define and link conceptions of science, technology, society, economy, war, and military organization, thought, and practice into a unified image of the larger security environment – that is, the military imaginary. Military imaginaries often share a common narrative structure that privileges co-periodized change among the elements of the articulation, resulting in the phenomenon of ‘antagonism’ serving as a generic threat used to justify military modernization and even the use of force.

Again, I’m happy not only because this is another spin-off from the years of dissertation work, but also because I’ve come increasingly to find a lot of value in the work published by Security Dialogue. So, I’m very happy to have a piece there.

I have at least three other essay projects along this line of research that I hope to develop in the near future. Stay tuned…

Cyberwar and Cybersecurity Discourse

But just to keep things interesting and to provide some variety, I’ve also begun a new line of research to examine more formally various aspects of cyberwar and cybersecurity. Several pieces of that line are already underway and are beginning to show results.

With my new colleague, Robert W. Gehl, as well as two of our graduate students, Gina Bacon (MA) and Guy McHendry (Ph.D.), and with a generous seed grant from the Dean of the College of Humanities, we began work on a CyberWar Discourse Project that aims to monitor and analyze cyberwar discourse in the United States. A number of scholars have already noted that the case that has been made over the last several decades for the existence of threats to/from cyberspace has often been ambiguous at best. Just when experts and policy makers seem to finally agree on who threatens what, to what degree, and with what potential impact, the story seems to shift, and often with very little empirical evidence to support the claims being made. But what if we could follow this discourse and detect these shifts in something closer to real time? That is one of our goals. We hope to present the results of this work in a series of reports released in the Spring. The other is to begin to map in a more systematic way the key organizations and individuals who are driving contemporary U.S. cybersecurity discourse. To that end, we will be launching a wiki and seeding it with information about key influencers of U.S. cybersecurity discourse before opening it to public participation. Again, we hope to have that site up and running in the Spring.

Along this same line of research, Robert Gehl and I have recently had a paper proposal accepted for “Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life, An International Workshop,” to be held at the University of Toronto in May. That paper is titled, “Convergence Security: Cyber-Surveillance and the Biopolitical Production of Security.” The abstract follows:

In this paper, we examine three empirical cases that illustrate the appropriation of cyber-surveillance techniques and technologies by non-state actors, which we argue is central to the emergence of a phenomenon that we call “convergence security.” We consider cases of crowd-sourced surveillance, in which state authorities actively encourage citizen involvement in surveillance that contributes to the production of security as an immaterial commodity. This includes initiatives such as various “Cyber Minutemen” groups that monitor live camera feeds of the U.S.-Mexico border for signs of illegal immigration. We also consider cases of cyber-surveillance that do not necessarily have the imprimatur of the state, but tend to support the U.S. government’s War on Terror and general security concerns. These cases include homegrown counterterrorism such as the YouTube Smackdown Corps and 7-Seas Global Intelligence, as well as volunteer cyber-intelligence groups such as Project Grey Goose and Project Vigilant.

Based on these cases, we argue that convergence security marks the blurring of the distinction between traditional producers and consumers of the immaterial commodity of security. We argue that convergence security represents a new site of legal and political struggle over the meanings of security, surveillance, and legitimated state actions.  Where Hardt and Negri see a stark distinction between biopower – associated with the state – and biopolitical production – associated with “the multitude” – we see convergence security as a commodity produced in the uncertain, contradictory space between biopower and biopolitical production. We argue that this contradictory space is increasingly located on the Internet, and that cyber-surveillance has emerged as a key form of labor in the regime of ubiquitous surveillance that is at the heart of the production of security. Thus, this paper examines multiple forms cyber-surveillance and the security commodities that they produce.

Finally, I’ve just completed a Working Paper for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University that is titled “Beyond Cyber-Doom: Cyberattack Scenarios and the Evidence of History.” The abstract for that paper:

This paper examines the cyber-doom scenarios upon which so much of contemporary, U.S. cybersecurity discourse has relied. It seeks to: 1) place cyber-doom scenarios into a larger historical context; 2) assess how realistic cyber-doom scenarios are; and 3) draw out the policy implications of relying upon such tales, as well as alternative principles for the formulation of cybersecurity policy. To address these issues, this paper draws from research in the history of technology, military history, and disaster sociology. This paper argues that 1) cyber-doom scenarios are the latest manifestation of long-standing fears about “technology-out-of-control” in Western societies; 2) tales of infrastructural collapse leading to social and/or civilizational collapse are not supported by the current body of empirical research on the subject; and 3) the constant drumbeat of cyber-doom scenarios encourages the adoption of counter-productive policies focused on control, militarization, and centralization. This paper argues that cybersecurity policy should be 1) based on more realistic understandings of what is possible that are informed by empirical research rather than hypothetical scenarios and 2) guided by principles of resilience, decentralization, and self-organization.

The paper should be available on the Mercatus Center website some time early in 2011.

So that’s it. It’s been a hectic but productive semester. It’s all winding to a close at the end of this coming week. And after a couple weeks of R&R I’ll be back at it. Perhaps one of my New Year’s resolutions should be to provide more substantial posts on the blog and on a more regular basis to avoid these kinds of massive, once-a-semester updates!

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