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Belmont Club

Directive Number 9

December 7th, 2009 - 3:29 pm

During the Algerian war, the terrorists promulgated an order which with variations would provide the backbone doctrine for information warfare into the 21st century. Dr. Cori Dauber, the author of the SSI monograph “The YouTube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone and Photoshop on Every Computer” describes the ground zero of the modern information Jihad.

The Algerians’ “Directive Number Nine” argued that it was better to kill one man where the American press would hear of it than nine where no one would find out. What Khattab realized was that technology had finally put into the terrorists’ reach the ability to cut out the middleman—the Western reporter.

Information warfare, of which terrorism is a subset,  consists of the operational art of subordinating actual physical effects to their propaganda impact.  The actual physical damage counts for less than the memetic effect.  The picture of the murder of an unimportant election worker on Haifa Street, Baghdad in 2004, for which an Associated Press photographer received a Pulitzer Prize was a textbook case.  A low ranking bureaucrat was murdered but a high level narrative was established.  It was for the insurgents, more than a fair trade. The murder on Haifa street also cemented its corrollary: the identity of the victim doesn’t really matter. Anyone will do. What counts is the picture.  And in that brace of propositions lies 95% of terrorism. The image on Haifa street was altered in the old-fashioned way. There are two ways to “Photoshop” an image: digitally and the secondly by controlling its composition like a Hollywood director. See Directive Number 9.

Information warfare is so important that Dauber suggests that on the battlefield the priority of the combat soldier and combat cameraman have been reversed. No longer is it the job of the cameraman to support the military effort, it is the role of the military arm to set up the picture for the cameraman.

Today even the smallest terrorist or insurgent group active in the Islamist movement, certainly those in the combat theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq, will have a specific position within the organization for the person whose responsibility is “media affairs”—in this they mirror al-Qaeda itself — but this is invariably one of the highest ranking posts, obviously seen as a job of great importance and authority.

An insurgent infantryman is expendable. An auteur — ah! that is something else. And the cost of production has been declining inversely with Moore’s Law. Jim Gray of Microsoft (still missing at sea) noted that ordinary individuals now have access to vast computational power and database access over the network.  It’s capability now allows them, for example, to use Google Earth to plan operations. Dauber describes what raiders found one one computer in Iraq.

The satellite photographs show in detail the buildings inside the bases and vulnerable areas such as tented accommodation, lavatory blocks, and where lightly armored land rovers are parked. Written on the back of one set of photographs taken of the Shatt al Arab Hotel, headquarters for the 1,000 men of the Staffordshire Regiment battle group, officers found the camp’s precise longitude and latitude.

This planning information would have cost literally millions only a decade before. Today it is nearly free. But even without the network, modern computing has enabled the information warrior in ways that are as revolutionary as the Gutenberg Press. Gray might have been describing video collection and editing when he wrote: “the ideal mobile task is stateless (no database or database access), has a tiny network input and output, and has huge computational demand.”

Between June and roughly November 2007 (in other words, roughly the period corresponding to the surge of additional forces to Baghdad), American forces captured and destroyed eight media labs belonging to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Two were in Baghdad, two were in Mosul, one in Diyala near Baquba, one in Samarra, and one in Garma. In the eight labs, they found a total of 23 terabytes of material that had not yet been uploaded to the web.

One of the underappreciated aspects of the information revolution is how the MSM has slowly been denegirated from a fact-finder to a mere distribution channel. The 23 terabytes of data was gold looking for a market. As Dauber notes, “American media outlets now depend on the terrorists and insurgents for content” and in one case ABC News almost used a script written by the Islamic Army of Iraq as the basis for one of its stories.

Of course, not only Islamic insurgents but every political movement has tried to use information warfare — whatever they may have chosen to call it — for their own ends. Adolpf Hitler claimed it was possible to sell a complete falsehood, provided it was repeated often enough. In fact, the bigger the lie, the more easily sold because no one would believe anyone would have the effrontery to prevaricate on so collossal a scale.Wikipedia quotes Mein Kampf.

in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation … it would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Hitler suggests that the brotherhood of “expert liars” know certain tricks in common. It is perhaps suggestive that the global warmists should suspect the Russians of hacking the computer files at the CRU. The closed CRU building at the University of East Anglia and the blank face of a nondescript building in the formerly closed city of Tomsky may look at each with understanding. One set of information warriors would naturally suspect another. The Independent reports:

The computer hack, said a senior member of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, was not an amateur job, but a highly sophisticated, politically motivated operation. And others went further. The guiding hand behind the leaks, the allegation went, was that of the Russian secret services.

The leaked emails, which claimed to provide evidence that the unit’s head, Professor Phil Jones, colluded with colleagues to manipulate data and hide “unhelpful” research from critics of climate change science, were originally posted on a server in the Siberian city of Tomsk, at a firm called Tomcity, an internet security business.

The truth is often a set of sparks adrift on a sea of darkness. Who knew that al-Qaida killed eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims? You wouldn’t know if al-Qaeda could help it. Perhaps one of the reasons for the growing skepticism surrounding the assertion of anthropogenic global warming is that the key elements of the theme have emerged from a single closely linked group of climatologists. Climategate, as the revelation of emails from the CRU has come to be called derives its force the topology of the information source. Information warriors have realized Khattab’s dream. They have interposed themselves into the public process of knowing.  Journalism has to manage information — using metrics like lineage, collateral and validation — in ways that it is presently unaccustomed to. Maybe the best schools of future journalism will be at Caltech and MIT.

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