Despite denials, military still studying clandestine use of blogs

It was revealed this week by Wired that a study written for the U.S. Special Operations Command in 2006 recommended “clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers” in order to promote messages favorable to the military. It also raised the possibility of altering an “enemy blog” by hacking to destroy its credibility or use it to spread false information.

The military has downplayed this study as an “academic exercise,” but its conclusions appear to match closely with a strong and growing focus by the Pentagon on what it calls “information warfare.”

Underlining this interest, this past January former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resurfaced for the first time in over a year to address a conference on “Network Centric Warfare.” He complained that Islamic radicals are winning the propaganda battle against the United States and proposed a “21st-century agency for global communications” that would tell the American side of the story, using resources ranging “from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio.”

During the question session afterward, Rumsfeld suggested again that “a new agency has to be something that would take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that exist today. There are multiple channels for information . . . The Internet is there, blogs are there, talk radio is there, e-mails are there. There are all kinds of opportunities.”

Until recently, the popular concept of information warfare primarily involved hacking or denial of service attacks deployed against blogs and websites in order to convey a political statement.

For example, at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were reports of widespread hacking of both military and commercial websites. According to ZDNet, “most notably, the US Navy Web site was hacked by an activist called Apocalypse. The message posted on the site read: ‘No War, U.S.A think they can tell the world what to do.'” A few months later, several NASA sites were similarly hacked by Brazilian anti-war protesters.

In 2006, a number of conservative blogs were disrupted by a denial of service attack against their hosting provider, said to have originated in Saudi Arabia and to have been triggered when one of the blogs posted a set of cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed.

However, by that time the understanding of possible forms of information warfare had already begun to grow more varied. For example, it was reportedthat the Air Force was funding research into how it might carry out data-minining on blogs as “a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.”

Also in 2006, the Army hired a PR firm to offer “exclusive editorial content” to military blogs that were prepared to promote the “good news” from Iraq.

And in December of that year, one conservative blogger at Pajamas Media even suggested that” it was Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah that fully demonstrated how far the the virtual ‘power of the airwaves’ could neutralize physical ‘airpower’ … Hezbollah’s skillful use of the media during that war, especially in playing up and inflating casualties from an Israeli airstrike at Qana in Southern Lebanon, succeed in generating enough diplomatic pressure to ground the Israeli Airforce — the strongest airforce in the Middle East — while permitting Hezbollah to rain rockets down upon Israel. It was a tremendous achievement.”

The recently revealed study would seem to be a result of that same 2006 enthusiasm, produced at a time when blogs were the hot new Internet form of the day and bloggers were perceived as potentially powerful and influential. But while there is scant evidence that the study’s proposals have actually been put into effect, there are recurring hints that, at the very least, they remain on the table.

Last July, Noah Shachtman — the author of the current Wired article describing the 2006 study — noted that the Army was working on a new “information operations” field manual that would recognize “information as an element of power [which] … has the potential to do to highly developed modern democracies what conventional and nuclear weapons could not: compel them to quit.”

This past November, Shachtman pointed out an active military effort to make use of blogs. In a piece titled “U.S. Enlists Arab Bloggers for Info War,” Shachtman wrote, “It’s no secret that, for a long time, the jihadists were kicking American ass in the information war — especially online. Slowly, slowly, the U.S. government is starting to push back, just a little. The new arsenal of the propaganda campaign: Arab-language bloggers, podcasts, ‘webchats’ — and maybe even Second Life and cell phone games, too.”

The pilot project described in that article consisted of just a handful of Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi speakers, deployed to post pro-U.S. comments on prominent mainstream blogs in those languages. No original blogs were either initiated or co-opted by the “Digital Outreach Team.”

However, at least if Donald Rumsfeld’s advice is heeded, future projects are likely to be more ambitious.

Source: The Raw Story

Leave a Comment