Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Does Giuliani's cyberwar make any sense?

According to TPM Giuliani has unveiled a new campaign platform: more war. In particular, cyberwar. According to the The New York Sun:

Specifically, Mr. Giuliani will call for a new military surge in Afghanistan, a change in the way America's spies are promoted so that officers are rewarded for finding actionable intelligence and not just the number of agents they recruit, and a new war on Al Qaeda's intricate network of Web sites, sites used both to communicate with its agents in the field and to recruit new jihadis.

Does this make sense?

The Internet is certainly used by terrorist groups just as it is also used by opposition groups that Western governments would like to encourage. Terrorists use the Internet in three main ways:

1) Distributing propaganda
2) Fundraising
3) Perpetrating attacks

Blocking propaganda is a fools errand as a number of Israeli hackers discovered after they targeted pro-Hamas sites on the Web. Pro-Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah hackers retaliated against Israeli Web sites. The result was far short of a stalemate however. Propaganda distribution through the Internet is not vulnerable to a denial of service attack: supporters will find alternative outlets. But an Internet business is highly vulnerable; no service means no business. Within a very short time the Israeli atackers had run out of targets while their opponents worked their way through the .il zone in alphabetical order. today the original Israeli hackers are expensive consultants to companies being attacked in the cyberwar they provoked.

So the prospects for blocking propaganda? Very poor. Improvements in technology favor defense.

The prospects for blocking fundraising are considerably better. Blocking the flow of funds is by far the most reliable means of bringing a terrorist campaign to an end. The Bader-Meinhof gang spent far more time robbing banks than thinking about politics. The Provisional IRA was able to sustain its campaign for far longer than any other European terrorist group and kill more people because its source of funds from the US was far more reliable than those available to Bader-Meinhof, Action Direkt or even Eta. When the NORAID fund line was finally severed in the aftermath of 9/11 the IRA quickly agreed to a permanent end to hostilities.

Blocking fundraising means proofing the banking infrastructure against the profitable forms of Internet crime. It is an important task that I lay a detailed plan for in The dotCrime Manifesto which became available today.

But nobody should suggest that blocking Internet Crime is going to seriously affect the fundraising capabilities of Al Qaeda which grew rich off the profits from the Afghanistan opium trade. so prospects for blocking Al Qaeda using this approach? Very poor.

That only leaves the use of the Internet to perpetrate attacks. Use of the Internet to intercept and disrupt Al Qaeda communication capabilities is certainly feasible and has been taking place since before 9/11. Giuliani is presenting his ideas as a departure from existing policy. If this is something new rather than a cynical repackaging of existing practice it must mean perpetrating cyber-attacks on Al Qaeda.

Again the there is an asymmetry: the US presents far more targets for the cyber-terrorist than the cyber-terrorist presents to the US. Cyber-defense should be considered a vital national priority. But anyone who imagines that the US can use this as a weapon against Al Qaeda has a profound lack of understanding of the field. We might as well try to use submarine warfare to eliminate Al Qaeda's non-existent fleet than use cyberwarfare against their non-existent Internet infrastructure.

Unless Al Qaeda establishes an infrastructure worth attack the prosepects for this type of cyber-warfare against them is again very poor.

In short, this new speach does not make sense unless either Giuliani does not understand what he is talking about or is trying to work out how to drum up new business for Giuliani Partners when he returns.


Richard said...

I agree with the overall sentiment of your article; let's face it, not a whole lot of what Rudy says seems to make much sense.

I do take exception with one statement: "The Baader-Meinhof gang spent far more time robbing banks than thinking about politics." I know a bit about the group (you can see my site at and if there is one thing that I can assure you that this particular failed revolutionary terrorist group did, it was think, live, and breath politics. Try wading through the hundreds of communiques, internal dialogues, etc that they released during their era (I have... and it has just about sucked everything out of me) and you'll quickly realize how much energy they put into making sure that their war was justified "politically". If you've ever seen a photograph of Andreas Baader's prison cell after he killed himself, you'll see bookshelves teeming with hundreds of the densest political tracts imaginable.

In fact their bank robberies AND their communiques were straight from the their revolutionary field manual: Carlos Marighella's minimanual of the urban guerrilla. To them, robbing banks was all part of their political argument.

Phill H-B said...

I have visited your site and its a useful resource. We need a similar one on Bin-Laden and Al-Zawahiri, too much nonsense is talked about fighting terrorism here in the US. The fact is that the West German police had Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof under arrest within two years of their principal terror campaign using police work. Meanwhile the UK authorities trying to suppress 'loyalist' terrorism in Northern Ireland create and fuel the provisional IRA response.

It is pretty odd that despite his support for the IRA, presumably in response to the 'illegitimacy' of British government tactics is such an advocate for use of the same failed tactics against Al Qaeda. The IRA was eventually halted through police work and cutting off the money supply, internment and torture only made things worse.

It might be an exageration to say that the RAF spent more time on robing banks than on political thinking, but not by much and particularly not when they are getting started. The main point I was making here was that without the money from the bank robberies the RAF would have been just another group of speculators on the extreme left. Before the jailbreak Baader's idea of praxis was firebombing a department store and Meinhoff's was getting a parking ticket.

After the jailbreak and returning from Jordan they robbed four banks, lost half the gang in a shootout with the police, robbed more banks and only then got round to telling Meinhof to whip up a manifesto. Baader and Ensslin have better things to do.

I tend to view the political screeds of such groups to be more in the nature of rationalization and self-justification than the result of actual political thought. As you put it yourself 'making sure their war was justified'. I have not done it yet but I would be interested to see a graph of the number of political communiques released against the mounting body count. I will bet there is a strong correlation - up to the point where the first generation gets arrested and then what else are they going to do but spend their days writing political screeds?