Jan 31, 2008

War Nerd's USS Sitting Duck

Today I'm going to talk about war games. Which reminds me: my computer's messed up so I'm writing this column from what has got to be the darkest, smelliest internet cafe in Fresno, not like there are a lot to choose from. I seem to be the only roundeye in the place, and I'm definitely the only one here who didn't come to play combat games.

All around me are these huge explosions and the screams of the wounded, all fuzzy from the cheap speakers beside every machine. I don't even know what games these guys are playing--I don't do fantasy games--but they sure are serious about it.

What's really weirding me out though is the way this Asian guy to my left always ends his game. Every time, there's a huge explosion and then a serious voice saying, "The terrorists win." Every time! Does Homeland Security know about this treasonous game, poisoning the minds of America's yout' with defeatism? And how come the terrorists keep winning?

Which brings me (nice segue, huh?) to the big-boys' war games I wanted to talk about, the ones the US Navy just conducted near the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf. And I'd like to thank all the readers like Aaron Champion who wrote in to link me to the story and remind me that I've been proven right again. Damn, I'm tired of always being right, because it's always about the bad news. In this case, Aaron wrote to give me the heads-up that six long years after I predicted Iranian irregular naval forces in small civilian craft would make an American fleet in the Persian Gulf look foolish, the glorious NY Times itself lowered itself to repeat today what I'd said way back in 2002. Here's Aaron's message:

Dear Mr. Nerd,

I'm a longtime reader of your column and it wouldn't surprise me if you've already seen this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/12/ washington/12navy.html?ref=todayspaper

But if you hadn't, allow me to stroke your ego (and ego alone) by making pointing out that you're the only motherfucker in the world that seems to have picked up on this. It only took the press five years. Adding insult to ineptitude, it was the New York Times.

Hope this brightens an otherwise bleary in Fuckno for ya.


Well, Aaron, it did, kind of. Nothing makes me happier than when the people who get the respect and money I don't get, wind up looking stupid. I just wish the NY Times would pay me some kind of settlement instead of ripping me off six years late. If you're going to steal, fellas, at least do it right. I don't break into your Manhattan HQ to pilfer your back issues for toilet paper, so don't steal my 2002 columns just because your military correspondents are brain-dead from decades of believing DoD briefings.

(Editor's Note: This isn't the first time that the NY Times has lifted from the War Nerd. Last May, the popular Fishbowl/NY blog suggested that Times columnist/editor Nicholas Kristoff plagiarized from Brecher's idea that Cheney must be an Iranian mole because he's doing their business so well.)

If you're a new reader you might need to know that way back in December 2002 I did a column called "U Sank My Carrier!" about the results of "Millennium Challenge," a US Navy war game in the Persian Gulf. Here's the link to that column: http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=6779&IBLOCK_ID=35

What happened in Millennium Challenge is that the Navy brass picked a prickly retired USMC vet named Paul van Ripen to play the Iranian commander facing a naval incursion--and van Riper, with nothing but small speedboats, civilian prop planes, and low-tech surface-to-surface missiles, managed to sink two-thirds of the US force by buzzing them with annoying but not openly hostile civilian craft, then attacking simultaneously with everything he had.

I made two important points in that column. The first is that war's entering a new phase where blurring the line between civilian and military isn't just an accident or cheating but crucial to any irregular force facing first-world attackers. It's how they win.

My second point, the one I got a lot of flak for, was that if we send our old-fashioned carrier battle groups into the Gulf in wartime, they won't come out. They'll make excellent dive sites after all the coral and urchins and other sea critters have colonized them--the Gulf is nice and shallow, so our ships will be resting in really prime diving depth--but they won't come out alive.

Well, durned if the Iranians showed they'd learned from van Riper even if the US Navy refused to. To celebrate the new year, the neocons decided to send another battle group into the Persian Gulf. And guess how the Iranians reacted. Yup: they sent a bunch of small "civilian" speedboats to harass the frigate screen, zipping and zooming in the US Navy's wakes. Waterskiing for all I know, just having a great old time trying to provoke the USN's close-in defense systems into a massacre that they could play for the home audience, tapping into that gigantic Shia lust for martyrdom.

Of course Cheney or whoever else ordered the fleet into a shallow deathtrap like the Gulf was playing the same sleazy game, just with a bigger budget. The only possible reason to send a US fleet close to the Iranian coastline right now is that Cheney and his friends are desperate to provoke a war with Iran fast, before they have to leave office.

And it's harder for them than ever now that we have a new-and-improved Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Rummy bought into all their neocon crap--hell, he was their main wizard!--but Gates doesn't. He pissed off the neocons bigtime at a news conference I just read about by calling Iran a "challenge" instead of a "threat." That may not sound like a big deal to you, but to the Admin crowd it's enough to get you burned at the stake, like calling Jesus "a nice man" instead of "my personal savior" to the churchy crowd.

So there's the US Navy trolling the Gulf trying to draw Iranian fire, and there's the Iranian speedboats trying to draw US fire, like a couple of street whores winking at each other. Naturally, no business resulted because they both want the same thing: an enemy provocation. If you're thinking this means the VP was willing to risk US casualties to get his Iran invasion, you're right, but I hope you're not surprised. In the first place, sacrificing a decoy force for strategic purposes is a classic part of war, and besides, the idea of draft dodgers like Cheney caring what happens to an ordinary squid blasted into fish food by a suicide evinrude attack is just ridiculous. They're coldblooded, which is good for a war chief.

Unfortunately they're also stupid. And the Persians aren't. That bears repeating: the Persians are NOT stupid. In fact, they've always been the craftiest people in the Middle East, because they can yell as loud and act as crazy in public as any Arab--but when it's necessary they can also instantly calm down and plan quietly, a smile on their faces and a dagger under the table.

If the Mullahs in Tehran had wanted a provocation, they could have made one phone call and all those annoying speedboats would have beelined for our frigates at ramming-suicide speed. But Persians are patient; they know that Cheney will be gone in a year, so why risk an invasion? Not that they're afraid of a US invasion; in fact, if they were just typical Middle-East crazies, they'd be scheming to get invaded ASAP. But they don't NEED us to invade right now, which means they feel pretty confident things are going their way without any added aggravation. After all, we just conquered Iraq for them; why not let us bleed out there, with no risk to Iran, then walk in when the US Treasury is empty?

So what the Iranians did was waterski around the fleet and drop "boxes in the water." That's a quote from the Navy's report. The Navy seemed especially pissed off about an enemy who'd do something as low and no-account as dropping "boxes in the water." See, every "box" is potentially a mine, and there's nothing that full-braid Naval officers hate more than mines, because of all the ways you can wreck your ship, steaming onto a floating bomb is maybe the most embarrassing.

See, the Navy brass always plans for a neat, clean hi-tech war. Their real investment isn't the Phalanx or Aegis but the operations rooms deep in the hulls where flabby desk jockeys just like me sit at little screens. Those screens are supposed to show a few dots, nice fair-fighting Soviet surface ships and subs. That's how the Navy wants to play the game. Seeing their beautiful screens clogged up by a bunch of goddamn cheap speedboats full of Revolutionary Guards, not to mention hundreds of "boxes" that might turn out to be mines, ruins everything.

You might wonder, if you were real, real naive, why the Navy hasn't tried to learn from what van Ripen did to them six years ago in the same waters. Well, the truth is that no big, well-funded armed service learns or changes until it absolutely has to, which usually means when it starts to lose a war. And of all services, navies are by far the most stubborn, old-fashioned, snobby, retarded of all. I don't mean the submarine force, which is pretty much God. I mean the brass in their ridiculous floating targets, aka carriers, frigates, tankers and other dive-sites-in-the-making.

If they had any sense they'd realize that the way to deal with big overloaded targets is to saturate their defenses with a swarm of low-cost attackers. If you've got lives to spend, and the Iranians sure do, you spend lives to sink hardware. It's a good trade, when you consider what a carrier costs, and how little the average Iranian life is worth. They're Shia! These guys can't wait to give their lives away. The Kamikazes were squeamish moderates compared to the Revolutionary Guard. And thanks to Silicon Valley and its Chinese knockoffs, you can fire swarms of unmanned rockets instead of Shia martyrs, so you don't even need to spend one life per blip on the US fleet's little screens. You can even send empty rocket tubes as part of the swarm, because in the few seconds the surface vessel has to react, it can't determine which threats are nuke, which are conventional HE and which are decoys.

Of course the Navy will come back with buzz words like Aegis and Phalanx. The Phalanx is a good system, if everybody was still playing by those Warsaw Pact vs. NATO war games. Phalanx, for you rookies, is an automated close-in defense system mounted on the decks of USN surface vessels. It looks like that Star Wars robot R2D2, if R2D2 had a huge penis hanging down that was a multi-barrel 20mm cannon. The R2D2 part houses the radar and computer; the gatling gun spits out 20mm rounds at low-flying SS missiles, incoming speedboats, or diving kamikaze planes.

But the Phalanx was never meant to handle swarms of low-tech attackers. That's not the clean, temperate-zone war the computer dweebs in the Pentagon planned for. See, the original Phalanx only had 1000 rounds in its magazine. The newer models have 1.550, meaning even the USN realized that it was too easy to saturate the target with decoy attacks and deplete the magazine. But 1550 rounds isn't much at that rate of fire--and the Achilles heel of the system is reloading. It's not that easy to hoist 1550 20mm rounds into position, and I don't think either van Riper or the Iranians would be likely to agree to a 15-minute reloading break.

If it was me, and maybe I'm too "cynical" or something, I'd send all my empty missile tubes and expendable suicide squads in the first wave, all at once like van Riper did. I'd count to 90, because 90 seconds would be enough to empty every Phalanx magazine--and you can bet that those scared Navy computer nerds down in the Operations Room would be holding the red buttons down till the barrels were melting when they realized they were under a real attack. Then, while the grunts below deck were hauling the ammo into position, I'd send the second wave with the real stuff. And that, as they say, would be that. A trillion dollars of US Navy hardware becomes an artificial reef.

If I'm wrong, US Navy bosses, why don't you show the taxpayers how invulnerable your battle groups are? Bring van Riper out of retirement and give him the Iranian weapons mix, including speedboats, small planes and soviet-clone antiship missiles. Set up an automated frigate somewhere where we can watch, and let us see that Phalanx knock down every single bee in that sting-swarm.

Of course the Navy won't ever stage a test like that. It'd be like asking Benny Hinn to walk on water. You're not supposed to put your god to the test, and Navy brass really do think they're God. Something about all that "tradition" and bullshit etiquette on "the bridge" goes to their heads. You're supposed to trust them. And give them all your money so they can pretend it's still 1880 and the dreadnought rules the waves. Besides, Navy officers were always "gentlemen," and there's nothing as totally useless as a gentleman.

While the Navy was shaking its gentlemanly fists at a bunch of Iranians in Islamic jet-skis, Cheney's propaganda corps was filming the whole ridiculous encounter to try to convince us on the home front that this proved we gotta invade now, right now. This is where they showed that their real talent is for comedy, even though they don't realize it.

To show how dangerous Iran was, the Navy released a tape of a heavily-accented voice on the radio who supposedly threatened the fleet in the Gulf. If you heard this tape, you have to laugh: "I am comink to blow you up, America!" Oooooh, really scary stuff! That's supposed to scare the most expensive naval force in the history of the world?

Some hairy CB retro nut out there in the Gulf whiling away the time sweating in his radio shack hoping to get an answer 30 years after everybody else gave up CB: "Uh, Breaker, Breaker, this is Greaseball Slacker One-Niner givin' y'all the big Islamic word that y'all is about to get blowed up real good, Good buddies!"

To add to the shame, it turns out the voice wasn't even coming from those scary Iranian Bayliners. Turns out the Navy got punked by a dude (or group of dudes) known and hated by every vessel transiting the Gulf under the name "Filipino Monkey."

You know, in some way this whole episode in military history is like one of those samples rappers make. You'd start out with some video of the fleet zooming around the Gulf with the Iranians zipping in their wake in small outboards. You'd run that backwards and forwards a few times while that video-game voice repeated, "The terrorists win!" Then you'd sample the Filipino Monkey's voice that scared the admirals so much, going, "I am comeenk to keeell you America!" a few times, then the apologetic network correspondents saying over and over, "...now appears to be a radio prankster known as 'Filipino Monkey.'" Run that a few dozen times: "Filipino monkey! The terrorists win! I am comeenk to kill you!" Put it on random, switch the order around, zip the video of the fleet at keystone kops speed, and you've got the big picture: the Gulf of Tonkin incident replayed as comedy. That's the world from 1962 to 2008, kids: history repeating, first time tragic, second time comedy. Not good comedy--Cheney's no Henny Youngman--but definitely slapstick.

-Jacked & Hacked War Nerd aka Gary Brecher

Jan 30, 2008

Enhance Enough

First out, two enhancers:

Darpa Pursues Neuroscience To Enhance Analyst, Soldier Performance

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is researching how computers reading brain waves may one day speed up the ways intelligence analysts detect targets in satellite images and also alert platoon leaders when soldiers are losing situational awareness.

The NIA project aims to help the intelligence community deal with the growing problem of having an enormous amount of “visual media” flowing in for review. It is currently taking the analysts too long to turn the data into usable information that can be acted on by decision-makers and war fighters. (Excerpt from Aviation Week)


Psyche 'armor' is a must for soldiers

The Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007. Clever, right?

Made-up? No.

It is the Pentagon's plan for protecting combat soldiers from the psychological trauma of warfare. It entails giving the troops propanolol, a heart medication with an unusual side effect: It minimizes traumatic memories.

Sen. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), introduced the bill last summer. It hasn't moved very far since then, but it's out there. It calls for the Secretary of Defense to develop a program aimed at reducing post-traumatic stress disorder and "other stress-related psychopathologies."

Propranolol is used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and circulatory problems.

But, researchers have discovered that it lessens the intensity of unpleasant memories. Here's how it works: Adrenaline is triggered during traumatic or intense experiences, which is why they remain so intense in our memories. Studies indicate that adrenaline administered after an experience - any experience - boosts one's memory of that experience. Propranolol blocks that.

Everyone knows that post-traumatic stress disorder affects a huge number of combat soldiers. In fact, CBS reported that in 2005, 6,000 veterans of all wars committed suicide. That's a rate of 120 … per week.

This is more than a problem. It's an epidemic that is careening through our military ranks.

Maybe propranolol is the solution. If it will save lives and improve the quality of them, perhaps the Psychological Kevlar Act is actually a good idea. (Excerpt from the Buchtelite)

And now the party pooping non-enhancer.

Psychologist Jeffrey Kaye resigns from the American Psychological Association over differences with their policies allowing psychologists to aid in coercive interrogations. The following is his resignation letter:

January 27, 2008

Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.
President, American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
, DC 20002-4232

Dear Dr. Kazdin,

I hereby resign my membership in the American Psychological Association (APA). I have up until now been working with Psychologists for an Ethical APA for an overturn in APA policy on psychologist involvement in national security interrogations, and I greatly respect those who are fighting via a dues boycott to influence APA policy on this matter. I hope to still work with these principled and dedicated professionals, but I cannot do it anymore from a position within APA.

Unlike some others who have left APA, my resignation is not based solely on the stance APA has taken regarding the participation of psychologists in national security interrogations. Rather, I view APA’s shifting position on interrogations to spring from a decades-long commitment to serve uncritically the national security apparatus of the United States. Recent publications and both public and closed professional events sponsored by APA have made it clear that this organization is dedicated to serving the national security interests of the American government and military, to the extent of ignoring basic human rights practice and law. The influence of the Pentagon and the CIA in APA activities is overt and pervasive, if often hidden. The revelations over the constitution and behavior of the 2005 Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) panel are a case in point. While charged with investigating the dilemmas for psychologists involved in military interrogations in the light of the scandals surrounding Guanatamo’s Camp Delta and Abu Ghraib prison, it was stacked with military and governmental personnel, and closely monitored and pressured by APA staff.

I strongly disagree with APA’s current position on interrogations, and am unimpressed with recent clarifications to that position that allows for voluntary non-participation in specifically defined cases where torture and abuse of prisoners is proved to exist. I have discussed my reasoning for this elsewhere, both blogging on the Internet and in public. In 2007, I was a panelist in the “mini-convention,” which examined the dispute over interrogations held at the APA Convention in San Francisco, presenting my findings on secret and non-secret psychologist research into isolation, sensory deprivation and sensory overload.

I will briefly review my objections to APA policy and practices, then place them in the context of current APA institutional objectives and goals. I find the latter to be antithetical to the ideals of an ethical and beneficent organization promoting psychological knowledge and practice.

*** APA’s position on non-involvement in torture allows psychologists to work in settings that do not allow the basic right of habeas corpus, in addition to practices of humane confinement as delineated in the Conventions of the Geneva Protocols and various international documents and treaties.

*** APA maintains in private communications that relegating various modes of psychological torture (sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, isolation) and the use of drugs in interrogations to something less than outright prohibition in recent APA position papers does not mean APA had any intention of providing a “loophole” for interrogators in the practice of coercive interrogations. APA also promises to clarify its position on these matters in an “ethics casebook.” When it has found it exigent, as on the PENS resolution, to step outside normal procedure to clarify its position, it has done so. I find it noteworthy that recent APA clarifications of its position are treated as something requiring less than direct organizational expression.

*** APA continues to propagate a position that it knows is not true, specifically that psychologists operate in interrogation settings to prevent abusive interrogations. While sometimes citing the compelling conclusions about context and behavior outlined by Zimbardo, and stemming from his famous Prisoner Experiment, it twists the representation of this research by making psychologists into a quasi-police force monitoring abusive interrogations. On the contrary, the Zimbardo research leads to a more unsettling conclusion, i.e., that human beings in general are susceptible to participation in abusive behavior based upon contextual factors. In fact, the Zimbardo research argues, as Dr. Zimbardo himself has done, against participation in these kinds of interrogations.

*** APA has shown precious little interest in the many revelations regarding psychologist participation in torture, or in psychologist research into abusive or coercive interrogations. Excepting only a brief period in the late 1970s, when widespread and public exposure of CIA mind control programs raised considerable scandal, APA has shown little inclination to confront the history of psychologist participation in such research, nor of its own institutional role in this research.

*** Finally, recent APA activities, such as the joint CIA/Rand Corporation/APA July 2003 workshop in the “Science of Deception,”point to questionable current participation in unethical practices and illegal governmental activities. I queried relevant actors and APA leaders as to what actually occurred at this workshop, which the APA Science Directorate described as discussing how to use “pharmacological agents to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?” Also considered was the study of “sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors,” with workshop participants asked, “How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?” I never received any answer from relevant APA personnel, including the current director of ethics, about what was going on at this workshop.

The latter episode captures the terrible trap into which APA has fallen. When making agreements with state intelligence and military agencies, it is usual that secrecy agreements are signed. This makes it impossible to reasonably assess and monitor the activities of psychologists in national security settings. Furthermore, the subordination of military psychologists to the chain of command of the armed forces also allows for ineffective if not impossible oversight of psychologist activities. But the problem with secrecy does not end there. Major researchers, including even a former APA president, who contracted with the government, or had their work utilized by the military, as for the latter’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE program, have told me they are unable to discuss matters beyond a certain point, or tried to restrict discussion of these matters, no doubt due in part to secrecy restrictions. Summing up this point, governmental secrecy and scientific enterprise are in direct opposition to each other, and secrecy negates the promise of effective oversight, not to mention the distortions it renders upon the scientific process itself.

In the recently APA published book, Psychology in the Service of National Security (APA Press, 2006), the book’s editor, A. David Mangelsdorff, wrote, “As the military adjusts to its changing roles in the new national security environment, psychologists have much to offer” (p. 237). He notes the recent forward military deployment of psychologists, their use in so-called anti-terrorism research, and assistance in influencing public opinion about “national security problems facing the nation.” L. Morgan Banks, himself Chief of the Psychological Applications Directorate of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and a member of the controversial PENS panel, wrote elsewhere in the same book about the “bright future” (p. 95) for psychologists working with Special Operations Forces. Never mind that SOPs have been implicated in torture in Afghanistan, including receiving instructions in such coercive procedures from psychologists from some of the same psychologists, by the way, that attended the APA/CIA workshop noted above.) Nowhere could I find in the entire book a discussion of ethical problems surrounding these issues, nor certainly of political and social questions implicit in such outright support of governmental initiatives and military policy. Additionally, and curiously, there is no discussion of psychologist participation in military interrogations anywhere in the book.

In my opinion, and despite the otherwise notable and positive stances and activities of APA on other aspects of social note, such as work against prejudice against gays and lesbians, or against race prejudice, it is an unfortunate but urgent fact that APA as an institution has become subordinated to the state when it comes to military matters. In other words, when it comes to interrogations and psychologist military activities in general, APA acts as an arm of the Pentagon and a support agency for the CIA. The differences around interrogation policy APA has with the Bush Administration is itself a mirror of differences with the administration itself, and within different governmental departments. In such instances, APA acts as the instrument of one or another faction within government, but not as an independent actor and representative of the profession and its ideals and goals.

I would suggest the following remedies, if any are still possible, in turning around the degeneration of APA into a willing instrument for U.S. military and intelligence interests:

1. A full opening of all APA archives related to research and participation in activities with the military, including its intelligence arms; and a call for the government to declassify all documents related to the same;

2. The disestablishment of Division 19, the Society for Military Psychology, from the APA;

3. The immediate recission of APA’s Ethics Code 1.02, which was changed from earlier formulations in 2002 to permit adherence “to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority” when there is otherwise a conflict between the law and psychologists’ ethical practice. Opponents of 1.02 have rightly compared it to the Nazi defense of “following orders” at Nuremberg;

4. A call for the formation of a civilian, cross-disciplinary investigatory panel to examine the past history and current collaboration of scientific and medical professionals with the government, especially its military and intelligence agencies, to encompass fields as diverse as psychology, anthropology, linguistics, and sociology, with a goal of producing recommendations on interactions between government and the scientific and medical communities;

5. A moratorium on research into interrogations;

6. Sever the link that ties APA’s definition of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment” in its various resolutions from the Reagan-era Reservations to the UN Convention Against Torture, which seeks to weaken that definition by relying on suspect interpretations of U.S. law rather than international definitions;

7. The immediate cessation of all support for involvement of psychological personnel in participation in any activity that supports national security interrogations.

The sordid history of American psychology when it comes to collaboration with governmental agencies in the research and implementation of techniques of psychological torture is one that our field will have to confront sooner or later. In a larger sense, the problems I have presented here are inherent in a larger societal dilemma regarding the uses of knowledge. This problem was recognized by the first critics of untrammeled scientific advance, and represented powerfully by Goethe’s Faust, and Mary Shelley’s Doctor Frankenstein. Human knowledge is capable of producing both good and evil. The scientist, the scholar, and the doctor hold tremendous responsibility in their hands. That they have not shown themselves, in a tragic number of instances, to ethically wield or control this responsibility has meant that the 21st century opens under the awful prospect of worldwide nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare, while a sinister, behaviorally-designed torture apparatus operates as the servant of nation-states wielding these awful weapons of mass destruction.

It’s appropriate that I close with a statement about the problem of serving powerful national interests from a former president of the APA, a leading and important pioneer in our field, and also, for awhile, a member with top secret clearance in the CIA’s MKULTRA mind control program, Carl Rogers. One wonders, along with the authors of a recent study on Dr. Rogers’ CIA collaboration (see Demanchick & Kirschenbaum (2008), Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48, pp. 6-30), if Rogers’ exposure to the world of secret government military projects didn’t inform his feelings about psychologists and government, as expressed in his famous debate with another seminal psychologist, B. F. Skinner:

?To hope that the power which is being made available by the behavioral sciences will be exercised by the scientists, or by a benevolent group, seems to me a hope little supported by either recent or distant history. It seems far more likely that behavioral scientists, holding their present attitudes, will be in the position of the German rocket scientists specializing in guided missiles. First they worked devotedly for Hitler to destroy the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Now, depending on who captured them, they work devotedly for the U.S.S.R. in the interest of destroying the United States, or devotedly for the United States in the interest of destroying the U.S.S.R. If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science, it seems most probably that they will serve the purposes of whatever individual or group has the power. (Rogers & Skinner (1956), ‘Some issues concerning the control of human behavior. A symposium.’ Science, 124, p. 1061.)”

Sincerely yours,

Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.
San Francisco, CA

(H/T Stephen Soldz of Psyche, Science, and Society)

Jan 29, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Cyber-Threat Iconophiles

...read a top notch, iconoclastic article by Michael Tanji out of Haft of the Spear. I doubt not that it will be misunderstood by more than a few, less of course our seasoned and skewed regulars. Shucks - but what's new 'bout that?

I’m tired of hearing about all the “new” things going on in the cyber-war, cyber-terrorism, cyber- insert- your- term- here business. Nothing I’ve read on these issues in the last few years is any different from anything I read fifteen years ago. Issues that make headlines today were actually new when the IBM XT was a hot piece of hardware. So as a public service your author provides you with five factors to evaluate when deciding on whether or not to buy the next book or magazine with an article that suggests iDeath or e-horror is imminent. Take a pass if you detect any two in a scan of the dust jacket or lede.

Nothing is New. Any time someone talks about how new a given cyber issue is, watch out for wet paint. Winn Schwartau’s 1994 book Information Warfare was essentially the tipping point for the cyberspace-is-a-dangerous-place genre. Years earlier Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg laid out what evils were in store for the nascent Internet (contrary to popular opinion, Latvia is just the latest target upon which Russian’s have unleashed hackers). Phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks are just variations on a theme; Computer Capers (© 1978!) talks about how people were using computers to commit financial crimes back when a portable computer required a fork lift.

More Metaphors = More B.S. Any story you read that has someone fusing a lot of physical-world terms with Internet-related terms should invoke one reaction: check your wallet. The military are particularly egregious abusers in this area. After years of studying the issues, the Pentagon still has few sound ideas about how to fight and win a battle in cyberspace. That hasn’t stopped the Air Force from setting up new cyber warfighting command (watch for the other Services to follow the money). Among the many unanswered questions: If we are about to launch an attack, do we have to get fly-over rights from Verizon? If an apparent foreign source takes out a purely commercial concern in the US, do we attack said foreign nation’s capitol? Since accurately identifying the source of a cyber attack is near impossible, how do we minimize friendly-fire or collateral damage? Scratch beneath the surface and you find no solid answers.

Net-centricity is as dangerous as it is helpful. Data is not knowledge and being able to process a lot of data does not provide wisdom. Careless application of technology – particularly in a military context, though you find parallels in business as well - threatens to send us into a retrograde spin to the days of the “squad leader in the sky.” The phrase refers to the practice of some military commanders in Viet Nam who would fly above an operation and attempt to direct action on the ground (much to the dismay of those who were actually being shot at). Does having a lot of data on a dashboard fundamentally improve our ability to make decisions, or does it simply foster the illusion of situational awareness and operational control? More importantly, how wise is it to pursue such efforts given the fact that we can barely secure the networks we have now?

The “Expert” Probably Isn’t. Who do you see quoted in stories about cyber-Armageddon? Sometimes they’re white hat hackers, sometimes engineers, sometimes soldiers, but more often than not they’re people who know a lot of buzz-words and not a lot of details. I belong to a professional organization that addresses issues related to conflict in cyberspace, but there is no one in this diverse and august group who knows it all - and more importantly they would never pretend to. Being able to crack passwords doesn’t make you a digital soldier; an ex-pilot assigned to an INFOSEC job while awaiting retirement is no cyber-warrior; and a General who read Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace isn’t the information age’s Sun Tzu. The “expert” who sounds like an evangelist on this stuff isn’t a holy man; he’s a con man.

The World Doesn’t End if the Internet Goes Dark. Cyberwar breaks out tomorrow and then what? The sun will still come up and life will still go on. Everything will become more tedious and time-consuming, but for those raised in the analog age, life will seem very familiar indeed. This is not to say that there will not be economic and other implications that will hurt us as a nation, but we’re not facing life in a new dark ages or a war against the CHUDs. Coloradans dealt with the snow storm of 2007; New Englanders dealt with the ice storm of 1998; levels of individual preparedness vary, but the country doesn’t suddenly become one big post-Katrina New Orleans (especially since New Orleans post-Katrina wasn’t as bad as some made it out to be) just because connectivity drops off.

Lector Caveo should be your watchwords every time you pick up a book or magazine that purports to tell you something you don’t already know with regards to the hazards of cyberspace. Variations on well-worn themes are as multitudinous as there are bits stored on a 40 TB RAID. There is nothing revolutionary about coming up with a new way to waste money on an old idea dolled up in lipstick and pancake makeup. Threats in cyberspace are real, but what is actually scary is the fact that we readily rush headlong to expose ourselves for convenience or merely for cachet. Done properly technology should enable us to do things effectively and safely, but since security is hard, people are lazy, and hope is cheap; we usually end up hoping for the best. We’re in our second decade of cyber threats being on the national security radar and we are still not dramatically better off today than we were when we started. For an issue that should be moving at Internet time, we are still clearly operating at the speed of government.

Thanks to Rick Forno, Bob Gourley, and Joel Harding for their help in putting this together. All the good parts are theirs; all the bad parts are mine.

rticle jacked from Michael Tanji over at Haft of the Spear.

Jan 28, 2008

Law Enforcement, National Security and Climate Change

Might we all pretend that Monday Coming referred to today? Thanks!

The world's wealthiest countries could face the beginnings of societal breakdown by mid-century in the form of boiling domestic unrest over climate change according to the security think tank Oxford Research Group's new report An Uncertain Future: Law Enforcement, National Security and Climate Change [20-page pdf].

A tide of protest against polluting companies and perceived government inaction and, in extreme cases, the emergence of new forms of ecoterrorism are among scenarios outlined by the Oxford Research Group.

The report sounds a warning quite different from the conventional assumption that carbon-induced global warming could trigger waves of environmental refugees from abroad driven by the quest for food, water and shelter.

Most analysis of global warming focuses on the potential for security threats from `over there' in the form of mass migration. That may well be the case but the report's research indicates that there is a range of potential threats from civil unrest within the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States – all the Western nations, in fact - and these threats are seen as growing more acute over time, if governments continually fail to protect us from climate change.

The Oxford report calls on Western governments to overhaul their approach to security and disaster planning, with an emphasis on helping police, security and military forces adapt to preventative, rather than reactive, strategies. A conventional strategy of using force to deter unrest, the report says, is doomed to failure.

The report says that, because Europe and North America have a far greater capacity to adapt to rapid climate change, neither continent is likely to engage in climate-related regional conflict predicted in the most resource-depleted parts of the developing world.

What is "almost certain," the report said, is that by 2050 droughts, food scarcity and flooding would trigger the movement of as many as 200 million environmental refugees. The vast majority is likely to flow toward the developed world, said Abbott. But internal migration is also a factor that is likely to come with its own security issues.

Acknowledging that climate change and security is "a young area of analysis," the Oxford report said its predictions are likely to change, for better or for worse, over the coming decades.

Climate change - what an asexy and trés boring topic with which to kick off the new year here. Oh well...

[The report] is based in part on a briefing given by the author to the Australian Federal Police and other law enforcement and defence agencies in Canberra at the end of 2007. It builds on some of the analysis initially laid out in Global Responses to Global Threats (June 2006) and Beyond Terror (April 2007), and is published as part of ORG's Sustainable security project.