Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cyber Shock Wave--Fearmongering on CNN

So this past weekend CNN broadcast its two-hour prime-time special on the recent Shock-Wave exercise. The aim of the exercise was to simulate a catastrophic cyber attack in order to scare the American public so that they would be willing to accept the imposition of even more draconian security powers for the US government. As a one-off, the broadcast will inevitably fail to succeed. As part of a continued premediation campaign distributed across print, televisual, and networked media, a campaign that is in full swing and appears to be heating up, Cyber Shock Wave might have some small effect on modulating individual and collective affect.

What was most striking about this simulation was its simplistic model of how the government might respond to such a catastrophe. The largest problem was that the simulation began from an assumption of nearly autonomous, separate spheres of action. So the whole event involved discussions among various government officials, responding to breaking news of the cyber attack received from GNN, a faux-CNN news outlet, in preparation for advising the President on what he should say to the American people and how he should deal with it.

The model of power deployed here was so one-dimensional as to be hysterical. There was no sense, for example, that such an attack would immediately, and in some sense always already, invoke massive distributed technical responses from government hackers and cyber-security personnel (both human and more importantly non-human). Any deliberation about response would inevitably have to incorporate and address the massive data flow that would be coming in about source, nature of the attack, possible counter-attacks, and so forth. Undoubtedly millions of bots and other network crawlers and scrapers would already have been deployed in anticipation of and response to such an attack. The idea that the government response would consist of a bunch of mostly card-carrying AARP-member white guys sitting around a room responding to cable news reports imagines a model of government already outmoded when Kubrick released Dr. Strangelove.

Nor was there any sense that such an attack (carried out via cellphones, which the President apparently had no authority to "quarantine") would also be met immediately by millions of netizens, who would undoubtedly circulate via social media both the need to avoid using these phones to spread the "virus" and possible ways to resist such a virus or to work around it. Participatory media would undoubtedly play a significant, if not quite calculable, role in responding to any such attack.

By failing to recognize the intermingling of the technical and the social realms (among others), this "simulation" did not simulate anything but a fantasy of white male governmental power seeking to reinforce or recover a sphere of influence that has been rapidly diminishing in an age of socially mediated networks. Cyber Shock Wave was nothing but a bald-faced attempt to scare the American public away from its increased reliance on, and involvement with, socially networked media and back into the arms of cable television and pasty-faced government officials.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"We Were Warned": CNN Premediates Cyber.ShockWave

On Saturday and Sunday at 8 PM ET, CNN will televise the results of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Cyber.Shockwave, the simulation of a major cyber-attack on the United States staged today, February 16. For now, here is a video from CNN's American Morning news show featuring an interview by John Roberts with former CIA Director General Michael Hayden and Fran Townsend, CNN reporter and former Homeland Security Advisor for the Bush-Cheney administration, two of the principals in today's simulation. This interview premediates the scenario that will unfold in Tuesday's simulation, which itself is a premediation of possible cyber attacks on the US.

Both Hayden and Townsend underscore their belief that the US is not prepared for a potential attack. In describing the possible consequences of such an attack, they paint any number of potentially terrifying scenarios, like the breakdown of transportation networks, the loss of electrical power, the shutdown of ATMs, or the disruption of the nation's cellphone networks--all intended to frighten the public. Roberts plays into this fear-mongering throughout the interview, repeating on more than one occasion how what they are telling him makes him and the audience anxious or terrified or frightened. At no point does he or his guests note that any such disruptions would undoubtedly prove temporary. While there may be vulnerabilities in the nation's cyber-defense system, the damage from such attacks would most likely be quickly repaired. It's not as if the entire nation will lose electrical power or internet service or cellphone connectivity for an extended period of time.

In the interview Hayden makes it clear that the simulation is not an attempt to predict a particular future scenario but to impact policy decisions today, including front and center questions of privacy, the relation between government and the private sector, or the question of chain of command. What seems clear from this preview of today's event is that the aim of those staging and participating in this "shock wave" is precisely to shock or scare the American public into accepting further incursions on individual and collective liberties by premediating the most frightening possible implications of a cyber attack on the US.

CNN's weekend report on today's scenario will undoubtedly prove to be the US media's most extensive premediation of cyber war to date--or perhaps more accurately its premediation of a premediated cyber war. In any event, this special report will bear watching. Check it out. You've been warned!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Are Twitter Users Agents of US Cyber War?

In an interesting story in this morning's New York Times, Sharon LaFraniere and Jonathan Ansfield describe China's concern about cyber-security threats resulting from the omnipresence of western-based hardware and software among China's networked computing infrastructure. Because of this concern, the authors write, China has become "'absolutely the world leader' in development of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6)—-the successor to the current Internet." China's leaders seem determined to free themselves from their current reliance on Western IT companies by developing a home-grown Internet infrastructure.

What was most striking about this article, however, was this take on the so-called Iranian Twitter revolution: "'How did the unrest after the Iranian elections come about?' People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, asked in a Jan. 24 editorial. 'It was because online warfare launched by America, via YouTube video and Twitter micro-blogging, spread rumors, created splits, stirred up and sowed discord.'" Where print, televisual, and networked media in the Western world celebrated the use of Twitter and YouTube as instances of grass-roots, anti-fascist cyber-democracy, China (and Iran) see these social media networks as weapons of online warfare launched by the US.

In my forthcoming book, I argue that in generating and proliferating pleasurable affects, social media networks encourage people to furnish all sorts of transactional data that help to vitalize our current securitization regime. From this perspective grass-roots netivism does something similar not only for US netizens but for those on the ground in other nations as well. And perhaps even more insidiously, does the promotion of an ideology of grass-roots socially networked activism among print, televisual, and networked media work to transform socially conscious users of Twitter and YouTube into unwitting agents of US cyber war? And how might this connect with the extensive premediation of cyber war under way at the current moment, particularly the February 16 "simulation" of an attack against the US by foreign sources?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Premediating Cyber War

According to a post by the Atlantic's Mark Ambinder, the US government will be war-gaming a cyber attack in public on television on February 16. While some may consider this a form of simulation or rehearsal, it seems clear that its real value is as a premediation of Cyber War. This fictionalization of a cyber attack seems designed less to work out how the US military might defend such an attack or how it might be prevented than to premediate for the American public the likelihood of such an attack.

This premediated war-gaming goes hand in hand with recent Senate testimony by US intelligence and defense officials about the likelihood of such attacks, as well as with related state-based and media premediations in the US, the UK, Israel, and other nations. Given our increasing affective, social, and commercial dependence on information and communication networks, any extended disruption of these networks could cause incalculable damage to our social, affective, and financial exchanges--not to mention other kinds of damage to power networks, transportation networks, water purification and sanitation networks, and so forth.

Premediating such attacks is not likely to have a major effect on our social, technical, and commercial networks, but may help prepare the public affectively for major network disruptions. The aim of these various premediations is less to predict specific attacks or to prepare specific lines of defense than to modulate public affect with an eye toward encouraging us to accept the necessity of increased practices of state and corporate securitization.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

US Intelligence Officials Premediate Terrorism and Cyber-Attacks

In an article nearly buried on page 6 of the front section of the New York Times, "Senators Warned of Terror Attack by July," top US intelligence officials are quoted as premediating terrorist attacks on US soil within the next 3 to 6 months.

Dennis C. Blair, who directs the nation's intelligence operations, and Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, both pre-mediated an attack by Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. Panetta said that "The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11," but "that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect." Blair underscored this point, but began his testimony by premediating the possibility of a crippling cyber-attack on US telecommunications and computer networks, contributing to increasing concerns among the intelligence community of a "cyber Pearl Harbor."

The fact that such news does not merit placement on the front page is worth considering, particularly insofar as we are only six weeks or so beyond the failed Christmas Day bombing. Perhaps it is simply a sign of the short attention span of the US public. Perhaps it means that the American public is beginning to take a more mature approach to the inevitability of terrorist attacks. More likely it means that the US media does not yet see such premediation as something that will sell newspapers this week. After all, this is Super Bowl week; the media's premediations seem oriented largely towards the Colts and the Saints.

It is also worth considering the aim of the intelligence community and the Obama Administration in issuing such premediations. Prior to 9/11 there was very little specific talk of this nature in the media; on the contrary the Bush-Cheney crew wanted to keep such intelligence on the QT, even from the president himself, it seems. After 9/11, however, in the run-up to the Iraq War, the Bush-Cheney administration used massive, widespread premediation to prepare the public affectively to accept (even when it cognitively or politically opposed) the invasion of Iraq. While the decision to invade Iraq, unlike the terrorist attacks premediated by the intelligence community, was in the hands of the US government, something similar nonetheless would seem to be involved here.

By premediating potential terrorist attacks on US soil or US networks before they happened, the Obama administration might be seeking to accomplish at least three related goals. First, such premediations can work to prepare the public affectively for such attacks so that their effects (particularly on the US economy) will not be as devastating as they were in the aftermath of 9/11. Second, by premediating such attacks now, the Republican opposition and their print, televisual, and networked media allies will have a more difficult time blaming the Obama administration for being unprepared (although of course that will not stop them from making such claims). Third, if such premediated attacks do not come off before the next election, say, Obama and the Democrats will be in a position to take credit for having kept the US safe.

Undoubtedly, there are other motivations one might imagine. From my perspective, what is most interesting is the fact that premediation continues to play an important role in US media and political discourse. And, in terms of a new research project that I am just beginning to undertake, it is telling that cyber war is being premediated alongside of terrorist attacks on US soil as an imminent threat to the security of the homeland.