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Information Warfare and Deterrence

Chapter 4. Workshop Insights and Conclusions

Scope of the Problem

The most significant insight about IW and deterrence is that the two concepts are only relevant to one another in highly selective contexts. IW is just too big and encompasses so much (particularly in the context of information dominance), while deterrence is limited and almost always case specific. But once that insight occurs, the problem can be analyzed in deliberate and methodical ways.

First, the term "information warfare" is used to mean many things, but often focuses on the military or the cyber-war domains dominated by computers. Actually the field is so broad that virtually no meaningful generalizations can be made about it. But by focusing on defensive cyber-war and media war, and a range of offensive IW actions, it is possible to bound the problems into workable segments. That is, analysis must be focused on selected elements which must be clearly defined in each application.

The U.S. national information infrastructure is interlinked and interwoven. It is not possible, except in rare instances, to separate the military, national, and private information systems. Public and private sectors are heavily interdependent and this linkage will continue to grow. Further, U.S. information systems and the U.S. information infrastructure appear extremely vulnerable, and a whole raft of information systems could be potential targets. The U.S. civilian sector is no longer a sanctuary that can be protected by interposing military forces between threat or adversaries and their targets. Traditional military forces can be flanked at the speed of light by information attacks on the general population or key economic systems. Accordingly, our concept of national security needs to be expanded to consider the full range of interactions and to determine the proper boundary between DoD and the rest of the national information infrastructure.

Deterring Attacks on the United States

While the workshop recognized that potential IW attacks can occur in ways and means too complex for simple solutions, it reached the core conclusion that the U.S. already has basic policies in place that serve as effective deterrents in many circumstances. In essence, information warfare attacks on the United States are deterred by the same policy that deters other types of attack. Acting under its rights as a sovereign state, the U.S. stands ready to respond to any attack on its interests with all appropriate means, including law enforcement as well as military capacity. Beyond this, some workshop participants strongly believed that the United States should have an explicit, publicly stated, declaratory policy about its response to IW attacks.

Cyber-War Attacks

Workshop participants consistently found themselves assuming that a visible set of defenses was the beginning point for deterring attacks on important computer systems. However, there was little consensus about the scope of the problem and how serious a threat cyber-war (digital) attacks might be. But with less than one-quarter of one percent of unauthorized DoD system penetrations detected and reported, current defense effectiveness must be very low and cannot be measured precisely. Workshop participants felt that DoD should establish department-wide requirements to report system penetrations, viruses, attacks, and suspected attacks as well as similar systems for collecting information about attacks on other types of systems in the United States. While new organizations and procedures have emerged in recent years to improve DoD's defenses and responses, the necessary level of awareness and cooperation has not yet been developed. Further, DoD needs to develop appropriate I&W metrics integral (i.e., included in the design) with other defensive measures.

Media War

The workshop's consensus was that the United States is vulnerable to media attacks. At the least, because of its democratic traditions and freedom of speech, the U.S. is almost certainly going to be placed in a reactive mode to media campaigns. While foreign powers will find it difficult to directly intimidate U.S. leaders or to put forward obviously false information toward the U.S. public without effective U.S. media responses, they may be able to communicate quite inaccurate images to selected foreign publics. This can put enormous time pressure on U.S. and allied decision making, particularly when the adversary is an authoritarian state with little or no necessity for consultation.

DoD appears to lack the infrastructure, hardware, and human capital necessary to deliver television images into distant regions, especially in a non-warfare situation where the sovereignty of foreign states must be respected. Review of the requirements for flexible responses that give the National Command Authority a rich set of options appears to be wise.

Finally, wargames and seminars involving not only DoD, but also the range of civilian agencies and industry representatives necessary for effective television imagery in media wars are needed.

Using Information Warfare to Deter Foreign Governments

The workshop noted some significant limits on U.S. offensive IW activities. First, media manipulation that involves government personnel providing false information is neither politically wise nor consistent with U.S. policy and law. Second, information attacks are attacks and, therefore, are subject to international law. The workshop also recognized that considerable legal work needs to be completed in the IW and deterrence arena. This includes not only state and federal laws defining criminal information acts but also international treaties to protect the United States from attacks launched from foreign territory.

It appears that IW techniques and technologies have great potential for supplementing and enhancing other methods of deterrence. But seldom will an IW action in and of itself be a creditable deterrent. That is, while IW can provide high leverage options, these options seldom can "stand alone." Analysis of the optimum linkages between IW deterrence and other deterrent measures is needed. The workshop concluded that when skillfully combined as part of an overall information dominance concept, some combination of IW and other actions can produce the desired deterrent results. Research and development of IW tools and techniques should go forward.

The workshop discussions also made it clear that we need to continue the IW and deterrence exploration and analysis process. Additional studies through a series of roundtable discussions are planned to include:

  • IW and deterrence policy issues such as definitions of IW deterrence options and solution spaces.
  • The role of the Joint Staff and military services in supporting national information infrastructure security.
  • The political and military utilization of IW.
  • The role of technology versus policy.
  • How IW techniques can influence decisions.
  • Technical and training methods to improve IW defenses.
  • Media war.

These additional roundtables and other forums will also examine classified and compartmented capabilities. Readers of these proceedings are invited to comment and join the forums at their appropriate security level and field of interest.

Table of Contents | Appendix A |