Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Security recommendations in the predator state are never complete without a weekly dose of what's about to make us die. The big daily newspaper opinion pages allow it wide circulation and there has never been a time since 9/11 when we've been free of it. If there is anyone who holds differing opinions, who might throw buckets of cold water on our wizards of terror prognostication, you can't find them.

On Sunday, the New York Times delivered John Arquilla, a "teacher of a special operations program at the Naval Postgraduate School [in Monterey]." Years ago, Arquilla used to be known for flogging information warfare as the wave of the future. Computer-armed enemies were going to be the new thing and smart cyberattackers were going to replace old-fashioned soldiers. There was to be a gloriously deadly future in which everything was transformed. Transform was the key word, and it's one beloved by people who apparently have careers teaching the military what it ought to be doing. Indeed, the New York Times op-ed page informs "[Arquilla] is the author of "Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military."

In science, there used to be an old use for transform. The Philosopher's Stone, an old apocryphal alchemist's tool, was alleged to be able to transform lead into gold. DD would argue that for the past decade, if you've ever seen or heard anyone use the word transformation, what's about to happen is that various things, maybe common sense and critical thinking, are about to be turned from gold into lead, symbolically speaking.

So you know where this is going. John Arquilla has never been right about anything. (See footnote.)

Naturally, such experts never see it that way. They just wiggle around their definitions and predictions until they fit whatever's current. In this way, they always have jobs while everyone else gets to be laid off.

In any case, in "The Coming Swarm" it is written: "Nightmare possibilities include synchronized [terrorist swarm] assaults on several shopping malls, high-rise office buildings or other places that have lots of people and relatively few exits. Another option would be to set loose half a dozen two-man sniper teams ... "

"For the defense of American cities against terrorist swarms, they key would be to use local police officers as the first line of defense ..."

Indeed, has the man never been to Los Angeles? Suffice to say, for years the LAPD has been shown on TV as a force which comes down fast and hard on armed (and even unarmed) trouble. However, one supposes if you're just teaching people who don't know any better, this may not be included in the discussion. As for terrorist swarms, DD wagers the average American will never be on the blunt force end of one.

And now the terror swarm has come to Afghanistan, Arquilla informs. "As President Obama looks to send more troops to that war, let's make sure the Pentagon does things the right way." By writing op-eds.

"Yes, the swarm will be heading our way, too." And we will probably die if no one takes my advice. He forgot to add that.

Across the continent, in the Sunday edition of the LA Times, readers had "Al Qaeda's Next Target," by GWBush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen.

"We're bombarded with bad news -- the credit markets could freeze, millions more could lose their jobs," Thiessen writes. "But the danger we aren't hearing about could outweigh them all: the increased risk of a catastrophic terror attack."

One might add that it's also important to distinguish between stuff that's really happening, as opposed to potential things that might happen, made up hot but not so fresh by the professionals from the national spread-the-fear-we're-doing-this-because-we-want-to-save-lives speakers bureau.

And then there are several paragraphs of stuff everyone's heard hundreds of times. Osama bin Laden's opinion is that America is built on a foundation of a straw and he is always determined to attack us.

"All this means that this is no time for President Obama to begin dismantling the institutions President Bush put in place to keep us safe ... Obama needs to recognize that somewhere in the world, the terrorists are watching the economic turmoil in our country -- and planning an attack..."

Thiessen doesn't have to write, "Don't forget we must keep torture on the menu." That's understood.


Arquilla's prognostication used to revolve around making up catastrophic theoretical scenarios concerning cyberterrorism. He pursued this vigorously and you can read an example of serious rubbish, posited as a fictional cyberwar, here. Yeah, that sure all came true.

In May of 2000, he also wrote a piece called "Preparing for Cyberterrorism -- Badly" for the New Republic. Sold as a faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School and a consultant to the Bland Corporation Rand, Arquilla maintained the US was wide open to "cybotage" by terrorists. He wrote about another fictional scenario, one in which the Secret Sword of Allah, an Islamic cyberattack force assaulted the homeland, beginning "with rolling power outages ... Next, an automated pipeline control near Valdez, Alaska, was manipulated to lower the temperature of the flowing oil, causing congealment, a burst pipe, and an environmental disaster ... the group hit our air-traffic-control system. Result: one midair collision over Los Angeles International Airport and several near misses."

Nine years ago, it was full steam ahead on cyberwar until -- in the same article -- Arquilla ran smack into the Gulf War virus hoax.

Even earlier, in 1991, a tech industry trade magazine had run an April Fool's story on a computer virus said to have been developed by the National Security Agency to down Iraqi air defenses. Quite naturally, a lot of people missed the April Fool's angle and in its spread by word of mouth, the story became real to people who really should have known better. And for a long time, the Gulf War virus hoax routinely showed up in books, magazines and op-ed pieces, used as a prop by various "experts" to show what cyberwar could do.

And here's a rundown of the legend and some who fell for it.

For the New Republic in 2000, Arquilla wrote: "Cyberwarfare can be used by one military against another. In the Gulf war, for example, the United States implanted viruses and made other computer intrusions into Iraqi air defenses."

Oof! This was almost a decade after the original appearance of the April Fool's joke.

"Cyberwar means disrupting the flow of information--principally through computer viruses that eat data or freeze up systems and logic bombs that force machines to try to do something they can't (like resolve the value of pi, a trick Mr. Spock once used to disable a computer on 'Star Trek')," wrote Arquilla.

Cyberwar then. Terror swarm now.

It's just a racket.

"So what, then, would an effective cyberdefense look like?" wondered the writer turned seer of the future, nine years ago.

"So how are swarms to be countered?" asked the opinion piece on Sunday.

Change a few words and descriptions to encompass the new-but-coming threat, cut and paste/cut and paste, and you're done!


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