Digital Warfare and the Obama Generation

“The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated…”  Who can forget the words spoken by Bernard Shaw, CNN’s reporter on the scene, when the US kicked off the air war over Iraq on January 17th, 1991.  While a portion of the air war was conducted with stealth aircraft, invisible to air defenses and radar, a large number of aircraft such as B-52s entered Iraqi airspace with the radar signature of the Hindenburg.

Urban legend says that Iraqi air defenses were quickly neutralized by a virus entered into the IBM system which ran most of the radar defenses within the country.  As a legacy SNA (protocol) system, the IBM mainframes were all linked to each other, including items like printers.  Legend says the CIA located an Iraqi printer prior to the war, which was being repaired at a computer shop in Jordan.  Once the infected chip was in the printer, it was given a clear shot at the entire Iraqi air defense computer network, and at the right time unleashed a series of commands to shut down the entire IBM network.

True? Who knows, most legends are based on at least some truth.  Possible – absolutely!

The New York Times printed an article on April 28th entitled “US Steps Up Effort on Digital Defenses.”  It hits on a bit of the effort Bush’s administration made towards establishing a “cyber” warfare capability.  However the Bush era focused more on the need for stronger “cyber” defense than “cyber” war fighting capacity.  Justifiably, after learning the Chinese had taken virtual excursions through the US power grid, nailing down and hardening our critical national infrastructure from attack took the highest priority.

There is an equal amount of fear that a directed attack on our financial industry could render the US and our allies incapable of functioning as a country, or global economy, plunging the world into complete chaos and anarchy. 

Cyber warfare confronts us with an entirely new set of problems, changing the way a country considers conducting war.  The article poses the question of how nations will respond to an attack on their information and communications infrastructure.  What is an appropriate response?  Do you electronically shut down a nation’s power GRID because they attacked the software used in the banking industry? 

Can we now justify pre-emptive strikes on another nation because we believe they may at some point in the near future make a run on the telecom infrastructure of a country?

The Obama government, according to the article, is grappling with the challenge of understanding warfare in the Internet age.  They don’t have the answers, however given the skills of computer and network users in countries and cultures not friendly to the United States, the need to develop both the strategy and execution plan is very apparent. 


John Savageau, Long Beach, California

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