http://www.gomemphis.com/mca/opinion_columnists/article/0,1426,MCA_539_1726690,00.html Gary Pounder February 9, 2003 Although President Bush hasn't made a final decision about going to war with Iraq, preparations for that potential conflict are almost complete. Thousands of American troops have been deployed to the Middle East in recent weeks, along with dozens of warships and hundreds of combat aircraft. These preparations have been highly publicized, with daily pictures of departing aircraft, naval vessels and military personnel, all designed to convey a final warning to Saddam Hussein. But preparations for war also are under way in less-visible areas. If Bush gives the order to attack Iraq, U.S. forces will initiate information operations (IO) as part of their overall military strategy. Aimed at disrupting Iraqi information systems, the expected "information war" may represent the ultimate technology weapon in what will be a high-tech campaign. Details of this war are almost nonexistent. Although the Pentagon has spent billions of dollars on IO since the early 1990s, it has said little about its capabilities in this area. What is known is that this investment has fostered the development of highly specialized IO units, doctrine and tactics. Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, has his own team of IO specialists. Although IO is sometimes described in terms of computer attack or cyber-warfare, it covers a variety of functions related to the use and protection of information and information systems. The rationale behind IO is simple: deny the enemy use of the information spectrum, while protecting our own information assets. IO includes several disciplines that are almost as old as warfare itself: intelligence collection, deception, psychological operations. It also incorporates newer technologies, exploiting advances from the information revolution of the past 20 years. Cyber-attack is one of the most intriguing and useful new tools of information warfare. Because of the explosion of computer networks and the Internet, it is now possible to gain access to information systems that support an enemy's economy or military forces. Disrupting these systems can wreak havoc with an adversary's war machine, potentially shortening the war and reducing the number of allied casualties. The United States displayed the benefits of a computer war in the 1991 Gulf War, when it conducted its first cyber-attack on Iraq's air defense system. The highly automated system (nicknamed KARI) linked Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns in a computerized command-and-control network. The KARI system could withstand air attacks reliably and still provide critical information to Iraqi air defense commanders. Neutralizing KARI was deemed essential to the allied air campaign. IO experts decided to attack KARI internally and externally. Allied electronic warfare aircraft would jam and bomb KARI components, while specially designed computer viruses would infect the system from within. Agents inserted the virus in a printer shipped to an Iraqi air defense site. The virus also was introduced via a fiber optic cable that connected air defense nodes. A Special Forces unit infiltrated Iraq, dug up the cable and inserted the virus. It remained dormant until the opening moments of the air war, when it went active and crippled KARI. The Iraqi air defense system never recovered, and allied losses in the air campaign were minimal. Since the Gulf War, IO tacticians have added to their target lists economic and infrastructure systems that support an enemy's ability to fight: power grids, water supplies, banking networks. There are unconfirmed reports that cyber-attacks helped shut down the Serb power grid during the 1999 Balkans War. Information operations also have been used in the war on terrorism to ferret out al-Qaida bank accounts, trace financial transactions and identify potential operatives. Officially, the Pentagon won't say what level of IO planning and preparation is under way, but there are vague hints about what might be in store for Baghdad. Several media outlets reported last month that the United States was sending E-mail messages to Iraqi military commanders, urging them not to fight if war breaks out. In a police state such as Iraq, E-mail directories are classified material, off limits to anyone outside the military and security establishment. Our ability to send E-mail to Iraqi generals suggest IO teams have identified key computer networks, earmarking them for potential disruption or destruction. There is a good chance the cyber-battle will spread beyond Iraqi information systems. If the United States launches military action against Baghdad, we can expect a vicious "war" between Middle Eastern and western computer hackers. Remember the 2001 "spy plane" incident between the United States and China? That relatively minor episode prompted a month-long confrontation between American and Chinese hackers that resulted in the defacement of thousands of Web sites around the world. A hacker war emerging from a new conflict with Iraq would be even more intense, likely unleashing new computer viruses, denial-of-service attacks aimed primarily at Internet providers and Web site defacements. The potential cost of such a war could be staggering. The United States is not alone in developing information operations as a tool of war. Although Iraq's IO capabilities in this area are rudimentary, other potential adversaries - notably China - are investing heavily in information warfare. More-sophisticated enemies would have no qualms about mounting an IO campaign against us. As the most "wired" nation on Earth, the United States has the greatest vulnerability to information attack. Although our government and private companies have invested heavily in computer security, the recent virus that disabled thousands of automated teller machines illustrates the potential impact of even small-scale cyber-attacks. The forces about to be unleashed on Saddam Hussein may be used against us in the future. Guest columnist Gary Pounder is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer who lives in Oxford, Miss. - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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