Defensive Information Warfare


by Ervin J. Rokke

The Information Age carries implications for virtually all human endeavors, including the military profession. It's likely that these implications have or will produce revolutionary changes in warfare, but that issue remains unresolved among academics and military specialists alike. The search for answers, however, has generated a new intellectual excitement about military theory. It also has uncovered some preliminary notions about national security that require attention now.

In this treatise on defensive information warfare, Dr. David Alberts reviews one immediate, if narrowly focused challenge. The threat of information attacks, that is, "attacks on decision makers, the information and information-based processes they rely on, and their means of communicating their decisions," currently exists. With actual and potential practitioners covering a broad spectrum of sophistication and resources, it's a phenomenon which cannot be denied. In a very real sense, a new answer has emerged to a fundamental question in international politics: "What are the capabilities of the players?"

Dr. Alberts sets forth this new capability in a crisp, convincing manner. He relates it to "interaction arenas" ranging from military through economic and political to social and ideological; he describes its relevance for peaceful as well as conflictual relationships; and he notes its utility for all categories of "actors," both within and across national boundaries. It's a tool capable of creating dramatic results totally out of proportion with the inputs. Against this background of a complex, if not organic, capability, Dr. Alberts's prescription for policy draws interesting parallels with societal efforts to combat disease, drugs, and crime. Indeed, his defense resembles the human immune system to the extent that it involves a defense-in-depth strategy and works to "heal" the damage caused by information attacks as well as to prevent or blunt them.

Unfortunately, the technical precision which characterizes information warfare techniques is insufficient for answering two other fundamental questions in international politics, to wit: Who are the players? and What are their intentions regarding one another? While it is clear that information warfare techniques are available to empower a far broader spectrum of both nation and non-nation state actors, the extent to which this has occurred remains ambiguous. We simply don't know with precision who the information warfare players are or will be. In like manner, it is not yet clear how enthusiastic the new players will be about using their new-found weapon.

Accordingly, one hears that appropriate attention to information warfare defense may well have to await a so-called "information Pearl Harbor." Absent such an unfortunate event, Dr. Alberts acknowledges uncertainty about the willingness of the United States as well as other traditional actors to buy into information warfare defense. Publics and parliaments have grown accustomed to clear-cut opponents with measurable force structures. The threat described by Dr. Alberts is non-linear; it falls outside the traditional framework for guns-versus-butter calculations. His treatise does, however, provide a timely warning and a useful road map for meeting the major new security challenge of the Information Age. Hopefully, we will not respond too late.

National Defense University

August 1996

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