FEBRUARY 22, 1999
It's time to set boundaries on info warfare
By Ronald Elliott
For most of last year, the Pentagon articulated the need for a new type of warfare called information warfare -- battles that would be fought in cyberspace. Indeed, last fall the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared that cyberspace was as critical a battlefield as land, sea or air.
Though few who are well-informed about current information technologies and global information services would argue against the relevance of cyberspace to national security, cyberspace surely has become more critical to our national security as we have become more dependent on computers in our individual lives and as a nation.
What is not clear, however, is if we as a nation have come to grips with how the cyberthreats endanger our "national sanctuary," including infringing on our individual liberties. It certainly is not clear that the Pentagon or its field communications and intelligence agencies should assume a charter to "take control" of the "national infosphere" to protect us. By doing so, the Pentagon embarks into new territory that has no boundaries, where privacy and other rights Americans hold dear may be threatened by the declaration of martial law and the unleashing of spies and commandos to "protect" us.
Certainly, the elements of our national information infrastructure -- such as telecommunications, transportation and the electrical power grid -- are used by our military forces, and the computers that support the information infrastructure must be protected to ensure that it is available during a crisis.
However, without borders restricting the "defenses," the Pentagon legitimately may put in place other operations to ensure the effectiveness of our armed forces. But the services will have no checks or balances -- likely for reasons they consider justified -- to prevent them from straying into realms protected by the Bill of Rights. In addition, without clear international law, such as what has evolved with the United Nations' Law of the Sea, the possibility exists that our military could intrude into other nations' information systems without proper authorization.
Much work is needed to determine the facets and dimensions of information warfare that Americans and the U.S. government are prepared to accept as national policy. These decisions should not be left to the Pentagon, its spy and commando offices, commands and agencies. The public and private sectors must address these issues before a blank check should be given to the Pentagon to engage in information warfare of any type.
Questions that the nation should address include: When can information warfare be used and to what extent? Where there are no boundaries, we must define "virtual" boundaries that restrict activities of our military and even law enforcement organizations.
Let's work to engage the federal government, academic, industrial and other public and private groups to build appropriate defenses while protecting our individual rights and the rights of other nations. Only then can we adopt a legitimate national security strategy that includes clearly defined information warfare elements distributed among properly managed and overseen governmental entities.
-- Elliott, a retired federal executive with more than 30 years' experience in national security, served as director of the Intelligence Systems Secretariat.