Congress seeks to stop Net evildoers, uh huh

A Senate committee is investigating how to stop “extremists” from using the Internet, or least to monitor what they’re doing, even as they admit that doing so will be difficult at best. Adding to their travails, they’ve not even started doing anything, while holding investigations that demonstrate they’ve apparently got few clues indeed.

Consider these gems of cluelessness:

To Lieberman, the report demonstrates how “the internet is a weapon in the hands of our extremist enemies who use it to plot attack strategies, reach out across borders to potential terrorist recruits with targeted marketing messages and talk with each other in real time.

One wonders how many of those on the committee use the net on a daily basis or understand how it works? Anyone who lives on the net already knows it is borderless, and to say this is like saying cars run on gas. If you have to state the blindingly obvious as a potential insight, then you’ve, um, got a steep learning curve ahead.

Also, his “targeted marketing messages” implies extremists have a hierarchical organization when of course, they don’t, as they function in networks.

If the committee wants to understand how extremists use the net, they should study open source software development. It’s essentially the same process as what John Robb, in his new book Brave New War, calls open source warfare. Everyone has input. New ideas can be adopted by all. Groups form at will to do a project then disband. The profit motive isn’t important. It’s not hierarchical. For those in rigidly hierarchical D.C., these concepts must seem alien indeed.

One puzzle the report cited: “How it is that a nation that gave rise to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue came to be outplayed in the realm of ideas, effectively communicated in the new media?”

Could it be because huge hierarchical marketing approaches have nothing to do with the topic at hand?

The group suggested several ways to help remedy the problem, including developing a “compelling counter-narrative for worldwide delivery,” doing more to promote cross-cultural dialogue and “recognize and address the need” for more behavioral research into the process of radicalization.

And what would the counter-narrative be? “We invaded Iraq based on lies, oopsie?” For a narrative to be effective, it needs to be believable or at least partially reality-based. As to why people become radicalized, try, “your assault helicopter blew up our house and killed my parents.”

Yes, I know atrocities happen on all sides. But this is asymmetrical warfare we’re talking about here. Tactics that work for guerrillas often have the opposite effect when used by the state. In Brave New War, Robb details the work of Israeli military historian and strategist Martin van Creveld.

After much study of Israel vs. its enemies, Crevald concluded that 1) when the strong fight the weak, they become weak, 2) the nation-state is in decline, 3) warfare is changing into a form that nation-states will not be able to defeat, 4) when a nation-state takes on a guerrilla movement, it will lose. Why? Because they will be seen as the strong beating up the weak, it will look terrible in the press, and will eventually led to a collapse of morale in the troops and damage the global image of the nation-state. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile Congress tries to gallop to the rescue and free the net from the evildoers but just shows their ignorance instead.


  1. kinda’ funny how we (I’m semi-retired) computer “pros” gravitate to asymmetry.

    I found his website five or six years (maybe more) ago while running a random search on distributed systems as artificial intelligence (vis a v authoritarian programmed response [note the phrasing] in a hierarchial networked infastructure).

    On topic, asymmetrical warfare, thirty-seven years ago today, on my sixteenth birthday, four students were arbitrarily gunned down on the campus of Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. One was simply walking to class.

    What if you knew her and,
    found her dead on the ground;
    how could you run when you know…

  2. My review of Robb’s Brave New War will appear tomorrow.

  3. Alvin Toffler predicted the decline of the nation state, which is indeed occurring. We no longer live in a world of nation states, but in one of nation states as well as sub- and supra-national organizations, all of which have access to effective weapons. That makes a much more complicated world than the nation states (and those of us who rely on them for security) are used to dealing with.

    With respect to the reason these new warriors cannot be defeated, consider: (1) When the goal is violence, a guerilla movement cannot lose, except by being wiped out. (2) When the base of a guerilla movement is ethnic, defeat can only come through genocide. (3) This is the biggie: When the base of a guerilla movement is the poor and oppressed, in war BOTH SIDES contribute to ensuring that they remain poor and oppressed. In short, war favors the guerilla, who gains regardless of what “the enemy” does.

    Toffler’s book “War and Anti-War” (1993, reissued in 1995) examined the changing nature of warfare, and concluded that we need to seriously look at new ways of making peace if we are to survive. Unfortunately, I don’t see nearly as much new thinking in that arena as I do in the arena of war. These wars are not unsolvable, but the old methods of making peace aren’t going to work.

    I was on a team that made some headway in Sri Lanka. I believe our methods form a useful approach for many such conflicts, but clearly we do not yet have “the answer” or that war would be ended. Yet few people seem to want to discuss the specifics of ending a war. I’ll be the first to admit that it takes hard work and dedication, and is often heartbreaking. It can also be risky, though it’s usually riskier to be a combatant. I find it ironic that so many answer the call to become cannon fodder, yet so few answer the equally patriotic call to get involved in ending the conflicts.

  4. DJ, you might want to email Robb. He’s discussed Sri Lanka on Global Guerrillas and, I think, you have common areas of interest.

  5. Thanks, Bob. It’s an inetresting site. It links to one of his articles, Security: Power to the People, which fits well with this discussion.

    As I read it, I found myself wondering why, when we know the nation state is not driving the conflict, do we look to our nation state for peace? In Sri Lanka, we went so far as to conclude that the combatants are not only unwilling to end the war, they are unable. This means a peace initiative MUST come from outside the combatant organizations.

    Each of us is a member not only of a nation state, but of other groups: family, community, religion, political organization, ethnicity, etc. Historically and culturally, along with nation state and other affiliations like guild, these have varied in importance. As Robb suggests, we will find ourselves exploring these alternate affiliations as the nation state is unable to meet our needs.

    Peace is one area in which we need to start exploring. If we are to find and end to this type of conflict, it will come not from petitioning our nation state, but from independent action by one or more sub- and/or supra-national organizations. Just as the combatants have re-thought war, we must re-think peace.

    Of course, the nation state will tell us that action outside its purview is treason. It desperately wants to maintain its hegemony over our allegiance.

  6. I can see how bioregionalism can help eliminate inter-regional/inter-national conflicts by focusing resource use and production (and therefore political concerns) close to home. But how does bioregionalism help to deal with conflicts related to the struggle between disparate groups in the same region fighting basically over congrol of scarce resources? This is the case in Sri Lanka, where ethnic identity on both sides goes back two millennia. It also appears to eb the case in the wide-ranging Sunni/Shi’ite conflict. These people inhabit the same land. The conflict is internal to the region(s).

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