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.