Friday, May 24, 2013

A Cyberattack Campaign for Syria

Although I am not qualified to judge the situation in Syria (as I am still not sure what is a potentially acceptable end state that we could seek in the situation – and I am just not clear on what we can achieve there with a reason chance of success), what intrigues me about this article is that this is one of the best articulations of cyber operations in support of Unconventional Warfare ("activities to enable a resistance or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power through and with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area").  Clearly what the author lays out will be activities to enable a resistance and both directly and indirectly will coerce and disrupt if not contribute to the overthrow of a government.

I am particularly intrigued by the concept of being able to established a digital safe haven which in today's environment probably is something that should be considered in every unconventional warfare campaign.  I think there could be some very useful synergy between Cyber Command and SOF for collaboration on unconventional warfare.  I am sure there is a lot of collaboration ongoing between USSOCOM and Cyber Command but I hope that includes on unconventional warfare as well.

Also note that not stated in the description of the author below is that he is a graduate student at Georgetown in our Security Studies Program (just for some truth in advertising).

A Cyberattack Campaign for Syria
Published: May 23, 2013

WASHINGTON — LAST week Syrians lost access to the Internet for the second time in a month. While the Assad regime claims the lapses were the result of a faulty network link, the evidence suggests that they were deliberate efforts by the government to hamper the opposition’s ability to communicate inside the country and with the outside world.

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As American policy makers debate additional measures to pressure President Bashar al-Assad and aid moderate elements of the opposition, they should consider a military cybercampaign to give Syrians the ability to communicate freely online. Doing so would serve our strategic interests, while also demonstrating a principled commitment to Internet freedom.

For example, through the military’s new Cyber Command, we could create a digital “safe haven,” akin to physical safe havens for refugees, by deploying long-distance Wi-Fi technologies along Syria’s borders and in rebel-held areas in coordination with vetted opposition groups. Platforms that enable transmission of Wi-Fi signals over distances of up to 60 miles are already in use in parts of South Asia and other rural markets.

With a guarantee of secure Internet access points, opposition groups would be able to link their terrestrial and wireless networks with those of like-minded groups. This would enable them to reach deeper into the country, giving broad sections of the Syrian populace Internet access. And because the United States would be able to monitor those networks, we could make sure that moderate opposition elements would be the primary beneficiaries.

Subsequent actions could include measures to counter the Assad regime’s capacity to monitor opposition communications within the existing telecommunications infrastructure.

All of this could be done without putting American boots on the ground: Cyber Command specialists could monitor these opposition-held networks from afar to counter any government attempts to interfere with them, while training moderate opposition elements to be able to operate and protect their own digital communications.

Anyone who doubts the power of open Internet access should consider Egypt.

After the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s government, as Salafists sought control by spreading propaganda through traditional media outlets, an Egyptian cardiologist-turned-satirist, Bassem Youssef, began broadcasting YouTube clips to expose their baseless claims. Today, Mr. Youssef’s program is one of the most popular in Egypt, and it is serving to carve out a niche in the country’s political discourse for Egyptians to question poor governance and radical theology.

The Egyptian example also highlights the long-term role that such a cyberstrategy could play in Syria once the regime falls. As in Egypt, the country will enter a difficult period of political transition, during which access to and control of digital communications will be vital. By ensuring that the population has an open means of coordinating and having access to the Internet, the United States could greatly further its goal of promoting moderate views.
(Continued at the link below)

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