The Pentagon reiterated today what we’ve known for some time now: the freedom of the internet, and that freedom which we are afforded by it, is a threat to the government. That’s why they released their “cybersecurity plan” which designated the internet an “operational domain” for war. Nothing paves the way for unchallenged increases in government control like characterizing its endeavors as war.
The reports are decidedly mundane in describing what this actually amounts to:
The Pentagon plans to focus heavily on three areas under the new strategy: The theft or exploitation of data, attempts to deny or disrupt access to U.S. military networks, and any attempts to “destroy or degrade networks or connected systems.”
Enhanced IO [information operations] capabilities for the warfighter, including: … A robust offensive suite of capabilities to include full-range electronic and computer network attack…
DoD’s “Defense in Depth” strategy should operate on the premise that the Department will “fight the net” as it would a weapons system.
Activist and journalist Rebecca MacKinnon explained in the New Yorker what kind of offensive capabilities might be in the bag:
Another camp believes that obstacles to free speech on the Internet go far beyond Internet filtering or blocking of Web sites—which is the only problem that circumvention tools solve. These obstacles include aggressive cyber-attacks that bring down Web sites of activists, N.G.O.s and small media organizations; spyware that causes Internet users’ computers to be compromised so that their activities can be easily monitored; hacking of influential Internet users’ social-media accounts; deletion of sensitive content, deactivation of accounts and tracking of user behavior by Internet companies at government behest; and so forth.
The logic used to justify government controls on the internet became easier post-9/11. In a CIA memorandum released by Wikileaks last year it was explained in a section with the title “American Freedoms Facilitate Terrorist Recruitment an Operations.”
Undoubtedly Al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups recognize that Americans can be great assets in terrorist operations overseas because they carry US passports, don’t fit the typical Arab-Muslim profile, and can easily communicate with radical leaders through their unfettered access to the internet and other modes of communication.
[…] The ubiquity of internet services around the world and the widespread use of English on popular websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and various blogs enable radical clerics and terrorist recruiters to bypass America’s physical borders and influence US citizens.
On the whole, the internet has been a force for enlightenment, liberation, and peaceful interaction. The U.S. government, and especially those within the national security state, regard those forces as threatening to their own domination and control. If the CIA regards “American Freedoms” and the openness of the internet as prime facilitators of anti government sentiment or even terrorism, we can pretty well deduct what their preferences are regarding those two elements. That is, scale back American freedoms and restrict and the internet. The authoritarian Chinese government had very similar rationales for blocking citizen access to Twitter and Flickr in the lead up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and again imposing internet restrictions once Mubarak fell, hoping to stave off any domestic uprising. The internet provides avenues to communicate free speech and dissent which would be enlightening and liberating for Chinese citizens, but would undermine the state.
The newest and boldest manifestation of this threat of openness and freedom of the internet has come from Wikileaks. They and their collaborators who leak the information to them have committed the ultimate crime: introducing transparency in government. This is a step beyond the accumulating effects of the general freedom to dissent that the internet provides, and Washington knows it. If governments can no longer hide their activities from citizens, they lose the ability to maintain support from a preponderance of ignorance.
What is troublesome is that there isn’t much opportunity to prevent the government from stifling the enlightening and liberating power of the internet. If the national security state wants to do it (and they do: Bradley Manning said “approximately 85-90% of global transmissions are sifted through by NSA”) they simply will. This is especially the case if they continue to couch their justifications in national security rhetoric. What is encouraging is that the internet is so open, decentralized, and adaptive that it may always be evolving far ahead of government attempts to circumvent it.
“If you want to liberate a society just give them the internet.” –Wael Ghonim
“We need a broader and more sustained internet freedom movement.” –Rebecca MacKinnon
Update: One effort the Pentagon engages in vis-a-vis the internet that I did not mention: propaganda.