Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

June 2, 2000


I love checking out's hit report, with its bar graph charting the number of visitors hour by hour, and running totals for all the columnists (including myself). Especially on days when my column is posted, and I can watch the numbers rise as the day goes on: oh wow, it's already passed one thousand! This is the kind of specialized thrill that only a writer in the information age gets to experience. But the other day I had a thrill of another kind – a thrill of fear . . .


It had been a good day hit-wise, but it was early yet and as I logged on to the hit report my eyes practically bugged out of my head: say what? The big red bar between nine and ten o'clock was way over 1,500 accesses, and I knew something was up. Either we had just gotten onto a hot Yahoo "Full Coverage" site, or else it was just another robot – drones in cyberspace that troll sites picking up information for later storage on search engines, like cyber-bees storing up pollen and carrying it back to the hive. I scrolled waaaay down, past the country-by-country breakdown and finally getting to the section that lists accesses by number and web-address, starting with the highest number. There it was: nearly 2,000 accesses attributed to a single computer. I copied the address and then went there: this is what I found. . . .Yikes!


The type flashed on and off, like the revolving light at the top of a police car: ACCESS DENIED! ACCESS DENIED! ACCESS DENIED! Along with the following explanation:

"You have attempted to access the Army Computer Emergency Response Team (ACERT) web site. This site can only be accessed from sites within the .mil domain. Either your site is outside of this domain, or your host's IP address does not exist in the DNS reverse lookup tables for your site. If you are not affiliated with the US military and would like information on commercial Computer Emergency Response or C2 protect resources, follow this link to Carnegie-Mellon CERT. Semi-Technical Explanation: Our site's firewall uses DNS reverse lookup to validate the hostnames that are trying to get in. You have been redirected to this site because the reverse lookup process either failed to return a hostname, or returned a host name which is not in the Mil top level domain (TLD)."


The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a Pentagon-funded operation housed at Carnegie-Mellon University dedicated not only to researching and tracking the generation of computer viruses but also in tracking threats to US national security on the Internet. A whole sub-discipline of the military arts has grown up under the rubric of "information warfare," and a whole new category of enemies has been defined: perpetrators of what is called "information terrorism." This intriguing concept was fleshed out in a highly imaginative (and perhaps prophetic) 1996 paper, a version of which was published by the National Defense University Press. The authors – Matthew G. Devost, of the Information Systems and Technology Group, and Brian K. Houghton and Neal A. Pollard, of the Science Applications International Corporation's Strategic Assessment Center – created a complete scenario, a war story with the Internet as its landscape, peopled not only with evil "information terrorists" but also heroic cyber-warriors in the service of Uncle Sam:

"Offensive information warfare techniques developed for military use at a state level could also be utilized to respond to information terrorism. Law enforcement agencies, in general, do not have similar offensive information warfare capabilities. For this reason a specialized and integrated counter information terrorism group is required. These highly trained information warriors would be the national security equivalent of Carnegie-Mellon University's Computer Emergency Response Team, but with an offensive capability. These Digital Integrated Response Teams (DIRTs) would work from remote computer systems and use information warfare tactics to detect, locate and counter the information terrorists. In the American case, the DIRTs would be in networked remote cells diffused throughout the continental United States. The DIRTs would exploit law enforcement IT-oriented assets, investigative capabilities, and intelligence bases. The DIRTs, created by Executive Order, would operate as a cell of the National Security Council and take its directives from the information terrorism counterpart to the White House 'Drug Czar.'"


Gee, it looks like somebody got their government grant approved and the DIRTs are already on the prowl: perhaps we are just beginning to get a taste of their "offensive capability." It is striking, really, how the bureaucratic-police mentality operates: using jargon words like "integration" and "counter-information" to describe what we used to call a "black propaganda" operation, the whole fantasy has a cinematic quality to it: the elite vanguard of goodness and light, our "information warriors," surf the Internet, doing their DIRTy work and having a grand old time on the taxpayers' dime. What is truly Orwellian, however, is not the rather old-fashioned idea of "dirty tricks," transplanted to cyberspace, but the authors' rationale for such a government operation – the ominously vague definition of "information terrorism":

"Terrorism is a political crime: an attack on the legitimacy of a specific government, ideology, or policy. Hacking into a system to erase files out of sheer ego, or stealing information with the sole intent to blackmail, is nothing more than simple theft, fraud, or extortion, and certainly is not an attack upon the general legitimacy of the government. Policy and methodology to counter crime depends a great deal upon criminal motivations; thus, clearer and more concise definitions of "information terrorism" are needed if it is to be addressed by national security policy."


A "political crime"? We don't have those in this country – or do we? I guess what Dan Ellsberg did in the case of the Ellsberg papers would fit this definition of a "political crime" – an inside whistleblower lowering the boom on high-level shenanigans and letting the American people know what crimes are committed in their name and with their tax dollars. By this definition, any good journalist is a potential "information terrorist" – who needs to be subjected to the "counter-terrorism" engaged in by DIRT/CERT.


In any case, what does challenging the legitimacy of governments, ideologies, or policies have to do with hacking? The juxtaposition of these two concepts is key to understanding the rationale behind the "national security" aspect of proposals to police and regulate the Internet. The authors make the connection in their ludicrous introduction to this scholarly paper, published in 1996, which asks us to imagine the following pulp-fictional scenario: It is September 1998, and "tensions in the Balkans have grown geometrically." Clinton "has increased the US military presence in the region," and NATO has intervened. In response, a group known as the Serbian Council for the Liberation of Bosnia (SCLiB) has "coalesced once members began to meet and communicate via the Internet, using PGP encryption to hide their interests and intentions." Those dastardly Serbs have got to be up to no good, if not by definition then by dint of their insistence on "hiding" from the prying eyes of NATO. Why would these ingrates insist on encrypting their communications – after all, our glorious President only wants to "counter tensions and support peace initiatives"! Not only that, but "their primary objective is revenge, to redress grievances from Croatian land usurpation and its support by their American patrons, and to rid the area of the NATO presence by dramatizing their cause to the people of the world, influencing them, and thus their governments, to demand NATO leave the area."


Could anything more evil be imagined? Oh, those nasty stubborn Serbs, instead of being grateful for the invasion of their country by the World's Only Superpower, they have the nerve – the nerve! – to resent it. Worse yet, these Slavic misfits have a plan of resistance, and their chosen avenue of attack is the soft underbelly of the American Empire – the Internet . . .

"Having garnered enough financial and operational support through usual terrorist means, the Council formulates an attack, beginning with the CNN Web Page. By accessing the CNN Weather forecast, the Council times their attack for a night of intense storms in the Brcko area. Paramilitary members of the Council intrude on the frequencies of the approach and tower radios at the Brcko airfield: an airfield recently set up, and thus lacking ideal security measures, procedural experience, and full integration of NATO countries' respective military communications systems. In the storm, flying into the airfield with its navigation lights off due to reported ground fire, a full C-130 troop transport is cleared to land by the approach intrusion. Another C-130, laden with fuel and also with its lights off, is cleared for take-off on the active runway, by the tower intrusion. The landing C-130 crashes into the second C-130. The resulting crash kills all aboard both planes."


I can hardly wait for the movie. Cyber-Warriors, starring Tom Cruise as a military nerd from an underprivileged background, the product of a broken home made whole by a stint as a "peacekeeper" (cyber-warrior division) – and a really multicultural cast including not only the requisite black, Hispanic, and Asian, but also for the first time a Bosnian Muslim, a survivor of Milosevic's nonexistent "concentration camps." But the above action sequence is an entertaining prelude, meant to soften you up for the political point – and that is the concept of the Internet as an arena in a battle of ideas, in which US forces are engaged in a military action that takes place, not on a conventional battlefield, but in cyberspace. No blood is spilled – but yet the battle is still a matter of life and death.


Now, believe it or not, according to the authors of this rather implausible tale, the whole idea of the attack on the planes is merely a ruse to get people to come to their website! I kid you not.

"After hearing the explosion from their vantage point on a nearby hill, the intruders send a cellular signal to awaiting Council hackers in Slovenia. Upon receipt of the signal, the hackers immediately issue an "e-communiqué," taking responsibility for the crash, explaining how it was done, and giving the location of the intrusion equipment used, on which is engraved "SCLiB." The remainder of the message is their manifesto and claim for redress of grievances against life, property, and national identity. The end of the message is an invitation and address to access their Web site, which is actually run from a computer in Amsterdam by Slovenian foreign exchange students, via an anonymous web service account in Finland. This message is sent to and received by every major print and electronic news organization in the industrialized world, before the debris from the C-130 crash had settled. The resultant publicity is astounding: CNN, Reuters, ITAR-TASS, and AP immediately broadcast the message, with the Web address. In addition, the e-communiqué itself was sent out to over 30,000 e-mail addresses in the first hour after the crash. Six minutes after the e-communiqué had been received, the Council Web page received its first hit."


What a crock! Notice how the Internet itself is implicitly condemned as inherently an instrument of subversion and, therefore, evil. First of all, the idea of encryption drives governments everywhere mad, because it means that their power is limited by technology, which is supposed to be their tool. Secondly, the idea that someone would commit a terrorist act to call attention to their website is so singularly deluded that it almost seems plausible – at least to the kind of otherwise unemployable hacker who might be recruited into the ranks of the DIRT squad, as imagined by the authors of this learned paper.


The real definition of what "information terrorism" amounts to is contained in the author's description of the contents of the SCLiB website:

"The Web page was dramatic and rife with propaganda and claims against American, NATO, and Croatian imperialism and atrocities in the Balkan region, and included questionable allegations of illegal arms transfers between NATO governments and Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Several references were included to the former U.S. presence in Lebanon, and how that presence was resolved."


Gee, it sounds just like a website we all know and love – as seen from the perspective of the War Party, that is – especially the "dramatic" part. Oh yes, the Web is a wild and inherently subversive terrain, and there's no telling what you'll find on it. Why, the authors complain, without the "proper treaties" with Finland, and due to the inherent anonymity of the Web, these "information terrorists" are able to "hide" from their pursuers – and not only that, they are empowered to unleash a terrible retribution . . .

"Twenty-four hours after the C-130 crash, the Council Web had received over 1 million hits. Twenty-four hours after the first hit, the first accessing system crashed, with all files irretrievably deleted, as a result of a Trojan horse the Council hackers had embedded in the Web page, exploiting a flaw in the programming language similar to one discovered by Princeton computer scientists in February 1996. The flaw allowed a webmaster access to the hard drive and files of the machine that had unwittingly accessed the tainted Web page. Exploiting this flaw, the Council embedded a program that activated 24 hours (according to the system internal clock or any other time-keeping mechanism the machine could access) after the page was hit, destroying the functions and files of the system it infected. Although this created a sensational climate of fear throughout the computerized civilian world, the most damage done was to investigative and defense organizations, who immediately and naturally accessed the Web page before most of the news organizations had disseminated its address. This included the American Department of Defense, the Defense Ministries of all NATO countries, the American Department of Justice and Treasury, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Final damage to unclassified systems was incalculable, but the dramatization of the Council's cause was greatly effective. Since the Trojan horse was set to activate 24 hours after the Web site had been hit, computer failure rates tended to cascade, and were slow in tapering off, despite warnings to avoid the terrorists' Web page."


In this grade-B movie, with its crude Hollywood-ish stereotypes, the Serbs are inherently malicious, Slavicized Fu Manchu types who can only do evil: their tactics are insidious, utilizing a subversive medium to achieve their devilish aims. How dare these monsters retaliate against the very agencies that planned and coordinated the invasion of their homeland! And what about this mysterious "taint" that infects the cyber-bureaucratic structure and causes it to come tumbling down? I'm no super-geek, but it sure sounds like a lot of hooey to me. For why would the Serbs want to create "a sensational climate of fear throughout the computerized civilian world" – is this supposed to create sympathy for their cause? Well, uh, yes, according to the authors of this paper, who have no doubt gone on to achieve high positions in some government-connected "national security" institute or other:

"The actual reports of the carnage of the crash reached the public: these reports, on top of the fear created by the computer disasters, and the general frustration with American efforts in the Balkans, put enormous pressure on Congress and the President. Because of a lack of treaty conventions, American investigative agencies were not allowed to violate protocols of Finland's cyber-community; thus, investigators were unable to ascertain the identity of the anonymous server's customer, or the location of the Web site in Amsterdam. The Council's information terrorists remained secure in anonymity, and their success in hiding prompted many copy-cat web pages, a spate of "Internet liberators," and re-circulation of the Council's original manifesto and web page detail. With Congressional elections just over a month away, the Balkan mess became a rallying point of congressmen to pressure the President. Finally, the President had little choice but to accede to the public's and Congressional demands to bring the troops back home. Without American logistical and operational support, NATO's presence and power in the region was significantly reduced."


This is the real "political crime" of the "information terrorists" – political incorrectness. God forbid they should get their manifesto out – and we certainly can't have any of those troublesome "Internet liberators" running around loose, fer cryin' out loud! Why, they're nothing but a bunch of terrorists, information terrorists to be exact, and they can't be allowed to have any influence over the electoral process – or else what's this country coming to? We certainly can't let our heroic President be unduly "pressured" by those (few) meddlers in Congress who take the Constitution seriously, and as for the public – they certainly have no business interfering in foreign policy, which is strictly the monopoly of self-appointed experts and our self-interested elites. The real crime of the Serbian cyber-"terrorists" is in the dissemination of their message via the Web. The plane crashes, the hacking, the unleashing of a computer contagion were all really beside the point: As the authors put it, "as with most conventional attacks, the strategic objective was publicity, drama, and leverage to influence public and policy." By this definition of "information terrorism," domestic opponents of Clinton's Balkan war(s) could conceivably fall in the same category as the sinister SCLiB, and surely would be among the first targets of the Pentagon's "cyberwarfare" division. . . .


The Digital Integrated Response Team (DIRT) – the authors of "Information Terrorism: Can You Trust Your Toaster?" imagined the perfect government program in the information age. Think of it: you get to sit around all day, surfing the net, gathering information for future use, finding your enemies and then tracking them down in the streets of Amsterdam, or somewhere in Finland: compiling information and "countering" the "dramatic" websites of various "Internet liberators" with drama of your own – including flame-wars in chat rooms and posting boards throughout cyberspace, spouting the government line – all in the name of "fighting terrorism." What fun.


If it were somehow discovered that the Clintonistas ran a combination spying operation and propaganda mill known as DIRT, would anyone go into shock? The acronym is particularly fitting, and who can doubt that this paper received high praise – if not actual implementation – in an administration whose chief defender and symbol is James Carville. (The man is a living dramatization of Orwell's remark that by the age of forty "everyone has the face they deserve.") I don't want to weave any elaborate conspiracy theories that make the center of a vast web of cyber-intrigue, but don't you just know that somewhere, hidden deep in the bowels of the bureaucracy, some nerdy little "cyber-warrior" is sitting at a terminal, tapping furiously away in a rat-a-tat-tat battle against the make-believe "crime" of "information terrorism"? And don't you just know he or she is getting paid handsomely to do it? What I want to know is: what else are they paid to do other than spy on their potential targets? What other kind of weapons do these information warriors have in their arsenal?


The invasion of CERT recurred at about the same time the next day: again, our hit-counter crashed. I sent an email to the CERT, in which I asked them to please stop crashing my hit report and by the way do you really get paid to copy the files of each and every one of our columnists? Is this part of the CERT's public mission of tracking computer viruses? Or has its mission suddenly expanded? I received no reply. I don't expect those who do the dirty work of our rulers to voluntarily crawl out from under their rocks: what is really needed is a congressional inquiry to tip some of those boulders over and expose the real extent and nature of government surveillance of the Internet. Does someone really get paid to sit around all day, surfing for cool sites (like this one), at taxpayer's expense – and to what end? Inquiring minds want to know.

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