Sunday, June 20, 2004

Pentagon believes Internet is good for democracy (response to dponce80)

Thanks dponce80 for your post "The devil's advocate" (and contributing to the diversity of viewpoints on here!)

Not surprisingly, I don't entirely agree on your analysis that the Internet has hampered the war on terror.

Interestingly, my "friends" in the Pentagon probably wouldn't agree with you about the Internet.

There is certainly a great deal of concern in the Pentagon about Al Queda's use of the Internet. The US TV Network PBS Science series Nova did an article about the Pentagon's considerable interest in cyberwarfare. Recall the major criticism of US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is that he is too interested in high technology. They've been monitoring hack attacks on the US for decades are convinced Al Queda is trying to gain, or already has, a capability for US cyber attacks. They believe Al Queda would be tempted in this direction, because bringing down the US cyber infrastructure would be a "weapon of mass disruption" that would do economic damage without bringing much retaliation. (The Pentagon's view on this differs from the view by the Guardian's US intelligence source, the respected IISS think tank, and others that the war on terror has actually been dramatically helped Al Queda swell its ranks).

There is also concern about the use of the Internet by Al Queda to communicate and order attacks.

Of course, most US economists believe the Internet has been a huge economic boon to the United States because it greatly increased worker productivity (information is just a few clicks away via Google), allowing goods to be cheaper than ever before. (Currently, there has been a debate about foreign offshoring of US jobs via the use of the Internet, but economists believe that a more efficient, productive US economy will eventually create new jobs. History is on their side, but it is true there have been growing pains with the Internet, as with any new technology. The automobile put blacksmiths out of business. Sound movies put many musicians out of business. But the economy eventually absorbed these losses and boomed....)

The Pentagon has the most sophisticated understanding of cyberwarfare and "information warfare" of anyone in world. They've been doing it the longest, and a have a keen interest in using the Internet for propaganda. (My personal experiences).

That aside, they do believe that communication technologies like the Internet, cell and satellite phones, and satellite dishes help promote democracy.

They've done studies that show that the control of authoritarian governments diminishes with the density of cell phones and uncensored Internet within a population. Consequently, the Pentagon has been one of the greatest advocates of this technology.

In this case, I don't think it is Pentagon disinformation. I think the Internet has helped democratize the world. (Recall satellite phones were illegal in Iraq under Saddam. Zugabe, the President of the Zimbabwe made news by complaining during a UN conference on the Internet that small countries, such as Zimbabwe, needed to control the content on Internet.

Most observers saw this as a vindication of their believe that the Internet was good for democracy. Here links via the aforementioned Pentagon-connected "friend" supporting this view, sent to me at the time: email from a South African on Internet censorship there   Business.com story on Mugabe at the UN Internet conference   news.com.au on Chinese Internet censorship   Blogrunner archive of Blog coverage of Mugabe story.

The Internet has helped the US economy enormously by dramatically boosting US worker productivity. There is also a great deal of evidence showing the Internet is good for democracy and bad for authoritarian regimes.

It has just hurt the Bush Administration's ability to put its own spin on things --- which is probably a good thing.