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We Need A Geneva Convention On Cyber Warfare

[ Posted Monday, October 28th, 2013 – 15:58 PDT ]

The term "Geneva Convention" (or even "Geneva Conventions") is a rather vague term, encompassing a whole sheaf of international agreements on the proper conduct of war. In the first place, the "convention" doesn't refer to a group of people but rather to the agreements themselves. In the second place, what most are referring to when using the term is a collection of international agreements reaching back to the late nineteenth century; some agreed upon in Geneva, Switzerland, and some elsewhere (the Hague, for instance). But while the term itself is a collectively vague one, what is being referred to is usually pretty clear: nations of the world banding together and deciding that certain conduct in wartime is simply unacceptable for being too inhumane.

Of course, that's a tough target to hit, to put it in military terms. There are many weapons and tactics which are pretty downright inhumane which are still completely legal under the Geneva Conventions. And being killed in one fashion rather than another certainly doesn't bring much comfort to those loved ones left to mourn. Even so, the accomplishments of the Geneva Conventions are many, from the introduction of the International Red Cross to definition of acceptable treatment of prisoners and non-combatants.

One example most use to cite success isn't even really all that valid. The horrors of mustard gas in World War I were supposedly banned in 1899, under the "Hague Convention," but hundreds of thousands still died choking in the trenches. The "Geneva Protocol" of 1925 further prohibited "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases" but that didn't stop the United States from moving stockpiles of mustard gas to Germany in 1943, just in case Germany might use chemical weapons (which resulted in a tragedy, when the Germans bombed the town).

International agreements are not perfect. The United States now gets on a moral high horse over Syria's use of chemical weapons, but we didn't start destroying our own stockpiles of chemical weapons until just a few decades ago (and we still haven't completed the task). It took until 1997 for the "Chemical Weapons Convention" to finally and ultimately prohibit such weapons -- 80 years after World War I.

Even though it took a long time to get to this point, it was an effort worth making. Which is why the nations of the world should now start a new conversation in some internationally-neutral city, with the expressed purpose of defining what is and what is not allowable for the future of warfare (and spying). Three major topics of such an agreement should be: passive cyberwar (spying on communications), active cyberwar (virus and other attacks), and robot warfare (drones and other automated weaponry).

Right now, the passive and robot forms of warfare are prominently in the news. The United States is roundly being criticized by its allies for vacuuming up enormous amounts of digital communications data -- including listening in on phone calls made by world leaders of countries we are supposed to be allied with. This has followed revelations of massive domestic spying in America, but are more troubling to citizens of other countries, for obvious reasons. And just last week, two respected rights organizations released a report which essentially labeled America a war criminal for how we've been using drones to drop lethal bombs and missiles on people in countries we are not at war with.

The third subject isn't as recent, but it wasn't all that long ago that Iran's centrifuges were attacked by the "Stuxnet" virus, which reportedly set the program back in a major way by giving the centrifuges the instructions to destroy themselves (this is a vast oversimplification, but it will do for the sake of discussion). Closer to home, America has long complained that China's military has a specialized unit whose sole goal is to launch cyberattacks on America's computers and infrastructure.

Although I've used mostly American examples here (due to the current news), what the folks in the Pentagon worry about is not so much how to attack other countries, but how vulnerable we are to such attacks. Vice President Dick Cheney recently remarked that he was concerned that the pacemaker device he uses to keep alive might have been vulnerable to hacking. There are so many devices which are "online" these days -- from traffic signals to household electric power meters -- that it wouldn't be all that hard to plan a serious disruption of American life as we know it. What would the results look like if some foreign power took down our air traffic control system suddenly? Or our GPS system? Or blocked every cell phone call in the country? Or -- even more frighteningly -- took out all three systems at the same time? The prospects are pretty grim. And that's just a handful of scenarios -- there are plenty more to contemplate which would cause an equivalent amount of chaos.

Preventing any or all of this by means of international diplomacy might at first glance seem to be a fool's errand. But it's certainly worth a try, considering what could be avoided if it were successful. Hammering out exactly what will and will not be allowed in cyberwarfare will be a tough task -- made even more tough by the knowledge that any such agreement would almost certainly have to be updated (at a minimum) every decade or so, to keep up with new technological developments.

America has lost a lot of its moral standing in the world, since 9/11. This is not a partisan problem, either. Both Republicans and Democrats alike have given their consent to practices which we used to consider not only illegal, but downright abhorrent and inhumane. This includes waterboarding and all the other Orwellian-named "enhanced interrogation techniques" (which we used to consider ourselves morally above using), to dropping bombs from remotely-controlled airplanes to assassinate people we consider fair targets (how would we feel if people in Peoria were being assassinated in this fashion?).

But while this might leave the U.S. open to cries of "hypocrisy" from other countries, leading the effort to define allowable cyberwarfare techniques would go a long way towards regaining some of that moral standing. America could make the case: "OK, look, we may have crossed a few lines in our war on terror, but a lot of this stuff is brand-new, so we just had the opportunity before other countries were faced with similar choices -- and now that we've had time to consider, we think there ought to be some rules to cover futuristic battlefields, both real and virtual."

America should be the one to call for another Geneva Convention in the cyberwar realm. "Let's lay down some rules" we could say to the rest of the world, and then we could all start creating a few definitions and banning certain tactics (like, for instance, a cyber attack on hospital management software -- which could grind hospitals' capacity to deal with emergencies to an absolute standstill). American politicians -- after secrets are revealed by leakers, of course -- always say "we welcome this conversation," from President Obama on down. But this conversation needs to include the whole world.

The whole effort could be doomed to failure, of course -- but this is always true of diplomacy. It could take a century to actually have any effect, as just the dates of the chemical weapons bans of 1899 and 1997 prove. But that doesn't mean that banning chemical weapons wasn't a worthwhile thing to attempt. We could indeed have to see a future cyber disaster of "World War I mustard gas" proportions before the nations of the world even begin to take such a thing seriously. In fact, it is very easy to be pessimistic about the chances for success.

But again, that doesn't mean it isn't worth the attempt. The "brave new world" of computer warfare -- in all its frightening aspects -- desperately needs some rules and limits. Communications spying and drone attacks are only the precursors for what could be eventually deployed against the United States. If we don't take the lead now in calling for some definition of what is humanely allowable even by countries at war with each other, we may seriously regret not doing so later.

-- Chris Weigant

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

38 Comments on “We Need A Geneva Convention On Cyber Warfare”

  1. [1] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    I agree that they're need to be rules, but I want to emphasize a few of your points.

    1. America has no credibility on this issue. We might want to get some rules down on paper, but every other country will be all, "you can't even obey your own constitution, plus you started it, we're not listening to you."

    2. It hasn't killed nearly enough people. This is incredibly harsh, but effective conventions and weapons bans only seem to work when the horror is ground into people's faces. As you mention, despite the Hague convention, WW1 saw a lot of gas, it was only after that a ban was effective (with obvious exceptions). I would also point to nuclear weapons in this regard, they got used twice in warfare, and never again since. Also we have seen many attempts to limit nuclear weapons that have met with varying degrees of success, but the reason we keep trying on that front is the historical record of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    3. It's too new and too hypothetically and literally powerful. This ties into point two a bit, but cyber warfare is the brand new front in warfare, and considering the reliance on electronics in modern militaries, it's pretty obvious that this is the biggest thing since the airplane, maybe the tank. Scratch that, biggest thing since radio. And if you don't think radio is a big deal, you should read a history of WW1, the only modern war fought without them. In any event, I think we'll be seeing an arms race, not de-escalation for the time being.

    Would the Geneva cyber-warfare conventions be a great idea? Absolutely. But I don't see any action on that front till people see that they are playing with a big nasty fire.

  2. [2] 
    db wrote:

    Was it one of the Batman movies where the Joker threw the city into chaos by turning all of the traffic lights green simultaneously?

    Generally I agree with your proposition but I'd point out that many cyber-attacks are not from responsible governments or even not responsible governments. Governments have a stake in maintaining the current system they have a way to be struck at. Criminal organizations, terrorist, or otherwise have little at risk. Particularly since you dismiss the efficacy of, "dropping bombs from remotely-controlled airplanes to assassinate people we consider fair targets".

    The Geneva Conventions of about 100 years ago were a legitimate attempt to restrict the utter violence of war. Even though the Hun would violate the rules on poison gas; there were benefits. But with actors with no "downside". No ability to be sanctioned. No benefits of playing by the rules. (sorry for my lack of phraseology. I hope you understand what I'm getting at.)

    I just don't see any purpose.

  3. [3] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    "The Hun" ?

    I bet you wish there was an edit button.

    But you do have a legitimate point about non-state actors. At least to a certain extent. To make an analogy, we have a situation were no one is wearing any armor and everyone has rapidly sharpening blades. Do groups that are largely internet based such as Anonymous, and to a lesser extent Al Quaeda, benefit from such a situation? In the short term maybe, but I wouldn't bet against the NSA.

    Further, you underestimate the levels state level actors will go to eliminate those non-state entities. The nation-state has stood unchallenged since the late Renaissance, they're not about to give that up because of the internet. Drone warfare is just one example of that, and frankly that shit IS a war crime. We need to stop being the evil empire with the robot planes blowing up farmers, regardless of the justification.

  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I expect International Agreement on Cyber Warfare will be hammered out, and will follow ALL the precedents established for conventional warfare.

    International agreements governing warfare are largely based upon theories of distinction, proportionality and military necessity. The test of military necessity is basically not harming any more civilians and civilian property than is necessary to achieve a military objective. The principles can be extended to expending the lives and well being of soldiers.

    In a practical sense, pariah weapons tend to be those that cause mass casualties in a conflict without creating a decisive military advantage. Generals are ultimately practical problem solvers. Gas warfare fell out of favor because it just created an even greater stalemate in the trenches of WWI - you couldn't advance on a gas saturated battle field. Artillery and machine guns were nasty too, but more controllable, less persistent and undeniably useful on the field of battle.

    Tactical nuclear weapons seem to be falling out of favor in an age of high precision guided weapons. Micro accuracy is better than mega-tonnage. Nukes are increasingly viewed as doomsday deterrents to war, not as war winning battlefield tools.

    Conventions of war strike me as similar to the rules of school yard games...flexible, subject to endless debate and endless cheating, but ultimately keeping play reasonably predicable at a level of intensity just short of complete mayhem.

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    YoYo -

    Oh, I agree. It might just take something of massive proportions to wake people up. Even something like a hack turning every traffic light green in a major US city during rush hour might do it. Chaos is actually pretty easy to imagine, given the amount of devices currently online.

    As for radio, I'd take it back even further. The effect the telegraph had on the American Civil War was profound. Instantaneous communication from the battlefield led to all sorts of innovations in warfare -- from censoring news reports to what the military (hello, Michale, please define if anyone asks...) now describes as "REMF" types, trying to direct the generals in charge of the action.

    If I was to select a more-recent technological change that influenced the outcome broadly in warfare, I'd probably pick the advent of radar, the battle of Britain, and (sadly) the people who disregarded the warnings in Pearl Harbor.

    db -

    Oh, dang, nobody's going to believe me now, but I wrote that previous comment before reading yours. Yeah, traffic chaos is a low-level type of thing that nobody thinks about. I probably got the idea from watching that same Batman movie. The subconscious is a weird thing, n'est pas?

    But, like I said, I swear I wrote that before reading your comment.

    TheStig -

    Yeah, Vietnam (or possibly Korea, haven't researched it) gave us the concept of "limited warfare" which I heard most accurately described in a comic book (I believe) as "we only try to kill the other guy a little bit."

    But then, in Vietnam we used Agent Orange, and we still use white phosphor, so it's all a matter of degree, isn't it?

    -CW

    PS. OK, I haven't answered comments in like a week (for which I apologize), so I'm going to do so for last week's columns first thing tomorrow. You've all been playing nice in the meantime, right? Hmmph. We'll see....

    :-)

  6. [6] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    "In a practical sense, pariah weapons tend to be those that cause mass casualties in a conflict without creating a decisive military advantage."

    I see your eloquent statement, and I raise you with strategic bombing, especially the allied effort in WW2. Mass bombing of civilian targets, despite the limitations of targeting systems, was considered justifiable in that context, despite incredibly dubious military advantages. More people in WW2 were killed by conventional bombs than were ever killed by nuclear.

    "you couldn't advance on a gas saturated battle field"

    Well you could and they did, Gas masks got the job done. The issue wasn't so much that it wasn't an effective shock weapon, it was your second point, that it was inherently more terrible than other conventional weapons, and that it couldn't be controlled once a stiff breeze entered the picture. Also related to gas masks, once you have those, gas attacks lose a lot of their effectiveness. I will point you to this blog post. It makes good points.

    http://thesterlingroad.com/2013/09/06/why-chemical-weapons-use-should-be-your-only-consideration-re-syria/

    Pariah weapons (nice phrase) don't seem to be determined by any sort of rational metric. By that logic, we should be working on bullet control. They seem more to be determined by existential human fears. Choking to death on what should be clean air, having the sun dropped on your city, or dying because you walked into an invisible field (radiation).

    Tactical nukes, while considered and developed, were never actually used. Pretty sure they came up with artillery shells that could take the top off a mountain, bu the only used nuclear weapons were of the strategic variety. Not a huge point, more semantic nitpicking, but something to consider.

  7. [7] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    @CW

    Telegraph is undoubtedly incredibly significant, but it did not play the vital role in the Civil War that radio plays (or failed to play in WW1) in WW2 and later. To reference some John Keegan (specifically his face of battle, The Somme, or his bits on Grant in the mask of command), part of the reason WW1 was so nasty was that generals were limited to planning, rather than a more modern (or pre-modern) conception of battlefield "control." Once you went over the top, you were on your own, even more so than in previous or subsequent conflicts. In the Civil War, Grant or Lee could get within yards of the killing and give orders. WW1? you were lucky to be within a few miles. And that has all sorts of implications for combined arms tactics, cause in WW1 none of those arms could talk to each other.

    For example, lets say you're in WW1 and you're being shelled by "friendly" (the shrapnel is made of hugs and kisses) artillery. In later conflicts you get on the radio and tell them to stop. In WW1, you could send up some pre-agreed upon flares (if they are seen and understood), you could send back a carrier pigeon (I swear, that was a thing, battlefield communication by peanut brained birds), or you could send a runner, who might or might not make it back, and you just hope that if he gets there, he can get them to stop.

    Today we look back on battles like the Somme, where 60,000 British soldiers were casualties on the first day, and wonder, why on earth? The answer is that at the moment, no had even had any idea what was happening, least of all the "commanding" General Haig. Not too armchair him too much, you do better.

    However, your point does have a lot of merit. On a strategic level, instantaneous communication started with the telegraph, and that had all sorts of ripple effects in the Civil War. But it was on strategic level, on the tactical, runners and riders were able to traverse the battlefield much more successfully. (relatively, being a runner is a very dangerous job regardless of the era, also, Hitler was a runner in WW1, food for thought)

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    The United States now gets on a moral high horse over Syria's use of chemical weapons, but we didn't start destroying our own stockpiles of chemical weapons until just a few decades ago (and we still haven't completed the task). I

    There is a big.. HUGE... difference between possession and use...

    Both Republicans and Democrats alike have given their consent to practices which we used to consider not only illegal, but downright abhorrent and inhumane. This includes waterboarding and all the other Orwellian-named "enhanced interrogation techniques" (which we used to consider ourselves morally above using), to dropping bombs from remotely-controlled airplanes to assassinate people we consider fair targets (how would we feel if people in Peoria were being assassinated in this fashion?).

    This is why I like it here. While it's not done often enough for my tastes, the simple fact is, that Dems and Republicans aren't really different at all...

    This entire commentary has a very eerie apropos feeling to it..

    To make a (very) long story very short, I recently discovered that my electric company (Florida Power & Light) has the ability to remotely shut off my electricity at will...

    I am in a rural area in Florida and while I am not intellectually surprised at such capabilities, when it touches you personally, you stand and take notice..

    If it's a remote and theoretical issue, it's one thing to say, "eh? What's the problem here??"... But when it affects you personally???

    It's a whole 'nother animal...

    Michale

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    YoYo,

    1. America has no credibility on this issue. We might want to get some rules down on paper, but every other country will be all, "you can't even obey your own constitution, plus you started it, we're not listening to you."

    As much as you hate it, as much as you hate to admit it, "might makes right"..

    Or, to put it more diplomatically, since we are the unequivocal World's Police force, we have all the credibility we need..

    I know, I know.. It's not politically correct to say such things.

    But it IS the reality of the here and now...

    I really can't find any fault with #2 and #3...

    Drone warfare is just one example of that, and frankly that shit IS a war crime.

    So, you are saying that Obama is a war criminal??

    I just want to get that on record.. :D

    I see your eloquent statement, and I raise you with strategic bombing, especially the allied effort in WW2. Mass bombing of civilian targets, despite the limitations of targeting systems, was considered justifiable in that context, despite incredibly dubious military advantages. More people in WW2 were killed by conventional bombs than were ever killed by nuclear.

    The military advantages were much more pronounced than you think.

    Destroying the infrastructure that supports the war effort was (and still is) a legitimate military target. If the enemy places those in civilian populated areas...??? Well, it's tragic, but it is war...

    Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you've had no reason to stop it. And you've had it for five hundred years.
    -Captain James T Kirk, STAR TREK, A Taste Of Armageddon

    Michale

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW,

    Ya know, it just occurred to me..

    With all this take of making "rules" for war and such.... Blatantly ignoring the saying, "All's fair in love and war..."...

    Would you advocate the concept put forth in that ST quote above???

    For those ignorant of Trek (shame on you!!! :D) that particular quote comes from an episode where two warring planets had reduced their "war" to a theoretical war, fought entirely by computer. Casualties were computed and those who were "killed" would report to suicide stations for disintegration.. I would assume (though it wasn't spelled out in the episode) that infrastructure and war assets were "destroyed" and would be deactivated for a set time until they were "repaired"...

    I think the down side of making "rules" is that we run the risk of making war "civilized". And once it becomes "civilized" it becomes easier to live with..

    Like Kirk said.

    Death, disease, destruction, horror..

    THAT is what war is all about. THAT is what makes it something to avoid. To stop.. To not let start...

    Of course, it's unlikely to ever come to this.

    Rules are made to be broken.. No where is this more true than in warfare..

    But still.. Food for thought...

    Michale

  11. [11] 
    db wrote:

    Michale,

    I believe all power companies have the power to shut down sections of their lines at need. Can't have crews trying to repair live lines.

    I wouldn't read too much into it.

    YoYo

    "The Hun". Yes. This is 1915 we're talking about. Next thing you know they'll go around torpedoing Passenger Liners.

    Gas masks help in a gas attack. But they make it hard to breathe. You perspire in them & so itch. A lot. And the gas makes it hard to see; that is if the lens hasn't fogged. remember also that you're trying to trudge through mud, ankle deep if you're lucky. Makes any kind of action tough.

    I agree about the reliable radio.

    I see your point about Nation States. I'm unsure what can be done though. Criminal/terrorist organizations have been around for a long time. I don't see an effective way to stop it. I can't even stop Barrister David Obangu from asking me to help rip off the Nigerian Gov.

  12. [12] 
    db wrote:

    CW,

    No apologies needed. You saw the same movie.

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    I believe all power companies have the power to shut down sections of their lines at need. Can't have crews trying to repair live lines.

    I wouldn't read too much into it.

    Yes, shut down sections. PORTIONS..

    But shut down INDIVIDUAL residences!!?? That's frightening in it's implications..

    Imagine a hacker being able to selectively turn off someone's, a SPECIFIC someone's electricity...

    What about gas lines? Imagine a hacker getting access to a specific persons gas lines?

    Like I said, intellectually it doesn't surprise me. As with other things, I have more than a passing knowledge in Networking and RFID capabilities..

    But to have it hit me like that, subtly.. Like a 2x4 upside the head..

    It was... disturbing... To say the least...

    Michale

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    You've all been playing nice in the meantime, right?

    When have we ever???

    Er...

    I mean, when have we ever NOT... That's what I meant to say.... :D

    Michale

  15. [15] 
    TheStig wrote:

    YoYo

    The problem with chemical protection equipment in general and full face mask/goggles in particular is that it's almost impossible to sustain strenuous activities in them for any length of time....your breathing is labored, and the goggles fog up.

    If you want to get some idea of the problem, put on a hardware store paint respirator and a set of goggles and then take a 5km jog. This would be roughly equivalent to the WWI infantryman's equipment, which contemporary accounts indicate was hellish to wear in battle.

    Defense in a gas mask would be a lot easier than attack, which is one reason why gas wasn't decisive in WWI.

    Chemical protection equipment has improved since WWI, but it's still hard to do routine things like see, drink, eat, pee or work. The Soviet "solution" was to put infantryman in an airtight vehicle and just drive through the contamination.

  16. [16] 
    TheStig wrote:

    CW

    Radar devices get too much credit for the successful defense of Britain during WWI. Radar was basically a last minute add on to an elaborate information collection and rapid assessment system that was largely in place during the last years of WWI. This system has been called the first internet.

    Chain Home Radar gave the British early warning of bombers before they reached the coastline (very helpful), but didn't/couldn't cover anything inland. Once the Luftwaffe reached land, all tracking was strictly optical, using field glasses and simple azimuth/elevation tracking tools, all sightings being made by small teams of civilian volunteers. Information was phoned in directly to central processing centers, where it was sorted, assessed and plotted. There was a lot of error in the "signal" so formations tended to wiggle around a bit with respect to bearing, height and speed on the big board. Still, it worked well enough to plot intercepts.

    But then, so did the earlier, radarless Home Defense System of WWI, and a very similar radarless system used by the Nationalist Chinese (and the American Volunteer Group AKA "Flying Tigers."

  17. [17] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Getting a bit more on the topic of cyber warfare, early accounts suggest Stuxnet was carefully crafted with the concepts of discrimination and proportionality in mind.

    If accounts I've read are accurate, the worm only targeted Siemens software, could only infect three other computers and helpfully erased itself on a fixed date.

  18. [18] 
    TheStig wrote:

    YoYo

    Radio communications played a big role in WWI. The British Navy was an early adopter of radio communications, which finally allowed Admiralty to control it's fleet on something close to a real time basis. This was the first time that military information was broadcast in the clear, leading in short order to advances in encryption, code breaking, radio location and code breaking. I attended a fascinating lecture on the above last year!

    It wasn't just flares runners and pigeons on WWI battlefields. Field telephones were widely used and netted together at information centers. Spotter aircraft carried radios to relay information on the fall of shells.

  19. [19] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    The problem with the NSA is it's a direct descendent of Bletchley Park. High level strategic intelligence during WW2 was arguably the most important single program of the war. It worked and worked well. You are basically sitting in front of a code breaking machine reading this, for example. It was so successful that officially the whole program was to be held secret for 50 years. The reality was most of it came out in the 70's, but a few decades of secrecy is impressive.

    I don't think the NSA will go anywhere or should really. I think the thinking is we don't know where important intelligence will come from for future problems we as a country will face, therefore having tendrils to everyone is a good idea. Personally, I have a hard time arguing against that. Most of the leaders currently complaining about their communications being bugged lead countries that have been at war with the US at some point. If it's true that Obama and the Senate intelligence committee did not know about this level of spying I would expect the NSA will get a pretty strong yoke attached shortly. The danger with this sort of intelligence is if it becomes uncontained. If it starts bleeding in to the FBI and local police departments. Then you have a real threat of a police state. The saving grace is that there were two parts to Bletchley Park and this second part I think (hope?) is considered just as important today as it was then. One was intelligence gathering and the other was using that intelligence. Just as much thought and care was put in to using intelligence in ways to make sure the opposition was not tipped off that their communications were known as the initial gathering. The classic example was the allies knew of just about every shipment heading to Rommel in North Africa. Rather than just blowing it all up and making the german ask why, only certain shipments were targeted. Even then it was standard practice to send out air reconnaissance, be sloppy about it to make sure they were seen. Give the convoy enough time to wire back that they had been spotted. Then and only then, send in forces to destroy the convoy. The flip side was during the campaign against the german U-boats, Dönitz suspected something was wrong and added an extra wheel to the u-boats enigma machine. This set back Bletchley Park's ability to decode u-boat transmissions a good 10 months.

    So, basically I don't mind the spying if and only if there is strong oversight by a third party and very strong firewalls between this high level intelligence and the rest of the law enforcement establishment. Both of these conditions seem to be having problems currently that need to be addressed…

  20. [20] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    @Michale

    All war is a crime. :-P Though I would still say that the ww2 strategic bombing campaign was dubious in its value. Most bombers couldn't drop their bombs within 5 miles of their stated targets. The goal might be to destroy infrastructure, but really you're just dropping bombs willy-nilly and hoping they hit something useful.

    @The Stig

    I was wondering when someone would call me on my bit of hyperbole. Another famous example was Tannenburg, where Germans were listening to Russian radio transmissions between army headquarters. Field telephones were more similar to telegraph, in that they required a physical wired connection. And no matter how deep Engineers dug those wires, shells were always punching holes in the network. So you have intermittent communication with the front trench, and no communication with anyone beyond that. But the real point I wanted to make was how big a deal the "portable" radio was.

    Also I will admit that Gas lost it's effectiveness rather quickly, and that gas masks aren't perfect.

    But to get back on topic, I think it's a little weird that all of our cyber-warfare scenarios are all infrastructure related. While turning all traffic light green, would certainly kill people and cause chaos. It's more of a seriously psychotic prank than an attack. Can anyone come up with one that's slightly different? And how do you think that would influence the march to the cyber-convention.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/10/27/ap-exclusive-israeli-tunnel-hit-by-cyber-attack/3281133/

    Bam!

  21. [21] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    @db

    Both side killed civilians, no need to indulge in propaganda terms that were meant to demonize the "barbaric" other.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:%27Destroy_this_mad_brute%27_WWI_propaganda_poster_(US_version).jpg

    Stuff like that should stay in the past, all I'm saying.

  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    Bashi,

    If it's true that Obama and the Senate intelligence committee did not know about this level of spying I would expect the NSA will get a pretty strong yoke attached shortly.

    I find it nearly impossible to believe that this is the case..

    It's more likely that Obama and Senate Dems are covering their asses against the assured fallout from their base over this...

    If this was done w/o POTUS authority then there will be some VERY public and VERY high up career "executions"...

    It's likely we won't see any of that...

    So, basically I don't mind the spying if and only if there is strong oversight by a third party and very strong firewalls between this high level intelligence and the rest of the law enforcement establishment. Both of these conditions seem to be having problems currently that need to be addressed…

    The problem is that those "very strong firewalls" was a direct cause of 9/11..

    If one thinks that terrorism is a LEO problem (which the Left does) than it makes absolutely NO SENSE to have ANY kind of firewalls between the intelligence and the LEO community...

    There is no reason to HAVE intel if it's going to be kept from the very people who can put it to the best use...

    Michale

  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    YoYo,

    Though I would still say that the ww2 strategic bombing campaign was dubious in its value.

    It seemed to have the desired effect..

    We won. :D

    Michale

  24. [24] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    Correlation is not causation Michale

  25. [25] 
    Michale wrote:

    Correlation is not causation Michale

    If you have an alternate theory...

    "I am all ears..."
    -Ross Perot, 1992 Presidential Debates

    :D

    Michale

  26. [26] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale [8] -

    I live in a very liberal enclave (no surprise there, right?) and people here were up in arms when the power company installed "smart meters" which communicate with the internet. Brain damage from the radiation was the cry. Left and right can indeed get a little unhinged at times. My favorite is the anti-flouride folks. This used to be paranoia from the ultra-right (see: "Dr. Strangelove"), but now has somehow become paranoia from the left.

    YoYo -

    What I've always loved is how the communications/runner problem led to adoption of both motorcycles and the beloved Jeep. Weren't both initially militarily adopted for such communications?

    BashiBazouk -

    I think the real problem is that the NSA is doing things based upon "because we can." That seems like a way too loose standard. But it got me thinking, and I will address the subject (kind of) in Wednesday's Halloween column.

    YoYo [20] -

    Two scenarios leap to mind. The first, taking down the electric grid. The second, interfering with a nuclear reactor's control computers. Either one is a bit more serious than just all the stoplights going green. Especially if both happened simultaneously, along with (just for fun) the cell phone network going dark. So: lights are out, phones are out, and the nuke plant over yonder seems to be emitting a dangerous glow...

    Hey, it is getting close to Halloween, right?

    :-)

    Michale [23] -

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we drop more tons of bombs on North Vietnam than we did in WWII? I mean, I'm just sayin'...

    -CW

  27. [27] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Regarding YoYo's challenge in 20

    If I were to cyber attack one asset to degrade US military capability, it would be the GPS satellite system. US precision guided munitions are instantly much less precise. Navigators are forced to navigate using antique methods they are unfamiliar with. Chaos reigns, until the system is fixed, or we learn to cope with a military with 1990 capabilities.

    I'm not spilling any beans on this, it's a well recognized threat.

    Bwahhaaaa, Happy Halloween!!

  28. [28] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130324030942/althistory/images/f/f9/Ross-Perot-4-1-.jpg

    Yes you are, :-D

    I'll get to a strategic bombing essay in a bit, but as far I can tell CW the jeep and motorcycle were taken for reconnaissance duties primarily. When you need a runner, a jeep or motorcycle will either get blown up or wont be able to traverse the terrain. Not say they didn't carry messages, but it's more a case of, look at all the cool things we can do with the internal combustion engine rather than filling that specific niche.

  29. [29] 
    TheStig wrote:

    BashiBazouk, 19 "-The problem with the NSA is it's a direct descendent of Bletchley Park."

    CW, 26 to BashiBazouk -

    "I think the real problem is that the NSA is doing things based upon "because we can.""

    Excellent observations

    First, never underestimate the power of "because we can." This was a powerful motivator to the nuclear physicists working on the Manhattan Project, and no doubt to the mathematicians and other assorted wonks at Bletchley Park circa 1940.

    If you look at the stats concerning the NSA data center in Utah, the square footage, the costs, the electrical consumption, the water consumption, the quantity of data stored, something big is going on, no doubt, in part, because we can, because its just so fascinating as an engineering feat. Like Project Apollo was in the 60's.

    Second, I too suspect NSA is doing pretty much the same things that were done at Bletchley, but on meta level commensurate with The Information Age:

    Traffic analysis, interpreting signals in the traffic patterns,finding potential weakness in security systems, devising exploits of identified weaknesses to break codes and ciphers with available levels of computational power in an operationally useful amount of time.

    No use for an army of people running adding machines, but maybe clever people with a knack for puzzles, but no advanced degrees are still useful. Maybe artificial intelligence is coming into its own. Given improvements in codes and ciphers, plus the sheer amount of message traffic on phones and internet (text, raw data, images, sounds) data storage and computational power have to be huge at a 21st century Bletchley.

    The military advantages are obvious, but some level of blatant abuse of all this power seems equally obvious.

  30. [30] 
    Michale wrote:

    So: lights are out, phones are out, and the nuke plant over yonder seems to be emitting a dangerous glow...

    NBC's REVOLUTION

    For those who haven't caught it, it's definitely a good watch.. :D

    Michale

  31. [31] 
    Michale wrote:

    The military advantages are obvious, but some level of blatant abuse of all this power seems equally obvious.

    But here's the $64 question..

    Do we hold back for fear of abuse when holding back might have dire, life/country ending consequences??

    Sometimes (OFTEN times in these fields) the ends DO justify the means..

    A concept that the Left has taken to heart in the last few years more than I ever thought possible...

    Obama's NSA revelations of late EPITOMIZE the concept..

    Michale

  32. [32] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Regarding Michale's $64 ?

    There are lots of ends, that match up with available means, and the resulting skein is all interactive to some degree.

    The principles of distinction, proportionality and necessity provide useful guidance about how to navigate this ethical surface, but in the end, the relative weights given to distinction versus necessity are critical, if both are judged absolute, the system breaks down as a logical singularity, if just one reigns supreme you get either inaction or extremism.

    In the middle ground, you get the situation I like to call "confused, but on on a higher plane." I think that's the normal lot of genuinely thoughtful people.

  33. [33] 
    Michale wrote:

    There are lots of ends, that match up with available means, and the resulting skein is all interactive to some degree.

    The principles of distinction, proportionality and necessity provide useful guidance about how to navigate this ethical surface, but in the end, the relative weights given to distinction versus necessity are critical, if both are judged absolute, the system breaks down as a logical singularity, if just one reigns supreme you get either inaction or extremism.

    In the middle ground, you get the situation I like to call "confused, but on on a higher plane." I think that's the normal lot of genuinely thoughtful people.

    "Uh..... What were we talkin' bout now??
    -Chicken Little, CHICKEN LITTLE

    :D

    Sorry, but my eyes just kinda glazed over.

    I mean, intellectually I know what you are saying, but I am just a simple grunt. A knuckle dragger..

    I am the simple beat cop who says, "I may not be able to define 'pornography' but I sure as hell know it when I see it!!"

    Of course, if one's "ends" are immoral then the "means" to achieve them are equally, if not MORE, immoral..

    So the "ends" can be very subjective...

    But, what if they are not??

    One of my favorite courses at OCS was ethics. One of the highlights was the "What If" scenarios where we were presented with a scenario, were given two (and ONLY two) choices to make.. What would we decide and why? They were, in essence AND in practice, Kobymashi Maru scenarios.

    One of the more chilling scenarios was a missile command and control bunker was housed in the basement of a grade school that was open and had hundreds of young children attending. The missile under control was enroute to a major US city armed with MIRV warheads totaling several mega-tons.

    The only way to stop the missile was an artillery strike that obliterates the school and self-destructs the missile.

    Remember. Your ONLY two options are to spare the school and allow the nuclear missile to kill millions..

    Or obliterate the school, killing hundreds of grade school children but destroying the missile...

    My answer nearly washed me out of the program..

    Now, I know, you may scoff. It's a completely unrealistic scenario..

    But is it??

    Consider well documented cases during the Iraq war where US snipers had to silence (IE kill) children that were a threat to the safety of SOP teams..

    The tactical decision is clear..

    The moral one???

    Is as murky as the night is long...

    Michale

  34. [34] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Michael

    Hey, I glazed your eyes in a mere 105 words. I think I deserve credit for word economy!

    Real world situations are often murky. As a practical matter, you need to able to navigate in murk when encounter it. Murk doctrine, murk training. Come to think of it, navigating in murk was part of my dive training! It was scary fun.

    If you can't define pornography, but you know it when you see it, then you just haven't really though the whole pornography thing through very well. At least not well enough to explain your porno doctrine to anybody, including yourself. You aren't aren't properly trained for dealing with pornography, and are likely to get slammed in a court of law and/or public opinion.

    The purpose of "no win situation" exercises is to get you to think about them before they occur. There is always a threshold before you paint yourself into the proverbial corner. If you had just planned a bit better, just looked a little farther ahead. Once you think you've run out of options, think harder. Try and redefine the game, and fast. That's probably what your instructor was looking for.

  35. [35] 
    Michale wrote:

    Come to think of it, navigating in murk was part of my dive training! It was scary fun.

    PADI or NAUI Oh I think I just dated myself.. :D

    If you can't define pornography, but you know it when you see it, then you just haven't really though the whole pornography thing through very well.

    I promise to do better and immerse myself in more pornography... :D

    The purpose of "no win situation" exercises is to get you to think about them before they occur. There is always a threshold before you paint yourself into the proverbial corner. If you had just planned a bit better, just looked a little farther ahead. Once you think you've run out of options, think harder. Try and redefine the game, and fast. That's probably what your instructor was looking for.

    Using the Kobayashi Maru was a poor analogy. I just can't help but throw out the Trek references at the HINT of compatibility.. :D

    The No-Win/There Are Always Alternative presented by the Kobayashi Maru was really not analogous to these tests, as "alternatives" were not permitted...

    The idea behind these scenarios was not to save the city or save the children..

    It was to make the best bad decision you could make and learn to live with it. Something a military officer will likely face on a regular basis. Especially in war time.....

    Which is why I almost washed out.

    My answer was I would destroy the school, kill all the children, save the city and then blow my brains out..

    Ever read FAIL SAFE??

    Definitely not officer material, eh?? Fortunately, for me I had other... skill sets that made up for my psychological deficiencies..

    If I were to take that test today, the decision would be... IS... an easy decision to make.

    And would be much easier to live with...

    Howz THAT for a topsy turvy scrooed up psyche, eh??

    Michale

  36. [36] 
    Michale wrote:

    If I may go WAY off the beaten path here..

    I just finished watching the 1st episode of STAR TREK CONTINUES..

    I was prepared to hate it, as much as I have hated all previous fan-based continuations. Even the ones that had such professional talent as George Takei and Nichelle Nichols..

    But I have to admit. It was pretty damn good.

    It had a plausible (for Trek) story line, proper homage to the Original Series (Michael Forrest reprises his role as APOLLO) and was pretty professionally done.

    Of course, it lacked the polish of a TNG or a DS9, but considering the financial limitations that I am sure was prevalent, it was a pretty damn good production..

    Of course, it's likely going to appeal only to low brow (like me!! :D) TOS fans because it doesn't have the politically correct tones that permeated the later Trek incarnations (don't get me started about Enterprise!!!)

    But if you can catch a copy of it, I would highly recommend it for those fans of the Original Series..

    Let me know if anyone is interested and I can make it available for download..

    You can catch details here:

    http://www.startrekcontinues.com/

    Michale

  37. [37] 
    YoYoTheAssyrian wrote:

    I do love me some trek, I'll put it on my list. Which grows by the day, say what you will about the internet, but we have access to everything that is awesome.

    Ever seen any Babylon 5 Michale? First and last seasons are pretty bad, but here's some good stuff in the middle, like a sandwich.

    Also original star trek was pretty pc for it's time. You'd be hard pressed to find another show in the 60's with such a diverse cast that didn't degenerate into some really bad stereotypes.

  38. [38] 
    Michale wrote:

    I do love me some trek, I'll put it on my list. Which grows by the day, say what you will about the internet, but we have access to everything that is awesome.

    No disagreement from me there. One of the things I find most fascinating is I can read about a new "Lost World" found on a cliff in Australia and then just go to GOOGLE MAPS and actually SEE the place..

    It's mind blowing...

    Let me know what you think of that ST Continues. Like I said, I was prepared to hate it. But I was highly impressed..

    "And I don't impress easily! WOW!!!! A BLUE CAR!!!!!"
    -Homer Simpson

    :D

    Ever seen any Babylon 5 Michale? First and last seasons are pretty bad, but here's some good stuff in the middle, like a sandwich.

    I watched B5 when it first came out, but then fell away after a few seasons. A while back, I got ahold of every episode and spent a couple weeks watching all 5 seasons. It's awesome when you can polish off 7 or 8 episodes in a day. I loved Garibaldi. I always seem to gravitate to the Security pukes. Although Walter Keonig's Bester was pretty awesome as well..

    I love when series have an entire story laid out from the start and takes a bunch of seasons to finish it. Unfortunately for B5, after the story arc ended, the 5th season had kind of a "tacked on" feel and was somewhat brutal to get thru.

    SUPERNATURAL faced the same problem. It had a really intense 5 season story arc that was phenomenal.. No one thought that it would last beyond season 6.. But it has some really strong characters and some pretty good writing, so season 9 just premiered..

    Also original star trek was pretty pc for it's time. You'd be hard pressed to find another show in the 60's with such a diverse cast that didn't degenerate into some really bad stereotypes.

    I've got the re-mastered Treks on my HTPC (4 TERABYTES, baby!!!! :D) I spin one up every now and again and it's amazing how archaic it seems these days..

    I would love to see a reboot of the series made for TV that uses all the current technology but stays fairly true to the original series... I would love to see a continuation of the 5 year mission and see what's happening on Ekos & Zeon, Ardana and Sigma Iotia II.

    Perhaps this ST CONTINUES will foot the bill..

    It's uncanny how this Vic Magdenga guy has the mannerisms and looks of William Shatner's Kirk down pat. My only beef is that he is so damn short.. :D

    Time will tell.. If you watch it, let me know what you think.. :D

    Michale

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