Sunday, April 30, 2006

Blogging and the new requirement for misdirection 

Much as we bloggers celebrate the enabling power of technology to harness distributed expertise, imagine that we are a "pack, not a herd," and believe deeply in the capacity of "Davids" to mete out truth and justice, the world's ever greater transparency poses new problems. How, for example, will our military keep its operations secret? A story from 1979 poses the problem.

As previously reported, I'm in the middle of Mark "Black Hawk Down" Bowden's new reality-thriller, Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. It includes an enormous amount of detail about the preparations for the ultimately-failed rescue mission, including the requirement for absolute secrecy. The mission almost leaked:

By the end of the month six Sea Stallion helicopters had been moved on one pretext or another to the Kitty Hawk, where they were now stashed safely belowdecks. Not even the carrier's commander was fully aware of their purpose. An alert reporter for a local newspaper had noticed the choppers being loaded on a giant C-5 Galaxy transport to be ferried to the carrier and speculated in print -- with pictures! -- that they might be on their way to a staging area for a rescue mission in Tehran. Fortunately, no one else picked up on the story. (p. 232)

If such a story ran today, it would be posted on Lucianne.com and other such sites within minutes, and bloggers the world over would be linking to it. The students within the embassy would have known within hours. According to the security requirements that prevailed in 1979, at least, the mission would have been scrapped before it had begun. That might not have been a bad thing, but there would have been no way to have known that in advance.

Now, it may be that the military can still achieve surprise in our transparent world, but it will have to use misdirection to an even greater extent than it has in the past. If every digital camera or cell phone is really a device for distributed surveillance, our military will have to send personnel and equipment to places where they will not be used, and it will have to lie prodigiously about its intentions.

The question is how we will deal with this new requirement in our politics and morality. Are we willing to accept misdirecting lies as necessary and routine, or will we prefer that our soldiers operate truthfully, but without the advantage of surprise?


By Blogger Mycroft, at Sun Apr 30, 02:35:00 PM:

We wouldn't have to lie explicitly to the public. "Confidential sources" and reporters willing to believe their own theories could do that for us. They'd just need a little ... encouragement. I think that process, of public misdirection, is inevitable, and is already happening.

The run-up to the Iraq war, however it was intended, had the same effect as a masterpiece of misdirection.

There was an immense focus on the 4th Infantry Division and our troubles getting it deployed, which convincend Saddam that our kickoff date was far in the future, despite a presidential deadline, which is an explicit statement of our intentions.

Furthermore, the military rather cleverly did not disabuse the media, Saddam, and everybody else of their belief that this war would be like the last one -- a long bombing campaign followed by a short and vicious land attack. Thus, we caught Saddam's forces flatfooted when we went in, preventing them from firing the oil wells, blowing various bridges, and the like.

All of this was done without breaking faith with the American public by having any public figures lie on the record. I think that's as good a balance as we can hope for.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Apr 30, 02:59:00 PM:

Mycroft, I agree with that balance.

Winston Churchill once famously said "In wartime, the truth is so precious that it must be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies."  

By Blogger allen, at Sun Apr 30, 04:07:00 PM:

An administration must never lie as to policy. Churchill never did so. Other than that, strategy and tactics should unapologetically be guarded by all the blackguards required. For the sensitive, such as Ms. McCarthy, there are the Peace Corps or the clergy. War is not beanbag.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Mon May 01, 12:12:00 AM:

Every base in the U.S. has someone watching it for unusual activitys. Every port has the same. The Media has eyes and ears everywhere.

Letting them see something that is something else, or to distract from the something, is the magicians
art. It must be practiced and not used often to be effective by our Military and our Government.

So far, I'm not impressed with their abilitys, not withstanding that I don't know what leaks are for that purpose..

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue May 02, 01:07:00 AM:

Few points before I crawl into bed.

1. Deception is a tool of government. So long as it is useful, it will never go away.

1a. Deception will never lose its usefulness in war.

2. An article in the latest Foreign Affairs called Saddam's Delusions explains that the Iraqis did not fire the wells and blow up bridges, dams, et cetera because he believed that he would survive the invasion just like in 1991 and would therefore still need them later.

3. We need to start seeing reporters put in prison for exposing national secrets. Blowing the details of covert operations can endanger our operatives and agents by informing our enemies of their existence, mission, or targets. And yes, the relevant portions of the US Code apply to reporters too.

3a. The leakers who feed the reporters their tithe need to be purged and imprisoned too. Some tool at the NSA blows a black operation because he's suddenly 'uncomfortable with the moral implications' (coincidentally, right after he got fired), and he gets away with it?

"Letting them see something that is something else, or to distract from the something, is the magicians

Counterintelligence is cool, isn't it?  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Wed May 03, 12:19:00 PM:

The solution is fairly simple, and has been working for quite some time. The Internet is a *huge* flood of information, packed with misinformation, wild guesses, NY Times articles, forgeries, unnamed sources (another name for “making it up”), Paranoid Conspiracy Theories, and the occasional nugget of truth. The little nuggets of truth are more numerous in this age, but the sheer volume of crud has increased much more. Hindsight will always be 20/20, and after any major operation there will always be a blinding series of dots that nobody tracked before the operation. Intentional deception operations only make the problem worse for the spy.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed May 03, 08:25:00 PM:

Spies don't usually deal with open sources. Then they wouldn't be spies. The biggest problems with espionage takes are credibility (both of the source and the handler... sometimes they're right, but no one believes them) and flawed analysis, not a deluge of misinformation.  

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