Cyber War

Reading through the articles on how to treat digital attacks vs. how we typically treat conventional attacks, I was struck by a common question that comes up in this topic, more or less: Are digital technologies that cannot directly kill people still a threat in the same way that conventional weaponry is?

Hearing about the NATO resolution is interesting, because there you have a clear case of nations treating digital attacks the way they would conventional ones. This is tricky though, because presumably there are people, nations in fact, constantly attacking one another in cyberspace. How do we distinguish between attacks in order to know when a retaliation is needed? Also, what would the retaliation be? I would presume it would also be a digital attack, commensurate with the initial attack. What if lives are lost?

I can think of a scenario in which a foreign aggressor would attack a piece of infrastructure that could lead to a death, or many. Would this necessitate an attack with conventional weaponry?

In the case of the US government, I guess I tend to always think that the NSA has a one-up on everyone else in terms of identifying threats and the initial location of attacks. This may be giving them too much credit, but the more I look into the NSA, the more it appears they have anticipated most questions dealing with security in cyberspace.

Kaplan mentioned an instance from the Cold War that I really enjoyed and thought was a telling bit of history. When the NSA listening post in Moscow, positioned atop a large building, caught fire, someone called the local head of station and asked what to do. He said “Let it burn”. This kind of incident is well-known in espionage, where an agency will opt to destroy something rather than have it fall in the wrong hands. Thinking about current technologies, in the networked world, I wonder just how advanced our tech is compared to others, or has there been a democratization of advanced technology? I have to figure that the NSA and DARPA and other agencies within agencies that try to stay one step ahead of everyone else have tech that must be advanced beyond what is conventionally available, even to specialists.



(Updated for current stories)

Wikileaks has become in my mind a rather regressive entity, given the revelations from the 2016 Presidential Election. Julian Assange was always a pretty bunk leader for me, I was never a fan. But he absolutely served a useful purpose early on in the game of revealing abuses of power by the Bush administration and by the National Security State under Obama, which ostensibly remained exactly the same.

Looking back to the earliest revelations, we see that Assange and Wikileaks demonstrated an unusual “convergence” as the “Wikileaks Lessons” article clearly demonstrates. Ron Paul and Vladimir Putin are somehow on the same page in regards to Wikileaks, and Obama, an outspoken advocate of Liberal values, is required by the National Security state to take the posturing he has. I would say catching Assange is low priority, but he still persona non grata here in the US.

Something I definitely have come to appreciate about Ed Snowden is how very unlike Julian Assange he is. His concerns are (as far as any public person can tell) completely genuine, part of an ongoing concern of his about the state of his country. He is a patriot through and through. Assange has no beliefs, at least as far as I can tell. He is an opportunist and a blowhard, a person who clings to fame and notoriety more than the principles he apparently holds.

When Snowden was choosing where to go with his information on NSA surveillance, he decided against Assange, because he correctly identified the difference between leaking documents wholesale and simply letting the public know about abuses of power. Ellsberg’s leaks had more to do with old occurrences, how we were led into the Vietnam war, not current information that could compromise agents and soldiers in the field. Those are lives, lives worth saving just like any others. Assange has a clear disregard for the consequences of his actions, opting for the “greater good” position that is, rather ironically, utilized by the very institutions he professes to be fighting. His greater good is just like any other, and is therefore a failure to see the big picture.

Encryption and State Power

The question of the FBI and Apple comes down to questions that lie at the heart of the encryption debates. To my mind, it almost seems like a non-starter as far as debating on a macro scale; that is to say, in terms of the question of whether or not the government can have access to one’s phone, the answer is a resounding: yes. They absolutely can have access to your phone if you are a threat to national security, and thus can fall in the purview of the NSA’s jurisdiction. This question, and this news moment, was about law enforcement, and that carries a host of other questions.

Law enforcement simply do not have the same set of tools and abilities that intelligence agencies have. They are bound by US laws in a way that the NSA simply isn’t, and thus the FBI must respect Apple’s right to not give over the encryption software for the iPhone. If this is really something that is needed, other parts of the government can covertly access the data on the phone, and a brute force attack could conceivably get through the passcode (at least that’s what I’ve read some places).

As to the larger question of privacy and the government? Well, it’s just one of those things: our government has access to virtually everything we do. They choose to largely just store it away and not make it active intelligence in any real way, unless we are for some reason drawing their attention. This is of course disturbing and should be fought against, but in terms of this debate about Apple vs. FBI, the question of larger surveillance seems to outweigh the smaller concerns about law enforcement, at least when zooming out to consider the whole picture.

The FBI should be bound in ways that the NSA isn’t (whether I like it or not). They are subject to higher levels of restrictions on privacy and 4th amendment violations. This is clearly an instance where they need to back down.

Week 13-Automated Systems

It’s interesting reading these pieces in light of the attention paid to AI in pop culture as of late. This is nothing new of course, AI has always been a fascination for SF writers of all sorts. The only reason I bring it up quickly is that the more advanced levels of AI posited in movies and TV, in particular shows from Jonathan Nolan (Westworld, Person of Interest), raise questions about the point at which AI systems might have the ability to reason (insofar as we can program them to imitate human reasoning in a given situation). Once this threshold has been crossed in some manner (again, not positing HAL here, just a system that can operate truly autonomously and make decisions, as discussed in some of the articles), then we are dealing with a different set of questions, maybe. One in particular is when and how a degree of humanity might be granted to an AI, thus placing it under the supervision of HRL or other international conventions. This of course would be a very difficult situation to parse, but I guess the thought of not just an autonomous system, pre-programmed in the terms you and others have specified, but an actual AI system that is ostensibly programming itself, adjusting, making decisions, and so forth; how would we account for this, and how do we possibly stop the Military and others from utilizing such advanced technologies in the battle field. It feels a bit hopeless to stop weapons like this (or operators in possession of weapons); for the time being it’s incredibly clear to me that the bans you specified in your essay are needed, because they cut the idea off for the foreseeable future, and thus will do a great amount of good in preventing further Drone casualties. Perhaps my question is still a bit SF at the moment, but it would seem like a way for the Military to eventually get around this ban; that is, once a computer system can appear as a human in every typical sense, they may be able to argue that it is no longer an “autonomous technology” but a sort of proto-species or something (a la Westworld’s conceptual basis). In the case of Person of Interest, there is a similar question, as the AI in that show is essentially just an autonomous super computer version of PRISM, which already exists. The AI in that show then sends human operators out to kill people based on the enormous amounts of data it’s been able to collect. This situation does still keep that “human-in-the-loop” that we all desire, but that system is also capable of doing just about anything it wants as its levels of intelligence are well beyond that of a human, and its only limitation is not having limbs and an ability to move around.

Turning quickly to the current battlefield, I think your reasoning is right on point concerning the current levels of technology involved in autonomous systems. As I have said in class before, rather crudely for lack of a better way of putting it, it seems that in war we should be doing our own “dirty work”. The question of these killings taking place in the first place, putting aside the how, is itself an important question, and personally, and with the help of these readings, I would say it pretty directly violates the peacetime bans on killing like that. We’ve talked in circles about whether we are in fact “at war” with “terror”; I suppose if that were to made as the case then I could see a certain human-led series of missions continuing, allowing us to prevent attacks. But we seem to have really dug a hole here and Drones were our shovel for the most part. It’s really a shameful and terrifying part of our history and will likely be seen that way in the near future. Of course, once things have advanced to a certain degree, it will likely be seen as barbaric but also quaint. I hope to not be around at that point.

Military Robotics III: Legal, Ethical & Political Issues

“Many people find the idea of robotic soldiers and robotic moral agents to be somewhat fantastical, the stuff of science fiction and not something that deserves serious consideration.” (Asaro)

I often find myself in this same boat when explaining to people that I’m studying, among other technological warfare issues, the idea of autonomous robots fighting in wars. Almost every time I mention such a thing (this is I’m sure a microcosm of what you’ve encountered professionally over the years), people laugh or smile and make a reference to RoboCop or the X-Files (with their biologically developed alien-human hybrid “super-soldiers” and also I think actually robot ones in the later Mulder-less seasons). In any case, it’s interesting to see this being an important part of the opening of a serious academic article about a topic that should chill people to their bones and instead still seems to leave people chuckling and not very interested.

I think this speaks to some of the lack of public consideration of Drone warfare, and of the rise of technological warfare. People who would consider themselves Hawks or big on USA defense naturally fall in line with the idea of getting boots off the ground and preventing human casualties on our side, not to mention the idea of our Military might being added to in a big way by our relative advancement when it comes to military robotics. On the other side you might have a Dove-type, or at least someone critical of warfare and state intervention abroad, and someone interested in preventing items like Nuclear weapons from spelling out the end of the world. In that category there seems to be an ambivalence about robots and AI, both seeming so far in the future, and just another brick in the wall of Military excesses. But there is something new here, and you point it out better than anyone else I’ve read.

Turning to a later piece, I was struck by the Moral Injury question, on a personal level. Although the details have been sparse (I am still picking his brain for a better understanding), my Father was involved in Military Intelligence in Vietnam, and thus experienced something along these lines, distinct from his comrades in the war who were on the front lines, to whom violence and first-hand bloodshed took a traumatic effect. After leaving the war, he worked in Panama spying on Columbian Generals for the NSA, but left after his 4 years were up. In the subsequent years, he was greatly affected, and had many of the same symptoms that other men coming home from Vietnam experienced, but they tended to be more abstract. My mother reports him speaking about troop movements and “lines” and where bombs needed to be dropped in his nighttime terrors, where he would wake up and smash something or jump out of bed. I never knew this term and it really is a clarification for me, and something I may bring up with him in the future when asking him about his time.

Targeted Killings

“The phenomenon of targeted killing has been present throughout history. In modern times, targeted killings by States have been very restricted or, to the extent that they are not, any de facto policy has been unofficial and usually denied, and both the justification and the killings themselves have been cloaked in secrecy. When responsibility for illegal targeted killings could be credibly assigned, such killings have been condemned by the international community – including by other States alleged to practice them.” (Alston, 2010)

This quote came up twice in the readings, and is something I’ve read before in, paraphrased or stated differently. International Law, as is my understanding, has, in the latter half of the twentieth century (and earlier, as they mentioned Jefferson admonishing the practice) banned or highly discouraged Assassinations of individuals, particularly outside of wartime engagements. In Vietnam, assassinations were a tool of counterinsurgency, and operations like the Phoenix program saw to the removal of major political and military obstacles to the Vietcong’s defeat. This and other programs were subsequently brought under scrutiny and condemned by various voices after the war had concluded.

My point in bringing this up is to, as several of the longer publications in the “recommended” section elaborated on, point to the fact that this is not a new phenomenon as a practice; as an official procedure, despite official denials, it is quite new and unusual. This is part of a rather complicated, and probably naive, or at least incomplete, take that I have on assassinations and other extreme practices, like the “enhanced interrogations” of the Bush era.

Basically, these kinds of things had been practiced in the dark as long as there had been a “dark” side of governmental extra-state operations. I won’t attempt to nail down any specific historical markers, but the existence of intelligence agencies, and the understanding that one is essentially entering into an organization tasked with violating international law, brought about a world that was rather unanswerable to outside concerns like extra-judicial killings, stealing of foreign country’s state materials, and other practices. It was only in the 21st century that this sort of seemed to come out of the dark and become official policy, the idea being that if one were to actually institute it as part of an official program, essentially to “bureaucratize” it, meant that it would be carried out according to rules that were instituted and could be enforced by an Inspector General or other internal body, and/or Congressional Oversight committee et al. This is actually what I find most disturbing. The notion of a State carrying out an assassination is actually less bothersome to me were it to be handled in a more unofficial capacity, and were it to focus on those also “in the game” that is other foreign officers, established non-state actors etc. This might not be much of a distinction, but to me it always has been at least something to consider.

The difference between an officer on the ground making the decision to brutally interrogate somebody in a particular situation is less disturbing to me than an organized, “efficient,” and official program meant to somehow justify the behavior. I guess what I mean is that component of Justification. Justice is a loose term, and can mean a lot of things in a lot of different circumstances; Chomsky talks of a “higher Justice” in his famous debate with Foucault, and Foucault keeps after him, insisting that his reliance on a fundamental, transcendental, notion of Justice was a complicating factor in wanting a “better justice” to live by. In any case, my point in bringing that up is to say simply that Justice is always relative to the body establishing what is Just. In a vacuum, of the type that existed prior to the official (attempt at) codifying torture, it was not any more or less problematic to torture someone than it is now (obviously that program has been hampered, though I suspect and have read that it is largely just outsourced these days). But when a governing body establishes the legality of something, then all of a sudden there is an argument in terms of law and precedent, and the legal framework that underpins War and international relations becomes the terms on which you argue something that shouldn’t officially exist to begin with.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Justifying torture or assassination is not something that should be undergone to begin with. And if it is, can’t the international community of activists/politicians/diplomats/internal watchdogs, find a way of debating this outside of that framework, since it is, at the end of the day, not answerable to it anyway? (or so they say when asked about targeted killings etc.)

This is not to advocate for allowing secret killing and torture to occur, but rather to keep it small and precise and only between those clearly involved in a conflict. I’m parsing some issues here for the sake of stating a hypothetical but also because I feel sometimes we debate certain National Security issues as though we were having a civics class debate, when much of the National Security State is, by design, outside of civic responsibility or typical US guidelines. It makes for a catch 22 that I just can’t seem to get my head around. Regardless, I want to make it clear that I disapprove of targeted killings, but I especially disapprove to attempts to legitimize them. They can never be legitimate, because the world in which they are carried out is by its nature, illegitimate. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s more complicated than some Human Rights and Humanitarian concerns sometimes want to have it. Again, maybe I’m just being contrarian and missing the point.