Written by Grace Agnew [sources]


Boundaries and concepts of statehood are increasingly blurred as a single highway crosses all borders and brings all countries into the same cyber neighborhood. According to the U.S. Commission on National Security /21st Century, "the first century of the coming millennium may be remembered as that in which humanity achieved the potential, if not the reality, of full connectedness in real time. We will witness … the death of distance." (1) The Commission further asserts, as the information superhighway enables the exchange of ideas and commerce across the globe, that countries will unify under single monetary systems, as commerce, law, even culture and society become transnational in nature. The Commission notes in its report, New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century, that "some [analysts] suggest that the principle of state sovereignty itself, and of the state system, is wasting away." (2)

A new form of terrorism, inherently transnational in character-information warfare or cyber terrorism-emerged at the end of the 20th century and will probably grow in frequency and importance alongside its enabling technology, the Internet itself. Information warfare brings its own rules and its own possibilities and can't be managed and defended against in the same manner as traditional weapons-the gun and the bomb. Information warfare breaks or strains the rules of conventional antiterrorist activities. Even U.S. allies don't agree on what constitutes a cyber crime. Nor is the identity of the cyber criminal clear-cut. As Blaine Burnham, Director of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center notes, cyber terrorism currently lacks a fundamental aspect of other terrorist activities: a body count. (3) Cyber terrorism therefore frequently seems like a victimless crime-and even, when the perpetrators are teenagers, like a youthful prank. States and organized substate groups can take advantage of the diverse amateur hacker population to hide their own identities and culpability behind the activities of their amateur "volunteers." Unlike most terrorist activities, where weapons must be assembled illegally and in secrecy at some expense of money, time and effort, the only requirements for cyber terrorism are a computer and a phone line. In industrial states, therefore, almost anyone has the potential to be a cyber terrorist. The concept of "us" versus "them" has blurred to invisibility.

Responses to cyber terrorism will require international cooperation for deterrence and detection, and possibly global accountability in international tribunals, a further diminishing of sovereignty in an interconnected world. The forms of cyber terrorism are as varied as the uses of computers in daily life. Cyber terrorism encompasses attacks on computers and infrastructure but also electronic espionage, communication between terrorists and terrorist groups via email and online chat, as well as web and email-based propaganda and fund raising.

Arquilla, Ronfeldt, and Zanini, in their RAND study Networks, Netwar and Information-Age Terrorism, identified three primary goals behind 20th century terrorist activities, which will continue to operate in the next millennium: 1. a "weapon of the weak" for asymmetrical attacks, by states or substate groups, against a state perceived to have overwhelming defensive weapons; 2. "a way to assert identity and command attention …"I bomb, therefore I am" ; and 3. "a way to achieve a new future order by willfully wrecking the present." (4) At the start of the new millennium, terrorist groups with agendas responding to all three goals are perpetrating fewer attacks--but attacks of increasing sophistication and lethality. Currently, the United States stands alone as the only superpower capable of imposing its will on others and is thus a large and vulnerable target for asymmetric attack. China, however, is a growing world power. Some analysts assert that "China's economy could overtake that of the United States as the world's largest in absolute terms by 2020." (5)

Arquilla, Ronfeldt and Zanini also identified significant changes in the ways terrorist groups coalesce and cooperate at the end of the 20th Century, as they adapt to the changing mores and capabilities of the information age. Terrorist organizations are changing from the disciplined hierarchical structures that rose and flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, frequently under the control of a charismatic leader such as Yasser Arafat, to loose coalitions of individuals and groups who discover each other and communicate through an array of information channels. These coalitions tend to erupt in a loosely coordinated attack, or a group of synchronized attacks converging on a target from multiple directions, in a technique the authors call "swarming." (6).

They identify three types of networks-1. chain networks, in which information and activities are handed off from one end of the network to the other; 2. the star or hub network where one node coordinates or controls the activities of other dispersed nodes and 3. the all channel network, a collaborative effort where every group is connected to each other, performing more or less equally and frequently in concert. The all channel network requires multiple information channels that saturate the network to perform effectively but contains perhaps the most potential for damage and disruption, particularly when united by a strongly shared belief. Examples include the many Arab Afghan terrorist groups and individuals loosely coalesced around Usama bin Laden, who are united by Islamic religious beliefs and a hatred of the United States, as well as the Christian Identity and white supremacist groups in the United States, who share some racist beliefs and a basic distrust of the United States government.

The Internet provides the capability and the tools for groups with a common agenda or belief system to coalesce around an event, an individual or an activity, to act in concert against a target in the swarming activity defined by Arquilla, Ronfeldt and Zanini. Groups can also unite to provide support activities, such as fund raising, hiding fugitives, or even disruptive, diversionary tactics, making response to terrorism and accountability for terrorist activities difficult.

The authors contend that "whoever masters the network form first and best will gain major advantages." (7). They recommend interdepartmental coalitions that cut across all levels of government as well as the private and commercial sectors to successfully respond to terrorist "netwar" at the start of the 21st century.