The archive is currently offline but you can view most of my tweets covering the MIT shooting, car jacking, and chase here. Scroll down to start at the beginning. Follow @BlogsOfWar for live updates about this case.
FBI Assists Boston Police Department Regarding Explosions Along Marathon Route and Elsewhere – The FBI has set-up 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), prompt #3, for anyone who has information, visual images, and/or details regarding the explosions along the Boston Marathon route and elsewhere. No piece of information or detail is too small.
Downtown Boston Remains a Crime Scene – Downtown streets that normally would be clogged at rush hour were largely deserted Tuesday except for a cold wind and a few runners out for a morning jog. “It’s very surreal,” said Mary Ollinger, 32, who works at Wentworth Institute of Technology. “The streets are empty and the Common is filled with media trucks.”
Boston Marathon Explosions: Revere Apartment Searched – Police and federal agents searched an apartment building on Ocean Avenue in nearby Revere late Monday night in connection with the bombings. Agents searched this complex for 9 hours after the marathon bombing. CBS News Senior Correspondent John Miller reported Tuesday morning the apartment search was related to a man who is reportedly under guard at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Miller reported the man is a Saudi national who is in the United States on a student visa. Police and federal officials exit an apartment complex in Revere with a possible connection to the earlier explosions during the Boston Marathon. Several bags were removed from the scene around 2 a.m. Tuesday, but authorities would not comment on the search.
Boston Marathon bombings: Security experts weigh in on potential culprits, motives – Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says the absence of intelligence might suggest the attacker is not affiliated with a larger terrorist group: “It may lead to the fact that this was not connected to a major jihadist organization. This might very well may have been a domestic terrorist or lone wolf, as you might want to describe it.”
Twitter and news: The canary down the mine – Twitter has often been touted as the “first with news”. From the miniscule to the massive. From Stephen Fry being stuck in a lift, to the Arab Spring rippling across North Africa, it is the instant source of a story, the first gurgle from a tap. The only way to find out what’s really happening, according to some. But I’m beginning to think that so-called truth is losing some of its polish.
Social Media Shapes Boston Bombings Response – Terrorism experts said the proliferation of photos and video on the web through social media might also help authorities identify the perpetrators of the attack. “All the media provides a tremendous asset for the forensic evaluation of the explosion event,” said Roman. “Authorities can start examining the pictures and tapes looking for individuals near the receptacles where the bombs were found and individuals not fitting the profile of the general spectator can be identified.”
Social media to the forefront in Boston – ‘Authorities have recognized that one [of] the first places people go in events like this is to social media, to see what the crowd is saying about what to do next. And today authorities went to Twitter and directed them to traditional media environments where authorities can present a clear calm picture of what to do next.’
Boston’s tweeters offer aid to marathon runners – Gestures as small as offering a drink of orange juice and use of a home bathroom were recounted on Twitter on Monday in an ongoing online recollection of the fellowship that emerged in the wake of Monday’s devastation.
Public Shaming – Minutes after the explosions, internet tough guys and girls were already pointing the blame and ready to kill.
Follow me on @Blogsofwar for continuous live updates of this story.
Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College. Prior to joining the faculty in 2009, she taught at The Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University and the School of International Service at American University. Dr. Johnson has spoken on topics related to military ethics across the services in the United States and at service schools abroad. She has published numerous articles and book chapters and is currently writing a book on emerging trends in military ethics. Her most recent work, “The Wizard of Oz Goes to War: Unmanned Systems in Counterinsurgency” is forthcoming in Strawser (ed.) Killing by Remote Control: The Ethics of an Unmanned Military. You can follow her on Twitter.
John Little: Let me start by saying that Blogs of War will never knowingly be the launching point for a leak of classified information – no matter how big the scoop. I consider protection of classified information to be a patriotic duty even if one is not directly tasked with that responsibility. At the same time it is impossible to ignore the fact that anyone who discusses or studies intelligence is able to do so, in large part, because of a long history of unauthorized disclosures. Once a story drops in a major publication the damage can’t be undone or minimized. The information is distributed too quickly and too widely. Given that, what responsibility do ordinary Americans, commentators, and journalists have after the initial disclosure?
Rebecca Johnson: I agree whole-heatedly that protection of classified information is everyone’s responsibility – even those who aren’t in direct government service. American lives and missions really are at stake, and it will be a cold day in hell before I do something I know could sacrifice either. I’m not persuaded by the argument that once information is leaked it’s too late to minimize damage. That may be true, but to me, it’s irrelevant. Journalists and government sources both have their own missions and motivations for what they do. I can’t do anything about what brings classified information into the public realm. I can – and must – accept responsibility for my own actions. That means my sharing of classified information (because even if it’s leaked, it’s still classified), puts me not only on the wrong side of the law, but on the wrong side of my duty to work to make the country more secure. People know I work in national security are more likely to take what I share as actual US policy. I think I have to be more careful than analysts who aren’t related to the government or regular private citizens. They might not read a specific story in the paper, but if I share what I consider to be the ‘important bits’, then I’m highlighting the potentially most damaging elements of the leak for anyone to see. I won’t do free work for enemies of the United States. I know they’re perfectly competent to identify the damaging parts of leaks themselves, but again, I’m not responsible for them. I’m only responsible for me.
Ordinary Americans have a responsibility as well. Everyone knows (but often forget) not to telegraph troop movements. Posting on Facebook that you can’t wait to see Tommy when he gets back from Afghanistan next week may not violate federal law, but it’s not the smartest thing to do. Americans also have a responsibility to be involved and communicate their opinions to the government. Here, I would simply caution that leaked classified information by definition gives only a very small part of the picture. Taking one leak and using it to indict some facet of US policy is shortsighted and sure to be inaccurate. Here, I would encourage folks to give a story time to develop, turn to a multitude of sources from different perspectives, and keep their eyes focused on what’s really important – the strength of the country, not scoring partisan or personal points.
John Little: But patience and careful consideration are in short supply. Is there a way to introduce a common ethical framework back into this arena (as opposed to a purely legal one) when it looks like the dysfunctional relationship between media and social media exhibited in the Sandy Hook School shooting is the new norm? The notion of personal responsibility doesn’t exactly appear to be on the rise either.
Rebecca Johnson: If they’re in short supply, then it’s probably a good idea to practice more! I just don’t buy this line of argument. The people working the issues are the ones generating the classified material to begin with; they don’t magically see it for the first time once it’s leaked (very often, at least!). It’s the public — and primarily those of us who work in this area, but maybe not a specific issue directly — who want to know what’s happening on the ‘high side’ and create a lot of the churn following a leak. I am a true believer in our particular system of democratic governance but I couldn’t care less about feeding personal egos or people’s desire to be ‘in the know’. There are times when people claim disclosure is in the name of democratic transparency, but what they really mean is that it’s in the name of advancing their particular agenda or sense of personal entitlement. Anyone who’s in this business to be the center of the ‘look what I know’ universe would be better served just staring in a mirror all day. It would be far more helpful for everyone.
I see Sandy Hook differently, primarily because we’re not talking about national security and classified information. It does, however, highlight both sides of social media – important information is shared quickly and efficiently, but the impulse people (not just journalists) have to be the one who shares the information first resulted in the wrong man being accused of a horrific crime in a very public, terribly painful way. Did he find out that he was accused of mass murder on twitter before or after he learned that his brother had killed his mom and 26 other people on Facebook? That is the very real cost of social media and citizen journalism. In terms of a common ethical framework, I would suggest the following (and I’m speaking here to your basic user of social media – I’ll leave journalism ethics to the professionals):
- Sourcing in everything. If you don’t know the credibility of a source, ask before you share. If that takes you extra time, oh well. If you’re not in a position to be breaking news, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re 15 minutes behind the curve. No one will remember you weren’t first out of the box tomorrow, and it could spare you from looking like a complete jackass if you share something that turns out to be wrong.
- Ask yourself what good would come from sharing a particular piece of information. If you’re just piling on, or potentially exposing someone’s (or the country’s) vulnerability, maybe don’t RT. When big stories break there is a group dynamic that takes over that motivates people to share more than they should. If you lack the judgment and impulse control to moderate what you share on social media, then really – REALLY – take the time to practice developing that skill. It will serve you well in life.
- Remember that no one really cares what you think anyway. You honestly don’t have to vocalize every single thing you know or suspect to be true. I’m active on social media, so I won’t pretend to be immune to this temptation, but there seems to be a sense in which people use social media to feed self-importance. Folks who follow me on twitter know I tweet all sorts of irrelevant nonsense. It’s actually intentional. I ain’t all that, and chances are, you ain’t either. Get over yourself. You don’t have to share what you know. You certainly don’t have to let yourself get caught up in a story as it’s developing if you lack the skills to moderate yourself effectively. Just stop.
- Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective? There are all sorts of baiters lurking on social media trying to draw people into saying something they shouldn’t. You don’t have to correct every knucklehead who gets a story wrong. Really. Work your issues and let stupid take care of stupid. It can be stomach churning to watch stories build in a direction I know to be wrong, but that’s life. People would do well to remember why they’re on social media to begin with and not let one-off distractions compromise their larger goals.
John Little: Lastly, do you think we are doing enough to prepare incoming public servants and soldiers with the burden that comes with having access to sensitive information in an environment that also encourages persistent personal broadcasting?
Rebecca Johnson: This is a great question. No. This is true of both PERSEC and OPSEC. Every day for a month I had Facebook recommend that I friend an individual whom I’ve never met but who serves in a Cabinet level position in the current administration. Finally I friended the individual (who — *sniff* — has yet to accept my friend request) and posted a courtesy message on my wall that whichever of my friends who knows the principal may want to have a gentle conversation about privacy settings. If this is the level of security for senior leaders, imagine the lack of preparation and accountability at more junior levels. I have found myself correcting my own students numerous times for PERSEC issues on social media, and my students are seasoned professionals.
In terms of OPSEC, most service members are pretty good at keeping quiet on things they shouldn’t discuss; here I would say the breakdown comes not in preparing people not to leak classified information, but in reminding people that there is a lot of open source material that still should not be shared – at least by them. Since DOD changed its policy on the use of social media, each of the services has adopted guidelines and operating procedures, but these tend to be communicated by Public Affairs Officers, rather than by commanders or small unit leaders. I’ve had the good fortune of working with leaders who embrace social media rather than run from it, and that definitely helps in building a culture of responsible social media engagement. Still, I know this isn’t the norm.
In the military, familiarity on the part of unit leaders with what social media is and the general common sense prudential rules for how to leverage it goes a long way to training subordinates in responsible practices. I’m not saying leaders should be monitoring their people’s twitter feeds; I’m saying that familiarity puts leaders in a better position to actually lead in this area. In civilian organizations (including DOD) where there is a mix of career public servants and political appointees, it can be harder to get everyone on the same page in terms of what’s appropriate to share. I’m less familiar with what individual agencies do to regulate social media use on the part of their employees, but I would suggest that the obligatory “these views do not represent” disclaimer people cram into their profile is not enough.
Banning or over-regulating the use of social media is obviously not the answer either; it’s a fact of life and has the ability to make us all better at what we do. For me, it comes down to responsible engagement. My boss likes to say that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason – so we will listen twice as much as we speak. When it comes to social media I’d push it even further. We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. We’d all do better to stay on receive mode and be judicious in when and why we shift into transmit.
Chloe Diggins & Clint Arizmendi are Research & Analysis Officers at the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre. The views expressed are their own and do not reflect those of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.
Warfare takes place across four domains: land, air, sea and space. Recently – in search of a comparative advantage over the enemy – cyberspace was included as the fifth domain. In the future, this will no longer be the case, the human mind will be the sixth and perhaps the only domain of warfare.
Current technologies are shaping our ability to not only influence, but also to penetrate the human mind. As such, warfare is moving into information spaces such as cyberspace, as well as into the mind itself – through the emerging technology of the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) as we recently argued on Wired. However, unlike the widely criticised COIN strategy, this is more than just winning hearts and minds. War in the sixth domain is about controlling the human mind, either by shaping emotional and cognitive responses, or by outright exploitation of man-machine technology. It is, in a sense, coercive persuasion through internal and external stimuli.
Sound like something from a science fiction movie? Perhaps; but the future is not as far away as we think. Information operations (IO) – the effort to inform and shape perceptions, attitudes, behaviours, and understanding through the circulation of information – have always been a pivotal part of warfare.
Traditionally, an IO campaign was based on targeted information filtered through one-way communication channels. However, the spread of online networking technologies and the digitalisation of global news media means that the public now has greater access than ever before to events happening across the world, and can engage with them in real-time. As a result, we are seeing an increased emphasis on real-time IO unfolding across interactive multimedia platforms as forces such as Israel and Hamas compete to influence the human mind and dominate both public and private information and communication spaces.
So far, real-time IO using online networking technologies have relied on sympathisers seeking out or reaffirming information amongst their like-minded community. This means they take an active role in accessing and receiving an IO message. In the sixth domain of warfare, this role will be more passive as recipients are delivered messages involuntarily. By harnessing the technology behind personalised advertising, combatants could implant ideas and messages directly into the minds of their targets, eliminating any potential barriers between sender and receiver.
Imagine impressionable targets waiting at a bus stop where high-definition cameras scan their faces, retrieve their biometric details (which, presumably have been linked through a number of online networking technologies) and subsequently deliver a customised message to a nearby digital advertising board. Or perhaps, using audio spotlight technology, combatants could target potential recruits by delivering a message inside their head – a message that no one else can hear. Each target would receive a personalised message that accounted for their gender, socio-economic status, political background, personal biases, and social network characteristics. In a world in which we are increasingly “plugged in”, this kind of personalisation is not nearly as farfetched as it sounds. These technologies are well and truly here, and it’s not inconceivable that they’ll be used as effective real-time IO tactics to influence what people think and feel about conflicts happening at home and abroad.
If future technologies will allow us to intensify IO campaigns to influence minds, what might such technologies mean for the manipulation of minds when we use it concurrently with BCI?
In August of this year, the 21st USENIX Security Symposium took place in Washington. In addition to the usual contemporary topics of interest to IT security professionals such as password protection and cyber-security education, there was one additional topic that has significant implications for the future of defence and national security: “The Brain”.
What was once the purview of futurists and conspiracy theorists has now become a startling reality – the creation of tools and methods to harness the power, thoughts and desires of the brain to undertake both simple and complex operations. With this new reality comes new dangers. Researchers at the Symposium demonstrated how easily the brain could be hacked for private and secret information using cheap accessible technology designed for video games and keyboards. Essentially, technology that has been developed to enhance our lives may prove to be one of our biggest liabilities as our understanding of the brain significantly increases, leading us to question what one blogger recently referred to as the need for neurosecurity.
Whether it is a human controlling a metal exoskeleton or monkeys controlling a robotic arm, the increased technological capacity for brains and computers to interact is an area for further exploration, and it holds implications for the future of warfare, especially if exploited.
Control of the sixth domain would effectively mean that domination of the enemy’s mind both externally (IO) and internally (BCI) is possible, thereby altering the individual into a mind-controlled weapon. The risks here – if successfully applied in a nefarious manner – are that such individuals would have the ability to kill, maim or sabotage without conscience, but no capacity to question the command to do so – even if it contravened the Law of War or the Rules of Engagement.
Clausewitz argued that the application or threat of violence was the most effective method of coercion. A successful combination of IO and BCI manipulation (the sixth domain) would reduce war to just phase zero, eliminating the necessity for traditional warfare across the former five domains.
Dr. Clint Arizmendi is a Research & Analysis Officer at the Land Warfare Studies Centre. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.
As the IDF and Hamas conflict unfolded, observers witnessed more than the world’s first ‘Twitter war’, they witnessed the widening of the conflict to include the participation of unsanctioned non-state cyber actors (UNCAs), who not only aided, but also interfered with – and obstructed – Israeli and Hamas operations in the name of hactivism. Are such hacktivists performing a public service, committing a crime, or have they crossed a cyber line into terrorism?
Aside from the traditional method of using kinetic force to shape the battlespace by way of precision strikes, the IDF also used a variety of social media platforms to simultaneously deter Hamas and reassure the global audience that terrorists were the only target. Techniques used range from live video of the killing of a high-ranking Hamas official to realtime tweeting of events as they unfolded. Likewise, Hamas disseminated video of a downed Israeli drone and evidence of their Iranian-made long-range rockets reaching Tel Aviv, thus highlighting the importance and significance of establishing – and sustaining – a ‘positive’ social presence.
The use of social media as a key element of information operations (IO) is not new – the US run Sabahi website in the Horn of Africa and the now controversial attempt by the US embassy in Cairo to de-escalate tension via Twitter during the attack in Libya serve as prime examples. For the IDF, presumably, the use of social media was a calculated strategy to prevent a repeat of the negative global press after their 2006 campaign.
As the conflict in Gaza shifted back-and-forth from the conventional and information realm to the cyber realm, the opportunity for UNCAs to influence the digital battlespace increased significantly, making it a particularly risky venture for both Israelis and Hamas. Here, UNCAs had a realtime effect on conflict, notably with regard to hacktivists such as The J35st3r and Anonymous – the former supporting Israel by disrupting Hamas websites and the latter supporting the Palestinians, having declared cyber-war on Israel.
While Israeli officials claim that only one of the 44 million cyber attacks on its government websites was successful during Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas, Anonymous claimed more than 600 successful cyber attacks against both public and private Israeli websites. As an unintended consequence of its attempt to use social media to shape the battlespace, Israel’s campaign against terrorism became more complex; they were simultaneously fighting a physical and IO war against Hamas and a cyber war against Anonymous.
Although Anonymous – as an UNCA collective – chose to support Hamas as an expression of humanitarian concern, Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by not only Israel, but also the EU, the USA, Canada, Japan and Jordan. Australia considers the military wing as such. The question now is whether Anonymous is also a terrorist organisation – or a supporter of a terrorist organisation – by association.
If Anonymous members who engaged in the ‘war’ against Israel reside in one of the countries listed above, then there is domestic terrorism legislation that can be brought to bear to regulate such behaviour. If however, they reside in a country such as Turkey, Norway or Russia, none of whom classify Hamas a terrorist organisation, then – at best – they are engaging in cyber crime.
The status of hacktivists engaging in such attacks can be considered analogous to the legal confusion surrounding the ‘combatant’ status of many Guantanamo Bay detainees. Are the Anonymous collective hacktivists, cyber combatants or criminals? Arguably, it depends from where they conduct their activities (assuming, of course, that this information can be determined).
Further complicating the matter is the potential for these ostensibly unsanctioned non-state cyber actors to be sponsored by the party that benefits from their activities. It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility for elements operating within the Anonymous collective to have received financial or technical support from Hamas or its supporters. Likewise, is it too much of a stretch that The J35st3r might be this century’s answer to the state-sponsored, deniable ‘black’ operatives of the Cold War?
Anonymous has formally recognised the Gaza ceasefire and declared mission success in Operation Israel, while Hamas has declared a national holiday of victory. Whether there is a way to actually measure the affect that Anonymous and The J35st3r had upon the conflict remains to be seen; however, one thing is for certain: the use of social media and the cyber realm for war represents the risk of direct external influence – if not obstruction – from UNCAs as they blur the lines between hactivism and terrorism.
Update from Blogs of War
@th3j35t3r, who describes himself as a “Hacktivist for good. Obstructing the lines of communication for terrorists, sympathizers, fixers, facilitators, oppressive regimes and other general bad guys” contacted Blogs of War on Twitter after this post was published. I am posting screenshots of his private feedback with his permission:
You can learn more on his blog.