cj#473> Nation/David Corn: Pentagon Trolls the Net (fwd)


Richard Moore

Date: Mon, 19 Feb 1996
To: •••@••.•••
Sender: Don Bass <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Pentagon on the net (fwd)

        This is about "lefties", those in the eyes of the Pentagon and
others. I have been reading on the net where NSA is "sniff" the net at
major hubs, routers, for key words. They have allegedly worked with major
software developers to plan this activity. This has appeared on Red-Rock
Eater a few days ago. Some are looking into the potential of calling NSA
on their violation of charter issues, since they are supposed to spy out
of the country only.
        The article is also about righties--fascists, militia.

        I want to thank David Corn for the article. Phil Agre does not
publish cmpyrighted material without permission; I hope forwarding your
good article is permitted. If not, let me know immediately.

Don Bass
Collee of the Mainland
Texas City, Texas

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 1996
From: Phil Agre <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Pentagon on the net

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The following is an article from The Nation magazine (March 4, 1996) that
reports on a Pentagon study on how the military can exploit the Internet.
The Pentagon paper suggests using the Internet for the routine interception
of global e-mail, for covert operations and propaganda campaigns, and for
tracking domestic political activity, particularly that of the left. The
article was written by David Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation. If
you have any comments or leads for follow-up stories, please contact him at


To subscribe to The Nation, a magazine of politics and culture, call

Pentagon Trolls the Net
By David Corn

 Internet users beware; Pentagon snoops are taking an interest in your
cyber-communications. Last summer, Charles Swett, a policy assistant in the
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and
Low-Intensity Conflict, produced a report  that assessed the intelligence
value of the Internet for the Defense Department. His study discovered the
obvious: By monitoring computer message traffic and alternative news sources
from around the world, the military might catch "early warning of impending
significant developments." Swett reports that the "Internet could also be
used offensively as an additional medium in psychological operations
campaigns and to help achieve unconventional warfare objectives." A striking
aspect of his study is that there is one sort of Internet user who attracts a
large amount of attention from Swett: cyber-smart lefties.

   The thirty-one-page, unclassified study is mostly cut and dry. Much of it
describes what the Internet is and what can be found within its infinite
confines. Swett lists various "fringe groups" that are exploiting the
Internet: the white-supremacist National Alliance, the Michigan Militia,
Earth First, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He
highlights MUFON--the Mutual UFO Network--which uses the Internet to
disseminate information on "U.S. military operations that members believe
relate to investigations and cover-ups of UFO-related incidents." MUFON
computer messages, Swett notes, "contain details on MUFON's efforts to
conduct surveillance of DoD installations." The report does not suggest that
the computer communications of MUFON and these other groups should be
targeted by the military--though X Filers will be forgiven for wondering if
something sinister is afoot.

   What Swett apparently finds of greater interest than MUFON and the "fringe
groups" is the online left. A significant portion of the report is devoted to
the San Francisco-based Institute for Global Communications, which operates
several computer networks, such as PeaceNet and EcoNet, that are used by
progressive activists. I.G.C. demonstrates, he writes, "the breadth of
DoD-relevant information available on the Internet." The paper refers to
I.G.C. conferences that might be considered noteworthy by the Pentagon,
including ones on anti-nuclear arms campaigns, the extreme right, social
change, and "multicultural, multi-racial news." Swett cites I.G.C. as the
home for "alternative news sources" that fill gaps in the mainstream media.
(It might be good for Pentagon analysts to read I.G.C. dispatches from
Holland's Peace Media Service.) Yet he seems to say that one can  also track
the left around the world by monitoring I.G.C.: "Although [I.G.C.] is clearly
a left-wing political organization, without actually joining I.G.C. and
reading its message traffic, it is difficult to assess the nature and extent
of its members' actual real-world activities."

 Swett's paper presents the world of opportunity awaiting a cyber-shrewd
military and intelligence establishment. The Pentagon and intelligence
services will conduct "routine monitoring of messages originating in other
countries" in the search for information on "developing security threats."
That means overseas e-mail, like overseas phonecalls, will be intercepted by
the electronic eavesdroppers of the National Security Agency or some other
outfit. The data will be fed into filtering computers and then, if it
contains any hot-button words, forwarded to the appropriate analyst.
"Networks of human sources with access to the Internet could be developed in
areas of security concern to the U.S." (But bureaucrats rest assured; "this
approach"--using computer-assisted spies--"could never replace official DoD
intelligence collection systems or services.") The Internet "can also serve
counterintelligence purposes" by identifying threats to the Pentagon and U.S.
intelligence activities. As an example, Swett refers to a message posted in a
discussion group for "left-wing political activists" that repeated an A.P.
article about an upcoming U.S. Army Special Operations Command training
exercise at an empty Miami Beach hotel.

 Another growth area is the dirty tracks department. Noting that government
officials, military officials, business people, and journalists all around
the world are online, Swett envisions "Psychological Operations" campaigns in
which U.S. propaganda could be rapidly disseminated to a wide audience. He
adds, "The U.S. might be able to employ the Internet offensively to help
achieve unconventional warfare objectives." Swett does not delve into details
on how the Internet could serve such a mission. But he tosses out one
possibility: communicating via the Internet with political and paramilitary
groups abroad that Washington wants to assist while "limiting the direct
political involvement of the United States." Imagine this: contras with

 Swett does point to a few potential problems. The Internet is chockful of
chit-chat of no intelligence value. Retrieving useful nuggets will require
monumental screening. He also predicts that one day video footage of military
operations will be captured by inexpensive, hand-held digital video cameras
operated by local individuals and then up-loaded to the Internet. Within
minutes, millions of people around the world will see for themselves what has
happened--which could lead to calls for action (or calls to terminate action)
before government leaders have had a chance to react and formulate a
position. Such a development, he observes, "will greatly add to the burden on
military commanders, whose actions will be subjected to an unprecedented
degree of scrutiny." And opponents of the Pentagon might try to exploit the
Internet for their own devilish ends: "If it became widely known that DoD
were monitoring Internet traffic for intelligence or counterintelligence
purposes,  individuals with personal agendas or political purposes in mind,
or who enjoy playing pranks, would deliberately enter false or misleading
messages." The study ends with a series of vague recommendations--all to be
carried out "only in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of the
law, and without violating the privacy of American citizens."

 The Swett paper is "refreshingly candid," says Steven Aftergood of the
Federation of American Scientists, who placed a copy of the document on the
FAS web site on government secrecy, where it is being downloaded about twenty
times a day (at http://www.fas.org/pub/gen/fas/sgp/.).  The I.G.C. staff is
amused by Swett's interest. "We must be doing something right," notes George
Gundrey, program coordinator of I.G.C.'s PeaceNet. "But it is interesting
that all of his [I.G.C.] examples are the most left-wing items [on the

 Swett's study is not the first of its kind. Under the rubric of "information
warfare," other Pentagon outfits and military contractors have studied how to
use computer networks to collect public information, disseminate propaganda,
politically destabilize other governments, and plant computer viruses into
the information systems of foes. (The latter task is particularly foolhardy.
Deploying viruses into cyber-space--even if targeted against an enemy--would
likely pose a danger to the United States, since this country is more
networked than any other.) But Swett's office--the Pentagon's dirty tricks
shop--is a newcomer to this scene, acoording to David Banisar, a policy
analyst for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Banisar's group has
been helping international human rights groups use encryption to protect
their global e-mai, "so the spooks don't listen in"

 It is natural that the national security gang will try to infiltrate and use
a communication medium like the Internet to its advantage. What is most
troubling about Swett's paper is its preoccupation with left-of-center
travelers in cyberspace and _domestic_ political activities. In the appendix,
Swett reproduces four examples of notable e-mail. One (written by progressive
activists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven) calls for 100 days of
protest in response to the Republican's Contract with America, another
announces plans for a demonstration at the 1996 G.O.P. convention in San
Diego, the third relays to lefties information on the U.S. Army exercise at
the Miami Beach hotel, and the last is a communique from the Zapatistas of
Mexico. Swett's use of these cyber dispatches can be explained one of two
ways. Either the left has made much more progress in cyber-organizing than
the right and "such fringe groups" as PETA, or Swett, true to institutional
tradition, is overwrought about the use of the Internet by a certain parties.
In any case, the would-be watchers in the defense establishment ought to be
watched closely--especially if Swett's report refelcts broader sentiment
within the Pentagon.


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