Noortje Marres

Information Macht Krieg

The emergence of electronic information war as a chance to marginalise the armed forces: this thought stands central in the review below. Reasoning from the idea that in order to carry out InfoWar, the military must act in civilian information space, I believed in November 1998 that civilian parties were able to resist such a militarisation of 'their media.' Stronger still, I concluded then that these parties were capable of attacking the hegemony of the military mentality (destruction and defence/suspense, sabotage and secrecy). Now it is April 1999, and this assessment seems ridiculous.

Amid all the concerns, criticism and embracing of Realkrieg called up by nato's Kosovo offensive, this observation appears: the fact that the military exercises its influence in the civilian media does not necessarily mean civilian parties can resist that influence. On the contrary. Western coverage is dominated by nato's rhetoric of humanitarian intervention - presented as an undertaking motivated by ethical-social concerns and not power politics. And in that light, the struggle for existence, charity, and information consumption (critical or otherwise) seem the only relevant civilian initiatives. At the moment it is unlikely that critical voices will come together in an anti-military campaign. But even aside from the propaganda issue, the choice for an open, non-hostile form of communication against military influence now appears in a different light. Milosevic's destruction machine, and nato's as well, make civilians' choice of a peaceful media strategy irrelevant to a certain extent. It has been law for millennia: whoever rules the battlefield (armed forces and political commanders-in-chief) rules the land. Yet that choice, as the only enduring one, remains important. That is why this article about InfoWar, however out of place, is being printed the way it was written in November 1998.

At 10:00 on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1998, military experts, media theorists, net activists, scientists and journalists enter a room in the Brucknerhaus in Linz. Ars Electronica, the annual festival for Art, Technology and Society, has invited them to take positions for the next two days on the battlefield of the information war. Whether things at the symposium actually came down to a confrontation, I do not know. I was not there. But I can say that the word 'war' can be taken literally. The people in Linz really meant it: one-quarter of the speakers was directly involved in the national defence policy and Ars Electronica's InfoWar website:, links to the Pentagon, InfoSecurity News, the College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research, and Education, and the Air Power Journal.

Infowar is a term hyped by the us Department of Defense (dod) for defensive and offensive operations in information space, from everyday surveillance practices to catastrophic attacks on military, economic, political and social networks. Against its usual policy of secrecy, the military launched the new strategy in the media with surprisingly little reserve. The slogan is good for spectacle and sensation, and you might wonder if you really want to take Ars Electronica seriously. Since its inception in 1979 the festival has grown into an established player, as a list of affiliated companies attests: among this year's sponsors were Hewlett Packard Austria, Microsoft Austria, and Silicon Graphics Austria. Employees of Disney, Atari, Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, and Interval Inc. sat on the Prix Ars Electronica jury (responsible for the artistic portion of the festival). Why does Ars Electronica, which can definitely call itself a paragon of peaceful co-operation, choose war as its theme? During the InfoWar net symposium, where a reasonably lively discussion took place in the months around the festival, that question was repeatedly raised. ^^^^ It seems somewhat facile, outdated and counterproductive to carry out the discussion about technology and society under the threatening, oh-so-imposing standard of the American armed forces.

Everywhere or Nowhere

In our efforts to battle terrorism, cyber-attacks and biological weapons, all of us must be extremely aggressive, Bill Clinton said on May 22, 1998. If Washington is concerned with it, then there must be a case for it. The anthology published in connection with the InfoWar symposium opens with Cyberwar is Coming! (1991) (, by John Aquilla and David Ronfeldt, both affiliated with the Pentagon think tank the rand Corporation. The article serves as a central point of reference for the InfoWar debate, in this collection as well as elsewhere. The goal of InfoWar is the structural disorganisation of enemy communication systems. The target can be a state, but also a non-governmental organisation. The same holds for the aggressor. Thus InfoWar plays out in society. Every point in the network can serve as an attack base or target. A second characteristic of the InfoWar is invisibility: the moment at which information changes into disinformation can pass by completely unnoticed. InfoWar is everywhere, and likely without our knowing it.

Fortunately, InfoWar turns out to be an extremely elastic concept. The collection's writers - 26 men, two women - take advantage of its chameleon character and apply the term to the most diverse conflict situations. Governments, multinationals, media and civilian collectives are constantly locked in info-battle. At stake is not so much good old sovereignty, but market shares, organisation principles and worldviews. Everything is InfoWar. And to make things even more complicated, at the same time InfoWar means hardly anything. Aquilla and Ronfeldt declare that the emergence of a new kind of war is convenient for the postponement of looming defence cuts. The InfoWar illusion is further dismantled in a contribution by Chris Gray, author of Postmodern War, The New Politics of Confict (1997), a clear, sharp study of the present, past and future of high-tech warfare. He contends that the American armed forces entered a crisis of legitimacy after the Cold War. And business took over its pioneering role in the field of technological innovation besides. To save military ai research, which was devouring billions but all too often ending in blunders, the dod set up an advertising campaign:'' InfoWar Is Coming!


Don't believe the hype? The temptation to see InfoWar as nothing more than an empty formula cools with the realisation that doing so strips the opposition, the subversive actions of disobedient citizens, of credibility. The dod may be hyping InfoWar, but hackers and their supporters have been shouting about something like it for years. On the other hand, believing in InfoWar calls up a vision of a cyber-race based on mistrust in which states, companies and ngos keep on expanding their arsenals of info-weapons. An impasse? The collection's writers don't buy it. In a company of journalists, theorists, military and activists, everyone expects the enemy to be breathing down one's neck, and everyone feels called upon to take a position. This is decidedly a merit of the editing. But that's not to say that those positions link up with each other either. The collection offers a series of ingredients which in combination can lead to deadly boring stalemates with everyone beating a big drum but no one hearing anything. But they can also lead to tasty confrontations between the competing project developers of cyberspace. How the discussion in Linz went, I cannot say with certainty, but I can envision two scenarios.

Game 1: Rock 'n' Ruin

''Es schien daß man sich mit einem chicen, dem Zeitgeist entsprechenden Thema schmücken wollte, jedem echten Risiko aber dadurch aus dem Weg geht, daß die schützende Glaswand des Monitors zwischen sich selbst und die realen Gefahrenzonen gebracht wurde.

''armin medosch
, 'Report from the Front, Ars Electronica 98,' de:Bug, 16.10.98.

Manuel De Landa

''We must not see the proliferation of military methods and techniques in society as a totally new stage in Western history. The military and civilian life (family + work) have influenced each other continually in past centuries. The railways, for instance, were built with the help of military engineers.


Friedrich Kittler

''What is new about InfoWar is that espionage, communication, and war-simulations come together in a global computer network. From that moment on information is a weapon in itself and combat penetrates social life. This does not mean the public can join the fight, but that the computer industry appropriates the war, trampling over the users!


Douglas Rushkoff

''We must refuse mass participation in the information war. The big players have turned the Internet from a communication medium into an information medium (from two- to one-way traffic) and we would be crazy to go along with that. Let business fight the Info Arms Race themselves, and let us concern ourselves with communication.


Geert Lovink

''What we need are small-scale counter-psy-ops against the dominant media.


Paul Virilio

''Media-tycoons call the shots in politics these days (the election of Berlusconi in Italy is a sign of what is going to happen in the rest of Europe and in the us). It means that every enduring form of collective resistance from now on rests on an illusion, since teletechnology - the pre-eminent media weapon - makes remembering impossible and thereby the sharing of thoughts.


Igor Nicolaevich Panarin (national security expert in service of the President of the Russian Federation)

Governments' actions are decisive in ''InfoWar. To prevent the situation from escalating, states will have to join forces and develop an info-psychological security system under un leadership, in other words provide public opinion with a solid foundation.


Michael Wilson (infrastructural warfare field operations professional, advisor to states and multinationals)

''We have a word for pacifists: losers. A winner, by contrast, has the following cognitive tool set: InfoWar revolves around the management of infrastructures. Everything and everyone is dependent on infrastructure; it is simultaneously weapon, target and spoils of war. As soon as you see this, you can participate. After all, everyone has a pc.


Game 2: Baby, you're out of time

''Fantasy or reality? Pretty much all the speakers at the symposium agreed that that, too, is InfoWar: another definition of war in which the home front gets a new interpretation.

herman asselberghs, 'Past the Information War Metaphor,' De Financieel-Economische Tijd'', 19.9.98

Manuel De Landa

''We must not see the proliferation of military methods and techniques in society as a totally new stage in Western history. The military and civilian life (family + work) have influenced each other continually in past centuries. The railways, for instance, were built with the help of military engineers.


Gerfried Stocker (artistic director of the festival)

''We have reached a historic breaking point in the past few decades: today's society makes wars of destruction unlikely. Precisely because of the spread of originally military ict, mass destruction is no longer a desirable option for most economic and political parties. In a global infrastructure it's to no one's advantage if nodes fall away. The point is not to take out the other, but acquiring and controlling the knowledge he has.


Patrice Riemens

''In the information society the deciding factor is who has knowledge and who doesn't. Companies and governments try to keep control of the production and distribution of knowledge in all possible ways (the advancement of hierarchy). But this has also called forth a counter-movement. Hackers promote a different organisation principle: they demand open knowledge systems (radical democracy). It's time we recognise who our allies are!


Chris Hables Gray

It remains to be seen to what degree the American armed forces will be able to control civil networks. Defence develops its strategies in the supposition that systems can be imposed on information streams. But information moves too quickly and too chaotically to be simply managed. The army lacks the capacity to see ''InfoWar in the context of an extremely changeable society.


Ute Bernardt (information technology assessment expert)

''InfoWar will shut down networks and cripple society. That's why it is of utmost importance that the hegemony of the army in cyberspace is prevented. Military and civil interests are at odds with each other. So the stupidest thing we could do is let defence solve the problem of the vulnerability of networks. The development of alternative concepts of vulnerability reduction is the first task of a civil defence brigade. For starters, publicising security standards would help to prevent surprises.


Shen Weiguang (member of the Financial Committee of China's National People's Congress)

''An authority should arise soon to determine the territorial boundaries of cyberspace. The military is by far the most suitable candidate. It will have to become proficient in information theory.


George J. Stein (head of the department of Future Conflict Studies at the usaf Air War College)

''War is something that plays out between states; civilian activities have nothing to do with it. Cyber-actions by teenagers or swindlers are simply criminal and must be dealt with by the law.



Whoever determines the rules of the game also determines the outcome. I let the first game end in the inertia of the established order. The players become isolated and the Info Arms Race is checked by no one. In the second game the civilian party successfully explores new survival strategies. It discovers its potential for power and the various authorities, as they should, stand tongue-tied. For both games a single rule holds: if players adopt military and corporate definitions of InfoWar without bastardising them, things go wrong; if civilian players formulate in their own terms how ict has changed and can change the distribution of power in society, things may turn out all right.

Why this rule? If we want cyberspace to continue to display democratic potential, resistance to its militarisation will have to come from the civilian sphere. In this respect it doesn't seem an effective move to me to adopt the definitions of the military and sow panic about the impending InfoWar, as do Virilio and Kittler, for example. Patrice Riemens, Chris Gray, and Ute Bernard at least seek guidelines for counter-movements. Guidelines that don't go along with the definition of 'opponent' as defence sees it. They show why the advance of the military in cyberspace, in light of the social landscape it presents, is not suitable nor desirable, and describe ways to stop that advance.

In this they fill an urgent need. On October 17, 1998, the European Union member states announced that they had made an agreement with the fbi in 1995 to tap all forms of data communication in Europe, under the name eu-fbi surveillance plan.

( The news is on page 8 of the Dutch newspaper in the international section. For a Dutch paper such news is from faraway, has only indirectly to do with us. In a way it's right about that. In Europe InfoWar is scarcely an issue. Here, national armed forces specialise in peace operations. And as far as the European armed forces are concerned, a lot will have to happen before they will concern themselves with InfoWar. The Western European Union (weu), it is true, was chosen at the end of October by Tony Blair to supply the eu with a solid military framework, but it is now just a dormant boys' club without its own server (the weu housed its e-mail accounts with Hotmail and Skynet). In this context it's obvious that the American military-industrial complex will determine the rules for cyberspace. Insofar as we will be able to speak of a war in cyberspace, it will pass Europe largely by.

Another reason for the introduction of InfoWar into the public discussion is Kosovo. While Serbia pulled back some of its troops under the watchful eye of journalists and nato observers, Milosevic decided to ban Radio Index broadcasts as well as publication of daily newspapers Danas, Dnevni Telegraf and Nasa Borba (Arsenije Jovanov in the net symposium). nato concluded from these contradictory pieces of news that the best thing it could do was wait. Europe did nothing. If the crisis in Kosovo had been called an InfoWar, would we still not know how to interpret these signals? Ars Electronica's choice of themes is not as outdated and counterproductive as it seemed at first glance. InfoWar has abundant external points of reference.

In Postmodern War Chris Gray tells of a cyber-wargame staged by the Pentagon in 1995. The enemy (Muslim fundamentalists who hire Euro-hackers) uses viruses to crash trains, airplanes and banks, and finally forces the us to its knees when the telephone network too goes under. A participant remarked, This was not something carpet-bombing was going to solve. Naturally the armed forces interprets this as a stimulus to look for a digital version, and of course we can shudder at the thought of that. But maybe carpet bombing's best days are behind it, and the military will have to give up its role as gamemaster. One of the pillars of the military-industrial complex is weakening and another form of combat will become decisive in a civilian society.

translation laura martz



gerfried stocker, christine schöpf ^^
(eds.) Infowar Wien, New York 1998

gerfried stocker, christine schöpf

(eds.) Infowar, information.macht.krieg Wien, New York 1998

hannes leopoldseder, christine schöpf (eds.) Cyberarts, International Compendium Prix Ars Electronica Wien, New York 1998

chris hables gray Postmodern War, The New Politics of Conflict London 1997