- Fearing it has slipped behind America
in an arms race involving secret weapons of the future, Russia is proposing
an international treaty to control "information warfare", an
invisible but deadly threat that could be used as effectively as missiles
- It may sound like science fiction, but
around the world military planners are acknowledging that "cyber warfare"
will play an important role in future conflicts. Not since the advent of
nuclear bombs half a century ago has the world confronted weapons with
such potential for altering the way in which warfare is waged.
- Already secret army research departments
in Russia and America are racing to perfect "logic bombs" and
computer viruses designed to create havoc in an enemy country by destroying
computer networks controlling weapons systems, financial transactions and
- Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister,
wrote to Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, last month warning
that the effect of information weapons "may be comparable to that
of weapons of mass destruction".
- In another development the Russians presented
a proposal for "international legal regimes to prohibit the development,
production or use of particularly dangerous forms of information weapons"
to the UN.
- According to Peter Feaver, an information
warfare expert at Duke University, North Carolina, the secrecy and lack
of official guidelines surrounding the research are reminiscent of America's
early years as a nuclear power "before the political leadership understood
what nuclear weapons could do". A military official once told him:
"If we waited around for political guidance, we wouldn't be able to
- The full extent of America's information
warfare capabilities is a closely guarded secret. According to some reports,
the American military has been developing ways of implanting "worm
viruses" in foreign computer networks to spread confusion. The Pentagon
fears that Russia, China, Iraq and Libya have similar programs.
- An announcement by President Bill Clinton
in May of measures to build ramparts against the threat of a "digital
Pearl Harbor" made no mention of America's capacity to conduct its
own attacks. But George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) has told Congress: "We're not asleep at the switch in this regard."
- He testified last year that information
warfare techniques were already being deployed in the battles against terrorism
and drugs. Computer hacker technology, he said, had been used to disrupt
international money transfers between Arab businessmen supporting suspected
- Clinton has pledged to make America safe
within five years from "asymmetrical" threats, a term used by
experts to describe the theoretical danger of a relatively weak and insignificant
adversary taking on - and defeating - a superpower with a few taps on a
laptop computer. America's extreme dependence on computer technology makes
it the most vulnerable nation on earth. At the same time, however, its
technological advantage renders traditional adversaries wary.
- Russian anxieties about being left behind
in the information weapons race have been heightened by reports that the
CIA has sabotaged some computer systems exported from America to the former
Soviet Union. This involved putting "bugs" in computers that
could be activated by CIA hackers thousands of miles away.
- The Russians are pressing for a UN debate
about information warfare, urging Annan to submit a report at the 54th
session of the general assembly next year.
- "We cannot permit the emergence
of a fundamentally new area of international confrontation, which may lead
to an escalation of the arms race based on the latest developments of the
scientific and technological revolution," Ivanov wrote to Annan.
- With its political instability, low military
morale and lack of resources, Russia is in no position to compete with
America in the field of high technology. It has already fallen behind in
tackling the "millennium bug", expected to cripple computer systems
at the start of the next century.
- Russia's ineffectiveness in making its
imported computer systems immune to the bug has raised fears in the White
House that the Kremlin might misinterpret any disruption over the millennium
as an information warfare attack and retaliate with nuclear weapons.
- A US defence department report earlier
this year described how an information warfare attack might unfold. It
starts with an unexplained power blackout in a large city. Telephone systems
across the country become paralysed. Freight and passenger trains collide.
Civilian air traffic control systems go haywire. Malfunctioning pipeline-flow
control mechanisms trigger oil refinery blasts.
- As alarm spreads, "logic bombs"
disable the financial system, disrupting money transfers and causing stocks
to plunge on world exchanges. Automatic teller machines randomly credit
or debit customers' accounts. Sensitive weapons systems malfunction.
- "[An] information war has no front
line," says the study. "Potential battlefields are anywhere."
- In a military exercise involving senior
Pentagon and intelligence officials last year, a scenario was mapped out
in which India and Pakistan were on the verge of using nuclear weapons.
- The participants were asked whether America
should interfere, using information warfare techniques to alter the capability
of both countries so that neither had a clear picture of the battlefield.
The debate was inconclusive.