Strategic Assessment: The Internet
Prepared by Mr. Charles Swett
Assistant for Strategic Assessment
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and
Room 2B525, the Pentagon 703-693-5208 17 July 1995
Note: The views expressed in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of the Department of Defense.
FAS Intro: The following paper reviews the actual and potential impact of the Internet on domestic and foreign politics and international conflict, from the point of view of a U.S. Department of Defense analyst. It is presented here by the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists.
STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT: THE INTERNET
The political process is moving onto the Internet. Both within the United States and internationally, individuals, interest groups, and even nations are using the Internet to find each other, discuss the issues, and further their political goals. The Internet has also played an important role in recent conflicts. As a result, overseas segments of the Internet can be a useful tool for DoD, both for gathering and for disseminating information. By monitoring public message traffic and alternative news sources from around the world, early warning of impending significant developments could be developed, in advance of more traditional means of indications and warning. Commentary placed on the Internet by observers on the scene of low-intensity conflicts overseas could be useful to U.S. policymaking. During larger scale conflicts, when other conventional channels are disrupted, the Internet can be the only available means of communication into and out of the affected areas. Internet messages originating within regions under authoritarian control could provide other useful intelligence. Public messages conveying information about the intent of overseas groups prone to disrupting U.S. military operations can provide important counterintelligence. The Internet could also be used offensively as an additional medium in psychological operations campaigns and to help achieve unconventional warfare objectives. Used creatively as an integral asset, the Internet can facilitate many DoD operations and activities.
In the last few years, the Internet has become a household word. After a long period of relative obscurity when it was solely the domain of technically oriented individuals, the Internet has burst onto the national scene and is playing an increasingly important role in an ever-widening spectrum of activities involving an exponentially increasing number of people. It is now in the mainstream. Having a tangible effect on in the social, cultural, economic, and political lives of millions, the evolution of the Internet is taking it into roles completely unanticipated by its original designers. Rather than merely “fitting in” to pre-existing social processes, the Internet is actually transforming the nature of the processes themselves.
The Internet has been increasingly involved in politics and international conflict. Local, state and national governments are establishing a presence on the Internet, both for disseminating information to the public and for receiving feedback from the public. Candidates for elective office are conducting debates over the Internet. Organizers of domestic and international political movements are using the Internet. It has played a key role in Desert Stomm, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the attempted coup in Russia, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and in the challenge to authoritarian controls in Iran, China, and other oppressive states. The Internet is playing an increasingly significant role in international security, a role that is potentially im portant to DoD.
The goals of this strategic assessment are to:
- Explain current general trends in the evolution of the Internet
- Analyze the role being played by the Internet in domestic and international politics and conflict
- Provide some relevant predictions about the future of the Internet
- Derive implications and recommendations for SO/LIC and for DoD in general.
The discussion in this assessment is non-technical. It is intended for audiences who are both familiar and unfamiliar with the Internet. Topics more relevant to social and commercial use of the Internet than to uses directly related to national security are provided in order to establish an appreciation for the broader importance of the Internet in the daily affairs of individuals and institutions, and its potential for reaching wide audiences.
The Internet is an enormous global network of computers. Often called a “network of networks,” it integrates thousands of dissimilar computer networks worldwide through the use of technical standards that enable all types of systems to interoperate. Individuals connected to the Internet using their desktop computers can perform the following functions (depending on the sophistication of the “host,” or local Internet node, to which they are connected for service):
- Exchange electronic mail, or e-mail, with any other user at any location
- Participate in offline (i.e., not current simultaneous) discussions via e-mail with large groups of individuals interested in particular topics, using “mailing lists” and “News Groups”
- Participate in online (i.e., real-time, or current) discussions with large groups of individuals using the “Internet Relay Chat” function
- Log on to remote computer sites worldwide using the Telnet function
- Download files from remote sites and users and upload files to remote sites and users via the FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, function (the files can be text, graphics, sound. or video)
- Read complex documents composed using “Hypertext” (clicking on a highlighted phrase on the screen takes the user into another domain, e.g., clicking on the word “Anthropology” creates a new screen or menu devoted to that subject), allowing hierarchial or “non-linear” structuring of documents. The components of a single hypertext document can be multiple files residing in host computers anywhere on the worldwide net; a standard protocol fetches the desired component from its home location and presents it transparently to the user, who is unaware of the underlying processes.
- Read “multimedia” documents, resident at “World Wide Web” sites, consisting of text, graphics, sound, and video, using an intelligent front-end program such as Mosaic.
There is no central authority managing the Internet. Participation is on a voluntary and cooperative basis, requiring only that technical standards be followed to establish a presence on the net. The Internet Society in Fairfax, Virginia plays an integrating role and sets technical standards. Funding for the communication links is provided partly by governments (e.g., the U.S. National Science Foundation has been funding the national high-speed backbone) and partly by non-governmental institutions such as universities and corporations.
Although it is difficult to obtain accurate estimates, it is believed that currently there are approximately twenty million individuals worldwide with access to the Internet. Projections indicate that approximately one hundred million will have access by the year 2,000. The following factors are fueling this vast increase:
- User friendly – Improvements in technology, replacing arcane operating system commands understandable only by computer experts with user-friendly, icon-based, “point-and-click” interfaces, allowing non-technical individuals to become highly sophisticated users.
- Universal access – Proliferation of commercial Internet access providers offering online connections from virtually any location over telephone lines
- Lower cost -Substantial reductions in the cost of access, making it affordable by a large segment of the population
- Increased benefits – Large increases in the volume of information available over the Internet that is useful or entertaining
- Convenience – the ability for any individual to easily and inexpensively exchange e-mail with any other individual
- Cost-effectiveness – use of the Internet to realize low-cost improvements in business operations
- Momentum – Increases in the size of the net-wide audience attracting additional information providers and businesses seeking markets, causing a spiraling effect
- Prestige – Encouragement by the Clinton Administration Mystique
A Bulletin Board System (BBS) is a personal computer running sophisticated but inexpensive software, to which people with their own computers can connect over a phone line. Generally available 24 hours a day, a BBS allows callers to read, reply to, and originate e-mail, read text files (bulletins), and exchange other kinds of files such as computer programs and graphics. Virtually anyone, including high school students, can set up and operate a BBS. International e-mail networks linking BBS’s worldwide have developed, through which local callers can exchange messages with others of similar interests around the globe. There are roughly fifty thousand BBS’s in the U.S., and the number is increasing rapidly.
A BBS generally has a specific theme, such as ham radio, fishing, religion, or computer games. Numerous BBS’s have political themes. In the Washington area, there is a BBS run for the NRA providing anti-gun control information, a BBS for the “Christian Right,” a BBS providing conservative critiques of alleged liberal bias in the news media (“AIM Net,” for Accuracy in Media), BBS’s supporting gay rights and women’s rights, and various others. Anyone can write a manifesto or other political material and place it online using a BBS, making it available to a wide audience. BBS’s are slowly connecting to the Internet. This trend is slow because most BBS’s are run by individuals as a hobby at their own expense, and the cost of connecting a BBS to the Internet is still relatively high. However, even standalone BBS’s have many of the same functions as the Internet, and their political role can be similar.
One important trend is the growth in the proportion of professionals having personal e-mail addresses on the Internet. Increasingly, business cards include not just voice and fax phone numbers, but Internet addresses. This trend is so strong that many professionals now assume that their counterparts have an Internet address to which they can send e-mail. Rather than considering an Internet address to be a luxury, not having one is coming to be viewed as a handicap, comparable to not having a fax. Individuals and organizations without Internet access increasingly risk being left out of important discussions and processes taking place via the Internet.
The internal use of e-mail within organizations, by putting all personnel in direct contact with each other regardless of organizational rank, has tended to “flatten the pyramid,” i.e., functionally change the organization to a certain extent from a hierarchial one to a horizontal one. There have been reports of this occurring even within a military organization.Along with the individuals who have Internet addresses comes their own expertise. Millions of experts in various fields, from medicine to plumbing, conduct business over the Internet and use if for recreation and information exchange, making available a vast potential storehouse of specialized knowledge. In the experience of the author, much of this knowledge is available for the asking.
Commercial online databases containing every form of information imaginable are now accessible (mostly for a fee) via the Internet. “Open source intelligence” originates largely from these databases. Public library catalogs, including the one belonging to the Library of Congress, are available for free over the Internet.
Increasingly, authors of magazine and newspaper articles include their Internet addresses in their bylines, allowing readers to contact them directly to provide their reactions or ask for additional information.
Federal, state, and local governments are establishing a presence on the Internet. Dozens of Federal agencies provide public information online. These agencies are all reachable through a service in Virginia called Fedlink. Fedlink acts as a gateway through which the general online public can reach any agency’s system. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs has just implemented a World Wide Web service containing current and historical news releases, daily summaries, press advisories, transcripts, and contracts. Information on this service flows one way, however, from DoD to callers. Provision has not been made to accept feedback from callers. OSD C3I is building its own”World Wide Web server,” an Internet computer that provid es graphics-based information publicly over the Internet. This server will provide OSD organizational information and an online version of the Early Bird.
Local governments are increasingly establishing “Freenets,” which are online information services open to the public. These services provide local government documents and news, and are a medium for discussions among callers about local issues. Internet users interested in particular subjects participate in “conferences” devoted to those subjects. These conferences are collections of messages embodying extended discussions about those subjects. Currently, there are roughly ten thousand conferences available on the Internet in various forms. Conferences exist for virtually every subject known to man. On these conferences, one can find unique expertise, experience, information, and sources of advice unavailable elsewhere so conveniently and at suc h low cost. Some of the most energetic types of conferences are those devoted to current events and political debate. At any time, there is an enormous volume of discussion about the news of the day. Opinions span the entire political spectrum, from far left to far right, and originate in many nations. Whenever an important event occurs, such as a national election or a major conflict, even a natural disaster, there is an almost “deafening roar” of responses on the Internet. Participants in the international conferences include journalists, professors, political analysts, and politicians.
Internet conferences provide a unique medium for interpersonal communication on a massive scale.
“Usenet (one of the Internet’s conferencing systems) is a place for conversation or publication, like a giant coffeehouse with a thousand rooms; it is also a worldwide digital version of the Speaker’s Comer in London’s Hyde Park, an unedited collection of letters to the editor, a floating flea market, a huge vanity publisher, and a coalition of every odd special-interest group in the world. It is a mass medium because any piece of information put onto the Net has a potential worldwide reach of millions.” [Rheingold] Many of the issues addressed in these conferences focus on current military operations in which DoD is involved. Often, incorrect statements of fact, misrepresentations of the U.S. position, and gross distortions of situations are made, which is not surprising. However, the vast size of the audience for these misstatements amplifies the magnitude of their effect on public opinion.
In global terms, Americans are by far the heaviest users of the Internet, and the proportion of American homes with personal computers and modems is increasing quickly. Internet use in Europe is less prevalent but still significant, and is increasing rapidly. In the undeveloped world, particularly in some of the very nations where some future conflicts are likely to occur, few individuals other than government officials, business persons, educators, and some professionals have access to the Internet. However, all South American nations and about two-thirds of all African nations have at least some Internet connectivity.”[Fineman] There is an international project whose goal is to spread the Internet to the undeveloped world, but progress is likely to be slow.
The threat from “hackers” and computer viruses is always present. Internet security is one of the greatest concerns of organizations using it, particularly the Department of Defense. Malicious tampering with government computers could seriously disrupt various operations if sufficient countermeasures are not built in. A strategy called ”firewalls” has been developed, whereby a second computer (a firewall) is placed between an organization’s own computer and the Internet communication lines, to help control access and prevent “break-ins.” It has recently been found that even a triple firewall architecture has been successfully penetrated by hackers.
With respect to viruses, there is a kind of arms race spiral, whereby anti-virus software writers improve their software to protect against a newly discovered type of virus, the virus writers respond by creating a new virus that can circumvent that new protection, and so on.
The Internet and Domestic U.S. Politics
The Clinton Administration has embraced the Internet as a means of direct political communication with the electorate. Using the President’s e-mail address, email@example.com, anyone with access to the Internet can send a message to the President’s staff. Some 5,000 e-mail messages come into the White House every week. Interns read every message, tally them by issue and by opinion expressed, and send a standard response. This is part of a relatively sophisticated political strategy: “To a certain group of techno-literate staffers at the White House… the Net is not just a mechanism for receiving mail. It is emerging as a full-blown forum for conducting the country’s political affairs. While the vast majority of the public gets its dose of political information from television and newspapers, the citizens of the Net are plugged directly into their government. On a daily basis, subscribers to America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy, as well as other denizens of the Internet can download and read a stack of new policy papers, speeches, and transcripts of conversations put out by dozens of departments within the Clinton Administration. In the past, only reporters and lobbyists saw these documents… White House staffers tend to view the Net as a ballast against the out-of-control mass media and Washington press corps. And they believe the public is sympathetic – that there is as much anger against the media as there is against government… By… establishing a growing presence on the Net, the Clinton administration is making a pitched effort to perform an end run around the media. Not surprisingly, the inside-the-beltway press corps does not like the idea of giving up its role as the filter through which the public sees its government. “[Schwartz]
The White House actually uses the content of all this e-mail:
“…e-mail is all neatly stored on the White House computer network where staffers can search by keywords such as ‘health care,’ ‘crime,’ ‘Persian Gulf,’ and so on. That enables staffers to instantly measure which issues are foremost on people’s minds” [Schwartz]
They see interaction with the public via the Internet as a positive force:
“Jonathan ‘Jock’ Gill, a former Lotus Development Corp. manager who now works in the Office of Media Affairs, is heaped up about using technology to cut through the thick fog of cynicism in America. He believes that the Net can greatly expand the ‘idea space’ in which public discourse happens. Instead of watching a few talking heads on TV, citizens can sit at their computers and engage in two-way conversations with each other and with government officials….Gill’s goal is to ‘give everyone in government a name, a face, and a contact point.’ The reason the public seems disconnected from government in recent years, he says, is that it has grown beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen.[Schwartz]
This direct, two-way interaction between the pinnacle of the Federal government and ordinary citizens is highly significant. The bypassing of congressional representation, the poll takers, and the news media tends to counteract any distortions or filtering that those entities might have otherwise added. This is probably the first time this phenomenon has occurred on any appreciable scale in the history of the nation. If it continues to grow over the long term, it can fundamentally alter the political process. However, future Administrations may not put so much emphasis on this mechanism.
It is not only the American public that uses the Internet to communicate with the White House. On February 4, 1994, Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt sent an e-mail message to President Clinton, the first head of state to do so:
“Dear Bill: Apart from testing this connection on the global Internet system, I want to congratulate you on your decision to end the trade embargo on Vietnam. I am planning to go to Vietnam in April and will certainly use the occasion to take up the question of the MIAs… Sweden is – as you know – one of the leading countries in the world in the field of telecommunications, and it is only appropriate that we should be among the first to use the Internet for political contacts and communications around the globe. Yours, Carl.”[Schwartz]
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has established a program to make electronic versions of all draft legislation available on the Internet. This will allow the subset of the electorate who has Internet access to evaluate it for themselves, and will allow them to make highly informed inputs to their representatives in Congress. It will also place those without access in a relatively weaker political position, because they will generally not be able to know the details or independently ascertain their significance. The theme of the Internet as a threat to the established mass media is a common one in the recent literature.
“‘The important trend,’ messaged Michael Newman… on the WELL (an online information service), ‘is technology abetting the grassroots distribution of information rather than the information being the domain of huge institutions to dole out according to their agendas. The “many-to-many” model is going to eat the “few-to-many” model alive.’ (Newman) is right on the button. For generations, the leading newspapers have served as the nation’s information gate-keepers, deciding which of the many millions of news stories will move through the gate and out into the country. Armed with relatively inexpensive technology, millions of Americans are now finding that they don’t need the gatekeepers any more. For the first time, they’re free to pick and choose their own stories and share their own responses. They tap into electronic wire services at will, call up expanded versions of news stories that interest them, then tell one another directly of their political aspirations or cultural passions. The bulletin boards not only carry news and forge communities, they shape values and public opinion without help from the gatekeepers – those who have always told us what information was important and what we should think about it. The shift in control is already evident in the journalistic confusion that results when talk radio and TV force Zoe Baird from a cabinet nomination or make a contender of Ross Perot, when a president ignores the White House press corps to communicate through town meetings… For journalists, such interaction (as occurs online) means surrendering control and sharing power, things that journalists are trained not to do. Although individual reporters struggle to hear from and respond to readers and viewers, journalism is not user-friendly. Its institutional structure is hostile to people who want to communicate with its practitioners or argue about its content. Reporters rarely answer directly to consumers and constituents in the way they expect politicians to. Most media organizations believe they know better than their constituents what’s good and proper for them.”[Katz]
“The importance of today’s passive mass media is likely to diminish greatly over the coming decades. Passive media will be replaced by a new type of interactive multimedia, characterized by highly specialized media outlets often described as ‘information agents. “‘ [Snider]
Many newspapers and magazines are timid about going online. Others, believing that they had better go online to retain their relevance, are finding for the first time in their entire history that they are subject to strong, serious criticism:
“In a media conference on CompuServe, AOL (America Online), (or) the Well, journalists are repeatedly challenged by non-journalists. People ask – and are told – how editing decisions were made, question why stores were left out, point out errors, disagree with conclusions… Time (magazine)’s online effort is intensely interactive, generating more than 2 million online visits in its first eight months. Editors and writers regularly make online appearances for drubbings by displeased readers who want to go a few rounds about gun control or women priests… Time’s online message boards contain some of the most vigorous democratic debate on social issues in any modern medium… More importantly, users sense that Time, hardly a bastion of populist journalism, is changing as a result, becoming a bit less aloof, more in touch. It turns out that communicating with readers, like getting a needle, is scary, but it doesn’t hurt all that much and is actually good for you.” [Katz]
Another popular concept is “electronic democracy,” whereby American citizens can become more influential participants in their government’s decisions by making their views known via the Internet:
“‘Electronic democracy’ is inspired by two overlapping dislikes- of bureaucrats and of politicians – and by two ideas for making these groups more likeable. The first conjures up a world where the grumpy civil servant behind a counter is replaced by an easy-to-follow screen that makes all the government’s information available at the touch of a button. The second idea wants to make politicians as answerable and accessible to their constituents as Pericles was to the tiny Athenian democracy.” [Economist]
“The promise is that the average citizen will provide more input and have a greater impact on the decisions of government. Through… electronic mail and bulletin boards, and instant feedback mechanisms, government officials can know more clearly what their constituents want… Instant knowledge of decision-makers’ actions with the opportunity for instant feedback from angry constituents would necessitate backbone implants for many of our politicians before tough decisions get made.”[Varn]
Some advocates of electronic democracy envision online elections and referendums:
“Clearly, the new technology facilitates new forms of voting and thus direct participation. For example, instead of physically going to the polls, people could vote from their homes. With more-convenient and less-expensive voting, people could be expected to vote more frequently and on more issues. Ballot referendums and polls could proliferate.”[Snider]
Other observers are more skeptical:
“We’ll be in trouble if politicians cannot resist the movement to let people vote on individual issues electronically. Unless Americans can gain a lot more leisure, they just don’t have time to do their homework. That’s why we elect politicians to attend to our business. If we don’t like the way they are doing their jobs, we toss them out of office. I’m skeptical of people who think the whole country could be run like the Internet. Voting on the creations of a new newsgroup isn’t quite the same as voting on the death penalty or abortion laws. The effects are a little more permanent.”[Internet Unleashed]
Still others fear the potential for Big Brother types of control of the political process:
“Policy-makers… will ratchet up their sophistication in manipulating the perceptions of their actions. Data bases of information on constituents can be used to target information and manipulate opinions.”[Varn]
“How do we know that our computer vote is secret? Perhaps it’s stored on a disk alongside our name… A government or a civilian computer hacker might rewrite an election for money, political motives, or a lark.”[Bacard] “The Net that is a marvelous later al network can also be used as a kind of invisible yet inescapable cage. The idea of malevolent political leaders with their hands on the controls of a Net raises fear of a more direct assault on liberties.”[Rheingold]
The Internet has already played in important role in several local elections. In these elections, the candidates were essentially forced online and put under the spotlight of determined questioning by voters. In another episode,
“…organizers on the Net don’t need vast hordes to be effective. One of the first potent (cyber)tribes was gathered… by a software developer from Washington State. Browsing political (discussions) on the Internet… Richard Hartman last summer found an instant -and national – fellowship that shared his dislike for his congressman, the then-Speaker Tom Foley. Within weeks a “De-Foley-ate Congress” campaign had used the Net and commercial online services to find supporters and donors. Foley might have lost anyway, but news of Hartrnan’s effort helped spread the notion of the Speaker’s vulnerability -and brought help from national Republicans.”[Fineman]
Many other political activists have discovered the utility of the Internet for sharing information and organizing their activities. For example,
“LatinoNet, a non-profit advocacy group based in San Francisco, has created a service on America Online to help Latino organizations cooperate and lobby government officials. The open service, called LatinoNet, was praised by Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. With LatinoNet up and running, we may soon see additional networks for ethnic lobbyists, such as Serbo-CroatNet, SlovakNet or BelarusNet.”Washington Technology]
One activist has actually published advice for online political activists, in the form of ten “Rules,” summarized below
- “Rule One: Decide what issues are worthy of your time.”
- “Rule Two: Don’t automatically assume you must work within a traditional group.”
- “Rule Three: Be realistic about the possibility of payback.”
- “Rule Four: Know how to scout the Internet effectively – and where to post your own messages.”
- “Rule Five: Don’t be intrusive or otherwise boorish.”
- “Rule Six: Write for the medium.”
- “Rule Seven: Tell the truth.”
- “Rule Eight: Turn flaming (insulting postings) to your advantage.”
- “Rule Nine: Provide a way for people to take action.”
- “Rule Ten: Don’t forget to communicate with the media – and the policy makers.” [Internet Unleashed]
The ability via the Internet to efficiently reach large numbers of individuals who are potential political actors plays to the strengths of special interest groups and political action committees. The Internet is thus highly attractive to activists who value a populist approach as opposed to a republican approach that emphasizes electing representatives and influencing their positions. Examples of online political activism abound: “Even before NRA-ILA’s Gun Talk (an electronic bulletin board system run by the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action) came online, the importance of rapid communication was illustrated last September, when word that Handgun Control, Inc., had scheduled ‘Free the Brady Bill’ press conferences was spread throughout the United States by pro-rights computer bulletin boards. Second Amendment activists worked feverishly over the weekend to mobilize our forces. In city after city, when the press conferences began, the anti-gun forces found themselves outnumbered by pro-rights citizens who had decided to attend a public event. In one city, the state senator who had volunteered to host the pro-Brady press conference observed the large crowd of pro-rights citizens and announced that he thought the Brady bill wouldn’t do any good.”[Kopel]
“When it looked as if the Colorado Springs city council was going to make a decision that would effectively prohibit telecommuting from his home in nearby Old Colorado™ City, (David)® Hughes went into action. ‘The city planners of Colorado Springs decided to tighten the ordinance that regulates working out of the home,’ Hughes recalls. ‘I was the only person to stand up in front of the planning commission and testify against the ordinance; the planners tabled the matter for thirty days. I then brought the text of the ordinance home with me and put it on my BBS.’ Hughes sent letters to the editors of his two local papers, inviting people to dial into his BBS and read the ordinance. Two hundred and fifty callers above the normal traffic level for his BBS called within the next ten days. What Hughes did not realize at the time was that many of those callers worked in large high-tech plants, and they downloaded, printed, copied, and circulated hundreds of copies of the ordinance throughout the city. At the next city council meeting, more than 175 citizens, representing every part of the political spectrum, showed up to protest the ordinance. It was defeated. Hughes pointed out that ‘ordinarily, the effort needed to get involved with local politics is enormous. But the economy of effort that computers provided made it possible for me to mobilize opinion.”‘[Rheingold]
Another, somewhat startling, example, is a message posted on the Internet on December 16, 1994, calling for nationwide protests against the Republican Party’s Contract with America. The message accuses the Contract with America of being, in effect, class war, race war, gender war, and generational war, and urges recipients to “mobilize thousands of demonstrations in local communities across the nation,” “fill the jails by engaging in acts of civil disobedience,” and engage in other disruptive actions (see Appendix A for the full text of the message). Yet another example is a message posted on the same date entitled, “Protest: GOP ’96,” which begins the process of organizing mass protests against the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. The message states (see Appendix B for full text): “With the GOP’s historical opposition to women’s equality, Lesbian & Gay civil rights, and freedom of choice, and with the party’s support for Prop 187, insensitivity to environmental issues, and hawkish pro-war stances, the possibilities for expressing popular dissent against Republican policies are virtually endless. For that reason, a local committee is forming to help facilitate the largest number of protests and demonstrations for the broadest range of issues possible… Called Protest: GOP ’96, the committee seeks to serve as a local point of contact for organizations from across the country intending to demonstrate during the GOP Convention in August of 1996.”
Various fringe groups are beginning to exploit the Internet. These include:
- “The National Alliance, a white supremacist organization that circulated a missive on the Internet last month exhorting people to oppose welfare mothers, homosexuals, Jews, illegal aliens and ‘minority parasites”‘
- “The Gay Agenda Resistance, ‘dedicated to the struggle against the sexual deviancy forces,’ tells users they can aid the anti-gay struggle ‘by distributing our files far and wide through cyberspace”‘
- “The Michigan Militia Corps, a private group that is training to combat what it sees as an inevitable takeover by federal armed forces
- “The National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws“
- “Earth First, a loosely affiliated group of environmental extremists”
- “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is preparing an online foray to promote its militant approach to animal rights.”[Sandberg]
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Fringe groups are increasingly going online, gathering converts and seeking validation on the Internet. The network’s far-flung links and low-cost communications are a boon to backwater groups that can’t afford to use direct mail to make their pitches… The more a group is shut out of the mainstream, the more likely it is to go online… The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which monitors hate groups… has tracked about 250 hate groups in the U.S. and says 50 or more communicate online. Other experts believe the number is considerably higher.”[Sandberg]
Still other kinds of interest groups have moved online. Groups of conspiracy theorists exchange e-mail explaining their often bizarre theories about conspiracies conducted by the U.S. government in general and DoD in particular. A much better organized group, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), has its own computer network with agateway to the Internet. Much of the traffic on this network refers to U.S. military operations that members believe relate to investigations and cover-ups of UFO-related incidents, and other messages contain details on MUFON’s efforts to conduct surveillance of DoD installations and to obtain information on UFOs that they believe exists in classified form.
The relatively more advanced role being played by the Internet in domestic U.S. politics provides a glimpse of what may happen in other nations in the future. Their different political systems, however, may change the precise nature of the Internet’s role from what it is in the U.S., but its energizing effect is likely to be universal.
Numerous commentators and activists believe that the Internet will increasingly play a catalytic role in international affairs: “We are moving into an era in which political decisions in a number of areas are going to become supra-national in character. And we are no longer going to be able to allow the intervention of the age-old doctrine of state sovereignty to interfere with certain imperatives… and I think the Internet, being the one great system that links all of the various information technologies and services around the world, is the likely theater – a great, global theater – in which many changes can be brought into being and new ideas can be exchanged… Right now I am very interested in using the Internet, and the technique of electronic petitioning, to strengthen the United Nations… I am also interested in developing a world court, not like the one that currently exists, but a world court of public opinion that people would have recourse to. You would, in effect, be taking an electronic poll throughout cyberspace and using that medium to assemble opinion and then publicize and propagate the results so that they would find their way into the other media around the world and be acknowledged as representing an important segment of world public opinion. In addition, I believe with the Internet we could build a kind of political early warning system. Back when we fought the Cold War, we had an early warning system, with sensors and monitors from one end of Canada to the other, warning us of the approach of missiles from the Soviet Union. With the Internet, we could erect warning stations around the world, so that before a situation developed, like the one on Rwanda, we would know that trouble was brewing, that one tribe was threatening to annihilate another.(emphasis added)” (former U.S. Presidential candidate John Anderson)[Long]
“…if the resources available on the Internet – the deeper sense of other people’s lives and kinds of information that will be theirs to examine and explore – if these things work on and strengthen the imaginations of those who use them – well, then you have something that can have great significance for the cause of world peace. Because, you see, a key to compassion and the urge to moral action is the ability to imagine someone else’s life and circumstances and how it feels to be that person in those circumstances of war, famine, or imprisonment or political oppression.” (Father Andrew Greeley) [Long]
“The advent of global networking is fragmenting and re-sorting society into what one author calls ‘virtual communities.’ Instead of being bound by location, groups of people can now meet in cyberspace, the noncorporeal world existing between two linked computers.”[Cooke, Lehrer]
“Access to alternate forms of information and, most important, the power to reach others with your own alternatives to the official view of events, are, by their nature, political phenomena. Changes in forms and degrees of access to information are indicators of changes in forms and degrees of power among different groups. The reach of the Net, like the reach of television, extends to the urbanized parts of the entire world (and, increasingly, to far-flung but telecom-linked rural outposts). Not only can each node rebroadcast or originate content to the rest of the Net, but even the puniest computers can process that content in a variety of ways after it comes in to the home node from the Net and before it goes out again.”[Rheingold]
“The development of communications technologies has vastly transformed the capacity of global civil society to build coalitions and networks. In times past, communication transaction clusters formed among nation-states, colonial empires, regional economies and alliances – for example, medieval Europe, the Arab World, China and Japan, West African kingdoms, the Caribbean slave and sugar economies. Today new and equally powerful forces have emerged on the world stage – the rain forest protection movement, the human rights movement, the campaign against the arms trade, alternative news agencies, and planetary computer networks.” (quoted in [Rheingold])
The Internet has been playing an increasingly important role in international politics. One highly significant effect of Internet use overseas has been to circumvent the informational controls imposed by authoritarian regimes on their citizens: “Undeniably, cyberspace has great subversive potential. The Internet gives individuals publishing power hitherto undreamed of. You can write a book, or a manifesto, and distribute it, free, to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. In theory, all national censorship and control becomes obsolete, so long as telephone communication exists.”[Jenkins]
This is more than just potential. In Asia, for example, according to the Wall Street Journal,
“The Internet is giving Asians a heady dose of free expression, providing a conduit for everything from racy pictures to heated political debate. In a region where controls on the press and other limits on freedom of expression are common, the global network of computer networks has become a platform for Asians to criticize their governments… an engineering student… in Thailand… says the Internet is filling a void. ‘Since the Internet can offer unlimited access to the rest of the world from one’s own living room, it is the only means so far to get around the government control…’ And that access is apparently available to an ever- wider audience….the number of computers connected to the Internet (in Asia) rose 62% between January and July (1994), compared with 38% in the U.S. …Asia now has more than 110,000 computers connected to the Internet.”[Sandberg]
“Many people use computers to search for and bond with sympathetic ‘neighbors.’ For example, the Chinese students at Tiananmen Square and the Russian democrats during the Moscow coup used computer networks to communicate with kindred spirits around the world. The Chinese and Russian autocrats knew how to censor radio, TV, and the print media; however, they could not shut down the computer networks.”[Bacard]
“Russians have added incentives for getting online: e-mail is a more dependable medium than either phone calls or faxes in their country, since error-correcting PC modems can usually deliver messages intact despite the hissing and crackling of poor telephone lines… As a result, electronic bulletin boards and commercial online services are sprouting regularly in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other urban areas.”[unattributed article]
“The Internet is the censor’s biggest challenge and the tyrant’s worst nightmare… Unbeknown to their governments, people in China, Iraq and Iran, among other countries, are freely communicating with people all over the world.”[Rolling Stone]
“Authoritarian countries are hesitating before allowing their people access to this technology. I know it is being discussed at the highest levels in Vietnam. Government officials are nervous that people are going to use the Internet to push certain programs and issues and values that the Vietnamese government, which wants to stay in charge, doesn’t want..”[Long]
In addition, the Internet has played in important role in recent and ongoing conflicts. For example: “During the siege of Sarajevo, the war-torn citizens of that city were prisoners in their own homes. They risked their lives just to buy food or find fuel to heat their apartments. They also were isolated: phone calls didn’t go through; letters went undelivered. But a lucky few found another way to send messages to their families and friends. With one computer and a single phone line, more than 150 people were able to send electronic mail out of Sarajevo in one three-month period.”[Long]
“I was told by an acquaintance in Moscow about how he was picked up by the police on the day of the attack on their Parliament in December, 1991. It was a time of chaos, and apparently the police were using this as an excuse – this man was a left-wing dissident not looked on too kindly by the people in power. (He had organized something called the Labor Party and had been elected to the Moscow City Council.) He and some others were taken to a local police station and beaten up badly. A prisoner – a racketeer – who was about to be let out, wanted to help them and asked them for the phone numbers of their families. After his release, the racketeer contacted their wives, who then contacted an organization with an Internet connection. The organization put a message, a call for help, out on the Internet. In no time phone calls started coming in – people calling from places like Japan – saying, ‘We hear you have so-and-so in jail, and we are worried about him,’ and shortly thereafter, the men were released and the police apologized to them. This man says the Internet saved his life.” [Long]
(Excerpt from Internet e-mail originating in Moscow during the attempted coup) “I’ve seen the tanks with my own eyes. I hope we’ll be able to communicate during the next few days. Communists cannot rape the Mother Russia once again!… Don’t worry, we’re ok, though frightened and angry. Moscow is full of tanks and military machines – I hate them. They try to close all mass media, they stopped CNN an hour ago, and Soviet TV transmits opera and old movies… Now we transmit information enough to put us in prison for the rest of our life… maybe you’d write me what do they say on your (American) TV about the situation, as we can’t watch CNN now… You can’t even imagine how grateful we are for your help and support during this terrible time l The best thing is to know that we aren’t alone… Don’t worry; the only danger for us is if they catch and arrest us, as we are sitting at home and distributing all the information we have… Thanks Heaven, these cretins (KGB) don’t consider us mass media! Please stop flooding the only narrow channel with bogus messages with silly questions. Note that it’s neither a toy nor a means to reach your relatives or friends. We need the bandwidth to help organize the resistance (emphasis added). Really good news. Right now we’re listening to Radio Russia (without any jamming); they told that the eight left Moscow, no one knows where…” [Press]
“During the coup in Moscow, the information posted to (the Internet) was used by Voice of America and CNN and (indirectly) by some other Western broadcasters and newspapers.”[Rheingold]
“During the Gulf War, we on the WELL (an online information service) were spellbound readers of reports relayed via (Internet) by an Israeli researcher, who was in a sealed room with his family, under missile attack. We asked him questions in the WELL’s many-to-many public conference, that were sent to him, and his answers returned, via Internet e-mail.”[Rhe