If you’ve seen me speak in the past 15 years, you’ve seen a slide that looks something like this:
It was my adaptation of an ancient Chinese stratagem for the information age in which an adversary would use our infrastructures as weapons against us. I originally used it as a reference for information operations, but it turns out it was a good model for the attacks on September 11, 2001 as well. AQ terrorists could never have built missiles that could be delivered with the precision and explosive and incendiary impact as they achieved by hijacking commercial airliners.
In 2001, I also used the concept to promote a capability I’d started advertising in 2000 as an “Information Outcomes Cell” which proposed to use commercial IO capabilities as a replacement for U.S. military Computer Network Attack when our national leaders did not want to reveal “black” attack technologies. The premise was that any infrastructure that could be targeted with a conventional attack could be “taken down” by the Information Outcomes Cell. This would allow for the mission objective to be accomplished, but without revealing secret tools and allowing for the infrastructure to be rapidly reconstituted once friendly forces had control of the land domain. This addressed two critical issues in my opinion; 1) It helped overcome the hesitancy to use CNA because the target “wasn’t important enough” to reveal the equivalent of a zero day (e.g. shouldn’t use it in Iraq, because we can’t use it against more important targets later), and 2) it reduced the impact on the host country’s civilian population. They could be without power and telecommunications for months instead of years which would allow them to focus on building societal infrastructure like schools and hospitals.
I even went so far as to put together a Powerpoint deck and shop it around. Here is the ugly circa 2001 cover page:
Despite lots of vibrant discussion, the capability wasn’t utilized back then and others have consistently echoed the need. For example, see Mike Tanji’s Buccaneer.com. I won’t comment on whether we are any further along today.
Recently, I was listening to the audio book version of Tom Clancy’s most recent book “Threat Vector” and Clancy was describing the fictional office environment for the Chinese mastermind of the hacking attacks against the U.S. and other countries. What sign hangs on the wall as an inspiration for the Chinese attack team? The ancient Chinese stratagem “Kill with a borrowed sword”.