[iwar] Interesting article...

From: Fred Cohen (fc@all.net)
Date: 2001-06-22 05:58:53

Return-Path: <sentto-279987-1362-993214736-fc=all.net@returns.onelist.com>
Delivered-To: fc@all.net
Received: from by localhost with POP3 (fetchmail-5.1.0) for fc@localhost (single-drop); Fri, 22 Jun 2001 05:59:07 -0700 (PDT)
Received: (qmail 6531 invoked by uid 510); 22 Jun 2001 12:00:40 -0000
Received: from f19.egroups.com ( by with SMTP; 22 Jun 2001 12:00:40 -0000
X-eGroups-Return: sentto-279987-1362-993214736-fc=all.net@returns.onelist.com
Received: from [] by f19.egroups.com with NNFMP; 22 Jun 2001 12:58:56 -0000
X-Sender: fc@big.all.net
X-Apparently-To: iwar@onelist.com
Received: (EGP: mail-7_1_3); 22 Jun 2001 12:58:55 -0000
Received: (qmail 28144 invoked from network); 22 Jun 2001 12:58:54 -0000
Received: from unknown ( by l8.egroups.com with QMQP; 22 Jun 2001 12:58:54 -0000
Received: from unknown (HELO big.all.net) ( by mta1 with SMTP; 22 Jun 2001 12:58:54 -0000
Received: (from fc@localhost) by big.all.net (8.9.3/8.7.3) id FAA18404 for iwar@onelist.com; Fri, 22 Jun 2001 05:58:53 -0700
Message-Id: <200106221258.FAA18404@big.all.net>
To: iwar@onelist.com (Information Warfare Mailing List)
Organization: I'm not allowed to say
X-Mailer: don't even ask
X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.5 PL1]
From: Fred Cohen <fc@all.net>
Mailing-List: list iwar@yahoogroups.com; contact iwar-owner@yahoogroups.com
Delivered-To: mailing list iwar@yahoogroups.com
Precedence: bulk
List-Unsubscribe: <mailto:iwar-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001 05:58:53 -0700 (PDT)
Reply-To: iwar@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [iwar] Interesting article...
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit


USA Today as DoD cyber-war propaganda mouthpiece
By Thomas C Greene in Washington
Posted: 21/06/2001 at 17:23 GMT

Anyone seeking advanced tuition in passing off government propaganda as
news ought to consult USA Today columnist Andrea Stone's recent item
entitled "Cyberspace: The next battlefield" for an exhaustive
master-class in exactly what not to do if one entertains hopes of
pulling the wool over their readers' eyes on behalf of the State. 

So crude is Stone's work here that it unintentionally recommends itself
for pedagogical use thus:

Confluence of interest 

First off, it's generally wise to avoid quoting exclusively those people
who maintain a vested interest in the very thesis one's 'news item'
promotes.  This practice tends to tip off readers to one's partiality,
and should be discouraged. 

In Stone's case, the thesis is that evil hacking masterminds in Russia,
North Korea, Iraq, Libya, Cuba, Israel and China are poised to cripple
all of Christendom at any second with the click of a mouse. 

In support of this, Stone foolishly limits her sources to US Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who likes the idea of diverting public funds
to cyber defense (hey, it's not his money); Clinton Administration
Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, who made a career of terrifying
anyone who would listen of an "electronic Pearl Harbor" which remains
forever just around the corner; Congressional Research Service defense
analyst Steven Hildreth, who needs something to analyze to keep his job;
National Defense University instructor Dan Kuehl, who likewise needs
something to teach; US Army Major General Dave Bryan, who needs someone
to fight; and iDefense CEO James Adams, whose vast pocketbook feeds
rapaciously off the hacker hysteria of all the above, and who needs your
support so their budgets will continue to accommodate his ambitions. 

And no one else. 

Now, the smart way to go about persuading readers of this improbable
nonsense would be to quote the relevant government apparatchiks and
opportunistic defense-contracting plutocrats in such a way as to appear
impartial while subtly privileging their message. 

This can be accomplished by interviewing a number of opponents as well,
and then filtering all the quotes in a clever manner.  For example, one
might arrange the source material in two columns on a note pad: Column A
with a series of quotes from the people one wants readers to take
seriously; Column B with a series of quotes from nay-saying critics one
wants dismissed out of hand. 

One needs only re-arrange the Column A material in descending order of
rationality and the Column B material in ascending order of rationality,
and then run the top three or four items from both. 

See how easy that is? All normal human beings naturally say both smart
things and stupid things whenever they open their mouths, so you simply
run the smart things said by the ones you want believed, and the stupid
things said by those you don't.  Malicious journalism 101 so far as
we're concerned, but too advanced for Andrea Stone.  Yet quite

Talk the walk 

Whenever one resorts to technical or professional jargon in a government
press release masquerading as a news item like Stone's cyberwar exposi,
it's advisable to have at least a general notion of what it all means. 

Furthermore, in a lowbrow publication like USA Today it's desirable to
include a four-color pie chart laying it all out graphically for the
blockheads in the audience, whose dependable lack of imagination spares
its publishers from bankruptcy; but even this level of intellectual
condescension necessitates a rudimentary command of the underlying

Stone errs by underestimating the intelligence of the USA Today
enthusiast with technical expressions which even the slowest of wit will
detect are tossed about with self-consciousness and uncertainty.  A
glance at her roundup of the 'tech stuff' tells us all we need to know:

Analysts say the US arsenal likely includes malevolent "Trojan horse"
viruses, benign-looking codes that can be inserted surreptitiously into
an adversary's computer network.  They include:

 Logic bombs. Malicious codes that can be triggered on command. 

 Worms. Programs that reproduce themselves and cause networks to overload. 

 Sniffers. "Eavesdropping" programs that can monitor and steal data in a network. 

A nice try, but it won't quite do.  The explanations are about as opaque
to the uninitiated as the phrases themselves.  Someone hasn't done their
homework, and we don't have to know what she's talking about to sense
that she doesn't know what she's talking about. 

A quick Google session would have turned up all she'd care to know about
Trojans and logic bombs and worms and sniffers, and the (sometimes
subtle) distinctions among them; but apparently that's too much to ask. 
She would have learned, and might have mentioned with some appealing,
self-effacing rhetoric, that "logic bomb" is the name of a musical act
and a Nintendo game, as well as a predictable nick for many a Usenet

The smart propagandist will draw a lesson from this: familiarity with necessary jargon
(whether real or affected) lends an air of authority much desired when rubbish is to
be propagated. And mistaking people with low levels of educational achievement for
ones with low levels of basic intelligence and common sense is a tempting, but
always fatal, error. 

The art of understatement 

It's a cardinal rule of public lying that propaganda works only when the
intended victim fails to perceive it as such.  Most government
propaganda uses fear as a means of motivating the populace to
accommodate its agenda; thus the clever propagandist masquerading as a
journalist needs to master the fine art of threat understatement. 

It simply won't do to issue grandiose warnings.  People tend to
challenge them mentally, and if there's absolutely nothing behind them
-- a condition assumed for all government propaganda -- they end up in
the mental scrap-heap occupied by such things as sugar overdosing,
"Waterworld" and Nancy Sinatra. 

It's always far better to understate the danger, and let the reader's
imagination unconsciously draw the government's scary conclusion, which
you have been paid to promote. 

Here's Stone's highly educational example of how not to go about it: 

 "An adversary could use these same viruses to launch a digital
 blitzkrieg against the United States.  It might send a worm to shut down
 the electric grid in Chicago and air-traffic-control operations in
 Atlanta, a logic bomb to open the floodgates of the Hoover Dam and a
 sniffer to gain access to the funds-transfer networks of the Federal

We were delighted by 'send a worm to shut down the electric grid in
Chicago' as it seems to have a very clever literary backbone to it,
regardless of its dorkiness. 

	O Rose, thou art sick! 
	The invisible worm 
	That flies in the night, 
	In the howling storm, 

	Has found out thy bed 
	Of crimson joy: 
	And his dark secret love 
	Does thy life destroy. 

   -- William Blake 

Great stuff there, but we rather think it's a coincidence. 
Nevertheless, the clever propagandist should employ literary allusion,
as it transfers the authority of work the reader likely respects onto
your own drivel, thereby ennobling it to some degree. 

In any case, the grotesque overstatements of opening the flood gates of
one of the world's largest dams and crippling one of its largest cities
backfire for poor Stone; and not even the Rose allusion (assuming it was
conscious) can save her. 

To have done it right, she might have written something like "release a
worm in the night, to find unwary victims," which is a fair statement
that would allow the Blake to work subtly on the reader's imagination. 


Now, for Heaven's sake, make sure your propaganda piece either contains
some actual news, or at least appears to.  Remember, the government is
paying you good money for it, and they deserve a decent product in
return.  So if you can't come up with anything new, at least find an
angle, a twist, an insight, that comes across as unique. 

Again, a quick Google session would have led Stone to thousands of
similar articles stretching back years, to which she could have applied
a bit of imagination and ingenuity and happened upon a detail which the
others missed, and which she could have used as a hook. 

Unfortunately, Stone does nothing but reiterate verbatim the same, tired
message that Richard Clarke, John Hamre, Michael Vatis, Louis Freeh and
Janet Reno have been hammering into the heads of an enervated populace
for ages. 

Here again, the author underestimates her audience's intelligence,
reading comprehension and memory.  To get it right, you've got to grant
your reader some credit -- let them use their cognitive faculties to
reach the conclusion you want, or they'll sense they're being led by the
nose and shut you off. 

In other words, even the dullest USA Today junkie has to be
distinguished from someone with advanced Alzheimer's disease for a
propaganda piece like Stone's to be effective. 

In all a disgraceful performance.  We say the DoD has been cheated, and
should demand an immediate and full refund.  . 


Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/ 

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : 2001-06-30 21:44:18 PDT