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Pope on Cyber Power: Personal Theories of Power Series at The Bridge

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I read one of the first books out on cyberwarfare and conflict and afterwards decided that I still had no idea what the hell “cyberwar” was or how we could identify when it was happening. Fortunately, in tackling cyber power, Billy Pope’s erudite contribution ties cyber power to Hobbes, Thucydides, Westphalian states, Clausewitz and Basil Liddell-Hart. Those things I understand!

Cyber Power: A Personal Theory of Power 

….Why focus so much of an essay on cyber power theory to a lengthy discussion on traditional forms of power? Quite simply, cyber power is still just power at its core. Cyber power will not change the nature of war. Cyber power, at least in the foreseeable future, will not reorganize the international consortium of states, leaving the Westphalian system to flounder in a new electronic world order. Cyber power offers tremendous opportunities to enhance how people interact, cooperate, and even fight. It does not, however, make traditional forms of power obsolete.

Overzealous futurists exuberantly claim that cyber power is a game changer, saying things like, “Cyber war is real; it happens at the speed of light; it is global; it skips the battlefield; and, it has already begun.”[ix] The attuned strategist will peer through the chafe, realizing that cyber power offers new, innovative methods by which to project power. The same savvy practitioner will also appreciate that power and conflict are grounded in basic human requirements, psychology, and relationships. Neither Thucydides’ realist notions of fear, honor, and interests, nor Keohane’s collaborative concepts of cooperation and interconnectedness were developed with cyberspace in mind.[x] Cyberspace, and in turn any notion of cyber power, however, contains these concepts in troves.

What, then, is cyber power specifically? This author argues it takes two forms. First, cyber power extends and accentuates existing forms of military power. It helps shape the battlefield through intelligence collection and information operations. In some cases it facilitates military effects that were previously only achievable through kinetic means. Second, cyber power is a unique political instrument. Most military professionals are all too familiar with the elements of national power marched out during professional education courses: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic. Cyber power connects to each of these components but also offers new options. Stronger than diplomacy and sanctions, yet not to the level of Clausewitzean war, cyber power expands the spectrum of power projection available to policy-makers. 

This sounds very reasonable.

Groundbreaking technology – say, for example, firearms or steam power – offers entirely new capabilities and/or enhances old ones on the battlefield. Sometimes the effect is a military revolution, with the technology altering power relationships in civil society and offering the early adopters a tremendous comparative advantage over any rivals ( marksmen drilled with guns vs. a peasant mob with sticks with pointy metal ends). Other times it has a less political/strategic and a more narrowly technical/tactical effect (machineguns over rifles). Cyber power will be made to serve, as Pope argued, political ends.

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Now, about taklif, and about parawar?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- two learnings about Hezbollah, in process and with one question each ]
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The trouble with this internet thing is that it offers nonstop opportunities for learning.

I hope my readers here at Zenpundit know by now that I’m an amateur (a lover) of the topics that I write about, learning as I go. I have long thought fard ‘ayn or individual obligation was the key phrase in religious recruitment to the jihad, conveying as it does divine sanction for the deeds properly committed under that license. I believe I first encountered the phrase in the context of Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj and his book, The Neglected Duty. It’s my (strictly amateur) hunch that the neglected (pun intended) Faraj should be the object of as much of our study as the far better known Sayyid Qutb.

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Just yesterday Phillip Smyth posted an extended piece on the Brown Moses blog, Hizballah Executing Syrian Prisoners? – Analyzing the Video, which in turn introduced me to the concept of taklif al-sharii. The key paras read:

In a June USA Today article which covered Hizballah’s involvement in Syria, a Hizballah fighter noted, “Everyone who is sent to fight in Syria has received a ‘Taklif Sharii’”. USA Today added the taklif sharii is “a religious command that means he will go to heaven if killed.” Nevertheless, the taklif sharii is more than just a religious edict which guarantees a martyred fighter’s spot in heavenly paradise. It is a religious obligation put forth by a cleric and must be followed. In fact, it is a form of religious ruling which underpins the Khomeinist ideology guiding Iran, Hizballah, and all of the main Iraqi Shia organizations sending militiamen to Syria.

Augustus Richard Norton noted that Hizballah’s adherence to taklif sharii is a theological legal ruling, “as though commanded by Allah”. According to Mohammed Sherri, an Al-Manar (Hizballah’s official TV channel) commentator, “once a taklif is issued, violating it is similar to any sin, like murder or adultery, or not praying or fasting.” In traditional Shi’ism, the taklif sharii was rarely issued and normally did not deal with political issues. The concept was actually revived as an important Shia idea by the father of Iran’s Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and as an important support for his form of clerical rule, Wilayat al-Faqih (in Persian it’s known as Velayat e-Faqih). In effect, the issuing of a taklif sharii by a high ranking Shia cleric, in this case Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei—The “Spiritual leader” of Hizballah and the other Iraqi Shia groups, is a direct order coming from Allah.

So — here are my amateur — still learning — questions: does taklif sharii serve the same function among Shia jihadists as fard ‘ayn does among Sunnis? Are both terms used in both communities? The parallel between the two terms, and the differences between the kinds of authorities who control Sunni and Shiite discourses in matters such as these, would make for an interesting exploration I think.

Okay, that’s the “About taklif” section of this post.

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As you might imagine, though, Smyth’s post set me reading Augustus Richard Norton‘s piece, and there I discovered another interesting snippet, on another topic entirely:

From the Israeli withdrawal of May 2000 until the eruption of war in July 2006, there was aggressive patrolling, heated rhetoric and periodic episodes of violence by both sides. Most of the armed attacks were in the disputed Shebaa farms. By historical standards, however, this was a relatively quiet period. In general, clashes respected “rules of the game”, which had been codified in writing in 1996 and specified that Israel would not attack civilians in Lebanon and Hezbollah would not attack Israel. As Daniel Sobelman notes, the rules were so well established that officials were sometimes quoted as saying that such and such skirmish was ‘‘within the rules’’.

The Sobelman reference points us to:

Sobelman, D. New Rules of the Game: Israel and Hizballah after the Withdrawal from Lebanon. Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2004, pp. 67–82.

Okay, here’s second my question, the one about “parawar”. What’s the Clausewitzian term for something of this kind, far beyond politics, “within the rules” yet still not quite war — parawar? The duel comes to mind, too.

So: is there a word for such things?

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It’s been a while since anyone last used a nuclear bomb, right?

Monday, September 9th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- keeping you in the "loopy" loop ]
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There’s more ridiculous sloshing around on the web than I can hope to monitor, but my personal collection hit a couple of high points recently that I thought I should share with you. Did you know, for instance, that Israel recently exploded a nuclear bomb in Syria? How could you consider yourself informed, and be unaware of such a thing? It was on YouTube…

But pshaw, that’s secular nonsense, and as you know, my tastes run to the religious. So did you know the emeritus Pope Benedict had a demonic advisor by his side while he was making a major speech?

That sure as hell beats out the namby-pamby 10 Weirdest Fundamentalist Christian Conspiracy Theories an Alternet writer came up with, eh?

In any case, please watch both the above videos: I trust you will then realize that the world is in far worse shape than you thought it was before reading this post.

After all, it’s on YouTube.

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How about this?

Hang on a moment, Sayyida Zaynab is the shrine dear to Shiites that Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada is defending, as this graphic suggests:

And last but not least, consider this, from a US Senator:

Coincidence!?!? — or just a clumsy creative leap?

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NB: Updated to replace “Hezbollah” with “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada” above — h/t Phillip Smyth.

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AQ Conference Call, 2: what a difference a week makes

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- all the AQ leaders teleported into this one cave for their annual conference, see, and spoke to reporters as they were leaving for "near" and "far" - no wardrobe malfunctions, though ]
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Following up on my post, AQ Conference Call, 1

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When Eli Lake and Josh Rogin broke the story it was huge, wardrobe-malfunction huge, although AQ doesn’t really do wardrobe malfunctions the way we do at the Superbowl:

It wasn’t just any terrorist message that triggered U.S. terror alerts and embassy closures—but a conference call of more than 20 far-flung al Qaeda operatives, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report.

Okay, conference call, I’ve been on some of those. Phones, right?

Ah — Skype, maybe, or Google+?

Nope.

Semantic? Okay… but anyway, “The crucial intercept that prompted the U.S. government to close embassies in 22 countries was a conference call between al Qaeda’s senior leaders and representatives of several of the group’s affiliates throughout the region” — right?

Um, no.

Here’s the more recent piece by Lara Jakes and Adam Goldman for AP to which JM Berger’s quote (lower panel, above) was pointing:

Al-Qaida fighters have been using secretive chat rooms and encrypted Internet message boards for planning and coordinating attacks — including the threatened if vague plot that U.S. officials say closed 19 diplomatic posts across Africa and the Middle East for more than a week.

It’s highly unlikely that al-Qaida’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, or his chief lieutenant in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi, were personally part of the Internet chatter or, given the intense manhunt for both by U.S. spy agencies, that they ever go online or pick up the phone to discuss terror plots, experts say.

More specifically:

A U.S. intelligence official said the unspecified threat was discussed in an online forum joined by so many jihadist groups that it included a representative from Boko Haram, the Nigerian insurgency that has loose and informal ties to al-Qaida. Two other intelligence officials characterized the threat as more of an alert to get ready to launch potential attacks than a discussion of specific targets.

One of the officials said the threat began with a message from al-Wahishi, head of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to al-Zawahri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as the core al-Qaida leader. The message essentially sought out al-Zawahri’s blessing to launch attacks. Al-Zawahri, in turn, sent out a response that was shared on the secretive online jihadi forum.

So the jihadis have a web-forum, and messages from Zawahiri get quoted there?

A stunning new development!

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DoubleTweet Sources:

  • Eli Lake
  • JM Berger
  • Articles pointed to:

  • Eli Lake
  • JM Berger
  • **

    Edited to add:

    FYI, there’s an extended treatment of the whole affair by Ken Silverstein now up at Harper’s, Anatomy of an Al Qaeda “Conference Call” — h/t Joshua Foust.

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    AQ Conference Call, 1: a picture worth a thousand words

    Thursday, August 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron - if the media presentation is sufficiently shiny, it will surely impress enough people that making sense becomes senseless ]
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    From CNN comes this picture — the one that opened my eyes to what AQ is really up to these days:

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    So…

    If one picture
    is worth a thousand words, what’s
    a bunch of Wordsworth?

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    I apologize. In all fairness, you should be able to see the whole clip:

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    In a follow up post, how the story looked when it first broke, and how it looks now it’s clearly broken.

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