My first reaction to 9/11 was 'This is the beginning of the end of the nation-state as we now know it.' I may be right, and that's a scary thing for a nationalist like me. I was impressed by the possibilities of assymetrical warfare and the ability of non-state actors to foment insurgency and anarchy. However I am not particularly impressed with the idea that assymetrical warfare causes disproportionate spending. After all, a billion mosquitoes over ten generations could never amass the assets required to produce the single barrel of DDT that exterminates them all. The miracle of assymetry is its impact on the perceived legitimacy of the Leviathan state.
Even before I came up with my Peasant Theory, which originates with the idea that some cataclysm could stagger confidence in Western democracy, I began questioning the swiftness with which intelligence services can act in such a way that informs the electorate. We experienced the rapid spread of the WMD meme despite the fact that it was a term of art never before used in presidential elections. Who knew who the peers and proper critics of Scott Ritter and el Baradei were before their reports became politicized? The blogosphere, ever partisan, expanded the influence of individual analysts like Juan Cole, Robert Fisk and later Michael Yon but who were the professionals who did this every day?
Enter STRATFOR and open source intelligence. It rapidly became evident that consumers of strategic intel could not depend entirely on partisan sources and needed much more and more credible information to make rational political decisions. I subscribed to those free services STRATFOR offered as well as those of a broader variety of milbloggers, even as far as Russian ex-military sources. A new era had begun.
But in some ways we were, with our internet searches and bloggy trackbacks, still a sort of democratic movement of outsiders not necessarily connected with the reigns of power. No matter what we could learn about Saddam Hussein, the new geopolitical prosumers were not going to change the content or context of Colin Powell's speech to the UN. We could only hope to second-guess wisely after the fact and be satisfied with our own growing sophistication. And in that regard we were as vulnerable to disinformation as any member of the Arab Street. We may have the advantage of critical literacy and experience in analyzing multiple media sources, but when it came to matters like L'Affair Plame, with its official secrets, insider politics and selective leaks we were all ultimately blind. The best state intelligence agencies will always have that advantage over everyone else. We may have STRATFOR as the Arab Street has Al Jazeera, but those too have their own weaknesses.
Along comes Anonymous, the anarchic hacking collective to demonstrate more of the power of assymetrical attacks. They have hacked STRATFOR and distributed the names of its subscribers and are presumably holding identity information of all of them. It is not coincidental that the black hat security experts of Anonymous have access to IT WMDs. There are no real treaties and only the vague outlines of anything that might police this Hobbsian domain. Anonymous, Lulz, Anti-Sec and others have characters as varied as Jesse James, Billy the Kid and other legendary outlaws of the old American frontier - and they are testing the security of every Wells Fargo Stagecoach, locked in battle with white hat Pinkertons and outgunned sheriffs at every turn. Who is to say when and how the conflict will be resolved?
We are left with several dilemmas. If those like STRATFOR who exist outside of the state intelligence apparatus (if it can be trusted that they are not fooled by CIA disinformation) cannot be secured, then what good are they? Second, how can Anonymous, whose members are secret and who are accountable to nobody be a trusted political actor? Anonymous can claim, as it has, that it is not actually responsible for the hack.
The single advantage we have is the understanding that black hats are not generally known to sustain disinformation campaigns themselves. For example, a 'dox' attack is one that exposes an individual's secret information in order to publicly shame or discredit them. The credibility of the attack is based in the premise that the revealed information is in fact authentic and certain bona fides of system information that could only be known to system owners (or successful crackers) could know. The point is generally to demonstrate the insecurity of the target and thus discredit their security with regards to their trustworthiness on security matters. But that's rather inside pool for which there is little credibility for the average Joe.