TR: What should we be doing against both the insurgency in Iraq and al-Qaeda?
JA: The terrorists have a technology strategy designed to get the most effective, most usable tools out there for their use. They’ve learned to ride the rails of our technology to strike at us. One area of short-term research that the U.S. is emphasizing is the effort to deal in a technological way with the problem of the improvised explosive device. Of course, our opponents have figured out a variety of systems allowing them to detonate these weapons in a way that cannot be jammed. I can’t talk in more detail, but these leaderless networks we’re fighting in Iraq are giving as good as they get in technological terms.
The real answer is about understanding the enemy as a system and trying to pull that system apart. But we’re not doing that. We’re going simply for the technological fix and that’s one reason we’ve had so much trouble with these IEDs. Since we’re spending so much on military affairs, maybe some of that should be directed towards technologies that will break our opponents’ communications. In World War II, there was an investment in creating the first high-performance computers, for that very purpose. Today, it may be an investment in creating the most effective quantum computing or figuring out how to structure the vast ocean of data that masks the movements of al-Qaeda on the Net and the Web. We need a new Bletchley Park [the country house where the German WWII codes were broken], if we’re going to win this war.
TR: Aren’t our enemies in Iraq an entirely human network? It’s not clear that breaking into their Internet communications…
JA: Oh, but they don’t exist without the Web and the Net. You don’t move around that country easily and even the old-school Baathist insurgent elements rely on the Web. A networked insurgency doesn’t have anything like a traditional leadership. Most of the leadership they get is by going on websites, where they share information very quickly.
TR: Could we take down the Net in Iraq and would it have the effect of downing the insurgency to a significant degree?
JA: You could end all Internet access in Iraq and it would in many ways cripple the insurgents, in terms of slowing them down tremendously. But you’d also cripple reconstruction.
TR: So, in other words, we should data-mine Net exchanges within Iraq?
JA: There you go. The great figure in all this is Admiral John Poindexter. He suffered from his vaguely Orwellian-seeming tendencies and his connections with the Iran-Contra scandal. But the truth is he’s had the most important ideas in decades about how to revolutionize intelligence-gathering. He understands the Web and the Net. He’s one of the original, great military computer scientists and it’s a tragedy that his ideas were discredited for very poor reasons.
TR: Why were those reasons poor?
JA: We live in an era when the power of small groups and individuals has expanded beyond our imaginations. We live in a virtually transparent world. The truth is that to have more security we have to give up some privacy.