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... eine launige Antwort von The Register auf den "Cyberspace: The next
battlefield"-Artikel in USA Today.

Grüsse, Martin Kahl

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

                      Anyone seeking advanced tuition in passing off
                      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

                      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

                      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);
                      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
                      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
                      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
                      apparatchiks and opportunistic defense-contracting
plutocrats in
                      such a way as to appear impartial while subtly
privileging their

                      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

                      One needs only re-arrange the Column A material in
                      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 instructive.

                      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 exposé, 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 concepts.

                      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

                      Analysts say the US arsenal likely includes
malevolent "Trojan
                      horse" viruses, benign-looking codes that can be
                      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

                      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
                      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 troll.

                      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
                      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
                      masquerading as a journalist needs to master the
fine art of threat

                      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
                      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

                      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

                      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

                      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

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