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vol. 4, no. 3, November 2001
Among the many epochal impacts of the Internet has been added a new and starkly tragic one: The terrorist attack on New York City and the Pentagon of September 11, 2001. We think that this particular aspect of the Internet requires analysis in a journal dealing with the ties between the study of history and computing. As historians, of course, we wish the issue were more comfortably in the past and much more evidence available to us. In this issue of the JAHC and in succeeding ones we will discuss various issues related to terrorism and the Internet within a historical context.
We believe the attacks to be examples of an important new mode of warfare, "Netwar". To a historian, Netwar, like all other forms of warfare invariably reflects both culture and underlying social and political organization. Here we argue that Netwar is both facilitated by the Internet as a mode of communication, and in a sense caused by the Internet because the Internet has changed not only the means of communication, but social organization as well.
It is apparent, despite the depth of feeling in the United States and in the world at large, that there is a wide variety of opinion on the precise nature of this attack. Some have argued that it is the act of a tight-knit organization headed by one man, Osama (also Uusamah, Isama) bin Laden, acting through Al Quaeda, a centralized terrorist organization headquartered in Afghanistan; others suggest that it was ultimately state sponsored; still others that it is the result of a widely distributed "Islamist" conspiracy of which the Taliban is the outstanding example. The dominant metaphor is that the United States and its many allies are engaged in a long-term "War against Terrorism." The first front of this war has been opened in Afghanistan. The President of the United States continually warns that other fronts are to follow. 
The consequences of these events will clearly be very far reaching. Michael Wines of The New York Times even speculates that they may well "reshape the globe", meaning that an alliance structure which has remained essentially unchanged for almost sixty years (The U.S. and its allies vs. Russia and its allies) may be totally reformed around a common enemy, international terrorism.  The economic, and even intellectual, ramifications of the events are only beginning to unfold.
Despite the complexity of these events, and even though as of this posting we are less than three months removed from them, some avenues of understanding are becoming clear. It is evident, for example, that we all need to know much more about Islam in all its variants, more about the history and culture of Afghanistan, and in particular, more about the nature of the conspiracy that produced these events.
There is, we believe, a particular impact of the Internet that once understood does much to clarify these recent events, and even to suggest that the current approach cannot yield satisfactory results. This argument is best understood through the concept of "Netwar."
.02. The Internet and Military Affairs
There are many concepts that relate to the impact of the Internet upon military affairs. These terms vary in their usage, as a common vocabulary among analysts is only beginning to cohere.  We begin by discussing some of these terms:
- Cyberwar: This concept is often used as vaguely as any other "Cyber-" term, but might best be defined as any form of electronic attack or defense. George J. Stein, a prolific writer in this area, attempts to narrow the definition by referring to the use of electronic tools and communications applied to military operations in the traditional sense. 
- Information Attack: This concept is defined by the U.S. Air Force as either "directly corrupting adversary information without changing visibly the physical entity in which it resides." Or "activities taken to manipulate or destroy an adversary's information without visibly changing the physical entity in which it resides." 
- Information Warfare. This concept appears in its general usage to embrace all forms of electronically-mediated warfare, For example, an electronic attack upon a particular website or server, and the posting of spurious electronic material intended to engender a particular psychological or policy response, would equally be termed Information Warfare (IW). 
- Netwar: This term in its origin meant, according to Arquilla and Ronfeldt, the two analysts most associated with the term, "societal-level ideational conflict waged in part through internetted modes of communications." 
03. The Nature of Netwar
While all of these concepts are useful and will be used below, most are relatively familiar, whatever term we might use to define them. The last term, however, "Netwar", is very broad in its implications and is the subject of the present analysis. The concept is generally credited to an article published in 1993 "Cyberwar is Coming!" written by Rand Corporation researchers David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla.  Perhaps the clearest use of this term, imbedded in the examination of a specific instance of it, is found in Ronfeldt and Arquilla's work, The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico.  Here the two define Netwar as:
the term Netwar refers to an emerging mode of conflict (and crime) at societal levels, involving measures short of traditional war, in which the protagonists use network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies, and technologies attuned to the information age. These protagonists are likely to consist of dispersed small groups who communicate, coordinate, and conduct their campaigns in an internetted manner, without a precise central command.
These two authorities see the defining element of Netwar as: "The use of network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies, and technologies attuned to the information age." 
As we understand "Netwar", its essence is that it is the form of warfare best adapted to the age of the Internet and, hence, will be increasingly frequent. As suggested here, we believe that the attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon can been seen as a case of Netwar.
But before discussing Netwar proper, we need to develop an understanding of the concept of Cyberwar in order to gain a broader understanding of the relationship between contemporary forms of violence and the Internet.
Although most of us have been largely ignorant of them, there have already been many examples of cyberconflicts. The struggles in Kosovo, for example, had some minor attributes of Cyberwar.  Those were in large part nothing particularly new, but rather the logical extension of new tools into military space. They should more properly be termed "information warfare" or even psychological warfare in that they consisted largely of a struggle to dominate the flow of information.
Probably the most common form of Cyberwar has been to attack the Internet information resources of the opponent, World Wide Web pages or servers. There have been, for example, major such clashes between Israeli and Palestinian groups. Hacker ethics generally restrain "hacktivists" from doing real damage to the opponent, so the level of violence has usually been the post-modern equivalent of counting coup—defacing the opponents' web pages. In this struggle, interestingly, the Palestinian hackers are said to have mounted 200 successful assaults vs. Israeli hackers' 40.  There have been similar clashes between Indian hackers and Pakistani ones (Pakistan victorious), between China and Taiwan (China over Taiwan), Portugal vs. Indonesia over E. Timor (Portugal, no contest) and many lesser known ones, including Chinese hackers vs. American ones (a draw). 
Cyberwar, (all forms of electronic attack or defense) like all things cyber-, might give an impression of being so evanescent as to be unimportant. But to so dismiss them would be to make a grave mistake. It is true that the above examples clearly have an aura of adolescent hijinks about them. This is in large part because of the hacker ethos that unites the contestants. But a true struggle between nations or ethnic groups that escalates to deadly force will, of course, likewise escalate in cyberspace. There are already many examples of cyberconflicts with potentially disastrous outcomes for one or more of the participants.
Escalations of such conflicts include "denial of service attacks" in which one side disables the electronic resources of the enemy. In October of 2000, for example, the Israeli Knesset, as well as the Foreign Ministry Web site, were down for thirty hours due to blizzards of E-mail which crashed their servers. These attacks came simultaneously from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and North America, apparently coordinated from Lebanon. 
A more dangerous level of escalation is to gain sufficient access to a server to begin to exercise undetected control over some of its operations. In February of 2001 someone gained access to a server that controlled part of the California power grid.  This should not have come as a surprise. As early as 1997, in a National Security Agency (NSA) test, hired hackers gained sufficient access to disrupt power grids in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and New York had they wished to do so. 
Nor are the above simply a range of frightful possibilities: the conflict with Osama bin Laden has long had elements of cyberwar. It was claimed in February of 2001 that the Central Intelligence Agency has succeeded in "mapping" Bin Laden's "financial and operational networks."  The implication was that the agency had succeeded in disrupting his finances. More recent events, however, suggest an element of optimism or possibly a disinformation campaign in those earlier CIA claims
.05. Bin Laden, Al Quaeda, and Netwar
The question as to whether or not bin Laden is truly in charge of the wide variety of terrorist actions often ascribed to him should probably be left open at present. (See addendum of December 14, 2001) To do otherwise is to risk later surprises even if he is captured or killed. But it is clear that the terrorist movement as a whole has recruited many talented and patient men. Ramzi Yousef, for example, the convicted bomber in the first World Trade Center incident in February of 1993, began studying in Great Britain in 1986. He attended Oxford College of Further Education and then took courses in Electronic Engineering in Swansea, Wales.  Mr. Yousef learned both the chemistry and the electrical engineering skills necessary to develop unprecedentedly sophisticated bombs, though the botched World Trade Center instruments were not such. In some regards the attack on the World Trade Center follows a model established by Mr. Yousef. He, too, relied heavily upon computers and the Internet for his operations
Groups like Hamas (Palestine), the Algerian Armed Islamist Group (Algeria), the Harkat Ul Moujahedeen (Pakistan) and Hezbollah (Lebanon), each at some time said to have been linked to bin Laden, have demonstrated a high level of skill in utilizing the Internet for political purposes.  Louis Freeh, then Director of the F.B.I., ranked terrorist skills with computers among "threats to U.S. national security" as early as January of 1998.  Yousef himself was later linked to such terrorist groups as the Gama al-Islamiya, Islamic jihad, Hamas, the Sudanese National Islamic Front and al-Fuqrah .  Bin Laden, of course, has been linked to many additional groups. It is probable that the interchange of people, skills, and equipment ensures that computer hacking skills are very widespread in all such groups.
The nature of hacking makes it difficult to assign responsibility to particular incidents. It is known that hackers have successfully penetrated even the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory computers which held data pertaining to commercial air traffic, Global Positioning System navigation satellites, and the location of Stealth aircraft, among other bodies of information. This particular hacker was traced back to the Persian Gulf. But whether or not he was associated with Al Quaeda is unknown. 
.06. Learning Netwar
We believe that the learning of Netwar and the development of its capabilities is a natural outgrowth of familiarity with the World Wide Web and the Internet. Just as the development of railroads suggested rapid massive troop movements by rail and the development of the tank and tactical aircraft the development of the Blitzkrieg attack, so has the development of the Internet suggested Netwar.
Moreover, there have been sufficient examples of such conflicts, such as that in Chiapis referenced above, to permit terrorists to adapt an exisiting model to their own needs.  We believe that a coalition of terrorist groups has done so, by building on lessons learned in Mexico, and in cyberconflicts in the Mideast, and turning hitherto non-violent tactics to far more aggressive and violent ends. Contemporary conflicts already had involved substantial elements that can be seen as an impact of the Internet. In addition, the availability of information as to flight schedules, airplane characteristics, even the advertisements of flight training schools on the Web made it possible for the perpetrators of the 9-11 atrocity to make flying bombs of civilian aircraft.
It is, of course, too early to fully understand the precise nature of the 9-11 attacks and of the perpetrators. But we think that the evidence suggests, when viewed through the lens of Netwar, that the conspirators represent a number of organizations, often bound together by a common ideology—Wahhabist Islam.  Wahhabism is a fiercely radical and exclusionary form of Islam. Muslims, of course, represent many different religious groups and national cultures and use the World Wide Web in a variety of ways.  In addition to Wahhabism, the extremists, such as bin Laden, have a number of unifying elements, particularly a shared history of fighting in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and for many, perhaps in Somalia as well. Few ties are closer than those that unite warriors who have risked death together. 
We believe that these terrorists exist in cells ("nodes") widely distributed around the world.  Following the usages of Netwar, they plot at points at great distance from their targets, though supported by local cells at the target site. They quickly assemble at the target ("swarm" in the parlance of Netwar) for operations, and as quickly disperse.
Bin Laden may be critical in that he has helped fund many such groups. He may be inspirational in that he is their most famous leader (though killing him will in no way reduce that appeal) and Al Quaeda may be the centralized organizational structure that the war in Afghanistan presupposes. But none of these factors is inherent to the continued survival of the network itself. There will be other wars and other opportunities to create the bonds of military camaraderie, and other areas where terrorists may train. At least one of bin Laden's supposed supporters, Ali Mohamed, a participant in the bombing of the American embassy in Kenya, let us remember, trained in the U.S. army. 
The very nature of warfare has changed as a result of the Internet. Non-state players have been afforded new opportunities, have created new organizational forms suggested and facilitated by the Internet itself, and have been able to use the Internet to prepare and to stage their attacks. As historians, we can judge these issues from evidence such as that presented above. But, in trying to understand the implications for our society and for the future, we have no special powers. But we think that some elements of the problem are worth speculating upon.
Generals, it is said, always prepare to fight the last war. One might argue that this is precisely what the war in Afghanistan is, a form of warfare that owes far more to "Desert Storm" than to true Netwar. The war in Afghanistan does serve the purpose of making us feel confident that the problem is being solved, and it satisfies our desires to punish "evil-doers." But the essence of Netwar is that command structures are non-hierarchical and distributed. The enemy is not a country, nor a military command that can easily be "decapitated" in the classic military sense, but a network. Its model, and to a degree its inspiration, is the World Wide Web. Such a web does not have a command center but a network of nodes, which are, like the Internet itself, self-healing. Damaged nodes (like Afghanistan, Al Quaeda, or bin Laden himself) will simply be bypassed.
We think it probable that Al Quaeda is simply one node in an extensive network, perhaps not even one network but one in a series of cooperative but independent networks, and that bin Laden too is but one node among many. El Quaeda and bin Laden may each be extremely important nodes, and it is possible that a devastating attack will have the desired result in that the destruction of the two will bring down the network for a time. But even if successful, to attack them through conventional means such as an attack on the Afghani state amounts, in Emory Lovins' apt phrase, to "cutting butter with a chainsaw." It is inefficient and inappropriate, not to mention extremely messy. And of course, in Afghanistan the spatter is not butter but blood.
In addition, the massive response against Afghanistan fails a classic test of a "just" war: proportionality.  The damage done to innocent people in Afghanistan, the destruction of what remains of the Afghani state and society, is disproportional to the wrong that they have done us—not one Afghani was directly involved in the attacks of September 11. The test of proportionality is not merely an idealistic notion, but also refers to the costs of given actions to the initiator. A disproportionate war will often have a cost disproportionate to the "good" to be achieved. For example, among the collateral damages of this war, it seems, are many elements of American civil liberties that have been taken for granted.
It is not surprising, however, that supporters of the war in Afghanistan continually insist that we are at "war," meaning engaged in a struggle that can be understand in terms of previous wars. This insistence is further supported rhetorically by repeated references to inappropriate precedents such as Pearl Harbor. It is only by insisting that this struggle is largely a conventional "war" that the attack on Afghanistan and the accompanying costs to the American social and political system be justified.
But the terrorists cannot, we believe, be stopped by conventional warfare. To the contrary, conventional warfare will, in the long run, feed the machinery of terrorism with the energy and personnel it requires to expand. More critically, this response is not only inappropriate but will be, in the long run, ineffective. It will not protect us in the future, nor would it, if mounted much earlier, have prevented the outrage of September 11. This is, we believe, to paraphrase Henry Kissinger, "the wrong type of war for this time and place."
Elsewhere I have discussed my own beliefs as to the best way to combat Netwar. 
1. "Afghanistan is still just the beginning" of the war on terrorism, Mr. Bush said today". " Elisabeth Bumiller,."A Warning," The New York Times, November 27, 2001. < http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/27/international/27PREX.html?searchpv=nytToday > Accessed November 27, 2001.
2. Wines, Michael, "An Act of Terror Reshapes the Globe" The New York Times on the Web, 9/30/2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/30/weekinreview/30WINE.HTML Accessed 9/30/01
3. Even the U.S. armed forces vary widely in their understanding of Information Warfare as shown in Stein's USAF report. See: " The U.S. Army" and following materials in Stein's report.
4. Stein, George J. "Information Attack: Information Warfare in 2025. A Research paper presented to the Air Force 2025" http://www.au.af.mil/au/2025/volume3/V3C-1.html Accessed 9/25/2001.
5. Stein, "Information Attack", Executive summary.
6. Rathmell, Andrew. "Netwar in the Gulf." http://www.infowar.com/class_3/class3_q.html-ssi Accessed 9/25/2001.
7. Stein, George J. "Information War—Cyberwar—Netwar." p 2. Infowar.com http://www.infowar.com/mil_c4i/stein1.html-ssi Accessed 9/25/2001.
8. Armond, Paul de. "Netwar in the Emerald City. WTO protest strategy and tactics. http://nwcitizen.com/publicgood/reports/wto/ Accessed 9/25/01. See also Stein, "Information Attack" Chapter 2.
9. Ronfeldt, David, John Arquilla, Graham E. Fuller, and Melissa Fuller. The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico. Rand, Santa Monica: 1998. Ronfeldt and Arquilla's work has been influential in leftist circles, as well as within national defense think-tanks. For a critical discussion, see Cleaver, Harry. "Computer-Linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism." p. 9; note 11 http://www.antenna.nl/~waterman/cleaver2.html Accessed 9/25/2001
10. Ronfeldt and Arquilla, p. 9-10.
11. See McGirk, Tim. "Wired for Warfare," Time.com <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,32558.00.html > Accessed 10/30/2001. See also Brewis, Bob. "Kosovo Ushered in Cyberwar," FWC.com <http://www.fcw.com/fcw/articles/1999/fcw_092799_newscyber.asp> Accessed 10/30/2001. Ignatiev, Michael. Virtual War, Kosovo and Beyond. New York: Picador Press, 2001.
12. Americo,R.P.C. "Cyberwar: The mouse is Mightier than the Missile," QSDG Magazine <http://www.qsdg.com/phpelements/retrievearticles.php?article_ID=12444> Accessed 10/30/2001
13. For a page of links to fascinating examples of hacker coups in the Sino-American clash, see: "Cyberwar with China: Self-fulfilling Prophecy" <http://www.attrition.org/security/commentary/cn-us-war.html> Accessed 10/30/2001
14. Kalman, Matthew. "Middle East conflict spills into cyberspace." USA Today.http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/cti723.htm
15. Bickers, Charles. "Cyberwar: Combat on the Web" Far Eastern Economic Review, <http://www.feer.com/2001/0108_16/p030innov.html> Accessed 10/30/2001
16. Sullivan, Bob. "Cyberwar: the threat of chaos." MSNBC <http://www.msnbc.com/news/295227.asp?cp1=1#body> Accessed 10/30/2001
17. "U.S. Makes Cyberwar on Bin Laden" NewsMax.Comhttp://www.newsmax.com
18. Mackay, Neil. "The British Breeding Ground," The Sunday Herald, (Glasgow) September 30, 2001. <http://www.Sundayherald.com/18874>. Accessed 10/31/2001.
19. See Whine, Michael. "Islamist Organizations on the Internet. <http://www.ict.org/il/articles/islamnet.htm> Accessed 9/25/01, and Piller, Charles and David Wilson. "The Terrorists are Winning the Cyber War." latimes.com <http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091901techspy.story> Accessed 10/23/2001.
20. Freeh, Louis J. "Threats to U.S. National Security" Statement for the record before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Washington D.C., January 28, 1998. Infowar.com. <http://www.infowar.com/civil_de/civil_022798b.html-ssi Accessed 10/31/2001
21. "February 1993 Bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City" Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, <http://www.cns.miis.edu/pubs/reports/wtc93.htm>.
22. Piller, Charles and David Wilson. "The Terrorists are Winning the Cyber War." latimes.com < http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091901techspy.story> Accessed 10/23/2001.
23. Examples of Netwar include the Zapatista struggle, and, we think, the Tiananmen Incident. See Fenghua Wang, "Subscribing to Democracy through the Internet: The Journal of the Association for History and Computing, Vol II, No. 3. http://mcel.pacificu.edu/jahc/jahcII3/ARTICLESII3/wang/wang.html In addition, the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle were also a sort of low-level Netwar. (See de Armond, "Netwar in the Emerald City.") We believe that the activities of the Earth Liberation Front can also be seen as an example of Netwar. As we accumulate more examples of Netwar, the concept itself must change to accommodate them. Both the Chiapas example, and that of the WTO protests seem to suggest that Netwars will be characterized by some minimal level of violence. But the events of September 11 show that Netwars can be horrifyingly violent.
25. Islam, Technology and Community: September 11th and Its Global Meaning."By Deborah Wheeler. The Journal of Education, Community, and Values: Interface on the Internet. Vol I, no. 10. http://bcis.pacificu.edu/journal/2001/10/wheeler.php
26. (Cite veterans' transcripts)
27. The administration has said that such cells or nodes exist in 60 countries. Karen Young, ""Sleeper Cells" of el Quaeda are next Target." Washington Post, December 3, 2001. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46909-2001Dec2.html Accessed December 3, 2001.
28. "Former Army sergeant pleads guilty to embassy bombing-related charges" October 20, 2000 ) CNN.COM.Law Center. http://www.cnn.com/2000/LAW/10/20/embassy.bombings.01/
29. See The "Jus Ad Bellem Convention" at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosphyhttp://www.utm.edu/research/iep/j/justwar.htm > Accessed December 2, 2001
30. See Jeffrey G. Barlow, "Netwar, Bin Laden, and Al Quaeda" in The Journal of Education, Community, and Values:Interface on the Internet. Vol 1, No. 12 at < http://bcis.pacificu.edu/journal/2001/12/edit1201.php> .05. Appendiox: How To Defeat Netwar.
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Young, Karen . ""Sleeper Cells" of el Quaeda are next Target." Washington Post, December 3, 2001http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46909-2001Dec2.html Accessed December 3, 2001.
The Institute for the Advanced Study of Information Warfare <http://www.psycom.net/iwar.1.html> This is a metasite for links relating to all forms of electronic warfare. A number of the materials on the site seem to no longer be available, perhaps as a response to the events of 9-11. Accessed 10/30/2001 Bibliography
Portions of this editorial appeared in successive issues of The Journal of Education, Community and Values: Interface on the Internet. The Electronic Journal of the Berglund Center for Internet Studies http://bcis.pacificu.edu/journal/index.php Reprinted with permission.
Addendum of December 14, 2001.
Above I mentioned that as a historian I was uncomfortable working in the present; the reason, of course, is that the release of new evidence frequently requires that one reconsider one's analysis. The original of this essay was posted on December 13, 2001. The release later the same day, of the transcript of a video tape secured by the Pentagon provides us more evidence on the nature of bin Laden's organization. It is. for most readers, clear evidence of Bin Laden's guilt. (For the transcripts see < http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Dec2001/d20011213ubl.pdf > See also The New York Times, December 143, 2001, "Text of Osama bin Laden Tape" < http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Bin-Laden-Tape-Text.html > Both sites accessed December 14, 2001.)
However, there are a number of revelatory points in these transcripts that support the analysis presented here. Interestingly, Al Quaeda as such is never mentioned. (Translators or the authors of the tape transcripts inserted a parenthetical explanation "(meaning the al Qaida Egyptian group )" as an explanation of Bin Laden's own reference to "...the Egyptian family..." as being led by Muhammad Atta, apparently the leader of the hijackers, but there is as yet no reason to believe that a specific reference to Al Quaeda occurs in the original tape. The parethetical reference amounts to an editorial comment in line with U.S. governmental statements and policy, not a specific translation of a portion of the tape). Other strong groups of supporters with foreknowledge were apparently in Saudi Arabian mosques. There are also references to groups in Holland and in the United States, though their direct involvement is not clear. All of these references indicate a decentralized web of the sort posited here. At the same time, it would seem that Bin Laden did have a strong leadership and planning function. We believe that this analysis is intact; Bin Laden is an important node in a web. We continue to believe that, unfortuantely, the web will function without him.
Posted December 13, 2001; Addendum of December 14, 2001