Blind Man with a Pistol

The Ongoing Militarization of Cyberspace

TomDispatch reveals the latest move by the U.S. Armed Forces in their ongoing project to militarize cyberspace.

Air Force officials, despite a year-long air surge in Iraq, undoubtedly worry that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s “next wars” (two, three, many Afghanistans) won’t have much room for air glory. Recently, looking for new realms to bomb, it launched itself into cyberspace. The Air Force has now set up its own Cyber Command, redefined the Internet as just more “air space” fit for “cyber-craft,” and launched its own Bush-style preemptive strike on the other military services for budgetary control of the same.

If that’s not enough for you, it’s now proposing a massive $30 billion cyberspace boondoggle, as retired Air Force Lt. Col. William Astore writes below, that will, theoretically, provide the Air Force with the ability to fry any computer on Earth. And don’t think the other services are likely to take this lying down. Expect cyberwar in the Pentagon before this is all over.

I’m not sure why this should come as a surprise. Tom Engelhardt references William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) which, before AOL even knew what it was, conceived of cyberspace as territory ripe for colonization and profit by a militarized corporate hegemony. Internet precursor ARPANET was a project of the United States Department of Defence and the people that brought this technology to the public were members of a corporate elite. Raymond Williams said of television broadcasting that it “was developed not only within a capitalist society but specifically by the capitalist manufacturers of the technological apparatus” and the same could be said of Internet technologies. Certainly the latest controversy about Bell Canada’s packet throttling indicates that it is corporations and not citizens who police cyberspace.

Donna J. Haraway’s polemical “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991) offers a slim hope to override the hostile trajectory of cyberspace corporatization and militarization. While her terms are somewhat outdated (substitution of “cyberspace” for “cyborg” will stave off its expiry date slightly), Haraway employs the harnesses cyberspace’s unique ability for dissent and subversion of its founding structures. “The cyborg is the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism.” By virtue of its illegitimacy, cyberspace offers the promise of democracy, plurality and liberty we always hoped was there. “Illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins,” Haraway continues.” Their fathers, after all, are inessential.”

With the military and corporations trying to reclaim their lost sons and daughters (who have not been nearly prodigal enough) there is greater immediacy to flaunt the bastardhood of cyberspace. This latest cyber-incursion by the U.S.A.F. is a flawed and toxic homecoming. It’s difficult to conceive of sufficient strategies of resistance in a space where the boundaries are already defined, but those less cynical might point to recent mobilization of digital advocacy in a growing global concern for online democratic rights. Meanwhile, we can shore up the democratic spaces that do exist on the web and resist the colonization of cyberspace which is part and parcel of the West’s interminable effort to militarize the planet, virtual or not.

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