The confrontation between the Pentagon and WikiLeaks is becoming a precedent-setting struggle on the new informational battlefield in which perception management is used as a weapon against public opinion.
When Gen. Stanley McChrystal , former US commander in Afghanistan, spoke of “winning the battle of perceptions” through Offensive Information Operations [IOs] in his confidential 2009 strategy memo, he was emphasizing the top priority battlefield.
In fact, there is little doubt that someone in McChrystal’s orbit leaked the Aug. 30, 2009, memo calling for more US troops as a maneuver on the information battlefield designed to box in President Obama.
The public relations war, including aggressive leaking of information beneficial to the Pentagon, is a crucial element of counterinsurgency warfare, as described by David Kilcullen, the top CI adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and now a ubiquitous presence in debates on military doctrine.
In his new book Counterinsurgency [Oxford 2010], Kilcullen says that cyberpace insurgents have gained “new maneuver space” on the Internet, allowing them the means to impose “political and economic costs” by instant online reports and videos. Kilcullen proposes that there be “a unifying ‘perception management’ plan” to target “the increasingly influential spectators’ gallery of the international community.”
The Pentagon-WikiLeaks conflict already resembles the Cold War, with US cyber-warriors attempting to discredit WikiLeaks and its founder while also exploring techniques for crippling WikiLeaks servers. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks operates on Tor, a software program first developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory. [see Rolling Stone, Sept. 2, 2010]. According to Andy Greenberg at Forbes, based on this Norwegian report, the whistleblower organization has moved its servers to a high-security computer center in downtown Stockholm, formerly designed as a nuclear-proof shelter.
Eva Ehrstedt contributed research and translation.