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VINE KNOWLEDGE/INFORMATION
37,1 TECHNOLOGY ENGINEERING
MANAGEMENT
14 The use of ICTs in regional
conflicts, war, and terrorism
Theresa Jefferson
Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering,
George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to discuss how ICTs are used in regional conflicts, war and
terrorism. It details some of the most common uses and provides some thoughts for researchers in the
area
Design/methodology/approach – Reviews the most common uses of ICTs in regional conflicts,
war and terrorism.
Findings – It gives examples of the role ICTs have in influencing public opinion and foreign policy
and conducting military, terrorist, and aid operations.
Originality/value – Provides insights for future researchers.
Keywords Communication technologies, Conflict, War, Terrorism
Paper type General review

The past decade has shown an increase in information and communication technology
(ICT) infrastructure in all parts of the globe, including those areas filled with regional
conflict. As the cost of satellite receivers has decreased there has been a boost in the
availability of telephony, radio and television. In areas that have suffered both natural
and man-made crisis, ICT infrastructure has been brought in by military organizations,
terrorists, aid organizations and private investors. While, there does exist a large
discrepancy in the access of ICT within these areas, there has been a trend toward a
growing ICT infrastructure. In Congo, where much of the country is without any
infrastructure (transportation, electricity, communication) cell phones and text
messaging are revolutionizing how people live (Sullivan, 2006).
Regional conflicts occur independently of the existence of an ICT infrastructure.
Ethnic conflicts have occurred in highly developed countries such as Northern Ireland
and the former Yugoslavia as well as in places with very little infrastructure such as
the Sudan and Rwanda. We can classify the way that ICTs are utilized in conflicts, war,
and terrorism in three main categories:
(1) spreading information, viewpoints and propaganda;
(2) gathering information to support operations; and
VINE: The journal of information and (3) directly supporting operational activities.
knowledge management systems
Vol. 37 No. 1, 2007
pp. 14-17 There are a number of ways that the Internet changes how information is transmitted
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0305-5728
during conflicts. Instead of the one way flow of information that is seen with TV and
DOI 10.1108/03055720710741972 newspapers it now becomes multi-directional, allowing multiple senders/receivers in
distributed locations, from various backgrounds and cultures to participate. When we Use of ICTs in
look at the 1991, Persian Gulf War, the majority of the information received was via
television and was highly dependent on military sources, with Colin Powell becoming
regional conflicts
well recognized by a large number of Americans (Lewis et al., 1991). Information
originating from the Internet gives users the chance to see situations from different
points of view and to evaluate and compare the information from different biases.
There is also no time bias on the reporting of information; it is posted as it occurs 15
without regard for deadlines and schedules. Information is available whenever the
users choose to retrieve it. However this freedom also has its downside as there are no
censors on the information for accuracy and/or reliability (Bucher, 2002).
The recent escalations between Israel and Lebanon along with Hurricane Katrina
firmly showed the evolving role of the media when communicating about an extreme
event. Blogs by media personnel located directly at the center of the crisis gave blow by
blow descriptions of the events as they occurred. The media actually became part of
the story instead of simply reporting it. The Internet’s audience is greater and more
geographically dispersed than that reached by popular news sources such as BBC or
CNN. Terrorists have also learned the power that ICT affords when it comes to
disseminating information to the public. They can manipulate the structure and
method used to communicate, without having to rely on traditional media. This allows
them to reveal themselves, their cause, and their actions, in the exact manner they want
without the filtering of government agencies or traditional media. The use of the
Internet also allows them to gather a geographically dispersed following and influence
perceptions across the globe.
In both Kosovo and Burma the utilization of the Internet played a key role in how
the conflict was portrayed to the public and in some respect, resulting in changes in the
foreign policy of other governments. In Kosovo, both sides of the conflict used the
Internet to spread information as well as their viewpoint in an attempt to gain support.
Individuals used the Internet to tell their personal stories of horror and fear. This is a
case where “awakening, awareness, activism and radicalism can be stimulated at a
local level and then mobilized into a wider process of dissent and protest”, in the hope
of changing foreign policy in other areas of the world (Hoffman, 2006).
In 1996, a group of political activists launched a grassroots campaign to persuade
PepsiCo to terminate their business in Burma. A large portion of this campaign utilized
the Internet through websites, email and other electronic methods. The activists
wanted PepsiCo to leave the land as a means of supporting allegations that the current
regime was repressive and illegitimate. In January of 1997, the company officially
announced that they would no longer have any business operations in Burma. Four
months later new legislation was introduced in the USA which prevented USA
companies from investing in Burma. While there was only a small Burmese population
in the United States the ability to utilize ICTs in the campaign against the Burmese
administration allowed the activist to achieve results that without information
technology would have taken considerably longer (Danitz and Strobel, 2002).
Enabling or disabling ICT infrastructure is often the goal of a military operation. In
the Israeli-Lebanese Conflict a number of the July 2006 Israeli air strikes were targeted
at transmission stations used by television, radio and mobile phones. “An Israeli army
spokeswoman said Israel hit a transmitter broadcasting Hizbullah radio and television
programs and a second transmitting telephone frequencies ‘used by Hizbullah’. The
official said that the stations were used for broadcasting anti-Israel propaganda and
incitement against the country” (Reuters, 2006). The choice of these targets was not
arbitrary, but a well thought out plan to reduce communications.
VINE In the Yugoslavia conflict, NATO intentionally did not target satellite or Internet
service providers. “Policy instead was to keep the Internet open”. James P. Rubin,
37,1 spokesman for the US State Department, said “Full and open access to the Internet can
only help the Serbian people know the ugly truth about the atrocities and crimes
against humanity being perpetrated in Kosovo by the Milosevic regime.”. In contrast
NATO forces did strike Serb communication sources that were disseminating
16 Milosevic’s propaganda. This demonstrates how ICT affects military decisions.
Yugoslav and NATO opponents used the Internet to disrupt service on government
computers and change contents on web sites. These types of actions certainly can have
an indirect affect on public support (Denning, 2002).
ICTs are used in conflicts for intelligence gathering, planning, communications,
coordinating troops, disseminating propaganda and also for high-tech, smart weapon
systems. ICTs provide a logistics capability to not only military and warfare
operations but also to peacekeeping and aid efforts. Peacekeeping organizations view
ICTs as a method to help deal with the underlying causes of a conflict by “promoting
access to knowledge, they can promote mutual understanding, an essential factor in
conflict prevention and post-conflict reconciliation. ICTs also offer ways to reveal
human rights abuses, promote transparent governance, and give people living under
repressive regimes access to uncensored information” (Stauffacher et al., 2005). In
World Disasters Report 2005, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red
Crescent Societies emphasizes that in relief efforts “Information and Communication
Technology must be recognized as a form of aid in itself.”.
Terrorists and rebel groups use the Internet extensively. In a report presented to the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, May 4, 2006, Bruce Hoffman
explained that “in 1998, while fewer than half of the 30 groups that the US State
Department designates as ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’ (FTOs) had websites,
within one year almost all of them did”. “Despite the multiplicity and diversity of
terrorist websites, they share a number of key characteristics in common. These sites
are often notable for their colorful, well-designed and visually arresting graphic
content. In this respect, they seem designed particularly to appeal to a computer savvy,
media-saturated, video game addicted generation.” Terrorists use satellite systems to
communicate in remote areas. ICTs are used for training members and communicating
instructions. They use the Internet to gather open source information and to hack into
secure information sources. Terrorists use the Internet to gather information,
communicate, plan and coordinate attacks. Past events provide evidence as to how
terrorists use the internet to actually carry out an operation through denial of service
attacks, planting viruses, stealing sensitive information, and interrupting or disturbing
public services. A well known example is the “Pakistani Hackerz Club” where a
pro-Israel lobby organization’s database was electronically breached and 700 credit
cards numbers were stolen and published openly on the Internet (CBS News, 2000).
ICTs play a role in both public perceptions of regional conflicts and terrorist
organizations as well as the operations within conflicts and conducted by terrorists.
These technologies can be easily and cost effectively exploited for multiple purposes
and for what may be viewed as both “good and evil” purposes. ICTs have the ability to
empower all organizations no matter what their fundamental objectives may be. In his
report presented to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Hoffman
states the necessity to develop ways in which to limit the ability of terrorists to exploit
the Internet (Hoffman, 2006). While a great deal of information is available on the
current uses of the Internet by these groups there is a need to investigate and plan for
what the future may bring.
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About the author

Dr Theresa L. Jefferson is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Management


and Systems Engineering at The George Washington University. Her research
interests include software engineering, information management and electronic
commerce. Prior to joining the faculty at GWU she worked for a number of
years as a government consultant in the areas of information systems and
operations research. She can be contacted at: tjeff@gwu.edu

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