The tremendous access to broadcast and other communications technology that the global citizen now enjoys is changing the nature of information warfare, in which information and how it is conveyed serves as a weapon. A current case in point is Al Zawraa television.
Al Zawraa Television broadcasts from Syria on behalf of the Sunni Baathist insurgent group, the Islamic Army of Iraq. News includes promoting anti-Shiite propaganda and graphic images of anti-American violence.
Lawrence Pintak, director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism in Cairo describes a bit of pre-Christmas, if post-modern, viewing fare:
In one English-language hour-long program, aired a week before Christmas but not seen since, the narrator addresses himself to President George W. Bush, referring to dead US soldiers in Iraq as "miserable nobodies." The program combines scenes of the preparation of car bombs, missile attacks and comments from alleged insurgent commanders with footage of US soldiers storming homes, torture at Abu Ghraib, scenes from "Top Gun," Bush's "mission accomplished" speech, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the final evacuation of Vietnam.
According to Pintak, the head of Al Zawraa claims to have made a deal with three European satellite channels, one of which reaches American audiences. The channel is already seen throughout the Arab world, via Egyptian satellite television.
Pintak writes that Al Zawraa's representative (and also former Iraqi parliamentarian and alleged Al Qaeda supporter), Mishan Al Jabouri, is confident that the Europeans will keep the channel on the air. But Pintak himself is not so confident:
The insurgent channel's impending European satellite carriage is likely to spark a new flurry American diplomacy, testing al-Jabouri's conviction that the Europeans won't cave to American pressure. France, after all, shut down retransmission of Hizbullah TV station al-Manar, the first channel included on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
But according to Bill Roggio, a journalist 'embed' in Iraq, not all Americans want the station shut down, as it provides information they might not otherwise get about insurgents' activities:
According to a military intelligence officer serving in Iraq, U.S. intelligence doesn't want to shut al-Zawraa down as it provides intelligence on the insurgents activities. When I asked senior American military and intelligence sources about shutting down pro-jihadi websites in the past, they expressed the same sentiment.
Roggio concludes, inconclusively, that the conflict between permitting adversaries' propaganda and gathering intelligence from it is a "major dilemma in the modern age of information warfare." Indeed. The appearance of conflict, in this case, is a sign of a way of thinking about communications that no longer fits. The current paradigm, despite mighty efforts in the government to grapple with the newly global communications environment, is left over from the Cold War and the era of state-controlled broadcasting. In those days, the United States could expect much more control over its own and others' communications environments.
That is no longer the case. And, although the United States seeks to make use of state-of-the-art technologies and applications in its communications, it hasn't really come to grips with the globalization or democratization of media the world over. When it does, we will begin to see thesigns of basic transformations in how the U.S. thinks about information warfare.