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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

Cyber Probing: The Politicisation of Virtual Attack

Despite its pervasiveness in our daily lives, from social media to electrical networks to banking, the critical nature of the online remains ill-understood or appreciated. “Cyberspace,” a recent report asserts, “remains inadequately defended, policed and indeed comprehended.” This is the conclusion of Alex Michael, a researcher for the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. In Cyber Probing: The Politicisation of Virtual Attack, Alex dispels the comfortable belief – expressed in practice and conceptualization of online and new media – that the cyber world is somehow separate from the “real” world. In fact, they are simply new tools used for traditional activities. Cyber attacks, Alex points out, are used “in conjunction with many other forms of pressure, ranging from physical protest to social and diplomatic approaches, to influence the target and attempt to force its hand.” The Stuxnet worm reinforces Alex’s premise.

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Discussion & Webcast: Freedom vs. National Security: Finding a Middle Ground

The Voice of America is hosting a discussion and webcast entitled Online Freedom vs. National Security: Finding a Middle Ground.

Government efforts seeking new controls over the Internet and mobile communications are raising concerns about the possible erosion of human rights and basic freedoms.

Participating are: Bob Boorstin, Director, Corporate & Policy Communications, Google; Arnaud de Borchgrave, Director & Senior Advisor, Transnational Threats Project, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS); Julie Barko Germany, Vice President for Digital Strategy, DCI Group; and Marc Rotenberg, President & Executive Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center.

When: Tuesday, October 5, 2010, 10:00am ET – 11:00am ET.

Where: Voice of America
Briefing Room 1528-A
330 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20237

RSVP at askvoa@voanews.com or call (202) 203-4959

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It is not clear to me that this worthwhile and necessary discussion should be available to audiences within the borders of the United States as a result of continuing Congressional censorship found within the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. Further, will someone mention irony of the firewall at the US border that inhibits informing audiences both abroad (at the very least by such engagement to Americans, including its value and content) and ignores diasporas (real or manufactured through empathy, sympathy, or other joining beyond the traditional ethnic, cultural, or linguistic bonds)? 

Communication, Communications, and the “cyber arms” debate

By Cliff W. Gilmore

In Tom Gjelten’s September 23 NPR story titled “Seeing The Internet As An ‘Information Weapon’” Gjelten asks, “…why is there no arms control measure that would apply to the use of cyber weapons?” One obvious answer is that geography-based legal frameworks are ill-adapted to deal with a domain that is unconstrained by geography and subject to numerous competing interests. The situation is complicated further by an environment that changes at the speed of Moore’s Law.

Perhaps the most significant challenge however may be the information-centric mindset highlighted by Gjelten and prevalent among leaders, planners and communication practitioners alike. Part of the reason we have yet to develop applicable arms control measures for cyber weapons is a continued treatment of communications and communication (sans "s") as a singular activity rather than as two distinct fields of practice, the former grounded in technical science and the latter in social science.

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The Importance of Understanding Wikileaks

City University London is hosting a conversation with Wikileaks front man Julian Assange on 30 September 2010. The event, titled Too much information, security and censorship in the age of Wikileaks, will ostensibly ask several questions stemming from the sensational release of tens of thousands of internal military communications, labeled the Afghan War Diaries by Wikileaks:

Was this a victory for free expression? Or a stunt that put hundreds of lives in danger? Is censorship a necessary evil in wartime? And will mass leaking of information change journalism?

To be sure, this was not an exercise of “free expression.” An expression would be the labeling and framing of the material. The purpose was, as Wikileaks purports is their mission, to create transparency for the purpose of accountability. City University should then ask if this mission was accomplished and, if so, was there a cost? The questions must move beyond what Assange says he wants to achieve and challenge him on the results he gets.

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Event: The hidden geopolitics of cyberspace

From the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism:

The Annenberg Research Seminar series, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and the USC Master’s in Public Diplomacy program welcome Dr. Ronald Deibert for a conversation about “The hidden geopolitics of cyberspace.” Deibert is an associate professor of political science and director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary research and development hothouse working at the intersection of the Internet, global security, and human rights. He will be speaking about his current project which monitors, analyzes and investigates the impact of power in cyberspace as it relates to public diplomacy. This is the last in a series of Canadian-US Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy talks. This talk is a presentation of the Annenberg Research Seminar series. Lunch will be served. RSVP requested. To RSVP, click here.  If you are having problems submitting your RSVP, please contact cpdevent@usc.edu.

Checkout Ron’s website and follow him on Twitter: @citizenlab.

Political News and Social Media with Politico Editor Jim VandeHei

Eric Schwartzman interviews Politico editor Jim VandeHei on Politico and his views social media. As always, Eric is an able interviewer who asks smart, well-researched questions. The result is a good “brain-picking” of VendeHei on the “future of grassroots diplomacy, the growth of emerging communications channels like social and mobile for news consumption,” in particularly how “Politico amalgamates the old media values of fairness and accuracy with the speed and immediacy of new technologies.”

Listen to the interview at On the Record Online. Eric provide a helpful timeline of the interview (copied below). Just before the 17 minute mark in the interview, just after the commercial, is a question the Broadcasting Board of Governors will have to wrestle with as they necessarily open to social media: who to do deal with vitriolic comments.

Also, Eric asked VandeHei a question from Don Kilburg, a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Dept. of State, on the hijack of the agendas of global media, online and offline, and global leaders by an individual who previously had an audience of at most fifty.

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Event: Influence and Propaganda Conference

imageThe Information Operations Institute, in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, invites you to attend the Influence and Fighting Propaganda Conference.

Identifying and countering propaganda and misinformation through dissemination that avoids the label of propaganda will be the key themes of the event. Discussions will explore who, how and why can people or groups be influenced, and difference between engagement from the lowest to the highest levels of leadership.

Russ Rochte, retired US Army Colonel and now faculty member at the National Defense Intelligence College, and I will co-moderate a panel on the media exploring the tension between "Media as an instrument of War" and the journalist’s traditional obligations to the truth, objectivity, informing the public, and verification. What is the impact on the media’s relationship with itself, its readers, and its sources as the media struggles for mind-share and relevance in a highly competitive environment of diminished resources, intensified news cycles, and direct audience engagement by news makers, and pressure to de-emphasize journalistic ethics. What constitutes the media and how does an organization like Wikileaks change the environment? How does this show in the natural conflict between the government and the media and how is it exploited by America’s adversaries?

This will be a two-hour panel, October 14, 10a-12p, with:

  • Wally Dean, Director of Training, Committee of Concerned Journalists (confirmed)
  • Jamie McIntyre, Host: "Line of Departure", Military.com (confirmed)
  • Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter (invited)
  • Bill Gertz, reporter for The Washington Times (confirmed)

The agenda for the conference is below.

Event website is here
Date: October 13-15 (2.5 days)
Location: Turning Stone Resort, Verona, New York (map)
Registration Fee: Students/Faculty: free; Government: $50; Military: $25; Corporate/Industry: $200
Registration: online or PDF

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Event: Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting, and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East

Today, the Aspen Institute hosts a discussion on “digital statecraft” at its Washington, DC, office at DuPont Circle. Digital Statecraft: Media, Broadcasting, and the Internet as Instruments of Public Diplomacy in the Middle East will feature Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors; Eli Khoury, CEO of Quantum Communications, a leading advertising and communications firm in the Middle East; and Duncan MacInnes, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) in the Office of the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

The topic is “the use of social and digital media as a tool to promote a vibrant civil society in the Middle East” and will include “insights and lessons learned from their extensive experience in the media sector and the region.”

The event will be webcast and archived on the Aspen Institute’s website. Lunch will also be served.

Date: today, Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Time: 12p – 1p

RSVP is requested: call 202-736-2526 or email maysam.ali@aspeninstitute.org.

See also:

The world of Wikileaks Part 2: A means of evaluating Public Diplomacy

By Ali Fisher

Wikileaks Part 2 looks at the impact of releasing information through the traditional media on the network of interactions using social media and reflects on the potential to use network analysis in evaluation. (See also The Small World of Wikileaks, Part 1.)

image From a Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy perspective, evaluation has become increasingly important with forthcoming reports and even spending decisions, for example, in the UK. If an organisation is seeking to develop lasting relationships, seeking to subsequently identify those relationships would be a logical part of any evaluation or bid for further funding.

The example of Wikileaks has much in common with those engaged in Public Diplomacy and seeking to measure their attempts to disperse information on specific issues. In terms of Public Diplomacy, Wikileaks part 1 discussed creating a baseline of interactions and information sharing behaviours. Part 1 also highlighted that information about Wikileaks was trapped in a ‘Small World’ limiting the ability of Wikileaks to go mainstream.

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Discussions on Digital Diplomacy

imageThe July/August issue of PDiN Monitor, the electronic review of public diplomacy in the news by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, focuses on the subject of Digital Diplomacy.

In “Beyond the Blackberry Ban: Realpolitik and the Negotiation of Digital Rights,” Shawn Powers looks at the Blackberry data network as a component of the global communications grid called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In doing so, Shawn asks,

…shouldn’t we be talking about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of such a network, and even thinking through how to get more secure, BlackBerry devices in the hands of civil society advocates and leaders in the Middle East? Or would such a strategy backfire, similar to the way U.S. arms sales to mujahidin during the Cold War continue to thwart American policy in Afghanistan today? …

But what would a world with ubiquitous secure, mobile communications actually look like? Would democracy and civil society flourish, or would hateful and violent groups be better able to organize and plan their terrorizing of society?

While I disagree with Shawn’s characterization of Wikileaks in his article as an organization “whose primary mission is to enhance democratic deliberations and accountability through transparency”, his points about the tension between the freedom and security of information exchange are valuable fodder for a serious discussion on the issue.

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