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When Hosni Mubarak shut down Egypt’s internet and cellphone communications, it seemed that all U.S. officials could do was ask him politely to change his mind. But the American military does have a second set of options, if it ever wants to force connectivity on a country against its ruler’s wishes.
There’s just one wrinkle. “It could be considered an act of war,” says John Arquilla, a leading military futurist.
It’s an attractive option for policymakers who want an option for future Egypts, between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. And it might give teeth to the Obama administration’s demand that foreign governments consider internet access an inviolable human right.
Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, spent years urging the military to logic-bomb adversary websites, disrupt hostile online presences, and even cause communications blackouts to separate warring factions before they go nuclear. What the military can turn off, he says, it can also turn on — or at least fill dead airspace.
In the absence of those options, there’s always the old-school methods of jamming a government’s communication frequencies and broadcasting favorable messages. That’s the Commando Solo’s specialty. “Jamming is something we think about in the context of shooting wars,” says Arquilla, but “it may have its place in social revolutions as well.”
The trouble is, if a government follows Egypt’s lead and turns off the internet, it’s not going to be keen to see a meddling foreign power turn it back on.
That act might not be as provocative as sending in ground troops or dropping bombs. But it’s still an act of what you might call forced online entry — by definition, a hostile one.
Arquilla says. “This is far less an engineering problem and far more a political one.”