Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World

  • Published
Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World by James Jay Carafano. Texas A&M University Press, 2011, 336 pages.

In Wiki at War, James Jay Carafano presents a thoroughly researched synopsis of the national security implications of social networks and the connectivity afforded by Web 2.0. Dr. Carafano, the vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, is an accomplished historian and national security expert with several published works. In this book, his expertise is readily apparent as he distills complex subject matter into understandable concepts and seamlessly weaves together historical examples and recent events in support of his central thesis.

The author argues that "engaging in the war online is not optional" (p. 22), defending this position by drawing on a survey of social networks and their effect on our world. The book's seven chapters are informally organized into three nearly equal parts. Part 1 presents a history of social networks and the technological advances that contributed to the emergence of Web 2.0. Carafano maintains that speech was the first social network, that each human being is a node in the network, and that transmission of ideas through speech is the connection between nodes. This "technology" facilitated the formation of communities, enabled coordinated action in battle, and led to the development of other forms of social networks. As communities grew, so did the need for more capable social networks. Writing eliminated the distance limitations of speech and facilitated the storage of information. Machine writing expedited the writing process and facilitated mass communication. The telegraph and, later, the telephone provided near-real-time communication over long distances. Finally, the emergence of broadcast and mass media accelerated the delivery of messages over great distances to numerous recipients. Social networks today still depend upon these basic characteristics.

Although such networks evolved over thousands of years, Carafano notes that the evolution of computing technology occurred relatively quickly. He details the development of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer ENIAC in 1942. Originally designed by John Mauchly to calculate gunnery tables, ENIAC emerged as the world's first programmable computer. The subsequent introduction of memory, high-level programming languages, and silicon processors fueled the computer revolution and led to its modern-day counterparts. Similarly, in an attempt to make an efficient research network, the Advanced Research Projects Agency developed the technology and protocols that enable the Internet. Over time, the Internet matured, and interactive applications that permit "user created content" (p. 84) began to emerge. This new, more interactive version of the Internet is often referred to as Web 2.0.

Part 2, dedicated to present-day cyberspace, examines the malicious actors operating in cyberspace, addresses government shortcomings in managing cyberspace activities, and declares that individuals have the potential to "act as agents of influence" in cyberspace (p.167). The author's coverage of various archetypes of threats in cyberspace is comprehensive and well written. Although he pays less attention to nation-state actors, his emphasis on cyber criminals and activists offers a balanced view representative of reality. The downside is that Dr. Carafano seems to have a bias which leads him to conclude that the number of people affiliated with China's "Red Hacker Alliance" equates to cyberspace superiority and that other advanced nations, including the United States and Russia, are inferior in this area. Some aspects of his findings may be true, but readers are not afforded the opportunity to arrive at their own conclusion.

Carafano's treatment of governments' ability to adapt and operate in Web 2.0 is equally biased. He argues that government shortcomings have "less to do with the state of technology . . . than they do with their courage and competence to act" (p. 160), pointing out numerous failures by the US government, from deploying e-government to recognizing the importance of human capital. Although these claims are factually accurate, the author tends to overemphasize their effects, a commonplace trend among cyberspace writers. This section closes with a discussion of the importance of individuals in Web 2.0, observing that "the national security implication of individuals online is too big a subject for free states not to pay attention to" (p. 193).

Part 3 presents a road map for governments to become competitive in cyberspace and discusses key technological areas in which future innovations may change the cyber landscape. The author presents a compelling "to-do list" for governments that includes being deliberate and systematic, finding ways for hierarchical and networked processes to complement each other, and developing cyber-savvy leaders to face the challenges of the future, using examples from earlier sections of the book to fortify these arguments. Finally, he examines areas in which innovations could change the landscape of cyberspace, including quantum computing, storing inordinate amounts of data, and developing applications that scan environmental factors and predict users' information needs. Even though these theories seem far-fetched today, their potential for becoming reality adds credence to the author's argument that "thinking about the future is a vital part of holding the cyber heights" (p. 263).

In Wiki at War, Dr. Carafano realizes his objective of surveying cyberspace and addressing the current issues with which governments must deal. Parts 1 and 3 are exceptional, providing thoroughly researched and well-written discussion. Part 2, unfortunately, falls short because Carafano's biases result in inaccuracies and overstatements regarding the impacts of his arguments.

This book is best suited for senior leaders or policy makers interested in a broad survey of cyberspace. However, individuals more familiar with the subject will likely find its wide-ranging approach inadequate. Furthermore, readers directly involved in cyberspace operations may discover that Wiki at War suffers from overemphasized claims and the type of sensationalism that has become commonplace in the cyber genre.

Maj William R. Giles, USAF
Lackland AFB, Texas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."