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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: Y2K: The First World InfoWar (maybe)

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Thu, 28 Jan 1999 18:07:27 -0500
To:            politech@vorlon.mit.edu
From:          Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
Subject:       FC: Y2K: The First World InfoWar (maybe)
Reply-to:      declan@well.com


From: "Alan Simpson" <news@comlinks.com> 
To: <declan@wired.com> 
Subject: Y2K - The First World InfoWar 
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 16:27:56 -0500 

FYI - you covered much of this in your piece. The Feds should be
planning spin control

Alan Simpson

Y2K  The First World InfoWar

By Alan Simpson

In the confusion of computer glitches, amid an environment of
political chaos, we must not allow the perception of the coming Y2K
crisis to be used to damage the economic, nor critical information
infrastructure, nor allow public confidence to be shattered by lack of
political leadership.

For the past three years or so, discussion on Y2K, its causes and
effects, has been limited to technical newsgroups, websites and
mailing lists. It has been a boring exchange, with discussions of
lines of code, metrics, obscure computer languages, and arguments over
bios chips, embedded systems and process control devices.

But that scenario has changed dramatically, fuelled by right wing and
religious groups, vendors of survivalist goods and services, and the
growing interest in Y2K shown by mainstream television and radio.
Today the average citizen is blasted from all sides, with messages of
Apocalypse 2000, the need to stockpile food and water, and the certain
breakdown of essential services, even law and order. The news networks
carry regular features showing 1960^Os-like preparations for the
electronic version of nuclear holocaust.

We are in danger of losing the confidence of Mr. & Mrs. Joe Public, in
our ability to fix the problem, and ensure critical services are
available. We are losing the ^OHearts and Minds^O of the American
people in the perception of progress towards a safe transition.

Over the past year I have noted a massive increase in email pleas,
from average families seeking assurances, that things can^Ot really be
that bad. Without any clear message, or leadership from the Clinton
Administration, they are caught on an information battlefield. Surely,
Joe Public asks, if there was a problem, government would give us the
facts. Congress would be aware of any chance of an information
meltdown. They understand the issues, don^Ot they?

Computers are dumb machines that don^Ot have any influence in the
decision making process of Washington. They do not have legions of
neat suited lobbyists, dutifully ladling out campaign contributions.
If a PC is seen outside the office of a Congressman, it^Os more than
likely going to the scrap heap, not to bend his ear, with suitable

Likewise the programmers, project managers and IT experts have no
voice. They have been shouting their warning cries for years, drowned
out by the reassurances of the trade associations and lobbyists of the
software industry. 

But it is not government that is leading the public information battle
of Y2K, it is a well organized group of extremists, with sound
commercial and philosophical goals, utilizing the rumor-spreading
technology of the Internet, and the hunger of the mass media for
disaster stories.

^OOn the internet you can^Ot tell if it^Os a dog^O is a well-known
phrase. Anyone can state an opinion, fabricate data, and with the
building hysteria over Y2K, it will become legend, written in stone,
within a few hours. Take for instance the Insulin story.

A flawed amateur report suggested that the majority of the world^Os
Insulin was manufactured in a small plant in Denmark (later quoted as
being in Holland). This plant was quoted as never being able to
achieve Y2K compliance, and so the world^Os supply of Insulin would
dry up at midnight on December 31st, 1999. This false rumor was
relayed back-and-forth by Y2K activists, until accepted as gospel.
^OIt must be correct because it is on every bulletin board, and Y2K
mailing list!^O

Any rational person would have questioned how such a small factory
could physically produce all the world^Os Insulin. The protesting
voices from the major pharmaceutical companies went unheard. This
should have been a warning sign, that many of the Y2K newsgroups were
being manipulated.

As I write this piece, another legend is in the making. Cadillac was
alleged to have sent out a letter admitting that all Cadillac^Os from
1974 until 1992 were non-compliant, and should be returned to the
dealer. Any businessperson looking at the facsimile of the alleged
letter would have been immediately suspicious, no date, no address and
in type so small you needed a magnifying glass to read it. Yet this
story spooked thousands of concerned citizens. A couple of lone voices
that asked, ^Odid 1972 Cadillac^Os even have computers^O were
immediately flamed, and their mental abilities questioned. Like most
moderates, they licked their email wounds, and retired from the

The fact that it was a hoax, even fraud was lost in the exclamation 
^OSee how big business is lying about Y2K.^O The old Soviet KGB would
have been proud of seeing a hoax turned into an attack on General

It is becoming evident that any positive news is the subject of
skepticism, usually met with a flood of emails onto the mailing lists
with, ^OI met a man whose wife works for this company, and she spoke
to someone who said that management hasn^Ot a clue^^O

In normal times this is idle gossip, ignored by the rational man. It
is akin to the rumors that the military had super intelligent Aliens
holed up in Area 51. If they had, the Generals would be billionaires,
running a replacement for Microsoft, not drawing meager military pay.
But as every politician knows, if you repeat a message, again and
again, get airtime on television, and meet no opposition from
government, then you achieve a self fulfilling prophesy.

If you predict Bank failures, keep on suggesting drawing out $2000 -
$5000 in cash over the New Year, as well as liquidating all assets;
you will precipitate a meltdown of the banking, and financial system
in the United States, and around the world. There is insufficient
liquidity in the modern banking system, in any country, to allow
conversion of electronic funds, into hard cash.

If every family started hoarding food, it would fracture the
delicately balanced economic and supply models of the retail and
distribution industries. If suddenly, in December 1999, millions of
people started buying up sugar, salt, flour and the basics, there
would be social and economic upheaval, not seen since the Oil crisis
in the 1970^Os. Consider the plight of those who are on limited fixed
incomes, or welfare, amid escalating prices and shortages of

There are those of course who would welcome such a catastrophe

In 1997 the FBI estimates that the losses from computer crime, and
foreign and domestic espionage probably exceeded $300 billion, about
the same cost as fixing Y2K over the last 5  10 years. This is not an
idle, or insignificant risk scenario.

The United States, through neglect and lack of positive leadership is
becoming vulnerable to serious damage, at very little cost and effort
to those wanting to attack it^Os institutions, infrastructure and
values. In normal times such an onslaught would have been unthinkable,
and ridiculous.

But these are not normal times.

The resources of the Presidency are either defending the current
occupants actions, or engaging in a ^OWag the Dog^O diversion, bombing
anyone who happens to be in the cross hairs. That^Os normal politics,
but in these times of crisis, nobody is watching the farm.

The Congress is engaged in a media battle, with the credibility of the
majority party at stake.

The Senate is paralyzed with Impeachment duties, it neither
comprehends, understands, nor relishes.

As far as the public is concerned, there are no voices of reason
coming from the nation^Os capital. The ability of either party to be
capable of delivering a Y2K crisis message, and get the people to
follow their leadership, is doubtful!

There are voices of reason on multiple channels of television, from
ABC, CNN and NBC looking at the collapse of the power grid, to TV
Evangelists advising hoarding and stockpiling, to militant
survivalists offering package deals on AK47^Os and ^Oa couple of
thousand rounds^O, the minimum needed to stop your neighbor stealing
your stockpiled survival rations.

This is no longer a hypothetical scenario.

The public is becoming increasingly concerned, and some are on the
verge of panic.  In reality there is little for Joe Public to be
concerned about, for the hard work of legions of programmers, IT
managers and software companies looks like it is paying off. The power
companies seem to have the power generation and distribution fixed, as
do the telephone companies, public utilities, and the critical supply
chain providers. I say, ^Oseem to^O because we still do not have any
definitive oversight of the critical infrastructure.

The banks are confident in their smug way that their systems are
ready. But if the public heeds the advice of commentators on TV, and
withdraws a few months supply of cash during December, then all the
hard work of the bankers will be in vain. The financial system will
collapse. One major bank not being able to supply as much cash as
demanded, will be lead item on the local news, and precipitate a run
on the banks.

The US economic system is healthier than it has been for years. But it
is all built on perception. Lose that public confidence, that ^Ofeel
good^O aura of a vibrant economy, and you crash the economic system,
in a nation armed to the teeth, disdaining government, and being told
to hoard food by the Churches, and even the Red Cross.

Who cares if the Department of this-and-that will reach 100%
compliance before 2023! You could chop 60% of the expenditure, staff
and resources of many government departments, and would see an
increase in service and efficiency. The public does not care about
bureaucracy; it expects its taxes to be used properly, and all
services to be available.

It does care about electricity, telephones, food, water and

Yet all announcements from Washington relate to internal government
systems! Congressman Horn^Os Report Card looks at critical systems in
government. It may have slipped the notice of the providers of this
information, that when government closed down, due to lack of a fiscal
budget, the country continued to run!

There is no ^OReport Card^O on power, telephone, transportation, food
or water, only rumors, predictions and self-serving statements by

If in 1997, with all the defenses in place, the USA lost an estimated
$300 Billion to InfoCrime. What could be the risk scenario for 2000,
with a backdrop of a decimated information infrastructure, demoralized
panicking public, no confidence in leadership, and a shattered
perception of safety and security in financial markets.

January 2000 can either be a time for celebration, or the biggest
battle in the First World Information War. It^Os all a matter of
perception, and an effective flow of accurate stable information, easy
to achieve before a battle, but almost impossible to achieve in the
heat, and confusion of a battle.  Ask Sun Tsu, although he did not
have to worry about television, and would have burned the religious
zealots, not had to listen to them!

The public is listening to them, and an effective calming, and
reassuring voice needs to come from government. We need a calming
voice that carries a big stick, and the willingness to knock the
critical information infrastructure into a compliant year 2000.

Alan Simpson
Broadcaster & Speaker

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