digital knowledge. digital culture. digital memory.


ICT, information warfare, and the RFMF

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Note to RFMF readers: I would be very interested in hearing your comments on this post.

The Royal Fiji Military Force (RFMF) recently posted a document entitled Commander's Intent 2008 on the their website. This statement of intent forms sort of a strategic plan for the RFMF for 2008 and beyond. It is broken up into three main sections:
  • One section dealing with "Good Governance in the RFMF", including issues such as policy and legal compliance, formal planning, and budgetary restraint;
  • One section that is a kind of environmental scan of the current internal and external situation in Fiji, including social and economic pressures, race relations, regional security, and a survey of the RFMF's "competition" within Fiji, "there had been a move to replace the RFMF with a reinvigorated and robust police force," and in the region including Commonwealth forces recruiting soldiers away from the RFMF; and
  • A large section outlining the Commander's strategic ideas for the coming year.
I was curious to see what this document would say, if anything, about ICT in general and information warfare in particular. In the environmental scan section the document makes the following optimistic statement about Fiji's ICT potential, "Technologically, Fiji can be the Singapore of the region." Only to burst that bubble in the very next sentence, "Unfortunately we continue to lag behind badly and this has affected our ability to grow like Singapore." No additional information is provided about who we are lagging behind, what is the cause of the lag, nor how said lag can be overcome.

ICT is referred to explicitly three additional times in the list of actions that the RFMF is considering in 2008.
  • "Improve logistic support system,"
  • "Develop a modern reliable and secure communications system," and
  • "Develop a computerization and IT system for the RFMF."
While these seem valuable strategic activities, it should be understood that these three are nearly lost in a lengthy list of 50 actions that are under consideration for the 2008 budget. Clearly, ICT is not high on the military priority list. Let's examine each of these in turn.

While I do know a thing or two about electronic procurement, I am the first to admit that I know nothing about logistics support systems (LSS); and I am not familiar with what the RFMF currently has deployed. Certainly they will need to equip their logistics personnel with computers, wireless equipment, and assorted electronic inventory management apparatus - not to mention training - in order to take full advantage of a modern LSS.

Secure Communications
My informal survey of civilians who have had email contact with RFMF officers revealed two facts. First, RFMF officers use free email accounts from US vendors (i.e. Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.), at least to communicate with civvies. Using these American services makes spying on RFMF communication quite simple for US intelligence services, not to mention the risk due to the notorious insecurity of these services. Still, these are not a problems as long as these free accounts are limited to use for unclassified communications only. There is a mail exchanger (MX) registered for RFMF email addresses pointing to a server operated by Connect. Could this be the military's current/future secure mail server?

Second, my survey revealed that RFMF officers do not have Internet access in RFMF facilities and that officers must leave their bases in order to access the net. However, this cannot be entirely true. For one thing, there is a webmaster's Unwired email address posted at the bottom of the RFMF home page. This indicates that there is at least one wireless modem in RFMF facilities around the country. For another, according to an issue of the RFMF newsletter, there is an Internet Cafe located at QEB.
Our soldiers are so fortunate to be given this opportunity especially the Other Ranks and they will no longer go to town because we now have our own, and I would urge them to make good use of it," said the Commander Land Forces.
[Internet cafe to boost troops' interoperability, Mataivalu News, Feb. 2007, p13]
The newsletter states that soldiers can purchase Internet access cards in $5, $10, and $15 denominations.

Of course, there is a lot more to digital military communications than email, but one must walk before one can run.

In terms of establishing a state of the art military ICT infrastructure, the RFMF clearly has some challenges to overcome and room to grow. It will be difficult to establish such an infrastructure when the organization seems much more focused on the purely physical side of soldering. While the Commander's intent does mention the "changing nature of warfare", a phrase that evokes the increasing importance of information warfare and asymmetric conflict, the bulk of the 50 potential action items listed in this document involve enhancing the RFMF's physical operational capabilities. Of course, military forces often conceal their information warfare capabilities in terms of signals intelligence, cryptology, and system and network attack and defense - could there be more beneath the surface?

In terms of ICT, what is missing from the Commanders statement of intent? There is no mention of plans to develop the RFMF's capacity to wage offensive or defensive information warfare. There is no mention of how the RFMF plans to compensate for the high-tech support and training that they used to receive from the Australian and New Zealand forces. There is no mention of plans to use private contractors to shore up RFMF's high-tech expertise, such as the Indian hackers rumored to have been employed last year or the consultations with FINTEL experts over anti-government bloggers. There is no mention of investing in media and public affairs training for officers.

As I have written about before, Fiji's current crisis is not a traditional military conflict, but rather a battle for the supremacy of ideas - the new ideas of the interim regime vs. the old ideas of the Qarase government. Fiji's current crisis is a 4th generation warfare (4GWF) conflict, where the focus is not on physically outmaneuvering one's opponent, but rather on winning the battle for public opinion. To quote Kim Taipale,
4GWF is political war -- superior political will, when properly employed, can defeat greater economic and military power... In 4GWF conflicts, nonmilitary instruments of power (information) trump military solutions (warfare, technology, and firepower). Information constrains the exercise of kinetic power but kinetic power cannot constrain information power.
[Seeking Symmetry in Fourth Generation Warfare: Information Operations in the War of Ideas. March 2006]
The possibility that political will could overcome the RFMF's monopoly on military power in Fiji should be a concern. Yet most of the activities under consideration, other than winning "the hearts and minds of the local population through professionalism," are purely 3GWF considerations - that is focused on informed, flexible, and rapid physical deployment of military force.

To be successful with its cleanup campaign, the RFMF needs to win a conflict where the battlespace is bounded by communications technologies (including Fiji's ineffable but very effective coconut wireless) and the content of the stories that these technologies communicate. To be successful, it is in this battlespace, the informationspace, that the RFMF needs to increase its operational capacity. [Note: This morning's Fiji Times reports that the interim government is reviving the National Security Council and the Fiji Intelligence Services. Does this signal a change in focus or are these purely civilian initiatives?]

By way of conclusion I offer two quotations - one from a Russian Major-General and one from the most wanted man in the world - both of whom understand 4GWF better than anyone in the Pacific.
We are approaching a stage of development when no one is a soldier anymore but everyone is a participant in combat action. The task now is not to inflict losses in men and material but to thwart an enemy's plans, demoralize it, undermine its worldview, and destroy its intrinsic values."
[Maj. Gen. G.A. Berezkin, Deputy Head of the Russian Federation Defense Ministry Center of Military-Technical Information Studies, in Lessons from the war in Iraq, Military Thought (May 1, 2003). Quoted in Taipale.]

It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods; in fact, its ratio may reach 90% of the total preparation for the battles.
[Osama bin Laden, 2002. Quoted in Taipale.

Photos by: soldiersmediacenter


On top of everything else, lan problems!

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2007 and now 2008 have not been easy years for the small Pacific nation of Fiji. Between a coup and ensuing political turmoil, an economic down turn driven by a drop in tourism visits, a couple of cyclones, occasional flooding, corrupt officials, home invasions, drownings, road deaths, typhoid, and water and power cuts; things have been challenging. And now, I sit down in front of my computer, open up the Fiji Times web site to read that, on top of everything else, we now have "lan problems"!

[Fiji Times, February 25, 2008]

One can only hope that the "meaningful dialogue" succeeds so that we can all get back to WoW and SL in order to escape reality.

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Fiji political blogs: truth or slander?

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Since the 2006 coup, I have tried to chronicle the rapidly changing world of blogs in Fiji as they start up, shut down, climb to great heights, and then fall out of the spotlight. My comments even garnered some unwanted attention from the Human Rights Commission Director who, paradoxically for a human rights officer, seemed to be arguing against freedom of speech. While the interim government ended its public affairs assault on blogs some months ago, there are still intrigues to explore in Fiji's blogosphere.

In recent weeks, one of the top news stories in the Fiji press has been the mystery of the interim government minister who has been accused of tax evasion. The interim government and the police claim that this individual has been cleared of all wrong-doing and refuses to reveal his or her identity. At least one of Fiji's political blogs, however, has openly published the identity of the accused minister. Of course there is no proof. If there was concrete proof, the international press would certainly be publishing this name, even if the Fijian press practices self-censorship.

As I wrote over nine months ago,

Clearly, some of the remarks in Fiji's anonymous political blogs regarding members of the interim government are libelous. Fiji's Defamation Act and supporting Common Law allows for an injured party to ask the court to instruct an Internet Service Provider to turn over records relating to a customer who has published defamatory remarks.
[Blocking anti-military blogs may harm military, Digital Fiji, May 14, 2007]
We will have to wait an see if anyone is willing to put their name and some evidence behind this accusation, otherwise it remains simply the unfounded finger-pointing of anonymous individuals with a clear anti-government political agenda.

Photo by: TW Collins

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Koha hits Apia, Samoa

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UNESCO has formally announced the installation of the Koha open source library management system in the Nelson Memorial Library in Apia, Samoa. I was honoured to be involved in this project.

Dear Pacific Library colleagues,

The Communication & Information (CI) Sector of UNESCO, the University of the South Pacific (USP) Library, and the Samoa Nelson Memorial Library are very proud to announce the launch of the online Koha Library Management System (LMS) for the Samoa Nelson Memorial Library.

The Samoa Nelson Memorial Library is the first Pacific National Library to launch an online Library Management System allowing members and visitors to view their entire catalogue including their extensive Samoa and Pacific collection.

UNESCO is committed to developing dynamic, viable websites for Pacific National Libraries and National Archives to increase access to information. By publishing their catalogue, the Samoa Nelson Memorial Library promotes Samoa and Pacific literature and knowledge. It protects Samoa’s literary and intellectual heritage.

The Library now also provides a 24/7 service to Samoan members and visitors worldwide.

UNESCO promotes the use of open-source software and supports the Koha LMS. The Samoa project follows on from a successful 2006 deployment for the Cook Islands National Library. UNESCO fully funded the project including the supply of server hardware, bar-code readers, extensive training and documentation, internet connectivity, and linking Nelson staff to Koha technical support groups.

USP Library is the only recognised Koha implementation partner in the Pacific. We received excellent ICT support from CSL Ltd.

Please visit the Nelson site at:

We look forward to comments on the Nelson site especially improvements. We would like to hear from Pacific National Libraries expressing interest in developing websites of their collections.


Abel Caine

Adviser for Communication & Information

UNESCO Office for the Pacific States


Photo by: The Depratment

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