My previous post is an article I co-wrote with Jim Hendler in which I argue that the Russia-Georgia spat wasn’t really much of a cyber-war. It was, however, an a sophisticated information war. Not in the sense that information systems were crucial, or disrupted. But the Russia carried out their operation at a crucial time in which the United States had limited capabilities to process the information and develop a response.
In traditional warfare, enemies seek to find weak points in opponents defenses and positions. This occurs primarily in space, although time is important as well. As the ability to collect and process information expands, issues of time matter more and more.
In this case, the Russians struck in the waning days of a Presidency. Regardless of its own failings, no administration has much political capital in its last few months in office. Key personnel have left or are considering their individual exit strategies. This was compounded by carrying out the attack during the Olympics – when the world’s attention (and many leaders) were elsewhere.
There was a recent precedent for Russia’s use of the American presidential election/transition process. In October 2000 al-Qaeda struck the U.S.S. Cole in the Aden harbor. Although President Clinton told the 911 Commission that his administration’s limited time left in office was not a factor in preventing the administration from retaliating – it seems intuitively unlikely that this had no impact. Regardless, the change in administrations did disrupt the development of a coherent policy.
As world affairs become more complex and proceed at a faster pace, these kinds of weaknesses in time and in the decision-making process will loom larger and become more important components in strategic and operational planning.