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India: After Nuclear War Far Right Wants Cyber War

After Nuclear War, India's Far Right Wants Cyber War


by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Less than four months ago, a loud and clear call for a nuclear war emanated from India's far right. From the same quarters comes now the call for preparations for a cyber war.

The nuclear war cry followed the Mumbai terrorist strike of November 2008. The cyber war drumbeat assails our ears on the eve of the crucial general elections the country will witness from April 16 to May 13, 2009.

The strident call of December 11, 2008, was for a South Asian nuclear war with the potential to spread across the world. The campaigners for the cyber war have not Pakistan, but India's northern neighbor, China, mainly in mind,

We took note of the nuclear saber-rattling in these columns earlier ("India's Right Wing Wants Nuclear War," December 18, 2008). The chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers' Association), patriarch of the "parivar" as the far-right "family" is popularly known, proclaimed nuclear war as the final solution to the problem of terrorism. Kuppahalli Sitaramayya Sudarshan, no less the führer of the far right despite his relatively low profile, thought nothing of this growing into a nuclear Third World War against terrorism. His Nazi-like logic was that such a war of extreme nationalism would cleanse the world as well.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political front of the "parivar" and the main opposition in India's parliament, generally pretends to be more moderate than the RSS on issues of fundamental importance to the far right. The party has to win political allies and cobble up a coalition if it wants power. The BJP, however, kept eloquently silent on Sudarshan's statement.

But it is the BJP, and none of the theoretically non-political members of the "parivar," that has taken the initiative on the cyber war front. The party spells out its policy on the subject in a document, released some days back, titled "BJP"s IT Vision." Calling for "an integrated National Cyber Security Plan, covering all aspects of external defense and internal security," the document also stresses the need for "an independent Digital Security Agency."

This agency, it is declared, will be "responsible for cyber warfare, cyber counter-terrorism and cyber security of national digital assets."

The declaration - particularly of cyber warfare as the primary task of the proposed agency - has provoked derision in some quarters. But it has also caused dismay in others who do not dismiss a far-right statement of this kind as a mere faux pas.

To ordinary observers, the idea of an official agency for the conduct of cyber warfare may seem odd, as such warfare is by definition unlawful. The recognized firms of cyber warfare include - besides cyber espionage, web vandalism, propaganda and paralysis of computer networks - attacks on not only enemy equipment but also infrastructure of public use such as power, water, communication and transport structures and systems. The far right, however, firmly believes that law is what it lays down.

One of the few commentators to have taken note of the document, Binu Karunakaran, writes: "Did they mean to say counter-cyber warfare and suffered a Freudian keyboard slip? No sane country in the world is likely to set up a body for cyber warfare - the unofficial stink job of spy agencies and misguided techno-jihadis." The document itself, however, leaves little doubt that the wording about an agency for cyber warfare was deliberate. Before issuing this call, the BJP emphasizes the need for building both "defensive and offensive capabilities for electronic warfare."

The document does not name the enemy or enemies to be engaged in an electronic war, but states: "Countries with adversarial relations to India are already working on doctrines that aim to cripple our communications and information networks, thereby paralyzing our command and control structures in the event of hostilities. Sadly, this is an area that was ignored by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) Government (of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) at great peril to India's security concerns."

China as India's cyberspace challenge had, however, been named a year ago. There were reports in April 2008 that several computers in the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi had been hacked and "vital files" lost. Friends of the far right in the establishment were quick to blame the crime on Beijing. But the government, which ignored them initially, officially subsequently absolved China of any role in the suspected sabotage.

High government officials, however, have sounded an alarm about cyber threats to India after the release of the BJP document. On March 26, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar said in New Delhi: "Cyber attacks and cyber terrorism are the new looming threats on the horizon. There could be attacks on critical infrastructure such as telecommunications, power distribution, transportation, financial services, essential public utility services and others." He did not name China as the enemy in this regard, but tied the threats to terrorism.

China, however, was to figure prominently in a series of reports on cyber threats since then. On March 28, an unidentified high military officer was reported to have told well-known daily The Hindustan Times that, according to army intelligence, Beijing was planning an "information war" impliedly as a prelude to a major conflict by 2017.

Then came the sensational world media story about a huge Chinese spy network that had "hacked into classified files in computers in 103 countries and monitored secret correspondence sent by the office of the Dalai Lama." The Tibetan Buddhist leader was given asylum in India in 1859 and has been based in Dharamshala, a Himalayan town in north India, ever since.

Researchers in Britain and Canada were said to have exposed "GhostNet," a network allegedly gathering information from governments and private organizations. The reported finding was that the network had spied on about 1,300 computers belonging to governments in Europe and South Asia. It was supposed to have used software "so advanced it could turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, allowing those watching to see and hear what was happening in a room."

China has scoffed at the allegations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang was quoted as saying in Beijing that the researchers' findings were symptoms of a "Cold War virus" that caused people overseas to "occasionally be overcome by China-threat seizures."

Far less noticed than the findings was a plea from one of the researchers against rushing to conclusions. Ronald J. Deibert of the University of Toronto said: "We're a bit more careful about it, knowing the nuance of what happens in the subterranean realms."

He added: "This could well be the CIA or the Russians. It's a murky realm that we're lifting the lid on." We must wait for further revelations. As for India's far-right warriors, meanwhile, the lid is off their latest march forward: from nuclear madness to cyber militarism.

*************

A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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