A glimpse of digital diplomacy *The voice of Russia 28. october 2011*


Today we are going to talk about digital diplomacy. What actually is it? How is it being applied? What are the benefits and challenges associated with it? These are the questions we have discussed in our weekend Burning Point interview with our expert Gennady Yevstafyev, retired Lieutenant General of the Russian Intelligence Service.

Today we are going to talk about digital diplomacy. What actually is it? How is it being applied? What are the benefits and challenges associated with it?

These are the questions we have discussed in our weekend Burning Point interview with our expert Gennady Yevstafyev, retired Lieutenant General of the Russian Intelligence Service.

But before we start our interview I’d like to tell you, today I have been listening to Alec Ross, who is senior adviser for innovation in the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Which far as I know is this kind of a brand new position in the State Department, is that right?

It is. In fact, there were several interesting points he’d made in his lecture and the basic one was that digital technologies have brought a world of change into that globalized world devourers. Just to quote what he said, “we need to adapt to this change, we need to adapt our diplomacy to get better access to open societies”.

Now, of course, experts have already termed the new approach as “digital diplomacy” but of course as in any new reality it has both its upsides and its downsides.

This is something we discussed with Gennady Yevstafyev, retired Lieutenant General of the Russian Intelligence Service.

This week Cyber Czar of the United States Mr. Cross, he is coming to discuss the problems, he is coming not at the very official style, because in Russia there are words that Cybersecurity is threatened and Digital Diplomacy of the United States is a new method of neocolonialism and instrument of destabilization of hostile regimes and so on. These are exactly the words which are used in Russia.

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But Mr. Yevsafyev do you think we could actually explain in full details to our listeners the essence of Cyber Diplomacy or Digital Diplomacy, however you call it.

We have, first of all, to note that the cyber problem is very closely connected with Internet and the Internet was established in 1998, because at that time there was a decision to start The Internet Corporation for very innocent things, for assigned names and numbers, abbreviation is ICANN. It is based on the multi-stakeholder model, but whatever you say the whole thing belongs to the United States. They were very much ahead of technological development in cyberspace and they still dominate the Internet situation. Usually the problems are discussed in the so called Internet Government’s Forums, abbreviation is IGF, but with the course of time it came out that it is a very multi-dimensional problem and Cyberspace Security is multi-sided because Cyberspace Security is, first of all, the security of day-to-day life of the international community, because invention of Internet and its establishment is a tremendous breakthrough in the usual man’s life, you everything through the Internet, now. And it is very helpful in many ways in economic and social and all this kind of things. But with the course of time it came out that Internet is not that innocent, it could be used against the so called hostile regimes. We have seen this number of times.

But could you give us an example?

For example, only this year, which was very rich with all kinds of global cyber space manifestations, you all remember that there was a story of a so called Stuxnet Cyber Worm, which was introduced and penetrated the Iranian Nuclear Organization and to a logic stand has really destroyed, not physically, but, you know, it is a virtual thing, it destroyed the operation of many elements of Iranian Nuclear Industry.

But I’ve heard some analysts say that digital information technologies have also been used in the Balkans crisis, but is that truly so?

It has been also established, you remember when there was Balkan crisis, and Balkan crisis was closely connected with the activity of all kind of extreme Islamist movements and everybody was happy that in the long run the population in Kosovo and some other areas, dominated by Islamic religion, was introduced into the modern age through Internet, but then Special Services found out that numerous Internet cafes, which were established by hundreds of mosques around the Balkan-Muslim areas were, in fact, the centers through which the mobilization of extremist terrorist activity was arranged and after thorough inner investigations in the beginning of this century it was variably established that many of the would be conspirators and terrorist exchange the ideas through Internet and arrange their meetings and operations using the Internet facilities. So, it is not that simple, but nowadays we are very much in discussion of, for example, cyberspace attacks on hostile regimes.

Hostile regimes, so are we talking about direct Government involvement and new Foreign Policy too?

I’m quite sure that with certain extent, though the Americans deny this, but their General the Head of African Command said he was not rejected for any kind of weapons he asked for. African Command was responsible for handling of Libya’s situation. Though Americans are trying to say that they were not using the cyberspace for attacking, for example, Libyan enter Aircrafts System, but funny enough the system, which was not a sophisticated system, but nevertheless, it stopped to operate.

You know, it is interesting, because I’ve been listening to Mr. Cross’s lecture on the new opportunities, presented by the use of digital technologies and answering a question he reminded us of Robert Gates words that Cyberspace has become a new theatre of warfare, but then he also said that he didn’t believe in Twitter Revolution and of course he never spoke of cyber warfare, you know.

The problem is becoming more and more serious. Sometime ago, before the whole Arab Spring started the United States have distributed one 100 000 computers free for local population in Arab countries. Of course, not all 100 000 computers that were distributed free found their way into the hands of opposition elements, but as it stands now major part of it was used to arrange the events of Arab Spring in different Arab countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and so on. That made some people extremely worried, it was distributed free and the whole development, as it stands now, comes to a simple fact that Americans have admitted that Cyberspace is a very important instrument for their Foreign Policy and they are using it to impose the views on population and even some regimes in the outside world. Hillary Clinton is supposed to be godmother of creation of the new instrument of American Foreign Policy and we have a fact of creation special new department in the State Department of the United States, in the most important embassies they have special units, which are handling the cyber space.

But using for what? Can we specify the ultimate purpose of the operation?

There are different purposes: to prevent it’s being used by terrorists but, on the other hand, they are using it to achieve their goals, so, in fact, we have a huge growing problem as it stands now. For example, the Pentagon, as stated, is attacked very often by hackers. This is another phenomena of the whole problem, and not only the private people are attacking but some foreign countries allegedly attack American net services of the Armed Forces and Navy and so on. And they stated that attack on their vital facilities is tent amount to declaring a war and in certain cases they allow themselves in reply, if they established and identified the source of attack and if it is state motivated attack, to claim that they can use nuclear weapons to punish the perpetrators.

But in that case there could always be a good justification for starting a war just considering the number of hacker attacks?

Of course, our people for example in Russia claim that there are about ten thousand cases of hacker attacks on government facilities in our country. The biggest problem of all is to identify the source of attack. For example, in the Stuxnet nobody was firmly sure that it was American or Israeli attack. Everybody is saying aloud about this but to prove is extremely difficult especially when we deal with countries of sophisticated nature and sophisticated achievements in this area.

But something needs to be done then. Is anything being done?

There is already growing effort in the world to try to find the way to cope with these problems and, for example, China, Russia and some other countries propose an international code of conduct for information security.

Their idea is to increase the role of governments in directing and operating the cyber space. Since Americans claim that they are going to defend their right to use cyber space without any hindrance, there is a growing difference but not only between Russia, China and the United States on the matter, but many other Western countries are also very much worried about the uncontrolled expansion of Internet and it being used by violent demonstrators, for example, in Britain the government of Britain is victim of many arranged demonstrations and this arrangement went through Internet and the Foreign Minister Hague has admitted that Internet requires some sort of control because it could not go uncontrolled like it is going now.

So, the problem is obviously there. But however Mr. Cross was insisting on what he termed as the openness of the Internet. Now the U.S. position as far as I understand it is that Internet should not be state controlled. But is there an alternative vision?

We have international efforts to start doing something. I already mentioned that there is Russian-Chine international code of conduct but there are meetings. For example, in Yekaterinburg recently this autumn there was a meeting of 52 countries arranged by our Security Council Office on the matters of Internet, and we have presented our views, Russian views, on that. Then in London on the 1st or on the 2nd of November there is going to be an international meeting for discussion of the problems of the global cyber space security.

But do the Americans support these efforts?

We must note that Americans got worried because there is definite effort to try to find common denominator on Internet among many countries. And as it is going now, it is definitely not on the American conditions but on the more balanced and serious attitude towards the possibility of controlling the cyber space. By the way, the treaty of collective security of former Soviet States recently had a meeting and there were critical elements in this meeting on this use of Facebook, and tweeter, and Youtube. This official dissemination of information is good but on the part of the Americans financial effort to support opposition and even insurgency activity in some countries, we have to admit that we don’t have the same kind of developed instruments for diplomacy in Internet but people say that Washington has established its position in the Internet and they do not want to see them, they don’t want to listen other countries and that’s why we have to deal with all kinds of possibilities. For example, Americans would sooner or later leave Afghanistan and we will see huge problems for the Central Asian nations. And we already see the elements of American policy in the field of using cyber space to influence the mood and the future behavior of the population of the Central Asia when we are going to see that secular regimes in number of these countries fall. And Americans would try to introduce their elements into the real life in the area, which is so vital for Russia.

So, just let me specify, we are talking about Central Asia, an area, which is so far away from the U.S. itself.

The experience shows that in Middle East, for example, Americans did not care. They brought out secular regimes and they now are very happy for a very short period of time with very dubious regimes with some dubious histories behind them.

Dan, just let me ask you what do you think of it? I mean, on the one hand, it is quite plain that with the onset of new digital technologies the whole world has been changed so much but then it is so intricate, on the other hand.

You mean, so complicated?

It is extremely complicated and the technologies are so complicated that it is so difficult to draw a line between cyber security and cyber terrorism. I mean, any person has an access to the Internet, which is a global network so any person has a chance to make himself hurt whatever he says.

I think, like you said, it is very complicated and I suppose one thing from a more lame perspective it’s quite a terrifying thought that, say, groups of hackers can infiltrate high-level government websites, can view information they otherwise shouldn’t be viewing.

And thus trigger off a new war if that government would consider that those hackers have been paid by another government.

Well, it depends what they do. Because if they’ve already got access then they’ve got the potential to do all kinds of different damage, they can create mayhem in many different ways. And that’s quite scary.

True. Do you remember that story in Syria when everyone was thinking that a young girl was twittering from Syria?

The blogger?

Yes, and then it turned out that it was not a young Syrian girl but it was some kind of American diplomat or something, not diplomat but…

I think, that went to show that the Media needs to hold back a little bit some time with its reactions especially on sensitive issues like that one with the issue of a blogger girl that wasn’t actually a girl.

It also shows that the whole world becomes so virtual.

That’s true, but I suppose it’s just another step forward but the difference maybe with the digital movements is that progress now is happening a lot quicker than ever before where is like now a new piece of technology comes out and it’s already obsolete within 6 months. The things are moving very quickly.

They are. Do you have a feeling, by the way, that the world is growing so much smaller with the onset of those new technologies: I mean, no more borders, no more limits for communicating between people from very different nations, different parts of the world?

Yes, I mean, without a doubt, you can go online and you can see whatever news is coming in from all over the world, even with television too, so you definitely get the feeling that everything is right there. I mean, the world is literally at your fingertips as well.

True, without even thinking of news but there are all kinds of chats, of forum communication, of social networks.

I mean, of course, the good thing is that it brings groups of light-minded people together but then there is the downside where if those people do have destructive intent or they could be criminals of different sorts or terrorists groups. It makes it that much easier for them to exchange information.

That gives me an idea that the world becomes more vulnerable in that sense.

I suppose, the fact that now weapons are more destructive – that makes things more dangerous but then when you add the equation that people can maybe access those weapons, not even access, access the systems that control those weapons.

Through the Internet?

Obviously, I don’t know the exact methods hackers use but something like that.

I am actually thinking about the Internet as a tool to influence the mindset of people with different ideas, disseminating different ideas, not necessarily the ideas of open society, but different kinds of ideology could be disseminated starting from fascism, for example.

I mean, that’s not a secret that on the Internet there are Nazi groups, the extremist groups, they all have websites, they operate.

And that brings us to an issue of open Internet: whether it needs to be controlled or not.

But I think, this is always a hot issue but the question controlling the Internet: who’s going be the body that controls the Internet and what makes them more just alright then other groups. That’s why it is such a tricky issue, I think.

It is an extremely complicated issue. Remember, China was so much criticized when they… What did they do, Dan?

It was the Google search. As far as I remember, it was to do with Google search results or something – like you would get less hits back from the Chinese search than you would with Western search.

But they also put in place certain limitations on the Internet.

They do have some restrictions on their Internet.

So, do you think it is justified or not?

Maybe from the Chinese government’s perspective it is justified because it would keep any rebellious or undesirable thoughts out of the way but I think from the perspective of a free individual who wants to go online and surf and have access to whatever he wants to have access to, then I would say no.

Do you consider an Islamist extremist a free individual?

Just the individual or…?

Just the individual.

Well, he is a free individual, he has his opinion and he has a right to his opinion and democracy.

Should we give him full access to the Internet?

Yes, I do. I do think that.

To sum up what we have been discussing in this program, it looks like the digital age has made our world smaller bringing us closer and eliminating all kinds of borders.

And it also makes it so much more vulnerable due to the same reasons.

So, handling the new reality is something all of us will need to learn. With this we end this edition of Burning Point.