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Shifting the Fog of War

Shifting the Fog of War: Information and Technology in Conflict

Book manuscript, under review

Computing technologies mediate our knowledge of the world, and human actors with human interests shape their performance. The political constitution of information systems is a general problem, but it is particularly acute in military affairs. Fog and friction persist in the information age because real improvements in command, control, communications and intelligence end up changing the informational problems they try to solve. Epistemic prosthetics are indeed useful for lifting the fog of war, but their very complexity ends up shifting the fog of war back onto the organizations that use them.

Through a series of historical studies this book shows how organizational choices and strategic environments interact to shape performance outcomes and, over time, increase systemic complexity as institutions cycle through them. The 1940 Battle of Britain reveals how the right political conditions can improve battlefield knowledge in an era before digital computers. In the U.S. Special Operations Task Force I deployed with in 2007, by contrast, information technology reinforced a counterproductive bias for violent raids over engagement with local society. The tactical innovations of U.S. drone campaigns, fought through a globe-spanning system of institutions and infrastructures, produced a few tragic errors and fomented public controversy over the accuracy and legitimacy of targeted killing. The most recent manifestation of the control paradox is the contemporary epidemic of insecurity in cyberspace. Counterintuitively, actors have incentives to restrain the severity of cyber conflict in order to realize benefits of interconnection and preserve the possibility of exploitation in the future.

Political economic conditions rather than engineering designs make the difference between success and failure in war and or political bargaining more generally. A better appreciation of the epistemological and political problems at the heart of information systems should foster a more realistic sense of what we can expect of them, and how we can make them better.

Table of Contents:

0. Preface

1. The Control Paradox

2. Sociotechnical Control

3. Air Defense in the Battle of Britain

4. Special Operations in the Battle of Anbar

5. Drone Campaigns

6. The Fog of Cyberwar

7. Out of Control 

8. Appendix—Target Practice