Networking Strategic Simulation

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This page is a draft of the HacDC simulation plan, and it is open for editing by all. Tfine 16:56, 10 February 2011 (UTC)


As internet becomes ubiquitous in commerce and social communications, governments permitting varying levels of political freedom have facilitated, or at least tolerated, growing consumer access to TCP/IP internet, an amazingly flexible technology with significant barriers for comprehensive monitoring and control. While almost all governments have some existing level of content regulation and filtering, recently a number of governments have attempted, during political crisis when the amount of objectionable material could overwhelm monitoring or when the total balance of all communications in a particular location or at a certain moment could be seen as negative in facilitating anti-regime political activity, to impose severe, general restrictions on an existing internet and mobile communication infrastructure. In Egypt, in January 2011, the government successfully shut down internet access for several days by forcing ISPs to withdraw more than 3500 Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routes. In June 2009, internet access in Iran was significant disrupted, and major restrictions were placed on a variety of forms of telephone communications. The entire communications infrastructure of Tibet was shut down for a few days in February of 2005.

These developments, illustrating the prospect of future government communications restrictions in crisis, raise two significant interconnected questions.

First, do contemporary governments have the practical ability to restrict communications in crisis and prevent effective political organization through electronic methods? With the substantial menu of technical communications systems -- radio; packet internet; mobile and landline phones; cable and satellite internet; alternative mesh networking systems; and the vast array of archaic code and cell-structure communications systems -- it might be surprisingly difficult for a government, without extremely high levels of coercion, to control communications at all. In light of recent experience, we now have growing empirical evidence of the technical solutions that anti-government organizers have adopted in crisis, and, with greater technical focus, communications and security experts might be able to determine (and anticipate) effective communications strategies in such a restricted environment.

Second, can restrictive regulation of the internet ever outweigh the political -- and economic -- costs that would accompany? Different levels and types of restriction of communications certainly impose different costs. These costs can become significant in terms of building anger at the government with lesser politicized cohorts and in affecting the military's perceptions of the legitimacy of the government and their survivability. Effective communications may also alter the military's evaluation, at both the enlisted and officer level, of the specific political claims of the regime. If restrictive solutions (long-term and short-term) seem to fail empirically and in simulation, governments may decide that they are better off monitoring internet communications in crisis. At a result of the interrelationship between the technical and political factors, we cannot evaluate them in isolation.


We propose the creation of a strategic simulation of a scenario involving attempts by anti-government elements to establish communications in the wake of communications disruptions instigated by a government. Prompted by a crisis event, a government would restrict communications on either a local or national level, and anti-government elements (assuming the existence of a wide array of motivated civilian actors) would attempt to reestablish communications and attack the government's legitimacy or communicate some political message.

The scenario could potentially begin with some significant disruption of residential/business internet and/or a restriction of phone communications. As attempts to reestablish communications -- both public propaganda and leadership communication -- by anti-government actors continue, there would be a feedback "game" relationship between the government restrictions and anti-government attempts to seek alternative communication strategies.


  • An appropriate scenario would be written by event organizers. The details and the necessary degree of specification required would be discussed at a series of planning meetings in the coming weeks.
  • Two physically separated teams, representing a government (as a unitary executive) and a broad mass of anti-government elements, would be staffed by appropriate technical experts. If outside interest is substantial, it might be possible for non-team members to contribute ideas through segregated chatrooms that the decision-making team members could observe.
  • Evaluators would be 5-7 experts in cellular/telephone communications, radio communications, encryption and internet security, civil-military relations, and civil unrest/revolution.
  • Timed turns conclude with a written paragraph of "instructions" followed by an evaluator review that establishes a current score along with a written description of scenario development. At the beginning of each round, teams can discuss the scenario with the evaluators.
  • The game score is determined by some formula that combines the political and technical developments. A starting, basic model, which will be elaborated in planning discussions, would be a composite of the score of degree of effective communications by anti-government actors and an assessed level of government coercion.

Communication + Coercion = Anti-Government Success

If communications remain high despite a fairly high level of attempted coercion, anti-government political organization succeeds. It might also be assumed that both high levels of anti-civilian coercion and effective communication, independently, weaken the political executive's ability to control the military. Hence, extremely high levels of (attempted) coercion alone (in some political environments) might be enough to trigger a military coup.


  • Should we assume the United States? An advanced European country? A lesser-developed country analogous to Egypt? A specific scenario with a political backstory? We have developed one that involves riots after a sudden financial crisis, but we should discuss this further. Does specificity of the scenario distract from the technological questions (and open the game to political nitpicking), or would it give the simulation more coherence and weight?
  • What experts would be most appropriate to staff such a simulation?
  • Does this simulation encourage the development of novel alternative networking technologies? Should this be a goal of a successful simulation? Is it reasonable to assume this would be the result of such a scenario? How would the imaginary timeframe of the game impact this?