IEEE Sez: Open Source == Terrorism!

No, that’s not a typo, and not (much) of an exaggeration*. For a limited time, you can read the full article here in IEEE Spectrum of all places (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). But basically, it exists to draw none-too-subtle comparisons between Iraqi insurgence and the Open Source movement, drawing heavily from essays and interviews with John Robb.

“Need a missile-guidance system? Buy yourself a Sony PlayStation 2. Need more capability? Just upgrade to a PS3. Need satellite photos? Download them from Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Need to know the current thinking on IED attacks? Watch the latest videos created by insurgents and posted on any one of hundreds of Web sites or log on to chat rooms where you can exchange technical details with like-minded folks.

Robb calls this new type of conflict “open-source warfare,” because the manner in which insurgent groups are organizing themselves, sharing information, and adapting their strategies bears a strong resemblance to the open-source movement in software development. Insurgent groups, like open-source software hackers, tend to form loose and nonhierarchical networks to pursue a common vision, Robb says. United by that vision, they exchange information and work collaboratively on tasks of mutual interest.


To understand open-source warfare, it’s instructive to revisit Eric S. Raymond’s 1997 manifesto, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, in which he describes how a large community of open-source software hackers created the operating system Linux. […] Mimicking open-source developers, insurgent groups “hack at the source code of warfare,” Robb says.”

Wow. This reads like an article about Youth Culture in Reader’s Digest. (In addition to parroting that familiar old “kitchen science two-part explosives” canard.)

*Necessary qualifications: 1) “IEEE” here means IEEE’s Spectrum magazine, and contributing editor Robert N. Charette. The IEEE itself has not actually released an RFC or policy statement to this effect. 2) The article initially refers to the Bad Guys as “Iraqi insurgents”, later defining them equal to terrorists and using the terms interchangeably. (I’m a little rusty on my war, but I think you lose the ability to cleanly label your opponent “terrorists” once engaged in a formally-declared war with each other, even if they fight dirtier than you.)

Leave a Reply