Information and Communication Technologies, Wartime Informing, and Insurgent Violence


Year: 2016 HiCN Working Paper No. 215

In this piece, I explore the relationship between wartime informing by civilians, information and communication technologies, and the production of violence by insurgents. Using newly declassified data on calls – both false and legitimate – placed to a “tips” telephone hotline operated by British forces in Iraq’s Basra region during the recent Iraq war, I show that while insurgents’ efforts to overwhelm the platform were extensive – on some days, roughly 1200 false calls were received for every five legitimate tips provided by informants – intelligence received through the line appears to have led to reductions in particular types of wartime violence. This piece makes two fundamental contributions to the security studies literature: first, it provides evidence that while ICT platforms may tend to favor the efforts of non-state actors to mobilize against more powerful state targets, once conflict is initiated, such technologies can benefit the state by upsetting the information asymmetry upon which rebels often rely. Second, and more fundamentally, the piece offers the first direct quantitative evidence using actual “tips” data of the centuries-old proposition that information plays a central role during insurgency contests.

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