Revolt brewing against government control

    When the major defense and intelligence  contractor  SAIC  in
1995 bought the small Herndon, VA company that has the government
contract on name service for the  entire  Internet,  alarm  bells
went  off  all  over  the  Internet.  The  move  would  give  the
intelligence community complete control over the  Internet.  They
could,  in  essence, black out the entire Internet with the flick
of a switch. Or, they could subvert the  Internet  by  falsifying
information  in the root level domain name servers.  A real-time,
clandestine censorship of hosts with troublesome information.

    Those fears came true  last  week  when  the  SAIC-controlled
servers  started  returning  false  information  in  response  to
automatic host lookup requests.  For many hosts on the  Internet,
the name servers simply claimed that they did not exist.

    Name servers are used every time a web browser  or  an  email
program  looks  for  a host on the Internet.  The servers are the
phone directory for the Internet, listing the Internet number for
every  hostThe  top level servers, that keep information about
the structure of the entire directory, are run at Internic  which
is  an  operation  of  Network Solutions Inc., owned by SAIC Inc.
SAIC past and current board  members  include  such  intelligence
community  notorieties as Bobby Ray Inman, former director of the
National Security Agency, deputy director of the CIA, director of
national  security  contractor  E-Systems,  and  Clinton  defense
secretary nominee; Robert Gates, the former  CIA  director  under
George  Bush;  current  CIA  director  John  Deutch; Anita Jones,
Deutch's former Pentagon procurement officer, and William  Perry,
the former secretary of defense.


   It is possible that a simple technical problem is the cause of
the  erroneous  information  currently  supplied by Internic name
servers, but it seems very unlikely.  First,  root  name  servers
have  run  on  the Internet for almost 30 years without problems.
The server software is tried an tested.  Second, Internic charges
such  exorbitant  prices  for  its  services, $50 per listing per
year, that it  can  easily  afford  a  completely  fault-tolerant
system that is infallible. Estimates for revenues of the Internic
reach $60 million for just one year  of  running  the  root  name

    Operations staff at Internic did not respond to a  Washington
Weekly request for information on the nature of the problems.

    The poor quality of service, the high prices that it  charges
from  every host on the Internet, and the monopoly status of this
government contractor has spawned outrage on the Internet,  which
is  now  in  near  revolt.  Several  groups have started offering
alternative top level name servers  that  bypass  the  government
registry completely. These groups advocate a free market solution
to Internet name directories, with system administrators choosing
from  a  number  of  competing  name servers on the Internet. One
group is Alternic at
, another is eDNS at
.  A  press  release  from  one  of the groups
behind these efforts is included in the  Information  section  of
this issue.

    In China, the government  last  year  required  all  Internet
users  to  register  with  the  police,  facilitating  government
control of this potentially dangerous medium. In  the 
U.S.,  the
government  instead  requires  Internet  users to register with a
government national security contractor.

  Published in the Feb. 24, 1997 Isuue of The Washington Weekly
  Copyright 1997 The Washington Weekly (