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msnbc.com

During the first few hours of the war in Iraq, technology and information warfare appeared to play a supporting role. There was no indication of an elaborate cyber-attack or the dropping of the long-rumored e-bomb. In fact, there was no indications that electricity or telephone service was widely disrupted inside Baghdad. But technology apparently played a role, and may have been behind the war’s early Thursday start.

IT WAS ELECTRONIC eavesdropping, reports NBC investigative producer Robert Windrem, that led strategists to think they had a chance to kill Saddam Hussein with a quick, early strike.

”(A) senior U.S. official said the private home outside Baghdad was struck this morning after electronic eavesdropping provided a fix,” on a collection of Republican Guard, intelligence and Baath party officials, Windrem said, adding that U.S. officials believe the group included Saddam and his son Qusay.

Windrem’s report ads fuel to the speculation surrounding the surprisingly limited scope of initial U.S. attacks Thursday morning.

U.S. efforts to track Saddam with so-called “signals intelligence” have long been frustrated, and it’s not yet clear what the results of Thursday’s attack were.

SURPRISE: FEW DISRUPTIONS

But the limited attack was just one of the many surprises as hostilities began. Another surprise: widespread disruption of telephone service, electricity, and television service did not materialize.

Much had been made in the days leading up to the war that the United States had developed an “E-bomb” that could disable electronic devices, with suggestions that such digital blinding of Saddam’s forces might be the first step taken by the American military.

But there are no indications such a device has been used; and so far, it appears electronic warfare has been relatively restrained.

Stuart McClure, president Foundstone Inc., a computer security firm, said he was surprised that phone and electricity service wasn’t disrupted. “There are ways in and out of the country electronically right now ...maybe it’s a successful way for them (the U.S. military) to help gain intelligence.”

Of course, little is known about U.S. military operations in and around the Iraqi countryside, which is the size of California — and there are only limited outlets for journalists operating in Baghdad. So it’s possible there are electronic outages in parts of the country.

RADIO AND TV STILL ON

But media reports and one Internet Web blogger purportedly still writing from Baghdad say electricity and telephone service is still working in the city. In fact, blogger Salam Pax wrote on his Web site late Thursday that: “All radio and TV stations are still on.”

Pax’s report partly contradicted an article published by Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency suggesting that U.S. “psyops” — psychological operations — experts were attempting to take over Iraqi radio stations and were airing U.S. propaganda messages

The news agency said Radio al-Shabab, Baghdad and Sowt al-Jamahir were playing cat-and-mouse with their “frequency conditions,” broadcasting programs from new frequencies to stay one step ahead of U.S. efforts. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Neither could the status of Saddam Hussein. Hours after the initial attack, Saddam, or someone who looked like Saddam, appeared on Iraqi television. U.S. intelligence experts spent much of Thursday analyzing the tape — principally using electronic voice analysis — to determine whether it was the real Saddam or a stand-in.

APPARENTLY, NO CYBERWAR

A war-related e-mail virus named “Ganda” was found by anti-virus companies, but it has infected only a trickle of Internet users. It attempts to lure recipients by promising images from the Iraq war, and first surfaced Monday, according to antivirus firm F-Secure.com. It was likely authored by a freelance virus writer and not part of an organized government campaign, F-Secure said.

Free-lancers are also being blamed for a number of minor Web site defacements which occured as the war began.

The Internet as a whole has shown no ill-effects from the war, according to Keynote Systems Inc. There were temporary slowdowns at some U.S. military sites, Keynote said, but Army Lt. Col. Mark Wiggins, the webmaster of www.army.mil, attributed that to increased traffic as the war began.

“When something is big news, a lot of people want to go to the source for information,” Wiggins said in an e-mailed statement. “We’ve see the same type of increase on the Army Home Page after the president issued the 48-hour ultimatum. Nothing unusual at all.”

Similar slowdowns appeared to impact the official Iraqi government Internet provide, Uruklink.net, but it also was still operating.

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