15 March 2016

US sharpening its cyberwarfare tools

The control of cyberspace is likely to assume a new aspect, with the CEO of Google heading the US Defense Innovation Fund
Writing in Foreign Affairs in September, 2010, William Lynn, US Deputy Secretary of Defense outlined “The Pentagon’s cyberstrategy” for US national security. He focused on leveraging the US technological resources “to create superior military capabilities in cyberspace.”

Public-private initiative
While it was important for the US to train cybersecurity professionals, Lynn was quick to recognise that given the highly educated workforce in China and India, and larger numbers, the US government, “must confront the cyberdefense challenge as it confronts other military challenges: with a focus not on numbers but on superior technology and productivity.” Lynn said “investments in science, technology, and education at all levels” were critical to “the US commercial information technology sector remaining the world’s leader.”
Lynn also observed that the government’s procedures for acquiring information technology mean deployment of systems that are four generations behind the state of the art. He advocated radical changes in procurement of IT, to take them closer to those in the private sector, namely, speed, incremental development and testing, and deferring of some customisation, and creating different levels of oversight for different items.
Lynn stated that the cybersecurity challenge represents the beginning of a new technological age; even though it does not pose existential threat like the nuclear, it is capable of immobilising the society. He also emphasised the need for involving the private sector more deeply with the government’s efforts in its goal of making “cyberspace safe so that its revolutionary innovations can enhance both the United States’ national security and its economic security.”
Ash Carter, the Defense Secretary did precisely that when he announced the setting up of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board on March 2, 2016 in the Silicon Valley. The first Defense secretary to have visited the Silicon Valley in 20 years, he has already made three trips in a year. While the DoD is known to have taken several steps in line with Lynn’s vision of reducing cycle time in defense technology development through the private sector, and its procurement procedures, this is a step in tracking innovations taking place in the private sector.

It will directly advise Carter on technology. The Pentagon release says that the Defense Innovation Advisory Board will “provide advice on the best and latest practices in innovation that the department can emulate.” The idea is for DoD to understand what the commercial world is thinking, what technology innovations are being planned, what disruptive ideas are being thought of by those outside of its existing advisory boards.

The innovation board will not give any strategic advice to the secretary, nor will it discuss military strategy. Its focus is only on innovation. Carter said “we do have other boards that serve other functions. We don’t have one dedicated to innovation. And since innovation is critical to department’s future this is a gap that needed to be filled... Here we’re looking for brightest minds focused on innovation.”

Google’s involvement

It is interesting that Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt has been chosen to head the board. He clearly brings the best industry linkages, with his vision that governments, and militaries need to master the cyberspace for not only growing their economies, but also for listening to voices of citizens including those of dissidents; handling (controlling?) movements and revolutions, social media, print media, news; managing freedom of expression; civil society and NGOs.

In short, all that constitutes soft power has to be managed to avoid creation of negative stories against the US government, in domestic and international stories. This helps in controlling the narrative of present and emerging conflicts, which in today’s world is perhaps more important than the real war. No wonder, Schmidt said that the new board will look for ways of using new technologies to solve new and emerging problems; it will help bridge the gap between how the US military and industry operate.

Reuters’ report of March 2, 2016 adds “Carter and Schmidt will choose up to 12 individuals to serve on the board, focusing on people who have led large public and private organisations, and excelled at identifying and adopting new technology concepts.” According to the report, Carter said that “If we don’t innovate and be competitive, we’re not going to be the military that the country needs and deserves.”

Media warfare

The formation of this board underscores the US government’s resolve to dominate the cyberspace. It firmly believes that the wars of the future, even if not cyberwars, will be cyber-enabled. The outcome of the kinetic wars will be determined by activities in cyberspace — critical infrastructure attacks, revolutions and conflicts launched through social media, crimes and terrorism mediated through cyber space to engage adversaries in low intensity conflicts similar to guerrilla wars, false news in social media to divide communities in countries leading to civil unrest or war, psychological operations that are tech-enabled.

Remember the first Iraq war, where CNN journalists were embedded in the forward military units to report on the war; it led to the dissemination of real-time information in favour of the US government, the rise of cable TV that changed reporting of global events, especially military stories. This supplanted the direct emails sent to Iraqi soldiers that demoralised them. World opinion was controlled by the US government in partnership with CNN.

Clearly, innovations in cyberspace in the commercial world have to be understood so that their impact on society, military, and economy may be anticipated. Today’s military has to control all theatres of war — land, sea, air, outer space, and cyberspace. It has to control cyber, and all channels of information dissemination for communicating to people of countries directly.

The military must have direct links with media and psy-op channels, and any future innovative technologies that the commercial world will be exploiting. The import of this cyber push will become clear if we look at India, which has failed to set up the much needed cyber command. The technology is there, it’s the bureaucratic and procedural mess that we can’t sort out. We’re stuck with more problems than those identified by Lynn in 2010.

Cyber-enabled war requires Indian political and bureaucratic set up to have a cyber mind set, as demonstrated by Carter, not the feudal-colonial age our governance of the military-industrial complex is stuck in.

The writer is Mentor Professor, NIIT University. He was the founder CEO, Data Security Council of India and founder Director, CERT-In. The views are personal

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