Internet

Meet Your New Commander-in-Geek

U.S. Cyber Command has no idea why it exists.

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This headline is not from The Onion:

US appoints first cyber warfare general: Pentagon creates specialist online unit to counter cyber attack amid growing fears of militarisation of the internet.

On Friday, newly-created U.S. Cyber Command—that's USCYBERCOM to those in the know—got itself a general. One small problem: It's not clear that anyone, even four-star general and National Security Agency head Keith Alexander, knows what U.S. Cyber Command is supposed to do now that it exists. The commerical Internet has been around since about 1995, but in recent years folks at the Pentagon and White House seem to have been struck with a similar thought: "Hey, we should do something about those Internets, huh?" The longing for a cyber command of some kind dates back at least to President George W. Bush, and the project continued merrily along under President Barack Obama with the inexorable force of a government program that nobody really wants, but no one wants to be the one to kill.

The lack of clarity on Cyber Command's mission has dogged the enterprise from the beginning, and it's a condition that doesn't seem to have been resolved in advance of the appointment of a general to run the operation and an official launch last week. An ad campaign in February 2008 announced the Air Force's plans to "dominate air, space, and cyberspace," explaining that the "Cold War has given way to cyber war." (The page promoting that cyber dominance campaign now—fittingly—generates a 404 error.) The service even changed its mission statement to read, "As Airmen, it is our calling to dominate Air, Space, and Cyberspace." These days, the mission statement available on snazzy, slow-loading airforce.com is "The mission of the United States Air Force is to fly, fight and win … in air, space and cyberspace."

The ad campaign and mission statement change seem to have been an overly hasty land grab by the Air Force, and by August 2008 Wired's Noah Shactman was reporting that at a crucial June conference "the command's emerging leaders couldn't agree on what exactly the new unit would do." Possibilities included "protection and defense of the Air Force's command and control abilities." Or perhaps the "mission is to control cyberspace both for attacks and defense." The scope was also open for debate: "Some believed the Cyber Command would only be responsible for computer networks," wrote Shactman. "Others thought it'd be responsible for every system that had anything to do with the electromagnetic spectrum—up to and including laser weapons." The confusion seemed so impenetrable that Shactman (or his editors, at any rate) declared that the program had been suspended.

But Cyber Command was back to life soon enough, mission or no mission. And on Friday, along with the appointment of a head of operations, 30,000 airmen have been reassigned to the Air Force Cyber Command. Cyber Command is set to be fully operational in October.

Alexander says he has only modest goals for Cyber Command for now. The glasses-wearing commander-in-geek seems to be content with the role of The World's Most Powerful IT Guy for the moment. But that's no bulwark against excesses by his successors—or his superiors, for that matter. "This is not about efforts to militarize cyberspace," he said in April. "Rather it's about safeguarding the integrity of our military system. My goal if confirmed will be to significantly improve the way we defend ourselves in this domain."

But according to a Pentagon "fact sheet," Alexander is authorized to use deadly force: Cyber Command will "direct the operations and defence of specified Department of Defense information networks [involving some 90,000 military personnel] and prepare to, when directed, conduct full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, [to] ensure US allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries."

Some major players support even more aggressive measures: "The United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing," former National Security Agency chief Mike McConnell wrote in The Washington Post on February 28 this year. "It's that simple." But the reality is far from simple. If the government wants to thoroughly track online activity, McConnell admits, "we need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment—who did it, from where, why and what was the result—more manageable" [emphasis added]. That's right: Re-engineer one of the most popular and revolutionary new technologies of our time, to allow the government to get in on the business of data security. During the Bush administration, McConnell prompted Bush to sign a secret order to erect firewalls and build malware into military gear. Under Obama he's at it again, lobbying for cyber-war from a private sector perch.

Last month, The Washington Independent asked Dennis Blair, the nation's top intelligence officer until his resignation becomes effective on Friday, if U.S. Cyber Command and the intelligence community had established clear divisions of legal and policy authority or responsibility. "It's a really dynamic area," Blair replied. "Technology has developed far faster than [the] legal or policy framework….We'll do what we have to to get it done." In other words, conflict between the Pentagon and the intelligence services is likely. Striking the we have no idea what's going on gong once more, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden told The Washington Post: "Cyber was moving so fast that we were always in danger of building up precedent before we built up policy."

Wondering what a concrete example of cyber warfighting might look like? In early 2008, right around the time that the Air Force was making a bold move for the Cyber Command account, a Fort Meade-based team called the Joint Functional Component Command-Network Warfare which operates under a program called Countering Adversary Use of the Internet decided it was time to take out a "honeypot" site put up by the U.S. to draw in potential terrorists and gather intelligence, and in doing so—over the CIA's objections—inadvertently took out 300 servers in Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Texas. Even this modest operation wound up breeding institutional conflict, technical failure, and may have harmed national security more than it helped. Alexander has a big job on his hands.

And as preparations for the coming amorphous cyber war ramp up, we'd better hope the worst of the collateral damage is some interrupted Netflix streaming in Texas.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

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  1. Caption Contest!

    “You know, when my mom told me my face would freeze this way, I should have listened.”

    1. “…but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

    2. “I could do this job easier without Megan’s Law.”

    3. The “Combover Club for Men”, I’m not just the owner – I’m a customer as well.

    4. Meet Comander Lewis… Up next we have General Gilbert, First Lieutenant Wormser, and Private Booger.

      1. Have you met Major Dipwad and General Ignoramus…

    5. “You kids stay the hell outta my tubes”

      1. “I’ve got two X chromosomes”

    6. “Lisa’s bad dancing makes my feet sad.”

  2. Cyber-sex war, you mean.

  3. Pentagon creates specialist online unit to counter cyber attack amid growing fears of militarisation of the internet.

    Well, it’s too late. Cyberdyne systems has already started creating SkyNet. Events have been set in motion.

    1. “Judgement Day is inevitable.”

      1. What’s scary is the potential of this “specialist online unit” to *be* SkyNet. :-O

  4. Ms. Mangu-Ward writes: One small problem: It’s not clear that anyone, even four-star general and National Security Agency head Keith Alexander, knows what U.S. Cyber Command is supposed to do now that it exists.

    Right after she linked an article that explains exactly why it exists:


    The newly promoted four-star general, Keith Alexander, takes charge of the Pentagon’s ambitious and controversial new Cyber Command, designed to conduct virtual combat across the world’s computer networks…the creation of Cyber Command is in response to increasing anxiety over the vulnerability of the US’s military and other networks to a cyber attack.

    Come on, Catherine, I know Gillipse probably told you “here’s a new government program, find out why it is going to suck” but you can do better.

    1. “Conduct virtual combat across the world’s computer networks.” Clear as crystal.

      1. “Play World of Warcraft 8 hours a day” means the same thing.

        But trolls should starve, Ska. They need to fit in their wedding dress in less than six weeks.

        1. So I should look into the Air Force then? I can pwn nubs in COD, BC2 and now RDR.

    2. That’s Katherine with a “K” to you, Pan T. Think Kat von D with a few less tattoos.

      Who is “Gillispe?” No one knows.

    3. If it’s a new Obama government program, it IS going to suck. Duh.

  5. What’s the anon bot’s take on this. LOL. I value its wisdom.

  6. Wet your pants and over respond.

    I’ll go RTFA now.

  7. Mission statement equals success!

    1. CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN

  8. How many freaking four star generals do we have in today’s Army? As I recall, didn’t Congress have to pass a law just to get U.S. Grant made a three star when he took command of the whole darn 2,000,000 man Union Army?

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L…..r_officers

      Just a google away

  9. “we need to re-engineer the Internet to make attribution, geo-location, intelligence analysis and impact assessment?who did it, from where, why and what was the result?more manageable”

    That sounds wonderfull for the future of privacy and annonymity.

  10. I would have read this article fully but I got distracted by the “conservative t-shirts” ad.

    1. They are hot!

    2. “I survived Roe vs. Wade”

      Why yes you did and you’ve been very naughty.

      1. I was thinking she and Reason Gear girl would make a nice sandwich.

    3. I was unsure about resisting socialism until I saw the command emblazoned across her breasts, now I am the sword in her dainty hand.

  11. Is there anything the technically illiterate media loves more than tacking the term “cyber” onto the front of anything and everything in an effort to kiss bureaucracy’s ass?

    It sounds like a fucking 7 year-old after reading a comic book.

    1. Gibson wept.

  12. You guys remind me of the “somewhat smart” kids in high schoool that made fun of both the dumb kids for being dumb and the really smart kids because you didn’t understand what they were talking about…

    1. AROOOOOOO!

    2. “I’m smart, I can do things! I’m not dumb like everybody says!”

    3. We are sorry we laughed at you. Please tell the other dumb kid we are sorry for laughing at him as well.

    4. My panty is in a wadded up in my crotch.

  13. Whatever happened to the whole Internet2 hubbub? I spent a lot of perfectly good time explaining to people why there would never be a wholly separate “sequel” to the internet.

  14. mmmm A pretense for declaring the internet an issue of national security?
    Hell if you can’t regulate the ineternet through the FCC or the FTC might as well try the national defense tangent.

    1. How come I didn’t get my free tin foil hat with my subscription?

    2. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing an internet on the moon and returning it safely to the earth.”

  15. Mr President, we must not allow a cyber gap!

  16. If China launches an attack against our computer systems, I’d like to think someone is in charge of doing something about it.

    1. It’s not really a cause for concern. If China did launch an “attack” against “our” computer systems it would take the (approx.) fifty people who actually know how the internet works a short period of time to disconnect them.
      Granted, unbridled pr0n surfing might take a temporary hit, but most likely you wouldn’t even notice.

  17. Dear Head Tater:

    The new Cyber command kept track of your responses to the hot girl in the T-Shirt add. I hope she plays Dagny Taggart in the new “Atlas Shrugged” movie.

  18. The plan is for this guy to be the maven of social networking. Then, when trouble strikes, he’ll be able to launch one mother of a flash mob, anywhere in the world. Friend him on facebook and do you part, patriots.

  19. TO ALL THE COMMUNIST IN THE IG,FBI,CIA,AND U.S. Senators and the left wing media outlets ,, Mmslim Barack Hussein Obama , threatens friends and bows to enemies INPEACH OBAMA THE COMMUNIST ,GOD OPEN YOUR EYES.///For us there are only two possiblities: either we remain american or we come under the thumb of the communist Mmslim Barack Hussein OBAMA. This latter must not occur; TO THE WEAK-KNEED REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRAT .THE COMMANDER REPOST THIS IF YOU AGREE

    1. Interesting. I’ve never seen someone have the pushing of caps lock as a tic before.

      1. No way this person speaks English as a first language.

        1. From his handle he’s typing with one hand.

          … Hobbit

  20. The longing for a cyber command of some kind dates back at least to President George W. Bush

    Actually, it goes back to Clinton.

    the project continued merrily along under President Barack Obama with the inexorable force of a government program that nobody really wants, but no one wants to be the one to kill.

    Well, sorry no, but that’s really not true at all.

    Modern weapon systems are almost entirely software controlled today. And they are increasingly networked. You can verify these facts with a quick google search.

    Now, I’ll give you 30 seconds to ponder that, and then ask yourself where the word “cyber” might have come from in this whole debate.

    The US military does in fact have something to worry about in cyber space. They are vulnerable. They should be worried.

    In case you haven’t read that part of the news, it wasn’t too many months ago that somebody in Pakistan intercepted Predator video feeds using COTS software. Because nobody is really thinking about software and cyberspace security in anything like a consistent manner.

    The military has a legit need here.

    And at the same time, there is also a legit story to be told in this very same subject area. Unfortunately you haven’t even come close to getting your arms around it yet.

    The problem isn’t that the US military has no legit problems to be worrying about (and get off their backs for stumbling as they first try to stand up and walk — this is common and I strongly suspect you would do no better at it than they are).

    But the story you should be telling in parallel, is that these very same people have zero respect for civil liberties.

    If I was your boss I’d make you go off and re-do this homework assignment. This first draft here just completely misses what’s going on.

  21. “And on Friday, along with the appointment of a head of operations, 30,000 airmen have been reassigned to the Air Force Cyber Command.”

    THIRTY THOUSAND? Is that a typo? The US govt has just admitted that until Friday, we had no use for (at least) 10% of our Air Force!

    The Chinese government has carried out two (known) hacking attacks on US companies in the past year, so I actually don’t have a problem with this if it’s a single company (flight in the USAF).

    But WTF are 30,000 people going to do all day? I suppose to be fair they will have to cover all three shifts monitoring the Trouble Alert and guarding the internet tubes. Seems like this is about 29,970 people too many…

    Anyway, can’t we just give this to the NSA?

  22. “Others thought it’d be responsible for every system that had anything to do with the electromagnetic spectrum?up to and including laser weapons.”

    If it is sharks with lasers, can we give it to the Navy, or is that still Air Force?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pozlp_wnkRk

  23. From http://www.wired.com/threatlev…..yber-hype/
    “How can you tell the difference between a real report about online vulnerabilities and someone who is trying to scare you about the security of the internet because they have an agenda, such as landing lucrative, secret contracts from the government?

    Here’s a simple test: Count the number of times they use the adjective “cyber.” Nobody uses the word “cyber” anymore, except people trying to scare you and trying to make the internet seem scary or foreign.”

    1. You’ve definitely never been in the military. Everything about it is archaic, especially the terminology they use.
      It is a top-down organization and everyone at the top is old.

  24. The activities of the U.S. Government become a lot more clear when we accept the fact that we are living under a mature form of Fascism inside the United States, along with control-freaks at the helm!

  25. Obama already has a cyber-command (he commands us to report our fellow citizens who send fishy emails), why do we need another one?

  26. This is a very poorly written article. The “facts” presented are either misrepresented, taken out of context, or dubious at best. The author has a poor understanding of her subject matter. Her style of writing and word choice strongly indicate she is writing with an agenda. This manner of writing and, by extension, this author, cannot be considered informative or scholarly. It is likely nither were the intent.

  27. This is a very poorly written article. The “facts” presented are either misrepresented, taken out of context, or dubious at best. The author has a poor understanding of her subject matter. Her style of writing and word choice strongly indicate she is writing with an agenda. This manner of writing and, by extension, this author, cannot be considered informative or scholarly. It is likely nither were the intent.

  28. your suppossed to go around and make sure every one is paying their subscriptions on time & are whOOm they say they are,thare by generating income for yer corperate masters thare by gaureenteeing yer employ,that and banishing the masses to the wrong side of the tracks when they comment on the blog line,cuz thare NOT funny,enough,hang on a minute we got a BOGIE incoming “now totally”LIVE,oh its just a device with an exspired UL (underwritters labratories)electrical connections serial number tag interfearing with the telephone line,whats my password again master,yeah master thats it all right,is every one allright on TEAM AMERICA,the contineint,well that and SEDITION in lieu of criminal/terroristic activities that look a lot like a war machine gone bazerk and purely of stupidity and horror and in the dark for ages now,a budget in search of a mission,oo,,, TAKE COVER

  29. When I lived there in early 90s, I think it was close to parity with the US. Its disappointing to me that they have done so poorly since. I blame joining the UN.

  30. So, there is no way she knows about any of the research you site or has any idea how the world outside her own bubble actually works. So cut her some slack.

  31. the Second Amendment stated that RKBA was not to be infringed, and lacked detail as to by whom, and therefore applied to all government.

  32. the Second Amendment stated that RKBA was not to be infringed, and lacked detail as to by whom, and therefore applied to all government.

  33. Well, it’s too late. Cyberdyne systems has already started creating SkyNet. Events have been set in motion.

  34. Because nobody is really thinking about software and cyberspace security in anything like a consistent manner. | RAN ran ran ??? ??? ??? |

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  36. I was just having a conversation over this I am glad I came across this it cleared some of the questions I had.

  37. Wondering what a concrete example of cyber warfighting might look like?

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