Information Warfare: Cyber War Recruiting Comes Up Light

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May 25, 2011: U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) has been operational for over six months now, and it is encountering some serious problems. Headquartered in Fort Meade (outside Washington, DC), most of the manpower, and capabilities, come from the Cyber War operations the services have already established. U.S. Cyber Command has some smaller organizations that coordinate Cyber War activities among the services, as well as with other branches of the government and commercial organizations that are involved in network security.

The big problems are recruiting and managing hackers (technical personnel who can deal with the bad-guy hackers out there). The problem is one of culture, and economics. The military is a strict hierarchy that does not, at least in peacetime, reward creativity. Troops with good technical skills can make more money, and get hassled less, in a similar civilian job. The military is aware of these problems, but it is slow going trying to fix them.

There have been efforts to fix things. Three years ago, the new U.S. Air For Cyber Command asked for some leeway in recruiting standards and military lifestyle, in order to get the kind of airmen they need. In a word, the air force needed geeks, and many of the recruits being sought could not pass the physical fitness test, or tolerate the usual military discipline. The more expensive (and increasingly unaffordable) alternative was hiring Internet engineers and hackers as civilians, and signing them to contracts that would be the equivalent of the kind of control and security they have over military personnel. That approach has long used to get technical personnel who can do the job, but are not willing to do it in uniform, as part of a military unit, with military discipline and all of that. The air force has, in the meantime, raised its standards for physical fitness, making it more difficult for out-of-shape geeks to get in. But the air force has noted that some hackers are late bloomers. Since air force recruits are the brightest and best educated of all the services, it's been decided to try and identify and train Internet techs from among the new airmen, and then attempt to keep them in for more than one four-year enlistment.

Actually, most military personnel these days could just as well be civilians. Armies have always had civilians along, to perform support functions. The historical term is "camp followers." In times past, the ratio of civilians to soldiers was often much higher, like eight civilians for every one soldier. Only the most disciplined armies (like the ancient Romans at their peak), kept the ratio closer to one to one. But when conscript armies became common in the 19th century, it was suddenly cheaper to replace many of those civilians with conscripts (who were paid a nominal wage.) Now that armies are going all-volunteer, it's gone back to the old days, where it's cheaper to have civilians perform a lot of support jobs. This is a trend that's been going on in the American armed forces even before conscription was eliminated 35 years ago. The effort to recruit more Internet geeks will end up gathering up more camp followers, who will stay "in the camp" to do their job, and never need venture into a combat zone where the warriors are working. But the competition from the civilian economy for these highly skilled support personnel is something the ancients didn't have to worry about.

Of the four services, the U.S. Air Force is the most experienced in Cyber War matters. It was three years ago that the air force officially scrapped its own planned Cyber Command, which was supposed to operate more like USCYBERCOM. That new air force organization was supposed to officially begin operating by the end of 2008. Instead, many of the personnel that were sent to staff the new command were sent to the new Nuclear Command. This change was made in response to growing (over the last few years) problems with the management of air force nuclear weapons. Despite that, for several years now, the air force has been planning to establish some kind of new Cyber War operation and use it to gain overall control for all Department of Defense Cyber War activities. The other services were not keen on this. That resistance, plus the nuclear weapons problems, led to the Cyber Command operation being scaled back to being the 24th Air Force. This organization handles electronic and Internet based warfare.

While the Air Force Cyber Command did not become reality, work continued on building a Cyber Control System. This is a hardware and software system that enables the 24th Air Force to monitor, in real time, the security state of all air force (or Department of Defense) networks. If any of these networks were attacked, the Cyber Control System software would immediately alert 24th Air Force controllers, and recommend a course of action. Think of this as a war room for Cyber War. Many people, deluged with TV and movie representations of high tech military command centers, believe such a Cyber War center already exists. It didn't, until the air force recently built it. This is now used as the main USCYBERCOM operations center.

What the air force wanted to do was be in charge of security for the 11 million Internet users, seven million PCs and 15,000 networks belonging to the Department of Defense (which is the largest Internet user on the planet). All the services are scrambling to get their Cyber War defenses strengthened, but the air force wanted to be in charge. This effort was successfully opposed by the other services.

The U.S. Army, following the example of the air force, also established a Cyber War operation. Some 21,000 soldiers were pulled from a large variety of signal and intelligence outfits, to form ARFORCYBER (Army Forces Cyber Command). It became fully operational late last year, with its headquarters at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

Two years ago, the U.S. Navy created an "Information Domination Corps", in the form of a new headquarters (the 10th Fleet), with over 40,000 people reassigned to staff it. While the new Cyber War command will mainly deal with intelligence and network security, it will also include meteorology and oceanography. These last two items are very important for deep water navies, especially since a lot of the information about oceans, and the weather, is kept secret. The fleet will call upon the talents of 45,000 sailors and civilians. Most (44,000) of these personnel will be reorganized into 10th Fleet jobs, or will contribute from within other organizations. A thousand new positions will be created, mainly for 10th Fleet. All this is for giving the navy a more powerful, and secure, position in cyberspace. The navy does not want to repeat the mistakes of the air force in this area.

The U.S. Marine Corps established a Forces Cyberspace Command last year, with about 800 personnel, to help provide network security for marine units. The marines are accustomed to doing more with less.

All those Cyber War operations are dependent on contract workers (civilians) for their top technical talent. There is always a shortage of these people, partly because they have to be capable of getting a security clearance. This rules out a lot of the best hacking talent, who had misbehaved in the past, and were identified, or even prosecuted for it. A lot of otherwise qualified technical personnel won't even apply for these Department of Defense jobs because a background check might reveal earlier hacking misadventures they would rather keep secret. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has assembled a growing group of civilian Cyber War volunteers. Not all have security clearances, but in the event of a national Cyber War crises, that would be less of an issue.

 


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