Do Cyberwarriors Belong at Special Operations Command?

By Magnusom, Stew | National Defense, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Do Cyberwarriors Belong at Special Operations Command?


Magnusom, Stew, National Defense


Josh Hartman, a former congressional staffer and Defense Department executive, knows a good place for the military to house its cadre of cyberwarriors: In Tampa, Fla., at MacDill Air Force Base, home of Special Operations Command-Command.

Consider the idea "that our future warriors in cyberspace are going to be our future special operations operator," said Hartman, who is now a principal at the Center for Strategic Space Studies and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"There is nothing conventional about cyberspace operations, and there is nothing conventional about a cyberwarrior," he said at the Space Foundation's Cyber 1.1 event in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"You're never going to put cyberwarriors in a formation and march them down a street," he said.

While there has been a good deal of consternation about the United States' lack of ability to defend itself from a cyber-attack, the subject of the nation's ability to launch its own offensive measures on computer networks is rarely mentioned in public forums.

When it comes to the secretive cadre of cyberwarriors who are asked to attack in cyberspace, Hartman sees many similarities between the geek squads of the future and today's commando units.

Like special operators, they will be asked to operate across all phases of the campaign. But they will be most valuable at the beginning when they can shape the strategic environment and dissuade and deter kinetic operations from occurring, he said.

They have to be integrated across the military. They will have to be organized in nontraditional structures--task forces, special units, small teams--and the like.

"In order to be agile at the speed of the Net, a big traditional force structure organization is not going to work in cyber or cyberwarrior organizations," he said.

Like today's special operators who are immersed in languages and specialize in certain regions, they will need to understand local populations and cultures, he continued.

They will have to be like a behavioral scientist or a cultural anthropologist to understand what the effects of an operation are so they can think like their enemies.

That will be key to understanding second-and third-order effects, he said. They must not only know the intended effects of taking down a network, but what happens after they launch an operation.

The decision to put U.S. Cyber Command, currently located at Fort Meade, Md., alongside the National Security Agency but under U.S. Strategic Command may be rethought some day to make it a subunified command under SOCOM, he said.

"I think as we begin to understand these effects more, to understand the needs in cyberspace and understand the face of our future cyberwarriors, we will reconsider that and think about putting it under SOCOM/' he said.

The face--or at least the stereotype--of the typical cyberspecialist is of a paunchy, pale-skinned geek whose only skin color comes from the glow of a computer screen.

This clashes with the special operator, the physically fit commandos like the Navy SEALS who successfully infiltrated Osama bin Laden's compound and dispatched the terrorist with stealth and precision.

Walking around MacDill, it is not uncommon to see special operators out of uniform, he said. They have long hair, beards, mustaches, ponytails and tattoos. …

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Do Cyberwarriors Belong at Special Operations Command?
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