Cyber warfare: The military community

The military has been an active, interested, busy, and pretty much clueless newbie to the art and practice of cyber warfare. Recently I was told, “You don’t know what we don’t know behind the top secret doors of the Pentagon”. Pondering that thought it becomes evident after minimal analysis that a few things are true about the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and various factions of other clandestine services. They all get the raw material (people and ideas) from the same sources as everybody else. The Pentagon does not pay substantially higher than most other venues. The Pentagon likely has some gee whiz stuff hiding around the top-secret environs and we can guess at what they might be. That being said when has the Pentagon or any other federal agency delivered a major product on time, to specification, or within budget? The military community attempts to hold a monopoly on warfare even as it fights two wars of insurgency. The military community doesn’t own cyber warfare anymore than it owns conflict in any domain.

The domain of cyber space is a hotly contested topic and defining “cyber space” has been a cottage industry of military minded academics busy at work. I liken the term to the root from which cyber came from. “Cyber” is the term that denotes command and control and is a long ago used term. Norbert Wiener defined a man-machine interface in Cybernetics. I would much prefer to see the term cyber revolve around warfare involving the command and control elements of the global information grid as the tools of society. Much like any warfare element in the past has always had the goal of interrupting the command and control of the adversary. In the United States Civil War that was telegraph in balloons. In various naval wars semaphore was the command and control tactic. Today command and control is integrated across a hugely, monstrously, vast, megalithic (redundancy times three) network that stretches across the world terrestrially and out into space.

When we talk about the military domain of cyber space it likely is not the same domain as the civilians would use. There are shared elements, but the military has special radios and communications conduits that are not shared with civilians. This creates much discussion as to whether cyber space is electronic warfare, information operations, or some other form of communication. In the military pundits hearts they closely tie cyber space and denote the specific elements to their mission domain. This is a part of cyber space. Where the military finds itself is only one piece of the picture that is the vaster cyber space. Consider the analogy of a dog fight between two pilots. The space they fight in is only part of the larger domain of air space. Below the pilots exist air-to-air missiles that can reach from the terrestrial to the aerial. Yet only that current area of operation is the military operational space.  That doesn’t mean that in the larger scope of the terrain of conflict there can’t be a larger space where the military is not operating.

This idea of a sphere of dominance and military influence creating bubbles of control is not new. Yet we continue to see this idea that the military would protect all cyber space suggested when in the real world that idea would be laughable at best. No military can cover the entire face of the planet. All of the military might on the planet currently could not “control” the face of the planet, the depths of the oceans, and still maintain even passable presence in that vast landscape. The realm of cyber space is even deeper and filled with a larger landscape. The military bias to preclude, that which doesn’t fit, is a presence of mistaken assumptions when considering this domain. The cognitive, non-representative, and mythological constructs of communication are ignored. Social media, and collaborative technologies are barely understood by military minds.

The bias of thinking cyber space is a relative terrain like land, sea, air, or space creates a construct that implores the military minded individual to think of dominance. Rather than an analogy of physical terrain the military minded constituency should think about the worth of  fresh water and the minerals of the earth. If the bias is to consider cyber space like the terrain of the land that analogy is fraught with issues. The swale, draws, plateau, rivers, oceans, swamps of terrestrial geography are the presentation of one dimension of the landscape. The armor officer might forego the swamp, avoid the river and ocean, and dash across the plateau. Yet miss the significance of the buried minerals, oils, sands, ruins, relics, and deposits of rare materials. More importantly the armor officer is aware of buried mines and improvised explosive devices. Yet the cyber space realm allows for those weapons to be massively deployed under the officer’s tanks as they stand waiting. Rivers, and forests can be dynamically changed with no effort or time. The landscape is multi-dimensional and bias has led to that being forgotten.

The substantive issues in creating an easily understood analogy for cyber space has resulted in two threads in the military literature. One thread is to use analogy to explain highly complex issues and attempt thereby to expose them. The second thread is to restrict the definitions and understanding. A continuing scope diminution occurs until cyber space shrinks to smaller than the Internet; tell it shrinks into the smallest form of just military communications.  This creates a logical fallacy as a discussion of the larger scope of cyber space reaching targets on a broader terrain then is ignored. The larger scope is harder to understand, as the man made infrastructure of the Internet is one humongous piece of cyber space. The softer science side of cognition and people within the construct identified by Ronfeldt and Arquilla along with others is still in existence but simply ignored. Those things you ignore are usually the ones that haunt you the most.

Bias is an interesting phenomenon. As an author I have a bias and represent it as this. Cyberspace is the terrain of technology mediated communication. The realm of cyber space is a construct created by man starting with peoples thoughts and ideas and reaching into the deepest depths of physical space and back through the thinking and decision support matrixes of human kind. It is both a deeper and more fearsome concept along with larger and more tangible idea than many give rise to. Further, cyber warfare does not need a nation state to act upon anymore than an insurgency needs two armies. People resist tyranny and act on ideological imperatives and hysteria in the face of violence. To identify cyber warfare with only minimal constructs allowed by current military thinking and authors is to ignore the history of air power (a couple dudes in a farm field), communications (Watson come in here), and industry (Which branch of the military funded Henry Ford?). Cyber space almost begs for the insurgent model of warfare. The vast distributed nature of the myriad technologies owned by private companies, municipalities, and multi-national corporations is a reflection of the physical world in multitudinous dimensions.

I might not know what the military doesn’t know, but I can sure tell that in arguing about and changing doctrine that is industrial age inspired. This arguing in a knowledge economy world is likely a failure of understanding. I might not know that there are tools or research leading to solutions for some of these problems, but I have seen the thought leaders restrict their considerations to solvable problems, which skew risk assessments.  There is nothing new here. This kind of bias has been part of all governments for a long time. It hinges on the fortune of profit today for not taking action against risks of tomorrow.

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