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September 04, 2009

The Time for Action Is Now

The government has shown its inability to create an effective, cohesive team that is needed to address our nation’s critical exposure to the threat of cyber attacks.  That being said, these delays and setbacks have caused others to talk about taking a different approach. Under condition of total anonymity, I talked to one source that thinks the time has come to take this in a different direction, in terms of domestic cyber security leadership. That source stated that this is a critical position and we should put domestic cyber security under the National Guard. This is not as wild an idea as it sounds, and it is not the first time it has come up in cyber security discussions and working groups that I have taken part in. 
 
The National Guard was established back on October 7, 1636, nearly 373 years ago. By Act of Congress, the Guard was established as the primary backup force to the Army and the Air Force. The guard is a dual state and federal force that is operated by the National Guard Bureau under the Department of Defense. In peace time, it is commanded by the State Governors, and serves in state emergencies, natural disasters and civil disturbances. The Guard’s involvement in cyber defense and warfare dates back to 1999, when President Bill Clinton approved a national critical infrastructure protection plan. That plan seemed to envision the Guard as a defender of critical federal, state and private networks. Today, an estimated 2,000 members of the National Guard are directly involved in Computer Network Operations (CNO). CNO is a U.S. military doctrinal term which comprises computer network attacks, computer network defense, and related computer network exploitation enabling operations.
 
Current Capabilities
The Washington Air National Guard 262nd Unit now handles highly classified cyber security missions. The unit has been converted from a Combat Communications Squadron into an Information Warfare Aggressor Squadron (IWAS). The 262nd has been tasked with the mission of finding potential vulnerabilities of Air Force computer systems and Operations Security (OPSEC) measures.
 
The Delaware Air National Guard's 166th Network Warfare Squadron operates from secure facilities at its own location and at Fort Meade, Maryland, home of the National Security Agency (News - Alert) (NSA).  There, the 166th provides network exploitation, cyber attack and cyber threat analysis capabilities in support of national and Air Force tasking. Activated in 2005, the 166th is made up orf three flights with one concentrates on cyber warfare offense, one on cyber defense, the third on support, such as planning for cyber attacks and cyber defenses.
 
The 184th Intelligence Group (IG) is heavily involved in cyber warfare and support cyber intelligence. The men and women of the 184th Intelligence Group deliver near real-time intelligence around the globe in support of our nation's war fighters. Intelligence teams fuse multiple sources of data to provide war fighters timely, tailored situational updates on the battlefield, in urban warfare, and in unpredictable environments. This group also operates as part of the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS). DCGS is a worldwide, network-centric architecture that conducts collaborative intelligence operations which processes, exploits, and disseminates actionable information.
 
These three are just a few of the capabilities of the National Guard. The role of the National Guard in homeland security has become even more critical and a significant part of domestic security given the increased likelihood that terrorists (cyber and other) will target the homeland as a theater of war. As it turns out, the National Guard is the only organization that can work with the differing law enforcement agencies and Department of Defense with no legal issues. 
 
I spoke at the International Intelligence Summit on UnRestricted Warfare, of which cyber warfare is one component. After my presentation, I was engaged by a high ranking member of the National Guard and we spoke specifically about cyber conflict. At that time, the topic of coordination and collaboration between military, law enforcement, government (federal, state and local) and the private sector came up. In our discussions, we did talk about the unique position the National Guard is in and how effective they could be in the lead role in cyber defense. One of the big issues that have been identified is the cooperation and collaboration between the public and private sector, DoD and DHS as it relates to domestic cyber attacks. The July 4th attacks further illuminated that issue.
 
One thing is clear: the criticality of cyber security is not in question. After the increase in cyber attacks that we have experienced recently, this is a problem that is not going away and only getting worse. Cyber attacks are more aggressive and sinister than ever. They have become surprisingly professional over the last few years. This has become an execution issue by our nation’s leaders. Foreign Policy Journal recently ran an article titled, The US will lose its battle in cyberspace without a leader at the helm.  I agree with that statement. The U.S. needs a comprehensive, cohesive and coordinated cyber defense strategy and that requires a clear leader.   Will the National Guard be tasked with domestic cyber protection? While there are a number of benefits to using the National Guard, only time will tell. 

A few interesting facts:
  • The National Guard--the oldest component of America's armed forces.
  • Tom Clancy came up with this idea in his book series “Net Force”          
    Cyber defense is a National Guard-like mission
  • An estimated 2,000 Army National Guard soldiers now serve in cyber warfare units and the number is expected to increase.
  • An intelligence bill headed for a vote in the Senate would enhance Congressional oversight of cyber security over the next three years.
 

Kevin G. Coleman, a consultant and advisor with Technolytics Institute, writes the Data Security column for TMCnet. To read more articles by Kevin, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask
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