I write this with great respect in having served with the men and women of US SOCOM.
I’m a thirteen year, six month veteran of the US Navy SEAL Teams, and have deployed to southwest Asia five times and had one son born when I was chasing AQ in the north of Afghanistan in 2001. My experience with SOCOM and war fighting has given me some insights into some changes they need to make.
SOCOM Needs to Improve Their Cyber Terror Policy & Long Term Strategy
SOCOM leadership has a very challenging and difficult job to do, that much is true. However, what about our jobs as citizen warriors? Will we continue to sit around watching our friends be muted by TV, eating fast food? Getting fatter, and being driven further apart by politics and religion? Or can we bring critical thinking, debate, viable solutions and open minds back to the table?
I’d like to think the latter.
Cyber Terror is Not Addressed in SOCOM’s Budget or Strategic Outlook
You don’t have to look far on the Internet these days to find out that the U.S. Military is very susceptible to Cyber Terror. If Cyber Terror is a threat then why isn’t US SOCOM paying attention? A good and valid question I think.
“Special operations forces will become more important in the future… Their proven abilities to arrive unexpectedly, to kill those who plan to do us harm, to take precise action when required, to inspire their counterparts, all combine to make them a force in high demand.”
Former Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, Aug. 10, 2011
From a good post over at defensesystems.com August of 2011.
“We need a universal domain so I can pick up my iPhone or Android phone and communicate with all the folks I need to communicate with and not have to worry about security protocols. This is a problem that slows up the way we communicate,” McRaven said.
And he said improved reception would help forces receive and better understand information.
Another need is improved cloud computing.
What Good is Parking Sensitive Data in the Cloud If it’s Not Secure?
Is is better to compartmentalize data offline then to put it at risk on the net? One of the reasons Bin Laden was so effective at evading detection was that he was offline, that and the Pakistani’s were helping him. They’re good at speaking out of both sides of their mouths.
I heard Lieutenant General Bradley A. Heithold (Vice Commander US Special Operations Command) speak at an industry conference this week and I asked him this:
“It seems like Cyber Terror is a very real threat, organizations like Hamas use these to their advantage. When looking at the future plans of US SOCOM, there is no mention of Cyber Terror or funding. Can you give me your thoughts on this?”
To General Heithold’s credit, he very candidly admitted the short coming and said they are working towards increasing their Defensive posture in Cyber, and that they were working closely with the NSA.
I still find it pretty scary that SOCOM’s veil of secrecy (After Action Briefs, Training Tactics and Procedures-TTP’s and Strategic Documents) is at risk from some hyper-smart 13-year-old in the Ukraine or China with an internet connection and a “can do” attitude. Makes you think SOCOM should start worrying about Cyber security more than they worry about a few rogue authors (myself included) publishing books about the past.
Which Outdated Defense Company Is Leading US SOCOM Down The Cyber Security Sidewalk To Yesterday’s Solution?
Cyber is mentioned only once in the 2012 US SOCOM posture statement
Not very meaningful if you ask me.
“Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity to address the Committee in my first posture statement as the 9th commander of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).”
Strategic trends and challenges are producing a distinct change in the character of conflict. Insurgents, transnational terrorists, criminal organizations, nation states and their proxies exploit gaps in policy developed for the more predictable world of yesterday. Increasingly these threats are networked, adaptable, and empowered by cyberspace to find new ways to recruit, train, finance, and operate. In short, the strategic environment is changing – quickly and constantly.”
Admiral McRaven, Commander, US SOCOM
Key Points To Think About
- We Are Not Prepared For a Cyber Attack (or Chem/Bio, but that’s a different story)
- A Joint Inter Department Capacity=Bureaucracy and All Bark and No Bite
- Attack=Sensitive Top Secret Data at Risk
- The Tech Industry Far Exceeds SOCOM’s Understanding: This is like the SEC regulating a Financial Market they don’t understand. At least TEAM SIX is partnering with industry (unconfirmed but what we hear anyway)
- Most Institutional Defense Companies Lag WAY Behind the Tech Industry. (Screw The Big Dogs, SOCOM should be courting Silicone Valley and the likes of eBay for help)
To Obama’s Credit he has openly admitted this….
President Obama has identified cybersecurity as one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation, but one that we as a government or as a country are not adequately prepared to counter. Shortly after taking office, the President therefore ordered a thorough review of federal efforts to defend the U.S. information and communications infrastructure and the development of a comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure. (Read the full report.)
SOCOM Long-Term Strategic Objectives: Focused on Treating Symptoms, Not Root Causes
SOCOM has become really good at killing bad guys. But it goes beyond targeting AQ and LeT assassination teams, or whacking UBL. Do we continue to chop the Hydra’s head off only to have it grow back stronger, more educated to our tactics and strategies and more determined? Are we pouring gas on the fire of Radical Islam? All good thoughts to reflect on.
Lack of Clear Long Term Strategic Objectives = Afghanistan & Future Campaigns Lost
I believe that US SOCOM and the broader DoD should seriously invest in developing long-term strategies that address root causes. One solution easier said than done (but what great task comes easy?) is to start investing Billions (not in more think tank studies that go nowhere) in schools and healthcare. How better to show goodwill than by investing in Islamic states (Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Somalia for example) fundamental human concerns.
A sure way to win over hearts and minds is through cultural awareness, acceptance (not everyone is like us or shares the same morals), education and healthcare. One of the reasons Radical Mullahs are growing so many terrorists is because they give children a free education. And what parent wouldn’t accept this offer if no alternatives are available?
From my perspective, we talk a good game in the beginning but don’t show long-term commitment. That is trust building of a different sort. I served up in the north of Kurdistan and am still haunted by a Kurdish Military Officer who recalled to me how during Gulf War One the U.S. promised the Kurdish people support in exchange for strategic intelligence and access. How did we repay them when the music cut out? We left them with no chair and nowhere to run and stood by idly as Saddam massacred the Kurdish with poison gas. He went on to share with me his hope that the U.S. would not lead them like lambs to slaughter again.
Afghanistan is no different and quite tragic.
I recently read James Michener’s “Caravans”- A Novel on Afghanistan. I felt like he wrote the book in 2012, not the 1960s (story was based post WWII). The foreshadowing and parallels to the geographically cursed gateway to Asia and the Middle East leave you scratching your head and mumbling to yourself, “Are we going down just like the Soviets and Alexander The Great? And How many new Bin Laden’s have we bankrolled in North Africa and southeast Asia in the process?”.
A simple strategic objective that is communicated clearly will align people to a cause (good or bad). Just ask UBL! If I ask 100 people what our ultimate objective is with the Afghan campaign, chances are I’ll get 100 different answers.
I’ve said this before, but this is like having players on a football field not knowing which direction to run in order to score a touchdown and win the game. This is not a good thing and makes for terrible viewing.
School yard bullies need to be challenged and plenty of bad guys still need killing, I have no problem with it, stack the bodies to God (or your Deity of choice) I say. However, doing this for over a decade without a clear objective will satisfy the SOF Gladiators appetite only, and at what cost?
Great leaders are great communicators and Churchill and Steve Jobs were masters. Do you think the citizens of England (during WWII) or Apple had any doubt about what the strategic plan was? Everyone needs to know the plan in its simplest form for it to succeed.
Interesting Times Ahead
An election year is upon us, Iran continues to build Nuclear capability, Israel is poised to strike Iran, Russia has a dictator and the world turns. I guess some lessons have to be learned the hard way, kind of like organized religion did when the educated world realized the earth was not flat after all….
Brandon Webb, Editor-in-Chief, SOFREP.com