Friday, December 10, 2010

Information Operations and Cyberspace: It's “Time” to Chat

By Craig Harm

Last week, Carl Hunt and I had the opportunity to talk about the SENDS effort at the Defining IO/Cyber Spectrum Operations Conference hosted at SPAWAR, Charleston, SC.  The conference was conducted by the Association of Old Crows.  The conference theme was “Defining IO & Cyber Capabilities in 21st Century warfare”.  Keynote speakers were headlined by Vice Admiral “Mike” McConnell, U.S. Navy (retired) who was previously the Director of the National Security Agency and the Director of National Intelligence.  This was an important conference!

Discussions the first day centered on the strategic issues of DoD and national cyber operations and defense efforts.  While we heard how each of the military services is reorganizing to make cyber operations a more main-stream activity, we also heard about the complexity of their network management and defense challenges.  Senior-level operators expressed their concerns about being unable to see into their own networks.  The speakers included an Army general officer, a reservist on active duty, who has also worked in senior leadership positions in the commercial sector.

Many of the senior-level presenters on the first day talked about their efforts to secure their own networks.  As would be expected from those with such responsibilities, they all seemed to focus on the key areas of management, oversight, accountability, command and control and roles and missions.   These points were highlighted by recurring mention of organizational studies, effectiveness inspections, committee formations and “way-ahead” talks.

The second day was focused more on the “tactical” level and network operations.  A key point about network dependencies was brought up during these discussions.  The upshot of all of the presentations was that despite the talk of Net Centric Operations and Warfare, the DoD is really Net Dependent, and it is this Net Dependency that presents the most opportunities for vulnerability; this creates a driving force behind the requirement for secure networks.   With over 1.4 million DoD users on the network (including an increasing mobile presence), the challenge for network operators is building the culture to ensure users are protecting data and the network.

Yes, despite the leap in technologies and accessibility, it is still a culture issue – a people issue.

Although the details and the content of most of the discussions about Information Operations (IO) were classified, there were some key points of interest we can discuss here.  The first and foremost to me is the incongruence of the definition of Information Operations and what it is composed of.   Even today, there is still debate about what IO is and how it’s done.  The conventional DoD definition of IO includes both electronic warfare (EW) and computer network operations (CNO).   While some of these discussions look and feel “new”, such as computer network operations, the main themes are not, as I point out below.

The third and last day was conducted as a panel forum on new technologies.  The panel members were asked to address “What are some new technologies on the horizon, and how are these technologies transitioned to the warfighter?  What are Cyber and Net-Centric Warfare, and how will these capabilities help the warfighter?”

There were discussions and presentations on adaptive antenna technologies, text and video content extraction, as well as Information Management systems: the technologies of cyber-enabled operations, if you will.  It was in these sessions that Carl presented the SENDS Project.  His was the only presentation of the entire conference to specifically address the need to understand the human part of cyberspace, the linkage between “new” and “old” thinking about Information Operations (see below).

Many of the presentations during the conference alluded to the human element, but none called it out specifically.   In addition to giving a basic overview of the SENDS philosophy and the concept of the Science of Cyberspace, Carl talked of how the biggest source of both gratification and aggravation in the growth of cyberspace is in innovation….persistent, emergent innovation, a human process, by the way.

There is a paradox of sorts, where the ultimate uses of technologies and policies in many cases deviate to a use that was not the original intent.  This, Carl pointed out, is the manifestation of emergence from human, technological and cultural exchanges.  Cyberspace is a breeding ground for adaptation and innovation.  People interacting with other people, often through cyberspace technologies, show us daily how adaptive and yet unpredictable we truly are: this also helps explain why social science, while making progress, still has a long way to go!

After hearing three days of talk about the importance of Information Operations, the tremendous focus and effort within the DoD towards these operations, and the monumental challenges DoD has to overcome to implement them I began to wonder why this seems so new to people.  Information, communication, connectivity and secure lines of communication have historically always been important, vital parts of our lives as humans.

Several in the conference pointed out that during the revolutionary war, it was George Washington’s tremendous human network for gathering information that enabled him to outmaneuver the British and keep the Colonial Army intact.  While moving to intercept Robert E. Lee's army of Northern Virginia, Union soldiers from George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac discovered a misplaced copy of Lee's detailed battle plans wrapped around three cigars; even though McClellan failed to exploit the discovery to victory, he was still able to achieve a tactical draw at Antietam (interestingly, some of the first “cyberspace” technologies such as the telegraph, linked people during that time).  World War II saw the dependence on wireless transmission, another manifestation of cyberspace.  The Allied exploitation of Japanese codes and the German Enigma machine gave a significant advantage to the Allied war efforts.

So why is there the sudden emphasis on Information Operations?  Why is this different now, in the 21st Century, than it has been in the past?  Why are these operations drawing so much attention from our national leaders in the last few years?

I believe what is really making this different is rooted in the effects modern cyberspace connectivity brings to operations.  Near-ubiquitous human connectivity and the massive quantities of data, interacting through the technology of cyberspace, have a transformational temporal impact.  It is really about time, and the massive human-human, human-machine and machine-machine interactions that modern, fast-paced flows of information enable.   SENDS is attempting to gain an understanding of these same themes through the study of exchange, emergence and self-organization.

These elements that cyberspace brings to Information Operations makes things different now, more than at any other period in history.  And it is these elements, including the effects of time, through which we must gain a more fundamental understanding before any study, reorganization or new policy will ever have any significant impact.

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