Sunday, March 16, 2014

Five Thoughts from VADM Rogers Testimony

I had a chance to read Advance Questions for Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers, USN (pdf) this weekend.

I wanted to share five thoughts based on excerpts from the VADM Rogers' answers to written questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

1. The Committee asked: Can deterrence be an effective strategy in the absence of reliable attribution?

VADM Rogers responded: Yes, I believe there can be effective levels of deterrence despite the challenges of attribution. Attribution has improved, but is still not timely in many circumstances...

Cyber presence, being forward deployed in cyberspace, and garnering the indications and warnings of our most likely adversaries can help (as we do with our forces dedicated to Defend the Nation). (emphasis added)

I wonder if "cyber presence" and "being forward deployed in cyberspace" means having access to adversary systems? There's little doubt as to the source of an attack if you are resident on the system launching the attack.

2. The Committee asked: Is it advisable to develop cyberspace officers as we do other combat arms or line officers? Why or why not?

VADM Rogers responded: ...We must find a way to simultaneously ensure combat arms and line officers are better prepared to contribute, and cyberspace officers are able to enjoy a long, meaningful career with upward mobility. A meaningful career should allow them to fully develop as specialized experts, mentor those around them, and truly influence how we ought to train and fight in this mission space. 

I am especially interested in the merit of how a visible commitment to valuing cyberspace officers in our ranks will affect recruitment and retention. I believe that many of today’s youth who are uniquely prepared to contribute (e.g. formally educated or self-developed technical expertise) do not feel there is a place for them in our uniformed services

We must find a way to strengthen the message of opportunity and I believe part of the answer is to do our part to ensure cyberspace officers are viewed as equals in the eyes of line and combat arms officers; not enablers, but equals. Equals with capabilities no less valued than those delivered by professional aviators, special operators, infantry, or surface warfare. (emphasis added)

In my opinion, the best way to meet these goals is to create a separate Cyber Force. Please read the article Time for a US Cyber Force by Admiral James Stavridis (ret) and David Weinstein.

3. The Committee asked: The Unified Command Plan (UCP) establishes U.S. Cyber Command as a subunified command reporting to U.S. Strategic Command. We understand that the Administration considered modifying the UCP to establish U.S. Cyber Command as a full combatant command.
What are the best arguments for and against taking such action now?

VADM Rogers responded: ...The argument for full Unified Command status is probably best stated in terms of the threat. Cyber attacks may occur with little warning, and more than likely will allow only minutes to seconds to mount a defensive action seeking to prevent or deflect potentially significant harm to U.S critical infrastructure. 

Existing department processes and procedures for seeking authorities to act in response to such emergency actions are limited to Unified Combatant Commanders. If confirmed, as the Commander of U.S. CYBERCOM, as a Sub-unified Combatant Commander I would be required to coordinate and communicate through Commander, U.S. Strategic Command to seek Secretary of Defense or even Presidential approval to defend the nation in cyberspace. 

In a response cycle of seconds to minutes, this could come with a severe cost and could even obviate any meaningful action. As required in the current Standing Rules of Engagement, as a Combatant Commander, I would have the requisite authorities to directly engage with SECDEF or POTUS as necessary to defend the nation. (emphasis added)

I'm dismayed but not surprised by this argument. I'm dismayed because it sounds like the most important reason to establish a unified cyber command is the perception that "cyber attacks...allow only minutes to seconds to mount a defensive action." This is just not true for any strategically significant attack.

If you only have "minutes to seconds" left for defense, you are way too far down the kill chain. You need to be intercepting the adversary in the reconnaissance phase, or at least no earlier than the stage whereby the threat explores the target searching for critical elements. I fear the "minutes to seconds" camp is a legacy of the bad old days of Internet worms from 10 years ago.

4. The Committee asked: How could the Internet be redesigned to provide greater inherent security?

VADM Rogers responded: Advancements in technology continually change the architecture of the Internet. Cloud computing, for instance, is a significant change in how industry and individuals use Internet services... 

Several major providers of Internet services are already implementing increased security in email and purchasing services by using encryption for all transmissions from the client to the server. It is possible that the service providers could be given more responsibility to protect end clients connected directly to their infrastructures. 

They are in a position to stop attacks targeted at consumers and recognize when consumer devices on their networks have been subverted. The inability of end users to verify the originator of an email and for hackers to forge email addresses have resulted in serious compromises of end user systems... (emphasis added)

So, we see reference to cloud computing, encrypting client-to-server communications, ISPs protecting end users, and email verification. Think of all the tactical and technology options that were not mentioned here. Also notice the lack of discussion of better operations/campaigns and strategies. Finally, notice the Committee asked about redesigning the Internet, an engineering-focused approach.

5.  I am glad to live in a country where a candidate to lead important military and intelligence agencies can be questioned in then open for public benefit. However, I am disappointed that the Unified Command Plan (UCP), referenced several times in the Q&A, remains a classified document.

The best we seem to have is The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress, (pdf) a 2013 Congressional Research Service document hosted by FAS, and History of the Unified Command Plan (pdf), hosted by The 2012 CRS report is posted on a Web site. It would be helpful to read an unclassified version of the next UCP, which is due anytime it seems.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gary Cameron, Reuters.

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