Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lt Gen David Deptula on Desert Storm and Islamic State

This weekend Vago Muradian interviewed Lt Gen (ret) David Deptula, most famous for his involvement as a key planner for the Desert Storm air campaign.

I recommend watching the entire video, which is less than 8 minutes long. Three aspects caught my attention. I will share them here.

First, Lt Gen Deptula said that Desert Storm introduced five changes to the character of warfare. I noted that he used the term "character," and not "nature." If you are a student of warfare and/or strategy, you are most likely in the camp that says warfare has an unchanging nature, although its character can change. This is the Clausewitz legacy. A minority camp argues that warfare can change both nature and character.

Second, turning to the five changes introduced by Desert Storm, Lt Gen Deptula listed the following.

1. Desert Storm introduced "expectations of low casualties, for both sides." I agree with the expectation of low casualties for the US, but I don't think low Iraqi casualties were a primary concern. One could argue that stopping the war during the "highway of death" showed the US didn't want to inflict large casualties on the Iraqi forces, but I still think low casualties were primarily a concern for US troops.

2. Desert Storm "normalized precision." Even though a minority of the ordnance delivered during the war were precision weapons, their use steadily increased throughout all later conflicts.

3. Desert Storm introduced joint and combined organization and execution. This was indeed quite a step forward, although I recall reading that that USMC airpower took measures to remain as separate as possible.

4. Desert Storm put the concepts of "effect-based operations" into action. There is no doubt about this one. Lt Gen Deptula talks about a disagreement with Gen Schwartzkopf's staff concerning disabling the Iraqi power grid. Air power achieved the effect of disabling the grid within 3-4 days, but Schwartzkopf's team used traditional attritional models, noting that less than a certain percentage of destruction mean mission failure. Deptula was right; they were wrong.

5. Desert Storm was the first major conflict where airpower was the centerpiece and key force. Call me biased, and no disrespect to the land forces in the Gulf, but I agree with this one.

The third and final noteworthy element of the interview involved Lt Gen Deptula's opinion of Islamic State. He said "it's not an insurgency. IS is a state." He said IS possesses the five elements of a state, namely:

1. Leadership
2. Key essential systems
3. Infrastructure
4. Population
5. Fielded military forces

I agree with his assessment. I also believe that Western leaders are unwilling to grant IS the legitimacy of it being a state, so they persist in calling IS names like ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and so on. I see no problem with that approach, since it incorporates political sensitivities. However, that approach also aggravates the perception that Western leaders are out of touch with reality.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Why a War Studies PhD?

When I begin receiving multiple questions on a topic, it's a signal that I should write a blog post.

Several of you have asked me about my experience as a PhD candidate in the King's College London Department of War Studies. In this post I will try to answer your questions by explaining how I got to this point and my overall impressions about the program.

My Academic Background

I have bachelor's of science degrees in history and political science from the US Air Force Academy, and a master's degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. My last formal academic training ended in 1997 when I graduated from the Air Force Intelligence Officers Training Course.

Why a PhD?

I seriously began considering working on my PhD in 2006, when I was an independent consultant. I've guest lectured at dozens of schools over the years, and taught hundreds of students through my Black Hat courses. I thought the PhD experience would open more doors for future academic opportunities, and I welcomed the opportunity to make an original contribution to the literature. In more recent years I've testified to Congress and worked with think tanks, and in both environments PhDs are common.

My First PhD Choice

After reading Security Engineering (the first edition), I was a fan of Dr Ross Anderson at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. I contacted him, as well as some of his PhD candidates. They invited me to guest lecture at the lab, which I did in May 2006. I considered the possibility of doing research on network security motioning. I liked the idea of the "British system," which emphasized practical research, no coursework, and a high degree of independence. I would have to move my family to the UK.

In the spring of 2007, however, I made contact with my future boss at General Electric. I decided instead to join GE as director of incident response. It was too good an opportunity. That put my PhD plans on hold.

A New Direction

In the fall of 2012 I listened to a 24 lecture series titled Masters of War: History's Greatest Strategic Thinkers by Professor Andrew R. Wilson of the Naval War College. Dr. Wilson reintroduced me to the strategists I had learned about as a cadet twenty years earlier, and kindled a deep interest in strategic history, thought, and practice. I began looking for military history and strategy programs, starting with this list maintained by the Society for Military History.

In the summer of 2013, The Economist magazine asked if I would participate in an online debate with Dr Thomas Rid, author of Cyber War Will Not Take Place. After the debate I read Thomas' book, and learned he was a professor in the KCL War Studies department. I enjoyed the debating process and Thomas' book, so I decided to contact him and some of his PhD candidates to learn more about the PhD program.

During that process, FireEye acquired Mandiant in late December 2013. I decided to change roles and become a full-time strategist, inspired by my changing interests and Prof Wilson's course. That decision definitively shifted my focus away from tools and tactics, and towards operations/campaigns and strategy.

My Final PhD Choice

In early 2014 I connected with Rob Lee, who had started his PhD with Thomas in the fall of 2013. Speaking with Thomas and Rob, I learned the KCL War Studies PhD was even more to my liking than the Cambridge program. KCL also emphasized practical research, no coursework, and a high degree of independence. I would not have to move my family to the UK, but I would have to be very disciplined and stay in contact with my advisor and colleagues.

I applied to the program to meet the spring 2014 deadline, with enrollment in fall 2014. I was accepted and started the program in the fall of 2014, while still maintaining my day job at Mandiant and FireEye.

The Thesis

The desired output for the KCL PhD is a thesis, a 80,000 to 100,000 word work with a goal of eventual publication as a book. Since I was already considering writing my fifth book, this seemed an excellent way to accomplish that goal. Others might find this a scary proposition, but I always enjoyed self-paced research, and the opportunity to devise and answer original research questions was appealing.


I will shift my focus slightly to those who might be interested in applying to the program. The PhD program offers three major milestones. First, one must be accepted to the program. I recommend perusing the list of people to find faculty and current students with interests similar to yours. Contact them via email to identify possible advisors and colleagues. If you aren't able to attract any interest, it's a sign you might not have a topic suitable for a PhD. That's a personal judgement, of course.

I approached the application process very seriously. I took several months to complete it and submitted my Strategy, Not Speed piece as my writing sample. Thankfully I was accepted!

Once in the program, the second major milestone is called the "mini viva" or the "upgrade." Prior to passing this milestone, as I understand it, one is not technically a PhD candidate yet. One must write a document of about 20,000 words that includes a thesis abstract, outline, introductory chapter, sample chapter, and completion work plan. The student must then defend that document, live, in front of a panel. I passed that stage of my PhD journey late last year.

The third and final major milestone is the "viva" or the defense of the completed thesis. I am several years away from this step, but I expect it to be an extended version of the upgrade process. Remember that one of the purposes of a PhD is to demonstrate the ability to produce high-level, independent research, so I expect my viva to reflect that philosophy.

My Experience

My experience thus far has been excellent and I plan to continue. However, I would like to highlight a few aspects of my situation. First, I am doing research independently, not at the Strand campus in central London. Several of my colleagues are there now, and they have daily access to a whole world of academic experiences that are unavailable to remote students. If you want a campus experience, you should study in London.

Second, I am still working my day job and being a husband and father, which are my priorities. That means I have to be very careful about  how I manage my time. I felt that I could handle the situation, based on my experience writing and publishing my last book. I started writing my last NSM book in January 2013 and had it ready for Black Hat in late July that year, during the time when Mandiant released the APT1 report.

Third, my thesis, the nature of counter-intrusion campaigns, dovetails well with my day job and professional interests. I would not be able to pursue a PhD in a field not related to my professional life -- I simply wouldn't have the time for research. Because my research matches the needs and interests of my employer, the work I do for Mandiant and FireEye frequently doubles as research for my PhD. Obviously I have a very flexible employer who supports my research, and for that I am grateful.

Fourth, although I am independent, thanks to the initiative of colleagues in the DC area, I am not alone. Last month one of us started a group for War Studies students in the DC area, and we plan to have monthly meetings. I also try to meet with KCL personnel (students or faculty) if we happen to be in the same part of the world at the same time. I started a Slack channel but it hasn't really yet taken off.

Recommended Reading

In addition to reading the KCL and War Studies Web sites, I suggest reading Authoring a PhD by Patrick Dunleavy. It is generally aimed at the British PhD process, focusing on the so-called "big book" thesis.  If you find the sort of research and writing described in that book to be exciting, then a KCL PhD might be for you.


In brief, I recommend the KCL War Studies PhD if you meet the following requirements:

  • You have a suitable undergraduate background, temperament, and social and financial situation, such that you are capable of independent research at the highest level.
  • You have an interest that syncs with at least one possible advisor in the department.
  • You are committed to researching for several years, and writing 80,000-100,000 words on your subject, answering research questions to make original academic and practical contributions to the field.

I may add updates to this post, or simply add them as comments or as answers to questions.

Happy 13th Birthday TaoSecurity Blog

Today, 8 January 2016, is the 13th birthday of TaoSecurity Blog! This is also my 3,000th blog post.

I wrote my first post on 8 January 2003 while working as an incident response consultant for Foundstone. Kevin Mandia was my boss. Today I am starting my third year as Chief Security Strategist at FireEye, still working for Kevin Mandia. (It's a small world. In April I will hit my five year anniversary with the Mandiant part of FireEye.)

In 2015 my blogging frequency increased dramatically, with 55 posts, more than double my 2014 total of 23 and triple my 2013 output of 18. In 2012 I posted 60 stories, so I was close to that level in 2015. It's still nothing like my writing from 2003-2011 however!

Why the drop over the years? I "blame" my @taosecurity Twitter account. With almost 36,000 followers, easy posting from mobile devices, and greater interactivity, Twitter is an addictive platform. I have authored roughly 16,000 Tweets since first posting in July 2009.

Second, blogging used to be the primary way I could share my ideas with the community. These days, speaking and writing are a big part of my professional duties. I try to track media reports here and I archive my non-blog writing at my Academia.edu account.

Third, time is precious, and blogging often takes a back seat. I'd rather spend time with my family, write and research my PhD, collaborate with think tanks, and so on.

I still plan to keep blogging in 2016. Twitter's only a 140 character platform, and some days I have the time and inclination to share a few thoughts beyond what I've said or written for work. I have to decide if I want to write about strategy here, or move to another location.

Thanks you to Google for providing me this free platform for the past 13 years, and to you for reading what I post. I'm one of the few original "security bloggers" still active, though not writing in the same way as I did in 2003.

I realize my transition from technical details to strategic considerations has alienated some readers, but I am comfortable with my interests and I believe the greater security community needs to hear from people who think outside the tools and tactics box. This is especially true when the majority of the security community isn't aware they are inside such a box, or that there is another set of ideas and people available to contribute to the world's digital safety and security.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2014-2015 Professional Reading Round-Up

At an earlier point in my career, I used to read a lot of technical security books. From 2006 to 2012 I published a series of Best Book Bejtlich Read posts. Beginning in 2013 I became much more interested in military-derived strategy and history, dating back to my studies at the Air Force Academy in the early 1990s. I stopped reviewing books at Amazon.com and didn't talk about my reading.

Last week I read Every Book I Read in 2015 by T. Greer, which inspired me to write my own version of that post. I have records for 2014-2015 thanks to a list I keep at Amazon.com. I'm modifying Greer's approach by not including personal reading, but I am adopting his idea to bold those titles that were my favorites.

The following are presented such that the most recently read appears first.

2015 Reading (37 books):

Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy 
by Barry R. Posen *(I'm joining the "restraint" school. I will say more about this in 2016.)

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurge​ncy Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
by John A. Nagl

On Guerrilla Warfare
by Mao Tse-tung

The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy
by Edward N. Luttwak *(I became a Luttwak fan when I read his book on Rome in 2014. Although I don't agree with everything he writes -- such as his stance on humanitarian assistance -- I find his "logic of strategy" compelling and correct.)

The Dragon Extends its Reach: Chinese Military Power Goes Global
by Larry M. Wortzel

War and Politics
by Bernard Brodie *(I became a huge Brodie fan in 2015, and this book was just as good as the first Brodie book I read, listed below.)

Strategy: Second Revised Edition
by B. H. Liddell Hart

Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd
by Frans P.B. Osinga

The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996-2017
by Eric Heginbotham, Michael Nixon, Forrest E. Morgan

Strategy in the Missile Age
by Bernard Brodie *(This book made me a Brodie fan. I like his clear reasoning and writing style.)

Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace, Revised and Enlarged Edition
by Edward N. Luttwak *(Despite how much I like Brodie's work, this is probably my "book of the year." It gave a voice to many of the frustrations with the way my technical- and tactics-obsessed colleagues in the digital security world approach offense and defense. Introducing the "technical" level of war (below tactics) and the "classic delusion of the 'final move'" described well what happens in traditional digital security practice and thought.)

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
by Robert Coram

In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory
by Shimon Naveh

The Grey Line: Modern Corporate Espionage and Counter Intelligence
by Andrew Brown *(This book wins the "weirdest book of the year" award. The author makes outrageous claims, with no sourcing, but seems to know what he is talking about.)

Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage
by Eamon Javers

The Nature of War in the Information Age: Clausewitzian Future
by David J. Lonsdale

Cyberspace and the State: Toward a strategy for cyber-power
by David J Betz, Tim Stevens

Grant's Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
by Chris Mackowski

There Will Be Cyberwar: How The Move To Network-Centri​c Warfighting Has Set The Stage For Cyberwar
by Richard Stiennon

The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones Confron​ting A New Age of Threat
by Benjamin Wittes, Gabriella Blum *(This book offered valuable insights, including How The World Butchered Benjamin Franklin’s Quote On Liberty Vs. Security.)

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It
by Marc Goodman *(This book was surprisingly good. After I read past the "cyber" parts, I found myself thinking differently about "connectivity" and its effects.)

Cyber Policy in China
by Greg Austin

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
by Bruce Schneier *(I like that, after documenting privacy concerns caused by public and private actors, Bruce tells the reader to work through the democratic process to reform the system -- not become anarchists.)

Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: U.S.-China Relations in the Twenty-First Century
by James Steinberg, Michael E. O`Hanlon *(The first book in the "restraint" school I read in 2015.)

@War: The Rise of the Military-Inter​net Complex
by Shane Harris *(I was surprised by the amount of backroom information the author obtained. Fascinating insights.)

Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-fro​m Global Epidemic to Your Front Door
by Brian Krebs *(So much more than spam! Must-read.)

Cyber War versus Cyber Realities: Cyber Conflict in the International System
by Brandon Valeriano, Ryan C. Maness *(I disagree with a lot of this book, but I appreciate this sort of research.)

Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon
by Kim Zetter *(I thought the story of Stuxnet was already well-documented, but this was a great book -- especially during the finalization of the Iran nuclear deal.)

The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China
by Chen Guangcheng *(I was so pleased to testify with the Barefoot Lawyer himself last year -- awesome experience!)

by Lawrence Freedman

Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice
by Thomas Mahnken

Computer Capers
by Thomas Whiteside

China and Cybersecurity: Espionage, Strategy, and Politics in the Digital Domain
by Jon R. Lindsay, Tai Ming Cheung, Derek S. Reveron

On War
by Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Eliot Howard, Peter Paret

Strategy: A History
by Lawrence Freedman

U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues: Volume II - National Security Policy and Strategy (5th Edition)
by U.S. Army War College

U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues- Volume I: Theory of War and Strategy (5th Edition)
by U.S. Army War College

Talking another page from Greer, if I were to add entries to my quantum library, they would include the books by Brodie, Luttwak's Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace. I would probably also have to add Clausewitz, if only because everyone in the strategy world obsesses about him.

2014 Reading (24 books):

Forged in Fire: Strategy and Decisions in the Airwar over Europe 1940-1945
by Dewitt S. Copp

A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events That Shaped the Development of U.S. Air Power
by Dewitt S. Copp *(The title of this book was derived from one of my favorite quotes: "No army produces more than a few great captains." Army Chief of Staff Gen George Marshall, eulogizing airman Lt Gen Frank Andrews in 1943.)

The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon
by Michael S. Sherry *(This book made a powerful case that airpower was promoted as a less violent way to win wars, in comparison to the slaughter of World War I. Unfortunately, during World War II, it became probably more violent, demonstrated by the firebombing of Germany and Japan.)

The Icarus Syndrome: The Role of Air Power Theory in the Evolution and Fate of the U.S. Air Force
by Carl H. Builder *(This book helped me understand how and why pilots think as they do, and why a separate Cyber Force is likely necessary, from a personnel standpoint alone.)

Airpower for Strategic Effect
by Colin S. Gray *(Gray is a prolific author, but with this book I decided to no longer read his works. His style is difficult for me to follow.)

The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy
by Russell F. Weigley

Command in War
by Martin Van Creveld

The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis: A RAND Corporation Research Study
by Carl Builder *(Builder writes with penetrating insight regarding how military services see each other.)

American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC 68
by Ernest R. May *(NSC 68 is like Clausewitz -- you have to be conversant with it!)

The Wizards of Armageddon 
by Fred Kaplan *(This book introduced me to Brodie and the other early nuclear strategists. I extracted some excellent lessons from my PhD from it, especially concerning the early Air Force's inability to physically execute the aircraft operations it said it could perform to provide retaliatory options. It reminded me of Libicki's erroneous belief that cyber security vulnerability is the victim's choice.)

History and Strategy
by Marc Trachtenberg

Strategy in the Contemporary World
by John Baylis, James J. Wirtz, Colin S. Gray *(Yes, I read a no-kidding text book.)

The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third
by Edward N. Luttwak *(This book sold me on Luttwak, but I hadn't read about his "logic" yet.)

Historians' Fallacies : Toward a Logic of Historical Thought
by David Hackett Fischer *(This is the sort of book that one can leverage to demolish almost everything you encounter when reading history. It's worth reading several times and I intend to try to avoid the fallacies in my PhD.)

Addressing Cyber Instability
by Cyber Conflict Studies Association

Authoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation
by Patrick Dunleavy *(This is a must-read if you are pursuing the "big-book" thesis as found in the British system, as is my situation.)

The Air Campaign
by John Warden III *(I am a big fan of Boyd, Warden, and Deptula and try to read whatever they write.)

Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy
by Justin Kelly, Mike Brennan *(I read this book to be familiar with arguments by those who oppose the utility of an operational level of war, between strategy and tactics.)

The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars
by Barry R. Posen *(I believe Ian Wallace recommended this book. I thought it was great. I already listed Dr Posen's "restraint" work, which I read much later.)

The Air Campaign, John Warden and Classical Airpower Theorists (Revised Edition)
by David R. Mets

Strategic Stability
by Elbridge Colby *(This was some difficult early reading, before I identified my core interests. The concept of "stability" was helpful when I read later works, however.)

Treasury's War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare
by Juan Zarate *(This is an excellent book that documents another major operational mode for US power in the 21st century.)

Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know
by P.W. Singer, Allan Friedman

John Warden and the Renaissance of American Air Power
by John Andreas Olsen

The only book to make the "quantum" list, from my 2014 reading, would be Fischer's Historians' Fallacies.

I read a ton of papers and studies in 2014-2015, but these are the books I tracked. I regret that my 2013 reading appears to have disappeared into history. I know that I read Cyber War Will Not Take Place but otherwise I have no concrete records of professional reading in 2013. It was a very busy year with the APT1 report and the FireEye acquisition of Mandiant, so perhaps I didn't read that much.

In any case, I hope you find this list useful and perhaps inspiring, should you share the same sorts of interests, or if you are wondering how to get started in the military, or at least non-business, strategy world.