The US Military has their own cybersecurity organization. It’s called the US Cyber Command. There is one for the Navy, Army, and Air Force. Their main goal is to protect military communications but they also have attack capabilities. They say they use the same techniques as other hackers to go after targets: phishing, denial of service, and malware. Here we look at one agency, The US Army Cyber Command.
Overlapping Agencies Jockeying for Position
The US Army Cyber Command says their mission is:
“United States Army Cyber Command and Second Army directs and conducts integrated electronic warfare, information and cyberspace operations as authorized, or directed, to ensure freedom of action in and through cyberspace and the information environment, and to deny the same to our adversaries.”
Well, someone who is familiar with how the United States government works and does not work would have doubts about their capabilities. How effective can the US Cyber Command be compared to the NSA, whose capabilities are well known? Both even operate out of the same building outside Washington, but the NSA is a much larger organization and attracts better talent.
The reason someone might doubt the Army’s ability is that in the USA there are lots of organizations that overlap. They often fight with each other for turf. For example, the Navy has aircraft and so does the Air Force. The US Navy also has foot soldiers as does the Army. And the CIA, Secret Service, and FBI all have cybersecurity organizations. This last statement would seem odd to the foreigner as the Secret Service is actually part of the US Department of Treasury.
Battlefield Cyber Soldiers
As for soldiers, the US Army Cyber Command soldiers look like regular soldiers. Their ranks are called Cyber Officers, Cyber Warrant Officers, and Cyber Enlisted soldiers. They dress in army fatigues, and do not dress like hackers, who wear flip flops and sit behind a desk. The soldiers mainly come from America’s poorest, least educated classes of people. So you wonder how they could, for example, attack North Korea’s power grid.
If you look at their YouTube channel and read their web pages you see that their Electronic Warfare soldiers are battlefield soldiers and not hackers per se. Their role is to protect battlefield communications and jam communications of the enemy. They wear huge antennae on their backs and type commands into rugged portable computers that do not look anything like an Apple laptop.
Being in the military cyber command does has its advantages. Where else can you play with a router than is a hundred million dollar communications satellite?
The military’s networking operation is called Netcom, Army Network Enterprise Technology Command.
The military operates its own private internet. The US Department of Defense, in fact, invented the internet, but they do not plug into the public Internet for obvious reasons of security. They only plug into the public internet when they want to attack someone.
I have been on an Army base before where I interviewed for a programming job. The people working on their computers were required to leave their cell phones and any kind of personal computer downstair when they went to the war room upstairs. I did not get the job, because I did not pass their screening for a Top Secret security clearance. Below I say more about that.
Where are the Actual Army Hackers?
The Army and other branches of the military hire civilians. That is probably where most of their technical skills come from. Edward Snowden, for example, worked as an employee for Booz, Allen, and Hamilton who had a contract with the CIA. In order to work for that type of business you have to be able to get a Top Secret security clearance and pass a polygraph screening.
That is where common sense and outdated practices would prevent the Army from hiring the best people for the job. I know about this secret clearance procedure because as I said above I was rejected by the Army. I also worked on a contract for the American tax collecting agency, The Internal Revenue Service. There I had the lowest kind of security clearance you could get.
Many of the people I worked with lied on their forms so they could get clearance. If you put on your clearance form that you smoked marijuana or had seen a psychiatrist then they would not give you clearance, even though Presidents Bush, Obama, and Clinton all smoked marijuana too and Donald Trump needs a shrink.
Hackers who are really good at what they do are not going to be the kind of people who can pass that kind of screening. Hackers by definition are people who want to flaunt the rules of normal behavior. So one presumes the military has people on its payroll who they do not publicly talk about, including employing actual cyber criminals. They would have to do that to get the most qualified people.
You can see that the Army recognizes the reality of that situation when one of their generals said, “We are training in the dozens and our adversaries are training in the thousands."
One way that the Cyber Command can find people with computer skills is the National Guard. The National Guard is a part-time commitment, or it is supposed to be. People who work in other professions sign up for the Guard and then train one weekend per month. They often do that in exchange for getting the government to pay their college tuition. But since the US launched perpetual war, National Guard soldiers get sent into tours of duty now which sends them off for up to a year of actual forward deployed combat or combat support.
Obviously the Army is not going to document exactly what their cyber command does on its web site. But if you reason through the situation you would have to conclude that most of what they do that is effective would have to come from civilian firms and tech companies who assist them. One thing that YouTube and Facebook do is to delete postings from ISIS and Al Qaeda as fast as they can find them. Yet even that is not exactly black and white as the teachings from their Imam leaders are considered teachings and not terrors, so you can still find many hours of those online.