Cyberpoints: Cyber-Exceptionalism In Warfighting


SLD CWC“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” —George Santayana

John Wheeler
John Wheeler

By John Wheeler
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Cyber-Exceptionalism in Warfighting

“Cyber-Exceptionalism” refers to the set of ways in which American provisions for protection and defense of citizens and property, the police and military protections, differ so significantly from the same protections in the Land, Sea, Air, and Space Domains.

There Are Plain Indicators of Cyber-Exceptionalism

  • Much talk about Cyber Security refers to self-help by citizens and businesses. No one speaks about the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, or Mendocino, California, or Smucker’s Jellies and Jams in Orrville, Ohio having to defend their own airspace and land perimeter from attack, or of San Francisco defending against Chinese and Russian submarine incursion in the Bay. But in Cyber Security and even Cyber Warfare , much of the public conversation is about citizen and corporate and municipal self-help. The conversation in Cyber in this regard is not even as advanced as having a local militia and constabulary as in the 18th Century.
  • Cyberwarfare is treated as heavily a province of the Intelligence community, and not primarily a province of the professional Warfighting community. The US Cyber Warfare headquarters is slated for Fort Meade, Maryland, the heart of the US Intelligence Community. A notable exception for Cyberspace is the walling-off of data sharing between the Intelligence community, some 20 agencies and offices not fully in harness together, and the Warfighting professionals. Although top-down effort is made to force sharing from the Intel silos to the Warfighters, it is human and organizational nature to thwart such transfer. The data transfer frictions in the Fort Hood assassinations and regarding Flight 253, and the statements of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair indicate this.
  • The public discussion of Cyberwarfighting is focused heavily on Cyber action alone, and not heavily in the context of combined arms, that is, of multi-domain simultaneous deployment of Cyberstrike with Airstrike, Seastrike and Land Action, and employment of Space Power. That is changing, but the current publicly perceived picture is not one of integrated cross domain attack.
  • The Statutory reference and guide for Presidential appointees in warfighting is in Title 10 US Code, where Land, Sea, Air, and Space are treated as to warfighting by US federal forces. Absent is Cyber Warfighting guidance. The conventional response is that there is plenty of Cyber guidance in Title 50 US Code, which speaks to the Intelligence Community, and in the informal practices adopted in Government. But that is no substitute for explicit, considered, and duly enacted clear guidance by Statute – if that guidance is needed for Land, Sea, Air and Space, then it is needed in Cyberspace.
  • In part because of distrust by citizens of the Intelligence functions of government, issues and fears concerning privacy slow enactment of statutes and governance for Cyberwarfare. The military is a more trusted arm of government and might not encounter such resistance and distrust, compared to a Cyber standup that is so based in the Intelligence lanes. One result of the present heavily Intelligence slant on Cyber Warfighting is that Cyber operations are seen as an exception to the other forms of warfighting in Land, Sea, Air, Space. Cyberspace is somehow different and an exception when it comes to citizen and property protection and defense.

With a Nod to Thucydides, a Brief History of War

The course of development of Cyberwarfighting will inevitably incline toward integration of Cyber Operations as an integrated part of combined Land, Sea, Air and Space Operations. Air operations were once seen as special and exceptional, and the province of the Army Signal Corps and then Intelligence arms of the services. The evolution to 2010 has been to one of closely integrated airstrike and land operations, woven together in Cyberspace to provide full awareness and flexibility for the Infantry.

Mr. House's View on Combined Arms Warfare

Thucydides devotes chapters to explaining the evolution of early Greek Land and Sea power projection, and the slow integration of Hoplite and then Cavalry forces on the Trireme ships, ending in interwoven combined arms, combined domain operations. Cavalry and then siege engines became fully integrated. The integration and joint operations evolved mostly from the pain of defeat, and not from foresight by Attic Statesmen, Admirals and Generals.

This suggests that humans and States in making war integrate and unify operations across domains, and that no domain is an exception to this unity, and that the reins of all warfighting in each domain are sooner or later placed in the hands of the Professional Warfighters. Air was not an exception. Cyber will not be either, if history is a guide.

Implications for Action

The first action is at each step in establishing Cyber Policy and especially Cyber Warfighting capacity to ask, “How is Cyberspace being treated as an exception to the other four Domains?” “Why is the exception sensible?”

The second action is Unity of Command in Cyberwarfighting. This is the objective in the Standup of USCYBERCOM – delayed and troubled by tussles in grat part involving exceptionalism for Cyberspace.

As a third action, strong and effective information across Intelligence silos to Warfighters is imperative. A strong unified Commander can much improve the situation.

Finally, the overriding action is for the United States to move Cyber Warfighting and Cybersecurity from the 18th-Century model of self-help and volunteer fire brigades to the 21st Century model of fully empowered professional warfighters and police who protect and defend all citizens and property: a young lady on the land sidewalks of Manhattan expects not to be mugged, and the NYPD does not tell her to fend for herself. The same young lady has a right not to be mugged on Cyber Sidewalks.

Cyberspace right now is the Wild West, where light cavalry and sheriff’s posses struggle, so to speak. The need is for fully-empowered Police and Warfighters, to match Cyber Security with Air, Land, Sea and, eventually, Space Security.

Cyberspace is no Exception.


***Posted on March 18, 2010