Do Leaders in Washington Understand Cyberwar Technology?

How important is technical knowledge to leaders running our country? In a world in which future threats will probably include cyber warfare, America’s civilian government must understand the fast-developing weapons of technology. As the President-Elect fills his cabinet and advisory posts, technology depth is mandatory in most areas.

Along with Department of Defense, senior staffs of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, Transportation, FEMA, FBI, and CIA must be people who intimately understand the language and concepts of technology. These are the people who can effectively recommend and execute options available to the President in defending us against a huge array of cyber attack methods.

FullFinal-TVTW071016Most Americans know little about cyber warfare, and the news media seems to understand very little of the imminent dangers it portends. Most news stories conflate loosely related stories of computer hacking by Russia or China with cyber warfare.

Though malicious hacking may result in stolen information, it doesn’t destroy aircraft, kill or disrupt the lives of millions of civilians, or permanently cripple whole economies. Cyber warfare can do such things without warning. That means that our top decision makers must immediately understand the recommendations of technical people to respond to any specific disaster.

It also reveals that many of the most prominent political people in government are unqualified to serve in cabinet-level positions.

In the past 50 years, technology development has changed every aspect of American life. And as America changes, much of the rest of the world changes with us. Moreover, the rate of change continues to accelerate. If anyone hasn’t grown up understanding basic technology terminology, he or she is unlikely to ever catch up without undergoing a year or more of intensive training.

This breathtaking rate of development means that most people who are 45 or older do not have a background that would enable them to understand cyberwar, robotics, or other technology areas that require decisions from the highest government levels that affect our entire population. Of course, older people who have worked in IT and technology companies or have had engineering backgrounds can be effective at any age. But for the 90 percent who haven’t had those backgrounds, it’s very difficult to participate if they weren’t students in 1990 or later.

Democrats and Republicans together had 22 candidates in the 2016 Presidential primaries. The youngest, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are both 46. Both are lawyers with no apparent technical background. All other candidates were at least 50, with most in their 60s or older. The only candidate with a technology background was Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Looking at the Congress, the average age of House members is 57. The average age of Senators is 61. Of 100 Senators, 51 are lawyers, and 25 are from academia. Of 435 House members, 151 are lawyers and 80 are from academia. Others are primarily doctors, school teachers, business owners, former mayors, and pastors.

Senate and House members with technology backgrounds consist of one physicist, one microbiologist, one chemist, and seven engineers in the House. In the Senate, one member is an engineer.

Obviously, our most visible and vocal candidates for the President-Elect’s cabinet and advisory posts lack the technical background to serve in many of the key positions. A Secretary of Defense, for example, must understand the technical complexities of Cyber Warfare. Remarks made in debates and media interviews indicated that most of our senior lawmakers and governors do not know anything whatsoever about Cyber Warfare. They use a few keywords, but embarrass themselves by using them inappropriately. Though they have probably had access to confidential briefings explaining some of the vast complexities of Cyber Warfare lawmakers and senior government managers typically send staff members to such presentations.

The President-Elect’s nomination of three retired generals—General Flynn, General Mattis, and General Kelly—seems to be appropriate and smart. Many of today’s senior officers are graduates of one of the three military academies, which are engineering schools along with their military curricula. Throughout their careers, senior officers receive assignments to military universities like the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Naval War College, and the US Army War College. These institutions combine technology with group assignments to apply weaponry with strategic planning. Generals from allied countries often attend to provide additional insights.

We will undoubtedly see other military people nominated, along with technically competent business people. Future administrations should not consider the usual candidates—political allies, campaign donors, and lobbyists—unless they have the requisite tech knowledge.

Should the US Require Women to Register for Selective Service?

Female SoldiersSince the Defense Department has declared that women can serve in any military capacity including combat infantry and special forces, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has indicated that young women might need to register for Selective Service. He has suggested that Congress debate and decide whether to make registration of women a legal requirement.

Though the law has always required 18-year old males to register, there has been no actual draft since the era of volunteer service began after 1973. Nevertheless, the suggestion that women must register has reignited anti-draft rhetoric like, “Do want your daughter to face combat?”

Despite concerns from a few voices—an actual military draft might be beneficial to female and male 18-year-olds alike. It might also provide numerous indirect benefits to the entire American population if implemented properly.

Should we consider a universal draft program for all eighteen-year-olds regardless of gender?

Requiring service of all 18-year olds would eventually result in a permanent military that represents a broader segment of the population. This broader population would allay fears expressed by political leaders that disadvantaged people and racial minorities now sacrifice more for the protection of the financially privileged population.

Here’s how a universal draft might work:

  1. All 18-year-old US citizens and legal residents—male or female—would report for mental and physical evaluation.
  2. All people physically and mentally fit for service would serve a minimum of six months that would begin before their nineteenth birthday.
  3. There would be no deferments or exemptions.
  4. Inductees requesting protection from combat assignment could choose a 12-month alternative, during which they would train for a non-combat assignment, such as vehicle repair, communications, food preparation, or database maintenance.
  5. Inductees objecting to all military support could choose a two-year assignment performing approved community service or public infrastructure construction.
  6. Draftees would accumulate pay at the same rate as a private E-1, but could only draw 10 percent monthly. All pay would become available to them after completing their term or assuming a longer term assignment.
  7. Most inductees would complete the program with skills for civilian jobs.

In this scenario, no inductee would face potential combat unless they chose to accept that risk. Several other countries, (e.g. Israel, Switzerland, Austria, and South Korea) have mandatory conscription though each has different alternative options for women.

A universal service program of this kind could offer numerous benefits for America, including:

  • A general review of physical and mental health, offering early program engagement to young people with mental health risks.
  • Reducing the unemployment rate.
  • Providing an alternative for young urban people to exit from gang pressures.
  • Reducing the street demand for illegal drugs.
  • Offering each inductee a few thousand dollars in cash accumulated for payment at the end of their service term.

Would Americans agree to a program of this kind?

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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Changing My Mind Regarding the Bowe Bergdahl Story

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When President Obama held a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the trade that released five Gitmo terrorists for the return of Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, I was disgusted. Like most military vets, I had no sympathy for a man who deserted his fellow soldiers. And I hated the idea of sending five of the worst terrorist animals back into the wild.

The ceremony itself was a little bizarre. Bergdahl’s father seemed exceptionally strange. He sported a scraggly Muslim-style beard, and delivered a message in Pashtu, following an Arabic religious greeting. Had Bergdahl grown up in a dysfunctional environment?

I didn’t blame the president for the odd ceremony. It was the kind of faux pas that that may have been arranged by an inexperienced staffer. Obama has exceptional skills as “chief host and greeter,” and probably ad-libbed the ceremony after a two-minute briefing. Perhaps, however, the responsible staffer found himself or herself immediately reassigned to bureaucratic purgatory.

Once the initial media storm settled down, the story simmered at low heat on cable news for a few months. Bergdahl’s former squad members appeared on a few talk shows. maintaining that Bergdahl was simply a deserter and deserved jail time. This was easy for most Americans to accept.

Now and then, we saw short news stories on the Army’s investigation, on the pretrial process toward an expected court martial. Like most vets, I wanted to see him punished to the fullest extent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

But more recently there were mitigating statements from investigators, and a recommendation for leniency, based on his five years of hell as a Taliban POW. And Bergdahl himself recently issued a podcast in which we heard his version of events, in his own voice.

The podcast was a disjointed statement that made little sense. Bergdahl claimed the he left his post because of poor leadership in his Army company. He said he was heading for the next level of command—perhaps at battalion level—to report his immediate superiors for being rude.

Huh? A rude Army sergeant or lieutenant? How unusual!

His narrative brought my mind back to an incident at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii in the early ‘70s. One of my fellow draftees, a man I knew well, went “off the rails” one day. His Army job was to be a lifeguard and instructor at the pool and beach, providing swimming lessons to children of resident NCO’s and officers. He spent most of his days in the sun, wearing Army bathing trunks. Although that sounds like a great job–certainly more pleasant than Vietnam jungle combat–he grew tired of it after a year or so. The job provided automatic promotions and raises, and he was exempt from the typical Army drudgery tasks. Such perks, however, were not strong enough to keep him happy.

I met my lifeguard friend now and then and found him more and more depressed each time. He hated Hawaii, hated the sunshine, and hated teaching swimming. One day, he was especially angry and said he was deserting. He said he would swim back home to California. We all laughed. But the next day he said goodbye to a few people, walked into the ocean and began swimming northeastwardly. Though he was a strong swimmer, no one can swim 2,500 miles while surviving shark-infested waters.

At first, everyone thought the incident was a big joke. But he didn’t return after several hours, and his Army boss reported the situation to the provost-martial, who dispatched two boats and a helicopter to search for him. Following a multi-hour grid search, rescuers found him unharmed, still swimming, and forced him to board one of the boats.

When he returned, he was confined to quarters, to await legal proceedings. His commanding officer charged him under Article 15, a non-judicial punishment that cost him a month’s pay. In a later hearing, he was discharged from the Army under something called Section Eight, an action designating him as “mentally unfit for service.” Most of us thought our friend had received fair, appropriate treatment.

Bowe Bergdahl’s circumstances were different in several ways. His desertion occurred in a dangerous no man’s land, with enemy forces present.

Nevertheless, hearing Bergdahl make his case via podcast, I saw him as being much like our friend who tried to swim to California. Both men were deserters. And neither one was entirely sane. Neither of them was especially intelligent, and neither one would ever be a trusted asset. Both needed to leave the Army.

Recent information has surfaced showing that Bergdahl previously spent a month or two in the US Coast Guard, which quickly discharged him, apparently for mental health issues. Army recruiters should have vetted him more effectively. That organization must bear some responsibility for accepting him.

Despite the understandable anger of his fellow soldiers, Bergdahl should be quietly separated from the Army. Perhaps he should surrender at least part of his accumulated Army pay for the five years he spent as a Taliban POW.

Unfortunately, the White House handling of his release from Taliban captivity, the laughable trade for five hardened enemy leaders, and the ongoing media events may be vaulting a mental patient into a General Court Martial, and a potential prison sentence. That’s unfair and unnecessary.

Were his motives any more sinister than an attempt to swim 2,500 miles?

 

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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Are Candidates Clueless on Technology and Military Issues?

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Recent presidential debates of both parties included a ton of evidence that most candidates don’t have a rudimentary understanding of technology or military matters.

Note: The lone exception is Carly Fiorina. She obviously understands technology and does her homework on military issues. This knowledge doesn’t necessarily make her a good potential president. But at least, she knows what she’s talking about.

The rest are essentially clueless. During debates, there is so much going on—a torrent of energy and words—that we pay little attention to details of the candidates’ wording. They often don’t seem to care whether they make sense. Their mission is to win the day by force of personality, focus-group-tested phrases, and a self-confident image.

A few examples from the most recent debates:

Donald Trump remarked about the “nuclear triad,” demonstrating that he had no idea of what it is. We need not let him off the hook with the old excuse, “as president, he’ll have generals to explain these things.” Donald, you don’t need a general to explain it. It’s in Wikipedia.

Hillary Clinton’s recent statements about having an email server at home so she would only need one hand-held device was simply baffling. She later responded to a question about “wiping her server” asking with a serious face and hand gesture, whether that meant wiping it down with a cloth. Her apologists said she was only joking. Maybe. But if you were joking Hillary, stand-up isn’t your thing.

Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have faced off to prove who is a more vociferous critic of the NSA bulk metadata collection program. Each argued that his votes on various Senate amendments made him a better protector of the Constitution. Though it’s unclear who has bigger amendment chops, both demonstrated that they don’t understand the technology or how the NSA used it. Their phrasing still indicates their belief that the NSA has somehow been listening to the phone calls of private citizens and violating their privacy.

One of the candidates (sorry, can’t recall which one) remarked that China has technology “that can fly over the US and take out our electrical grid.” If such a scenario were to occur, we would all be dead within a few weeks. (Note: I’ll explain this problem and the gravity of such an attack in an upcoming post.) The candidate mentioned it in response to a question about North Korea. If North Korea, ISIS, or any other terrorist actor could implement that technology, it would be the greatest threat in American history. So far, Homeland Security has barely mentioned it as anything other than a long-term vulnerability.

Finally, there’s “The curious case of Dr. Benjamin Carson.” Dr. Carson is a good man. He’s probably the most intelligent candidate running in 2015-2016. Many of us, including me, would love to have him as a friend. If the debates were about any medical subject, he’d win every time. But he just doesn’t fit in this milieu. Every technology or military question forces him to repeat a memorized phrase or list, about which he has little comfort or familiarity.

All of these observations lead us to question how we arrived with potential leaders who do not understand some of the most challenging issues of the day. Are they of a generation that reached adulthood before the proliferation of personal technologies, and social media?

Perhaps we should halt the campaigns for a week or so, and call all of them into a three-day class to enrich their collective knowledge base. But that wouldn’t work. They’d spend the whole time arguing.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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My Firsthand Memory of the Day of Infamy

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Iconic pictures of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor this week marked the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and reminded me of my first-hand experience of that day. I remember being awestruck on a cool Hawaii morning, watching Japanese aircraft fly through Koli Koli Pass on Oahu, strafing Quadrangle D at Schofield Barracks on their way to Pearl Harbor.

Nevertheless, I should explain that the historic attack occurred years before I was born. My “first-hand memory” was watching the filming of Tora! Tora! Tora! about 30 years after the historical event.

As Army journalists in the Public Information Office, our team had assisted the movie crew planning the scene. We had watched a few days earlier as the special-effects team from Hollywood drilled hundreds of tiny holes in the cement block walls of the unoccupied Army barracks quad. The crew placed .22 caliber blank cartridges interconnected with electrical wiring into each hole. The wiring, invisible to the ultimate movie audience, fired off the cartridges in a sequence that mimicked machine gun firing. The machine gun sound effects that accompanied them were added later in the film room. One day after completing the scene, the movie crew removed the cartridges, patched the holes and repainted the walls to match the original color.

That experience was only one of many that our PIO team shared as part of the Army’s representation to the civilian community. Occasionally we helped the TV crew of Hawaii Five-0 by arranging to make an Army roadway available as part of a chase scene. A few of us even wore Army uniforms for walk-on parts, though I never personally experienced that 15 minutes of fame.

With a war raging in Vietnam, my teammates and I were the luckiest draftees in the Army. The 11th Infantry Brigade was training a short walk from our building. We covered the brigade as a news beat, writing stories and taking photos for PR releases or the Army’s weekly newspaper. As the brigade prepared to deploy to Vietnam, we said our goodbyes and good luck wishes to many young men, some of whom would never return.

Every year on December 7, I think of those days in Hawaii. I learned a lot about journalism and many other subjects. Overall it was a good experience. And many years later, it gave me the opening scenario for my novel, “The Victory That Wasn’t”.

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“An Inconvenient Truth” About Fighting ISIS

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In the wake of the tragic ISIS attacks in Paris, President Obama and politicians from both parties have all made statements about either containing or crushing ISIS. Though these statements vary somewhat, they all contain the phrase “NO AMERICAN BOOTS ON THE GROUND.” A few even say that that we can defeat ISIS by air attacks without any ground troops.

Military leaders who are advising the president certainly know that ground troops are essential in any plan to overthrow an enemy. This is especially true with terrorist organizations that move their operations into schools, hospitals, and civilian residential buildings.

Understanding the political calculus that assumes that Americans don’t want another ground war, the political statements proclaim that Muslim countries in the region will do all of the dirty work on the ground, as long as US aircraft lead with bombing sorties. This idea, of course, is analogous to a schoolyard plan to attack a bully. “I’ll hold your coat and cheer while you beat up the bully.” It’s doubtful that any of the middle east countries will agree to a plan in which the US doesn’t assume some of the ground combat.

Even if countries would accept war with limited US risk, history has demonstrated that it is nearly impossible to train and supply soldiers from another culture to be as effective as US forces. This approach failed in Vietnam, and in Iraq. It never worked in Syria. It is heading for failure in Afghanistan. Training people with a different language and culture requires years of work. In many cases, soldiers in third-world countries have had limited education in their local languages and speak no English. Understanding sophisticated tactics and weaponry is nearly impossible for them.

Some of the Middle East countries have standing armies that can fight without US training. However, their armies and air forces are relatively small. And the costs of a sustained war effort would bankrupt their economies in a few months.

But the greatest obstacle of all is the complex culture and relationships within these countries. Most of us who follow current events understand that Sunni Muslim countries and Shiite Muslim countries are virtual enemies. But the sects and tribes in and around these two major groups drive a mix of loyalties and hatreds that are not widely reported by American media.

For example, within the Sunni population in Saudi Arabia the Wahhabi sect supports ISIS and strikes fear in other Saudi groups that might attack ISIS.

Media reports of the Kurdish Military, the Peshmerga, in Iraq have demonstrated that the Kurds are possibly our most capable ally. But Iraq is primarily a Shiite country, and the Kurds are Sunni. The Peshmerga troops have fought well against ISIS, but the Iraqi Shiite government has continually impeded the US from supplying and working with them.

In all likelihood, the whole concept of Muslim allies leading a difficult ground war against ISIS will prove to be a political pipe dream. American voters may currently reject the thought of American “boots on the ground.” But we will experience a terrorist attack sooner or later. In fact, we have already experienced a few smaller attacks, which the administration has spun as “workplace violence” or “single attacks by mentally disturbed people.”

But when we have a major attack like the one in Paris, those same passive voters will demand that the US government move against ISIS. The US military is probably making plans for “boots on the ground” already. And that’s the “inconvenient truth.”

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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Responding to my Congressman on Sending Troops to Syria

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A letter from our Congressman Eric Swalwell polled us on whether we supported President Obama’s decision to send 50 special operations soldiers to Syria. Regardless of whether I responded “yes” or “no,” I applaud the congressman for reaching out to his constituents, and for taking a principled stand. He opposes the U.S. putting combat troops on the ground with little or no commitment from other interested and affected Middle East countries.

Looking at the question as a simple Yes/No choice, however, doesn’t address the larger questions: Is the president doing the right things to keep us safe from ISIS terrorism? How do 50 special ops troops support our strategy? And, by the way, is there a strategy? If so, what is it?

The president attempted to address those questions with a statement claiming that our strategy is working well and that we have contained the ISIS threat. Unfortunately, he made that statement only a few hours before ISIS struck Paris, killing or wounding hundreds of people.

The current president and his successor in 2017 need to be straight with the American people. If the first job of the president is to keep us safe, President Obama failed from the moment he called ISIS “the JV team.” Instead of feeding unsupportable “feel-good” statements to the Congress and the media, he needed to crush ISIS before it metastasized into a state that now reaches into other countries, including our own.

Ridding the world of this dangerous sworn enemy isn’t a question of Liberal vs. Conservative or Democrat vs. Republican. Nor is it a matter of sending 50 special ops troops to Syria.

Congressman Swalwell’s contention that the effort must involve a commitment from other affected countries is correct. Getting that commitment requires the kind of leadership we expect from the President of the United States.

My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX

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