Air Force pitches info operations command

Concerned that information technology has become central to the Defense Department's ability to wage war successfully, the Air Force recently sent a proposal to top Pentagon officials to create a special command for information operations (IO).

Speaking at the eighth annual InfowarCon '98 conference in Washington, D.C., last week Brig. Gen. Francis X. Taylor, commander of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, said among the major challenges facing DOD in the area of information assurance are government bureaucracy and questions over who is in charge of protecting DOD's computer networks.

To deal with these questions, the Air Force has pitched to the Office of the Secretary of Defense the idea of creating a military command to deal with information operations, Taylor said.

"The definition isn't there yet," but the logical next step is for DOD to build a coordinated response to the pressing requirements of the Information Age, Taylor told conference attendees. IO must be considered an "essential" military capability, and it requires the support of a unified command structure to work properly, he said. An attack on U.S. computer networks should be viewed on the same level as an attack involving weapons of mass destruction, Taylor said.

The term "information operations" defines the interrelated roles of such disciplines as psychological operations, deception, perception management, civilian affairs and various intelligence-related fields. With DOD's Joint Vision 2010 plan— an overarching concept describing methods of conducting military operations— the term has come to include electronic warfare, critical infrastructure protection and information assurance.

An example of the use of IO is a recent spate of electronic attacks carried out by the Internet Black Tigers, a radical group related to the Liberation Tigers Tamil-Elam in Sri Lanka. According to Lt. Col. Samuel Dick, chief of the Information Operations Cell at the U.S. Special Operations Command's (Socom) Information Operations Directorate, the Internet Black Tigers have attacked embassies around the world— including facilities in the United States— by flooding e-mail systems with bogus messages and propaganda. "They don't have a nation, but they are able to afford an [IO] capability and conduct attacks over the Internet," Dick said.

Many observers at InfowarCon '98 believe that Socom, based at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., is positioning itself to become the home of the IO command if one is established.

In fact, during a separate presentation, Col. John Lauten, director of Socom's Information Operations Division, said his organization is working to make IO an integral part of joint military operations. "We're trying to get IO out to the Joint Task Force commanders so that we can make IO operational," Lauten said.

Although a spokesman for DOD's Joint Staff could not confirm the existence of plans to create a separate IO command, Dick said "there's a huge debate [under way throughout DOD] about the level of organization" at which the IO command should be established. It will be at least 18 to 24 months before the details are sorted out, Dick said.

To prepare themselves for the increasing complexity of IO missions, Socom has enlisted the help of Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc. Under a recent six-month, $500,000 contract, Booz-Allen will assist Socom in developing a high-level matrix and database. The database will include data on IT infrastructure, equipment inventory and capabilities of potential adversary countries, said Virginia H. Grimes, an associate with Booz-Allen's Defense division, Tampa, Fla.

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