Defending digital empires
- By Dan Verton, George I. Seffers
- Sep 04, 2000
Montgomery, Ala. — In the early 19th century, the British Empire seemed
unassailable to any and all who dared challenge it. Because of its military
prowess, the "sun never set on the British Empire."
Britain's fortunes changed radically when it failed to think in new
ways that would have prevented it from being left behind by the last great
revolution — the Industrial Revolution. And if one of the security industry's
leading experts is correct, the same could easily happen to the United States
if the Defense Department fails to heed the lessons emerging from the early
stages of the Information Revolution.
"What we know from history is that the British failed to understand the
fundamental change that the Industrial Revolution brought about," said James
Adams, chief executive officer of iDefense Inc., a network-centric defense
and intelligence risk assessment firm based in Alexandria, Va. "There is
a warning for us there," he said during a keynote speech Aug. 29 at the
Air Force Information Technology Conference here.
Adams, who serves as a member of the National Security Agency's Advisory
Board and in other advisory roles throughout the defense and intelligence
communities, is former CEO of United Press International and has published
a dozen books on intelligence and warfare. One key message Adams delivered
to several hundred government and industry information technology professionals
centered on what he called the military's failure to organize properly for
the future of warfare.
The questions Adams raised are not simply a rant against what could
be characterized as the latest extension of the Cold War military-industrial
complex. Rather, Adams pointed to what he deemed "the beginning of fundamental
change" in the way people live and the way nations or groups of people conduct
"Our concepts of life, death, culture and society are going to have
to change," Adams said. All of the basic ingredients of conflict and war,
such as money, power and terrain, are present today in the realm of cyberspace,
The cyberspace option in the future will be increasingly attractive
for political leaders, he said, hinting that the end of full-scale conventional
land and sea battles may be on the horizon. "We have to think about what
we prepare for and what we train for very, very carefully," Adams said.
"What are all those carrier battle groups for, I wonder. And why are we
building several types of new fighter [aircraft]?"
But not all of today's information warriors are ready to give up their
rifles, guided missile destroyers and long-range bombers. In fact, one of
the Pentagon's information operations specialists said Adams' pitch is interesting,
but a little premature.
"It's hard to imagine that conventional forces in South Korea have had
little to do with the fact that North Korea has not used force against South
Korea in the last 40-plus years," the Pentagon officer said, adding that
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic did not agree to any of NATO's terms until
after bombs began falling in Serbia last year.
"As much as I'd like to see cyberwar and cyberspace become the field
of battle, I do not see it ever replacing the bottom line — if you are dead,
you can't touch the keyboard," the officer added. "Anyone predicting the
end of violence as a tool of human conflict has not been looking around
"We already know we are the most vulnerable nation in the world," Adams
said. "We need to match what our potential adversaries are doing in each
arena. In terms of the military and intelligence and the government in general,
what we see is the old order self-perpetuating."
Air Force Lt. Gen. John Woodward, head of the communications directorate
at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military "is challenged with the
playbook" when it comes to devising computing standards and common support
and operations guidelines.
"Is it really "Web-ize' or else?" asked Woodward during a keynote presentation
at the Air Force conference. "That playbook needs to come together," he
said. DOD needs to understand that the network is a weapon system, he said,
and "it ought to compete at that level for resources."
Martin Libicki, a defense analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based think
tank Rand Corp., said he disagrees with Adams' argument that the Pentagon
has given information operations less weight than it deserves. "Everything
I have seen suggests the opposite," he said.