Defending digital empires

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,

he added.

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.


  • Elections
    voting security

    'Unprecedented' challenges to safe, secure 2020 vote

    Our election infrastructure is bending under the stress of multiple crises. Administrators say they are doing all they can to ensure it doesn't break.

  • FCW Perspectives
    zero trust network

    Can government get to zero trust?

    Today's hybrid infrastructures and highly mobile workforces need the protection zero trust security can provide. Too bad there are obstacles at almost every turn.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.