Cyber Command still struggling to define cyber war

Former CIA director says intell community thinking about it 'but not very clearly'

The Cyber Command is charged with conducting and defending the nation against war in cyberspace, but we don’t really understand what cyber war is, retired Air Force general and former CIA director Michael Hayden said recently.

“We are thinking a lot about it but not very clearly,” he said at the Black Hat Briefings in Las Vegas. “We are a bit sloppy with our language. We throw the phrase 'cyber war' at anything uncomfortable happening on the Web.”

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The problem is that cyberspace has been accepted as a domain of military operations, alongside the four traditional domains of land, sea, air and space in which the military operates. But cyberspace is not analogous to real space. It is not defined by location, boundaries and terrain, and traditional U.S. military doctrine that served the nation well through the Cold War does not translate into this new place.

Hayden placed the responsibility for this on the heads of the nerds, analysts, developers and hackers who attended the security conference. “God made the other four” domains, he told them. “You made the last one. God did a better job.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 Dave M Hawaii

Mike Hayden is right. He probably didn't go far enough in his comments criticizing the "bumper sticker" approach to this throughout the Defense and Intelligence Communities. What is not helping is well-meaning senior commanders throughout the world who "grew up" within one or more of the more traditional warfighting domains driving the notions that cyberspace is just like anything else in conflict, Combatant Commanders should "own" and "command and control" networks because they "fight them like weapons systems." So like fourth-graders playing soccer, everyone with any modicum of authority across the DoD/IC who can spell "cyber" is making a play at owning their piece of "cyber." So I'm not confident this doctrinal or definitional chaos is going to sort out any time soon. In fact it will probably get worse. The Services and Agencies all still have full authority to continue to build and modernize their own stovepiped IT environments, notwithstanding the stand-up of USCYBERCOM. SECDEF is killing JFCOM and ASD/NII -- so the likelihood of broad programmatic, doctrinal or acquisition reform occurring in the IT/cyber dimension any time soon is actually decreasing. Around the world, COCOMs and other field HQs are getting more bold and independent in their experimentation -- under the rubric of "Operationalizing Cyber." As they succeed in herding money and garnering senior leadership attention, you will see an increasing proliferation of projects and approaches - and nothing at all that looks like a unified enterprise approach. The outlook is grim.

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