Annual commemorations of the victory at Midway have a special significance for Navy cryptologists. Also called SIGINTers, these intelligence professionals recall Midway as the battle which brought cryptology and Communications Intelligence to the fore.

Thanks to then-Commander Joe Rochefort and his Sailors, the Navy knew with great certainty – even if many didn’t necessarily believe it – where the Japanese were going to attack. Two simple letters, AF, proved that the Imperial Japanese Navy target was Midway. Trusting in a still new art and science, Admiral Chester Nimitz committed his forces and defeated the Japanese. A defeat from which they would never recover…a defeat that set the stage for victory in the Pacific.

Recently, however, decades of cryptologic history and success, not to mention continuing operational significance, have been ignored. The tide changed in October 2005 when the Naval Security Group merged with Naval Network Warfare Command. At that time, NETWARCOM became responsible for all things SIGINT in the Navy, and the discipline has been largely ignored ever since.

The final nail in the coffin of cryptology and signals intelligence might not have been hammered home, but rational change is needed if these disciplines are to be saved. They remain vital to our national security and they deserve our attention. 

In August 2008, a widely distributed NETWARCOM Command Renaming Communications Plan provided details about the intended renaming of Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM) as Naval Cyber Forces Command (CYBERFORCOM). (The document appears to have a typo in the date, as it is dated 6/4/2009 vice 2008.) A NETWARCOM junior officer later described this as the “fake email” but corrected himself and said it was not supposed to be released, at least not when it was. Regardless of how it was released, or whether or not the plan ever comes to fruition (and it did not as scheduled by October 2008), the consideration of renaming as Cyber Forces Command is shortsighted and demonstrates a lack of emphasis on traditional intelligence capabilities.

Operations in the cyber domain are expanding and are important factors in information warfare and effects-based operations; but cyber is by no means the be all and end all of information operations and intelligence. Adversaries, potential adversaries, and allies still use traditional communications which are the historical niche of Navy cryptologists. Moreover, disruption of electronic communications during combat may necessitate shifting existing cyber communications back to traditional modes. We ignore these factors at our own risk.

Successful intelligence operations continue in the SIGINT realm, and more specifically in Communications Intelligence. If the renaming communications plan is any indicator, NETWARCOM has all but forgotten the art and science of COMINT. Save for one passing reference to past Cryptologic Officers now comprising the Information Warfare Officer community, there is NO MENTION of SIGINT or COMINT in the entire 13-page document.

The overemphasis on cyber is even more troubling considering NETWARCOM’s role as the Type Commander for Intelligence. Traditional Naval Intelligence tasks are being similarly ignored by renaming the command CYBERFORCOM. The NETWARCOM communications plan listed CYBERFORCOM’s role as the “Fleet advocate for all ISR capabilities and ISR readiness.” This command might be capable of being an advocate for fleet ISR to external audiences, but they don’t appear as such to their internal audiences whose expertise is not cyber space. A considering the naming scheme excludes all but cyber, it’s difficult to believe the other disciplines will be adequately represented.

One justification included in the plan was that NETWARCOM “is leading the way in cyberspace.” I hope and believe that is in fact true, but the command should similarly state leadership in all other forms of intelligence, including the various SIGINT disciplines. If they are leading the way for all disciplines, there should not be so much emphasis on just one.

NETWARCOM’s overemphasis on creating a new identity by distancing the command from historical organizations actually dilutes the identity of the command itself. All forms of intelligence share a common goal – information superiority regardless of the spectrum. Did NETWARCOM leadership consider alternatives? How about Navy Information Command? That name recognizes our goals for information superiority regardless of the information source while not ignoring the need to command the cyber domain. You can call it whatever you want, but careful consideration of internal customer reaction is warranted. True cyber specialists make up a very small percentage of NETWARCOM. Even a well-crafted communications plan may not overcome Sailors’ perception of their ‘new’ command and its lack of recognition of their skill sets.

Information professionals deliver significant capabilities – before, during, and after the fight. Navy and IW leadership recognize these contributions, yet IW officers still do not have the status they deserve. In spite of the legal hurdles, it’s time to change the Information Warfare Officer designation from Special Duty Officer to Unrestricted Line. Their weapons may be non-kinetic, but they are shooters nonetheless and the capabilities they unleash damage, disrupt, and deny adversaries the use of military capabilities much like kinetic weapons.

Cryptology isn’t dead, but it’s being treated as if it was, and more than a name change is needed to resurrect it. Naval Network Warfare Command, as the information warfare combatant commander under any name, needs to emphasize the contributions of all of its Sailors in all intelligence disciplines and have an Information Warfare Officer with a blue three-star flag in charge.




Posted by Fouled Anchor in Uncategorized


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  • Bucherm

    Cryptology dead?

    Right as I was getting out(2005-06) my ship was one of the first vessels on the west coast to have the SSEE INC E system installed on it. It was so new that SPAWAR was teaching the school on it in Charleston instead of the Navy at Corry Station. I remember the PM of the program telling us on the first day that the entire program thus far had spent less than a billion…and it was struggling to compete with programs like torpedoes, when we hadn’t fired a torpedo in anger since WW2! Signals just isn’t “sexy”, even in our post 9/11 “rah rah intelligence collection” world.

    As for making IW officers unrestricted line, I don’t like the idea of excluding prior Mustangs from SIGWO(or SIWO, depending upon your ship) just for the heck of it. I think an CWO3(or O-2E) who spent 20 years in the business is probably more qualified than a j.o. out of school.

  • http://smadanek.blogspot.com Ken Adams, Amphib Sailor

    re: “The document appears to have a typo in the date, as it is dated 6/4/2009 vice 2008″ — the date is an automatically updating field in the word document, it will always show the current date.

  • Chuck Hill

    Bet there are good opportunities for using sigint against the Somali pirates.

  • http://www.navycaptain-therealnavy.blogspot.com Mike Lambert (Captain USN – retired)

    I don’t think cryptology is dead, at all. I think the Navy’s “cryptologic community” is at risk. The community was headed for a transformation (I thought) at one time. However, RADM Singer was drawn away from implementing that transformation to fill a Flag intelligence billet at PACOM. You can decide for yourself how you believe the transformation has progressed.

    There are still superb cryptologic technicians (of every type) and special duty/limited duty/warrant officer cryptology officers performing cryptologic functions around the world (on the sea/beneath the sea/ashore/airborne). I think their value is well-understood and appreciated. The information warfare piece is a bit more difficult to quantify – and therefore, less understood or appreciated.

    More on the transformation at http://therealnavy.com/Documents PROCEEDINGS%20Article%20-%20Transformational%20Phoenix.pdf

  • Sean Heritage

    Appears to me that the title of the article is not the question the author is truly filtering from the noise. The question quite honestly is one that many people continue to ask…”Is the Cryptologic Community Dead?”

    There are pockets of people who will confidently state, “Yes, and with good reason.” Those very “Cyber Warriors” likely view the term cryptology as legacy speak referring to the RF spectrum and see that as a medium of yesteryear. Many others will argue their point by stating that the very essence of current/future successes in the cyber domain is founded upon the cryptologic skills we developed while working in the well-framed SIGINT domain. Personally, I believe that entire debate to be destructive. Instead I offer that the focus of the author’s discussion on that of the word he omitted…”Community.”

    The answer to that question, most certainly deserves our attention. And rather than share how I might answer that at this time, I believe we all should choose to answer it through our collective action. By embracing this site (and others like it), contributing to the conversation, offering constructive recommendations to our seniors and truly listening to our juniors we will answer that very question on a daily basis.

    Additionally, quite a few conversations of late seem to converge on the URL/RL topic. Please understand that the current definition of a URL Officer is “Officers of the Line in the U.S. Navy who are qualified to command ships and aviation squadrons.” I do not believe that is something to which we should aspire (reminds me of high schoolers more worried about being a part of the “in crowd” than about doing what is right), but I do believe the accession consideration that come with that label is something we have earned. I used to believe there were many reasons by being a URL is the right thing to do, however this job (Officer Community Manager) has taught me a great deal about how much overhead comes with being a URL. Until the false and overly subjective URL/RL/Staff barriers disappear and we talk about the definitions and how they need to change, lobbying to hop the fence and become a URL (part of the perceived “in crowd”) brings with it a great deal of overhead for which we are not prepared to embrace.

    Great conversation and thanks to “Fouled Anchor” for making the time to initiate it!!

  • CWO3/7441/USN(RETIRED)

    Navy Cryptology is certainly a thing of the past. No longer is the edge going to Navy Cryptology. People forget that the only thing that kept us apart was immersion into the field. When all you do is SIGINT 24×7, and you only do SIGINT when deployed you become an asset. When you realign, and merge and take multiple career paths and merge them into a single rate, you are going to have problems. I’m not sure what deal with the dark side Burns made, but he was instrumental in the death of Naval Cryptology. The Army had already killed SIGINT in the Army long before the Navy with INSCOM. I don’t know what the Air Force did. It is a sad state of affairs when those that don’t understand the job and the potential of that job, make the rules based on what they consider logic and the result of analytical metrics. Sounds similar to the Stategic Air Command way of thinking. What a farce, but we realize with history and movies like, “Men of Honor” it is not as unique and rare as we had hoped. There is a clear leadership crisis in the Navy, and one of the first victims was Naval Cryptology. At least it’s when I took notice. I would hate to go into Midway in today’s Navy. I think we would have taken the wrong path; and forward thinkers like Nimitz would not have made it in today’s Navy.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Gentlemen, thanks for your comments; I hope there is more discussion ongoing throughout the IW/cryptologic community.

    I never meant to imply there were not thousands of dedicated cryptologists still hard at work. I was implying, if not outright stating, that they and their skills have been largely ignored since COMNAVSECGRU ceased to exist. Cyber is sexy these days, and that’s where the budget money is, I get that. But, while cyber is a valid and vital mission area, it should not be pursued at the expense of traditional (legacy has a negative connotation) mission areas that remain similarly vital to our national security. I believe the actions and words coming from the IW community have largely excluded traditional SIGINT, even while it remains a major responsibility of the community. And the plan to rename NETWARCOM as Cyber Forces Command, albeit unrealized, was a demonstration of that. You can call the damn thing anything you like, but when your actions and words alienate a good part of your community, you need to stop and rethink a few things.

    @Bucherm – I think we could find a solution that includes both URL and LDO/CWO officers in the community. The community had in fact planned to eliminate LDOs; another signal that so-called legacy skills, by and in leaders, are under-valued (IMHO).

    @Sean – My suggestion for URL certainly has nothing to do with being part of the “in crowd” – I couldn’t care less about that. It has to do with allowing an IW officer to ascend to the peak of the community – a community that should be led by an officer with a long career in the trade craft…not a ship, sub, or jet driver. IW is the only warfare community I can think of that is not led by a specialist its discipline.

  • Vane Rhead

    I am of the opinion that the Navy should do away with its URL/RL division, and everyone should understand warfighting as a baseline. Many wonder at the unnatural division of URL/RL, which our nearest sister service, the Marines do not have (I do believe Staff Corps should remain just that). There are indeed technical skills attendant in the IW, INTEL, IP, and other (including URL) communities. There are technical skills that many of us wearing SWO pins picked up along the way that make us better IW officers, better able to meet the Commander’s needs. I have seen URLs do outstanding jobs as DIRSUP division officers, as ONI analysts in Sword, Saber and Spear, and as Commos on CRUDES ships and submarines. The LDO/CWO community is vital for technical expertise in a wide variety of communities, not just ours. But we have mismanaged ours into a situation where it is very difficult for our LDOs to compete against other LDOs who spend more time at sea, so ours are advised to change over to 1610 in order to get the jobs they seek at sea. We need to build on our traditional skills and acquire new ones, just as we have always done. All targets change with time, whether physical or behavioral characteristics. Cyber is just a new term for a 30 year old domain (I started working on simple computers in 1980), a means of information transmittal, to be exploited, attacked, and yes, protected, but nothing we as a community of Sailors with vision cannot overcome.

  • Gary Burnette (CAPT, 1610, Ret’d)

    Great discussion. Back in the mid-90s when I was the Offensive IW Resource officer at OPNAV, I met with a professor from MIT and described to him the evolution of EW, C3CM, SEW, C2W, IW and that we were thinking of changing IW to IO. He said, “that’s all very interesting, but tell me what you’re going to do once you decide what to call it.” That has stuck with me ever since, esp when we have conversations like this.

    We know we to exploit and understand how the adversary, or a potential adversary, commands and controls his/her forces. We know we need to be able to disrupt, deny, deceive, degrade and if necessary destroy their C2 as well. What do you need to do that? You need a cadre of people and tools that lets you exploit their C2 and then act against it. So maybe we need not worry too much about what we call it, but ensure we have the people and tools to do this.

    I am hopeful and confident the leadership understands this and will act to make sure we have this capability. It may not be a pretty process getting there and we may not like what it’s called, but in the end I think we’ll be capable of doing what we need to do.

  • No Lesson Learned From History

    While Israel, China, Russia and other nations continue to build first-rate cryptologic organizations, the near-sighted dimwits pretending to be today’s naval leaders have allowed naval crytology to die a slow death. In another time, they would have been court martialed. Political correctness has dealt the final blow to what was once the finest cryptologic organization in the world, the United States Naval Security Group. It is only a matter of time until our nation pays dearly for this failure of naval leadership. Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.

  • Craig Black

    All the name changes and reorganizations are pointless until Cryptologic skills are rewarded with career progression. The ugly fact is that selling breakfast burritos counts a 100 fold over a sailor putting in the needed time and energy to develop experience. Some CTRC’s now have the knowledge of a CTR3 just a decade ago.

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