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.
- A Choice for the Oath – Game of Thrones and the US Naval Academy
- Looking for Security in Disaggregation
- Memorial Day After
- Interview: 2004 USNA graduate and professional golfer Billy Hurley III from the PGA tour
- Pivot to Africa: Finding Long-term Solutions to West Africa’s Maritime Security Challenges