Name the number of ground breaking, original developments in the information world in the last 40 years that came from the mind of someone over the age of 30.

Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and the entire horde of unbathed be-speckled hackers – all sprang from the minds of the young. Sure, they were enabled by a cadre of experienced support staff who knew how to make capital markets, logistics, and marketing work — but the creative spark came from the under-30 and more often than not, under-25.

As we have watched the moves to stake out the yet to be fully defined high-ground in Information Warfare – from the serious major commands to the silly EveryoneGetsATrophy “warfare” pins – perhaps it would be helpful to take a step back and ponder.

Where do we find the right combination of intellectual capital, infrastructure, and financial support to make the recipe work?

Do we get it by hiring a bunch of 40-50 something retired military GS and CTR types within a easy commute of Chrystal City? Does that fit the template of success? Errrr ….

Do we outsource to a Silicon Valley firm slathered with Chinese, Indian, and other nationalities? Ummm ….

Hmmm. Where in the Navy can we find a cohort of dedicated, intelligent, young, and exceptionally intelligent young men and women to put their minds to work on problem? Someone who you might get institutional access to for a few decades or so as their knowledge base grows?

Looks like smarter people than your humble blogg’r are already on the hunt.

The U.S. Naval Academy’s new superintendent wants his campus to become a center for cybersecurity education, with a $100 million building and a slate of new classes devoted to the emerging discipline, he said Friday in his first interview since taking the job in August.

Just let it be a bit gonzo and not so stultifying — include summer internships with civilian cyber security firms if possible, and you just may have something here.

I think you can argue the price tag, scope, and direction you take the program – but the concept? The investment payout?


BZ VADM Miller. BZ.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Cyber, Innovation

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  • Byron

    You really need a bunch of script-kiddies and uber geeks. Bringing in techies from Norton and McAfee would bore them to tears. Try some people from the Warcraft world even :)Sprinkle them with a few good Harpooners for tactics and operations even 🙂

    On target, CDR and VADM Miller!

  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    Good post.

    I read a study of the greatest inventions in the last 150 years. The study concluded that while people like Einstein refined and applied his Theory of Relativity well into old age, everyone who made a discovery or invention that merited consideration for the top 100 inventions in this 150 year period was under the age of 35 when they had their Eureka moment.

    One other interesting observation of this study from telephones to GPS was that the inventors usually were trying to do something else when their discovery or invention that made the top 100 list was made.

  • Yes, to both previous comments. Also, remember that it was US military codebreakers who pressed on in spite of official policy “not to read other gentlemens’ mail,” that gave us the edge during the Pacific War. “Magic” was cracked by young men working long hours with then state-of-the-art gear.

  • Derrick

    A very interesting and educational post.

    The type of people required to serve on the front line of information warfare are probably not the type of people suited for general military service. Information warfare, to my understanding, would require lots of academic skills like hacking, computer programming, systems troubleshooting, etc…whereas the type of people who would go to a military academy would probably be more athletic than academic.

    For example: I did attempt to pass the recruitment process for service in the Canadian navy when I was younger, but could not pass the athletic requirements. Hence my knowledge of military protocol is so limited. (I’m a typical Chinese with a body less athletic than a typical caucasian). However, I have won a programming competition hosted by EMC, a big US technology company. So from my own experience I think the people best suited for conventional military service would not be suited for information warfare service.

    As for outsourcing to technology companies…I think that’s out of the question. I work side by side in a technology company with some of those Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, etc. nationals who are here on work visas and have 2 concerns:
    1) They did not have to pass any national security screening or sign any documentation declaring their loyalty to Canada.
    2) Their educational background comes from their countries of origin, which more often than not, is far behind North American standards.

    If I had any say in the process, I would suggest that the people designated for information warfare be hired by the civilian arm of the DoD, not the military. They could even set up a special reserves corps for these people…since the best and brightest probably wouldn’t want to give up their higher paying day jobs, even though I’m sure they would be willing and eager to serve their country.

    On another note, I don’t think script-kiddies or video gamers would make good information warfare specialists. To hack IT systems, one needs to spoof an IP address to hide their identity, which cannot be done using scripts. Scripts are great for fooling the less-computer saavy senior citizen because they can be used to create trojans, which require the user to be gullible enough to click on the flashing button in order to do their damage. That may fool some of the older generation, but I would never fall for that. As for video gamers…well, playing video games is more hand-eye coordination and not really hard core technical skill.

  • CyberSWO

    We already have the educational institution and a willing cohort – look at NPS – tons of CS masters students who have specialized degrees in computer security, AI, networking, software engineering, etc. The Navy has to commit to allow SWO’s and others to leverage their education on shore tours – the 5 yrs between DH and XO/CO fleet up seems like a good place to start. Spending $100M at USNA serves no purpose unless the commitment to leverage the education exists.

  • Solon

    At least the Supe (staying in his sphere of influence) is confronting the reality that O-4/5/6 officers, qualified and pinned as Information Dominators on the ‘accelerated’ track, are NOT going to fight the cyber war. There is value in the wisdom gained through years of operating in the maritime domain, but that value does not lie in the cyber and innovation realms.

    Here’s hoping we can exploit the talents of college-age patriots with requisite techhie chops – instead of (a la NWDC) trying to foster innovation by fiat, perhaps the Navy can build actual cyber warriors.

  • Derrick

    I think a lot of people qualified for information warfare probably wouldn’t meet the navy’s fitness requirements.

  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    As reported in today’s NY Times in an op-ed by Thomas Friedman, 75% of all the 17-24 year olds in America today fail to meet U.S. military eligibility standards because they failed to graduate from high school, have criminal records, or are physically unfit.

  • Derrick

    But what is the percentage that are physically unfit?

    BTW, those qualified for information warfare should technically not drop out of high school or have criminal records, because information warfare is mostly an intellectual/academic skill that requires lots of time to hone…so those type of people won’t have time to get into trouble and probably will excel at maths and sciences.

  • Great post and such personal initiative should continue to be celebrated. WRT the role of USNA, I believe we continue to miss the mark by continually making the conversation about WHO and not WHY and WHAT. By focusing on WHO we continue to run in circles instead of making meaningful progress. Let’s decide what IT is, push egos aside, and get IT done. Simply put, let’s establish the requirement before we spend money to satisfy desirements.

  • WRT the comment regarding Cyber Warriors being able to meet the Navy’s Physical FItness Standards, I see no issue. As the CO of NIOC Pensacola, I have the privilege of leading the Navy’s second largest concentration of CTNs. Though our last PFA cycle required us to separate one Sailor, I would put our pass rate up against any other command of comparable size and rank structure. I firmly believe that a culture of fitness can be taught, especially when the incentive is the opportunity to continue to contribute to an important mission area about which these young Sailors have a great deal of passion.

  • Derrick

    But are the most qualified for cyber warfare the type that would be able to meet regular military PFA? In my opinion, one requires supernerds to do cyber warfare, not Navy SEALs.

    That’s why I still think cyber warfare should be strictly civilian employees of the DoD.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    The commentariat may have hit a new level of silliness with this one

    Physical fitness, of all the military virtues, is the most easily imposed by the simple expedient of daily rigorous mandatory training. It is literally a matter of just do it. CO NIOC Pensacola has the right of it.

    “Geek” is just an insult, an attempt by others to disparage those whose mental talents and abilities they have not equaled. The inverse of “jock”, if you will.

    What is needed, IMHO, is youngsters who are highly intelligent, proficient at abstract thought, curious enough to have applied themselves in related areas, have the ability to focus on abstract problems in math and logic, and already developed their talents to a degree. The Navy has submarine sonarmen, CT’s, operators of AEGIS ships’ CIC’s and others who are highly intelligent, problem solvers, abstract thinkers, competitive by nature, and loyal, patriotic citizens. So this is nothing new.

    A hundred years ago the folks we seek would have been the radio engineers and cryptographers who later helped win WW2 with Radar, ESM, and Ultra. Doubtless there are habits of mind and mental abilities which are required for the work, which may or may not be the same as fighter pilots, or submarine CO’s. or machinist mates.
    or cooks, or medical types, be they orthopedic surgeons or independent duty corpsmen. Chose your rate, chose your fate, and how your mind will grow. Nothing new here.

    Everyone without a severe physical handicap can PT.

  • Derrick

    What does PT mean?

    I’m not sure how any comment so far has been silly…we all just seem to be looking at different sides of the issue, that’s all.

  • Byron

    Physical Training, as in to be physicaly fit which to the armed services mean to be ready to handle the stresses of combat.

    I rather surprised that you felt you needed to have such a basic term explained to you.

  • Derrick

    Thank you for enlightening an ignorant civilian (me).

  • Byron

    It’s ok…I’m a civilian myself.

  • milprof

    Bluewater and others: The issue isn’t whether an out of shape individual who wants to join the military can get fit and learn PT; of that there’s no doubt (if you’re willing to wait long enough for the 250lb guy to take it off). The issue is whether the military is unattractive in the first place to young techies *because* of the fitness requirements. I.e., “I don’t want any job that makes me run laps instead of lapping up Cheetos”.

    I’m mostly a national security analyst, but did spend a few years in a couple of IT startups. The fitness requirements would indeed have been a deterrent to some of our young technical wizzes. An even larger group would have been unwilling to join or take civilian federal/contractor employment because they would not have been willing to give up smoking pot. Then about 1/4 were gay (and many of the straights considered DADT a reason to not join on principle). And about 1/4 of our staff were foreign born, with nearly 1/2 having a foreign parent. Most valued autonomy, flexibility, and individual expression right at the top of what they wanted out of a career.

    Obviously we don’t need every single hot-shot 25yo programmer to sign up, but it is true that the culture in the military, in civilian agencies, and in large defense contractors is a HUGE turnoff to many in that age group, and especially creative types.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Well, if the 250 lb guy is 5’2″, patience will be required. The Air Force runs (or ran) hospital based weight loss programs for some it’s high brain, low metabolism, non-pilot brain trust types, my office mate LTC came back svelte in about 30 days. But there is no need for extreme measures, just boot camp training table (limited portions, proper variety), and extra aerobics (physical training or prehistoric torture,or JFK’s as you prefer) will melt it off. The Marines have test scores in various exercises and have (or had, getting old) an exclusively PT syllabus recycle curriculum for those with big bellies, flabby muscles, and the heart to survive it. ROTC units here and there assign a sea daddy cadet to a low PT score aspirant to take the young’n out for a bracing daily 90 minute morning and evening run. It can be done and a month’s boot pay and rations are pretty cheap. You just have to want to do it.

    Twenty five is too late. 18 is about right, the desire to attain physical fitness can be tapped in the young single sailor, its why Charles Atlas died well off, IMHO.
    Other than that, the candidate needs to want to belong to the organization, or be open to persuasion. Both are matters of the heart more than the biceps. After that, advertise the opportunity to work in, and gain the skills to work at the cutting edge of, the field.

    Then make sure they get it. That will be the hard part. If they do, keeping them will be dead easy. The good ones anyway.

    Pot? Can’t help you, don’t want ’em. Gay, lesbian, trans gender? Must meet law and regulation. No apology. None required if military standards are always adhered to and displayed. Quirky, egotistic, self absorbed, and selfish? Got ’em in quantity now, ask any fleet XO, or Flag aide. Such may rise high, indeed.

    Worried about attracting creative types? Clearly you never have had much to do with enlisted submariners or amphib bosuns mates, or, “Why XO’s go gray”.

  • Paul

    As an educator I work with a lot of the target audience when they’re being whelped and here are some other factors to throw into the mix.

    Most of my real computer guys are passionate about what they do. That isn’t bred into them or it’s a passing fad. They eat, sleep and breathe Linux, OSX, or Windows, know the ins and outs and seek challenges in programming at every opportunity. Given the choice between sleep and working on a project– sleep loses out. They’re intelligent, cynical and motivated to excel in their area of expertise.

    The cynicism comes from knowing what they do is valuable to the world– holding up Jobs and Gates as their heroes, but also know that the rest of the world would prefer to hold them at arms length and celebrate the jock and athletics. When have you ever heard of a homecoming parade celebrating the robotics team? Yet what’s roaming Mars right now? a 250 lb nose tackle or an overgrown Mars roomba?

    Don’t know much about their sexual preference but they are taught in Civics class “all men are created equal…” and then ask the annoying questions that teachers hate “Yes, but what about…” and don’t understand the answer so they shut down exercising their right to do so. To them the world is “either or” with no grey because that’s what they work with on a daily basis.

    Wanna make use of them in cyber warfare? Just like every recruiter’s dream is the physically fit, former athlete with a clean record and poster boy looks with the right amount of brains and intelligence, embrace them for their talents– may not mean putting a uniform on them but don’t treat them like some alien species but finding a boss that can use the right amount of patriotism and motivation to get them to work.

  • Derrick

    From personal experience, developing computer skills, specifically software development skills (which are probably most related to cyber warfare), chews up a lot of time. I didn’t get a chance to exercise much while studying computer science in school…but I could run 1.5 miles in 20-25 minutes, which was enough to get me past the first few basic physical tests towards the Canadian naval reserves…but I was definitely not the star athlete by far. So one could probably find cyber warfare recruits physically suited for military exercises as well, but the number of potential candidates may not be as high if cyber warfare was left to civilian hands…

    How much cyber warfare capability is required in the war zone? I know from watching CNN and reading peoples’ posts here that US military staff have to use some electronic warfare on the field, but from what I can understand it’s mostly operations work…the code and systems are already built and the staff are using them like end users…skilled end users albeit, but still more like end-users.

    As far as my limited understanding can see, cyber warfare is more of a fluid, dynamic environment, requiring improvisation on the fly. For example, the US military may require someone to write a software quickly that can spoof an IP address and connect to a socket on an enemy computer server and inject SQL commands to wipe their databases or re-format their hard drives…more hard-core computer “hacking” skills, if you will. I don’t imagine this work being done on the field since most of cyber warfare, to my knowledge, would be “fought” over the Internet.

    Therefore, is it really necessary for the US military to have its own cyber warfare department? Or would it just be cheaper for these things to be handled by the NSA?

    I guess you can have situations where an enemy actor may try to hack the computer systems of a ballistic missile submarine, but the firewall systems and computer virus blockers would already have been written and in use on the sub. However, it’s very difficult if not impossible to write a good firewall software or virus scanner within seconds, let alone minutes.

    So the way I imagine things, the majority of defensive cyber warfare work can be done through civilian contractors. The offensive work (hacking/denial of service attacks/etc) could be done by the NSA or even civilian volunteers like myself with a desire to serve their country. I’m sure this would be a cheaper option than recruiting them into the military.