Much has been written of late about “Creating Cyber Warriors” within the Navy’s Officer Corps. In fact, three prominent and well-respected members of the Navy’s Information Dominance Corps published a very well articulated article by that very title in the October 2012 edition of Proceedings. It is evident that the days of feeling compelled to advocate for such expertise within our wardroom are behind us. We have gotten passed the WHY and are in the throes of debating the WHAT and HOW. In essence, we know WHY we need cyber expertise and we know WHAT cyber expertise we need. What we don’t seem to have agreement on is WHO should deliver such expertise and HOW do we get there.

As a proud member of both the Cryptologic Community and the Information Dominance Corps, I feel confident stating the responsibility for cultivating such expertise lies squarely on our own shoulders. The Information Dominance Corps, and more specifically the Cryptologic and Information Professional Communities, have a shared responsibility to “Deliver Geeks to the Fleet.” That’s right, I said “Geeks” and not “Cyber Warriors.” We don’t need, and despite the language many are using, the Navy doesn’t truly want “Cyber Warriors.” We need and want “Cyber Geeks.” Rather than lobby for Unrestricted Line status, which seems to be the center of gravity for some, we should focus entirely on delivering operational expertise regardless of our officer community designation.

For far too long, many people in the Restricted Line Communities have looked at the Unrestricted Line Communities as the cool kids in school. Some consider them the “in-crowd” and want to sit at their lunch table. Some think wearing another community’s warfare device validates us as naval officers and is the path to acceptance, opportunity, and truly fitting in. We feel an obligation to speak their language, understand the inner workings of their culture, and act more and more like them. Some have grown so weary of being different or considered weird that many would say we’ve lost our identity. Though establishment of the Information Dominance Corps has revitalized our identity, created a unity of effort amongst us in the information mission areas, and further established information as a legitimate warfare area, many continue to advocate that we are lesser because of our Restricted Line status. We seem to think we want and need to be Unrestricted Line Officers ourselves. Why? Sure, we would like to have direct accessions so that we can deliberately grow and select the specialized expertise necessary to deliver cyber effects to the Fleet. Yes, we would like a seat at the power table monopolized by Unrestricted Line Officers. And yes, we would appreciate the opportunity to have more of our own enjoy the levels of influence VADM Mike Rogers currently does as Commander, Fleet Cyber Command and Commander, U.S. TENTH Fleet.

But there is another path; a path that celebrates, strengthens, and capitalizes on our uniqueness.

In the private sector, companies are continually racing to the middle so they can appeal to the masses. It’s a race to the bottom that comes from a focus on cutting costs as a means of gaining market share. There are, however, some obvious exceptions, my favorite of which is Apple. Steve Jobs was not overly interested in addressing customers’ perceived desires. Instead, he anticipated the needs of the marketplace, showed the world what was possible before anyone else even dreamt it, and grew a demand signal that did not previously exist. He was not interested in appealing to the masses and he surely wasn’t focused on the acceptance of others in his industry. He was focused on creating unique value (i.e. meaningful entrepreneurship over hollow innovation), putting “a dent in the universe,” and delivering a product about which he was personally proud. We know how this approach evolved. The market moved toward Apple; the music, movie, phone, and computing industries were forever changed; and the technological bar was raised with each product delivered under his leadership. Rather than lobby for a seat at the table where other leaders were sitting, he sat alone and watched others pick up their trays to sit with him. Even those who chose not to sit with him were looking over at his table with envy, doing their best to incrementally build on the revolutionary advances only he was able to realize.

Rather than seek legitimacy by advocating to be part of Team Unrestricted Line, we ought to focus on delivering so much value that we are considered a vital part of each and every team because of our uniqueness. I am reminded of a book by Seth Godin titled “We Are All Weird.” In it he refers to “masses” as the undifferentiated, “normal” as the defining characteristics of the masses, and “weird” as those who have chosen not to blindly conform to the way things have always been done. For the sake of argument, let’s consider the Unrestricted Line Officers as the masses, those considering themselves “warfighters” as the normal, and the Information Dominance Corps as the weird. I say the last with a sense of hope. I hope that we care enough to maintain our weirdness and that we don’t give in to the peer pressure that could drive us to lobby for a seat at what others perceive to be “The Cool Table.” By choosing to be weird and committing more than ever to embrace our geekiness, the table perceived to be cool will be the one at which the four Information Dominance Communities currently sit. It won’t happen by accident, but it will happen, provided we want it to happen. Not because we want to be perceived as “cool,” but because we are so good at what we do, and we deliver so much unique value to the Navy and Nation, that no warfighting team is considered complete without its own personal “Cyber Geek.”

I sincerely respect the opinions voiced in the article to which I referred earlier in this post. However, I think we are better than we give ourselves credit for. Let’s not conform, let’s create. Let’s not generalize, let’s specialize. Let’s not be normal, let’s be weird. Let’s choose to be Geeks.

CDR Sean Heritage is an Information Warfare Officer who is currently transitioning from Command of NIOC Pensacola to Staff Officer at U.S. Cyber Command. He regularly posts to his leadership-focused blog, Connecting the Dots.

Posted by Fouled Anchor in Homeland Security, Innovation, Navy, Proceedings, Soft Power, Tactics
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  • CDR,

    Great post. The military needs to get serious about embracing the skills and mindsets of people who can be truly effective in cyber warfare, rather than trying to shape warfare to fit its model of a warrior.

    • Sean Heritage

      Thank-you and I concur. Anxious to begin seeing the movement grow and action result.

  • Sir,

    I’ll be in Pensacola this Winter. I’d love the chance to talk. Excellent post!

    • Sean Heritage

      Thank-you. I would and do look forward to such an exchange, though I have left Pensacola. We’ll have to find another way of conversing.

  • das


    Great thoughts as usual. Some of my own:

    We don’t, by and large, deliver geeks to the fleet. Even hints of the concept of “civilian cyber reserve” doesn’t go after the people who can truly make a difference operationally in cyber, but appear to be hitting what I would call the “usual suspects”: defense industry, high level government/academic partnerships, law enforcement, fusion centers, etc., who are already “part of the system”, with the many of the true “geeks” being shunned, whether intentionally or not, by the conventional national security and intelligence establishment. Where are the geeks? This is not just a Navy problem.

    We need to develop a culture and a framework that lets us harness and develop the talent of those who dream of serving AND who already have the expertise and in many cases innate aptitudes which can be brought to bear on operational problems immediately, with minimal guidance or training. I believe this problem goes beyond the IDC communities wanting to sit at the cool table; it’s a belief that WE all are the cool table when compared to “outsiders” who would be beneficial to bring in as civilians or consultants who could bring unique skills and perspectives to this realm. There are large numbers of people who don’t align with the traditional view of someone who can serve in uniform or even as a civilian in the DOD or IC who would be of great benefit to us…

    Yet we hear SECDEF and DIRNSA talk about how we are desperate for cyber talent. These individuals do not all need to have been cut from the same cloth. We do have some top notch talent throughout our ranks, but it’s often in spite of the system rather than because of it. As someone who is new to the Navy, I find it curious that the model is to “train” or “create” cyber experts, when a private organization would seek out people who already ARE cyber experts, have a PASSION for it — the geeks — and then snatch them up and look for ways to provide them with further opportunities for development and growth.

    As for whether we are warriors? We can increasingly bring capabilities to the table which can create military effects for commanders as well as any kinetic weapon. I believe we are both geeks and warriors simultaneously, irrespective of what warfare pin(s) we might or might not wear, or where we fall on organizational charts.

    • It would be nice if the Navy had the ability to recruit civilians already possessing cyber expertise, but it doesn’t happen very often. Said cyber experts are extremely valuable in the commercial sector.

  • das

    Well, keep in mind it is the USCYBERCOM “half” of NSA which has the cyber warfare lines of operation (DGO, DCO, OCO), and that USCYBERCOM looks likely to be elevated to a standalone combatant command, likely with its own dedicated commander.

    Just as each service has Service Cryptologic Elements which contribute and consume service-specific SIGINT and cryptologic products, and just as each service contributes personnel to other combatant commands, it would seem likely that USCYBERCOM’s personnel would continue to be structured in the same way — and that includes Navy.

    And we have talked about a “civilian cyber reserve”, which I envisioned would be like the volunteer US civil hacking service of which you speak, but instead seems to be things like executives from major technology firms — the exact opposite of the people we’d need.

    • As for the “civilian cyber reserve”, let the DoD do the recruiting and accept applications from the general public. Then have the potential volunteers go into a nearby government office to write a technical test. That should reduce the number of executives by approximately 99.9999%.

  • Great article! Thank you. Hopefully many others in the IDC share this point of view.

  • In respect to collaboration on public domain threats attending a meeting of a local state chapter and seeing how this program has evolved is interesting. There can be collaborative groups within this collaborative group, funny how the group without allot of overhead and a loose charter can accomplish that goal.

    InfraGard is a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
    program that began in the Cleveland Field Office in 1996. It was a
    local effort to gain support from the information technology industry
    and academia for the FBI’s investigative efforts in the cyber arena.
    The program expanded to other FBI Field Offices, and in 1998 the FBI
    assigned national program responsibility for InfraGard to the former
    National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) and to the Cyber
    Division in 2003. InfraGard and the FBI have developed a relationship of
    trust and credibility in the exchange of information concerning
    various terrorism, intelligence, criminal, and security matters.

  • Well said, I completely agree.

    Attracting “geeks” is part of the problem, but creating the incentive to retain them is another in itself. The most technical guys usually trade the pride that comes with wearing the uniform for double/triple the salary, better professional development, and less stress. Eventually a decision has to be made as to whether we want cyber experts or cyber warriors, and policy will need to be adjusted accordingly.

    Technical development should be a much higher priority than it currently is. We should follow suite with the other branches by developing partnerships with academia and industry that specialize in achieving technical learning objectives. (SANS, GIAC, CompTIA, etc.) The concept of the IDC was a step in the right direction. However, I do believe that as long as we continue to attempt to mimic the concepts of the other warfare realms for the sake of making the process as “Navy” as possible, we will still be trying to fit in at “the cool kids table”.