Mil­i­tary seeks civil­ians with high-tech skills to counter IS

Ex­perts find ways to dis­rupt en­emy’s net­works

The Commercial Appeal - - Nation -

WASH­ING­TON - A decade ago, he was a young Army sol­dier train­ing Iraqi troops when he no­ticed their prim­i­tive fil­ing sys­tem: hand­writ­ten notes threaded with dif­fer­ent col­ors of yarn, stacked in piles. For or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sake, he built them a sim­ple com­puter data­base.

Now an Army re­servist, the ma­jor is tak­ing a break from his civil­ian high-tech job to help Amer­ica’s tech­no­log­i­cal fight against Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists, part of a grow­ing force of cy­ber­ex­perts the Pen­tagon has as­sem­bled to de­feat the group.

“The abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate in some way in a real mis­sion, that is ac­tu­ally some­thing that’s rare, that you can’t find in pri­vate sec­tor,” said the 38year-old Ne­braska na­tive who is work­ing at U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand at Fort Meade, Mary­land. “You’re part of a larger team putting your skills to use, not just op­ti­miz­ing clicks for a dig­i­tal ad, but op­ti­miz­ing the abil­ity to counter ISIS or con­trib­ute to the se­cu­rity of our na­tion.”

Last year, then-De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that the United States was los­ing the cy­ber­war against Is­lamic States mil- itants. He pushed the Cy­ber Com- mand to be more ag­gres­sive. In re- sponse, the Pen­tagon launched an ef­fort to in­cor­po­rate cy­ber tech­nol­ogy into its daily mil­i­tary fight, in­clud­ing new ways to dis­rupt the en­emy’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions, re­cruit­ing, fundrais­ing and pro­pa­ganda.

To speak with some­one at the front lines of the cy­ber cam­paign, The Associated Press agreed to with­hold the ma­jor’s name. The mil­i­tary says he could be threat­ened or tar­geted by the mil­i­tants if he is iden­ti­fied pub­licly. The ma­jor and other of­fi­cials wouldn’t pro­vide pre­cise de­tails on the highly clas­si­fied work he is do­ing.

But Lt. Gen. Paul Naka­sone, com­man­der of U.S. Army Cy­ber Com­mand, said the ma­jor is bring­ing new ex­per­tise for iden­ti­fy­ing en­emy net­works, pin­point­ing sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tors or devel­op­ers, and po­ten­tially mon­i­tor­ing how the Is­lamic State’s on­line traf­fic moves.

The mil­i­tary ser­vices are look­ing for new ways to bring in more civil­ians with high-tech skills who can help against IS, and pre­pare for the new range of tech­no­log­i­cal threats the na­tion will face. Naka­sone said that means get­ting Guard and Re­serve mem­bers with tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise in dig­i­tal foren­sics, math cryp­to­anal­y­sis and writ­ing com­puter code. The chal­lenge is how to find them.

The Army Re­serve is start­ing a pi­lot pro­gram cat­a­loging sol­diers’ tal­ents. Among 190,000 Army re­servists, Naka­sone said there might be up to 15,000 with some type of cy­ber-re­lated skills. But there are le­gal and pri­vacy hur­dles, and any data­base hinges on re­servists vol­un­tar­ily and ac­cu­rately pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on their ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

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