July 30, 2012
Credit: Credit: IAI
David Fulghum Tel Aviv and Washington
Israel and the U.S. military have drawn similar conclusions about how to choose their cyberwarriors; however, the Israelis appear to be establishing a lead in identifying and training their electronic special forces.
The conundrum can be illustrated by a sports metaphor. It involves distinguishing the erratic, eccentric, superstars from the organized, focused geniuses. Both can be naturals. But only one type can lead a team in tackling a problem so huge that it requires many teams working simultaneously to solve its interrelated parts.
Neither Israeli nor U.S. officials will speak publicly about who developed the destructive Stuxnet cyberworm or the Flame intelligence-gathering malware that has been derailing Iran's nuclear weapons development. But the effort involved a specialized kind of team play. Background discussions further reveal an operation that was heavily U.S.-funded and -backed with Washington's intelligence resources. That strategy was applied to a long-term project developed by professionals from both countries whose activities were protected by Israel's unique laws for maintaining the nation's security.
However, both countries face hurdles in finding staff and conducting advanced training for such cyberops. Officials concede the need for a better, earlier, screening system to identify the right people to become cyberwarriors. There is at least one element on which both countries agree. The intellectually arrogant, lone-ranger hacker is not the gold standard for innovative, multi-faceted cyberoperations.
“You have natural, imaginative hackers that apply their brilliance in 360-degree shot patterns,” says U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who is slated to retire in August. “Then you have others, equally brilliant, that are more like engineers who apply [their unique skills] in a way that is more predictable, measurable and easier to manage.”
That analysis underlies a decision made four years ago to put cyberoperations into Air Force Space Command.
“The judgment is that space and cyber are fundamentally engineering disciplines and that there are real similarities,” says Schwartz. “We are less about innovative products than we are about outcome-driven capabilities. We will continue to lean in the direction of more engineering-focused talent. That's the path we'll stay on. The intelligence community might be in a different place.”