In an effort to define just what it is the Pentagon needs to do to recruit and train an effective workforce to staff its new Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), Lt. Col. Gregory Conti, director of West Point's Cyber Security Research Center and a PhD in computer science, took to the Internet. Conti logged on to noted techie site Slashdot.org and posed the question, “How has the military treated you and your technical friends?” Of the 415 messages posted in response, the majority were negative, with complaints ranging from lack of leadership, to the inability of the defense department to find innovative ways to train and retain talented techies.
Just a few of the comments – which Conti reprinted in an article in the Small Wars Journal co-written with Lt. Col. Jen Easterly, a member of the US Cyber Command Commander's Action Group -- showed how the very culture of the military can at times work against it attracting and retaining the right people to work on the most complex technological issues. “The very things that make us valuable,” one commenter noted, “the ability to think critically, take the initiative, and not be weighed down by conventional thinking is exactly the thing the military seems to weed out.” Another complained about what they considered the overly rigid and standardized promotion system in the military, writing that “the system itself isn't designed to handle individuals that have technical ability, but who aren't ready/don't want to command lower level troops.”
In a separate article published last year in the Department of Defense’s IA newsletter, Conti came up with a creative, dynamic, and at the present time almost certainly unworkable solution: create a fourth branch of the military, dedicated solely to conducting the cyber-mission. The two articles do bring up an important topic that the Pentagon has not spent a lot of time addressing: the trouble that the military faces in training—and more importantly, retaining—a competent cyber workforce when the freewheeling culture of the IT crowd so often clashes with the more formal structures of a traditional military career.
Earlier this summer Gen. Keith B. Alexander, dual-hatted as both the head of the Cyber Command as well as the National Security Agency, noted that USCYBERCOM’s workforce is made up of the staffs of two previously existing shops, the Joint Functional Component Command for Net Warfare and the Joint Taskforce Global Network Operations, which have been combined to form the Cyber Joint Operations Center. While the command has also brought in staffers from the Army Forces Cyber Command, the Marine Forces Cyber Command, the 24th Air Force and the Navy’s 10th Fleet, Fleet Cyber Command, Alexander also noted that “one of our greatest challenges will be successfully recruiting, training and retaining our cyber cadre to ensure that we can sustain our ability to operate effectively in cyberspace for the long term.” He also called cybersecurity a “team sport” that requires the help of private industry and academia.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory L. Brundidge, deputy director of cyber for U.S. European Command, speaking at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association event in July, said that while it is critical for the services to “harmonize” their efforts, there is also a need “for us to understand how to harmonize our efforts with civilian agencies and private industry.” Part of the issue is speed. While the military has been working the cyber security problem for some time, threats evolve faster than solutions, and as USAF Maj. Gen. Paul F. Capasso of the Office of Information Dominance told the AFCEA crowd, “we’re in uncharted territory in cyber policy, cyber law and cyber doctrine,” and while “we’re pretty good at buying things … We are terrible at deployment.”