The Fog of Cyber-War

/ October 7, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Military leaders are still trying to get their hands around what it means to fight in cyberspace. From the outside, it’s hard to tell exactly how far the Pentagon has come in moving the idea of cyber warfare from a subject of study to a subject of doctrine writing and practice.

According to Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Basla, the deputy in the Joint Staff’s J-6 directorate, the development of the intellectual underpinning of cyber warfare is not yet completed.

Fundamental questions remain to be answered, he told us at AUSA  yesterday, including “What constitutes a cyber attack?” and “How do we integrated cyber in the other warfighting domains?”

Or, put differently, at what point does a cyber conflict turn into a shooting war?

“We don’t have a strong answer to that,” Basla said.

According to the general, officials also are wondering how deterrence, a concept that brings back memories of Cold War nuclear arms racing, could be applied in cyberspace.

“There are huge efforts going on in studying all those different pieces,” Basla added.

At U.S. Strategic Command, where officials know a thing or two about deterrence, that very subject was up for discussion at a January 2008 workshop.

The two-day event produced a collection of papers by attendees, including a piece by defense strategist Tom Barnett, which we’ve posted here.

The military produced two key documents in recent years, both classified, guiding goings-on in the cyberspace arena: The 2006 National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations and the companion implementation plan. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed the strategy on Dec. 11, 2006, in one of his last moves as Pentagon chief. His successors signed the implementation plan on Oct. 1, 2007.

The implementation plan contains 42 different “activities” that are being executed by “a number of different organizations,” according to Basla.

-- Sebastian Sprenger