As I kid, I loved Superman. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Hiding his identity like a spy. But who was he? “It’s a bird? It’s a plane? No, it’s Superman.”
The reason I bring up this dusty piece of nostalgia is my mind drifts toward it every time I hear someone talk about dealing with problems in cyber space – it’s law enforcement! No, it’s military! No, it’s intelligence! No, it’s cyber space, and it’s all of ‘em. We need to think differently about how government deals with cyber space. It is messy, it is new and it is now. We are having a tough time with that fact.
We, Americans, are an orderly people. We like our management charts and our well-defined laws. That is OK for the most part, but some things in life defy single description or boundaries. Cyber space is one of them.
Cyber space is of a new time. It is the 21st century incarnate. It is owned both by governments and private enterprise. Two billion people can access it. And if some have their way, another four billion will be joining the fray in the next decade. It is both the glorious apotheosis of true democracy and a place where less democratic forces try to rule and create havoc with abandon. Americans like the first part; it is the havoc part that has us wrapped around the axle.
When you live in a place without borders or boundaries, how do you protect your national interests – your government and your civilian populace?
Old Arguments, New Times
In the late 20th century, the rise of terrorism challenged our traditional ways of using law enforcement for domestic problems, military for external problems and intelligence focused outward. Cyber space amps up that challenge to an unprecedented degree with no border and no boundaries.
Yet, we still hear the arguments constantly that we must not allow American cyber space to be controlled or overseen by the military. And we equally don’t want our military protection done by the National Security Agency (NSA) that has both intelligence and military responsibilities. So we hear learned discussions about the limits of government, that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should coordinate with state and local authorities to protect the civilian population. The Department should reach out to the private sector to establish rules and standards for business. NSA needs to focus on its old business and give Cyber Command to the military, lest intelligence and military become too involved in domestic affairs.
Ah, nostalgia for another time – and very, very wrong.
Welcome to the New Age
It is about time we think differently about cyber space protection. New times require new measures and new thinking. After World War II, the United States chose to remain an international power. We realigned our military away from individual services and placed them under a Secretary of Defense and a Joint Chiefs of Staff. We created a Central Intelligence Agency that coordinated all intelligence for the President so there would be no more Pearl Harbors. And it was easy to do all this. Bureaucracies fought it tooth and nail. President Harry Truman thanked them for their interest and placed the national interest in front. Thus, we have a successful nation-state military that works to this day.
But, as the Italian expression goes, tempi cambi – things change. We need to rearrange our cyber defense and offense to deal with a new age. And we need to do it quickly as this new age is moving at the speed of Moore’s Law.
The Cyber Space Bureau
Nothing grinds your teeth more than listening to another DC guy talk about shifting management boxes around. People will immediately point to DHS and target every problem. I agree. It is not the perfect institution. None are – including the lauded private sector of which few government types understand also has problems. And if you think DHS has headaches, please take a look at the fumbling of the newly minted Department of Defense after its first decade. Not pretty.
But we don’t need a huge bureaucratic organization. We do need a Cyber Space Bureau (CSB). Like CIA, it should be a part of the Executive Office of the President and its Director should report directly to the President.
The CSB needs to have budgetary power to control and coordinate actions and policies throughout the U.S. government. It should be small and agile – maybe no more than 100 people. There should be a group covering civilian response and coordination with the private sector, a group over seeing R&D, and a group coordinating the traffic lanes between military, law enforcement, and intelligence actions.
CSB also needs to make sure it coordinates with the Congress and other outside oversight groups to provide the kind of civil rights protection we need in this new surveillance society. It is clear from the Snowden debate that was not done. Sure, it was done legally, but the court of law and the court of public opinion are not the same. CSB would make the President’s office a more direct part of that effort.
There is no such thing as a 100 percent solution to any problem. Paraphrasing Nobel Prize winning economist Herb Simon, all we can realistically expect is the 80 percent solution. A CSB would give us a fighting chance for that solution.