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Lawmakers: Cyber warfare skills critical for future military, homeland security

Several members of the House Committee on Homeland Security on Monday urged for greater focus on cyber warfare skills in assessing future, urgent national security needs.

Several lawmakers agreed skills for cyber warfare, such as developing artificial intelligence, will be key for the military and other domains charged with protecting the homeland in the future.

“Cyber warfare in the future, it’s not going to be hacker on hacker,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, a former CIA officer and member of the Homeland Security committee. “It’s going to be good AI versus bad AI… and right now we are only teaching that stuff in Ph.D. programs.”

The comments were part of a wide-ranging discussion with four Republican members of the Homeland Security committee on the state of national security held Monday at George Washington University.

Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, opened the talk at the school’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, highlighting a series of threats still facing the United States. Among them, cyberattacks remain one of the biggest concerns facing the country, with intrusions in recent years coming from North Korea, China, Russia and Iran, he said.

“The threats against our homeland are not restricted by physical boundaries. We have cyber,” McCaul said. “Our adversaries, both nation-states and non-state actors, threaten us around the clock in cyberspace.”

Cyberspace is a separate domain from air, land, sea and space that must also be defended, Hurd argued. A different set of skills are needed to fight such attacks and the United States must make a plan for who will be responsible for that charge, he said.

“We have to figure out how do we do electronic warfare, who is responsible for that, who are the Navy Seals when it comes to electronic warfare?” Hurd asked.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., a newcomer to Capitol Hill and a retired Marine Corps captain who served in the Iraq war, said fighting a cyberwar remains a challenge for the military and other U.S. entities.

“It’s not as visible or at the nexus of physical destruction or loss of life,” he said. “We haven’t had that wakeup call.”

Gallagher said past U.S. cyberspace failures come down to humans, and future solutions will come down to recruiting the best talent. The military is among those weighing how to gain a larger share of servicemembers with those skills, with some military leaders brainstorming ideas of creating a separate career path for cyber and special operators, he said.

“From a military perspective, each branch is trying to grow that capability organically,” Gallagher said.

However, Gallagher is worried that’s not enough, and it will take the military too long to catch up to ongoing cyber threats. The United States might need a more flexible model that makes the best use of such human talent available, such as Hurd’s proposal for a cyber national guard.

“I just suspect … even that won’t be quick enough,” he said of the military’s plans to grow the cyber skills organically. Someone “who will join the Marine Corps at 18 years old and wants to do a bunch of push-ups and get a ‘high-and-tight’ is probably not going to be a world-class coder.”

Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., said as skills are obtained to outsmart nefarious online activity, it will aid future electronic warfare efforts.

“I think that there is no question that cyber command and everything going on in the military sphere is going to be extraordinarily important going forward,” Katko said. “In my mind, if we ever have a bad spell with Russia, a lot of electronic warfare will be at the forefront of that bad spell.”

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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