• In this U.S. Army file photo, Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, USA, commanding general of Army Cyber Command, testifies before the U.S. Senate in 2015.
     In this U.S. Army file photo, Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, USA, commanding general of Army Cyber Command, testifies before the U.S. Senate in 2015.

U.S. Military Applies 'Incredible Focus' in Digital War Against ISIL

October 5, 2016
By Sandra Jontz
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Army leads a task force of cyber warriors dedicated solely to the militant group's cyber efforts, general says.

The U.S. Army is fighting fire with cyber fire, applying an “incredible focus” on attacking a primary terrorist threat by creating a task force to concentrate on a single targeted mission, says Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, USA, commanding general of Army Cyber Command.

Responding to a rebuke by Defense Department Secretary Ash Carter that the cyber war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was progressing too slowly, the U.S. Cyber Command launched a unit with the sole task of going after the militant group’s online activity and put Gen. Cardon in charge of that effort.

The unprecedented U.S.-led cyber war, termed Joint Task Force Ares, strikes at the group’s sophisticated use of technology to recruit, make financial transactions and disseminate its propaganda.

“Before, there was no unit dedicated to the ISIL mission side,” Gen. Cardon told reporters Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C. “The beauty about Ares is, we just have one mission to work. We work on ISIL problems. It sharpens options [and] policies, and there’s a lot of discussion about what we should and shouldn’t do. Every mission we do is breaking new ground and setting the way forward.”

It’s a task force that brings “incredible focus” to the cyber fight, he said, and taps not just cyber warriors, but additional personnel such as lawyers and policy makers.

ISIL has leveraged the cyberspace, from tapping social media to target digital natives and boost its recruitment of fighters to coordinating attacks across the globe from its geographical nerve centers in Syria and Iraq.

Task Force Ares is but one example of the keen focus that has consumed the nation’s military and government leaders, who are working to address one of the greatest threats to national security in recent history, Gen. Cardon said. 

He spoke of the Army’s plans to shift sophisticated offensive and defensive cyber operations out of a headquarters environment and to the front lines. Last year, the Army launched its Cyber Support to Corps and Below (CSCB) pilot, testing the concept of embedding cyber teams at lower echelons and, in essence, putting network operations in the back of Humvees, he said. 

While the burgeoning threats are new, the laws and policies that steer military responses are not, he pointed out.

A significant challenge facing decision makers is that current processes and procedures are based on 19th, 20th and some 21st century laws, Gen. Cardon said. “When you’re starting to use [outdated] laws for something that’s as fast moving as cyber, you start to have some challenge,” he said. “It should not be harder to use cyber than it is to use kinetics to accomplish a goal. And right now, it is in some cases. That is something that’s being worked through.” 

Gen. Cardon provided an update on the service’s to build 133 teams in the Cyber Mission Force. There currently are 42 teams with near-term plans to increase the count by 20—10 National Guard teams and 10 Army Reserve, he said. All the teams are trained to the same joint standard to streamline mission interaction among the services in the cyber domain. 

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