Admiral Michael Rogers has quite a task afoot, as Director of the National Security Agency and the military's Cyber Command Mission Force. Speaking at a luncheon organised by retired Captain Kevin Wensing, Admiral Rogers said that the agency will eventually contain 6200 dedicated computer personnel split into 133 teams.
"I just always feel like we're in a race to make sure we are generating capacity and capability , and that we are doing it faster than those who would attempt to do harm to us," Rogers said. Rogers made the point that this is the only area in defense where staff and equipment are put to work straight away as opposed to the Navy, where a newly delivered aircraft may not be deployed for six months or so, or even longer if not needed. Rogers pointed out that some cyber teams operated in an offensive capacity and some defensive. Beyond that, the Admiral was not prepared to share any details, a stance that was handled with good humor throughout the luncheon by both the moderator, and by Michael Rogers.
Light banter aside, the mission's task is daunting in an age when cyber criminals almost have a concerning cult like status and more importantly when enemies and opposition forces are as adaptive as the computer equipment they operate. Admiral Rogers pointed out that the most significant thing about computers and this particular work is, at the end of every computer keyboard is just one person. So that one person has lot of power to make a difference, and in the case of cyber command and military defense, to make a difference for the good in the world.
However, from an observational standpoint it is at that point it appears the United States military has one of its hardest tasks. Finding the right talent to hold that power. Rogers spoke of wanting to create a membrane, where computer talent could move in and out of both private sector and military roles. He stressed that without the "insight" talent gained by working in the private sector, it was hard to know fully what was going on in the world.
Indeed, technology does move fast. Surprisingly, Rogers said he spent much time in Silicon Valley learning how Silicon Valley does things and also finding ways to attract and compete for talent. This is where, at a human level, it gets really interesting. Not only from the more superficial standpoint of the utilities and benefits provided on the large employment campuses like Google, which are known to spoil their employees rotten, but also from what I believe to be a far more, concerning standpoint.
Mr. Rogers hit all the right tones and keys, one would expect of his esteemed position. He spoke passionately and supportively about the dedication of his staff, their talent, their willingness to serve, to fight the good fight for the good. He stressed the fact that the NSA operates within the current laws and if not, they stand up and take responsibility and own their mistakes. However, there was one point and one word that was missing from the entire fascinating speech and the one thing that I think would be the most critical and important thing when hiring and working with talent and that is "loyalty" and patrionism - things that cannot be bought.
America is one of the grandest and most wonderful melting pots and it can be but applauded for that embracing of diversity. There are individuals and families from all over the world who have lived here for years and you would be hard put to find anyone who doesn't, after having lived here for some time, have a keen sense of loyalty and patriotism for their adopted American homeland, as much as they love their own countries in spite of what their countries may or may not be facing.
However, in these fast paced computer times, there is also a new breed of worker. Computer technicians who have been bought over in the past year or two from overseas to work in the private sector and corporate sector. These kids, usually under 32, are being paid six figures and upwards. Extraordinary salaries at young ages, in many cases. Yet these young women and men haven't yet formed their own opinions of America as they have not yet lived in America. Nor are they actually having to work their way up in America, like many immigrants and foreign workers. They arrive to Silicon Valley with everything laid out for them, salaries, apartments, cars.
Take for example one young man I met, from Asia, whose general attitude to the West was to go about his life, shortchanging everyone in order to, "stick it to the man," in this case, the American man, or company, and in this case whatever DC company he was working for. In this case, make as much money as possible, rip off the West and then leave. And we are not talking the good old fashioned educated or uneducated successful entrepreneur who does well here and then wants to contribute back to his country of birth. We are talking young, unformed minds and people who see a far richer and more orderly country then their own and just basically want to rip us off.
In other words, young kids are suddenly being plucked from their country,many from poor areas or generational poverty, offered salaries of over $100,000 and the fact is they haven't lived here or been here to know America. America hasn't yet earned their loyalty and patriotism. They literally see it America as no more than cash cow to be milked. How can any agency expect loyalty? Conversely, is the young woman, literally plucked from the war torn streets of Syria, with no allegiance whatsoever to the USA and little knowledge of it,the wisest person to be part of the propaganda machine against Daesh?. She appeared rather bemused by the whole thing - being given a hefty salary and a guaranteed green card to work for Senator Kerry, in her words, "To fight an organization she was personally convinced would never come here nor want to," given that she had just come for the much tougher zone of Syria, where Daesh really was.
These new breed of emigres, they will do their jobs - yes, and then move onto the next one, but will they be loyal? Loyalty cannot be bought it is earned, it is earned through living here, it is also earned generationally through some countries legacies of being long term allies with the USA, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Europe. For people from these countries being an ally of America, is just entrenched in your entire way of being,it is part of you, whereas Asian and many other countries put simply do not have this in built generational legacy - this unquestioning patriotism and loyalty. In a way it might even be confusing for them. Here is this big Western country, who they have never paid much heed to as it is far removed from their own way of life and culture, being offered large sums of money to fight for them. To me it seems as least, the biggest job the mission has, is to earn the loyalty and patriotism of computer talent at the most grass roots of all levels.
Speaking as one who has dealt a little with Silicon Valley companies , talent, new technology, I can say that in spite of Rogers' overly optimistic attitude, that "Silicon Valley just wants to do good"...it's not that simple. Silicon Valley and these companies and kids all want to make a lot of money,and be the next Facebook. Often times I have seen first hand their ethics and morals are somewhat, and at times, seriously skewed, in order to achieve their goals. In addition Silicon Valley often relies on talent from India and elsewhere in Asia (all wonderful countries in their own way), however this talent, often comes from not so privileged backgrounds and with a different cultural perception or understanding of what is acceptable in terms of ethics, morals, copyright, accounting, and business operations. Combine that with aggressive young American companies wanting to make a mark in the billionaire IPO sector any way they can?
That means, from what I have seen, that these companies think nothing of skimming profits off the top, or not doing things properly and methodically,(think Theranos) in order to make a dollar, and be a star. And they do it, as, put simply, none of us, you know - the stupid ones who didn't grow up reading computers at the age of two, can understand computer code. The attitude I've encountered in the private sector is, "Well, if people are too stupid not to to know what we are up to on our computers, then we will just go ahead and do it." Ethics and morals are literally out the window, and it appears systemic.
These coders and computer engineers are not taught in business operation and yet are put in charge of running both small and large businesses with their computers, There is a huge educational gap in computer science worldwide. We literally caught a high profile "newspaper "pay wall" company skimming 30% off the top - the entire board local and Asian staff were complicit, it appeared. Why and how did they get away with it? Because they figured that most people don't understand computer code or data, or if they do, they don't bother to read it and check their accounting records. The companies trust the computer or data company , which they just see number sequences and to be automatically spitting things out. And this is where Rogers is right, and where companies would also do well to remember, "Don't ever forget that at the end, we're dealing with a choice that some human made on a keyboard somewhere else in the world," he said. "There was a man or woman on the other end of this."
The only reason we caught this company was our sign up numbers were smaller than NY Times or say the Washington Post, their usual type of clients. We literally caught them, red handed, changing the date, the amount of people signing up,and the amount of credit card payments being charged. They literally changed the records and statements on us . Now, if you take that attitude, which is fairly dominate underneath throughout silicon value , in spite of Rogers' optimism, then Houston we have a larger problem then anyone realises. Both the private and government sectors need to extend their missions. The question sectors need to be talking about is not just"can you code and are you dedicated to coding' but are you loyal, and patriotic and do you understand what is right from wrong in buisness and when money and power are involved.Address that,then maybe perhaps this war,this cyber war will be far smaller and far more manageable.At the end of the day,these kids are the same,they all code,That is their language.Now increase their language and tool box for the better. That's my two cents.