Tag Archives: Department of Defense

Licensed To Be Killed: The Hidden Cost of War

By Frances Nobes, MA – Research Assistant, Kings College, England.


Contractors have been a constant feature in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both behind the scenes and in headline news. Just mentioning the name Blackwater brings to mind Vin Diesel look-alikes with aviator sunglasses and M-4s. However, these are not the only players on the contracting stage, nor are they an accurate representation of most contractors.

The use of contractors alongside military forces has never been more prolific than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Vietnam War, the United States employed contractors at a ratio of one contractor per 55 military personnel. In Iraq that statistic is 1:1, and in Afghanistan it is 1.43:1. According to congressional research service (CRS) reports, there are approximately 27,000 contract personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq providing private security alone, which represents 17% of the Department of Defense’s total contractor workforce of 160,000.

At the height of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, contractor numbers exceeded the military footprint on the ground. The variety of tasks which these contractors fulfill ranges from armed convoy escort, war-gaming, field training Iraqi and Afghan  troops and maintaining sophisticated weapons systems, to truck driving, catering and sanitation services.

Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have been covered by the media, but it is often their scandals and incompetence that are reported. The tales of contractors killing innocent bystanders, terrorizing the local population and even the shooting of the Iraqi Vice-President’s bodyguard in a drunken brawl are well known. However, the number of contractors who have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan has been widely ignored. Perhaps the most memorable report regarding the death of contractors is the image of four Blackwater contractors whose bodies, after being burnt and dismembered, were hanged from a bridge in Fallujah, in 2004. Since this shocking incident, little has been reported regarding the overall number of casualties suffered by contracting firms.

By 2005, private military companies (i.e. those contractors providing direct military assistance to armed forces) had suffered an estimated 175 deaths and 900 wounded in Iraq, which was more than any single U.S. Army division and more than all the other coalition forces combined at that time. It was calculated that in the first two quarters of 2010 alone, contractor deaths represented 53% of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, between January and September 2010, more contractors died than U.S. soldiers.

Yet despite these shocking statistics, these figures are barely mentioned in media reports discussing the human cost of war. CRS calculated that in Afghanistan, private security company employees are 2.75 times more likely to be killed in action than uniformed personnel. This statistic rises to 8 times more likely to be killed if one considers private security contractors who provide mobile security services to DOD in Afghanistan. This statistic is both startling and practically unknown beyond the academic and research community.

Perhaps even more stunning than the figures themselves is the lack of certainty which surrounds them. The number of contractors who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is largely underestimated. Many of these figures do not accurately reflect the number of people killed or injured, but only those which have resulted in insurance claims. Furthermore, these figures do not include subcontractors – i.e. local country nationals or third country nationals hired by contractors to conduct objectives within contracts. The U.S. Department of Defense has little to no transparency in this regard, and if these casualties were taken into account, the figures would be considerably higher than those stated here.

Unsurprisingly, private contractor firms are anxious not to disclose the number of employees who have been injured or killed on the job, and thus gathering reliable and accurate data is difficult at best. Furthermore, Peter Singer, author of the work Corporate Warriors, claims that the precise number of casualties is unavailable as “the Pentagon does not track nonmilitary casualties.”

As more members of the armed forces are killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public awareness of their sacrifice increases. Soldiers are honored in death and praised for their bravery and selflessness, as they should be. Contractors, however, have no such ceremony attached to their demise.

All of this leads to one conclusion, contractor casualties are being ignored by the public and, more disturbingly, by the government. Which leaves us with one final, haunting question: at what point did it become acceptable for a country, which spreads the doctrine of democracy and freedom, to lose interest in who is dying for those rights?

 

Frances is a Research Assistant with the Center for Strategic Research at INSS, and also working as an intelligence analyst at the Sicuro Group. She is currently finishing her Masters in Intelligence and International Security at King’s College London. Her thesis is on the use of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also holds a Masters with Honors in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews. She has previously worked for the Governor of Maryland, at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, and on the SAILS project.

 

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South Korean Cybersecurity: Three Questions

By Brett Young, Research Assistant, American University, DC
Center for Technology and National Security Policy

 

The mid-April paralysis of the National Agricultural Cooperatives Federation (Nonghyup), South Korea’s fourth-largest retail bank, seemed to be another routine cyber incident in the same vein as recent, high-profile intrusions carried out against Sony (where attacks resulted in the breach of 100 million customers’ personal information) and Hyundai Capital (where hackers demanded a ransom for not releasing stolen information.) Preliminary investigations, however, showed that this was not the work of ordinary hackers. In early May, the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office announced that the culprit was North Korea.

A network breach of the financial systems that underpin a vibrant modern economy, particularly one conducted not by a group of profit-seeking hacker-criminals, but by a sovereign nation-state with hostile intentions, raises a number of questions.

How should this alleged incident impact diplomatic relations with North Korea? After a bloody 2010, this year has seen a North Korean “charm offensive” with an emphasis on improving relations between the two Koreas. The North may be seeking food aid to stave off famine conditions, or may want a more stable situation for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birthday in 2012. At the negotiating table, President Lee Myung-bak’s default position has been to seek apologies for the deaths of 50 citizens at the hands of the North in 2010. Yet any discussion of the Cheonan corvette sinking or the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island is met with vigorous denials and can lead to immediate termination of any talks by the North.

Nonghyup’s security breach was considerably more than a nuisance; since April 12, the bank has spent over $400 million on measures to prevent the loss of customer confidence. When the South sits down at the table with the North, should Nonghyup be on the agenda? Or is silence (or covert retaliation) best?

The North has shown the ability to change their diplomatic posture overnight; their “charm offensive” posture may not last. When dealing with a regime that specializes in provocation, South Korea needs to define what manner of cyber incidents will be permitted to derail ongoing negotiations.

At the national level, how should South Korea pursue cybersecurity down the road? The security team at Nonghyup ignored financial sector regulations regarding strength of passwords, and internally permitted use of passwords that were deemed too weak to be used by their own customers.

Previous cyber intrusions in the ROK were enabled by the malware spread through popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing websites. In the past, South Korea has tried to combat cyber intrusions by increasing public awareness through mass and social media. But the economic motivation to use P2P websites—and get goods for free—will remain, despite government campaigns. South Korea can create more vigorous laws regarding network protection, but must do so in a fashion that will not create a counterproductive environment where reluctance to cooperate is the preferred corporate response to a network breach.

Internationally, the Nonghyup case will never end up before the United Nations. Last year’s sinking of the Cheonan resulted in a UN Presidential Statement condemning the attack. But in cyberspace, attribution—being able to directly attribute an intrusion to a source—remains the thorniest in a thicket of issues. North Korea’s involvement has been alleged, not proven—as with two other previous cyber incidents in the South. Some experts and media outlets disagreed, noting that technical evidence cited by the National Police Agency can be manipulated by competent hackers. As a state with one of the highest broadband connectivity rates in the world, South Korea is better off continuing to bolster its defenses: it has both a Cyber Warfare Command and Cyber Terror Response Center, and roughly doubled funding for the former in April. 

Finally, there is the broader question of the gradual increase in cyber intrusions against states, and what states are to do about them. Recent years have seen increasingly brazen network intrusions, threatening state secrets, which costs time and money. Intelligence agencies, military planners, and policymakers are grappling with the question of how exactly to respond to certain types of intrusions—and what, if any, level of a cyber incident would require the answer of a real-world, kinetic response.

An event which broke as this went to press will certainly have the attention of Seoul. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Defense is soon to release its cybersecurity strategy, possibly containing precedent-setting answers to the question posed above.

All three questions bear close scrutiny not only by South Korean policymakers, but by those interested in shaping policy for effective cybersecurity around the world.

Brett Young is a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service, where he focuses on security studies in East Asia. He is currently researching aspects of cybersecurity for NDU’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy. He previously interned at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, DC.

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Can a Cyber Warfare Strategy be Defined?

By Eric Crownover, Center for Technology and National Security Policy

Binary Code

Cyber Warfare

Throughout history, those who have studied war have sought to understand the nature of warfare. Strategists have frequently written on the development of military strategy whether it focuses on the principles of warfare or on the influence technological advances (i.e. sea power, air power, and nuclear power) have had on the development of military strategy. The nature of warfare is constantly being revisited and cyber warfare is of great importance in the discussion of future warfare.

Military strategists must develop an understanding of how cyber capabilities can be used in military strategy. The United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) will need to attempt to address this problem. After achieving Initial Operating Capability in May of 2010, USCYBERCOM is expected to achieve full operational capability this October.

USCYBERCOM’s focus is to centralize cyberspace operations, strengthen Department of Defense cyber capabilities, and bolster DOD’s cyber expertise utilizing components from all branches of the military. Securing cyberspace is a main objective of the United States. In order to achieve this objective, USCYBERCOM along with other components must be proactive and develop a comprehensive understanding of cyber warfare.

According to the United States National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the United States is “now fully dependent on cyberspace.” Thus, the unimpeded successful functioning of cyberspace is crucial for everyday activities.  The threat has been identified but what now? Can the lessons of history help inform the development of a cyber strategy?

Military strategists have suggested that deterrence can be utilized in cyber warfare. Deterrence seeks to prevent a specific action from happening. For deterrence to work, the policymaker must understand what action will deter a specific actor. Even though a specific action has not occurred does it imply that deterrence worked? In order to apply deterrence to cyber warfare, who are the actors facilitating these incursions? What drives these actors? What actions will deter these actors? Deterrence has had historical value, but how or can the theory adapt to the cyber domain?

What is the difference between cyber warfare and cyber attacks? Clausewitz stated that war is an expression of politics by other means. Thus, war is an action between states. However, inherent to the attribution problem, is a cyber attack an attack perpetrated by an individual or is it cyber war perpetrated by a state? Cyber attacks occur over cyber networks; cyber attacks are not geographically bound; the networks are geographically bound but cyber attacks are a global capability. Thus, in order to create a strategy one must reliably discern the difference between a cyber attack and cyber war.

If cyber attacks and cyber war are discernible, can lessons learned from Thucydides and Sun-Tzu to present day nuclear strategists be applicable to cyber warfare? Or does a 21st century threat require unique 21st century thought?

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FOREBODING FAREWELL: DOD LEADERSHIP IN FLUX

by Kimberley Berlin & Jordyn Dowd

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announcement of retirement comes at a time when the DOD is facing increasing pressure in Afghanistan, looming budget cuts and discussions about its proper role in the future.

Appointed as SECDEF by President George W. Bush in 2006, the former Director of Central Intelligence, has proven himself to be a force in the political landscape. Asked by President Obama to stay on – an unusual request in the partisan politics of Washington – Gates’ performance has rewarded the President’s faith in him. Widely respected for providing exceptional leadership to a Department heavily stressed by multiple conflicts and major procurement problems, Gates has worked to prepare the Department for a future of continued conflicts, declining budgets and rising threats. While his retirement is no surprise, he will be a very tough act to follow.

Will his impending retirement adversely impact the Department and this administration?

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