WASHINGTON — As the Pentagon steps up cyber operations against the Islamic State group, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is heading to Silicon Valley this week to meet with leaders from the technology industry.
Although not directly related, the timing of Carter’s trip – shortly after the Pentagon appears to have stepped up cyber operations against the group commonly known as ISIS or ISIL – is symbolic in some ways, as Carter has made it clear he believes the commercial tech community in the US is vital for the Pentagon’s future.
“We don't have the luxury of choosing which threat we may face next, but we do have the ability to set the course for how best to prepare for the future. A common theme across our budget is that we, in the Pentagon, have to innovate and think outside our five-sided box,” Carter said at a press briefing Monday.
“And that's why I'm continuing my effort to rebuild bridges between the Department of Defense and some of our nation's most innovative industries, enhancing ties that will strengthen this department and our nation's security.”
The trip, which includes an appearance at the annual RSA security conference in San Francisco, will involve “discussing new technologies, cyber security initiatives and a lot more with some of the top minds in the tech world,” Carter said.
Defense News will be traveling with Carter during his West Coast swing.
Both Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford declined to comment specifically on what type of cyber operations are ongoing, but the Secretary acknowledged they go beyond traditional electronic warfare measures. Carter did indicate that the main target are lines of communication for the militant group.
“I think we can describe some of the effects there, but because the methods we're using are new, some of them will be surprising and some of them are applicable to other challenges that I described, other than ISIL, that we have around the world,” Carter noted.
However, Dunford said, the operations being conducted digitally are not a template for other operations around the world, given the diverse factors that would go into any cyber theater.
“You can't replicate what we're doing today against ISIL in Iraq and Syria elsewhere in the world,” he said. “What you can do is leverage the tools that have been developed for this particular operation, for other operations down the road.”
The Chairman also compared the cyber operation strategy to the physical strategy being used against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
“Isolating Raqqa, isolating Mosul, keeping the lines of communications between the two being separate, dividing Iraq and Syria up, making life difficult for ISIL,” Dunford said. “I think conceptually, that's exactly the same thing we're trying to do in the cyber world. In other words, we're trying to both physically and virtually isolate ISIL, limit their ability to conduct command and control, limit their ability to communicate with each other, limit their ability to conduct operations locally and tactically.”