WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense needs to do more to align cyberspace and emerging operations within the larger information environment, according to a former top cyber official.
“If cyber as a domain is in its adolescence, then information is surely in its infancy,” Thomas Wingfield, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy in the Trump administration, said March 4 during U.S. Cyber Command’s legal conference.
When he took over in November 2019, he said his third policy priority for the job was to help integrate cyber and information as doctrines and domains, however, this is “so far from resolution.”
Wingfield noted that adversaries see information and cyber as a coherent whole and are moving forward with speed and confidence.
While information warfare has been around for decades, the scale and scope has been amplified by the global nature of cyberspace, affording adversaries not only a global reach, but a much more tailored approach.
Congress saw gaps and charged DoD to designate a person — the principal information operations adviser — to counsel the defense secretary on information operations.
Late last year, the Trump administration named the undersecretary of defense for policy as the principal information operations adviser.
However, Wingfield said sometimes these cross-functional teams, while helpful to Congress, are limited and create confusion inside and outside the Pentagon regarding who is in charge. One suggestion he offered was to name two deputy assistant secretaries of defense — one for cyber policy and one for information operations — who report to the same assistant secretary. That assistant secretary of defense could be the principal adviser on both topics, which would preserve their separate spheres of expertise at the working level, while ensuring integration before presenting information to the secretary of defense, Wingfield said.
“But we should be thinking in terms of defining the problem we want to solve, then mapping out concrete next steps,” he added.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pledged during his confirmation to reevaluate the department’s posture within the information sphere and how it conducts operations.
Wingfield also touched upon the Trump administration’s hasty effort to sever the dual hat leadership structure of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command.
The Trump administration, in its waning days, put forth a plan to separate the two, which lawmakers opposed without their consultation.
Noting that dual hat has resulted in successful operational outcomes, Wingfield said that rushed policy initiates can be fraught.
“Even successful rush jobs tend to lack the broad political buy-in and political legitimacy that more deliberate efforts have produced and are much more likely to be reversed by a subsequent administration or by subsequent congressional action,” he said. “None of this is an argument for abandoning bold policy initiatives, just the opposite. Successful initiatives will be driven skillfully through the existing system.”
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.