The U.S. military’s digital team tasked with targeting ISIS is now focused on providing agencies intelligence that will help identify specific individuals and that will limit the group’s financing.
“About 90 percent of what we do is intelligence,” Brig. Gen. Len Anderson, deputy commander of Joint Task Force-Ares, said Sept. 16.
Joint Task Force-Ares is the U.S. Cyber Command digital offensive against ISIS that worked hand-in-hand with the kinetic operations as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the global coalition tasked with ridding the group from Iraq and Syria.
Originally run by Army Cyber Command, Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command was tasked with the mission in the fall of 2018.
Anderson explained that the task force has to be everywhere ISIS is and it needs to provide intelligence and battlefield options to military commanders as well as senior leaders who are interested in thwarting the group’s global presence.
“Now, as that physical caliphate has gone away, we’re focused on the digital caliphate, which is worldwide … that’s where JTF-Ares is going to be," Anderson said.
Anderson said Ares can provide unique intelligence. First, the team can feed information to national agencies. Equating his cyber operators to pilots, he said on the way to a mission, the cyber operators are observing what ISIS is doing online. This could include suspicious terrorist financing that needs to be examined further.
“We push all this intelligence right back into the overall national intelligence data. That could be used by Department of State, Department of Treasury, anybody else to get a Treasury designation – that’s a win for JTF-Ares,” Anderson said. “I might not have had to hit an enter key and destroy anybody’s server … but if I can get a terrorist designation on somebody and make it harder for them to move their money across the internet, I won in that particular realm. We’re not letting them operate unfettered out there.”
Second, Ares can potentially provide the necessarily intelligence to forces around the world where troops are not on the ground.
For example, in Afghanistan, Ares could help make up for a lack of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance forces or a lack of kinetic forces.
“Our only option to go in and get after these terrorists is going to be through non-kinetic means or through Joint Task Force-Ares,” he said.
In regards to other terrorist organizations, Anderson said while they are “studying” what al-Qaeda is doing, Ares has to prioritize threats given its resources.
“Right now, as far as threats to the West or external operations, it’s going to be primarily ISIS focused. They’re the ones that are most dangerous to us now,” he said. “Due to our broad partnership across the counterterrorism industry and not only that but with the National Counterterrorism Center we are aware and will be prepared to act with al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda operatives.”
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.