US Military Should Hire Cyber Mercenaries, Cadet Says

Caption: Tech. Sgt. Michael Barnhart, a cyber-systems operations technician assigned to the 232nd Combat Communication Support Squadron, Alabama Air National Guard, reroutes network assets in support of Sentry Savannah 2015. (Pentagon photo by Tracy J. Smith)Caption: Tech. Sgt. Michael Barnhart, a cyber-systems operations technician assigned to the 232nd Combat Communication Support Squadron, Alabama Air National Guard, reroutes network assets in support of Sentry Savannah 2015. (Pentagon photo by Tracy J. Smith)

Scott Seidenberger, an undergraduate at Cornell University and an Air Force ROTC cadet, in a recent TEDx talk raised some provocative ideas for the U.S. military’s cyberwarrior force.

For example, the college junior — who’s studying the impact that technology has had on the military’s culture, organization and people — asked whether it’s worth divorcing the mission of cybersecurity entirely from the armed forces and giving it to private-sector hackers or cyber mercenaries of sorts.

“Let’s embrace for a second the idea that maybe the cyber mission isn’t one for the military at all,” he said. “Maybe the kinetic DNA of the military isn’t suited for the cyber domain. Maybe what we need is to rely more on private citizens, companies and contractors in a civilian-lead, non-uniform enterprise.”

As the military increasingly turns to drones and automation, millennials are increasingly leaving government, Seidenberger said.

For example, just a quarter of the federal cybersecurity workforce is under the age of 30 and more than half are over the age of 50, he said. What’s more, new officers and enlisted personnel in military cyber schools are already getting trained by private-sector instructors, he said.

“Our nation’s admirals and generations are extremely brilliant people and they’re some of the finest leaders that our nation has been able to produce,” he said. “But they haven’t benefit from growing up in a digital age.”

To underscore the point, Seidenberger included in his presentation a quote from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who has said of the cybersecurity challenge, “We have a lot of people in this discussion who don’t really know what they’re talking about. I know, because they are all like me.”

Given that the Pentagon plans to spend $5.5 billion in the current fiscal year on cybersecurity operations and created an entire command, U.S. Cyber Command, devoted to the mission, Seidenberger’s ideas are worth considering.

Check out his full talk below:

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Vpanoptes

    “We have a lot of people in this discussion who don’t really know what they’re talking about. I know, because they are all like me.”

    .Well,what more needs to be said…?

  • Beef Stick

    They need a new branch of military called “cybergon”

  • Dfens

    Sounds like another huge opportunity for a defense contractor to make lots of money at the US taxpayer’s expense. Gee, who could have possibly seen that one coming?

    • blight_asdfljk

      We charge the government for every attack stopped. Thus, we hired zombienets and threw them straight at our defenses, then billed the government for every attack stopped.

      Bwahahaha!

  • derf

    So… a college student, with no experience and not even a full education, now feels qualified to reorganize the entire DoD approach to computer security and network operations - and DT is willing write this article?

    Dang, it must have been a slow news day.

    • blight_

      What’s worse is that TED let him talk. I am sure any commentator on DefTech (with varying degrees of scruffiness) could have given a similar talk.

      • Bill

        TEDx is not TED.

        • blight_asdf

          Good point.
          http://www.ted.com/participate/organize-a-local-t…

          Now, a DefenseTech TEDx talk!

  • franklin

    I think it is a brilliant idea to hire cyber mercs. You don’t have to have an age limitation or the need to culturalize them to military standards. If they have interface and control capabilities then you can grade them for work levels and train the ones that have high promise.

    • blight_asdf

      They should be civilians. NSA does just fine attacking and breaking into computer systems…they don’t need uniforms.

      Please note that “mercenaries” are already hired. They are called “contractors”. They do things for the government, they are paid by the government, and they are not government employees.

      • Dfens

        The government hires civilians? Who knew?

        • blight_asdfljk

          It’s an insight worthy of a TED talk!

          • franklin

            How many high school kids around the world are cracking systems? Does it really look like the US is stopping them? Not! When you can go to a school and hand out laptops with maybe one semester of cyber warfare, you can then point somewhere and say have fun. We don’t have anywhere near enough people to stop them, and we really are at war as it is. The only way to keep our heads above water is to arm every kid with a laptop in America and do the same thing.

  • Warren W.

    While I would certainly agree that there are gaps in American cyber security that need to be addressed, I am hesitant to back the idea that “cyber mercs” are the answer. This sounds an awful lot like governments using privateers during the golden age of piracy. It might start out with good intentions, but I fear in the end you’re going to be dealing with what amounts to unrestricted civilian warfare, waged between nations over the internet.

    • Bria B. Mulholland

      Seidenberger’s observations aren’t that different from comments that Ashton Carter made recently, on the need for career paths for people who have desperately needed skills but are neither competent nor desirous of leading soldiers in battle. As it stands, you must lead in combat to rise, and the technically skilled cyber personnel we need may not be ready, willing, able to do that.

      • James B.

        The military already has Limited Duty Officers, Warrant Officers, and some specialist enlisted ranks (we used to have many more). It would hurt the heads of personnel managers, but we could easily find was to integrate technical specialists into the military using existing or historical structures.