Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Cyberattacks, Asia Pivot, and the U.S. Military and Human Rights

by Micah Zenko
March 7, 2014

Pro-Russian men hold Russian flags in front of armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Ratner/Courtesy Reuters) Pro-Russian men hold Russian flags in front of armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Ratner/Courtesy Reuters)

Zachary Fryer-Biggs, “DoD Official: Asia Pivot ‘Can’t Happen’ Due to Budget Processes,” Defense News, March 4, 2014.

“Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen,” Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, told Aviation Week’s Defense Technologies and Requirements conference in Arlington, Va…

After this article was posted online, McFarland clarified her statement through a DoD spokeswoman that the pivot will still continue. “This a.m. when I spoke at a conference, I was asked a question about the budget, that will be officially released today, and how it relates to our pivot to Asia. I was reiterating what [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel said last week: That the shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific requires us to ‘adapt, innovate, and make difficult (budgetary and acquisition) decisions to ensure that our military remains ready and capable.’ That’s exactly what we’ve done in this budget. The rebalance to Asia can and will continue.”


Siobhan Gorman, “Panel Probes Split Over Ukraine by U.S. Spy Agencies,” Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2014.

On Friday evening, Mr. Rogers issued a statement from his office, saying it appeared the Russian military “now controls the Crimean peninsula.” The next day, Obama administration officials were voicing the same general conclusion. Mr. Rogers said he wouldn’t characterize the issue as an intelligence failure but said some analysts “came to the wrong conclusion.”


Dion Nissenbaum and Julian E. Barnes, “Standoff With Russia Fuels U.S. Defense Spending,” Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2014.

Pentagon officials scoffed at the idea that their spending plan represents a retreat from the world. “There is no retreat from the world,” one defense official said. “The sun rises and sets on literally hundreds of countries where American troops are operating or are based.”

(3PA: There are 195 countries in the world.)


U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2015 and the Future Years Defense Program,” Senate Armed Services Committee, February 27, 2014.

SEN. KING: When is a cyberattack an act of war? Any ideas?

GEN. ALEXANDER: I think that’s a political decision, a policy-level decision. And I think it comes down to what is the impact of such an attack. In cyberspace, some of the attacks will be not observable and, therefore, not a big attack. It would almost be like a show of force. Think of it as a blockade. So in cyber, you’re going to have the whole spectrum that we have in the physical space now in cyberspace. And I think we’re going to have to learn. But I would submit that, if it destroys government or other networks to a point that it impacts our ability to operate, you’ve crossed that line.

Now, that’s a policy decision, not mine. What we would do is recommend where those lines are. I think those things that are less than that, that are blocking communications or doing something, think of that as the old jamming, electronic warfare, now in cyber. Probably less than. But it could get to an act where you want that to stop because of the impact it’s having on your commerce.

So those are issues thatwhat we’ll call the norms in cyberspace need to be talked through on the international level. I think that’s one of the things that we’ve pushed. I think the administration is pushing those norms. I think it has to go a lot further. People need to understand it. And it gets back to some of the earlier discussions about do we understand exactly what we’re talking about here by norms in cyberspace.

(3PA: It is difficult to understand, after reading the response to Sen. King’s question, when, precisely, a cyberattack would be an act of war.)


The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” House Armed Services Committee, February 27, 2014.

ADM. MCRAVEN: We need to be prepared to conduct direct action when those threats have a clear and present danger to the United States or to our interests

(3PA: Note that this is yet another new description for when the U.S. military can conduct direct action—the doctrinal term for operations including targeted killings. As Obama said last May: “We act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat.”)


The Posture of the U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command,” House Armed Services Committee, February 26, 2014.

GEN. JOHN KELLY: In 2011, we got 172 metric tons of cocaine before it ever reached shore in Honduras or Latin America. Last year, 2012, because of a lack of assets, 152 tons. That’s 20 tons that get by us20 more tons. This year that just finished, 132 tons. It’s all about ships, ISR and not many ships.

Typically today we have on station four ships, one of which is a British oiler. The key point, that can fly a helicopter. That British oiler in six months will get 20 to 30 tons of cocaine that’s flowing into the United States. But it’s almost a scientific equation: less ships, less cocaine off the market. And by the way, when I get it, I get it inand it’s an interagency process, DEA, DOJI mean, it’s just not DOD doing this. In fact, we’re to a large degree in support of the effort.

But at the end of the day, we get all of this tonnage. We spend 1.5 percent of the counternarcotics budget; we get, again this year—or last year we got 132 metric tons, zero violence, we get the two to five tons at a time. Once it’s ashore and on its way up through Mexico, it’s virtually in the United States. And no matter how hard our very, very heroic Border Patrol and law enforcement people in the United States work, best case, they’ll get 30 tons in the course of a year, with unbelievable violence, as you well know, done against our country, our citizens. At the end of the day, at the end of the year, year after year, 40,000 Americans die from these drugs.

Every year it costs America $26 billion a year to go after these drugs from a law enforcement point of view, costs America $200 billion in primarily health care costs. For a fraction of that, in fact for 1.6 percent of that, I can get the vast majority of drugscocaine, to use an exampleflowing up from Latin America…

GEN. KELLY: I would tell you, a lot of people talk about human rights in the world. The U.S. military does human rights. We will not work with someone who violates human rights in Latin America, and I think that goes around the world

GEN. KELLY: And the profits that come out, just the drug profits that come out of the United States, something to the tune of $85 billion a year, of which only 1 billion (dollars) is required to keep the drug flow going; the rest of it is just profit. Their biggest problem, franklyand our interagency, the Department of Treasury, FBI, Department of Justice is getting after thistheir biggest problem is taking $85 billion worth of U.S. currency and laundering it.


Graham Warwick, “Rapidly Evolving Threat Drives Pace of EW Development,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, February 17, 2014.

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are emerging as potential players on the electronic battlefield. “SWaP [size, weight and power] is the first determinant of what goes on a UAS,” says Palombo. “We have done demos with the Marine Corps and General Atomics on a Reaper. With a small multi-spectral payload on a UAS you can get closer to the threat. The standoff requirement is less, so lower power is needed.”

The SWaP constraint is fundamental, says Antkowiak. “In highly constrained environments like UAS, persistence is key. The more power you need for the payload, the less time you have on the battlefield,” he says. “The mission can be done on anything if you start with small building blocks. We have done it on UAS as small as the Bat,” Northrop’s medium-altitude tactical unmanned aircraft, Palombo says.

“As experience with UAS grows, the mission will morph and networks will become much more important. Then UAS can swarm and defeat anything,” says Freidman, adding they will not always be small. The Navy’s planned Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) system will explore how EW interfaces with an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform to provide a broader view of the battlespace, he says.

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