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U.S. Military Given Secret “Execute Order” on Cyber Operations

Last June, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a classified “execute order” to authorize and initiate a military operation.

The nature, scope and duration of the military operation could not immediately be determined — even the title of the order is classified — but it evidently pertains to the conduct of military cyberspace activities.

The existence of the previously undisclosed execute order was revealed last week in a new Air Force Instruction.

“Classified processes governing C2 [command and control] of AF [Air Force] offensive and defensive cyberspace operations conducted by AF Cyber Mission Forces are addressed in a classified CJCS [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] Execute Order (title classified) issued on 21 Jun 13,” said Air Force Instruction 10-1701, entitled “Command and Control (C2) for Cyberspace Operations,” dated 5 March 2014.

An execute order goes beyond planning or preparation for conflict, and represents the commencement of a military operation.

The formal definition of an execute order (or EXORD) is “an order issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, to implement a decision by the President to initiate military operations,” according to the official Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (JP 1-02).

“Execution begins when the President decides to use a military option to resolve a crisis,” according to Joint Publication 5-0 on Joint Operation Planning. “Only the President or SecDef can authorize the CJCS to issue an execute order (EXORD).

“Execution continues until the operation is terminated or the mission is accomplished.”

“The CJCS-published EXORD defines the unnamed day on which operations commence or are scheduled to commence (D-day) and the specific time an operation begins (H-hour) and directs execution of the OPORD [operation order].”

“The CJCS’s EXORD is a record communication that authorizes execution of the COA [course of action] approved by the President or SecDef and detailed in the supported commander’s OPORD,” explained JP 5-0.

In response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the nominee for Commander, US Cyber Command (and Director, NSA), said that “Geographic combatant commanders already have authority to direct and execute certain Defensive Cyberspace Operations (DCO) within their own networks.”

Judging from the new Air Force Instruction, however, the June 2013 execute order extends to offensive cyberspace operations as well.

All or most execute orders naturally start out as classified documents. But sooner or later, they are declassified.

A March 2011 execute order for Libya Contingency Operations can be seen here.

A January 1991 execute order for Operation Desert Storm, incongruously signed “Warm Regards, Colin Powell,” is here.

A rare reference to another currently classified execute order appeared in a paper published in Joint Force Quarterly (issue 69, April 2013, p. 53): “In compliance with the guidelines outlined in the Global Response Force Execute Order, JCSE [Joint Communications Support Element] maintains an alert-postured force that can deploy and have its communications packages fully operational within hours of notification for an emerging requirement.” That execute order dates from September 2012, and is classified Secret.

The Senate Armed Services Committee asked Adm. Rogers whether there was a need for greater transparency concerning “the nature of cyber warfare, and the balance between offensive and defensive capabilities.”

Adm. Rogers replied: “I believe the recent disclosures of a large portion of our intelligence and military operational history may provide us with [an] opportunity to engage both the American public and our international partners in discussion of the balance of offense and defense, the nature of cyber warfare, norms of accepted and unacceptable behavior in cyberspace, and so forth.”

“As cyberspace matures as a warfighting domain, I believe our classification policies will also evolve to support growing domestic and international partnerships and relationships,” Adm. Rogers wrote.

Army Issues Guidance on Cyberspace Operations

For the first time the U.S. Army has produced official doctrine on military activities in cyberspace, including offensive, defensive and network operations.

A new Army field manual “provides overarching doctrinal guidance and direction for conducting cyber electromagnetic activities (CEMA)…. It provides enough guidance for commanders and their staffs to develop innovative approaches to seize, retain, and exploit advantages throughout an operational environment.”

It is “the first doctrinal field manual of its kind.” See FM 3-38, Cyber Electromagnetic Activities, February 2014.

The manual introduces the fundamentals of cyber operations, or “cyber electromagnetic activities” (CEMA), defining terms and identifying important operational factors and constraints.

“Today’s Army must operate in cyberspace and leverage an electromagnetic spectrum that is increasingly competitive, congested, and contested.”

However, “execution of CEMA can involve significant legal and policy considerations.” Also, “possibilities of unintended or cascading effects exist and may be difficult to predict.”

Several years ago, any official discussion of offensive cyber operations was considered classified information. That is no longer the case, and the new Army manual — which itself is unclassified — treats the subject as a normal part of military conflict.

“Army forces conduct OCO [offensive cyberspace operations] across the range of military operations by targeting enemy and hostile adversary activity and related capabilities in and through cyberspace,” the Field Manual says.

Cyberspace attacks in support of offensive operations “may be directed at information resident in, or in transit between, computers (including mobile phones and personal digital assistants) and computer networks used by an enemy or adversary.”

“Cyberspace attacks may employ capabilities such as tailored computer code in and through various network nodes such as servers, bridges, firewalls, sensors, protocols, operating systems, and hardware associated with computers or processors. Tailored computer code is only one example of a cyberspace capability… designed to create an effect in or through cyberspace.”

“Cyberspace attacks may employ manipulation which includes deception, decoying, conditioning, and spoofing to control or change information, information systems, and networks.”

The Army manual also presents doctrine on defensive cyberspace operations and on information network operations. “[Defensive] countermeasures in cyberspace should not destroy or significantly impede the operations or functionality of the network they are being employed against, nor should they intentionally cause injury or the loss of life.”

The manual devotes some attention to the legal framework governing cyber operations, which “depends on the nature of the activities conducted.”  Under all circumstances, the manual says, “Army forces conducting CO [cyberspace operations] will comply with the law of war.”

Ordinarily, the manual states, the U.S. Army should not be conducting offensive cyber operations against U.S. targets. “Unless approved by appropriate authorities, Army assets cannot be used to perform attack or exploit operations on U.S. entities.”

“Commanders must ensure that the legal, constitutional, and privacy rights of U.S. citizens are protected throughout the planning and execution of [cyber operations].”

    *    *    *

“Legal Reviews of Cyber Weapons” is one of the topics addressed in the latest issue of the Journal of National Security Law and Policy.

Brendan Koerner reported on “How America’s Soldiers Fight for the Spectrum on the Battlefield” in Wired Threat Level, February 18.

DoD Doctrine on Foreign Humanitarian Assistance

The diverse factors that shape the execution of disaster relief and other foreign humanitarian assistance missions by the US military are described in a newly updated Department of Defense publication on the subject.

See Foreign Humanitarian Assistance, Joint Publication 3-29, January 3, 2014.

“Although US military forces are organized, trained, and equipped to conduct military operations that defend and protect US national interests, their inherent unique capabilities may be used to conduct FHA [Foreign Humanitarian Assistance] activities,” the publication said.

FHA “consists of Department of Defense activities conducted outside the US and its territories to directly relieve or reduce human suffering, disease, hunger, or privation.”

The publication said that DoD FHA operations necessarily include “intelligence collection concerning political, military, paramilitary, ethnic, religious, economic, medical, environmental, geospatial, and criminal indicators…. Intelligence operations during FHA operations are generally conducted in the same manner as in any other military operation.”

At the same time, however, “Information sharing is critical to the efficient pursuit of a common humanitarian purpose… The sharing of information is particularly critical because no single responding entity– whether it is an NGO [nongovernmental organization], IGO [intergovernmental organization], assisting country government or host government– can be the source of all of the required data and information.”

“Tensions between military needs for classification (secrecy) of data, versus the civilian need for transparency… often complicate effective civil-military coordination,” the DoD publication noted.

DoD Reports to Congress to be Posted Online

In a slight but welcome incremental reform, reports to Congress from the Department of Defense are to be posted online, according to a provision in the pending FY 2014 defense authorization act.

Up to now, such reports were to be made available to the public “upon request” (10 USC 122a). But under section 181 of the FY 2014 defense authorization bill, as agreed to by House and Senate conferees, the reports would have to be posted on a “publicly accessible Internet website” whether they were requested or not (h/t: FCNL).

The online publication requirement would not apply to DoD reports that contained classified or proprietary information, or that are otherwise exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

In a January 21, 2009 memorandum to agency heads, the newly inaugurated President Obama directed that “agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.” But agencies implemented this directive unevenly and incompletely.

Counterinsurgency Should Address “Root Causes”

The latest edition of U.S. joint military doctrine on counterinsurgency states that while working to defeat and contain insurgency, efforts should also be made to “address its root causes.”

Newly added doctrinal language “articulates that US counterinsurgency efforts should provide incentives to the host-nation government to undertake reforms that address the root causes of the insurgency.”

The latest revision also emphasizes the importance of gaining and retaining “US public support” for counterinsurgency programs.

“US public opinion should be considered as part of the OE [operational environment], just as the indigenous population opinion is essential to the COIN [counterinsurgency] effort, because USG COIN efforts must prove worthwhile to the US public,” the newly added language states. See Joint Publication 3-24, Counterinsurgency, November 22, 2013.

The previous edition from 2009 may be found here. (Joint Publication 3-24 on Counterinsurgency is not to be confused with the 2006 Army Field Manual 3-24 associated with David Petraeus that bears the same title.)

To its harshest critics, counterinsurgency doctrine, though “marketed as a sophisticated and humane alternative to conventional combat,” is a failure and a farce.

“What purports to be a thinking man’s approach to war actually gives policy makers license to stop thinking,” wrote Andrew J. Bacevich in a scorching piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 9, 2013.  “COIN offers technique devoid of larger purpose” and “when put to the test, counterinsurgency doesn’t work all that well,” he wrote.

Religious Dimensions of the Targeting Process

U.S. military doctrine extends to religious aspects of combat operations and the role of chaplains as spiritual advisers. A new update to that doctrine “clarifies the chaplain’s advisement role in the targeting process to ensure the focus is on the ethical, moral, and religious dimensions.”

As noncombatants and “ministers of religion,” chaplains have protected status under the laws of war.

Accordingly, “chaplains must not engage directly or indirectly in combatant duties; will not conduct activities that compromise their noncombatant status; must not function as intelligence collectors or propose combat target selection; and will not advise on including or excluding specific structures on the no-strike list or target list. Advisement will focus on the ethical, moral, and religious dimensions of the targeting process.”

See Religious Affairs in Joint Operations, Joint Publication 1-05, Joint Chiefs of Staff, November 20, 2013.

The Defense Warning Network

The structure and functions of the Defense Warning Network were outlined in a new directive issued yesterday by the Department of Defense.

The mission of the Defense Warning Network is to provide notice “of potential threats posed by adversaries, political and economic instability, failed or failing states, and any other emerging challenges that could affect the United States or its interests worldwide.”  See The Defense Warning Network, DoD Directive 3115.16, December 5, 2013.

Pentagon Drone Programs Taper Off (and New Military Doctrine)

The Department of Defense budget for research and procurement of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, is on a distinctly downward slope.

The FY 2014 budget request included $2.3 billion for research, development, and procurement of unmanned aerial systems, a decrease of $1.1 billion from the request for the fiscal year 2013.

“Annual procurement of UAS has gone from 1,211 in fiscal 2012 to 288 last year to just 54 in the proposed FY14 budget,” according to a recently published congressional hearing volume.

See “Post Iraq and Afghanistan: Current and Future Roles for UAS and the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request,” hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, April 23, 2013.

Among the questions for the record published in the new hearing volume, DoD officials were asked: “Who is responsible for developing privacy protections for military UAV operations inside the United States?”

Some other noteworthy new doctrinal and congressional defense-related publications include the following.

Joint Intelligence, Joint Publication 2-0, Joint Chiefs of Staff, October 22, 2013

Civil-Military Engagement, ATP 3-57.80, US Army, October 2013

Espionage Threats at Federal Laboratories: Balancing Scientific Cooperation While Protecting Critical Information, hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, May 16, 2013

Budget Request for National Security Space Activities, House Armed Services Committee, April 25, 2013

Text of the NATO Agreement for the Sharing of Atomic Energy Information (ATOMAL), As Amended, September 19, 2013

Nuclear Weapons Scientists Are Sad

Scientists in the nuclear weapons program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are feeling blue, according to a recent internal report.

“We heard that there is a sense of increased stress and reduced morale among LLNL technical employees in the weapons program, stemming from a (perceived, at least) combination of reduced resources and increased work requirements,” the report said.

Of course, many people are sad, for many reasons. The Shekhinah is in exile. But low morale among weapons scientists can have negative programmatic and national security consequences.

Therefore, “We recommend attention to the potential danger that activities that are important for long-term stockpile stewardship may be dropped in favor of seemingly urgent near-term requirements,” the report said. See “Predictive Science Panel: Unclassified Report,” LLNL Meeting, August 20-22, 2013.

A new study of the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal proposes “a framework for evaluating future reductions or modifications of the U.S. nuclear force.”  The study, performed for the Department of Energy, warns against irreversible changes in the arsenal (which it calls “roach motels of reduction”), reversible but undesirable changes (“box canyons in the Valley of Disarmament”), and other types of unfavorable actions (“wrong turns on the road to the future”). See “Reductions Without Regret” by John A. Swegle and Douglas J. Tincher, Savannah River National Laboratory, September 2013. The report does not necessarily represent the views of DoE or the US Government (or FAS).

A new report from the CATO Institute calls for the elimination of two legs of the nuclear triad (missiles and bombers) in favor of an entirely submarine-based nuclear force.  See “The End of Overkill?” by Benjamin Friedman, Christopher Preble, and Matt Fay, September 24, 2013.

Meanwhile, Hans Kristensen of FAS discovers a surprising fact: “The latest data from the New START Treaty shows that Russia has reduced its deployed strategic nuclear forces while the United States has increased its force over the past six months.” This is an anomalous result of the counting process, not a new arms buildup, but it is noteworthy nonetheless. See “New START Data Shows Russia Reducing, US Increasing Nuclear Forces,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, October 2.

William Arkin’s “American Coup”

In its endless pursuit of national security, the United States has compromised core Constitutional values including civilian control of the military and states’ rights, writes William M. Arkin in his new book “American Coup” (Little, Brown, 2013).

Since 9/11, a growing fraction of the population been mobilized and credentialed in support of homeland security — whether as law enforcement, first responders, or those who simply “see something and say something.”

“What is military and what is civilian is increasingly obscured,” Arkin writes. “The state and local police forces are militarized and networked into one; states have their own intelligence establishments; the big cities make their own foreign policies.”

What concerns Arkin, and what his book helps to illuminate, is what he describes as a parallel apparatus of executive authority that has developed outside of Constitutional norms (and beyond public awareness) to respond to national emergencies– catastrophic acts of terrorism, nuclear disasters, threats to presidential survival, or other extraordinary events.

Some of this is familiar ground, and has been previously described under the rubric of Continuity of Government, or Continuity of Operations, dating back to the Eisenhower Administration. But it has expanded and been formalized, Arkin says, in a series of classified Presidential Emergency Action Documents (PEADs) that assert all but unchecked executive power.  And while those administrative instruments are technically dormant most of the time, they exercise a baleful influence on the normal conduct of political life, he argues.

Despite its garish and off-putting title (and subtitle: “How a Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution”), “American Coup” is not a manifesto, nor a call to action.

What makes the book interesting and valuable, rather, is its close reading of official documents in search of clues to undisclosed power structures. Arkin is a careful student and a subtle analyst of military doctrine, a neglected genre rich with insights waiting to be discovered.  For some readers, the 100 pages of endnotes will be the most rewarding part of the book.

Arkin observes, for example, that an official U.S. Army history states that martial law has only been declared once in United States history. But an Army field manual reports that martial law has been imposed four times. The Justice Department said there had been two such cases.  All of these are in error, he concludes, and reflect inconsistent definitions of the term. Meanwhile, he reports that the Army issued a new official definition of martial law in 2010 “for the first time in years.”

Arkin is the co-author (with Dana Priest) of “Top Secret America,” and many other works of research into national security policy.

“American Coup” was written prior to the revelations by Edward Snowden of unsuspected bulk collection of American telephone records by the National Security Agency, and such practices are not specifically discussed in the book. But Arkin would likely argue that the Snowden revelations are a special case of a more general phenomenon, in which national security is invoked to justify secret actions that exceed the bounds of public consent.

Arkin does not propose any kind of policy response to the political problems he perceives.  In fact, beyond some marginal steps that might be taken, he says that “bigger changes are blocked” by the powers that be.  Those who believe otherwise will need to look elsewhere.