US Army taps reservists with cyber skills to fight Daesh militants

FILE - This June 6, 2013, file photo, shows the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the US.Cyber Command is located. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Updated 15 April 2017
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US Army taps reservists with cyber skills to fight Daesh militants

WASHINGTON: A decade ago, he was a young Army soldier training Iraqi troops when he noticed their primitive filing system: handwritten notes threaded with different colors of yarn, stacked in piles. For organization’s sake, he built them a simple computer database.
Now an Army reservist, the major is taking a break from his civilian high-tech job to help America’s technological fight against Daesh extremists, part of a growing force of cyberexperts the Pentagon has assembled to defeat the group.
“The ability to participate in some way in a real mission, that is actually something that’s rare, that you can’t find in private sector,” said the 38-year-old Nebraska native who is working at US Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Maryland. “You’re part of a larger team putting your skills to use, not just optimizing clicks for a digital ad, but optimizing the ability to counter ISIS or contribute to the security of our nation.”
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter expressed frustration that the United States was losing the cyberwar against Daesh militants. He pushed the Cyber Command to be more aggressive. In response, the Pentagon launched an effort to incorporate cyber technology into its daily military fight, including new ways to disrupt the enemy’s communications, recruiting, fundraising and propaganda.
To speak with someone at the front lines of the cyber campaign, The Associated Press agreed to withhold the major’s name. The military says he could be threatened or targeted by the militants if he is identified publicly. The major and other officials wouldn’t provide precise details on the highly classified work he is doing.
But Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of US Army Cyber Command, said the major is bringing new expertise for identifying enemy networks, pinpointing system administrators or developers, and potentially monitoring how the Daesh’s online traffic moves.
He “has the ability to bring an analytic focus of what the threat is doing, coupled with a really deep understanding of how networks run,” Nakasone said, describing such contributions as “really helpful for us.” He outlined a key question for the military: “How do you impact an adversary that’s using cyberspace against us?“
The military services are looking for new ways to bring in more civilians with high-tech skills who can help against Daesh, and prepare for the new range of technological threats the nation will face. Nakasone said that means getting Guard and Reserve members with technical expertise in digital forensics, math crypto-analysis and writing computer code. The challenge is how to find them.
“I would like to say it’s this great database that we have, that we’ve been able to plug in and say, ‘Show me the best tool developers and analysts that you have out there,’” Nakasone said. “We don’t have that yet. We are going to have one, though, by June.”
The Army Reserve is starting a pilot program cataloging soldiers’ talents. Among 190,000 Army reservists, Nakasone said there might be up to 15,000 with some type of cyber-related skills. But there are legal and privacy hurdles, and any database hinges on reservists voluntarily and accurately providing information on their capabilities.
Normally, Nakasone said a reservist’s record includes background, training, assignments and schools attended.
“I would like to know every single person that has been trained as a certified ethical hacker,” he said.
The Army has been steadily building cyber mission teams, as part of a broader Defense Department undertaking. Of the 41 Army teams, just over half come from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve.
Nakasone said officials were still working out costs.
“The money will come,” he said, because building a ready cyber force is necessary.
The Army major said others in the civilian high-tech industry are interested in helping.
Many would like to participate “in something bigger than themselves, something that has intrinsic value for the nation,” he said.
The major said he has signed up for a second one-year tour in his cyber job. He is looking at options for staying longer.
“I find what I’m doing very satisfying, because I have an opportunity to implement things, to get things done and see them work and see tangible results,” he said. “I’m not making as much as I was on the civilian side. But the satisfaction is that strong, and is that valuable, that it’s worth it.”


France, Saudi Arabia to hold Yemen humanitarian conference end June

Updated 58 min 36 sec ago
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France, Saudi Arabia to hold Yemen humanitarian conference end June

  • France and Saudi Arabia will co-host an international conference on Yemen in Paris
  • More than 10,000 people have been killed in a war that has displaced 3 million internally

PARIS: France and Saudi Arabia will co-host an international conference on Yemen in Paris in June to assess humanitarian needs for the country and possibly contribute to reviving U.N.-backed peace talks.
A Saudi-led coalition backed by the West has carried out air strikes against the armed Houthi movement in a war since 2015 to restore the internationally recognised government.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in a war that has displaced 3 million internally and unleashed the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the UN says.
"We are currently working on how to organise this conference with our various partners, Yemen and the United Nations," France's foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing on Wednesday.
"This conference should take stock of humanitarian needs, evaluate the assistance provided and the response mechanisms which need to be improved and define humanitarian actions to improve the situation of civilian populations."
The French president's office said the conference would take place at the end of June. A source aware of the plans said it was scheduled for June 27.
Von der Muhll declined to say whether Paris intended to invite representatives of the Iran-aligned Houthis.
"This work, which we want to be collective, can help to recreate the conditions for a resumption of political discussions under the auspices of the United nations," Von der Muhll said in a statement on Tuesday.
It is unclear how this would fit into the UN Yemen mediator Martin Griffiths' efforts. He said in April he wanted to present a plan for negotiations within two months to end the conflict, but warned that any new military offensives could "take peace off the table."
Three rounds of UN-backed peace talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, with the last held in Kuwait in August 2016, ended without success. Griffiths began his term in March in a bid by the U.N. to revive the stalled peace process.